This fanpost started out last night as a "it's all Mark Connor's fault that Joaquin Benoit is on the skids this season" rant. I admit up front I don't like Mark Connor; I think he's a lousy pitching coach for the pitching situation that the Rangers had last year and that they have this year. He needs to be optioned to AAA and left there, metaphorically speaking. But enough about Mark Connor...
After thinking about Benoit's latest outing and his numbers this season versus 2006 and 2007, I think that he is pitching with an injury. The main source of his issues is control; the fastball isn't quite duck-and-cover bad, but it's a crap shoot as to whether the pitch is going to be a strike or ball. His sinker doesn't sink. He missed a chunk of Spring Training with a "dead arm" and just came back from a DL stint for a sore shoulder.
If you look back at Joaquin's numbers since moving into relief, there's nothing that sticks out in terms of an abnormal increase in workload or something that would indicate a possible injury concern with his elbow or shoulder. Yet at the same time, his bad numbers are nearly all up (H/9, HR/9, BB/9, WHIP) while his good numbers (K/9's the only one I can think of at this hour) are nearly all down. If this were some kind of post-contract year slump, I would expect him to give back some of the progress he made from 2006 to 2007, but his decline this year goes way beyond merely giving some gains back; his H/9, HR/9, BB/9 and WHIP are all quite a bit worse than his 2006 numbers and his K/9 is lower.
I think he's pitching injured. His control problems this season would lead me to venture a guess that he's got an elbow problem. The dead arm and shoulder issues would lead me to think he's trying to compensate by throwing harder, causing the kinds of cascading arm and shoulder problems Will Carroll wrote about in his book Saving The Pitcher.
One question I can't answer from looking at his numbers in 2006 through this season that I'm hoping someone here can: Is the velocity on his fastball noticeably off this season from last season (more than 3mph slower, for example?)? It seems like it's similar to me, but since I can barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday, fastball velocities from a year ago are a bit beyond my recollection.
The Rangers organization has already seen one instance of a Latin American pitcher pitching with an injury in Vicente Padilla. Padilla pitched until he barely could pitch and then finally fessed up to hurting. Here's a thought: Has Mark Connor, Ron Washington or any of the other staff thought about maybe asking Padilla to approach Benoit to suss out if he's throwing hurt or not? If he won't tell Connor, Wash, JD or Nolan if he's hurt, maybe he'll talk honestly with the guy who's been down that road.
I think the bottom line is that Benoit is a detriment to the team when he's brought into the game in the shape he's in right now. I don't think the coaching staff has any confidence in him and he doesn't look like he has any confidence in his stuff. We need the 2007 Joaquin Benoit in our pen; we don't need the 2008 Joaquin Benoit.