Sunday, August 29, 2010

Just Because Dibble Isn't on the Air Doesn't Mean He Isn't Right

The last week has been unfortunate. What started out as sore flexor tendon (a bowling injury I rolled through last year) was reassessed and will require Tommy John surgery. What started out as an aggressive, somewhat misinformed pep talk digressed into "Suck it up, bitch!"

Yeah, Rob Dibble has been straddling the blade this month, first with the women, now with The Franchise. The former was Dibble's character coming through, and he was rightly raked over the coals for that. However, his initial response watching Strasburg was quite well informed from the perspective of the player. Pitchers are paid to pitch. Not throw side sessions and long toss. Pitchers will occasionally pitch through pain, because that is what they are paid to do. Pitchers will ultimately get seriously injured because the slightest mechanical flaw will cause the UCL to fray and unravel faster than a cheap sweater. This is inevitable. The superior pitching Strasburg's mechanics generate also make him extremely vulnerable to these injuries. The why was never in question, just the when.

Rob Dibble is paid to give his opinion as a former player. He is not a doctor. Stephen Strasburg is paid to pitch. He is not a doctor. Steve McCatty has been there and done that as a pitcher, and is a victim of some historical pitcher abuse. His experience may be of value, but is not a doctor and certainly couldn't adjust Strasburg's mechanics without risking additional injury. The point of Dibble's argument, pitch until you can't pitch anymore, is how players think. Whether or not that is a complete game shutout or getting chased in the third because the other team is taking batting practice is irrelevant. A player of Strasburg's caliber should be expected to get as many batters out during the duration of his contract. Coddling and babying that right arm may give Nationals management piece of mind that they did everything in their power to protect their investment, but it doesn't mean that it will get the most, or even best, production. Dibble's beef really isn't so much with Strasburg, who is following orders after the debacles with Scott Olsen, Jordan Zimmermann, and Craig Stammen last season. The elbow broke down anyways and everyone is devastated.

It is nobody's fault. He had never complained of elbow problems before, so it is not like the trainers could have diagnosed the problem Pre-cog style. Personally, I want Dibble back in the booth. Sure, he is a dick and runs the mouth a little much, but who can blame him. He is the color commentator for a team that lost 102 and 103 games in back to back seasons and is limping through another losing campaign. It is not easy provide daily feedback for a team with no history and a miniscule viewing base. Even George, the "Wil Nieves" guy, didn't renew his season tickets. He has little to work with in terms of product his "love him or hate him" personality is the only thing that gives the broadcast any flavor. And his player's reaction to Strasburg was not unexpected... ignorant and foolish, yes... wrong? Not in this context. The viral nature by which most people received it took it out of context and made it sound like he was calling the player out. Dibble, unlike everyone in America, doesn't want Strasburg on the mound, but needs him on the mound. And by enacting the players' mentality, pitchers pitch until they can't anymore, he was calling out management for using the "kid gloves" for far too long. If Strasburg ended up fine and making his next start, nobody would be talking about it anymore.

But this is all now days in the past. If MASN parts ways with him, that is between them and the team. It's probably a mistake, as nobody is really watching anyways, though Bob Carpenter will probably sleep better at night.

As for what to expect from Strasburg, I think his case is a little different than Jordan Zimmermann's, who has been a model Tommy John recovery patient. With his mechanics, it will take him longer to relearn the touch that makes him dominant. I believe Strasburg's situation is very similar to the process Francisco Liriano has endured in his recovery. Both have fierce fastballs and breaking stuff that is the product of violent mechanics. Liriano was hurt at the end of 2006 and rehabbed all 2007. The Twins let him spend most of 2008 in the minors, rebuilding strength. 2009, he spent almost the whole season with the major league club, and the AL took batting practice off of him. Many people saw the increased home run and walk rates and reduced strikeouts and assumed he was done. However, in 2010, he has been one of the most valuable pitchers in all of baseball.

Every pitcher is different, and given the success rate of the surgery these days, the Liriano example is only a cautionary tale to fans that it isn't an overnight process. Many experts didn't expect J Zimm back so soon, and his return gives everyone hope for 2012.

As for Dibble, I'm laying off... his job is hard enough without being under the microscope now.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Baseball is a Funny Game

2 weeks ago, Marquis was finished, Lannan was sputtering, and Olsen and Strasburg were supposed to roll off the DL and anchor the rotation.

