griffbag

Another week, another Griff Bag, another hijacking. Sound about right? Because there’s a new slice of read-submitted insanity up at the Toronto Star, and… much like last week… what else do you really want us to do here on a the first morning of the week? Try to come to grips with how awful the Jays have looked against the effing Yankees this season?

Fuck that. Let’s just let Griff’s readers get under the ol’ skin and watch the magic happen (or not happen, as the case may be).

As always, I have not read any of Griffin’s answers.

If there’s a question you’d like me to answer, email it to askrich@thestar.ca and maybe he’ll select it for a future mail bag. Fingers crossed!

Q. Hi Richard Stoeten,

Been reading your column/blog for years, enjoyed it immensely.

Question for the mailbag:

Is the decline of Ricky Romero unprecedented? In the sense that within the span of two seasons he went from having a 15-win/2.92ERA season in 2011 and in 2013 he has struggled in Single-A Dunedin and after two starts in Buffalo he seems to be overmatched in AAA ball.

How can someone so fundamentally lose the skills and talents that got them to the position to get a $30-million contract as a professional athlete. I know we’ve seen pitchers somewhat unexpectedly fall apart before but it’s mainly been relievers (Gagne, Axford, BJ Ryan, etc).

From a 15-win season to being barely able to strike the kids in A-ball out is mind blowing.

Thanks,

Mike

The Romero thing is undeniably weird, though not unprecedented. The old timers will remind you of Steve Blass, who had five better-than-decent seasons with the Pirates in the late 60s and early 70s, then suddenly, inexplicably  forgot how to throw strikes. Recently there have been valuable pitchers like Rick Ankiel, Dontrelle Willis, and Jonathan Sanchez– all of them, like Romero, left-handers, oddly enough– who lost the ability to throw strikes. Granted, that isn’t a huge group for Romero to have seemingly found himself in, but this king of thing does happen (and while Ricky’s ERA and win totals are impressive, those just aren’t good enough metrics to base saying he was better than any of that group on).

Has it really happened to the Jays’ one-time ace, though? For me it’s still too early to tell. Yes, the early returns have been ugly, and I know a lot of fuckfaces out there want desperately for validation of their ignorant knee-jerk thoughts from various points along the way that Romero is finished, but it really is still only less than 20 innings across all levels in 2013.

Plus a brutal Spring Training.

Plus a full season as one of the worst pitchers in all of baseball.

Plus an entire career of not being able to get lefties out, which has probably got to be the biggest concern of all, actually. I don’t think coincidentally, in Romero’s best season, 2010, he faced the lowest single-season percentage of left-handed batters of his career, and had his most success against lefties, though they still hit him to the tune of a .343 wOBA. Twenty-five per cent of the batters he faced that year were lefties, but by the time of his dreadful 2012, the rate had climbed to 32%. Couple that increase with the .390 wOBA left-handers posted against him– which actually isn’t terribly out of line with his career rate, as from 2009 to 2011 lefties put up a .363 wOBA– and you have all the makings of the disaster that we saw.

So, for all the talk about mechanics or confidence, the fact is, regardless of whether he can throw strikes, with the book being out on him, it actually doesn’t sound entirely implausible, assuming that clubs other than the Rays employ managers competent enough to have noticed the splits, that his days as a useful big leaguer truly are over.

But the mechanics, for whatever it’s worth, are new right now, Romero did pitch in 2012 with an elbow that required surgery, and he’s struggled with command problems once before, spending three seasons at Double-A– mostly while being labelled a gigantic J.P. Ricciardi bust– from 2006 to 2008, before turning into a very productive big leaguer.

The Jays owe him $15.6-million for the next two years, plus whatever remains of this year’s $7.5-million, so he’s going to get all the time he’ll need to try and figure himself out. No, he can’t even get minor league hitters out right now, but I would certainly hesitate to just assume that it’s always going to be that way. Time will tell, but even if he does regain the ability to throw strikes, you sort of have to think that his issues against left-handed hitters, now even better known, will make it very difficult to return to the form we once saw.

