As I do on far too many nights, I spent a good portion of last night arguing with hopeless doomsayers about how ridiculous it is to draw broad, definite conclusions from tiny samples of data. It was more complicated than that — and more profane, of course, and also a little bit about morons booing their own team as though anybody needs to hear pissy hyperventilating about an outcome their poor little souls can’t deal with like adults — but that really does seem to be the essence of my interactions with the living, breathing straw men out there.
Actually, that key nuance seems to be at the root of much of the general disconnect I hear on a lot of advanced stuff these days, especially when said stats are being slagged by willfully ignorant mainstream guys guffawing at single-game CORSI or two weeks of the defensive component of WAR, as though anybody who believes these newfangled numbers add value to our understanding of sports defends them to the death without even the most basic understanding how to apply them properly. Funny how people who can’t be arsed to learn anything about those kinds of things end up saying awfully stupid shit about them, isn’t it?
Hey, but it’s their brand suicide, right? And so I digress. As for last night, though, a funny thing happened along the way to my petty triumph over these people who, bizarrely, actually exist: Dustin McGowan — whose short outings so far this season, including this most recent one, while certainly a trend to be monitored closely, were nothing remotely yet like some kind reason to send a very talented pitcher immediately packing from the rotation — acknowledged that he’s been finding himself fatigued around the 60 pitch mark of his starts so far.
“The body just feels like I run out of steam just a little bit,” he told reporters, including John Lott of the National Post, who points out that the first six pitches McGowan threw in his final inning of work, the fifth, were balls. “I shouldn’t be feeling that. I should be at a point where I can go 90 to 100, especially the way my arm feels. It feels great.”
Ugh. In other words, what was very reasonably a mild concern around the time McGowan was exiting yet another game — perhaps a bit early (I mean… it sure as fuck couldn’t have gone worse leaving him in, though obviously John Gibbons couldn’t have known as much at the time), but rather understandably, given the admission — is now a thing. And, most unfortunately, a thing that’s probably not going to be overcome by pulling McGowan after 70 pitches, as the manager felt he had to last night.
Worse yet — and this has become something of a common refrain for me, as the criticism of the Jays’ rotation gets louder, day by bullpen-taxing day — McGowan wasn’t even that bad last night. Yes, he again left too many balls up, hung a slider to Chris Davis in the first, and coughed a couple of runs back to Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz in the third, but if he catches the tailor-made double play ball off the bat of Jonathan Schoop in the fifth — one batter ahead of the HBP to David Lough, who was still on first base when Cruz destroyed a Todd Redmond pitch for a grand slam — things would have looked a whole lot different.
The same can be said of certain moments in R.A. Dickey’s season so far, as well, I think. And while those frustrating things did happen, and we can’t entirely excuse the outcomes, looked at as pitching performances, while too many times there has obviously been a lot left to be desired, these guys have at least been giving the Jays something to work with on a pretty regular basis. Not enough, especially in terms of innings, but… I don’t know, wouldn’t you rather the guys with the best stuff not giving you quite the number of innings you want, rather than the other way around, trying to eke out innings on the backs of guys whose stuff doesn’t rate? Neither is ideal, obviously, but the guys with the stuff sure as fuck have a better chance of getting to a point where they can log the innings than the guys with the stamina have of ever magically taking a step forward in terms of stuff. Right?
In other words: can anyone blind and desperate enough to go there please just stop talking about Todd Redmond or J.A. Happ assuming McGowan’s place in the rotation, as though four starts of from the guy — an injury-riddled diabetic who, let us remember, came into the year with just 95 live innings pitched over three seasons, and who was well behind the other starters in Spring Training — are going to tell us all we need to know about where he’s going to end up.
Does that mean that the Jays can give him all the rope he possibly needs to get right? No, clearly they need to strike a balance between what’s better in both the short- and the long-term this season. But I can’t possibly imagine how fans would be able to see it as anything but hugely disappointing if the club decided right now that they’ve seen enough, even if it were to mean the promotion of Marcus Stroman — maybe even especially if it meant the promotion of Stroman. But especially
Bart if it means turning the ball over to the goddamn dreck.
The experiment has only worked so far in its easiest facet — McGowan has at least kept the seat warm for the next guy without entirely killing the club in the process — and I can fully admit that maybe I’m too emotionally invested in the romance of McGowan’s comeback story to be seeing straight on all this, but I really do believe there’s a lot more there. And the only way we’ll ever see it is if he gets more innings to work with before giving up.
Do they have to be big league innings? Not even necessarily. McGowan’s next scheduled start falls on Monday’s off-day. If they have any sense at all, the Jays ought to skip him in the rotation — work on his stamina and conditioning, and let him get to at least 100 pitches in a simulated game — and then see where he’s at for his next turn, a week from Saturday in Pittsburgh. Um… y’know, assuming a simulated game will be enough of a proxy for live action to test his durability. Or… actually, even if it isn’t. It’s the best they’ve got. He’s the best they’ve got — especially since you won’t be seeing him getting stretched out again if the club sends him back to the bullpen and moves someone bound to fail (like Redmond or Happ), or even someone who simply might fail (like Stroman) into his place. So they might as well see it the fuck through.
Yes, a whole lot of why he’s in this position is by default, because nobody else looked capable of claiming the role coming out of the spring, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t very, very good reason why four weeks ago his was an arm we were dreaming on. He’s stayed healthy, and that was really supposed to be the big concern. It’s been ugly so far, and the outings have been short, but let’s hope we get to really see what McGowan can do before they call it off.
Unless McGowan himself is privately telling the team that he simply doesn’t think his body can do it, continuing to hope on him just a little bit longer makes all the sense in the world. No, really.