Archive for the ‘Dustin McGowan’ Category

mcgowanforlorn

In this guest post from Kyle Matte, he looks at how some of the peripherals suggest that the outstanding results the Jays have gotten from Dustin McGowan since he moved to the bullpen aren’t maybe as outstanding as they seem. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

Dustin McGowan has been a wildly enigmatic pitcher through the first three months of the 2014 season. He set the Grapefruit League ablaze en route to being named to a rotation that ranked 29th and 28th in ERA and FIP respectively last year, with the hope he could help steer it in a more positive direction. Despite his outstanding numbers in an admittedly small sample the decision wasn’t an easy one, and the organization publicly went back and forth regarding their plans for the right hander. McGowan was a stud out of the bullpen in 2013 and has a well-documented injury background, yet the alternatives proved so inept in March that there was no other reasonable choice for the club to make but to try him in the rotation.

He made his season debut against the New York Yankees on April 4th — his first in over thirty months — and it probably went as well as could be honestly imagined, given the rust; 4 runs allowed on 9 base runners while recording just 8 outs. The poor results were accepted by most, but what caused a stir amongst savvy fans were his swinging strikes – or the lack there of. Chops McGowan induced just three whiffs across his 72 pitches (4.2%), as the Yankees made contact with or fouled off pitch after pitch. It was suggested on the Twitter machine that Dustin may have been tipping his pitches, a rumor that was later substantiated by Pitching Coach Pete Walker.

The pitch-tipping story quickly became a thing of the past, but the elusive swinging strikes remained an ongoing battle for McGowan. Over the eight starts he would make through April and May, McGowan reached the 10% swinging strike rate plateau just three times, with his high water mark coming at 12.9% on April 23rd against the Baltimore Orioles. These struggles were a new thing for McGowan. While working as a reliever in 2013, he maintained an 11.5% swinging strike rate for the season. Among 273 relievers with at least 20 innings pitched (via Fangraphs)that rate ranked 76th – tied with Brett Cecil in the 72nd percentile; among very good company.

Manager John Gibbons seemed openly relieved when it was announced McGowan would be returning to the bullpen, where he had proven to be a valuable and reliable piece. High leverage relief pitchers enter games in the late innings, usually with a narrow lead, and often with runners on base. In terms of run expectancy, two of the best ways to get out of such scenarios with minimal damage is through strikeouts and groundballs, and Dustin had proved proficient at coaxing both. 22.8% of batters he faced walked back to the dugout with their head hung in shame, and 46.6% of balls put in play burned the hypothetical worms in the Rogers Centre turf. Those figures ranked 108th(60th percentile) and 102nd(63rd percentile) respectively among the 273 relievers with at least 20 innings pitched – neither elite, but both well above average.

Unfortunately, Dustin McGowan simply hasn’t been the same pitcher since his return to the pen. Sure, on the surface he’s been outstanding – just two earned runs allowed 16.2 innings pitched (1.08 ERA) through June 25th – but the underlying numbers suggest that unless he can rediscover his old self, a tidal wave of regression might be heading his way. His bullpen strikeout rate has sunk to just 18.6%, while his overall groundball rate is a Todd Redmond-esque 37.5%. McGowan’s success can almost entirely be tied to two completely unsustainable numbers; a .180 BABIP, and an 84.8% strand rate in his relief appearances. I know Toronto’s fielding is much improved, but there’s not a defense in existence that will turn 82.0% of balls in play into outs once the sample size starts to grow beyond a few handfuls of innings.

This leads to the obvious question: what happened? While we can further analyze particular aspects of the results – which I’ll do below – there’s a limitless deluge of possible reasons for the variance. It could be a change within McGowan, mentally or physically. Perhaps he’s still wearing his insulin pump on the mound which he didn’t last season, or maybe there’s been an immeasurable alteration in the kinetic motion of his delivery. There could be an adjustment on the side of the hitters, too. After years in baseball purgatory, McGowan has returned to a landscape where scouting reports are more advanced than ever before. It’s entirely possible teams have formulated a book on him, are significantly more aware of his tendencies, and are able to game plan to take away his strengths.

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mcgowanpulled

From the mouth of John Gibbons down at the Rogers Centre, apparently Dustin McGowan is moving back where ol’ Gibbers always wanted him to be: the bullpen.