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Q. Jose Reyes’ injury has thrown the entire lineup into a funk. Without an everyday leadoff hitter in his absence, why not insert Rajai Davis into that role? He has the highest batting average among active Jays and with his speed, is a constant threat to steal second and third, especially if he gets on base with less than two outs.

Thanks,

Justin, Richmond Hill ON

I love the way the lineup looks with Melky at the top and Bautista hitting second, actually. I could handle Rajai hitting lead-off against left-handers, I suppose, but with him currently on the shelf, it’s a moot point. And against right-handers? Never.

And that’s just it. The thing about Davis is, his overall numbers are a bit inflated because John Gibbons has, smartly, used him as much against left-handed pitching as possible. Rajai’s career numbers show that he’s been much better against left-handed pitching than right, and the small sample of data from this year seems to bear that out, with his wOBA against lefties a robust .383, and a weak .265 wOBA against right-handers.

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Q. As a long, long-time fan, I have noticed a dramatic change in pitching. There never used to be pitch counts and radar guns. The starting rotation numbered 4, not 5. And complete games were much more common. As late as the ’80s, guys were pitching nine innings up to 20 times a year. Last year no one had more than six. Now the benchmark seems to be seven innings is a great success. And pitchers today seem much more fragile — the Blue Jays are a great example of that. Why have we seen such drastic changes?

Phil Ford, Ottawa

I don’t know if pitchers are necessarily more fragile, Phil, or if they just seem more fragile because they can now rehab and come back from injuries that in another era would have been career-ending. But you’re right that pitcher usage has changed quite considerably. Much of it, I think pretty clearly, comes down to money, as clubs are much more protective of their best young arms– see things like the “Verducci effect,” or the way the Nationals handled Stephen Strasburg last year, or the Jays “piggybacking” the Lansing Three.

From what I understand– which could hardly be called anything like expertise– there doesn’t appear to be a lot of science or data to suggest that anyone has found the ideal usage patterns for developing, keeping their young pitchers healthy, and extracting the most value possible from them at the big league level, but they seem to have fallen into an orthodoxy about it anyway. It’s so entrenched that, at this point, it would be tough to see a club ramp up their pitchers’ workloads up to levels where they were back in the 80s, if only because of how they’d be called reckless by media, fans, other clubs, pitchers, and agents alike. With jobs at the top of the pyramid so fleeting, I understand the reluctance, but you’re definitely right that it’s odd and that current practices are at least worth examining.

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Q. Hi Rich Stoet,

Love the mailbag, on to the questions: all spring training we heard about how the veteran players were being allowed to progress at their own rate and get themselves ready as they saw fit. Now it seems as if none of the veterans did manage to get themselves ready, as evidenced not only by the poor results, but also by the types of muscle strain injuries which keep occurring.

Brandon Morrow pitches eight innings, and his unprepared body spasms, for example. I wasn’t at spring training, but was there a lack of discipline and preparation for which the new manager should be held accountable? Or was it the WBC and its interruption of the regular spring training schedule that messed everything up? Finally, a lot of these injuries seem to be about muscles not being warmed up properly and stretched out well — not a necessity when you are 19, but definitely one by your mid-20s. Watching the players stretch on the field, they all use a terrible bouncing technique rather than a slow and steady stretch as physical therapists recommend. Is there no one to teach these guys how to stretch properly? Surely if Brett Lawrie had been well stretched out he wouldn’t have hurt himself with the sudden action of, well, stretching for a ball in WBC pre-competition!

Thanks for all you do! You truly are a wonderful source of information on the ins and outs of baseball!

Allan C. Lane

Please, tell me more about these diagnoses you’ve made through your TV screen. Sounds like some really powerful technology that could help the world, doctor. Do share!

