Thursday Round-up: Make it stop! | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Following the thread of my meandering exploration on Tuesday, the Brewers promptly scored 6 runs on Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing their output in the Rocky Mountains to 18 total runs scored. For the third time in three weeks, the Brewers scored 18 or more runs over a three game series; unfortunately their Rockies series amounts to the second time the Brewers were swept in that set of games. If the team was frustrating before, it simply seems flat out unbelievable or ugly now; despite scoring approximately 4.71 R/G since the All-Star Break, the Brewers are 12-19.

A Startling Theme: The Blown Save / Loss
If it seems like the Brewers have been leading a lot of games since the All-Star Break, well, they have. Unfortunately, they’ve also blown leads in a lot of the games they’ve played since the break:

July 14: Kameron Loe, 0.7 IP, 2 R (5.7 IP, 3 R)
July 16: John Axford, 0.7 IP, 3 R (7 IP, 0 R)
July 23: Francisco Rodriguez, 0.7 IP, 4 R (6 IP, 2 R)
July 24: Kameron Loe, 0.3 IP, 1 R, 3 IR/3 IS (7 IP, 1 R)
July 25: Francisco Rodriguez, 0.7 IP, 2 R (4 IP, 5 R)
July 29: John Axford, 1.7 IP, 3 R, 1 IR/1 IS (5.7 IP, 2 R)
August 10: John Axford, 0.3 IP, 2 R (7 IP, 1 R)
August 15: Jim Henderson, 0.3 IP, 2 R (6 IP, 5 R)

Stated simply, the Brewers have won 12 of 31 games since the All-Star Break. Given that they’ve blown leads (in the 6th inning or later, no less) in EIGHT other games, that amounts to a rather staggering percentage of games that the Brewers had a chance to win since the Break.

Given that the Brewers’ season was on the line when the Break finished, these blown saves are particularly devastating. Furthermore, the overall performance of the Brewers was not bad in those games; not only did the hot bats score more than 40 runs in those eight blown ballgames, the starting pitchers also worked 48.3 IP while allowing 19 runs. In fact, the starters only allowed 3 or more runs in three of those eight blown contests; the overall story in those games was (a) an offense that did enough to keep the team in the game or put the Brewers ahead, and (b) starting pitching that severely limited the damage.

Perhaps this is a silver lining for the ballclub going into 2013. Frankly, of all the elements of a team to rebuild, the bullpen is probably the area in which talent in readily available and performances can quickly rebound. Yet, this is also what makes the 2012 season increasingly frustrating; where a narrative could have emerged of an injured club overtaking their early season problems and fighting to stay in the playoff race, the judges ably reaffirmed their enforcement of Murphy’s Law. Add these problems to the pile of “Things That Went Wrong in 2012.” Unfortunately these bullpen flare-ups correspond with one of the team’s strongest stretches of play during the entire season.

Would a club that’s 60-56 be closer to the playoffs? Well, not necessarily. But, if the bullpen had held those 8 games, the Pirates would have 2 fewer wins, and the Brewers would be creeping up on the Pirates, Cardinals, Braves, and Giants; with only 15 games remaining on the Brewers’ schedule against those clubs, a clear picture emerges in which the Brewers would need help to get into the playoffs. Yet, even that picture looks better than 52-64 and fourth place.

Mark Rogers, Superstar
Colorado beat Mark Rogers with series of singles and bunt hits yesterday, but even though the long-time prospect surrendered 5 runs, his overall performance is becoming a bright spot in 2012. While Rogers’s 3 HR allowed in 99 Batters Faced is average, his strike out and walk ratios provide reason to be excited. Against 24 strike outs, Rogers boasts only 6 walks, and his start-by-start K/BB ratios are pretty good, too: 7/1, 5/1, 8/2, 4/2. Given Rogers’s minor league control issues (14% BB in AA and AAA), his current ability to limit his walks looks promising.

Furthermore, Rogers’s fastball is consistently strong, averaging around 94 MPH for the season. In yesterday’s start, according to TexasLeaguers, the upstart righty threw his 92-93 MPH fastball more than 68% of the time. FanGraphs reports that Rogers’s fastball ranges as low as 89 MPH, but as high as 97 MPH, resting closer to 94 MPH on average. This pitch seems to be the biggest area of improvement for Rogers; all three of his home runs occurred on fastballs, and between his four- and two- seam varieties, Rogers walked 5 in 64 PA.

If Rogers can maintain good velocity on his fastball, and limit the damage with his primary pitch, he will have ample opportunity to build on his already promising peripheral performance.

Melky Cabrera Suspension
In case you haven’t heard, MLB suspended the San Francisco Giants’ MVP and Batting Title candidate Melky Cabrera for violating the Joint Drug Agreement. Reportedly, Cabrera tested positive for testosterone, and admitted his mistake:

“My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down.”

