January 10, 2010

Overvaluing the theory of a veteran presence

Jack Steal of Fanatic Jack Talks Twins has been an advocate of the Twins adding Jarrod Washburn. While stating one of several reasons for adding Washburn, Jack brings up the point that Pavano had a "calming effect" on the rest of the rotation. I completely disagree with this argument, and I always have. There's nothing that proves this. It's a lot like the argument that who hits ahead/behind you will make you a better hitter. To me, these are baseless arguments.

A lot has been said about the addition of Carl Pavano last season. Upon first glance, it's easy to believe that Pavano helped a young rotation of inexperienced starters settle down and pitch great over the last 55 games. Prior to his addition, the Twins were 53-55 and were struggling to stay afloat in the A.L. Central. After his addition, the Twins went 34-21 and eventually went on to win the division. But even with those figures, I still can't give Pavano the credit for this.

The Twins opened the 2009 season with a rotation of three right-handers Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and two left-handers Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins. The majority of them struggled throughout the first month of the season and the rotation, with a spot-start by R.A. Dickey, allowed an average of 4.87 runs per game in April. Prior to the Pavano trade, the Twins depended on eight different starters. As a group, they gave up an average of 4.8 runs per game in the first 108 games.

Upon acquiring Pavano, the Twins used eight different starters over the last 55 games. Brian Duensing was the best pitcher over the course of this time, compiling a 5-1 record and a 2.58 ERA as a starter. As a group, the rotation still gave up an average of 4.5 runs per game. The rotation improved, obviously, but Pavano didn't have the biggest impact, Duensing (a rookie) did. In fact, if you discounted Duensing's eight starts, the Twins would have allowed an average of 4.9 runs per game.

As for the great record after the Pavano trade, it's due to the fact that the Twins scored an average of 5.4 runs per game. Prior to his trade, the Twins scored an average of 4.8 runs per game. Pavano had no effect on how many runs were scored, only given up.

When looking at specific players, the only two players that can really be evaluated are Baker and Blackburn. They're the only two players to make at least five starts before and after the acquisition of Pavano. Before, Baker was 9-7 with a 4.59 ERA through 21 starts. After, he was 6-2 with a 3.98 ERA through 12 starts. That's a considerable improvement and one definitely worth noting. Blackburn on the other hand was 8-6 with a 3.78 ERA through 22 starts before the addition of Pavano. After, he was 3-5 with a 4.62 ERA through 11 starts, which is also worth noting.

Out of the two pitchers that can be evaluated properly, one improved with Pavano's presence while the other declined. It's not fair to assume Duensing was better because of Pavano. And it's unfair to say that Pavano made Baker better or Blackburn worse. What some also fail to remember is that even with a struggling rotation, many loses at the beginning of the season came at the hands of the bullpen. The rotation struggled, no doubt, but saying that they were "lost little puppies" without a veteran presence is inaccurate. Duensing was the hero, not Pavano. And I would think that the additions of Ron Mahay and Jon Rauch as well as the improvement by Jesse Crain would play a bigger role in relieving pressure than another starting pitcher.

I just wish the Twins, and some fans, didn't continually buy into this "veteran presence" argument. In the past, guys brought in to provide "veteran presence" like Livan Hernandez, Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz have cost guys like Matt Garza, Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano valuable starts. And what I don't want to be misconstrued in all of this is that I do like Pavano and love the idea of adding another starter. But the pitcher we add should be better than what we already have. Washburn isn't, which is why I don't support the Twins adding him.

Bottom line, veteran presence is just a theory that I don't believe in.


Josh said...


Anonymous said...

Jack could learn a thing or two from you. You did a little research/simple math to dive into a subject most don't even think about. Excellent analysis.

Jack Steal said...

Here is some math for you explain this one to me.

1. Nick Blackburn- 205.2 IP.

2. Scott Baker- 200.0 IP.

3. Carl Pavano- 199.1 IP.

4. Francisco Liriano- 136.2 IP.

5. Glen Perkins- 96.1 IP.

6. Kevin Slowey- 90.2 IP.

7. Brian Duensing- 84.0 IP.

8. Anthony Swarzak- 59.0 IP.

9. Jeff Manship- 31.2 IP

10. Jarrod Washburn- 176.0 IP before the injury and averages 29 starts and 182 IP every year since 2000.

None of these kids has ever thrown 180-200 innings in their career (except Baker first time and Blackburn) why do people assume that in 2010 it will suddenly happen. I have news for you it won't. We need a proven veteran like Washburn to take some pressure off the other people in the rotation. Give the young kids Liriano/Slowey/Perkins/Duensing/Swazak/Manship a chance to develop their arms.

Josh Johnson said...

Jack, again you've missed what I've said. I WANT the Twins to add a pitcher. I want them to add pitching depth. I'm all for that.

But Jarrod Washburn's not the right fit. He'd have to fight for a fifth spot in the rotation. Really? That's what you want? Another 5th starter scrub? I'm surprised considering you just went off about the Twins signing Clay Condrey.

He had an ERA just under 5 last year when he wasn't pitching in SAFECO. And with Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer already two of the worst corner outfielders in baseball, and Span who isn't great in center, it's hard to believe Washburn pitching with an ERA under 5 in Minnesota.

It's just like Livan Hernandez... just because he can throw 200 innings per season doesn't make him good. And he threw for over 200 in almost 10 straight seasons before he came to Minnesota.

writerjoel said...

The myth of an aging veteran presence on a pitching staff, be it as a starter (Hernandez, Rogers, Pavano) or a bullpen sage (Swindell) is that they do their job in ways a youngster can learn by observation.