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Q-In the last 2-3yrs the jays have picked up –traded for –released –traded I believe 12-13 catchers even trading Buck twice? could you detail the chorology of this and how come we ended with Blanco?  Thanks,

r woods

Huh? Unless you’re counting minor league filler, I don’t know how it can possibly be that many. In 2010 the Jays had John Buck (1), Jose Molina (2) and J.P. Arencibia (3) on the roster. Buck and left via free agency that winter (the Jays got a supplemental round pick for him, which they used to take Joe Musgrove, who was later moved to Houston for J.A. Happ). In 2011 it was all Arencibia and Molina, though if you really want to count him, Brian Jeroloman (4) was called up late in the summer, but didn’t play. Molina left via free agency that winter, and the Jays got a supplemental round pick for him, which they used on Tyler Gonzales. Last year the Jays brought in Jeff Mathis (5), Yan Gomes (6) came up and could catch a little, and at one point, when Arencibia was hurt, they grabbed Yorvit Torrealba (7) on waivers. This winter they re-acquired Buck (8) in the Marlins deal, the flipped him to the Mets in the Dickey trade, picking up Josh Thole (9) and Mike Nickeas (10, if you really want to count him) in the process. They also added Blanco (11) to compete for a spot, mostly on the recommendation of Dickey, who Blanco had caught, and because they wanted some bullshit to do with clubhouse chemistry.

So… shit, you’re actually pretty close there, and it’s entirely possible I’ve missed a name or three– there was tonnes of talk about Travis d’Arnaud (12), of course, and Bobby Wilson (13) was on the roster for a time over the winter, too (remember that?).

But… so what? Blanco is not the problem on this team, useless as he almost entirely is. Now, J.P. Arencibia hitting right-handers and not Josh Thole? That might be a problem, if it weren’t for J.P.’s reverse splits so far this year. In fact, J.P. has put up a .335 wOBA against right-handed pitching so far– and if he were to keep that up while also going back to hitting lefties more like he did in 2011 (.356 wOBA) and 2012 (.328 wOBA), he’d actually be a hell of a lot more defensible as an everyday catcher on this club.

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Q. When will the Jays decide it is over for this year and retool for next year? Do you think they will be sellers at trade deadline?

June 14th at 2:21 PM ET.

Maybe.

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Q. Hi Richard Stoeten

I’ve recently moved to Toronto from the U.K. and am fascinated by the similarities between baseball and our bat and ball sport, cricket. Baseball is somewhat looked down upon as glorified rounders, and I know cricket is seen here as somewhat mysterious and convoluted given the length of games (five days is the max). I’m surprised there hasn’t been a bigger ‘sell’ by MLB of the game in the U.K. as there has with NFL — do you know if there are plans to play games in London?

In terms of the role of batter, I don’t understand why ‘shortening the swing’ is not a default for all players at the plate. I would have thought what you lose in power is made up for in accuracy, and given the large empty areas of the park where you can easily hit a single it seems a logical move. Also, why don’t players foul off intentionally to build the pitch count?

As for the umpires, I think they are horrible in MLB. Aside from the wrong calls this week and as you mentioned the ludicrous decision to play on as J.A. Happ was injured, they seem to have vastly different views of the strike zone. Surely the league could install a HawkEye style setup at the plate (as in tennis) to judge the strike zone? Whether you like or dislike the batter for arguing calls should have no bearing on the next call.

Sorry these are quite long — I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Best regards

John

So weird. Your closing had me seeing ghosts for a second there. “Best regards, John” used to mean something on this site– something I haven’t thought about in quite a long time. A bit strange to see it here again, to be honest. And since I’m sure ol’ Griff handled this one just fine, I’ll just leave it at that.

Comments (43)

  1. “June 14th at 2:21 PM ET.”

    Made me laugh.

    • Reminder me of Ghostbusters ….

      Elaine: According to my source, the end of the world will be on February 14th, in the year two thousand and sixteen.

      Peter Venkman: Valentine’s day. Bummer. Where’d you get your date, Elaine?

      Elaine: I received this information from an alien. As I told my husband, it was in the Paramus Holiday Inn, I was having a drink at the bar, alone, and this alien approached me. He started talking to me. He bought me a drink, and then I think he must have used some kind of a ray or a mind control device because he forced me to follow him to his room and that’s where he told me about the end of the world.

      Peter Venkman: So your alien had a room at the Holiday Inn, Paramus?

      Elaine: It could have been a room on the spaceship made to look like the hotel. I can’t be sure about that, Peter.

  2. To add to your chirp of Allan C. Lane: the only therapists that would recommend a long slow, steady stretch before a game are the ones who have not kept up-to-date on the latest research in that area. It’s actually been shown that that type of stretching (pre-exercise) not only doesn’t prevent injuries, but that it also reduces your strength for a few hours following.