According to a tweet from Megan Robinson of Sportsnet says the Jays aren’t ready to name a starter to take his place yet, but according to a separate tweet it’s either Stroman or Redmond who will get the call. (It won’t be Sean Nolin, as he’s just been placed on Buffalo’s DL with a g-g-groin, a g-g-groin, a g-g-groin injury).

“I saw no reluctance, he’s happy either way, and I think it’ll prolong his career,” added the middle-management grunt who one would seem to think is behind this decision.

Oh, sure, there’s got to be more to it than that. Plus, maybe it’s entirely fair that Gibbons, whose neck will be the first one on the line if this thing starts going south (which it hasn’t yet, FYI), has a lot of say over personnel decisions like that are so meaningful to the way that he runs the club — in particular, with the makeup of his bullpen. Obviously he likes McGowan back there, and obviously McGowan was struggling, even if you generously throw out the starts before he started using the insulin pump, as I attempted to do earlier.

Most telling of why the move was made, perhaps, is a tweet from Chris Toman, who notes that Gibbons says McGowan wasn’t recovering quickly enough as a starter. I might be suspicious of that being a post-hoc excuse for a knee-jerk decision to get the manager the bullpen he always wanted, but it certainly jibes with the planned six-man rotation stuff we were hearing about before Brandon Morrow went down.

Is it at all surprising to think that, from a physical standpoint, being in the rotation may have simply been wearing on him too much, and that’s what we’re seeing in the results, the too many balls left up, the velocities perhaps even lower than we’d expect from a guy making the transition to the rotation? Given his injury history, his diabetes, and the lack of innings in recent years, no I don’t think it is.

It’s the kind of inside information that, had it been available at the time, may have wholly changed the analysis of the situation, which… is easy for me to say, innit?

I still would have liked to see him get a few more turns (OK, one, at the very least), get a chance to get his stamina up, and to really sink his teeth into the role, given that it’s seemed like he’s been a different pitcher since the in-game insulin pump, but apparently he hasn’t been better enough. The innings have declined in each start in which he didn’t have an extra day of rest — six in Pittsburgh, five against the Angels, four plus last night — and the ground balls haven’t been there, the swinging strikes and strikeouts haven’t been there, so it’s defensible. It’s just… are we supposed to be pulling for Happ to save his job now?? Not sure I like where this is going, even if it was probably inevitable.

Update

And now reporters are telling us that McGowan says the decision to remove him from the rotation was mutual, and “felt like it was a weight off my shoulder” — as quoted in a tweet from John Lott. Mike Wilner tweets that McGowan says he’s sore four days after a start, fine on the 5th. Said he’d have loved a couple more starts, but was risking injury.” Chris Toman notes that, fortunately, it was body pain that McGowan mostly has been suffering, and that his arm has felt fine.

So it goes.

colbyhits

Oh and things were so positive-ish just a day ago. But all it takes, I guess, is one mess of a pitching performance from the club to bring the panic back in some people. I get it, but I don’t get it.

Last night was the first time in the four starts since he started wearing an insulin pump on the mound, and stopped complaining about tiring around the 60-pitch mark, that Dustin McGowan allowed more than two earned runs, and failed to record an out in the fifth inning.

Has he been great? Hardly. The lack of strikeouts is a problem and 3.68 ERA over the four starts belies the underlying problems in a way that the underlying numbers, and a simple eye test, don’t. The slash line against of .259/.337/.435 and WHIP of 1.45 aren’t so hot, obviously. It’s fifth starter stuff, for sure. But if you’re making a case against him by incorporating his first four starts, might I suggest that you’re hardly being fair.

Oh, but panic, panic.

And now this: though Colby Rasmus was on the field yesterday, preparing for a full session of batting practice, and that John Gibbons suggested he might have been able to play in tonight’s game, and “if not, the next day,” it seems the tune has changed somewhat:

Hey, so that’s awesome. I mean, in terms of sarcastic awesome it’s maybe not as fucking awesome as the Jays bizarrely giving Sportsnet some insight into just how dumbly far behind the progressive field their analytics department is (more on this later), but it’s still pretty awesome. Still not a sure thing, I suppose, but perhaps Anthony Gose, then?

Makes inventing reasons to stop giving Dustin McGowan rope he surely deserves seem a little trivial, eh? You could have spent this time working on ass-brained riffs about how every Jays player who we’re told is “day-to-day” ends up being broken!

 

Update: It’s official. Gose up.

The McGowan Question

mcgowanwalksoff

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.

