Monday, August 16, 2010

QotD: Manny Acta on Masterson's Mastery

Justin Masterson pitched six innings against the Mariners today, allowing only one hit and no runs, but six walks. He did so despite throwing more balls [51] than strikes [49], a distinction that Manny Acta couldn't help but marvel at:
This is the greatest game ever. When you think you've seen it all, you continue to see new things. I don't think I've ever seen a guy [Masterson] go six scoreless, give up one hit, and throw more balls than strikes.
Funny, because the last time it happened in the major leagues, Jerome Williams was the pitcher and one Manuel Elias Acta was managing just his 24th game for the Nationals. 

Perhaps he can be excused for his lapse in memory. The team had already lost 15 of 23 games in the young season behind a forgettable rotation of John Patterson, Shawn Hill, Matt Chico, Jason Bergmann, and Williams.

For Williams, a former first-round pick of the San Francisco Giants, it would be his next-to last big league start.

He had thrown only 80 pitches through six innings, allowing just four walks and a single, before coming to bat with one out in the bottom of the sixth. From ESPN's game recap:
Williams hit a shot to left field and trotted out of the batter's box, admiring the trajectory and smiling, as if to say, "Hey! That's my first big league homer!" But the ball hit the base of the wall, and Williams wound up with a single.
He sprained his ankle on that swing, forcing him to the 15-day disabled list. In his next start on May 15, he lasted only two innings in a battering by the Braves before returning to the DL.

The Nationals released Williams later that year. Despite bouncing from the Twins to the Dodgers to the A's in subsequent seasons, he has not appeared in another major league game.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Depressing Quote of the Day

Today's depressing QotD is actually a twofer from Indians' manager Manny Acta.

First, Acta had this to say about the Indians' pitching approach:
It has a lot to do with strike one. There's no magic to it: Every major-league hitter becomes a little weaker when he's behind in the count. Get ahead, and you can get hitters to chase pitches outside of the zone.
He's completely right: when Tribe pitchers get strike one, hitters bat .238/.282/.349, but after a 1-0 count, they hit .291/.414/.463.  Getting strike one effectively gives pitchers the luxury of facing Trevor Crowe instead of Shin-Soo Choo.

Trouble is, Indians pitchers aren't very good at getting strike one. They are last in the major leagues in percentage of first-pitch strikes thrown. They aren't very good at throwing strikes at any time, ranking last in the AL with 428 walks allowed.

But who can blame them?  When they do throw strikes, hitters make contact with 91 percent of their pitches, leaving matters in the unsteady hands of the Tribe defense. Want to guess what they aren't very good at?

Which brings us to our second quote from Acta:
When you walk 400 guys and make 80 errors, a lot of runs are going to score.
The Indians have for years built their pitching staff around finesse pitchers, sinker/slider guys without great velocity whose strategy is to pitch to contact and get groundballs.

This may have been by coincidence, but I think it was by design; this type of pitcher is undervalued precisely because they lack the stuff to get swing-and-miss strikes.

And this strategy can be successful, provided that your pitchers throw strikes, avoid the walk and get solid defensive play behind them.

Acta is right: It's not magic.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Today's Light at the End of the Tunnel: Jeanmar Gomez

OK, the kid deserves it. In just his fourth major-league start, Jeanmar Gomez shut down the suddenly potent Orioles, who have won 8 of 10 since Buck Showalter took over as manager.

The 22-year-old Gomez, named the Indians' 23rd-best prospect by minorleagueball.com before the season, ran his record to 3-0 and lowered his ERA to 1.54.

Gomez, who threw a perfect game for Akron last season, won the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year for his 2009 performance, going 10-4 with a 3.43 ERA for the Aeros.

All of these things earn him today's Light at the End of the Tunnel. Unfortunately, when Indians fans see a light at the end of a tunnel, we have learned to suspect a train.

And the train is coming for Jeanmar Gomez.

He works with a three-pitch repertoire, featuring a 91-mph fastball, an 83-mph changeup and an 84-mph sinker that Manny Acta credited for last night's success. But Acta added the caveat that "he still hasn't shown three solid pitches, or command of them, in any of [his four starts]."

Gomez will need that command if he hopes to continue getting hitters out. He has been extraordinarily lucky thus far when facing left-handed hitters, who have batted just .191/.235/.255 against him. His minor league splits portend a reversal of fortune for Gomez.

Furthermore, hitters have made contact with 93.4 percent of pitches that Gomez throws in the strike zone, leaving him vulnerable to the defensive play behind him. The list of major league pitchers with similar numbers is not encouraging: Chris Volstad, Doug Fister, Kyle Kendrick and Joe Saunders, to name a few.

As players and advance scouts get a better look at him, you can expect that a few more of Gomez' pitches will fall for hits or fly over the fence.  Unless, that is, he is able to hone his command, throw more strikes and miss more bats.

Depressing Quote of the Day

From Manny Acta, rationalizing his decision to bat Trevor Crowe fifth last night:
Crowe is second on this team in RBI [30]. He's been very good with runners in scoring position. He's second on this team with doubles [18]. Right now I feel he makes us better hitting in the middle of those guys.
Crowe is second in RBI only after discounting the disabled (Travis Hafner) and the dispatched (Jhonny Peralta and Austin Kearns.) Still, it's pretty depressing that can be true of a player who did not make the Opening Day roster—or even appear in a major league game until May 15—and has batted leadoff in 70 percent of his plate appearances.

None of this is to disparage Crowe.  He is best suited for a bench role, capable of pinchrunning and playing all three outfield positions, but injuries and trades have thrust him into the starting lineup.

It's just another indicator of how disappointing this season has become.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mike Conroy Discovers Life After Indians

Follow the link for a nice story about former Tribe farmhand Mike Conroy, a first-round pick back in 2001. In six seasons, Conroy never escaped Single-A ball, hitting .248/.311/.389.

Nice to read that he still enjoys playing the game, but I wonder if his career would have gone differently had he not signed out of high school.