Friday, August 6, 2010

You Can't Count on Bruce

Last week's Ray Ratto response has inspired us to start something new on 8thInningWeirdness. Every Friday, we will feature a piece of poor sports journalism, and destroy it, in the famous format. While we can't possibly match those guys' humor, we'll hopefully be able to use logic and reason in the same sinister, career destroying manner. Here are the guidelines: it must be about baseball, it must be written by a local sportswriter, or if a national writer, the piece must be about the Giants. My only worry is how I'm gonna resist not using a Bruce Jenkins column every week. Guess who's up today? Bruce! Not just one Bruce, 4 Bruces! That's right, it's been quite a week of bullshit from this guy, so let's get into it.

Our first piece is from his Saturday section in the Chronicle, the "3 Dot Lounge". I don't know what that means or where it comes from, but it's about as douche-chill inducing as "The Adande Lounge". This article is titled "You Can't Count on Caution". Here, Jenkins is talking about Stephen Strasburg, and decides it's the proper place to defend his buddy Dusty Baker.

Remember: Jenkins' words are in bold, while my response is in regular text.

It was a week of bitter frustration for the pitch-count fanatics. A very important pitcher hurt his arm, and there was no one to blame.

I don’t think there are any “pitch count fanatics”. In fact, It’s likely that Bruce’s belief in them is all a product of his own bitter frustration with advanced statistics. There are simply people who believe that it's smart to manage a young, expensive investment carefully.
Part of that is keeping a pitch count and monitoring it.

(Strasburg) didn’t have a single 100-pitch outing in his nine starts for Washington, nor did he ever pitch into the eighth inning. Still, down he went, with an aching shoulder. The Nationals played it by the modern-day book, and discovered that in the realm of a pitcher’s arm, there are no rules.

This is very dishonest Bruce. Just because Stephen Strasburg has been handled carefully, and still injured his arm, Bruce is declaring all caution with young pitchers to be a waste of time. He seems to be promoting a fatalistic approach. Let what happens happen, and do "as little as possible". Well, Bruce, baseball ain't Chinatown, so this won't fly.

Mark Prior had what appeared to be a smooth, stress-free delivery, and he blew out his arm not from overwork – don’t ever believe that nonsense – but because he had only so many bullets to fire.

Bruce brought up Mark Prior, and said blaming his nightmare of a career on overwork is “nonsense”. He of course is talking about the well documented theory that Dusty Baker, manager of the Cubs in 2003, overworked his young pitcher, leading to injury problems that never went away. Bruce, you brought it up, so I’m gonna talk about it, and guess what? I am going to cite pitch counts.

Mark Prior was the 2nd overall pick for the Cubs in the 2001 Draft. He was going to be picked No. 1 by the Twins, but they worried that they wouldn’t be able to sign him, so they took Joe Mauer (worked out pretty well, huh?). Prior signed with the Cubs for $10.5 million, a record until Stephen Strasburg was drafted. Much like Strasburg, Prior came up to the big leagues the next year. In 2003, he had his first full season as a major leaguer. It was a great one: he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 K’s. It would also be the last full season he would ever pitch. Prior has been plagued with injuries ever since the 2003-2004 offseason. Many believe that Dusty Baker is partly to blame for this, because of his disregard of pitch counts. Let’s look into it:

In 2003, Prior was 22, and in his first full season. He was a $10.5 million investment for the Cubs. Prior that year averaged 113 pitches per start. Yes, 113. That is obscene, but it is nothing compared to the number of pitches Prior threw per start in September, the month when most young pitchers feel fatigue because they are not used to working a full 6 month season. How many pitches did Prior average during this time? 126. 126. One. Hundred. Twenty. Six. Such things are unheard of. It’s almost hard to believe that it happened. 126 pitches per start in September, and you say that it’s “nonsense” to blame Prior’s injury problems on overwork in this season? Just for a little perspective, we will look at some of the best pitchers of this past decade, and how many pitches they averaged per start in their first full year:

Johan Santana, 2004: 101 / Roy Halladay, 2003: 103 / Roy Oswalt: 101

Barry Zito, 2001: 101 / Tim Hudson, 2000: 101 / Dan Haren, 2005: 99

John Lackey, 2003: 100 / Carlos Zambrano, 2003: 107 / Mark Buerhle, 2001: 103

All of these pitchers have been relatively healthy most of their career. It should also be noted that all of them had close to or the same amount of success in their first year as Prior did, so this is not a case where Prior simply deserved to throw more pitches because he was so good. It’s clear that Dusty Baker overworked him, because he didn’t understand the danger he was a 22 year old, $10.5 million investment in.

