White Sox fans should not be unfamiliar with the concept of a diminished Jake Peavy.
Diminished Jake Peavy and White Sox fans have met. White Sox fans invited Diminished Jake Peavy over for dinner, he was greeted warmly, then keeled over in pain midway through the second course, excused himself while apologizing profusely, and promised to reschedule.
So the following statement isn't fun, but it's a familiar type of non-fun.
"I'm as 100 percent as I can be. I don't know if I'm 100 percent as to what I was four years ago. I know I'm as 100 percent as 100 percent is going to get after what I had done (surgically). I guess that's the best way to say it."
The sobering admission that post-surgery Jake Peavy might not be able to reach the heights of his mid-20's prime after an injury that nearly ended his career, should not only sound like a rare rational and conservative assessment from Jake (though there's plenty of ambition later in the interview), but should also be unsurprising given the product the White Sox fan base has been witness to.
Peavy made his living in San Diego by striking out over a batter an inning with regularity (Averaged over 9.0 K/9 every season through 2004-2007, posted 8.6 K/9 in 2008, and had 9.74 K/9 before he went down with a knee injury in 2009), using mid-90's heat including a fine two-seamer, a hard slider, and a change good enough to stave off a dire platoon split.
That pitcher pretty much never showed up in Chicago. While Peavy was lights out in his initial debut in 2009, he claims he wasn't fully healthy yet, and wound up screwing up his mechanics. There's nothing in his statistical profile that bears out any physical hindrances during that stretch, but if Jake Peavy says he's injured, it's probably safe to conclude that he's really quite injured.
Injury and missed time would probably be the chief complaint about Peavy's time in Chicago. He missed all but the last three starts in 2009 due to a lingering knee injury, dealt with tendinitis all throughout the early portion of 2010 before suffering the catastrophic lat tear in July that ended his season and delayed his 2011 start, suffered a groin injury in June of 2011 to provoke another DL stint, then was shut down in September when the Sox were out of the race and there didn't seem to be much point in him continuing to battle inflammation. Whoa, out of breath after compiling all that.
When Peavy has pitched for the White Sox, he's put together 238.2 IP worth of 7.8 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 for a 4.49 ERA. His home run rate has surprisingly remained static since coming over from Petco Park, but his overpowering stuff has been absent.
Since returning from the often-mentioned incident where muscles slid down his back, Peavy maintained his average-ish strikeout rate (7.66 K/9), and showed an average fastball velocity a full 2 mph less than his prime years (90.7 mph). He's compensated by working in the zone more (1.97 BB/9), but how sustainable that mark is, or how much his endurance his repaired shoulder can be expected to display after he noticeably waned at the end of starts, are both pressing questions. The loss of his ability to overpower hitters seems a bit more firm in its reality.
So Jake is hampered, and admittedly reduced in ability, but also another year removed from a surgery that surely now he's more fully recovered from. Some things can be expected to improve slightly as he transitions from Still Broken Half-Man to Surgically Restored Reasonable Facsimile of His Former Self, some things are diminished for good.
Given the fickle nature of pitcher velocity, where decline occurs just from general wear, or aging, a drop for Jake from a 92-93 mph average down to 90-91 feels like a pretty safe bet to be real and sustained. Given the severity of his injury, a drop that mild feels like good fortune. An accompanying decrease in slider efficacy could come with that.
Operating in the zone more could be Peavy's adjustment, which would be a sound one. It will make him more hittable, but since his ability to get swings and misses is diminished, anything he can do to reduce baserunners would be worth it.
The larger concern is his perceived limitation in endurance, which is of course tied to his health. In his two years and change in Chicago, Peavy has yet to healthily progress through a season, sustain 100+ pitch efforts and recover in full for the next outing. The argument could easily be made that his diminished production could simply be the result of constantly pitching through pain or with inflammation the whole time. Of course, that could be what not being 100% anymore is all about.
Accepting reduced abilities doesn't sound like it means accepting fragility, though. Not if you're listening to Jake, that is
""I would be terribly disappointed," Peavy said of not making his expected 33 starts. "It's something I want to do and I've done before. I just haven't been healthy since I got traded over here."
Maybe that's more acceptable this year. The White Sox probably need a surprise bananas year from Peavy (and others) to be competitive, and are almost certainly buying out his contract once the 2012 season finished. Mismanaging his health for short-sighted reasons can't sabotage any future seasons anymore.
That's the same reason why properly gauging expectations for Peavy is a year too late, but there are worse things than progress for the sake of progress. Don't knock a mildly productive Jake Peavy season with appropriate precautions taken until you've tried it.
It's hard to think that Robin Ventura that didn't take note of Peavy's handling as an area of improvement, but he remains only an empty vessel of hope until he actually takes the helm. Given how little he's been seen--or ever will be--at full capacity, maybe so is Peavy.