We could credit a new pitch. According to Pitch F/X, Pavano’s been using a two-seam fastball for the first time this year. So while he throws the same number of total fastballs, two-thirds of them are breaking slightly more. And indeed, Pavano’s fastballs have gone from being a liability (23.7 runs below average last year alone) to a strength (more than half a run above average per 100 pitches).
But for another thing, Pavano has been extremely lucky, giving up just a .259 BABIP. It is WAY out of line with the rest of his career (.307) and is unprecedented. Indeed, Pavano’s currently fifth in the American League in the category. Given that every other Twins starter is above .327, it’s safe to assume that Pavano’s luck is probably going to run out sooner or later. He’ll settle back into a league-average pitcher, at best, soon enough. Probably just after the Twins sign him to a 3 year, $33 million extension.
Actually, that's not quite fair to Pavano.
Last season, he was unlucky. This season, he's been lucky.
But if you strip most of the luck away, Pavano was a 4.00-ERA pitcher last season and he's been a 4.00 ERA pitcher this season. Last year, American League starting pitchers combined for a 4.63 ERA; this year it's been 4.34. That makes Pavano better than league average in both seasons. Throw in his (new-found) durability -- 33 starts last year, third in the AL with 135 innings this year -- and Pavano is, all things considered, significantly better than league average.
Pavano's 34. But if he keeps pitching like this he'll be worth a lot more than $11 million per season.