Now Olsen is struggling, Strasburg is shut down, Lannan and Marquis turned the clock back to 2009 for a couple starts, and Jordan Zimmermann is rolling off the rehab assignment.

I guess that is why you can never have enough pitching.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Boy, That Escalated Quickly

First, great job by the front office getting players signed. Sure, everyone wishes that this process didn't drag out until the last minute, but that really does play to both sides best interests. The player gets the same money (possibly more) and doesn't accept the additional risk of pitching more innings after a full prep season. The team wins because a shortened negotiating window allows them to hold all the chips and make a convincing bid (Robbie Ray), unless the player REALLY wants to go back to school.

Speaking of escalating quickly, has anybody gone from "completely in control" to "Oh shit" as quickly as Scott Olsen tonight? Despite the start going down as a loss, it looks like Olsen, unlike Marquis, is probably back as healthy as he will be and snagged a rotation spot for the remainder of the year.

Paging Jordan Zimmermann...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tick... Tick... Tick...

Damn, I should never sleep next to my watch... that thing is loud!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Interchangeable Parts... or Not

See, this is what pisses me off the most.

I was up trying to take a dump or something in the 5th inning when Craig Stammen was due to hit. All he had done was come in with the bases loaded and nobody out and bail Marquis out. With the bullpen already stretched thin this week and Strasburg up tomorrow, one would think that Riggleman would try to get three innings from Stammen. Especially since Stammen is one of the few pitchers in the NL who can be trusted to swing a bat.

Instead, Riggleman through the white towel for Sunday as well and gave Justin Maxwell a charity swing. It is very difficult to watch uninformed decisions being made at the highest level. Anyone who has watched batting practice knows Stammen is a good all-around athlete with more than a little pop. Given a fair complement of plate appearances, he may not duplicate Zimmerman's numbers, but it is fairly safe to say the following this season:

Craig Stammen is a better hitter than Nyjer Morgan;
Craig Stammen is a better hitter than Wil Nieves;
Craig Stammen is a better hitter than Willie Harris;
Craig Stammen is a comparable, if not better hitter than both Pudge and Alberto Gonzalez;
and finally,
Craig Stammen is a much, much better hitter than Justin Maxwell.

Instead, since Riggleman thinks that his roster is full of interchangeable parts, where Willie Harris = Mike... err, Michael Morse, and John Lannan = Craig Stammen. He sees P and and thinks that designation defines the player's skill set more than the player himself. Just like the disaster sending Guzman out to right field, Riggleman saw that middle infielders like Morse and Desmond play acceptably out there and figured a "32" (I don't trust those birth certificates anymore) year old career shortstop would be just fine. Everyone who had ever watched Guzman play knew that even second or third would be a stretch for him, and the outfield, was, at best, a wild gamble. Justin Maxwell getting on base (walk) against an average pitcher is a stretch, but with Kennedy throwing strikes as well as he was last night, it was a wild gamble to think Maxwell would get on against him. Just frustrating as hell, and fortunately, I was reenacting Marquis' second inning in the bathroom when it happened, so I didn't have the chance to raise hell down in 116.

Oh yeah, about that Jason Marquis...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Disaster at Nats Park

But at least we were able to scoop up the soggy nachos using the fork sticking out of Jason Marquis' back.

Deception, or Lucky

John Lannan recorded a season high five strikeouts last night, rolling through the Arizona lineup like Halladay. Obviously he has to be doing something different, right?

I dropped in a few links below to the pitch f/x data of a couple of his previous starts to contrast to this one.

Arizona, Aug 13

Colorado, May 13

Chicago, April 26

And for good measure, his start against the Yankees last season.

One thing is for certain, by that Colorado start, the velocity on his fastball was down 2 mph. Another thing that makes Lannan unique is that he really uses the whole strike zone. He almost never throws to the same location twice. Is it by design or lack of control, hard to tell. The release point last season was much higher, but earlier this season he had drawn it. Most pitchers drop the arm slot to compensate for an injury, and he has, but the horizontal point of release is also in, meaning he was bending and dropping his elbow more.

The key to his success last night was the swinging strikes on the changeup. If he can maintain these mechanics, he is disguising his release point a little better than earlier in the year. The key is to keep the motion "over the top" so that the ball is hidden behind his head as long as possible, making it tougher for righties to pick up. When the elbow is bent, the ball is coming from off his ear, and it is much easier to see (ironically, his opponent last night, Joe Saunders, has had similar issues with his changeup). Whether or not this is something he and Tomlin worked on is unknown, but he is throwing the ball slightly different than he had earlier this season. The increased velocity (89 mph avg) leads me to believe the adjustment is working.

