A #3 starter is the middle of the rotation, so an average #3 starter should be average. Chuck was essentially average last year — a 4.24 ERA in a 4.26 context — so why is everyone giving him a hard time? One thing is that we’re spoiled. Another is that Chuck’s ERA slightly understates his effectiveness, since more of a fly-ball pitcher’s runs are scored as earned than for average or ground-ball pitchers; his “runs average” was clearly better than the league. He wasn’t the problem last year; see yesterday’s Glavine comment for the problem.
The important things, however, are that he’s not progressing, but apparently going backward, and that he averaged only 5.38 innings a start. In the first category, not only did his ERA go up but his home run rate did as well, and his strikeout rate went from 6.88/9 to 6.47; a troubling trend in a pitcher in his second season, when most pitchers’ strikeout rates rise.
The second can be somewhat overblown, but it’s a problem. James relies upon deception, and deception only works for so long. Batters hit .244/.306/.409 against him the first time they saw him, striking out 58 times in 254 AB. The second time, they hit .239/.303/.447, striking out 42 times in 226 AB. The third time and after, they pounded him, .345/.405/.647, with just 16 strikeouts in 139 AB.
James probably isn’t going to get moved to the bullpen, because he has a very small platoon split; basically lefties hit him for a lower average but with slightly more power. The diagnosis, with which I agree, is that he needs another pitch, a breaking ball, but he’s been unable to develop one and seems unconcerned… In his defense, he had some injuries, which dragged down his performance in the second half. Lacking great velocity, he’s a fine-line pitcher, and if he’s off he’s going to get pounded.