Here is a specific case from that horrible September. On the 1st of that month, Prior pitched against the Cardinals. By the 5th inning, the score was already 7-0 Chicago. Prior finished the 6th inning with a pitch count of 103. At that point, it might have made sense to take him out, but Baker let him go back out for the 7th. And Prior finished that inning with 112 pitches. So Baker decided to let him go out for the 8th inning, even though he had a 7-0 lead. With one out, Prior gave up a single and a walk. At this point his pitch count was 121. Dusty left him in to get the next 2 outs, and it took 10 more pitches, raising his total to an unheard of 131. 131 pitches for a 22 year old phenom in a 7-0 game. It’s indefensible. And that’s why we count pitches.

Bud Black had a great answer about Mat Latos. The kid has become the Padres’ ace, much sooner than anyone expected, and they wonder if they’ll have to expand the innings-pitched limit established for Latos in spring training. “A lot of it will be based on what we see with our eyes and what he tells us about how his arm feels,” Black said. And that friends, is the book – start to finish.

That is a big part of the book, yes. I'm not for a strict 100-pitch count or anything like that. It depends on what the game situation is, how the pitcher looks, how he is feeling. That all deserves a place in the good book. You know what else is in the book, Bruce? Don't have your young star pitcher throw 131 pitches in a blowout. Moving on, you have a few thoughts on the Wild Card I see. Ooh, and they are beyond dumb! Jackpot!

The Phillies…could win the NL East in a runaway – and the Giants need that to happen. You don’t want Philadelphia anywhere near the wild-card race.

I know this might be nitpicking, but I couldn’t help but dissect this sentence, and you know what I found lacking? All logic. Follow me for a second, okay? The Giants need Philly to win the division, because if they don’t, then they’ll be competing with the Giants for the Wild Card. That’s Bruce’s wisdom. As I see it now, there are 2 teams that could win the NL East: the Braves or the Phillies. Both are close to each other in the division race, and also close to the Giants in the Wild Card race. So no matter who runs away with it, won’t the other one be there to challenge the Giants for the Wild Card? If Atlanta wins the division, Philly will have a chance at the Wild Card. And if Philly runs away with it, Atlanta will be right there with the Giants. Does Bruce think that Philly running away with the division will demoralize Atlanta so much that they completely fall out of Wild Card contention? See, whoever wins the East, the other team will have a chance at the Wild Card. The only way Philly not running away with the division could hurt the Giants is if BOTH Philly and Atlanta got really hot, and Atlanta won the division, and Philly won the Wild Card easily. If the division race in the East is close, and the records of those two teams are close to the Giants, the 2nd place team will contend for the Wild Card, whether it’s Philadelphia or Atlanta. I hope I explained that in only a semi-confusing fashion. I know it doesn't really matter, but I think when a sportswriter makes a completely inane, meaningless, false statement, it's fun to pick apart.

Now time for the "3 Dot Blog", the internet version, and just as douche chilling.

It was hardly surprising to see Toronto hang onto Jose Bautista. The man has 31 home runs, for heaven’s sake, and he’s under contract through next year.

Jose Bautista, before his power surge this season, was a below average baseball player. Toronto wanted to trade him, but the right deal wasn't there. They wanted a good return for the league leader in HR's, but other teams were too wary of Bautista's high probability to regress drastically. Toronto now has him for next year, but they also have to deal with him earning a lot more money, and it's a dangerous investment. The man had a .729 OPS before this season, for heaven's sake.

The shocker is that nobody landed Adam Dunn, although it’s likely he’ll go in a waiver deal over the next few weeks.

No it isn’t.

