Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pitcher Abuse for Dummies

Yesterday, I went to the mat defending Bergmann's makeup and poise, and of course he rewarded me by getting completely rattled and crapping the bed for the first time in a really long time. At least, that's the short version.

Here's the somewhat longer version: the Mets were a terrible matchup for Bergy from the get-go. He was kind of overdue for a bad start anyway, and they sent up a lineup with six lefties, including perhaps the toughest threesome of lefties in the league--Beltran, Delgado, and Reyes. Bergmann is allowing a lefty OPS of .804, compared to .713 for righties--a big split. Then, in that endless third, he was betrayed first by some bad luck, then his fastball, then the homeplate ump, and then his shortstop. And when all that came to a head, and he needed to come out, he was left to twist in the wind for more than 20 more gruesome pitches because there were no arms in the bullpen. And somewhere in there he also lost his shit.

The inning started harmlessly enough. One of the few righties in the lineup, David Wright, reached by squibbing a good slider to third. Bergmann already had Jose Reyes reach and score on a squibber in the first
(he actually was out but called safe on yet another bad call this week), so he was probably a little frustrated already.

Then, facing Delgado, his fastball command disappeared--maybe he was nibbling, or just lost his release point. He threw three fastballs in a row, and only one was really even close, to fall behind 3-1. But then he threw a very good change-up for strike two and a curveball on the black for what easily could have been called strike three. It wasn't, and I'm generally not a fan of arguing balls and strikes, and pitchers can't lose their heads when they get squeezed, but Bergy really felt like he threw a great pitch that he needed, and he was rattled.

Up comes Beltran, and Bergmann, now apparently losing confidence in the fastball, throws him a slider and two curves--good pitches all, actually--and gets what easily could have been the third out of the inning on a groundball.

Then came Danny Murphy, who apparently is a pretty good hitter and another dreaded lefty. He poked a fastball on the outside corner--a good pitch, for sure--to left for a single. Credit the hitter--good pitch, good piece of hitting, but that's an out way more often than not. Next, facing Tatis, Bergmann gets strike one on a fastball, and then throws him three straight curves. Is he afraid to throw his fastball? Major league hitters catch up eventually if you throw the same pitch over and over, and a base hit scored the second run of the inning. There's still just one out.

At this point, things came apart completely. Visibly frustrated on the mound, he walks the terrible Brian Schneider on four pitches, three of them fastballs, none close.

St. Claire comes to the mound (about two batters too late) to try to calm him down. I wonder, what does he say here? "OK Jay, calm down. I know you're thinking about Columbus. It's not going to happen. We're behind you." It's B.S. This pitcher's learned that lesson too many times--the organization isn't behind him. For two years, he's been one or maybe two bad outings away from the bullpen or AAA. I guarantee you that's what Bergy was thinking as Maine came to the plate. With the bases loaded, he walks Maine on five pitches, missing badly four times.

At this point, he's clearly lost his release point. He's rattled. He needs to come out of the game. It's not worth it to ruin the confidence of one of your few youngish decent pitchers to avoid a meaningless 77th loss. But no one was even warming. Steven Shell had pitched on consecutive days, and Saul Rivera had thrown 37 pitches the day before. You aren't going to use Hanrahan, so that leaves Ayala, Manning, and Colome--none even resembling a long man. It's the third inning. Manny has no choice. Bergy's gonna twist in the wind as long as it takes.

This is where it's absolutely criminal that for the SEVENTIETH TIME THIS YEAR Manny was short-handed last night. Alberto Gonzalez on the bench, reportedly healthy enough to play, but according to Charlie and Dave Bowden had given orders not to play him so that he could still be DL-ed retroactively to 9 days ago. Why the fuck is he not on the DL now if you are just going to DL him anyway!?!?!????

Any minimally competent GM has AG on the DL and Tyler Clippard in the bullpen last night. Things were so desperate that Manny started warming Garrett Mock, who was the starter two days earlier. At the point when we're even thinking about using a rookie pitcher like that, we have gone from a bad team to a bad organzation, where losing games is a minor sin compared to the pitcher abuse. Is it a coincidence that at that very moment Aaron Crow was signing a contract with the Ft. Worth Cats?

