Well, obviously the answer is “Home Runs”… but why is Benoit getting hit so hard, so regularly of late?
He got dinged twice on Thursday against the Yankees on Thursday in the top of the eighth to get tagged with the loss and twice against the Indians on Sunday – but was saved from a loss by an improbable comeback in the bottom of the tenth. All told he has surrendered 11 home runs so far this season with 4 multi-homer appearances since June 30. Obviously if this is going to continue, Benoit’s 8th inning defined role is going to have to be questioned, as it’s going to be awfully hard to get to (much lest past) Valverde in the 9th without something like a 4-run cushion.
Since this homer binge started on June 30, Joaquin Benoit has a 7.04 ERA over 15 1/3 innings with a couple of blown saves and a couple of losses – before this started his ERA sat at an impressive 1.80. His WPA since June 30 is -1.184… that looks like quite the combustible reliever. Strange? Of course it is – we expect better from a guy like Benoit. But it’s actually doubly strange if you look at some of his other numbers during that stretch. Two walks to twelve strikeouts. Two non-homer hits. ONE run that didn’t score as the result of a big fly. Any time you see a good pitcher giving up an alarming number of home runs, it’s going to look odd – but for a guy to give up a lot of home runs and absolutely nothing else? Very odd. He is not though, as some have claimed, a guy who has traditionally been good at keeping balls in the park – with a career average of 1.2 home runs per 9 (compared to 2.0 thus far this year).
There are three ways to look at that: one is that Joaquin Benoit is getting lucky on balls in play (with a BABIP of .059 in those 15 1/3) and that is mitigating the damage from the home runs he has been giving up. The second is that Joaquin Benoit has been getting unlucky on fly balls, since HR/FB is another one of those ever-flexible stats. The third is that Benoit has only been making occasional bad pitches, but teams are making him pay for every single one. I have posted links below to the PitchFX plots from brooksbaseball.net for each of Benoit’s two-homer games. Take a look and tell us what you think: has Benoit been lucky (but pitching horribly), or unlucky (but pitching well) or very good whenever he isn’t very bad? Or maybe it isn’t really any of the above – could he be tipping? According to Jason Beck at MLB.com, the Tigers don’t think so, but you still have to wonder. After all, the fact that his homers haven’t all come on one pitch doesn’t mean hitters aren’t having an easy time recognizing the change – he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher so – if not change, then fastball.