Monday, March 16, 2009

The Fifth Starter: Why Not Bergmann?

If you've been with me since last summer, you're no doubt rolling your eyes right now. Yes, I am the president, treasurer, and perhaps by now the last remaining member of the Jason Bergmann fan club.

I'm not blind to his shortcomings. He's an extreme flyball pitcher who gets just enough strikeouts to survive with a flyball rate on batted balls near 50%. For any pitcher, that's dangerous territory, but for a team that plans on starting Adam Dunn and Lastings Milledge in two outfield spots, that just won't do. And he gets killed by lefties. For his career, lefties hit .869 OPS against him, while righties hit just .735. That means the average lefty against Bergmann hits like Geovany Soto, while the average righty is somewhere between Kevin Kouzmanoff and Kosuke Fukudome.

The reason I root for Jay is because a) he's clearly among the 150 best starting pitchers in baseball, and I don't for one minute believe that he hasn't been among our best five over the last 2-3 years, and b) I hated the way the team yanked him around from role to role, into the rotation, back to the 'pen, and back and forth to AAA at the first signs of trouble. Bowden's handling of Bergmann always struck me as the pitcher version of Ryan Church, and like with Church I always wished he'd just leave him in the rotation and leave him alone. If he had, I'm convinced Bergmann would be going for his third straight season of 160-170 IP with a near league-average ERA. And then c) he's a really nice guy and really hard not to root for.

But by the start of spring training this year, I'd come around to the idea that given his extreme platoon splits the best use for him would be to put him in the pen and use him in 1-2 inning stints when he can match up with mostly righties. Especially with the outfield defense, and guys like Collin Balester, Jordan Zimmermann, and Garrett Mock knocking on the door, I figured it was time to give the other guys a look.

Since then, options for the rotation have fallen away one at a time. Shawn Hill, even if everything goes perfectly for him from here on out, probably won't be ready for starts by opening day. Balester has given up eight earned runs and probably worse yet six walks in 11 IP. Mock's spring ERA of 5.14 has been falling, but probably isn't good enough to merit a spot in the rotation for a guy who was on the long shot to begin with. Granted, both Flash Jordan and the Wowin' Curocaoan have pitched well, and they could join Lannan, Olsen and Cabrera in the starting five. But then again, do you really want to throw two rookies into the fire right away and risk an potentially dangerous innings jump?

If it's none of the guys mentioned so far, then we're looking at scraping the trash heap of Gustavo Chacin or Kip Wells, and without a question in my mind Bergmann is better than them.

So I ask again--given all this, why isn't Bergmann considered even an option?


Hendo said...

An effective staff needs swingmen. The role is difficult, but Bergmann's built for it and can shine at it.

Agreed: be ready to use Bergmann to save young arms like J-Zimm's and Martis', but plan on his default role being that of a long reliever.

Steven said...

Hendo--I can understand the argument that Bergmann is best suited as a 6th starter / long man. But that role is less important than the 5th starter role. So we shouldn't be using an inferior option at 5th starter like Chacin or Wells when we have Bergmann.

Maybe the answer is to just let the kids pitch, but if you decide that either Zimmermann or Martis need more seasoning or if you just want to leave them down to manage their service time, then Bergy should be the next option.

He should at this point be above Balester, Mock, Chacin, Martin, and Wells, etc. on the depth chart. That's basically my point.

Thomas said...

If you want to just squeeze the last juice out of Bergmann, sure, give him the ball every 5th day till he blows up or gets hurt.

But if the goal is develop him as a long reliever for the long haul, its time to stop jerking him around and train him for that role and mess with the other pitchers instead of him.


Steven said...

314--You're right. I'm torn between my desire to see Bergy get a single role, no more jerking around, and my feeling that he deserves that role to be SP.

How about if he lucks into a start or two in April, pitches great so the team has no choice but to stay with him, and then Scott Olsen gets himself tasered again and is suspended and ultimately decides to give up baseball and become a bartender, thereby opening a spot for Bergmann forever! That'd be my dream scenario.

Steve Shoup said...

Steven I think you are 100% right here. I'd much rather see Bergmann in the rotation come opening day than Martis or Zimmermann. Lets let these guys succeed in AAA for a little while before we rush them to the majors. Yes they've succeeded in Spring Training but that is too small of a sample size to say that they are ready for the majors. Something you mentioned in your post is how the Nats can limit their innings, which i think is key. I don't think people realize how big of a risk a major increase in innings can be for a pitcher. Its much easier to control their workload in the minors than it is in the majors. Lets let Bergmann hold down the 5th job for the first couple of months and if one of these young guys are ready then we can move Bergy to the pen.

Anonymous said...

Check his 2008 splits. Maybe he can be the daytime only starter.

Day 2-4 3.63 ERA
Night 0-7 6.10 ERA

I don't entirely buy the fact that the team is responsible for his lack of confidence. If he were really major league material he would overcome that. Every young pitcher has to face the threat of being yanked and sent down. It's part of the game. That said, there isn't any reason he should been handed the ball every fifth day on this club.

Steven said...

Who said he lacks confidence? This is another of the unfair Bergy criticisms that make me rush to his defense. The guy isn't that good of a pitcher--that's a physical talent thing. I think he's among the 150 best SPs in baseball, but he's not in the top 100. So he goes out there and gets hit hard sometimes. He doesn't have the stuff to get away with mistakes. So people see that and say he's mentally weak. Nonsense. He's just a mediocre 5th starter in MLB, and those guys aren't consistently good.

I think the yanking between roles is less a confidence / mental thing and more that it's actually physically a different challenge to do one versus the other.