Something changes in baseball when the calendar turns to June. Through April and May we will often see players and pitchers post numbers that are far better than they were expected to, or teams that get off to shockingly good starts. By June, though, the season is a third over, and the weight of numbers and reality starts to weigh on players. Overachieving players start to come back to earth, and teams that are playing beyond themselves find that they just can’t do it anymore. June can be especially cruel for pitchers. By the time June dawns starting pitchers have faced many of their rivals at least once, and there is a large sample size of recent performances for opposing teams to scout before they face the pitchers. Good pitchers will still continue to be good pitchers, but those who are getting by because of unexpected or unfamiliar stuff aren’t going to get away with it anymore. Pitchers also have 10 or a dozen starts under their belts, so they are starting to feel the wear and tear of the season on their arms.
On the other hand, there are pitchers out there who don’t really come into their own until June. Sometimes they just need a couple of months to get game-fit and in top form. Or maybe they don’t get comfortable as a pitcher until they have faced teams once and know what to expect. Or perhaps they are veterans who have seen a lot of baseball played and find it hard to get motivated before the games really start to mean anything.
Whatever the reason, there are some guys who are consistently strong in June, and others who consistently struggle. Today we are going to look at three of each. Each of these guys has been active for the last three years, and has pitched in June in each of those years. Each has at least 14 June decisions over the last three years, so the sample size is big enough to be meaningful.
Felix Hernandez (12-2) – The Mariners have been extremely disappointing this year, so they could use the boost of a strong June from the King. The problem is that Hernandez has been pretty darned good this year – he has nine quality starts in 11 outings. The problem that he isn’t getting the run support, so he is just 2-4. If the Mariners’ bats wake up – which they are slowly showing signs of – then Hernandez is already pitching well enough to put together a strong June.
Carlos Zambrano (14-3) – Zambrano has owned the month of June, and the Cubs have to be hoping that it happens again. He was so bad early this season that he was put in the bullpen after just four starts. He has worked his way back to the rotation as June dawns, though. Now all that remains to be seen is if he can not only recapture the past June magic, but just look like a major league pitcher again.
Dan Haren (13-4) – We saw our first sign that Haren remembers that it’s June already. In his last three starts of May he was terrible – 18 earned runs in 18.2 innings. On June 1, though, he dealt up eight shutout innings in a classic against the Dodgers. He didn’t factor in the extra innings decision, but it was still like he was a whole new guy.
Bronson Arroyo (4-13) – The Reds are off to the most surprising start in baseball (with apologies to the Blue Jays for that call), and Arroyo’s veteran presence has helped in that. He started his June swoon a day early this year, though. In his second last start of May he pitched 7.2 scoreless innings and couldn’t have looked more comfortable. On May 31, though, he allowed 10 hits and 7 earned runs in just 4.1 innings, and looked terrible.
Joe Blanton (5-12) – It’s not nice to say, but Blanton hasn’t been good in June in large part because he’s just not a very good pitcher. He’s 1-4 with a 5.68 ERA this year, and has been particularly ineffective one the road. Blanton would have to be like a whole new pitcher to avoid another rough June.
Livan Hernandez (6-12) – This one is interesting because Hernandez has been so inconceivably good this year. His ERA is just 2.15 and he has had eight quality starts in ten outings so far. Not bad for a 35 year old who hasn’t had an ERA below 4.00 on a season since 2005. Though Hernandez has been consistently solid there are signs that he could be coming down to earth a bit – his ERA has climbed after each of his last eight outings, and 11 of his 16 earned runs on the season have come in his last four starts.