Tuesday, April 29, 2003

For a .500 club, things sure aren't looking too good right now in Lorialand.

1) No matter how much they wish it were so, and no matter how big a signing bonus Loria gave him back when he owned the Expos (it's called sunk costs, Jeff, look it up), Justin Wayne just isn't a good prospect. He got another chance to demonstrate that tonight against the D-backs. Not that there's really anyone else in the high minors that it would have been better to call up. Dontrelle Willis is tearing it up at Double-A, but it makes little sense to add him to the 40-man and start his service time clock running just for an emergency start...

2) ...except that isn't going to be just one start, really. Dr. Andrews found a torn ligament in Burnett's elbow, thus disproving Burnett's scientific hypothesis that you can't throw a 95 mph fastball with a torn ligament in your elbow, and the surgery is tomorrow. Don't be surprised if you see a certain veteran left-hander's name screaming at you from the headlines. The recovery time is getting shorter, but even so AJ won't be back from the TJ until next spring training at the earliest.

That sound you heard was the bottom falling out of the Marlins playoff hopes.

Tejera will join the rotation, but there's nobody to replace Tejera as long man in the bullpen; hence the idle thought that maybe calling Willis up to fill Burnett's spot might not be so crazy. Not that I want Torborg in control of the kid's arm and future.
3) Oh, and the icing on the cake -- Sunday's soul-grinding 20-inning loss to the Cards. They had to score five runs in the ninth to tie it (including homers from Castillo and Castro), but Alex Gonzalez left the bases loaded three different times in the extra frames before the Fish were put out of their misery. Mike Lowell tied a record by being intentionally walked three times in the game; each time it was so the Cards could pitch around Derrek, and get to Gonzalez. I guess La Genius LaRussa didn't notice his hot start... or wasn't fooled by it.

Of course no demoralizing loss would be complete without a Jeff Torborg bepuzzlement. He brought Tejera in to face exactly one batter in the seventh; the end result of that decision was having to use Pavano in the 19th, and the end result of that was Wayne's start tonight, I don't want to hear "Oh, there's no way Torborg could have known it would go that long on Sunday"; it was a dumb move. Why even have a guy like Tejera in the 'pen if you're just going to use him as though he were Jesse Orosco? He's there precisely for games like Sunday. And the team is paying for it tonight -- Wayne gave up four runs in 5 1/3 (on 100+ pitches) before having to be yanked, meaning the bullpen gets to throw a few more innings when what they needed was a nice eight inning start to give them a breather.

They could have moved Redman up a day, but he threw 130 pitches his last time out and is thus due for a shellacking, so that wouldn't have worked either.

Oh wait, I forgot -- pitch counts don't mean anything. Just ask AJ.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

The morning papers are sending out mixed signals about Burnett.

The Sun-Sentinel says it's probably just bone chips, and if surgery is needed he might just be gone for a couple of months. The Herald, on the other hand, is more pessimistic: surgery = gone for the year, according to them.

I don't know who's right. I don't think they know who's right, and likely won't until Dr. Andrews pokes around on Monday. But you read those articles, and you wonder how these imbeciles keep their jobs. Everyone admits Burnett couldn't get loose in the cold weather in New York, yet somehow he was allowed to throw a ton of pitches anyway. The news that Burnett's fastball wasn't breaking the mid-90s, down about 4 mph from what he usually rings up on the radar gun when healthy, doesn't seem to be news at all to Larry Beinfest, yet somehow that information never translated into "Gee, maybe we should take it easy on him."

I wish I had something else to talk about with this team other than their blatant incompetence in handling the one real asset the franchise has, but I don't. It's this, or I-Rod fooling around with a position switch again, but barring catastrophic injuries to Mike Lowell and Miguel Cabrera I don't expect to see him anywhere other than behind the plate.

Honestly, Burnett and his agent should sue Torborg, Beinfest and the Marlins. He's in his arbitration years; their horrific mismanagement will have a direct negative impact on his future earnings. At worst, even if he loses the case, the team will have to trade him just as a PR move, and anything that gets him out of the meat grinder this organization has turned into is a good thing.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

AJ Burnett is headed back to the DL.

Let's talk about his pitching line from last night, to see where Torborg screwed up. (He must have screwed up, right?) Here's Burnett's line after five innings:

5 IP, 2 hits, 3 runs, 3 walks, 5 Ks, 82 pitches.

Nearly half of those pitches (36) came in an awful first inning, which is when he gave up all three runs. But settled down nicely after that, which is why he was allowed to come out for the sixth. So, since this blog has turned into the Jeff Torborg Second-Guessing Society recently, let's play everyone favorite game... You Be The Manager!

