If you’ve watched John Axford‘s mostly disastrous 2013 season at all, one of the things you might have noted is that despite being hit hard more often than not, he’s still got pure stuff to succeed.
His 4.45/1.55 ERA/WHIP might tell you otherwise, but it’s true: with his fastball being delivered at a 95.2 mph average, he’s still throwing hard and isn’t far off from the 95.6 during his NL Rolaids Relief Man Award-winning 2011 season. He’s held steady at 9.8 percent as far as swinging strikes generated is concerned, and batters are making contact with his offerings at a three-year low 76.4 percent contact rate.
So why is it that despite clearly having the recipe for success — as his 0.00/0.66 ERA/WHIP and .143 BAA month in June (10.2 IP) showed — he’s still imploding on the mound often than not?
Luckily for Axford, the redbirds might just be the most capable franchise in solving problems like him.
It’s not necessarily going to be an easy process for pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who has mostly done an outstanding job standing in for Dave Duncan (personal leave) with the entire Cardinals staff this season, but there are some factors going St. Louis’ gamble that tilts the odds to their end.
The biggest one of these is the fact that there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with Axford. His stuff is getting hit, but he’s been largely healthy with no red flags in the area, which is to say that his issues is likely mechanical and mental as opposed to physical.
As for the first two elements, simply the move to St. Louis itself should provide a boon.
First, there’s the change-of-scenery factor for the embattled former closer, going from a demoralizing environment to one within the division that’s essentially a complete 180 — a Cardinals team with a long history of success and right in the thick of the playoff picture this season.
You might say that pitchers will want to get outs just the same regardless of where they’re throwing, but you don’t need to look too much further than Ricky Nolasco‘s remarkable month for the Los Angeles Dodgers to see that being in a different environment might just make a bigger difference than first thought.
Secondly, arguably Axford’s biggest problem over the last two seasons has materialized in the form of the long ball. His already poor 1.30 HR/9 has spiked to 1.65 this season, a number that won’t play in this league regardless of how good the stuff is.
Well, with a 0.829 home run park factor, Busch Stadium happens to be the seventh-best park in the bigs as far as diminishing homers are concerned. And as six of Axford’s 10 home runs had come inside Miller Park (1.312 home run park factor — fourth-highest), well … you get the picture.
Not that you can reasonably expect a dramatic turnaround from the right-hander immediately, of course; but as far a change-of-scenery deal goes, you could say that Axford lucked out on this one.