    There is a difference between dynamic warm-up exercises that ‘stretch’ your range of motion out and performing ballistic stretching exercises that the old-timers would warn against.

    • Came here to say this. I really have to wonder what kind of a mind it takes for someone like Allan C. Lane to legitimately believe they know more about this stuff than actual major league trainers.

      • Granted, medicine is suppored to be a little mroe ‘scientific’, but I really see little differece between this sort of speculation, and all of the ‘talent evaluation’ that fans carry out every day.

        I also question whether the medically trained staff have the role or authority to dictate the training regimen on amy Big-League club.

  3. To the question about pitchers not pitching as many complete games, or being used less these days – I think a huge deal of that has to with advanced science.
    Stoeten did mention that teams have a lot invested in players now, but they also know a great deal more than they did even in the 80s or 90s with respect to how a pitchers arm or body reacts to increased stress.

    The old adage of “play through the pain” was so common place in sports. Pitchers would pitch until they had a dead arm, likely attempting to pitch through painful stretches that nowadays would require surgery or at the very least, a stint on the DL.

    Its a different age nowadays. Playing through the pain is not so commonplace as we know how much worse it can make things. Look at concussions in hockey or football. As early 10 or 15 years ago, a guy would take a big hit that may have caused serious head trauma and he would just sit on the bench and miss a shift – or that lovely phrase is sports – “walk it off”.

    Thats just not the case anymore. With the way medical science has evolved, I think we are well passed the days where you will see any pitcher throwing even 10 CGs in one season.

    • My speculation is that they are trained *too well*. If working out has made pitchers stronger, and pitching mechanics are optimized to bring out the most in each pitch, might this not introduce more strain on the joints, ligaments and tendons? My understanding is that building muscle cannot actually strengthen these sorts of connective tissues.

      • I just basically asked the same thing below (missed your comment). If you can only build muscle, then is it not possible that certain exercises in the weight room are simply straining your tendons, tissues and/or joints?

  4. I have no numbers to back this up, but even in romero’s great season, he seemed to be more lucky than dominant. Tonnes of double plays, guys swinging out of zone at pitches to help him out, seems like we has stranding an abnormal amount of base runners. My uneducated opinion was he got guys out with pitches out of the zone, and when the league stopped swinging at them, he kind of got exposed.

    • The stats do exist to show that Romero had a fair amount of luck in 2011. For example his BAbip was .245. This had to regress back towards .300 (it was.293 in 2010). This is not to take away from Ricky’s year, he did pitch very well, just not All-Star well.

    • he wasn’t as good as his era showed, but he wasn’t a minor league pitcher either

  5. Allan C Lane Got PWNED

  6. Allan C. Lane is an idiot.

  7. Man…I really do enjoy Hayhurst’s contributions to the baseball discussion in Toronto…but sweeeeeet fuck he’s really gotta lay off on the breathless, constant slobbering of the Rays.

    I swear every single time I hear him, he’s on some spiel about how Joe Maddon is better than sliced bread, the penguins thing, the lameass travel themes…seriously, we’ve been hearing it for years & years…and yet, still more years. Enough already. So fucking sick of hearing about Joe Maddon & what an unbelievably great organization the fuckin’ Rays are.

    Those awesome Rays employ Josh Lueke…so kindly fuck off.

    • Matt Bush was also in their employ when he ran over a 72 year old mans head.

    • @wes.

      Hayhurst pitched in the Rays organization after the Jays.

      It is remarkable how the Rays have competed on a low payroll since 2008.

      I always thought they got lucky with draft picks prior to 2008, but they always seem to have good players coming up through the minor leagues even if they were drafted lower.

      Furthermore, Friedman finds crappy players on other teams & they end up performing for the Rays.

