Sunday, September 7, 2008

One More Thought on Bergmann

Call me a shameless Jason Bergmann apologist, but I wonder if the root of his problems isn't his August 13 start against the Mets, when a chronically short-handed Manny Acta had little choice but to leave Bergmann in the game to allow 10 runs (6 earned) over 3 innings and throw a whopping 51 pitches in that fateful third inning. I wrote about it at the time as a risky move that could come back to haunt us.

Up to that point in the season, he had walked just 33 of the 479 batters (6.8%) he'd seen all year. That's a very good number. In his four starts since, he walked 10 of 90 (11.1%).

There's still a lot we don't know about the connection between usage and pitcher injury, but the data we have points to the basic principle that pitchers get hurt not so much from pitching a lot, but from pitching tired. That's why there's so much attention paid to pitch counts and innings counts. But a pitcher can also be at risk if he is asked to throw an unusually high number of pitches in a single inning. Fifty-one pitches is a huge number of pitches.

There hasn't been any suggestion that Bergmann is hurt, but he could be overly fatigued. It's entirely possible that he lost a measure of arm strength following that start, some of the life off his fastball. His velocity has been fine, with his fastball sitting around 89-90. In fact, in the August 30 game against Atlanta, his fastball was hitting 93 according the Gameday's Pitch F/X data.

But sometimes a gassed pitcher will try to throw harder in order to compensate for fatigue or injury, and usually the result is a loss of command. When a pitcher is "overthrowing" in this way, you often see their "front end open up," meaning a right-hander's left shoulder turns towards first base early so that the pitcher's chest faces the batter sooner. Again, the result is a reduction of command and also a reduction in the pitcher's ability to deceive the hitter, as the "opening up" often makes it easier for the hitter to recognize what's coming.

You can really see the difference in his mechanics if you look at the contrast between his last really good start, the seven-inning, one-run performance in Coors on August 7. Against the Rockies, you can see that his left shoulder stays pointed towards home plate and his arm moves forward with his body in a fluid, easy motion. But in these clips against Atlanta, his left shoulder is visibily opening up and his arm is way behind his head as his arm motion starts toward home plate.

This is more or less what St. Claire described as Bergmann's problem. (Incidentally, this was also what St. Claire diagnosed as Ayala's problem, after his command cratered following his stretch of overuse in April and May.)

I don't know that the 51-pitch third inning against the Mets is the cause of Bergmann's problem, but the circumstantial evidence suggests that this could be a factor. Certainly, that 10-run disaster at New York was the turning point for him.

Just something to consider before you decide that Bergmann, like Ayala, is a useless bum who should never again be on a mound for the Nationals.


Hendo said...

He's not a bum, but he has suffered from overuse. That eight-plus-inning no-hit outing in May of '07 didn't help him at all, either.

Not to disrespect St. Claire, but maybe a few sessions with Steve McCatty could help here. McCatty seemed to be a big help in the spring when Jason was in Columbus.

Anonymous said...

So basically, Steven, you're admitting your last name is "Bergmann", not "on Capitol Hill"?

Steven said...

Could be, NE, could be. I certainly can' be faulted for disloyalty to my man Bergie.

Dave Nichols said...

Bergmann is a reliever. no statistical evidence to back up my opinion, just anecdotal this morning (too tired to look up substantiating numbers).

i forget, would we rather see thee Mets or Phillies to win the division?

Steven said...

Dave--You may be right. I tend to think that in a perfect world we'd have two aces like let's say Schilling and Pedro circa 04, then maybe Lannan, Redding, and Balester rounding out the rotation, and Bergie is the long-man out of the pen and the spot starter (and spot starters league average get about 15% of the starts). I think that's a very valuable role he could play on the first great Nationals team.

Hendo said...

As Racing President Tom would remind us, the tree of rivalry must be refreshed from time to time with the bitter recriminations of nasty Philly fans.


Steven said...

Damn right, Hendo. I'm rooting for the Mets all the way down the stretch.

Not just because the Phillies have proven themselves to be the most indefensible collection of thugs to take the field since, oh I don't know, the Phillies in 1993 or the "Broad St. Bully" Flyers. Funny how thuggism emanates from that city.

The Mets are a better team and would better represent the NL East in the playoffs. Hamels will have nothing left, and their rotation is not playoff-worthy after him and Myers. And the Phillies lineup has been really spotty. Howard has holes in his swing, Burrell is petering out, Rollins is having a down year. Werth is a nice hitter but who are you if he's your 2nd best hitter? Utley is fantastic, but other

And Lidge is so overdue for a streak of homers it's ridiculous.

The Mets aren't perfect, but I'll take Reyes, Wright, Delgado, Beltran, and Santana and the rest of their rotation in a 5-game series.

Hendo said...

@Dave N: Good catch. Bergmann was a starter his first two years in the minors, but seems to have been converted to relief in high-A ball in 2004.

From then to the end of 2006, he made 137 appearances of which all but eleven were in relief. FWIW, that '06 ERA was pretty unsightly (6.68), and I haven't found a way to cut out the nasty bits.