Felix Doubront: Breakout Candidate?

As a lifelong Yankee fan, searching for bright spots amidst what appears to be a disastrous upcoming Red Sox season is less than exciting, but perhaps my hatred of Boston is trumped by my optimism over my Ottoneu ownership of Felix Doubront, whom few are talking about heading into 2013 but I sense poised for a breakout given what he was able to accomplish in his first full season at age 24.

We’ll start with the bad:  Doubront last year posted a 4.86 ERA over 29 starts and 161 innings for the Red Sox last year.  There is no way to spin those numbers as positive, averaging nearly 5 runs a game and barely 5 innings per start.

However, I see reason for optimism.  Though Doubront spots a fastball that averages 91-92 and close to league average swinging strike percentages, he managed 9.34 K/9 in his age-24 season.  For reference, in the past 25 years, here is the list of the nine 25 and younger pitchers that managed the same feat while throwing at least 150 innings:

Player
SO/9
IP
Year
Age
Tm
Johan Santana
10.5
228
2004
25
MIN
Scott Kazmir
10.4
206
2007
23
TBD
Yu Darvish
10.4
191
2012
25
TEX
Jon Lester
9.96
203
2009
25
BOS
Scott Kazmir
9.81
152
2008
24
TBR
Zack Greinke
9.5
229
2009
25
KCR
Felix Doubront
9.34
161
2012
24
BOS
Michael Pineda
9.11
171
2011
22
SEA
Chris Sale
9
192
2012
23
CHW

Johan Santana and Zack Greinke already have Cy Youngs to their credit, and the two other pitchers to accomplish the feat last season (Yu Darvish and Chris Sale) are among the top 10 pitchers in the AL.

Of course, Felix has two problems — Doubront allows far too many home runs (1.34/9 last year) and currently sports poor command (3.97 BB/9).  The HR mark was good for 11th worst among AL pitchers with 150 IP, while only 6 pitchers sported worse command.  (I do find it interesting that two of those were Yu Darvish and Matt Moore, however – comparably aged pitchers with significantly more hype).  There clearly is some skill associated with HRs allowed and it is not as uncontrollable as BABIP for pitchers, but if we look to xFIP which normalizes for HR allowed, we see that Doubront’s 3.81 is good for 11th best in the league, just behind Hideki Kuroda.

Looking deeper into his actual HRs allowed, we see that 7 of the 24 were of the “just enough” variety, and his average true distance was about 3-4 feet below the average HR in the American League – nothing jumps out as definitive, but at the very least there are no red flags that he was throwing batting practice.  A quick scan of his first strike percentages doesn’t necessary imply that Doubront was putting himself behind in the count any more than most pitchers (though obviously to improve he will need to aspire to more than average).

Felix Doubront has never been an elite prospect, but his production at age 24 places him in very solid company.  The Red Sox should struggle this season and the AL East is always a battlefield for young pitchers.  With some luck on fly balls, Doubront could be #3-#4 starter for Otto teams looking to solidify their rotations in 2013.  If Doubront can make a step forward with his command at age 25, he could be a steal.

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About Bill Porter

Bill is an aspiring sportswriter (attorney by day) born in Washington DC, raised in New York, and currently living in San Francisco with his wife Kirsten and two spazzy labs, Fletch and Bear. Follow me on Twitter at @wfporter1972
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