What’s wrong with Dave Bush?

12 06 2008

After coming over from Toronto in the Lyle Overbay deal, Dave Bush tantalized Brewers fans with 200+ innings and a 12-11 record. His ERA was a respectable 4.41. The Milwaukee organization thought Dave was going to be a big part of their future plans.

Since 2006, however, Dave has largely disappointed. Thus far in 2008, he has posted a 2-6 record with a 5.85 ERA. So what’s wrong?

Bush still has above-average stuff on the mound. He has a high-80s, low-90s fastball that has a lot of two-seam movement. When it’s going right, that pitch has a little sink to it going away from left-handed hitters. Dave’s curveball has always been his out-pitch, but it has always been inconsistent. It used to be a big, looping curve. This year, however, it is much harder with tighter movement. He has an average change-up and cutter. He’s even been playing with a slider. The slider is not a good pitch at this point though.

If it’s not his stuff, then what is it? The obvious problem is the first inning. Opposing teams have been able to jump all over Dave Bush before he’s had a chance to settle in. In the first, opposing hitters are hitting a gaudy .319 BA with a .407 on-base percentage. His walk rate is fairly high in the first inning, and Dave has a tendency to fall behind hitters when he nibbles at the corners.

The main reason Dave has struggled in the first has been the home run ball. Out of the 15 home runs he’s given up this season, 5 have come in the first inning. Nothing takes the wind out of a pitcher like giving up a first inning bomb. After falling behind hitters in the first, Dave has no choice but to come right down the middle with a fastball. Big league hitters will not miss those very often.

If Dave can get through the first inning, he settles in nicely. That is, until the sixth inning. Throughout his big league career, the sixth inning has been Dave’s bugaboo. The numbers look a lot like those from the first. He’s letting opposing hitters bat .375 with a .417 on-base percentage. Dave is not walking as many batters later in the games, but he’s allowing more extra-base hits. His fastball loses a lot of movement, and he largely abandons his curveball in the later innings.

Dave Bush also needs to pound the strike zone more often. The right-hander is only getting ahead of the opposing hitter at a 54% clip. Obviously, this puts him at a big disadvantage, having to work from behind to every other batter. By comparison, Ben Sheets gets a first pitch strike 56% of the time. That doesn’t seem like much, but how about this? Benny falls behind 2-0 to only 14% of opposing hitters. Dave, on the other hand, falls behind 2-0 against 23% of hitters he faces. Start after start, those numbers add up to a big difference in ERA and opposing batting average.

What is more amazing is that when Dave gets ahead in the count 0-1, opposing hitters are hitting .429 on that next pitch! Shouldn’t he be in the driver’s seat in that situation? It certainly seems like the numbers should be the exact opposite. It could be a statistical anomaly, but it suggests that Dave is losing concentration after getting ahead in the count. Perhaps he’s not expecting the opposing hitters to swing after falling behind. Perhaps he’s just thrown a string of bad pitches on an 0-1 count. Whatever the reason, Dave Bush needs to turn this trend around, or he’ll never be successful in the big leagues. A pitcher simply cannot rely on falling behind 1-0 to get big league hitters out.

There is one more issue when Dave Bush is on the mound. If he’s pitching at home, he’s been above-average with a 3.45 ERA in five starts. When he is on the road, however, Dave is putting up a monstrous 8.10 ERA and an 0-5 record. Perhaps Dave Bush is a large reason the Brewers are struggling on the road this season.

The home-road splits are not a statistical anomaly in 2008. Dave has a track record of scuffling on the road and succeeding at home. In 2007, he posted a 6.14 ERA, compared to a 4.26 ERA at home. In 2006, Bush had a 5.38 ERA on the road and a 3.53 ERA at home. This is more than a trend. It’s almost a rule for Dave Bush.

What does this mean?

Although the numbers suggest Ned Yost should start Bush at home and sit him on the road, that does not make logistical sense. Milwaukee cannot survive with a four-man rotation away from Miller Park. It must be a psychological issue for Dave Bush when he’s on the mound on the road. It is much easier said than done to simply get past the problem and pitch more effectively if it’s in his head. Something has to change though, that’s for certain.

As for getting ahead of hitters, Dave needs to pound the strike zone, but it needs to get the ball on the corners a bit more. Bush’s control has been a big problem for him. He’s either missing over the heart of the plate when he gets ahead in the count 0-1, or he’s losing batters completely and walking them. There seems to be no in-between for Dave.

In conclusion, Dave Bush simply needs to pitch better. He must control his pitches on the corners and not fall behind hitters so often. Perhaps his fastball has too much movement in towards right-handers, so it catches the heart of the plate more often than not. Dave still has a chance to be a big part of Milwaukee’s future, but he has some major issues to work out on the mound. The Milwaukee Brewers would greatly benefit from a successful Dave Bush.




4 responses

12 06 2008


I wrote that in February. I’m still not convinced he should have ever been in the rotation. I think it’s pretty funny that BP has him projected as a guy with a 4.35 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP, while giving up 20 HRs in 155 IP. Well… he’s currently got a 5.85 ERA with a 1.33 WHIP and 15 HRs. Clearly the HR ball has been the difference.

12 06 2008
bernie carbo

That’s an interesting point brought up about Bush falling behind hitters 2-0 comparred to Sheets who tends to not fall behind 2-0.

Is that percentage you listed over Bush’s career or only this year?

I think this is the first year that Bush has experienced control problems. His strikeout to walk ratio is far worse than any other year. Maybe, he is stressing out when falling behind hitters and throwing hittable strikes or maybe he always did. Has he given up more homeruns this year than years past?

My feeling in the winter and my amateur suggestions to Bush when he called me up and asked me were….”Waste some more pitches when you’re ahead in the count. DOn’t be afraid of your stuff. Make them go fishing.”…..

But seriously, now you’re saying he’s falling behind hitters. Geez, I hope I didn’t mess with his strategy on the mound.

I get the impression that Bush has the potential to be like Justin Duchscherer and I think he is in small samples…..but then again, maybe his stuff is not as paralyzing as Ducscherers stuff. I like the work Villanueva is doing in the bullpen and I like the way Carlos talks encouragement to himself as he walks off the mound. Both Ducscherer and Villanueva seem to pitch with their strengths. I get the impression that Bush sometimes pitches in a way that he isn’t…..

Yost loves Bush which I think is ok….Parra attributes his recent effectiveness (last night excluded) to confidence. I never had the impression that Bush was confident. He always looks terrified……but he has the stuff to be a consistent pitcher who allows 4-5 runs a game over a 9 inning span me thinks which would be useful to a staff theat one day will hopefully have Sheets, Gallardo, Parra, Suppan…..Man, I’m glad Shroeder and Anderson don’t talk about Gallardo very often…..it’d be too frustrating.

Off the subject but I think Brain anderon is growing into a great announcer…good compliment to shroeder…..alot like Darrin Sutton and Mark Grace…..meat and potatoes meets ironic ivory tower kind of duo.

12 06 2008
Jim Breen

Bush is falling behind hitters, but he’s actually pitching worse after he gets a first pitch strike. If he falls behind batters, he walks them or grooves a fastball down the middle. If he gets ahead of them, he still grooves a fastball down the middle.

Nice comparison with Justin Duchscherer. If only, right?

13 08 2008
Right Field Bleachers » Blog Archive » In the News (6/12)

[…] Brewers Nation asks “What’s wrong with Dave Bush?”: They makes some pretty good points; he has the tools to be a better pitcher than he’s shown and […]

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