OK, back to the game. Bases are loaded. Bergmann has just committed the most humilating of gaffes by walking the other team's pitcher to force in a run. He gets it together well enough to induce a ground ball, custom-made double-play, which the insufferable B.S. all-star Cristian Guzman allows to go through his legs. At this point, Bergmann has pitched well enough to have gotten 5 outs and allowed maybe one run. Instead, he still has one out and five runs. Piling on, the official scorer calls the GB through legs a hit, though this was later changed.

Next, Bergmann makes A. Reyes look silly on nice fastball-change-curve sequence to record his seventh out of the inning. Next comes Wright again. He needs to get him out, because the Murderer's Row of lefties is coming again. But the fastball betrays him again, and he walks him. At this point, the kid has to be completely gassed. Usually 30 pitches is the most you want to allow a guy to throw in an inning. Injury risk comes from pitching when you are tired, and it's not just total pitches, it's pitches per inning. Next, Delgado walks. Bergmann has thrown 44 pitches.

Next, Beltran rips a fastball for a double. Bergmann is now a steaming corpse on the mound, being picked to death by a flock of vultures. Still, Manny has no choice but to let him get picked. Danny Murphy comes up and mercifully hammers a ball right at Willie Harris for the seventh out of the inning.

Total damage for the inning: 8 runs, 4 hits, 5 walks, and 51 pitches. That, my friends, is pitcher abuse. If Bergmann isn't injured, it'd be a major dodged bullet. If he comes back and pitches well in his next start, he deserves a bronze star for valor.

But regardless, this was truly a low point for the Nationals. Not because of what was on the scoreboard, but becasue of the miserable abuse of one of our more important long-term assets, all because Bowden for some reason insists on keeping a hurt, minor-league, glove-only shortstop on the active roster while the bullpen is gassed and our starting pitcher is facing probably the worst match-up he'll have all year.

Blogger shakes head and shuts down Windows.


Anonymous said...

Dead On. Good stuff. The Nats are so far from professionally run organization it's a joke. They can't even put 25 men on the roster half the time.

Highway 295 Revisited said...

"Bergmann has pitched well enough to have gotten 5 outs and allowed maybe one run."

Uh, no - Steven, I was at the game last night (maybe you were too?) and the pitches he was getting "squeezed" on were borderline at best. The squib to Zimmerman would have been a FANTASTIC play had he made it - ok, we sort of expect that from him, but it's not at all right to say that that "should have been an out" - that's just fanboy talking, as is the griping about the calls on Delgado. Besides that, you kind of ignore the fact that he had already walked Delgado in the first and been hit hard a couple of times before the third - Reyes' double in the second was a rope, as was Tatis' HR. It wasn't like he was pitching well and then suddenly fell apart. He was shaky from the get-go last night; his control wasn't there, and when he was in the strike zone, he was very hittable. I like Bergmann, and I think he's got talent, but he's way too bipolar in his outcomes to be reliable currently and last night was "Evil Bergmann"

Besides that, I totally disagree with you on whether Manny should have pulled him in the third. Bergmann's biggest problem is that he can't stop the avalanche - when he loses it, he loses it, and the wheels come off, and he goes batshit crazy and what should be a one-run or two-run inning turns into an eight-run nightmare. It happens again and again and again.

If he's ever going to be an effective starter for the '09 team and beyond, he needs to learn how to get outs when he doesn't have his best stuff - how to do "damage control" as Sutton is continuously harping about. You can only learn that by struggling, and he won't learn it if Manny yanks him every time he gets in trouble. Add in the fact that the bullpen has been pretty roughly used recently, and I was actually hoping to see Bergmann come out and pitch the 4th as well. If Bergmann's going to be the talented youngish pitcher you want him to be, he's got to learn how to handle things when they're not going well - a starter who's only good when his stuff is superb is a middle reliever.

Steven said...

@295--I'm a Bergmann fanboy, it's true. And I'm defensive of him in part because I think he's been treated badly by the organization.

But let me clarify my thinking on last night, because I agree with a lot of what you said.

Bergmann pitched bad last night. Without question, he lost his command and seemingly his composure, and it was very disheartening to see. I don't think you give him enough credit for the fact that he hasn't fallen apart like that since April, but nevermind, you're right he completely crapped the bed last night.

