Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Random Thoughts After the Off-Day

When you're in the midst of over 48 hours without Tigers baseball, you have a lot of time to think. As such, it's worth getting those thoughts organized and provide you with some more bullet points (albeit many of them about various Tiger alums):

  • You're probably wondering why I haven't weighed in what's going on with Brayan Villarreal, given my apparent unbridled enthusiasm for him. Well, after his outing against the Blue Jays, I did make some observations about a drop in velocity and inconsistent release points, and my gut feeling was that it was something related to pitching mechanics, but since this is an aspect of baseball that I am still learning, I couldn't really come up with enough details to get a full post out of it. Happily, Rob at Bless You Boys wrote an excellent post which largely confirms my initial observations and provides a detailed mechanical reason for them. But the best part is that a mechanical flaw like this can be fixed. For the record, I'm still reluctant to send him to the minor leagues because he only has one minor league option left and I don't really want it used up unless there's no choice. Besides, I don't really think that an ultimatum is the best strategy here. When you have a young pitcher who has gotten out of whack, you just want him to concentrate on getting his mechanics straightened out. You don't really need to add any pressure by making him think he's pitching for his very life.
  • Some of the other relievers have had their issues as well. I'm not going to get into the whole debate about Phil Coke against right-handed batters, but I will make a couple observations about Al Alburquerque and Octavio Dotel. They haven't had the ERA beating that Villarreal has, but they've had their problems. Neither has been particularly effective at stranding inherited runners. Alburquerque  has dealt with quite a few baserunners, but until Saturday's outing, none of his own runners had scored (some of that was pure luck, and I'm referring to his outing against the Yankees). He finally paid the price for all those baserunners last time out. I'm not angry with him. In fact, I'm hoping that last outing serves as a learning experience and will motivate him to do something to cut down on the baserunners. What I noticed from Dotel so far this season is a surprising amount of hard contact and long outs. He's missed the last few games with elbow soreness, which he says is inflammation, but I wonder if it's been going on longer than he says it has.
  • All this talk about hard-throwing relievers struggling in their second full season, as well as the debate over Jim Leyland's bullpen usage and the fact that the Tigers are now in Seattle (Home of that weird game last year where Dotel tried to close and couldn't throw strikes) made me think of this game from the 2007 season, particularly the ninth inning. The Tigers were leading the White Sox 6-0 going into the bottom of the ninth, and Leyland brought Joel Zumaya in to pitch. He did give up a leadoff single, but a double play got him out of that particular trouble. However, with two outs and nobody on, he proceeded to have a complete meltdown, hitting a batter and then walking four guys in a row. They had to bring in Todd Jones to get the final out. This was before Twitter was a big thing and I do wonder what the reaction would have been after this game (I'm also curious as to who would get more fan ire: Zumaya or Leyland). 
  • Out of curiosity, I took a look at Zumaya's game logs from 2007. This particular game was on April 25th and he was in a rough patch at the time, giving up runs and not throwing strikes consistently. The hit batter and four consecutive walks was the low point of this rough patch. He did get better, but it wasn't an instantaneous thing. He still gave up runs and/or walked batters over his next few outings, but each one did show some improvement. Finally, he looked to be back to his "old self" (i.e. the 2006 dominance) in a May 1st outing (Unfortunately, he ruptured a tendon in his finger while warming up a few days later and missed three months with the injury, but that is not relevant to this discussion). I'm not saying that's going to happen with any of the Tigers' current relievers, because everyone is different, but I will say that allowing a pitcher to work through his issues in the big leagues is not without precedent and that improvement may be a somewhat slow process (if you count four or five appearances as "slow"). 
  • I am also a bit curious as to what the fan/writer reaction was during this period. I was just starting to get into blogging baseball at the time and the only writers that I read were Jason Beck, Danny Knobler (who was writing for MLive in 2007), and occasionally Billfer of The Detroit Tigers Weblog. I wonder if there were a lot of people who wanted Zumaya sent to the minors, or if there was a lot of criticism over Leyland's use of him. I've had plenty of experience with the fact that Tigers fans have an unfortunate tendency to be kind of kneejerk and paranoid. It's almost like they're afraid that if a player hits a rough patch, he'll never be any good again. I know some of them were like that through some of Zumaya's later rough spells (In particular, I remember a game that Zumaya was pitching in where Mario Impemba mentioned that Zumaya was once clocked at 103 MPH, which was the Major League record at the time, and someone I was with responded by saying "It was probably ball four"), but once he got himself out of it, they'd usually be forgiving. Something else that I noticed is that even when Zumaya had rough patches, he never got sent to the minors. Granted, that might be because half the time, he'd end up getting hurt and going on the disabled list instead, but it is still kind of curious.
  • I'll end this post on a bit of personal happiness, so allow me to slip into "pure, somewhat irrational fan" mode for a moment. I went to the Mud Hens game on Sunday at Fifth Third Field. They were playing the Louisville Bats, the Triple A team for the Cincinnati Reds, and one member of the Bats' rotation (alas, not one that pitched in the series against the Hens) is none other than our old friend Armando Galarraga (If you're curious, he found his groove towards the end of the winter ball season, pitched well in the postseason, had a good spring, and is off to a good start with Louisville). Those of you who have read my various blogs over the years know just how fond I am of him and how devastated I was when he was traded (and he's still in my top 5 of favorite players), so to actually meet him and get to talk to him on Sunday was a dream come true. It's something I've wanted for a long time. And even though things haven't really gone the way he's wanted them to since 2010, he's still very nice and in good spirits (He even put a smiley face underneath his signature when he signed an autograph for me, and I love that). Unfortunately, he left his start in Columbus last night with some sort of injury, which I haven't been able to find any details on yet (He kept looking at his hand while walking off the field, which makes me think it's a blister), but hopefully it's nothing that will keep him out a long time.

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