When the Red Sox acquired Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox at last season’s trade deadline, they were expecting to receive a crafty, strike-throwing veteran starting pitcher. Since that trade, Peavy has provided a major boost to the Red Sox’ pitching staff and added a major force towards the back of the rotation; however, that strike-throwing ability that made him so attractive last season has not been there in the early portion of the 2014 season.
Peavy’s career BB/9 rate is a very solid 2.8 mark. This season, however, he is walking a startlingly high 5.2 batters per nine innings. If he were to end the season with that walk rate, it would be by far the highest of his Major League career, the next closest mark being the 3.8 BB/9 that he posted with the San Diego Padres all the way back in 2003.
The lack of control hasn’t affected his results. Peavy’s surface stats actually look better than they did in 2013; his 3.09 ERA is well below his 4.17 ERA last season and his strikeout rate is higher as well with 8.2 K/9 in 2014 versus 7.5 K/9 a year ago. However, from a peripheral standpoint, Peavy seems to be walking a treacherous path. Despite his low ERA, Peavy’s FIP stands at 5.07 and his park-adjusted xFIP is a still-high 4.56, suggesting that Peavy’s ERA will soon grow if he is unable to cut down on the walks.
But why has Peavy’s walk rate ballooned so much early this year? Well, it all starts with Peavy’s fastball. He is using his four-seam fastball at the lowest rate of his career, just 11.5%, with his two-seam fastball replacing the four-seamer as Peavy’s main pitch; he is using the two-seamer at 47.6% of the time. That’s all well and good– after all, many pitchers turn away from the fastball as they age and lose velocity– but with the ineffectiveness of Peavy’s four-seam fastball, he is unable to throw a definite strike pitch when behind in the count, which could play into his inability to climb back ahead in the count.
Peavy’s fear of throwing a meatball could play into his challenges in throwing strikes. For the first time in his career, his four-seam fastball is averaging below 90 miles per hour, with his average four-seamer clocking in at 89.7 mph. It could simply be psychological and Peavy will learn to place himself ahead in the count with an off-speed pitch or look to improve his control of the two-seamer.
Of course, given that it’s just May 8th, it’s also entirely possible that this is just a small-sample size issue and I’m looking well too far into it. However, it is still unusual to see Peavy, such a regular strike-thrower in his career, not only average 5.2 walks per nine innings but also do it so consistently, walking four or more batters in five of his seven starts. As an intelligent and crafty pitcher, Peavy should be able to figure himself out, but these control issues could prove themselves problematic moving forward.