Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Lightning 6.27.2010

  • Parsing the pitch counts:

Everyone's an expert.

Everyone who's ever watched a baseball game and read a book of statistics seems to know that there's a certain number of pitches a pitcher should be allowed to throw; that if that designated number is exceeded by one there needs to be an investigation, prosecution and firing squad for crimes against career longevity.

Experience as a player, coach or manager has little to do with these arbitrary numbers that have become so prevalent that the "optimal" amount is known to all; and when someone dares exceed the prescribed number, or goes far beyond it in allowing one of his players to go for history? The success or failure of the quest is ignored; the dire consequences that have yet to happen become the focal point.

All from a group of people who have most likely never picked up a baseball.

Edwin Jackson of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitched a no-hitter on Friday against the Rays.

In the process, he walked 8, struck out 6 and threw 149 pitches of which only 79 were strikes----it wasn't exactly a dominating performance. As the game wore on and it was clear that Jackson's pitch count was going to be inordinately high, speculation was rampant in Tampa and elsewhere as to what Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch was going to do. Was he going to leave Jackson in to go for history and ignore the criticism that had already begun? Would he shed the label that has haunted him since he was hired by GM Josh Byrnes that he was a puppet whose main attributes as a manager were his Stanford education and that he'd provide "organizational advocacy" (whatever that means)?

Both Hinch and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. appeared worried about Jackson as the game wore on and his no-hitter was still intact, but instead of taking the safe route to have an explanation to the reporters post-game (and that's why many managers follow the new "rules" of deployment for their pitchers----not because it's the right thing to do) they let Jackson pitch and complete the no-hitter.

After the game----amid the celebration of Jackson's accomplishment----there were the armchair experts shaking their heads and adding their theoretical analysis of what effect the game was going to have on Jackson for the rest of the season short-term and the rest of his career long-term. Treated as if there was some egregious bit of baseball malpractice committed by Hinch and Stottlemyre allowing Jackson to finish the game, it seemed tantamount to a surgeon accidentally amputating the wrong limb from a diabetes patient.

He threw 149 pitches.


Will the number of pitches in this one game affect Jackson's career one way or the other? Was he laboring at the end or did he find his groove after walking seven of the eight in the first three innings?

It's a never-ending argument and there's no winner or loser. You can't prove or disprove a floating theory that's based on the last person that spoke; the last one to create a "system" of determining the "proper" use of human beings. If Jackson stays healthy, it'll be said that the Diamondbacks dodged a bullet by flouting sanity and conventional wisdom; if he gets hurt, this will be the game that was the proximate cause of his injury.

Who can know?

The 149 pitches were referenced again-and-again because it's so unusual for a pitcher to accumulate such a high number of pitches; but let's say Jackson gets hurt, was it this one game that created the injury? Or was it the number of pitches he's thrown in the past two seasons?

Looking at Jackson's pitch counts this year with the Diamondbacks and last season with the Tigers and you see that he's thrown 114 pitches or more five times prior to the no-hitter. And last year? When he was playing for a widely respected manager in Jim Leyland, he was pushed hard, surpassing 109 pitches eleven times; in one game, he threw 132 pitches.

Will that be the cause of a Jackson injury? Does anyone know? Can the aches and pains, tears and blowouts that happen to pitchers all the time be pinpointed to one single game in which he was in a climate controlled environment, straightened out his mechanics and got better as the game went on and pitched a no-hitter?

Because there are people who have a basis in theory and practical experience to make claims as to the number of innings and pitches a pitcher should be allowed to throw, voices everywhere express their dismay when someone is allowed to go beyond said limits. It's a case of regurgitation as to what was last heard and it's not expertise; it's not knowledge; it's repetition based on nothing.

Nolan Ryan is pushing his pitchers harder with the Rangers. If it works, you'll see the sentiment of treating pitchers with rules, regulations, pitch counts and babying disappear into the background and they'll be given the opportunity to get into a zone through feel and timing and not pulled because they've reached a number plucked out of thin air.

Safety and pragmatism has its place, but when it's exercised to avoid criticism, it's just as bad as the night Dallas Green allowed 23-year-old Al Leiter to throw over 160 pitches on a chilly night in 1989 only to have Leiter blow out his arm and not return to regular big league duty until 1993.

Breadth of knowledge, analytical expertise and common sense are far better than having someone plugging numbers into a computer and acting in their own self-interests for credit or to avoid blame.

Edwin Jackson threw 149 pitches to pitch a no-hitter. Is it such a bad thing? No. In fact, it's a good thing despite the "experts" decrying the decision to let him finish the game because they're not experts at all.