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happpy

Creating an excuse to give this post the most painfully obvious title ever, J.A. Happ was yet again a disaster today, failing to get a single out in the fourth inning, exiting the game having given up seven earned runs on twelve hits (no walks, though!). If he’s hurt and not telling anyone, mused the excellently Ashby-ish Joe Siddall on the radio broadcast, he’s not doing himself any favours.

It started off fairly well for Happ, too. Somewhat shaky and bailed out a bit by Erik Kratz erasing a Starling Marte single by throwing him out attempting to steal second (which, apparently, Blue Jays catchers are going to be allowed to do this year), but decently enough to create genuine worry that he may have been on his way to doing just enough to justify the Jays keeping him in the rotation. It all came undone in a four-run second inning, though, with singles and hard hit outs following throughout his final inning-plus of work. In all, Happ raised his spring ERA a mere fucking .32 of a run (per @Shifty169), up to a cock-mangling 20.57.

Good fucking lord of grief fucking.

And yet — get this! — according to a tweet from Barry Davis, Happ “says that he was told at the start of camp he was in the rotation, and no one has told him otherwise since.” Happ, he adds, “assumes he’s still in.”

He can’t possibly, though. Yet it’s not like he’s going to say too much negative otherwise, so even though I’m not sure what he has to gain by saying it, I have a hard time killing him for all that. But he does have a knack for not making it terribly difficult to figure out what he’s thinking by reading between the lines — something he showed to be adept at doing last year as he sat in limbo waiting for the club to realize that starting Ricky Romero wasn’t remotely tenable — telling Davis, according to a second tweet, “I’m not going to comment,” when asked if he finds it disturbing that no one has told him that he may not make the rotation.

He can’t possibly, though. Make the rotation, that is. And the thing about last year’s whole untenable proposition about Romero — who, at least when in big league games last spring, and not being shielded from those salivating to call him finished, put up a 6.23 ERA over 13 innings, giving up 17 hits and ten walks (compared to Happ’s 21 and nine over seven this year) — is that the Jays eventually decided that they had no choice but to throw Romero to the wolves anyway.

If you ask me, if they can stomach that desperate, doomed-to-fail experiment, I just don’t see how they can’t be willing to do the same with Dustin McGowan, who at least has a legitimate sparkle of upside in that fragile arm of his, and several reasons to see how the setup may actually work.

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Toronto Blue Jays Photo Day

McGowan in slightly less injury-plagued times. (Spring 2005)

This afternoon news hit the internet that Jays pitcher Dustin McGowan has already been shut down due to soreness in his shredded and frequently operated-on throwing shoulder, and blogger Andrew Stoeten decided that the wholly unsurprising news wasn’t really worth making a whole post about.

“Doesn’t this happen every year?” Stoeten likely asked himself at the time. “I mean, I get that it’s somewhat newsworthy because the Jays ridiculously signed him to that extension last season, and because everybody feels for the guy and have probably started wondering whether this might be the end of the road. But was he, what, ninth on the starting pitching depth chart? Like, at best. Yeah, it’s shitty, but what the hell would I even write?”

As evening turned to night, however, the blogger– perhaps procrastinating before going to meet his sister to move a couch– appears to have lost his nerve on the McGowan-injuries-aren’t-news issue, as a piece, barely qualifying as more than a footnote, was written and published about McGowan some time in the minutes after seven o’clock– a far cry from the gnashing of teeth that has met previous injuries to the one-time first round pick (of Gord effing Ash) and organizational top prospect.

You can read the post at Drunk Jays Fans.

In addition to the news about Drew Hutchison this morning, the Blue Jays have also announced that Dustin McGowan will– wait for it…– have surgery tomorrow. On his throwing shoulder. By Dr. James Andrews.

Now, keep in mind, it’s not as bad as it maybe sounds…

The first of a flurry of tweets on the news that I saw came from Brendan Kennedy of the Star, while Mike Wilner added shortly thereafter that it’s arthroscopic surgery, and Chris Toman of MLB.com followed by noting that the surgery will be done simply to further evaluate McGowan’s shoulder joint.

So… no major repairs are happening– we’re told– just an evaluation. But given the player, his injury history, and the contract the club somehow felt it was in their interest to sign him to this spring, it’s certainly not the news anyone wanted to hear. (Well, maybe Parkes.)

 

Image via Al Messerschmidt/Getty.