It's easy to see what went wrong with Ian Krol in 2014. After allowing a 3.95 ERA in 27 1/3 innings with the Washington Nationals in 2013, Krol gave up more hits and walks in 32 2/3 innings with the Tigers last season. The big jump in his walk rate negated a small improvement in strikeout rate, resulting in a lower strikeout-to-walk ratio, higher fielding independent pitching (FIP), and a 4.96 ERA.
Krol dominated left-handers and held his own against righties in 2013, but struggled against everyone in 2014. Righties hit a whopping .348/.410/.638 with five home runs in 78 plate appearances against him, while lefties chipped in eight extra base hits in 76 plate appearances. I tried to defend Krol somewhat during our 2014 report card series, but couldn't find much to defend what he did in June and later.
Krol got off to a hot start in 2014, but like the club itself, the success didn't last. He allowed a 1.98 ERA during the team's 27-12 start and had a 2.05 ERA as late as June 9th. He did not walk a batter until May 19th. Then, the wheels came off. Krol allowed seven runs in his next four outings -- yet converted his only save opportunity -- which raised his ERA all the way up to 4.32. He was then placed on the disabled list due to some inflammation in his left shoulder, but the 16 day DL stint did not improve his performance. Krol allowed a 7.04 ERA with eight strikeouts and five walks in his last 7 2/3 MLB innings.
One of the main differences between Krol's performance in 2013 and 2014 was his pitch selection. He threw his curveball more often in 2014, especially against left-handers. This made sense in theory, as opposing batters hit .211 with one home run off the curveball in 2013. However, the curve failed him in 2014, as opposing batters hit .348 with eight extra base hits in 44 at-bats. Lefties saw the curveball more often to open an at-bat, while both righties and lefties got a heavier diet of benders when they were behind in the count.
Krol's command was also lacking in 2014. The jump in walk rate was a big red flag, and Krol's overall pitch location was poor. He pounded the strike zone in 2013, including a solid 58.1 percent first strike percentage.
This was not the case in 2014. Krol threw first pitch strikes to just 52.6 percent of the batters he faced, which really came back to bite him. After a 1-0 count, opposing batters hit .344/.452/.656 off Krol in 2014. A lot of the pitches Krol threw were not particularly close, either, resulting in opposing batters swinging at a lower percentage of pitches outside the strike zone in 2014.
Krol has one year and 82 days of service time entering his age 24 season, making him a likely candidate to reach arbitration status after the 2016 season. He will make close to the major league minimum for the next two seasons, and, barring a major turnaround, should still be in the six-figure range after his first year of arbitration. Krol still has two minor league options remaining, and may be a candidate to begin the year in Toledo.
Stats and projections
Krol's stat line this spring is anything but impressive, but reports from the local media suggest that his spring is going better than his 5.40 ERA indicates. He reportedly hit 97 miles per hour on the radar gun in his first outing of the year -- he touched 96 miles per hour last year, for what it's worth -- and has learned how to throw teammate Alex Wilson's cutter. Krol has vowed not to be "lazy," and has been working on throwing his breaking ball for strikes.
However, despite all of the ink spilt at his expense, Krol may be fighting an uphill battle for a bullpen spot. The Tigers are likely looking for someone who can throw multiple innings at a time in a "long relief" role. Given Krol's severe platoon splits, that may be a role best left for Blaine Hardy or Kyle Ryan, who has the hot hand at the moment. It's tough to say which direction the Tigers will go, and it probably won't matter after a few weeks. Krol will get a chance to prove himself again at some point in 2015, and he will need to demonstrate better command if he is going to remain on the Tigers' big league roster for an extended period of time.