Not all vets are good at taking guys under their wings, but they can show a work ethic on the mound that kids who are just up to the majors don't see.

Throughout the minor leagues, even as high as AAA ball, pitchers have the ability to dominate as batters are often impateint. Once a pitcher hits the majors and real umpires, teams can plan to wait a pitcher out, make them throw strikes...which is also the success of many a batter.

Veteran pitchers often show that painting the corners is a luxury...it's getting ahead of the batter or putting the ball in play that counts, and if too many balls are put into play, showing that you still have what it takes to get an out in a pressure situatiuon than falling apart.

Veteran pitchers often show how well a mix of pitches can work. Combine that with a good pitching coach and, viola, you often have a workhorse (200 innings) who can give the bullpen a rest (how many games were Twins pitchers going less than 5 innings, even in the stretch run, last season -- yes, Pavano included).

We can argue the need for such a character, be it in the rotation or the bullpen. SHould he be the mop-up guy, or the fifth starter (probably the third starter). The team should be prepared to pull the plug or switch roles (sooner than they did on Hernandez)to give someone else an opportunity to shine.

The Twins thought last year's young rotation was going to improve. Did they? Yes, they got experience. Would a Hernandez going 10-10 during the opening part of the season, jettisoned at the end, rather than bringing in Pavano like they did, work for the better?

No. A vet starter is basically a workhorse and a teacher. If they can break even on the mound, the worst they do is take away starts from a youngster. The best they do is keep the team in a race.

The question is the fear of failure with youngsters, comapred to a fear of failure with the vet. You can blame Punto or Pavano if you want. But if Slowey, Perkins, Duensing fail -- they don't get another chance, it seems.

TT said...

"Bottom line, veteran presence is just a theory that I don't believe in. "

On the other hand, most people who have actually been part of major league baseball do believe in the theory. So whose judgment should we trust, yours or theirs? I think the answer is obvious.

eric s. said...

tt - get off your high horse, dude. your comments are always so annoying on every site. on every site you act like you're all knowing. he's just stating his opinion. he never said that "you have to believe me otherwise you're stupid." it's just his side and he's clearly saying that until you prove him otherwise, he doesn't support the theory. how about instead of coming up with arrogant comments you actually say something worthwhile. He never said, "i'm smarter than the twins."

seriously, don't break your arm patting yourself on the back.

Jack Steal said...

Washburn is the best and cheapest option on the market right now and he wants to play for the Twins. A good combination. He is better than Davis and Garland and they both want multi-year deals. .

I did not like Livan Hernandez either but even you have to admit Jarrod Washburn is much better than him. The Twins signed a pitcher named Jack Morris in February 1991 and everyone thought he was washed up. He went on to win three World Series titles in a row (Twins and Blue Jays) before he retired.

Josh Johnson said...

Jack, Rob Quinlan wants to play for the Twins. That doesn't mean it's a good fit. Hell... Corey Koskie wants to play for the Twins but that doesn't mean the Twins should talk him out of retirement.

Livan Hernandez had a career 4.24 ERA prior to coming to the Twins.

And I'm pretty sure Joel Pineiro is available as is Erik Bedard and Ben Sheets. And before you go off and say "he's hurt", remember that we're talking about adding depth. If either went down, someone else should be able to fill in for him. It'd be no difference then if the Twins signed Washburn and he failed. At least those guys would have an upside. Washburn is just a stop gap and if you sign him, you're telling people that you're not as interested in performance. We don't need more 4/5 starters, we need front-end guys. The three I mentioned are all capable of being at worst #3's. I'd also rather see the Twins sign Garland before Washburn.

And to fuel the argument, I'd imagine that a top-end pitcher would take more pressure off of a younger pitcher than a mediocre veteran.

Josh said...

Jack brings up a fairly interesting comparison in Jack Morris. Both guys grew up in or very near the Twin Cities and both guys would be 36 going into their first season with the Twins.

Morris was coming off two fairly mediocre seasons, as he was injured in 1989 and still struggled in 1990 as well. In 1990, however, Morris was a workhorse as he led the league in complete games and was second in innings. He also led the league in earned runs and tallied 18 losses.

I am too young to recall whether there was vitriol when Morris signed, but the difference between he and Washburn was a bit different. Upon hitting 30, Morris notched 4 seasons with an ERA in the 3's... Washburn only twice. Morris was a true workhorse, racking up tons of innings consistently. Washburn has only gone above 200 innings TWICE IN HIS TWELVE-YEAR CAREER. Morris had a sterling post season ERA in 33 innings. Washburn gives up nearly 5 runs a game based on 36 innings. Morris was a Cy Young qualifier 5 times, Washburn only once.

Morris and Washburn are totally different pitchers. It's also time to dispell the myth that Washburn is an innings eater. He's not... he's simply an average pitcher in the twilight of his career who is not necessarily better than what we already have.

TT said...

"if either went down, someone else should be able to fill in for him. It'd be no difference then if the Twins signed Washburn and he failed."

The point is that based on past performance Washburn isn't as likely to "fail" as guys like Liriano (post-injury), Duensing, Swarzak and Manship who have yet to succeed.

There is a difference between adding a veteran who is likely to throw close to 200 innings and adding one more shot in the crap shoot. The Twins already have a bunch of pitchers who are gambles, they don't need any more of those. They need more stability.

"as is Erik Bedard"

Washburn was better than Bedard last year while pitching in the same Safeco park for the same team. He was much better when you consider innings pitched.