Interestingly enough, it seems that these types of statements find athletes in greater favor with the media than strong words about innocence. Sure enough, the Cabrera suspension also provided opportunity to comment on the pending suspension that Ryan Braun appealed and overturned. At Yahoo Sports!, for instance, Kevin Kaduk wrote:

“A player accepting his suspension and apologizing immediately instead of hiding behind a team of lawyers or inventing some fantastical story and excuse. What a novel idea.”

It seems that regardless of how well Braun performs, and regardless of the strength of his appeal (which undermined the very conditions for judging his test results), he will indeed remain guilty in the minds of analysts, fans, etc.

(As an aside, the love of apologies and admissions of guilt under the conditions of a JDA suspension remind me of the “Beautiful Executions” that occurred in the days of yore. At the hands of a monarchy, prisoners facing the death penalty were praised by crowds if they repented in some way, praised the State, God, etc. Of course, this repentance had absolutely no effect on the prisoner’s sentence, but it served to enforce the expectations of the State and maintain political order. (Highly recommended: The Oxford History of the Prison,

I gather that Cabrera’s apology serves the same function, within the rules and conditions of the MLB in place of an old-time monarchy. Nevermind that if his tests were actually positive and an appeal denied, Cabrera would remain just as guilty (and just as suspended) if he said nothing to the media. But, people desperately cling to the idea that competition is fair and the conditions for competition are worth upholding. In this case, an innocent-but-noisy Braun seems less dignified than a guilty-but-repentent Cabrera; the implication, of course, that Braun should have simply accepted his punishment regardless of guilt and upheld the sanctity of fair competition.)

Final Note: Stephen Strasburg’s Inefficient Starts
One of my favorite National League stories this year is the Nationals’ plan to shut down ace-in-training Stephen Strasburg. Of course, Strasburg has had an injury riddled past, including his elbow injury and subsequent Tommy John surgery that sidelined the righty during portions of 2010 and 2011. The Nationals’ cautious plan follows similar treatment for youngster Jordan Zimmermann, who was shut down last year following his previous Tommy John.

What fascinates me about this debate are (a) unstated assumptions about Strasburg’s mechanics, and (b) a lack of analysis of Strasburg’s efficiency with his pitches during his starts. I gather that the most significant element of pitching is successfully repeating mechanics, not only to ensure desirable pitch location, but also to reduce stress on the arm; presumably, a pitcher with high-stress mechanics, or mechanics that are not consistently repeated, exposes his arm to a greater chance at injury.

Regarding (a), Strasburg’s pitching mechanics are notoriously problematic, especially given the amount of stress his delivery places on his arm. In this regard, an innings limit fails to answer the question of whether Strasburg’s basic pitching motion exposes him to a higher chance at injury. If Strasburg’s delivery is highly stressful to his arm, the idea of an innings limit seems to miss the point of the basic gamble of pitching in the first place. One stands to reason that if Strasburg can throw the ball and he’s not in pain, the Nationals should simply allow him to pitch as long as he’s healthy; for, one might argue that pitching with poor mechanics maintains a specific injury risk in Strasburg’s case regardless of his workload.

Regarding (b), the Nationals’ basic treatment of Strasburg is extremely inconsistent. While talking out of one side of their mouth about limiting his innings, the organization consistently allows Strasburg to work outings with inefficient pitch totals.

Take a look at these starts:

6 IP, 108 NP
6 IP, 103 NP
4 IP, 81 NP
5 IP, 90 NP
5 IP, 95 NP
6 IP, 119 NP
3 IP, 67 NP
6 IP, 107 NP
6 IP, 105 NP
5.3 IP, 103 NP
6 IP, 104 NP
6 IP, 100 NP

Indeed, basically half of Strasburg’s starts have been inefficient, some alarmingly so. While there are no criminal pitch counts on this list, one might question whether the Nationals should allow a pitcher on a restricted workload to throw 119 pitches in 6 innings (or, even 90-100 pitches over 5 innings). In these types of outings, Strasburg threw 1182 pitches in 64.3 IP, resulting in an average of more than 18 pitches per inning.

Beyond pitch counts, beyond innings limits, one of the most troubling elements of pitching is high stress innings or high pitch innings. In these types of innings, a pitcher is forced to work their delivery more, which simply means that (1) that pitcher is exposed to more opportunities for a mechanical flaw to emerge, and (2) that pitcher is exposed to more opportunities to work in high stress situations or to work with a fatigued arm.

In Strasburg’s case, it seems that the Nationals are undermining their own efforts. Frankly, Strasburg is a hard-throwing, strike-out-first type pitcher. One might expect that his pitching style will yield high pitch counts for his entire career, and so long as he works high strike outs, he will probably work inefficient innings with lots of pitches. Furthermore, given his pitching mechanics, one might note that Strasburg’s most valuable position is to simply remain on the mound while healthy. Given his pitching style and mechanics, it’s not clear that he will ever be less prone to injury than his current history suggests.

Rogers (AP / Barry Gutierrez):

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