Ever since the Twins traded away Johan Santana before the 2008 season the organization has been searching for the all important ace of their pitching staff. For four seasons they have rummaged through their minor league system in order to pinpoint who this mystery ace would be and every name that emerged was struck down by injury or lack of production. Then suddenly, just as the pitching staff had hit rock bottom with a league worst ERA of 6.59 a new hope emerged.
In his first start for the 2012 Twins he pitched seven scoreless innings while giving up four hits and one walk. He commanded the mound like he had been there before, mostly because he had.
Just a season ago he was called up from AAA Rochester and inserted into the rotation in late July and was battered to the tune of a 5.08 ERA in seven games. There were questions as to whether this man would still be with the organization in 2012 let alone be its most successful pitcher. Just who is this possible ace you ask? Well it’s Scott Diamond of course.
Scott Diamond doesn’t fit the mold of a prototypical ace that we have grown accustomed to seeing. His K/9 rate is a very modest 5.64 and opponents are hitting .275 off of him which, compared to a typical ace such as David Price whose K/9 rate is 8.01 and opponent’s batting average is .235, are on the low end of the spectrum. It’s not that Diamond doesn’t possess velocity, he consistently hits the low nineties with his fastball, he just doesn’t have the zip to overpower hitters nor does he have the elite out pitch that a lot of the current aces have.
The good news is that Diamond doesn’t have to fit into that mold in order to be an ace. Pitchers such as Greg Maddux, Tim Hudson and most recently R.A. Dickey, have proven that an ace doesn’t necessarily have to possess an abundance of velocity in order to be effective. What they do need to do is become a master of their craft.
For Greg Maddux that meant out-thinking the hitter, for Tim Hudson that meant commanding his sinker and for R.A. Dickey it’s having movement on his knuckleball. All of them were extremely effective and all of them lacked velocity. They succeeded because they knew what worked for them and stuck to it.
In order for Diamond to become a top of the line starter he needs to understand what his craft exactly is. By looking at the small sample size that Diamond has accrued this season we can make an educated guess as to what that craft may be. Here are a few telling statistics:
– He is allowing .81 walks per nine innings which would lead the majors if he had enough innings to be eligible.
– 82.6% of the runners that reach base never touch home which would rank him in the top five of the MLB.
– His strikeout to walk ratio is 7 which would also lead the MLB if eligible.
– 61.1% of the balls put in play are groundballs, putting him just behind Derek Lowe and Trevor Hill at the top of the league leaders.
After taking a look at those numbers there are three things that we can conclude; he doesn’t hurt himself with walks, he strands runners and when the ball is hit it’s usually on the ground. All of these things bode very well for Scott Diamond and the Twins organization because they aren’t mirage statistics, meaning they have substance to them. When you combine all three aspects they can combine to make an attainable craft for Diamond which is that of a control pitcher.
The big key as to whether Diamond continues his progression towards being the Twins # 1 pitcher is consistency. So far in this young season he has yet to be lit up by opposing hitters which shows that he doesn’t get rattled very easily. It’s that mental toughness that will allow him to command his pitches and keep his consistency throughout tough stretches that are inevitable. It’s also that mental toughness that will keep his control intact which will then allow him keep his pitches down where they need to be.
Of course this is just best case scenario. To expect Diamond to become an ace after never showing signs of being a dominant starter in his career is a lot to ask, but for right now he has the best chance of doing so. He might not be the ace that we fans have fantasized about, but he just might be the ace that the Twins desperately need.