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Jeremy Horst’s Bad Luck Continues

We discussed Jeremy Horst‘s bad luck two and a half weeks ago and it looked like things were starting to turn around. In his next four appearances, he allowed just one earned run over five innings and held the opposition to a .176 average on balls in play. Last night against the Indians, Horst’s bad luck returned. The lefty allowed one run, which was considered fortunate since he allowed four base runners, three of which were infield singles and the other was a bloop into shallow left field.

When people talk about a pitcher’s bad luck on balls in play, we are referring essentially to anything that happens after contact. So many variables come into play beyond the pitcher’s ability to hit his location and fool the opposing hitter. The ball may be hit hard, but right at a fielder. Or it may be hit three feet to his side for a hit. The ball may be hit softly, but slowly enough down the line that the third baseman can’t make a play on it. Or it can be hit softly but right to the pitcher, who throws to first for an easy out. The batter can pop the ball right over the shortstop’s head, or it can go a few feet further out where a play is unable to be made. Despite the pitcher’s lack of control, a run of bad luck on balls in play still gets counted against his ERA and thus he is judged for it throughout the year, long after the circumstances have been forgotten.

Let’s take a look at the hits Horst allowed last night after the jump.

Horst hits his spot well and makes a good pitch, jamming Carlos Santana inside for a weak ground ball. Unfortunately, the swinging bunt travels far too slowly for third baseman Michael Young, playing on the edge of the infield dirt, to charge in and make a play. Additionally, it is hit too far to Horst’s right for him to grab the ball, pivot, and fire to first. Horst was victimized by a similar swinging bunt in the ¬†game against Cincinnati discussed in mid-April — click here to see it.

Horst misses his spot, placing his fastball a few inches higher than called for, but it is still a good pitch — similar to the one he made against Santana, Horst jams Ryan Raburn inside. If Raburn swings a little earlier, he pops out lazily to Young at third base; if he swings later, he pops out lazily to Chase Utley. There is nothing more Horst could have done about this.

This is when you knew it just wasn’t Horst’s night. Horst hits his spot, but Yan Gomes grounds it right back up the middle. It hits Horst on the leg and is redirected to Jimmy Rollins, who had already taken his momentum up the middle for a double play attempt. Rollins has to redirect himself to his right, then throw across his body from his knees.

Horst hits his spot again, and Drew Stubbs grounds it up the middle just like Gomes did. This time, it is perfectly placed between Rollins and Utley. Rollins, with his momentum taking him towards first base, fields the ball and is forced to spin and throw, but he really had no chance to get an out here.

A run scored on the play, and Horst’s night ended with his ERA rising to 6.17. Between the Cincinnati game and last night’s Cleveland game, Horst recorded four outs, allowed six hits, and allowed three runs (all earned). Those two outings alone account for 17 percent of the total outs he has recorded this year, 35 percent of hits, and 50 percent of runs. This is why being mindful of small samples and defense-independent statistics are so important early in the season.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t anything to be concerned about with Horst, however. His fastball velocity is down more than two MPH compared to last year. He is recording swings and misses at nearly half the rate of last season (7.7 percent; 13.2 percent). On a batters faced basis, he has struck out only 13 percent of hitters this year compared to 32 percent last year. When you aren’t recording strikeouts as often, you are allowing more balls to be put into play, which makes you subject to the whims of randomness on a more frequent basis. If Horst had his 32 percent strikeout rate instead of 13 percent, he would have seen ten fewer balls put in play, three or four of which were hits.

On the whole, though, Horst hasn’t pitched nearly as badly as his results would make it seem. Unfortunately, he seems to be under a black cloud to start the year, but sunnier skies should await him as the season progresses.