The Curious Case of Aaron Cook

By Bliadd Drwg

Earlier in September, the Red Sox came limping into Seattle, for a pillow fight series against the Mariners. Things have been so bad for the Red Sox this season; they actually had a worse record than the Mariners on September 3rd, the first game of the season. Normally the Red Sox are a big draw – historically pulling 30,000+ for a weekday series. This year, not so much. The beautiful Labor Day afternoon game drew a whopping 21,000 and the Tuesday and Wednesday games drew 12,700 and 13,000 respectively (although it seemed like there were less people at the Wednesday game).

That Wednesday game, the Red Sox brought out starter Aaron Cook, sporting a stellar 5.35 ERA before that start. What made it more interesting for me were his strikeout and walk stats – entering the game, Cook had struck out 11, walked 12 and given up 10 home runs…in 70.2 innings. That translates into less than 2 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. That, my friends, is a truly pathetic total. Cook has always been an extreme ground ball pitcher, which probably explains his success when he pitched for Colorado, despite striking out only 3.7 batters per nine. To put that into perspective, my favorite soft tosser, Jamie Moyer averaged 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings over his career.  It is hard to survive as a MLB pitcher with a number as low as Cook has posted, but he has somehow managed to do it.

I bring this up for a couple of reasons. First, I wondered if there had been any pitcher who made it through 100 innings and gave up more home runs than strikeouts. I haven’t bothered to look that up yet, so that is for another post. Second, those extremely low numbers set up one of the more bizarre pitching outings I have seen from a truly statistical standpoint.

Coming into the Mariners game, Cook had made 13 starts. Here is the aggregate on the number of strikeouts and walks he has registered per game:

 

# of Strikeouts Times # of Walks Times
0 7 0 5
1 3 1 6
2 2 3 2
4 1

 

So Cook managed to strike out 2 or less in 12 out of his first 13 starts. Enter the Seattle game. He gets on a roll early, striking out Trayvon Robinson in the first, meaning his K total exceeds half his previous starts, one inning into the game. In the second, he gets Eric Thames looking, and I am waiting for the plague of locusts to descend on the stadium; two strike outs in two innings? Someone obviously took Aaron Cook’s place on the mound.

The third inning is where it gets really strange. Dustin Ackley leads off and strikes out swinging. At this point I am ready to head for cover as it was due to start raining blood any minute. Trayvon Robinson again strikes out and I am fully expecting the second coming at this point. What are the chances that Aaron Cook, who has struck out 11 batters all season, will actually strike out the side? Pretty good actually. After a couple of walks (more on those in a minute), Jesus Montero struck out swinging to end the inning. The 5K’s in the first 3 innings would be all Cook would get – he would pitch 3 more innings without recording another strikeout.

What’s so interesting about the walks? Well, it means that a guy who has batters put the ball in play 91% of the time, managed to face 5 batters, record 3 outs and not a single one of them managed to put a ball in play.

You never know what you are going to have happen when you come to the ballpark on any given day.

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