Joaquin Benoit so far doesn’t look anything like the guy who dominated in Tampa Bay last year. Seriously. Nothing at all. And the numbers so far support the claim. Through May 1st Benoit has already allowed more earned runs than he did all of last year, with most of the damage coming in his last three appearances.
So what’s the problem? Why is this guy, who was so dominant last year, getting whacked around so badly?
Whether it’s a control issue, or a complete disregard for what worked for him last year, his attack plan for hitters has pretty much gone out the window.
Last year his best out pitch to left-handers was the change-up sinking and running off the outer half of the plate. We’ve barely seen it at all, certainly not in the last week. Benoit also got a lot of put-outs against lefties with a fastball that would start off inside then dart over the inside corner.
Against right-handers he’d run that same fastball in on the hands or just throw his change-up down in the zone. Also, you’d see some of his third pitch, the deadly slider he’d throw a foot off the plate that induced some real ugly swings. Again, were not seeing very much of this.
Aside from his inability to find out-pitches for batters on both sides of the plate, he’s having two other major issues. While his fastball hasn’t lost any velocity from last year, it has lost its late tailing action that made it so hard for batters to square up. Now when he tries to get lefties out with fastballs on the outer half, they’re just poking them safely in the outfield, and making it look rather easy.
The second issue is something Jim Leyland eluded to after the game today. To paraphrase Jim, he said Benoit’s change-up is off. I’d agree with that. Joaquin has all but rolled the change-up to the plate lately. It makes it hard to induce swings and misses with the pitch if the hitter is certain it won’t be a strike.
Joaquin Benoit was beyond brilliant last year, and he doesn’t have to be that good to be effective. But he needs to re-visit some of the tactics that made him successful last year, and the straight-as-an-arrow fastball has got to go. He clearly has the ability - perhaps Rick Knapp just needs to channel it out of him. Otherwise, the eighth inning might not be the right place for Benoit anymore, which would suck since that would mean we just wasted a ton of money.