The enigma that is Bronson Arroyo

You should have known what you were getting yourself into with Bronson Arroyo.  Having him on your fantasy team can be gut-wrenching.  He can carry your pitching staff or he can utterly destroy you.  For your viewing pleasure, the essence of Arroyo’s wicked volatility has already been fully captured in the early stages of 2010, leaving many owners an emotionally-drained wreck.

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At the end of each season, like clockwork, the 33-year-old right-hander will put up numbers you’d sign up for in a New York minute.  Arroyo has been a 14-game winner four times over the last five seasons, has thrown an average of 209 innings while compiling a palatable 4.08 ERA from 2004-2009, and is usually good for around 150 strikeouts. 

At this point, you might ask yourself what the big deal is in all of this.  Well, what seems like a model of consistency from year to year is nothing but a facade once you delve within each individual season.  In an impressive 2008 campaign, Arroyo compiled a stellar 15-11 record with 163 K’s and a 3.47 post All-Star break ERA.  However, a quick glance at his game log reveals that he permitted five earned runs (or more) a ridiculous 11 times, equating to an astonishing 32 percent of his starts. 

Furthermore, the Cincinnati hurler finished 2009 at 15-13 with a very solid 3.84 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, but was hit up for at least five earned runs 10 more times. That included two nine-run shellackings within a three-start span, one of them in just one inning of work. How many 15-game winners ever get hit that hard on such a regular basis?

In the fantasy world, catastrophic starts like these will single-handedly lose you the ERA and WHIP categories before the week even gets going.  But the thing with Arroyo is, he’ll leave you battered and bruised and ready to cut bait only to then run off a string of starts like he did at the end of 2009, when he went 5-3 over his last 12 starts with a sparkling 1.90 ERA and 0.95 WHIP.

When he began this season with eight stellar innings of one-run ball, owners were once again reeled in.  Then came the sobering reminder of Arroyo’s dark side, when he was roughed up in three straight starts, culminating in an eight-run romping over three innings by the Padres.  Of course, he followed that up with two wins and a 3.05 ERA over his next three outings, highlighted by a seven-inning gem against the Pirates this past Monday. 

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Going through the game logs over the last few seasons, there are absolutely no patterns or trends to be found that offer evidence of what makes Arroyo fall apart.  Last year, his five-run shellings were split evenly between The Great American Ballpark and the road.  They happened against the 65-win Royals, 70-win Mets, 75-win Blue Jays and twice against the 70-win Diamondbacks.  He was hit hard twice by the Cards, only to dominate them in a near complete-game gem to end the season.  In similarly peculiar fashion this year, he was roughed up by the sub-.500 Marlins and Pirates, while hurling his best outing against the first-place Cardinals.   

This all must be a lot to digest, but one thing you can conclude is that owning Bronson Arroyo on your fantasy team is going to be a wild rollercoaster ride.  Clearly most people are too squeamish to stomach it, as Arroyo is currently forsaken in 68 percent of Yahoo! leagues.  But if you’re capable of being tossed around without losing your lunch, and have a resilient heart, the ride will likely be well worth it in the end.

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