First off... do you have someone warming up already? Probably not -- the way AJ's been throwing the last four innings you have think you can get another inning or two out of him and still keep him within spitting distance of 100 pitches. Plus you let him hit in the bottom of the 5th, so there likely won't be an easy opportunity to pinch-hit for him soon.

AJ starts the 6th inning with an 0-1 groundout by Pujols. So far so good.

Next batter is Edmonds, who walks on five pitches after he bunts (?) the first pitch foul. 89 pitches, one on one out. Do you call the 'pen yet to get someone warming up?

Rolen strikes out, on six pitches. Then Tino Martinez singles on an 0-1 pitch -- first and second, two outs, 97 pitches. One more out and you can get someone ready for the seventh, pinch-hitter be damned.

Next four pitches, to Renteria -- ball, ball, strike, double. 101 pitches, now you're down 4-0, runners still on 2nd and 3rd, and the #8 hitter at the plate. You know what's coming -- intentional walk to Matheny to get to Tomko, who's working on the shutout and isn't going anywhere.

Burnett to Tomko -- foul strike, ball, foul strike, ball, foul, ball, ball, and it's now 5-0. AJ hits the showers.

Not a whole lot of opportunity for second-guessing, is there? The Tomko at bat is really the only one you could say Burnett shouldn't have been in there for with any conviction, but even then if Tejera wasn't ready, you're kind of stuck.

Nope, this was just one of those outings. The problem is it comes on the heels of two other bad, too-long starts for Burnett. At what point does Torborg start erring on the side of caution with these kids? Burnett has walked sixteen batters in sixteen innings over his last three starts, precisely because Torborg keeps giving him chances to "turn himself around" or "get untracked" or whatever chiches he's tossing out post-game. But you know what? Now it's too late. AJ's headed back to the DL, back to Dr. Andrews to get his elbow examined, and it was all so screamingly, blindingly obviously avoidable that it makes you want to weep in frustration.

On a ballclub run by sane individuals, this would be the final straw for Torborg -- and if Beinfest is trying to protect him from the axe the way he's protected Arnsberg it should be the final straw for him too. I suspect with the Marlins, though, there will be plenty more straws to come. Maybe even enough to build a pyramid.

After all, you bury stuff under pyramids, right?

Friday, April 25, 2003

In the wake of Mark Redman's 11 K, 130 pitch game on Thursday, I suppose I should clarify why I jump all over Torborg for these outings.

In this case there was some method behind his madness. After Wednesday's 12 inning game, a nice long outing from a starter was just what the bullpen needed, especially considering Braden Looper had pitched in two straight games. And Redman neither relies on arm-straining heat or breaking stuff to get by, nor figures into the Marlins plans long-term (to be perfectly honest -- it's no knock against Redman, just that guys like Dontrelle Willis and Ryan Snare are closing fast on their MLB debuts), so letting him overextend himself is not the crime against humanity letting AJ do it is.

All that said... it was still a bad idea.

The blogosphere is buzzing right now with pitch count talk, and the main argument against using them as an accurate measure runs something like, "You don't know how many warmup pitches he threw, or how often he threw over first base, or how many of what type of pitch he threw, so using pitch counts is about as reliable as using batting average as an indicator of offensive effectiveness."

Well, those first two points (warmup pitches and pickoff attempts) are just crap. I will say that point three (how many and what type of pitches) is a spot-on criticism though, which is why Will Carroll's Velocity Project is so important. Will's theory is that it's not the number of raw pitches you throw, but the number of pitches you throw after you become fatigued, that are dangerous. Until he gets enough data to prove/disprove that theory though, pitch counts are all we have to go on.

Yes, some guys will be just as strong at pitch #125 as they were at #1, while others will start to struggle at #75. And yes, 90 pitches for someone throwing sliders and splitters will probably be a lot worse than 110 fastballs and change-ups from someone like Redman. But until we've got a way to measure that stuff with a simple metric (and yes I know about PAP, but you can't just glance at a box score and figure that out) then pitch counts will have to do.

And the Marlins pitch counts so far have been ugly. By any measure, 130 pitches is ugly. For a staff as young and important to the future of the franchise as they are, with the injury history they carry, a pattern of pushing starters too hard is not what you want in a manager.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

In the aftermath of last night's 12-inning win, I'd like to admit to one of my few, few, few mistakes (yes, even us super-geniuses mess up from time to time.)

