Oswalt, 35, was named Texas League Pitcher of the Week for the period ending on Father’s Day. During the course of the week, Oswalt twirled 15.1 innings over two starts for the Drillers, he allowed 10 hits and one earned run. Oswalt struck out 11 in that span.
Though he was one of the better starting pitchers in the National League for more than a decade, the past few years have been unkind to the former three-time all-star. Oswalt battled injuries in his final two years with the Phillies, though the results remained strong. He waited to sign until after the 2012 season had begun before agreeing to join the Texas Rangers, but he made only nine starts for the club before being banished to the bullpen due to ineffectiveness. A free agent again after the season, Oswalt agreed to a contract with the Rockies on May 2 of this year and began working his way into pitching shape.
Overall, he’s made five starts in Tulsa, posting a 3-2 record but with a sparkling 2.14 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 25 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.
But even as his Double-A numbers seem impressive enough, there are plenty of red flags indicating that Oswalt may well struggle upon his return to the Senior Circuit.
Though undersized, Oswalt has always been a power pitcher. A fastball that used to average better than 94 miles per hour, however, was down to 91.5 mph last season. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem and Oswalt, who has finished in the top-6 of the NL Cy YoungAward voting six times, is a guy who is refined as a pitcher, but the decreased velocity does mean a smaller chance to get away with mistakes.
Last season with the Rangers, Oswalt’s mistakes were routinely pounded. He allowed an alarming 11 home runs in just 59 innings of work. It wasn’t just a product of pitching in Arlington, either. The previous year, while pitching his home games in the bandbox in Philadelphia, Oswalt yielded just 10 bombs in 139 innings pitched. At 1.7 home runs per nine innings, Oswalt’s 2012 was more than double his career average in terms of serving up the long ball. In only 33 innings of work at Tulsa this season, Oswalt allowed five home runs. If command within the strike zone is the issue, Coors Field might be the worst possible place for Oswalt to throw his home games.
Though he’s never produced outrageous strikeout numbers, Oswalt fanned just 6.75 batters per nine with the Drillers. That number doesn’t bother me as much as the .218 batting average on balls in play that Oswalt has benefitted from this season. Put together the lower-than-ideal strikeout rate, the high home run rate, and the low BABIP and you get a pitcher who drastically out-performed his peripherals in the Texas League.
Now, Oswalt is a 12-year major league veteran with more than 160 career wins under his belt and a track record of not just success, but dominance. It is extremely likely that Oswalt treated his time with Tulsa as nothing more than a normal Spring Training and simply didn’t worry about anything except getting himself ready to pitch with the Rockies. While the results are nice to see, I don’t think it was ever even close to necessary that Oswalt turned heads during his minor league stint; he was going to get called up as soon as he felt ready to help the big club, perhaps no matter what the numbers said.
Ordinarily, you look at a guy with the track record that Oswalt brings and you feel very comfortable with what to expect from him. For the first 11 of his dozen seasons, Oswalt was the picture of consistent excellence. Last year, his first tour in the American League, some important numbers skewed away from career norms and the results were ugly. As long as last season was merely an outlier campaign, the Rockies will get a huge boost to their starting rotation and fortify their status as a contender in the NL West. If last season represented a new normal for Oswalt, however, the results could be ugly.