It is still too early to tell if John Lannan is back. That was the Diamondbacks, and they tend to get themselves out a lot. He has about eight to ten starts to resurrect his season and get back into the rotation for next.

Now about that Marquis guy starting tonight...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lannan Owns the Backs

Going into the game, John Lannan owned a 0.47 career ERA against Arizona, despite a 11:3 BB:K ratio... the ERA went up, but the strikeout ratio improved, as he made his second solid start since returning from the AA abyss. I'll want to take a look at the pitch f/x before making any bold claims explaining his resurgence (other than Arizona s-s-sucks). From an eyeball perspective, his delivery looks more over the top, which is allowing him to hide the ball a little better.

Post 300

Is huge as Wil Nieves is doing EVERYTHING to help get Lannan back on track tonight. Career Bomb #4!

Friday, August 6, 2010

No Vacancies

Detwiler, Marquis, Zimmermann, Maya.

Who the heck ARE these guys? Well, we know who most of them are, as they have logged many quality innings on the DL. Going forward, these are the faces that will appear in the "Tomorrow's Starter" section of the Post, or the Interwebs, or whatever you read. Rounding it out, for the next forty innings of his career will be Strasburg.

So what does that mean for the other guys who have made almost all the starts for the Nationals this year? Most will be sent packing, whether by trade, non-tender, or outright release. The suspects.

Livan Hernandez, 22 starts: A sad case. It seems all Livo has ever wanted to do is pitch for the Expos and Nationals... everywhere else he lands, he struggles mightily. He has been the horse that has kept the rotation and bullpen from imploding, and he has finally learned to harness whatever his arm has left (to quote Harry Doyle, "KY ball to third..."). He has clearly earned consideration to fit into next season's rotation, but the Nats' surprising starting pitching depth has all but closed the book on his career, barring major injury. I'm sure he will surface some place next season, and he will take his lumps, but the only place he can succeed is with the Nats.

Craig Stammen, 19 starts: I almost feel like I should break this into two sections: Good Craig Stammen and Evil Craig Stammen. Good Craig Stammen is by no means an ace, but has shown that he can throw strikes, get ahead in the count, and bury pitches in the lower corners of the zone. He needs 90 pitches to work his 7 innings of 2 run, 8 hit, 1 walk ball. And he contributes at the plate and in the field, as well. Good Craig Stammen is the fourth or fifth starter on a good team. He may never be good enough to find a permanent home, but brings that "Jason Marquis" package with him. Evil Craig Stammen relies too much on a fastball he can't keep down, like an old man who just popped 9 Viagra. Evil Craig Stammen leaves the game after 73 pitches and 2 runners on down 5 runs. His bat doesn't matter because in his only plate appearance, Riggleman called for a sacrifice with one out, Wil Nieves on first, and Nyjer Morgan on deck. The problem is that there is no in between with Stammen; he either has it or he doesn't. And the Nats do not have the offensive firepower to overcome Evil Craig Stammen. Watching him for 19 starts last year and 19 starts this year, progress has clearly been made. Some people may indicate that the walks are up. This isn't a bad thing, as they are only up slightly, a product of working a slider into his arsenal. He can face batters a third time without them hitting just under .500 against him. With the right pitching coach, Stammen becomes the next Joel Piniero; with the Nats, he gets the AAAA label, someone who can't quite win at the highest level.

Luis Atilano, 16 starts: The data on Atilano is inconclusive. The Pitch f/x indicate that he is a better pitcher than Stammen, but the results state otherwise. Even aligning rookie seasons, Atilano clearly lacks an "out" pitch. Guys who have it may give up runs, sport the 5+ ERA, but the WHIP will be much lower, a product of teams capitalizing on mistakes. Atilano, like many Nats pitchers over the past two seasons, gets bled to death with singles and untimely walks. He does have his service time and options working in his favor, so he will get another season in Syracuse to learn the art of the strikeout, but that also works against him as to where he falls on the pecking order of spot starts and call-ups. The Nats haven't heard the last of Atilano, but to hear him in the near future means things have gone dreadfully wrong.

