Dylan Axelrod‘s continued presence on the plane of White Sox existence fits in nicely with every enjoyable, archetypal underdog story. Beyond being released from the Padres and having to work his way back up the minor league ladder from independent league ball, his physical appearance–lacking the look of superior athleticism coupled with a nasal voice, place him pretty firmly outside the conception of what makes a successful major league baseball player.
Beyond appearances and background, Axelrod’s combination of an underwhelming fastball with an effective low-and-away sinker-slider approach allows him to exist in a role where he isn’t expected to regularly stick in a starting rotation, but can appear at a moment’s notice to deliver a surprisingly competent start. He’s in a constant state of clearing very reasonable expectations, and with Hector Santiago pushing him down to the seventh starter slot, Axelrod is liable to stay there, and keep his soft spot in White Sox fan hearts.
So what’s he been up to?
"“It’s definitely a big step to cleaning up baseball,” Axelrod said of the HGH testing. “The blood test is a little bit invasive, but at the same time it’s for the betterment of the game. It was like a snowball, what happened before: One person does it, and you feel you have to do it to compete. Now it feels like you can just play baseball.”"
One of the primary lessons of the steroid era was that there is no profile for the PED user; they emerge from all sizes, shapes, and skill levels. Someone like Axelrod who is battling on the fringes of the major leagues is just as likely to be using as a muscled-up league-leader in home runs, or close to it, at least. Still, a marginal right-hander who has trouble cracking 90 mph in the middle innings cheering baseball stepping back a bit from the reign of the superhumans isn’t the most outrageous development.
Axelrod not being quite as good as he should be
Glenn DuPaul of The Hardball Times has been doing some work creating a formula for predictive FIP, based on walks and strikeouts. In his initial testings on whether it can applied to minor leaguers to predict major league performances, Axelrod’s 3.69 pFIP going to a 5.47 ERA in the majors, was one of the examples of failure.
Even when he’s eviscerating the minor leagues, Axelrod depends on control. When he’s up in the majors, and is less inclined to challenge hitters with his below-average heat in the zone, it’s not a surprise to see those walk numbers rise.
The Axelrod Effect
The Verducci Effect is a theory offered by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci that pitchers coming off of a year where their workload increased dramatically were ripe for decline in performance. It’s based on anecdotal observation, and has naturally been taking a statistical analysis whipping of recent. After a long dismantling of the theory, Baseball Prospectus’ Russell Carleton stated simply “It’s time to just admit that the Verducci Effect doesn’t hold water and move on.”
However, the column chugs on again this year, with the qualifier that “is not a scientific, predictive system. It’s a rule of thumb to identify pitchers who may be at risk.” Rule of thumb, you say? Unsurprisingly, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are on it, even though Quintana could regress in 2013 and it could have nothing to do with workload. More surprisingly is that Dylan Axelrod was on the list the year before, and apparently is being touted now as feather in the theory’s cap, for his middling 2012 campaign.
Axelrod dominated the minors in 2011, received a late-season call-up, and three starts at the end of a doomed year. He was surprisingly effective against the eventual division-winning Tigers, struggled against the Indians and was pulled before the start could become a disaster in a rare moment of alertness that year from Ozzie Guillen, and then dominated the Blue Jays in the last game of Guillen’s reign. Throw in another relief appearance, and Axelrod had all of 18.2 innings in the major leagues that season, with a 2.89 ERA. Exactly zero human beings assessed that to be a realistic projection of his ability going forward, including zero members of the White Sox organization.
His “regression” in 2012, when he no longer had the ability to strike over a batter per inning, came as Axelrod was yanked back and forth from the rotation and bullpen, and had seven of the 31 runs he allowed over 51 innings come in a suicide-mission start on three days rest against the Blue Jays on the last day of the 1st half. If Axelrod wasn’t a fringe starter whose utility to the club was based on his versatility and availability, I would say that Robin Ventura was trying to break him for information. There’s no real way to claim that Axelrod was worse in 2012 unless you’re limited to comparing the stat lines and taking them as gospel. But if we’re going to use anecdotal theories over statistical analysis, they might as well have context.
So most of this wasn’t about what Dylan Axelrod is actually up to, but more just a rumination on what Dylan Axelrod is. However, that is still a competent assessment of Dylan Axelrod’s current activities, since he is somewhere, somehow, being Dylan Axelrod.
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