Joe Paterson's Scoreless Streak

Joe Paterson retires his first batter, tagging first-base against the Rockies on April 2nd. 18 more have followed. [Pic: Jordan Carter]

Last night saw Joe Paterson go out there and put up a zero next to his name, which is what he has been doing... Well, for his entire career, actually: it was his 13th consecutive appearance without allowing a run. That, in itself is quite impressive: he's only the sixteenth Diamondback with such a streak in team history. But Paterson has done it at the start of his career, and that's more impressive. Indeed, since the franchise came into existence in 1998, only five pitchers have had a longer run to open their time in the majors. Curiously, of the nine to reach 13 games, four of them played for Arizona.

The list, and more thoughts, after the jump.

Rk Start End G W L SV IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA Tm
1 Brad Ziegler 08-05-31 08-08-12 29 1 0 2 38.0 21 0 0 11 17 0 0.00 OAK
2 Matt Smith 06-04-14 06-09-22 22 0 0 0 18.2 7 0 0 10 17 0 0.00 NYY-PHI
3 Doug Slaten 06-09-04 07-04-21 18 0 0 0 11.2 7 0 0 3 9 0 0.00 ARI
4 Joe Smith 07-04-01 07-05-05 17 1 0 0 15.1 8 0 0 7 18 0 0.00 NYM
5 Clay Zavada 09-05-21 09-06-20 14 1 0 0 12.2 9 0 0 4 13 0 0.00 ARI
6 Joe Paterson 11-04-02 11-05-05 13 0 0 0 6.1 2 0 0 3 7 0 0.00 ARI

Aaron Crow 11-03-31 11-05-03 13 2 0 0 15.1 8 0 0 5 15 0 0.00 KCR
Mark Lowe 06-07-07 06-08-14 13 1 0 0 17.2 8 0 0 7 20 0 0.00 SEA
Bret Prinz 01-04-22 01-05-27 13 1 0 4 12.1 5 0 0 4 8 0 0.00 ARI
10 Six tied with 12

As you can see, Paterson is close to overtaking Zavada, but at current pace, will take him another couple of weeks of zeroes to catch franchise leader Slaten. It's no coincidence that all of that trio were not just left-handed, but were situational southpaws - LOOGYs, Left-handed One Out Guys - averaging less than an inning per start. For obvious reasons, it's easier to avoid giving up a run, when your job is to face one guy, though it helps to have decent bullpen colleagues, who will keep any inherited runners from scoring. The longest streak by any pitcher over that time is another LOOGY with an AZ connection: Mike Myers' 37 games in 1999-2000, when with the Phillies and Rockies.

Of course, if you sort it by innings rather than games, it's not as impressive. Paterson's 6.1 frames isn't even in the top hundred overall, and on the Diamondbacks' list comes in behind the likes of Erik Sabel. On that basis, you've got to be hugely impressed by Ziegler, who retired well over a hundred batters before allowing his first run. And he has gone on to be very successful with the A's, posting a 2.39 ERA in close to 200 appearances for them. I also note Paterson going head-to-head with the Royals' rookie Aaron Crow this season: which of them will blink first and allow a run?

If Paterson can keep this up, he'll be a very useful cog in the Diamondbacks' pen - not least because reliable left-handed arms out of the bullpen have been like Bigfoot i.e. close to mythical status in Arizona over the past few seasons. Since 2004, the only southpaw relievers to work 30 innings for us, with an ERA+ above 100, were Randy Choate (2007) and Clay Zavada (2009). Otherwise, we've been trying to cope with lesser left-handers, or doing without entirely. It's particularly sweet, that we acquired Paterson for virtually nothing in the Rule 5 draft, and took him from a divisional rival, the Giants.

It's a good thing he has been so effective, because it's not as if we have a lot of alternatives. Veteran Mike Hampton abruptly quite the game entirely during spring training, and the lefties on the Aces roster haven't been setting the pitching mound on fire. Jordan Norberto has a semi-decent ERA for Reno, of 4.73, but is still suffering from control problems - in 16 innings, he has walked ten batters and hit another two. And veteran Ron Mahay, whose signing was initially thought to provide a potential competitor for Paterson, has allowed 18 earned runs in just over twenty innings, including five homers.

Watching Paterson pitch, you can see why he is suited to the role. That delivery gives the impression of the ball hurtling towards the body of a left-handed batter, before making an abrupt right turn at the plate, and sweeping across it. Can't be any fun to try and put the bat on, and explains why opposing hitters are just .091 to date (2-for-22). He does seem to have some difficulty controlling it - MLB average is 63% strikes, while Paterson is down at 57%, and he has walked three batters, all of them with at least two men already on base. If he can rein that in, so much the better. But a 26.9% K rate? That'll do nicely.

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