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Duchscherer And Zito: A Comparison, A Send-Up, And A Sacrilegious Notion

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Last night featured some spirited discussion of the many attributes and limitations of Barry Zito. Let me now offer a send-up to one of my own personal favorites, Justin Duchscherer. Duke, despite serving out of the bullpen and throwing right-handed, is actually quite comparable to Zito. Both have only average fastballs, both feature notable 12-6 curves, both feature a vital third pitch (cutter/changeup), and both have a limited repertoire beyond their three core pitches.

The difference between the two? To me, it is that Duchscherer is more aggressive in the strike zone and has more consistent command of his stuff. As a result, despite throwing with a little less velocity than Zito and despite featuring the curve which gets fewer "oohs and ahhs," Duke has posted the following numbers in his two seasons since adding the cutter:

182 IP, 152 hits, 2.77 ERA, 3:1 K/BB ratio, and a 1.12 WHIP
(Zito has posted a 4.16 ERA, a 2:1 K/BB ratio, and a 1.29 WHIP over the same two seasons.)

How Duke's performance would translate to the rotation, of course, is a complete unknown, because he has not made a start since he added the cutter to his repertoire. We do know this, however:

  • Duchscherer was 14-2 with a 3.25 ERA in AAA, starting for Sacramento in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League
  • We know how effective a starter can be relying on three pitches, including an average fastball and a big 12-6 curve, because Zito himself has demonstrated exactly that
In fact, as good as Justin Duchscherer has been as a AAA starter and as good as he has been as a major league pitcher, one could make the sacrilegious assertion that Duke could actually step into Zito's spot in the 2007 rotation and approximate Zito's level of success. I won't go that far, but you know what? It's not crazy.