Sunday, April 18, 2010

See? Free Agents Can Suck Too!

There's a certain school of thought, let's call it the Boswell Delusion, that says that the Washington Nationals would have been a winning team all this time if only they had gone out and spent on free agents like Alfonso Soriano, Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand, Barry Zito, and Jason Marquis.

Oops. Turns out, while draft picks aren't a sure thing, neither are free agents. And Marquis through at least three starts is turning out to be quite a bit less than the Nationals were expecting when they handed him the fourth richest contract signed by any starting pitcher this past off season.

By now you surely have heard that Marquis got absolutely massacred today by the Milwaukee Brewers, allowing seven earned runs, on four hits, a walk, and two HBPs. In case you were wondering it was the 16th time since 1920 ("the Retrosheet Era") that any pitcher has allowed seven or more earned runs in a start without recording an out.

Now, I'm not a big fan of Marquis. Even when he's been "good," his K rates were awful, and coming off a career year he seemed a poor bet for anything but a major regression.
I said going into the off-season that the free agent SPs I would have targeted were Joel Piniero, Jon Garland, Jarrod Washburn, Jarrod Washburn and Braden Looper. (By the way, those last two guys are still looking for contracts.)

Still, I thought it was a reasonable signing given the cost of free agent pitching and the need for a veteran innings-eater or three. I didn't think we'd be seeing unfavorable comps to Daniel Cabrera, that's for sure.

In fairness to Marquis, Riggleman had a really quick hook today. No question, especially for the three-batter sequence from Braun to McGehee, Marquis looked terrible. He was overthrowing badly, leaving his sinker up in the zone, and generally looking totally out of whack. Overall, he threw 28 pitches and just 13 strikes.

Still, he only threw 28 pitches. And in fact, he actually looked like he was starting to find himself during Jim Edmonds at bat, hitting his spots with a sinker-change-slider combination to get ahead 0-2. Then he bizarrely threw a curveball, a pitch he hardly ever throws, and hit the left-handed Edmonds in the foot. I watched the replay twice on MLB.tv to try to figure out if Marquis shook off a sign there, since the pitch selection was so bad, but I couldn't tell. Then Greg Zaun went the other way on a 3-2 sinker on the outside corner that wasn't a terrible pitch, and Marquis was done, leaving the bases loaded and the Brewers up 4-0 with no outs.

Miguel Batista of course did the rest of the damage, including giving up the grand slam to the corpse of Craig Counsell, who wasn't much of a player in his prime and came in batting .077 for the year.

You certainly can't blame Riggleman for pulling a pitcher who faced 7 batters and gotten none out, but it still unusual treatment for a veteran pitcher routinely referred to as the clear-cut #2 in the rotation. You wonder whether Riggleman was in his "send a message" mode or if he was looking for an excuse to let everyone in the bullpen pitch (he apparently talked enough about that to generate a news brief in the Post this am about the Nationals' "overrested" bullpen).

That's a situation where you'd like to see the veteran pitcher work through his mechanical issues and maybe bounce back to give you 3-4 innings. You see it all the time around the league where a guy just loses his release point for a stretch and then suddenly finds it again and looks ok for a bit.

If Riggleman really thought that he had a better chance of winning by asking his bullpen to go nine than he did letting Marquis work through it, you wonder if the team has already started to change it's view of Marquis, and if he's at risk of getting send down to work it out in the sticks. Something to watch, anyway.

BTW--this is a hilarious new degree of absurdly positive spin for the headline writers at Nationals.com. Oh, but remember, "this story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs."

15 comments:

dale said...

By my standards of suck, Marquis was in for about 2 batters too many. I disagree that he was going to find the answers to his problems that inning. Indeed, looking at his cumulative performance since his signing the opposite argument can be made--he has not found his mechanics at all this Spring. If I was Riggleman I would take Marquis out of the starting rotation now and let him "find" his old self in a Batista role or in a lower level of competition. By now it is clear that the problems are not just mechanical but also are in his mind as well. In his three outings this year he falls apart at the first signs of crisis- not the makeup you want for a starting pitcher.

Eric said...

Not to nitpick, but it was 4H, 1BB & 2HBP for Marquis.

dale said...

Steven,

This is a quote from Marquis in Goessling's column:

"I just don't have a feel for anything right now," Marquis said. "I can't make my pitches. Even when I do, I feel like there's nothing really on it. The movement's not there. The location's not there. I need to find that answer quick."

Riggleman simply could not have left this pitcher in to work out his problems after seven batters faced without an out. Batista's first inning was no grand effort either but he does get credit for the next four innings.

Eric said...

I also think this NJ post title (I know its not a front game or gamer article, but still!) Is a far more eggregious example of optimistic blinfold rah-rah BS sportswriting;

Miguel Batista gave up a grand slam, then gave the Nationals a chance.

Steven said...

@dale--just reposting from my own post: "You certainly can't blame Riggleman for pulling a pitcher who faced 7 batters and gotten none out."

You're putting far too much stock in the mindless series of cliches and nonsense that come from players' mouths. What was he supposed to say? Now, if he had said that BEFORE the game and Riggeman decided to skip him, then that would have been relevant.

Deez Nats said...

"he actually looked like he was starting to find himself during Jim Edmonds at bat". Good one. The fact is that he could not possibly have been any worse than he was: 7 batters faced, 7 batters scored.

Steven said...

I'm not sure if you watched the game very closely, but the Edmonds at bat was much better. He made 3 really good pitches and then for some bizarre reason threw his 5th best pitch and hit the batter. Against McGehee, he was flying open and almost hit the backstop on 4 pitches in a row. Maybe that doesn't make any difference to you, but it's the difference between terrible pitching and a little less bad.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

@Eric

I was at the game and that was what exactly happened. The Brewers did not score again until the top of the 8th. The grand slam did put the icing on the cake in hindsight, but them not scoring for the next six innings sure helped the team to come back.

Eric said...

So for $15M who is (was) the better bet, Strasburg or Marquis?

Steven said...

Strasburg would have been a better bet at $100 million.

Section 222 said...

Arnoldis Chapman would have been a good bet at $31 million....

Aeoliano said...

And then there's Deck McGuire?

Anonymous said...

Prediction---In the not too distant future, Marquis will be visiting Dr. James Andrews to have a major arm problem checked out. Right now, he probably try to hide the problem, hoping it will go away.

Peyton said...

What's that Jason? You ate a whole wheel of cheese and pooped in the refrigerator? I'm not mad, I'm impressed.

Toopersent said...

I was unhappy from the getgo when I heard we signed Marquis, especially considering the quality of other free agents.

So when Rigs pulled him in order to give our decent-above-average bullpen a shot to go 9 innings I wasn't befuddled, confused, perplexed, hoodwinked, bamboozled...

I wouldn't say that I was ecstatic, but I have a renewed faith in our bullpen, compared to the Saul Riveras of years past. And to hear that Marquis threw a bullpen session after watching hours of tape right after getting yanked, well...that is also something worth considering.

Regardless, the chances of his 2 years being worth the absurd $15 million are about the same as Livan's ERA to stay under 3.00 for the year.