Earlier in the year I said Carl Pavano wouldn't cut it as a starter, and that the bullpen would be the best place for him. So far, I've been very wrong on that one. Last night he threw 89 pitches over seven innings and finished strong, striking out the final batter he faced and throwing first-pitch strikes to nine of his final ten batters. His PQS numbers on the year:

April 2 - 6 IP, 7 hits, 3 BB, 3 K, 0 HR - PQS score 2
April 7 - 6 IP, 5 hits, 0 BB, 5 K, 3 HR - PQS score 4
April 12 - 6.2 IP, 9 hits, 0 BB, 3 K, 2 HR - PQS score 2
April 17 - 6 IP, 2 hits, 1 BB, 5 K, 0 HR - PQS score 5
April 23 - 7 IP, 6 hits, 1 BB, 5 K, 0 HR - PQS score 5
PQS Average: 3.6

Those are solid numbers, especially those K/BB ratios. In fact Pavano's been the Marlins most reliable starter this year. Even better, Torborg hasn't been leaning on him -- he's averaging just 91 pitches a start -- so he should be able to keep it up for a while. I still stand by my assertion that he's an injury risk if he gets pushed, but if his pitch counts are kept well south of three digits he might just make it through the year.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

I was going to use Monday's off-day to do a State of the Marlins address... I guess today will have to do.

Let's take a look at where the club stands:

After yesterday's win over the Milwaukee Budlewsers, the team is 10-11, 2.5 games back of the Expos in the East, and (in your utterly meaningless stat of the moment) 2.5 back of the Rockies for the NL wild card. Florida will have to play at a .567 clip the rest of the way to meet Torborg's 90 win target.

On the hitting front, Juan Pierre has cooled down considerably, and his walk rate (5.5/100 AB) is back to within his career norms. It was a nice little pipe dream while it lasted though. Alex Gonzalez continues to lead the club in OPS (1129) which says more about his ridiculous start than anything. He hasn't really cooled down much though, even after missing three games with a bit of a gimpy ankle, and I'm beginning to be a little concerned about him as my Hacking Mass shortstop. Nobody else, with the possible exception of Hollandsworth, is performing above or below expectations, which doesn't bode particularly well for the future.

The big "story" is of course the running game. An 82% success rate is great by any measure, but as you can see at the left, it's had almost no impact on the offense as a whole. That's principally the result of timing -- the Marlins have been stealing a lot of their bases with two outs (56% of their attempts), which rarely produces runs either in theory or practice. I also think that their opponents just don't care. Pudge is the only guy in the lineup anybody should be worried about, and the thought process is probably along the lines of "If Encarnacion wants to take second base with Hollandsworth at the plate, let him". Maybe there should be a "Defensive Ennui" designation, along with "Defensive Indifference".

Pitching-wise, here's some numbers -- 105.5, 100.3, and 95.8. Those are the average pitch counts for Penny, Burnett and Beckett so far. Take out Beckett's Opening Day disaster, when he couldn't get out of the third inning, and his pitch count jumps to an even 100.0. Yes, it's early, but that's kinda the point. This is how they're getting used in April for pity's sake. Goddess knows what Torborg will do to them once they're "stretched out" (shudder).

The bullpen, Nunez excepted, has pretty much recovered from its poor start. Their K/BB rates are very poor though, except for Almanza's, so this is still an area of concern. Nunez, incidentally, looks done to me. Six homers in 8 2/3 innnings is beyond ugly, and the Marlins keep changing their story as to why they think he's struggling -- first he was tipping his pitches, then his arm angle was too low, then his arm angle was fine but he had some other mechanical problem (three guesses who came up with that one, first two don't count.) Here's a thought: maybe his 190 inning workload over the last two years, and his 77 appearances last year, just burned him out. He's a reliever. It happens.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Apparently I was wrong in yesterday's "Jeff Torborg is a big fat liar" rant. For this I apologize profusely.

You see, AJ Burnett didn't have his best stuff on Saturday. Says so right here. His fastball couldn't get out of the low 90s; he said after the game that he couldn't get loose; and, most damningly, Jeff Torborg saw him stretching his right forearm during the game.

Yes, that's the same forearm that landed him on the DL out of spring training.

Like I said, I apologize for the lapse in fact checking. I should know better than to go off half-cocked like that, when a review of the available evidence clearly shows that I should have been FULLY cocked. Won't happen again, I promise.

So, to sum up: Jeff Torborg is a big fat stupid liar. There, I feel better.