      The Rays are a well managed team, that will probably end up having a better record than the Jays juggernaut in 2013

      • I see a lot of people on this site ragging on the Rays all the time for operating on a budget, and I simply don’t understand it. They are a great fucking team! They are usually a very fundamentally sound ball team, that develops great pitching and prospects. If you look at the teams that go out and drop hundreds of millions on Pujols and Hamilton, or Fielder or anyone on the LA Dodgers, they are not great teams, and they usually have sacrificed some aspect of their club to sign these guys. I would rather have a solid lineup up and down, then be in the situation of those clubs. Developing prospects is exciting, and I was enjoying the last few years when we were anticipating our prospects, admittedly quite a bit more than I am enjoying this season, where we blew our proverbial load on the reputed talent.

        Just my two cents.

    • I think I know where the Ray’s scout hang out now.

  8. Awesome mailbag as always. Good work.

    • +1 to Stoeten.

      The likely future for Romero is depressing.

      • Why not a situational lefty against righties. Bottom of the pen. Occasional long relief against predominantly right handed lineups. Only after a lengthy minor league stint. Like, maybe, next year.

        • I guaran-f**king-tee that if they traded him to the Rays for a bag of balls, well,
          need i say more….?

  9. In regard to question #1 and your reference to Steve Blass the former Pirates ace pitcher, his downfall was triggered by the fact he caught his wife in bed with one of his teammates. I will not go into detail about the situation on this blog as I deem that inappropriate, but I had a job working in baseball and my information comes firsthand. It was a sad situation as I remember like it was yesterday the masterful performance Blass gave in the 7th game of the 1971 World Series. I saw him pitch and I can tell you that Blass was a heck of a pitcher. The Pirates did everything they could to salvage his career, including trading away the teammate in question, but to no avail as Blass’s marriage and career fell apart.

    • Ricky Romero, “tfw no gf.”

      • I am in no way trying to insinuate that Ricky Romero’s past or present issues are related to any girlfriend. I have no idea. I am simply telling you what I know to be true about Steve Blass. Another pitcher who suddenly “lost it” was former Brave Mark Wohlers.

        • Hayhurst is a proponent of the psych angle. I tend to buy it too as there were a number of games last year (and this year) where RR would be cruising along and get a bad call or give up a run and suddenly his roof would cave in. He’d walk the bases full or hit a batter or whatever…It was obvious he’d lost it.

  10. Regarding the “shortening up, I think it’s obvious why this is not done all the time (though some, like Ichiro, certainly sacrifice power for average), but I’ve wondered if this is the reason that Rasmus and Arencibia strike out so much – i.e. they do not change their approach with 2 strikes.

    There are definitely different hitting approaches today compared to other eras. I wonder if the by-product of the steroid era is that people aretrying to retain some more of that homerun power, and are sacrificing thier overall hitting.

    • I think the thought is more that between “home run or strikeout” and “single or groundout” teams have decided that they would still rather go for the home run even after 2 strikes.

      In some situations this makes sense: 2 out and a really bad hitter on deck and you are JP Arencibia. Might as well go for a home run even with 2 strikes.

  11. What happened to the morning after game charts? Those things are/were awesome.

  12. Good answers.

    One of the questions raises a point I often think about though; why are guys in the bullpen monitored so closely, needing rest days so often, when truthfully they don’t pitch more than a few innings, and that’s a long man?

    You see guys go from the starting rotation to the bullpen, and vice versa, with guys coming out of the pen to the rotation. I understand some guys have more stamina, but one guy can go out and throw 90-95 all night, for maybe 80-115 pitches if it’s a solid start, and yet a guy comes out of the pen, throws 12 pitches, and then they talk about how he needs the next day off? Obviously that starter is probably gonna get the next 5 days off, but even that is changeable with some guys in the playoffs, or even if the rotation gets muddled up.

    Is it really obvious and I’m missing it, or is it a generally accepted orthodoxy like you said above with the injury question?

  13. I always wonder (or am suspicious) about the weight room activities pitchers do. There are some exercises I just wouldn’t do if I was a pitcher. Like the classic peck exercise where you have your arms out and up and bring your arms together in front of your body. No matter how much muscle that may build, it seems like it will always be tearing at your joints or tendons or some shit up in your shoulder.

    Maybe someone who actually knows what they’re talking about can chime in here. I know weights are good for muscles. But these guys aren’t getting injured because of a lack of muscle.

  14. Nice mention of John Brattain. I remember that day.

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