John Lannan, 15 starts: Every Nats fan refused to believe the statistics. They believed that John Lannan had an unnatural talent for drawing double plays and groundouts, working through the order three times with nary a strikeout. He was the peoples' hero, a soft-spoken affable guy. This season, all four wheels came off simultaneously. Nobody bothered to complain until late May, when the 20-15 mirage evaporated into the harsh urban reality that is baseball in southeast DC. A pitcher with a SO:BB ratio under 1.5 better have complete mastery of 4 pitches and have a great defense behind him (Jason Marquis). Most fail regardless, but a couple grind their way two a few respectable seasons and a major league career. A pitcher with a SO:BB ratio under 1.0 needs to be really good at selling cars or insurance. The excuses have ranged from injury to mechanical to confidence. There shouldn't be excuses. If there is a problem, then there is a plan to fix it. If it can't be fixed... And this is where Rizzo has to be careful. Lannan, like Daniel Cabrera, is a Jim Bowden guy. Jim Bowden bumped Lannan up to the big show ahead of schedule because he saw something in him, which was vindicated for 3 good seasons. Eventually, Rizzo is going to get sick of watching him loop waist-high 84 mph fastballs and five pitch walks and call for his dismissal. Whether he handles it like Cabrera and Milledge, or sends him out with honor will mean a lot to the fans who stood by the 102 and 103 loss teams. But if he CAN figure out the sink to his fastball, location of his slider, maybe he finds his way ahead of...

Scott Olsen, 10 starts: Talk about a guy who keeps shooting himself in the foot. Last year, he showed up injured, sucked, went on the DL, came back fresh but not 100%, pitched 3 good starts and went out for the season. This season he has avoided the sucking, but can't stay healthy. When he is healthy, he looks to be the strikeout pitcher the Nats sorely need, and a lefty to boot. But Scott Olsen, much like the Chevy Avalanche, is 76 inches of unfulfilled promise. The best scenario is that a team makes a waiver claim for him, and the Nats get a B or C prospect. More than likely, though, he will be non-tendered and the Nats will get nothing except 140 innings of replacement level pitching.

JD Martin, 9 starts: JD Martin has been the opposite end of the spectrum of the Atilano/Stammen phase. Martin looks awesome for four innings, walks a guy, gives up a single, then an error, then a long ball, and suddenly Batista is warming up with an out in the fifth. The numbers indicate that Martin should be pitching in the majors. The only number GMs are looking at is 28, the age he will be opening day next year. Rizzo isn't going to commit to a 28 year old with an injury history, especially not one giving up nearly 2 HR per 9. Martin, like Olsen, will likely be in a different organization at the start of camp.

Chien-Ming Wang, 0 starts: Not much to say about Wang, other than Rizzo took a gamble and Wang took the Nats money. The mysterious injury makes Jesus Flores look like Cal Ripken. At least we know what Flores has been doing, and know the extend to which he has and has not recovered. Wang, on the other hand, just throws. And someone will pay him again next year. I doubt it will be the Nats.

The pu-pu platter, 3 starts: Batista grabbed one in a spot start for Strasburg, and Chico grabbed another in the same situation for Lannan. Neither figure into next season's plans by no fault of their own. Batista is an expendable arm, and Chico is full recovered from surgery, but with the superior starting depth, really doesn't figure in to the top 10 even. Garrett Mock started the other game and was somehow diagnosed with a broken neck. The Nats seemed to be tiring of his reenactment of the first fifteen minutes of "The Fugitive" whenever he stepped on the mound, so he will likely fall into the "release" pile when he comes off the DL. Chuck James dominated both levels of minor league ball he played and may garner some consideration if he remains with the club. Shairon Martis, Erik Arnesen, and Jeff Mandel all pitched often at Syracuse, and none of them looked like they will ever make it beyond that level. Brad Meyers, Tom Millone, and Aaron Thompson still look at least one year away, maybe more.

The trick is getting teams interested in the players that do not fit into the plan. The best trading chip the Nats have this off-season is Marquis, he is signed for one more season, and has a history of being durable and bouncing back after a poor season. If the Nats think they are competing in the NL East next year (I hope not, but stranger things happen), maybe they hold on to him. If not, deal him for a corner outfielder or middle infielder. John Lannan and JD Martin are not at all appealing to a contender, so they will likely stay put. They can both provide replacement level performance if more than one of the designated five falter or gets traded.

The perception is that the Nats have too much starting pitching. That may be true, but it may also be true that they are tricking themselves into those infomercial "buy one get one free" deals. Two of crap is still crap... you just need more toilet paper to clean it up.