I've been bullish on Samuel Deduno, and it's been a point of disagreement between myself and some other generally like-minded Twins writers. Aaron Gleeman has repeatedly warned against buying into the right-hander's small-sample success and the Geek recently lamented the idea of a long-term contract.
It's easy to see why any stat-savvy observer would hold reservations. Deduno has performed poorly in a number of key peripheral categories, namely strikeout-to-walk ratio, which many -- myself included -- view as one of the most important indicators for pitcher success.
But, as I've often said, Deduno is a unique and unconventional case, so in assessing his value going forward, I think it is wise to set aside the statistics we tend to lean on, and look at him through a different lens.
The metric that largely causes skepticism with regards to Deduno, as mentioned above, is his K/BB ratio. Last year, in 79 innings with the Twins, the righty totaled nearly as many walks (53) as strikeouts (57), which is almost always a sign that disaster is on the horizon. This year he's cut down on the walks, lowering his BB/9 rate from 6.0 to 3.3*, but he's lost a bunch of strikeouts in the process, with his K/9 dropping from 6.5 to 5.0. While improved, his 42/28 K/BB is not close to the 2-to-1 ratio you like to see at a minimum.
(*By the way, this probably deserves a post of its own, but I'm thinking Rick Anderson might deserve a TON of credit for Deduno's unprecedented improvements with control. I remember hearing that the pitching coach was working very closely with the hurler, running two bullpen sessions between each start. The extra attention appears to be paying off because Deduno has never maintained a BB/9 rate below four... anywhere, even in the minors. For all the criticism aimed at his failures with Francisco Liriano -- another maddeningly erratic Latin pitcher who is now succeeding elsewhere -- Anderson is really redeeming himself with Deduno.)
But is K/BB ratio the vitally important indicator for Deduno that it is for most other pitchers? His game is based more on inducing weak contact than missing bats, and I've always felt that he can get away with handing out more walks because he's so tough to square up. After all, a free pass only costs one base at a time. Even with a heightened number of base runners, it's tricky for an opposing offense to push guys across the plate without big hits doing the damage. Deduno is holding opposing hitters to a .245 average and .351 slugging percentage.
This dynamic isn't captured well by popular sabermetric measures. The prevailing wisdom behind fielding independent metrics assumes that any pitcher should be expected to allow a BABIP around .300, but Deduno registered a .267 mark last year and is at .272 this year. He appears to have a sustainable skill for limiting damage on balls in play, thanks in large part to his extreme ground ball tendencies (he is the only pitcher in the majors with 60-plus innings and a GB rate above 60 percent, and I'd wager that nobody induces more weakly hit nubbers).
Many reasonable observers are still waiting for the other shoe to drop for Deduno, but he has by and large been a very effective starter in the majors over the last two years. Last season his ERA sat at 3.55 before a rough patch in his final three outings shot that mark up above four. This year he owns a 3.18 ERA through 12 turns, and he's pitched into the seventh in all but three starts.
There's no guarantee that this will keep up, but I'm through looking for reasons to expect a drop-off. Between his outstanding numbers at Triple-A, his dominance in the World Baseball Classic and his continuing improvement at the major-league level, I'm a believer in Deduno, even if that means moving out my comfort zone analytically.
Once you've come around to the idea of Deduno being an ongoing fixture, you'll feel a lot better about the short-term future of this rotation. Despite being 30 years old, Deduno won't even be arbitration eligible until 2015 at the earliest, and he'll remain under team control for several years beyond.
Late bloomers can have their advantages. And unlike with R.A. Dickey, it looks like the Twins might have opened the door for this one at the right time.