Can Dave Bush Keep it Up?

Dave Bush allowed two runs in six innings against the Astros on Tuesday night to pick up his third win of the season and lower his ERA to 3.74 (3.46 if you throw out his silly relief appearance on Opening Day).  He’s been pretty consistent for about a year now and I’m starting to wonder if he figured something out or if this is just a prolonged stretch of better luck. 

Baseball is funny because Bush’s turnaround almost wasn’t allowed to happen.  On April 27th of last year Dave Bush was demoted to Triple-A Nashville.  The move wasn’t without merit.  He’d finished the 2007 season with a second half ERA of 5.47, allowing 17 home runs in just 79 innings.  His 2008 season started out even worse, losing three of his first four starts with a 6.75 ERA and 12 walks in 22.2 innings.  At that point Yovani Gallardo was returning from a spring training knee injury and the Brewers decided that Bush was the weakest link in the rotation.  They demoted him to the minors, his first trip to the minors since 2005.

Bush’s trip to the minors lasted all of one start.  Gallardo suffered a season ending injury to his other knee and Bush got a second chance in the Milwaukee rotation.  If Gallardo doesn’t get hurt then it’s quite possible that Bush would have remained in the minors for much of 2008, maybe never getting that second chance.  The baseball Gods smiled upon Dave Bush.

Bush’s first four starts after returning from the minors weren’t much better than how he started the season.  In four games he was 1-3 with a 6.65 ERA and a 7/6 K/BB ratio in 23 innings.  Then something happened for Bush.  Beginning with his start on May 27th he went 8-5 in 21 starts with a 3.38 ERA and was the winning pitcher in the only playoff win for the Brewers. 

All was not roses, however, as there were signs that his good run was a little bit more luck than great pitching.  His FIP during that span was roughly 4.56 and he allowed 19 HR in just 138.1 IP.  The one area where Bush did improve was his BB/9IP, which he lowered to 1.96, but in the end he was mostly helped by a .238 BABIP during that time. 

Coming into this season I noted that Bush was likely to regress from his 2008 performance.  His BABIP was certainly going to rise and his high home rate was going to catch up to him.  So far none of that has happened.  In eight starts this season Bush has a 3.46 ERA, a 4.82 FIP, and a BABIP of .244. 

If you combine his first eight starts of this season with how he finished in 2008 you get about a full season worth of starts that looks like this:

29 GS, 11 W – 5 L, 3.40 ERA in 190.1 IP. 

That’s something that looks great on the surface, but….

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it also comes with these numbers:

4.63 FIP, 1.26 HR/9IP, 122K/41BB and a .239 BABIP

The 1.49 BB/9IP is very good, and it’s one of the reason he’s been able to get away with so many home runs, but I just can’t see him maintaining a .239 BABIP for another season.  Bush has seen his HR/9IP go from 1.11 in 2006 to 1.30 in 2007 to 1.41 in 2008 to a whopping 1.53 so far in 2009.  His GO/FO rate has plummeted to 0.78 this season.

It makes you wonder how much having Mike Cameron in CF, who was second in UZR for CF in 2008 and leads all CF in UZR this season, is helping out Bush.  Is Bush actually helping himself by increasing his FB rate and getting the ball to his best defender?  He’s not getting great support from his corner OF, though, so I’m guessing the increased FB rate is still not a good idea.

It’s really hard to trade away a pitcher who’s had such good fantasy stats for so long.  You look at the 11 wins, 3.40 ERA and 1.035 WHIP since last May and you can’t let go.  The problem is that there’s nothing to support this good run other than a long stretch of better luck than he had in the past.  The smarter play would be to get as much as you can for Dave Bush right now.