Monday, January 7, 2013

Scott Diamond looks to avoid sophomore slump

The Twins have been busy adding mediocre arms to their starting rotation this offseason but off in the wings Scott Diamond is preparing for his second full seasons as a big league starter. Diamond burst onto the scene last season with a very impressive first half of the season. He would come back down to earth a little bit in the second half but he was still the best starter out of a very mediocre starting core. In his second full season as a starter, Diamond will have to find a way to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

There were a few different things that made Diamond successful in his first trip through the American League. Before the end of July, Diamond made 15 starts and posted a very good 2.88 ERA over 100 innings. Opponents hit .266/.299/.388 against him and he posted a very good 9-4 record. Most of his wins during that stretch, six of them, would come in the friendly confines of Target Field. In fact, over the course of the season Diamond would strike out batters at a higher rate at home and his WHIP was much better when pitching in Minnesota.

From the beginning of August to the end of the season, Diamond ran into some struggles. He would lose two more games than he won during that stretch and his other numbers ballooned up a little. His ERA rose to 4.44 and opponents were able to hit .285/.320/.472 against him. Things would get worse after he was tossed out of a game in Texas for throwing at a batter. From that point on, his ERA jumped to 5.06 as his innings continued to mount.

Entering last season, the most Diamond had pitched in the minor leagues was 162 innings back in 2011. Before being called-up to Minnesota in 2012, Diamond threw 34.2 innings in the minor leagues and he added that to 173 innings at the big league level. It was the first time he had thrown over 200 innings and there might have been a learning curve with his new workload. This could be the reason for some of his struggles down the stretch.

Twins fans know that Diamond doesn't strikeout a ton of batters. He stays around the strike zone and this can cause some problems. Home runs became an Achilles heel for Diamond. Out of his 26 starts, he gave up a home run in 13 games and he gave up more than one home run in four games. In the games where Diamond gave up a home run, the Twins were one game under .500 and the team was 0-2 when he gave up more than one home run.

One of the biggest areas of strength for Diamond is his ability to limit walks. He led the AL in BB/9 by averaging less than two walks per game. The most walks that he gave up in a game were three and both of those contests were in the last month of the year when Diamond might have been tiring. There were seven games when he didn't walk a single batter and he pitched over six innings in all of those starts. When giving up zero walks, Diamond had a 4-1 record and 1.07 ERA.

Since Diamond is going to pound the strike zone, it is important to have a good defense behind him. The Twins will enter this spring with question marks at almost every up the middle position on the club. Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks, and Darin Mastroianni will be fighting for the starting job in center field. The middle infield is a complete question mark as the Twins are expected to have an open competition for shortstop and second base. It can tough for a pitcher to have consistency if there are different players behind him every time he takes the mound.

Looking at all of these things, it is clear that there are a few areas for Diamond to concentrate on to find success in his second year. He needs to limit the amount of long balls that he gives up. It is also key for him to continue to manage the amount of walks that he allows. The defense behind Diamond will also be critical for the Twins and their starting staff. If the Twins and Diamond can find a way for all of these to come true, he might be set up to have an even better year in 2013.

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