  • Cubs will have to eat almost all the money to deal Zambrano:

I was looking at the standings and considering the various teams that: A) could use Carlos Zambrano; B) have the management team to deal with him and rebuild his mechanics and mental state; and C) have the bad contracts to exchange for him or the financial flexibility to take his contract in whole or part.

There's no one.

The Mets have replenished their image and aren't going to insert Zambrano into a happy and harmonious clubhouse even if the Cubs eat a chunk of the money and take both Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez in return.

The Tigers, Phillies and Rangers could use a Zambrano with his head on straight, but it's hard to see any of them wanting the aggravation and won't take the contract. The Cubs are not sending him to the one place that could help Zambrano----the Cardinals.

Zambrano is essentially unmovable right now.

With the Cubs season shot, the best thing for them to do is hold onto Zambrano and wait until the end of the season when a new baseball operations team will undoubtedly take charge and either see if a new manager/pitching coach combination can reach him; or possibly make a trade in the winter for a bad contract. It can't get much worse, so why exacerbate it when they have a chance----albeit slim----to avoid eating all that money now? Or maybe it's salvageable with Zambrano in 2011 and beyond. Nothing is irreparable.

Carl Pavano just pitched his second straight complete game against the Phillies and Mets.

If that doesn't prove that anyone can come back and anything is possible in baseball, I don't know what does.

  • Mariners re-acquire Russell Branyan:

Uh. Why?

Granted, Branyan is ten steps up at the plate from Casey Kotchman, but are the Mariners suddenly fancying themselves as contenders? And is Russell Branyan going to be the offensive key at DH or first base to spur them onto a run?

Then you add in what they gave up to get Branyan and the questions become even more stark. Ezequiel Carrera is 23; Juan Diaz is 21; both are outfielders; both have ability for an organization that's very thin in pure talent.

Does Branyan make the Mariners better right now? Considering how abysmal their offense is, of course he does; but unless the "genius" GM Jack Zduriencik has a master plan to spin Branyan elsewhere, I don't see the point. The Mariners are 14 games out of first place and don't have the talent to say they've underachieved and warrant bringing in a veteran like Branyan and giving up useful young pieces to get him.

The Mariners have played up to their abilities; and those abilities are that of a last place team. Let's hear Zduriencik referred to as a genius after this. Let's see how the stat zombies explain away this "brilliant" maneuver that ain't all that brilliant.

  • Viewer Mail 6.27.2010:

Joe writes RE Carlos Zambrano:

Z's only 29? He feels older than that...

That's because he's been around for so long and was in the big leagues at 20. This is part of the reason that he's not someone to dismiss as "finished" because he's an easy target in the demise of the Cubs from World Series contender in 2008 to....this.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Carlos Zambrano and Milton Bradley:

Zambrano and Milton Bradley should form their own team and call it the Nutjobs.

There's genuine anger and there's freaking out for affect. I'm paraphrasing from memory, but I remember reading in Sparky Lyle's book The Bronx Zoo how Reggie Jackson started throwing things in the clubhouse and Sparky asked him, "What time does Act II begin?" Reggie responded with the customary and threatening, "What did you say?!?" And Sparky repeated himself. Twice I believe. Nothing happened physically or otherwise.

With Reggie it was an act. With Zambrano, he looked like he was legitimately flipping out even though the reports have made it look like a fight was closer to happening than it really was. Milton Bradley asked for help and has behaved since coming back, though he still hasn't hit.

It's currently chaos at Wrigley. Chaos for a talented team in disarray.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE the Cubs:

I wonder what Tom Ricketts' new "stat zombie" has to say about Carlos? What a meltdown.

It's interesting that you brought that up. For anyone who missed it, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts hired Ari Kaplan as "statistical analyst manager"----ESPN Story.

Contrary to the popular misconception about me, I'm not anti-stats; it's a good idea to have people who are well-versed in statistical analysis to add to the discussion of building and re-building an organization. What I do have an issue with is the use of statistics as the be-all/end-all of putting a team together; in addition to that, I have a problem with the idea that the Cubs owner "gets it" because he's hired someone like Kaplan.

Think about the implied arrogance in the statement that one person or another "gets it". They "get it" why? Because they agree with you? It's like a religious or political argument----if you're on my side, then you're smart and know what you're talking about. It's patently absurd.

The factional chasm is growing ever-wider between one side and the other and I have no interest in partaking in it. I come to my conclusions how I come to my conclusions. Take it or leave it.

Listen to my appearance with Sal at SportsFan Buzz from a week ago Thursday. Click on the site link or click here.2010BaseballGuideCover.gif

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1 comment:

She-Fan said...

Good question about the Mariners and Branyan. Do they think they're contenders? I guess so.