Looking at Zach Duke, defense, and random variation

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Los Angeles Dodgers

Zach Duke - Newscom

On August 28th, I met some friends for a little food and drink. We exchanged pleasant banter for about an hour, before my attention began drifting toward the televisions scattered around the establishment. Before long, I was socially useless, as my entire focus was aimed at a meaningless Pirates-Brewers game in Milwaukee. The Bucs quickly squandered a first inning opportunity and the Brewers went to work on Zach Duke. Several times, Duke allowed a hit that was just out of the reach of a defender. I shook my head repeatedly, wondering if the defense that began the season in Pittsburgh would have made any difference in this game. Milwaukee scored five times in that first inning, and I turned my attention back to the group of people that I had been ignoring.

Duke began his September 8th start against the Cubs by allowing eight consecutive hits to begin the game, falling behind 6-0 before recording a single out. Only a few balls were hit hard in that first inning. Over four innings, Duke allowed five fly balls, 13 ground balls and just two line drives. He was charged with eight earned runs.

Charlie discussed Duke’s dependence on his defense yesterday at Bucs Dugout, something he has touched on before. Random luck is just as significant, as can be seen in the two examples above. Let’s take a closer look at those two disastrous innings, with screenshots to boot.

In the Brewers game, Duke started his evening by inducing a ground out and allowing a clean single to left. Ryan Braun then lined a single just over a leaping Luis Cruz.


After a monstrous Prince Fielder home run, Casey McGehee bounced one toward the hole between short and third. Once again, the ball was just outside Cruz’s reach.


After Duke picked off McGehee, Mike Cameron continued the torture of Cruz.


A Jason Kendall walk pulled Delwyn Young out of position, leading to a single by Alcides Escobar.


A fifth run scored on an infield single before Duke was finally able to escape the inning. The Pirates tried to come back, but this game was essentially over in the first inning. Duke easily could have dodged about three runs with some better luck, which would have made a huge difference in the game.

I attempted to recreate the batted balls from that inning below. Red lines represent outs, while green lines are plays that did not result in outs. Spots marked with an “X” indicate the location that a ball in air landed (two line drives to left and Fielder’s home run). The rest are ground balls. I hope that it is clear just how many seeing-eye singles got through the infield.

Miller Park-revised

I won’t go into as much detail about Duke’s start against the Cubs, but here are a few screenshots from that game.




The phrase “It’s a game of inches” is thrown around quite a bit in the sports world, and it is the best way to describe Duke’s results. Anything can happen once a ball is put in play. Because Duke does not strike out or walk many batters, he allows a considerable amount of balls in play. Thus, his results are more likely to vary significantly based on random variance.


Screenshot images from mlb.com

Share This Article

Matt Bandi

Matt has covered the Pirates at Wait ‘Til Next Year, Pittsburgh Lumber Co. and now Pirates Prospects. He served as Pirates team expert for Heater Magazine in 2009 and 2010 and has contributed to Graphical Player 2009, 2010 and 2011. Matt was also the editor of the 2011 and 2012 Pirates Prospects Annuals.

Prospect Watching: Danny Moskos and Virgil Vasquez

Next Story »

The Pirates need a Joe Mauer

Latest Analysis

  • Tyler Glasnow

    The Change That Will Help Tyler Glasnow Reach His Upside

    21 hours ago

    The 2011 draft made headlines for the Pittsburgh Pirates for two main reasons. They selected Gerrit Cole first overall, and gave him a record-setting bonus of $8 ...

    Read More
  • Jameson Taillon

    The Next Steps in Jameson Taillon’s Tommy John Rehab Process

    2 days ago

    Jameson Taillon threw a bullpen session yesterday, which I outlined in the daily recap. Taillon is still in “rehab mode” as Clint Hurdle put it, which means ...

    Read More
  • Sean Rodriguez

    The Keys to Sean Rodriguez Being a Productive Hitter

    3 days ago

    The Pittsburgh Pirates added Sean Rodriguez at a high cost this off-season. They traded promising pitching prospect Buddy Borden to the Rays, getting Rodriguez in return after ...

    Read More
  • Elias Diaz taking batting practice.

    How Elias Diaz Quickly Became the Catcher of the Future

    4 days ago

    Elias Diaz has always been well-regarded for his defense. Baseball America named him the best defensive catcher in the Florida State League in 2013, and the best defensive ...

    Read More
  • (Photo Credit: David Hague)

    Is Vance Worley the Most Under-Rated Pitcher in the Pirates’ Rotation?

    4 days ago

    For the second year in a row, Vance Worley enters Spring Training trying to compete for one of the final spots in the rotation. This time around, ...

    Read More
  • Corey Hart

    Corey Hart Discusses His Knees, Last Year’s Hitting, and Joining the Pirates

    5 days ago

    Up until a few years ago, Corey Hart was a dangerous hitter. From 2010-2012 he had a .279/.343/.514 line, averaging 29 home runs per season. To put ...

    Read More
  • Browse More Articles