Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Big-Inning Myth?

Lately, there have been a number of articles written by various Twins writers trying to put a good face on Ramon Ortiz. Many have looked at his 0.75 spring ERA over 12 innings as a positive. Others, like Tom Powers, have pointed to Ortiz's personality, noting that he is a good fit for the clubhouse. Some, like Joe Christensen, have suggested that Ortiz is something of a bargain in the midst of a crazy offseason market. And MLB.com beat writer Kelly Thesier has suggested that Ortiz is in good form; she says his sinking fastball, breaking-ball, and change-up are all working, and the coaches like Rick Anderson are trying to get him away from his "big-inning issue."

What Powers wrote is the usual fluff that goes on at the beginning of the year. If you recall, last year Twins writers did the same thing with Tony Batista, touting his fun personality and Bible-spouting antics, neither of which prevented him from performing poorly and being released a couple months into the season. This type of angle isn't all that interesting because there is no way to dispute personality. Ortiz may be a great, energetic guy, but that energy won't help if his pitching is terrible.

Christensen's take, on the other hand, was discussed yesterday by Mr. Nelson. I happen to agree with my co-writer that it's a bit of a reach to insinuate that Ortiz is a good deal in comparison to the contract handed out to guys like Adam Eaton, Jason Marquis, and Jeff Weaver. Those teams were dumb to give those guys deals, sure, but that doesn't make the Twins look any better. Their signing of Ortiz remains quite suspect.

And then we get to this "big inning" idea as presented by Thesier. It's the best thing our beat-writers could create to defend Ortiz. In essence, it suggests that, "Hey, Ortiz isn't so bad. In fact, he'd be amazing if he just wouldn't have that inning where everything doesn't go his way." Seems vaguely familiar. Kyle Lohse had the same issue. In fact, most bad pitchers have this issue. You don't simply get over it. However, my problem goes beyond that. The stats simply don't support this assertion.

For instance, take a look at Ortiz's splits from last year. With runners on, opposing batters hit .284/.352/.447. With no one on, however, hitters were even better against Ortiz, smashing hits at a .308/.364/.520 clip. While lead-off hitters hit .324/.369/.465 against Ortiz, but batters also hit .299/.365/.571 with no one out and one or two outs. That's a lot of power. Furthermore, in the most "clutch" situations, hitters actually had a harder time with Ortiz. With runners in scoring position and two outs, hitters hit .241/.383/.425.

The evidence, instead of pointing to a "big inning" issue, points to several problems Ortiz had last year. For one, the more pressure on him, the more chance he had of walking guys. The more he pitched, the less effective he was. Ortiz was at his worst in "Close and Late" situations, where opponents hit .333/.378/.667 (albeit, in only 30 at-bats, tell us how many times Ortiz lasted late in the came), and between pitches 46 and 60, when hitters hit .318/.392/.579. When Ortiz threw over one hundred pitches, he simply became a BP pitcher. Ortiz had only 15 quality starts last year, which was by his fellow pumpkin Carlos Silva.

The point is that there are a series of contradictions here. While Ortiz walked too many with pressure on, hitters did not do particularly well in most pressure situations. At the same time, Ortiz was more hittable with no one on base. None of this reasonably suggests that Ortiz's issue was consistently the "big inning." Instead, he was consistently bad. He tired quickly. He gave up far too many home runs, the majority of which (19 to 12) came with no one on base. All in a pitcher's park.

My objective here is not to further the argument that Ortiz isn't a very good pitcher. That should be clear from his statistics the last two years. The point is that there isn't a strong argument being put forth as to why he was so bad during those two years and why he'll be good for the Twins when Rick Anderson somehow "fixes" him. Sure, its possible, but it will take a lot more refining than the Twins are making it seem. He may have a "big inning" issue, but his problems extend beyond that. Just something to consider.