Skip ahead to Wednesday of this week. Bruce wrote a piece on the Giants, and you had to know it would suck big time. His whole point in this article was how the Giants do the "little things". His example of foing the little things? Well, they don't just hit home runs. They also hit singles! When I think of a team doing the little things, I think of taking the extra base, or making a smart play defensively, or all the really stupid little things you can do, like bunts and hit and runs. I don't think hitting like a regular, good major league player amounts to doing little things.

Torres is a man of immense strength, but he’s too smart to let occasional bursts of power go to his head. So there he was Tuesday night, leading off a very important game against Colorado, singling up the middle to start a four-run rally. He lined out hard to left field in the second inning, and he went to the opposite field again with a single in the fourth. This is exactly what the Giants need from their most authentic leadoff man since Brett Butler. (Interesting that with Tuesday’s game well in hand, Torres homered in the ninth.)

Bruce Jenkins wishes Torres were a slap hitter. That’s just insulting. Andres Torres is slugging .500. He is at the top of the leaderboard in doubles. Just because you want him to be Juan Pierre doesn’t mean he will be. His power and patience in the leadoff spot has been invaluable to the Giants, and you have to focus on him hitting singles? It’s great that he hits singles, but everyone does that. Torres is great this year BECAUSE of his power and patience. And what does that crap in the parenthesis mean? So because the game was well in hand, he decided it was okay to hit a HR? You mean earlier in games he TRIES to not hit HR’s? If that’s the case, Bruce Bochy needs to talk to him. But of course that isn’t the case, because, as you said, Torres is too smart.

Now Jenkins is going to describe how Matt Kemp is someone who doesn't do "the little things". I hate Matt Kemp. I don't want to defend him. He's a terrible baserunner. But this is too much.

(Kemp) did get five hits, as it turned out, but a separate moment defined him. In the first inning of what turned into a 10-5 loss, Kemp ran at three-quarters speed heading to home plate on a single by Casey Blake – so much so that James Loney, sliding into third, was called out before Kemp touched the plate. The run was erased. Kemp hadn’t learned a thing.

As I said, I hate to defend Matt Kemp, but this is just ridiculous. Bruce Jenkins must really hate Kemp. All we have to do is look at a replay of the play in question, to realize that Kemp was running at a perfectly fast, earnest speed. But it shouldn’t even matter, because wasn’t it Loney who broke a fundamental baseball rule when he made the final out of the inning at 3rd base? It’s Kemp’s fault because he didn’t score before Loney was tagged out on a foolish attempt to take an extra base? Looks like Bruce, in however many years of watching baseball, hasn’t learned a thing. Or maybe he forgets everything he’s learned if it doesn’t support the point he’s trying to make.

And finally, Bruce's small section on page 2 of the Sporting Green from yesterday:

Bouncing A Few Thoughts Into The Dirt

Gotta give Jenkins credit for that self deprecating title. That is what it’s meant to be, right Bruce?

Easily one of the worst deals ever made: Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street from Oakland to Colorado for Matt Holliday in November ’08.

It’s very justifiable to criticize Billy Beane for his revolving door of prospects. He traded Mark Mulder for Dan Haren. After getting 3 productive years of Haren, he flipped him for a truckload of prospects from Arizona. One of these players, Gonzalez, was traded to Colorado for Matt Holliday, who was traded to St. Louis for Brett Wallace, who was traded to Toronto for Michael Taylor. You’d think at some point Beane has to stop this and let his blue chip prospects at least do something in Oakland. And Gonzalez is having a great season in Colorado. Oakland might wish they still had him. But one of the worst deals ever? Easily? How? Oakland’s eventual return in the deal, Taylor, is a top prospect who hasn’t done anything yet. That is, he hasn’t shown what kind of major league player he’ll be, nor has he proven to be a bust. This is a trade that very well could go wrong for the A’s, but it’s completely beyond analysis at this point. You know what one of the worst deals ever is? Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young from the Rangers to the Padres for Adam Eaton. How do we know this? Because it happened 5 years ago, and all the players have shown their major league ability. If Michael Taylor turns out to be a bust, and Gonzalez is Torii Hunter, then it will be a terrible trade. But that hasn’t happened yet.

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