Friday, August 24, 2007


Peripheral Madness

On Sunday the Giants are going to be facing this guy named Dave Bush, a starting pitcher for the Brewers who has been one of my own personal enigmas for going on a year now. I traded for Bush in my fantasy keeper league last season (don't worry, this isn't going to be another of my interminable roto league rants, so don't click to another blog just yet), hoping to buy low for a future star pitcher. He wasn't setting the world on fire, but I was entranced by the potential that his shining peripheral numbers seemed to point to.

Bush came up with the Blue Jays in 2004, put up pretty good numbers in two years with Toronto, then was traded to the Brew Crew before the 2006 season. Last year, Bush's ERA was a mediocre 4.41, hardly something to be excited over. His peripheral numbers though? Maybe some of the best in the major leagues. In 210 innings, Bush struck out 166 batters while walking just 38, which tied him for the best K:BB ratio in the National League. His 1.13 WHIP was fourth in the NL.

I was excited. In all of these peripheral stat categories, Bush rated with the best pitchers in the majors. It stood to reason that with a little better luck, he could lop a run off of his ERA and be a Cy Young contender. Some fantasy magazines were picking him as a top 20 pitcher going into this season.

Unfortunately, that great leap forward into the NL elite just hasn't happened, much to the chagrin of my fantasy team. In 2007 Bush has regressed considerably. His peripherals aren't bad (1.37 WHIP, 112:35 K/BB ratio), but his ERA still isn't matching them and has been hovering around five all year. He is giving up way more hits this season than last season, so maybe he's just really unlucky this year, or maybe he was just really lucky last year. If it's the latter, my fantasy team shudders.

Let's compare this case to one of our own beloved pitchers, Mr. Noah Lowry, a guy who ranks ninth in the NL in ERA despite an atrocious 82:82 K/BB ratio. Every Lowry start is a full-out assault on the nerves, with runners all over the bases and batters licking their chops at another of those changeups floating in over the plate. Yet, at the end of the day, Lowry comes out ahead. Bush, meanwhile doesn't really give up many baserunners, yet his ERA is a run-and-a-half worse.

What the hell is going on here? My tireless efforts at trying to unravel this Dave Bush/peripheral stat mystery are beginning to rival those of the translation of the Rosetta Stone. Has my lifelong allegiance to the ways of the peripheral stat all been for naught? Have we stat dweebs been overrating them all this time? Well, no. For one thing, Bush has given up 22 homers so far this season, which is awful. Lowry has given up eight. Even though Lowry has been better this year (and perhaps it's sacrilege saying this on a Giants page), I'd still take Bush's next five years over Lowry's, but that says more about Lowry's bad control and weak stuff than it says about Bush.

Maybe some guys just can't ever live up to their peripheral stats. Javier Vazquez of the White Sox is sort of the golden boy for this kind of underachiever, or at least he has been since 2004. Perhaps Bush is just eminently hittable, and his great stats last year were a fluke stemming from the grace period of NL hitters adapting to him. In most cases, guys with 2006 Bush-caliber peripherals throw hard and blossom later. Bush might just be an exception to the rule. We'll see what happens on Sunday, and maybe I'll see something that sheds some light on the Great Dave Bush Conundrum.

Until then, all hail the god of the peripheral stat!

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