Keeping the “S” in Scrappy: Mitch Talbot’s Upside

Mitch Talbot was born in October of 1983; he won’t turn 28 until after this season is over.  I suppose it might be safe to say that he doesn’t remember Ronald Reagan or Rubik’s cubes or mix tapes or the USSR.

Interestingly, his October birthday also makes him the oldest pitcher in our rotation, and worthy of some attention due to the pipeline we’ve tried to fill with pitching prospects over the last several years.  After all, the hope is that someone like Drew Pomeranz or Alex White or Corey Kluber or Nick Hagadone might soon make Talbot expendable.  I find myself waiting for the day that we cut him loose for one of our high-upside hopefuls.

And as soon as I write a sentence like that, I start to feel mean.  What has Mitch Talbot ever done to me anyway?  Why should I be gleefully anticipating the undoing of his career?  That’s not a particularly nice sentiment, and it might tell you more about me than Mitch.

I guess the point is that I tend to habitually discount players like Talbot.  He’s never been a “prospect” in any real sense of the word.  He’s out of options.  He doesn’t have swing and miss stuff and he doesn’t command the strikezone quite the way you’d hope.  Last season, only five guys in the American League with 150+ IP had a swing-and-miss rate worse than Talbot’s 5.9%.  Of those, he had the highest walk-rate and FIP.

It’s probably a combination of all these characteristics, but I don’t really get excited by guys like that.  Over the course of the season they might turn in a few gems, but overall they’re destined to be mediocre rotation filler.  They’re not likely to become anything; they just are.  Or at least that’s what I tend to tell myself.

But that’s looking at the glass as half-empty, and I don’t know if you’ve heard, but that’s not allowed in Cleveland these days.  We’re streaking!  Bring your green hat!

So rather than write what I’m inclined to—an objective analysis of why Mitch Talbot can’t do as much as most pitchers—I’m going to write today about the things he can do this season to help the Indians win.  Let’s roll.

First, after a full two times through the rotation, did you know that Mitch Talbot leads the Indians in strikeouts?  That is, perhaps, not likely to continue, especially considering his low swinging strike rate mentioned above.  On the other hand, Talbot has shown some promise, especially with the movement he had on his fastball Tuesday night.

Also, he hasn’t let up a home run yet this season.  While that’s not sustainable, Talbot allowed the lowest HR/9 and HR/FB rates of the 2010 rotation.  For whatever reason, it might be that Talbot has the ability to limit home runs.  You might call him the anti-Carlos Carrasco in that regard, and preventing home runs is quite obviously the most important thing a pitcher can do.

On top of the home runs, Talbot has a K/BB ratio of 2.20 so far this season.  If he can continue to strike out more than two times as many batters as he walks, he’ll be plenty successful in the rotation.  A 2.00 K/BB is a baseline for success in MLB, and Talbot’s nice start looks encouraging, despite his team-worst rate of 1.28 last season.

Combining all these possibilities, let’s look at what Talbot would like if he meets a few feasible objectives:

  • Limits HR: let’s say Talbot lets up 13 HR over 180 IP, for a rate of 0.65 HR/9—slightly better than his 2010 numbers, but not a dramatic improvement.
  • K/BB above 2.00: If he throws 180 innings, let’s say he strikes out 110 (5.55 K/9) and walks 50 (2.5 BB/9).  This would give him a K/BB ratio of 2.20—exactly his current pace.

Would you believe that if Talbot could meet those modest goals, his ERA would likely end up around 3.75?  That’s what my handy FIP calculator says anyway, and there’s nothing there that’s out of the realm of possibility, right?

I guess this start has me giddy: I believe that Mitch Talbot can help this team this year.  I believe that the Indians can maintain some modicum of respectability.  I believe that this fun can continue.

It’s funny what a nice April can do for you.

  • USSChoo

    I’m just shy of 25 and I remember mix tapes, c’mon!

  • LaundroMat

    Rubik’s cubes, too.

  • oribiasi

    I am almost 30 and I remember all of those and now I feel old, thanks a lot.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    Oddly enough, he seems to be one of those guys that starts off a bit rocky but settles in as the game progresses. His typical bad innings are littered with unfortunately high BAbip figures, so he’s been a bit unlucky. Would I prefer to have a guy who misses bats more often than not, sure. But with the improved defense, I’m not as concerned as I would be if it were still Dandy Marte and Jason Donald playing third and first base, respectively.

  • Anthony

    @Scott

    Don’t forget Sweet Luis at second base. Oh how horrible our defense was last year.

  • mgbode

    @Jon – I would suspect that Talbot ‘could’ become our new version of Jake Westbrook. That’s who he reminds me of when he pitches.

    That wouldn’t be a bad thing in my mind (of course I am saying that before checking to see if the numbers back up that comparison)

  • guyritz

    i was born the same year and remember all of those things… also, i am now older than our oldest starting pitcher… ugh.

  • NJ

    Talbot’s numbers from the minors actually look better than Carrasco’s (for what that’s worth). Comparable WHIPs. Fewer HRs/9 and BBs/9. Sure, slightly less SOs/9, but a better SO/BB ratio.

    Not sure what all of that means, but it’s something.

  • 5KMD

    Hey, everyone under 30. Shut it!

  • yerfdog

    i could see the tribe maybe even trading talbot mid season this year to make room for white most likely… but i like mitch so i hope it doesnt happen… but i also love our pitching depth down on the farm …

  • Kyle Taylor

    Mitch was like a big brother to me in his final year at Canyon View High school,he taught me that through hard work and determination that you could obtain your dreams. I know that he will come back from the DL, stronger and re-focussed