We're almost two thirds of the way through the season now, so things are a little more certain now. Things like what's going on with Bud Norris, which is why I asked the question in the title of this piece.
Is Norris really the best pitcher on this staff? How good is that? Can he sustain it for the future?
We're not going to answer all of those or come close to answering them. But, I did think it was time to start talking about it. What has Bud been doing this season that's different from 2010?
First of all, he's dropped his walk rate. In fact, he's dropped it by quite a bit from last season, going from 4.51 down to 3.34. He's maintained that pretty consistently over his monthly splits this season, so there's not a lot of regression going on...yet. Norris never had this good a walk rate in the minors, but he's also a bit atypical as a pitcher. It's possible he's just learning how to harness his stuff and could sustain this for the future.
That's especially true when you compare that to his strikeout rate, which has dipped this season. If Norris is worried less about strikeouts and more about avoiding walks, that might explain the steep drop. Still, because of his innings and number of starts, Norris has a good shot at being the first starting pitcher since 2004 to record at least 200 strikeouts in a season. He's at 132 strikeouts right now and would need to average 8.5 K's in his next eight starts to get to 200. Only Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens have hit that mark since 1999, but Oswalt did it twice (2002 and 2004).
Let's look a little more at Norris after the jump...
Don't think that Norris' success is all tied up in his BABiP, either. That's hovered between .300-.320 every month this season and stands at .303 for the year. Norris has been slightly lucky in that regard, but not enough to justify the huge jump in his numbers.
The other factor which suggests this increase in value is sustainable is that his xFIP hasn't changed much from last season, dropping about half a run. That puts him in a very good spot, but isn't a big enough change to be skeptical about.
Norris' fastball velocity has dipped a bit, but is still very good at 92.5 MPH. It's effectiveness has also jumped up a tick, thought it's his slider that has become his best pitch. Norris is also getting more swings out of the strike zone, which may be thanks to that slider and an improving changeup.
To answer the title question, Norris has a slight edge on Wandy in WAR and peripherals right now, so unless he bombs the end of the season, he'll be the best pitcher on the staff. He's not quite one of the best pitchers in the game yet, but with these improvements this season, he's getting closer.