Sunday, August 17, 2008

Halladay's Durability And The Blue Jays Mediocrity

  • Blue Jays 4-Red Sox 1; a horse like Roy Halladay deserves a better cart:
When a pitcher is so durable; so consistent; and so intent on pitching deeply and successfully into games, it's frustrating that there isn't a better supporting cast to ensure a
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better result in the standings. Year-after-year, Roy Halladay goes out to the mound for every start with it in his mind that he's going to pitch a complete game; in this era, there are many pitchers who don't have a similar mindset, yet are considered superstars. In pitching his eighth complete game in a 4-1 win over the Red Sox last night, Halladay extended his league lead in the almost defunct category to five. With a record of 14-9, he could have 17-18 wins if he had a bit better support; and the lack of support is the issue for a team with such an advantage every fifth day.
The way the game is played today, even superstar pitchers usually require at least two relievers to get a win on most nights. Those pitchers----the Johan Santanas and Josh Becketts----will give their seven or so quality innings and hand a lead to the bullpen, which may or may not close the deal. Halladay tries to take matters out of the hands of the bullpen and get the job done himself; and he's not throwing an inordinate amount of pitches in his complete games to do it either; his high number this year is 130, but he's usually in the reasonable 110-115 range, and for a complete game pitcher, that's excellent. Halladay doesn't
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just stay in games by throwing strikes, he keeps the ball down and uses a heavy sinker to prevent home runs; he works fast to keep the fielders on their toes and, perhaps most importantly, he gives the bullpen a night off. He wants to be a horse at the top of the rotation and this is why it's so aggravating that the Blue Jays have never been able to mount a legitimate playoff run while Halladay's in his prime and performing like this.
It is such a useful asset for a team to have a guy like Halladay; to have a guy who doesn't have to be asked to give the bullpen a night off because in every start, he doesn't want to have to trust his games to someone else. The Blue Jays have been the essence of mediocrity, not just this year, but throughout Halladay's entire career. To have a horse at the top of the rotation and to put such a dysfunctional, bizarrely constructed supporting cast behind him is bordering on incompetent. If Halladay starts 32 games in a season, that's at least 25 games that the manager isn't going to have to abuse his already beleaguered bullpen; 25 games that he's going to begin the night having it in his mind that he's going to get a high-quality performance; and if the pitcher doesn't have his great stuff, he'll gut his way through.
The Blue Jays should have been able to put a good enough cast behind their ace that they wouldn't end each and every season with a maximum of 87 wins and ranging anywhere under that, but they haven't. They've had injuries to their other young pitchers in Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan; their lineup has been compromised due to the egregious and emotional personnel mistakes made by GM J.P. Ricciardi; and they've done it with what amounts to a golf or bowling-style handicap handed to them at the beginning of every season. That handicap is Halladay and what he provides is something that every other team would love to have and most would presumably be able to use to greater advantage than the Blue Jays have, who haven't done much of anything with it at all.
  • Yankees 3-Royals 2:
I don't find Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay to be particularly insightful as an analyst; nor do I think
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much of his baseball knowledge, but he had a point in questioning Joe Girardi's strategy of refusing to bunt with the leadoff batter on base in the bottom of the ninth inning. Ivan Rodriguez led off with a hit by pitch and rookie Brett Gardner tried to bunt and failed; the bunt was taken off with less than two strikes (*keep this in mind) and Gardner walked. Johnny Damon then batted and was swinging from the first pitch onward and eventually struck out. Derek Jeter then followed by grounding into a double play.
Girardi's argument against the bunt with Damon was that he'd tried the strategy on Friday and it had failed, and Damon says he's not a good bunter. The guy's a leadoff hitter with occasional power and a history of making contact, but he can't bunt? What happened to Girardi's attention to fundamentals, which was one of the reasons he stayed in the majors as long as he did as a mediocre player and why he was hired to manage the transitioning Yankees? Unless Alex Rodriguez is at the plate, the batter has to bunt in that situation, case closed. It didn't cost the Yankees the game, but this failure
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to execute forced them to play four more innings, and use Mariano Rivera for two innings making him unlikely to be available for today's game.
This reminded me of one of Girardi's rookie managerial mistakes in 2006 (which apparently wasn't a rookie mistake now that he continues managing this way), and I've gone on about it before in which Girardi had Hanley Ramirez bunting with two strikes against an imploding Billy Wagner and the Mets and essentially cost his team the game----Blog 8/2/2006. Ramirez was
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only a rookie at the time, but a blind, mentally-challenged monkey (or even Paul DePodesta) could see that the guy was going to be a megastar who hits for power; why would you have him bunting in the first place and then compound it by making him bunt with two strikes? Now this is the second time in a week that Girardi's strategies have been called into reasonable question; it was in Minnesota that Girardi decided to rest the same Damon even though the lineup was short and Damon was leading the league in hitting; he then got snippy when questioned about the decision, which is a bad sign.
There's no question that Girardi is a smart guy; that he's going to be a solid manager; that the team is going to eventually have success under him; but what I don't think people anticipated when Girardi was selected over Don Mattingly to replace Joe Torre were the bizarre decisions he makes that seemingly make little sense. It may be that Girardi's one year in Florida didn't provide enough of a learning curve for him to be completely ready for this job and that while the Yankees started the season trying to gain experience and succeed with a bunch of young pitchers who were destined to have growing pains, they may not have realized that they were going to be doing the same thing with their manager as well.
  • Cardinals 9-Reds 3:
I've defended Reds manager Dusty Baker against charges of abusing his pitchers, but
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there's no way to defend how Aaron Harang has collapsed since that relief stint against the Padres on May 25th throwing 63 pitches; three days after his start against the same Padres in which he threw 103 pitches; and that he threw 73 pitches four days later. Harang went on the disabled list with a forearm strain in early July and has gotten pounded in his two starts since returning. Harang was an innings-eating horse (like Roy Halladay) and if there's something wrong with him, he needs to tell the team and they have to shut him down and take care of it.

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