Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jim Riggleman: The King of April

Watching the Nationals zoom past .500 the last couple days, it's hard not to have a sense of deja vu. Last year, the Nationals were 13-10 in April and still at .500 when the calendar turned to June. If you were lucky, you scheduled a six-month around-the-world vacation starting in June and missed the rest.

It was a nice change of pace. During the Manny Acta era, the team was perpetually doomed by disastrous Aprils, and all things equal, it's a lot more fun for fans to experience some winning early, give people some reason to hope, and then go in the tank later, rather than squash all hopes with a losing streak right out of the gate.

But it makes you wonder if maybe it's not a coincidence. And should we be giving Jim credit for the fast starts, or is he doing something early in the season that hurts his team in the long run?

I took a look at Jim's record in Chicago, and indeed his last season there the Cubs started 27-20 and went 40-75 the rest of the way to finish 67-95. The pattern appears to end there, however.

Personally, I'm still skeptical that the manager make more than a few wins difference one way or another for 90% of teams. If a manager completely loses the respect of his players, you can see things go completely over the edge. But for the vast majority of managers the best they can do most of the time is stay out of the way.

The possible issue I'm watching is the bullpen usage. He's got a very quick hook with his starters, and he's leaned heavily on Drew Storen (11.2 IP) and Tyler Clippard (12.1 IP) especially. Both are among the league leaders in innings pitched by a reliever this year, and both have been excellent.

But last year Clippard was great early on as well, posting a 0.50 ERA in April and 3.24 and 3.14 in May and June, respectively. Then, in July, his ERA ballooned to 7.90 before settling down for the final two months. Was fatigue a factor, or was it sample-size randomness?

We don't have enough information to say one way or another, but it's one of the key questions that will determine whether 2011 is merely a replay of 2010 or if the Nationals have some season-long staying power.


Basil said...

Clippard does seem like the kind of guy who could be worked hard early on, told to spend a relaxing month in Bermuda or something, and then return to usefulness late in the season.

I guess one difference between this year and last year, though, is that Brian Bruney's turned into Drew Storen. So that's good!

Harper said...

interesting. I wonder if the culprit is not overuse but developing a pattern of use that is tailored to go all out an win the winnable game and give up the others. As the season goes on and more bad starters are trotted out there (and some surprising starts melt away) there would be fewer winnable games out there. If the better relief pitchers usage varied with starter era that might be something. Not sure.

Piero said...

Interesting point.

However, bullpen-wise the Nats odd even bizarre preference for Gaudin, Coffey, and Broderick?

And now with Henry Rodriguez dominating in AAA with his 99-101 fastballs, Cole Kimball continuing his quiet effectiveness?

A bullpen transplant seems overdue if they want to spare those arms you described. Moving Tom Milone into the starting rotation might help as he seems able to go deep into games.