The standard for Wingnuts pitching was set in 2009, when five Wichita pitchers made at least 16 starts apiece — most of them quality — and a franchise record 3.52 team ERA was established.
The Wingnuts reached the playoffs that season on the strengths of a set-in-stone rotation of Derek Blacksher, Will Savage, Adam Cowart, Gabe Medina and Brad Davis. Only Medina had an ERA higher than 3.38 and only two other pitchers made starts.
Wichita — besides the stability — has built a similar rotation this season but it hasn’t always produced similar results.
Josh Lowey, Blacksher and Ryan Hinson match up favorably with the top three on the ’09 staff, but but inconsistency has raised some questions about the staff as the Wingnuts close in on a playoff spot.
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All three have been brilliant at times but only Lowey, who will try for an American Association-record 15th win on Monday, has carried excellence through the season. Blacksher is regaining the form that made him the postseason Game 1 starter in 2009, and Hinson has been up and down.
"We’ve got to get more consistent, no question," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "This is the time to do it, too. We’re trying to make a run here to finish this thing, and with about 10 games left, this is a good time to get hot and get that momentum going into the playoffs."
Lowey has three starts that can be classified as rough, but two of them were his most recent outings, both against El Paso. Lowey had a 3.00 ERA entering his Aug. 15 start at home against the Diablos, which he lost after allowing seven runs on 13 hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Six days later, Lowey pitched in hitter-friendly El Paso and allowed six earned runs on 11 hits. But since the conditions there favor offense, Lowey earned the win even though his ERA jumped to 3.65
"It’s tough to gauge that," Hooper said. "We didn’t pitch well there, but I don’t think too many people do."
Hinson often sandwiches strong starts between not-so-strong ones, and Blacksher endured a difficult stretch before a recent turnaround. In his last four starts, Blacksher has regained velocity on his fastball while refining his delivery, and he has gone 3-0 with a 1.91 ERA.
"He’s found his little click the last few starts," Hooper said. "He told me, ’I’m back, skip, and I’m not going anywhere.’ ”
The Wingnuts’ team ERA is 4.46 and 12 pitchers have made at least one start. Those numbers put this staff behind the one from ’09, but the current version can exceed the previous by winning the franchise’s first championship.
Not enough information — Advanced fielding metrics used in the major leagues, such as range factor and zone rating, would be helpful in explaining the standout defensive performance of Wingnuts shortstop Ryan Khoury.
The only numbers available to judge Khoury are errors (a team-leading 11) and fielding percentage (.973), stats that don’t come close to quantifying his value.
"I try to get to as many balls as I can, especially on this turf," Khoury said. "I’ve had a couple where I dove and tried to get up and threw the ball away on a double play.... I like to be that guy in the middle that pitchers can look to and trust."
Khoury often appears exasperated when he fails to make a seemingly impossible throw after a ball he labored to reach. Part of being such an effective defensive player, though, is believing any play can be made. Khoury has pushed the limits of that theory often this season.
"Every pitch … it could be a chance for me to make a diving play and save a run and something like that," Khoury said. "Even if I get to a ball and don’t finish it off, I get disappointed because I feel like I have the ability to do that and help our pitchers out."
New addition — The Wingnuts added outfielder Steve Stanley, a former second-round pick of the Oakland Athletics who had been playing in a lower-level independent league in Arizona.
Stanley attended Notre Dame and reached Triple-A with the A’s, but he hasn’t played affiliated ball since 2006.
The 32-year-old Stanley was a subject of a lengthy New York Times article in 2005 by "Moneyball" author Michael Lewis after Stanley wrote a letter to President George W. Bush thanking Bush for addressing steroids in a State of the Union address.