That said, he did have some bad luck--not that Zimmerman should have made that play, but that Bergy's pitch was good enough to get the guy out most of the time. Wright was fooled, and he lucked out to hit it in the perfect spot. The ball four to Delgado was borderline for sure, and in fact I think it was probably a ball. But it's a pitch that gets called maybe 25% of the time, and with a little better luck he could have gotten it. Guzman clearly should have made the double-play. All I'm saying is that he had some bad luck, as well as terrible command and a match-up issue.

Where we don't agree is on the point about whether he should have come out or not. I think there's a time to let a pitcher work through this stuff, and a time when you need to pull him. When you're allowing a young pitcher to throw 51 pitches in an inning and give up 10 runs, you've let it go on too long. At that point, pitching fatigued like that, you are really running an injury risk that goes way beyond having him learn a lesson about damage control.

But it isn't Manny's fault. He had no choice. We should have had another RP out there (Clippard) and AG should have been on the DL.

Highway 295 Revisited said...

he hasn't fallen apart like that since April

Depends, I think on what you mean by "fallen apart" - the game in Cincy where he gave up 5 in the second wasn't pretty, but he did right the ship after that. Still a five-run second isn't exactly something to write home about. Regardless of that one, he gave up 8 runs over 3 against the Giants back in early June, including a 7 run third, so I'd call that "falling apart."

Regardless of that, we can disagree on whether or not he should have come out or not - I'm not sure you're risking injury by letting him finish it out. Yes, had he had perfect luck and a call go his way he might have got out of the inning unscathed, but he was on thin ice from the get-go last night, and the storm was coming, sooner or later. However, I'd posit that dealing with less than perfect luck and less than perfect calls to prevent something less than eight runs scoring is the job of an MLB starter.

I think there's a time to let a pitcher work through this stuff, and a time when you need to pull him.

Agreed. I have one question before I turn to something else: If down 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 runs in a mid-August game in a season where you are going to lose 100 games ISN'T the time to let a pitcher work through "this stuff" (i.e. his stinking the joint out), when is?

He had no choice. We should have had another RP out there (Clippard) and AG should have been on the DL.

And here's where we really part ways. I think you're flat wrong to try to turn this into a roster management issue - you're right in that constantly having someone semi-banged up on the roster probably hurts in general. But you're wrong in thinking that carrying Gonzales last night made any difference. There are 12 pitchers currently on the active roster - there's no way, even with AG on the DL that they're going to go to 13, with only three reserves on the bench plus a backup catcher. I realize they've found themselves in that position too many times this year, but there's no way they're going to play with 12 regular players by design.

As you see from today's roster move, Gonzales went on the DL to free up a space for Boone to return. Had Gonzales been on the DL last night, there would have been some other regular player in his place, not a 13th pitcher, so Manny wouldn't have had any more options than he had. Seems to me that you're stretching to turn attention away from the fact that Bergmann stunk the joint out last night to turn it into a criticism of Bowden for roster mismanagement, and you're weakening the anti-Bowden argument in the process, I think. There are plenty of points on which Bowden's guilty of roster mismanagement, but this isn't one of them - having a healthy 25th man would have changed absolutely nothing last night.

Steven said...

@295--good points, and I appreciate the thoughtful comments.

On the Reds game, I criticized him at the time that he cannot walk people in front of slugging lefties like Adam Dunn. But, yeah, what I meant was that he pulled it together. I forgot about the Giants game.

Like I said, my mentioning the bad luck isn't to excuse the bad start. That's more just a fan rooting for my guy, wishing things had gone better for him. But again you're right Bergmann was awful last night by any standard.

On your last thing, you may think carrying 13 is dumb, but isn't that unusual, especially this time of year when the pen gets burned up.

The Padres just went to 13:

The Marlins have 13:

The Cards:

The O's

I didn't look at every team's active roster, but there's a few. I think the Cubs had 13 for a while earlier this year.

I know the blog title exposes me to accusations of cherry-picking facts to back a preconceived conclusion, and I don't mind being called on it--I realize I have an internal bias and I get overly polemical at times. But I don't think this is one of those times. I think I can fair-mindedly say that JimBo should have DL-ed AG and, given the state of affairs, brought up Clippard or another P.

I wouldn't want to break Spring Training with 13 or make a habit of it year round, but I think it would have been the right thing now.