Bill Madden: Good riddance to the Padres' Johnny Wholestaff approach, and beware to anyone who lets Travis d'Arnaud leave
How do you like enjoying those new age baseball playoffs "We Hardly Seen You" where pitchers are started along with the usual high volume strikes?
It certainly seems rather ironic that in the week the baseball world lost to Bob Gibson, perhaps the longest-lived and most uncompromising competitor of them all, the first 65 posts of the season were completed with only 12 starting pitchers thrown into the seventh inning, four in the eighth and of course zero complete games. There's no better example than Gerrit Cole, the New York Yankees' $ 324 million ace, lifted from the biggest game of the year on Friday night after just 5 1/3 innings and 94 pitches.
Gibson's death merely underscored how drastically the game has changed and, from a fan's point of view, certainly not for the better. From 1959 to 1975 Gibson started 487 games and completed more than half of them. It was the same in the postseason when he made eight of his nine World Series starts. But the Gibson stat line I really love was its historic 1968 season: 331 2/3 innings, completed 31 of 37 starts, and never removed from a game in the middle of an inning. Of the six starts he didn't finish, all were the result of his cardinal manager Red Schoendienst, who met him with a team loss late in the game.
They just don't make jugs like Gibson, Tom Seaver, Juan Marichal, Nolan Ryan or Fergie Jenkins anymore. For a brief gleaming moment in the 2014 postseason, when the San Francisco Giants 'Madison Bumgarner posted two complete missed games and threw five innings of relief against the Kansas City Royals in Game 7, we were reminded of the once true greatness of pitchers' start. Now? The starting pitchers this postseason are averaging just over 4 1/3 innings per start. In the ALDS series Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays, both managers, Aaron Boone and Kevin Cash, were burned by "openers". The decision of the Yankees, J.A. Happ followed Deivi Garcia in the second inning of Game 2 and had disastrous results, while Cash, who started Ryan Thompson in place of the more successful Ryan Yarbrough, gave Rays a 2-0 lead in the second inning of Game 4, from which they never came back.
It all starts in the minor leagues, almost from the moment these pitchers are signed. So often those with 95-96 heaters are immediately moved to the bullpen and are not allowed to develop the secondary clearances necessary for a starter. (The theory is that without worrying about length, they'll throw even harder.)
Baseball wonders why attendance levels keep dropping and why they can't get the length of games under control. Thursday night the Los Angeles Dodgers eliminated the San Diego Padres 12-3 in a game that lasted 4 hours and 4 minutes, mainly because Padres manager Jayce Tingler set a Major League record with 11 pitchers. What was the point of that? To give everyone a taste of the off-season? Granted, they went without two of their top starters, Mike Clevinger (who left after one inning of Game 1 of the NLDS) and Dinelson Lamet, but Tingler ended up with his bullpen for 37 of 52 innings games in the Padres six postseason.
Another reason for starters who don't last that long: Hitters have changed their approach, which has resulted in more strikers. Or as a longtime scout put it: “Today's starting pitchers have to work a lot harder because the clubs are all buzzing away with those upper swings trying to knock the ball out of the stadium and instead of getting quick outs, what counts is longer and longer. "
On the subject of strikes, here is a small transition. While the Rays have built an excellent roster through trades, their only obvious flaw is their 27% strike rate. This is the second highest in baseball that even cash gives too much. And a hefty percentage of those strikers came from their windmill catcher Mike Zunino, who hit 84 regular season record appearances with 37 strikers (as opposed to 11 hits), 147 and another 10 strikers in 16 post-season record appearances.
Last winter, the Rays made the decision - as always on the basis of money - to let Travis d'Arnaud leave as a free agent and to hand over their catch to Zunino. D’Arnaud, who rejuvenated the Rays after being bought by the Dodgers in mid-May last year, hit 16 homers with 67 RBI in 92 games and did an excellent job with the pitching staff. He joined his fourth team in two years and signed a two-year, $ 16 million deal with the Atlanta Braves in the off-season. He was worth every penny, scoring nine homers and 34 RBI .321 in the regular season and leading the Braves with seven RBI in their three-game game against Miami in the NLDS. More importantly, the Braves' postseason pitchers have an ERA of 0.92 in their ranks of Reds and Marlins, with d'Arnaud taking four shutouts.
As it is, the Rays have the 28th lowest payroll in baseball. Adding in d'Arnaud's $ 8 million salary (prorated $ 2.9 million this year) would have put the Rays right with even the 27th lowest Florida Marlins payroll, what if you could consider what d'Arnaud would have contributed in contrast to Zunino, which is Rays. Decision now look extremely short-sighted. Equally outrageous was the New York Mets' decision in May of last year to release d’Arnaud and take over his $ 3.15 million contract without giving him time to work completely back from the operation on Tommy John. Instead of Wilson Ramos, would d’Arnaud as their catcher make the difference between the four wins the Mets needed for the postseason? Hard to say, but if they weren't so hasty last year they wouldn't still be faced with a gaping hole.
(Bill Madden is a baseball writer and columnist for the New York Daily News.)
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