Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Slowey Needs to Step Up

The Twins narrowly avoided a disastrous loss on Saturday night, as they were able to battle back for an extra-innings victory after blowing a four-run lead in the ninth, but that didn't stop fans from unleashing their venom on the club during its brutal late-game implosion.

Much vitriol was aimed at Ron Gardenhire, who had Ron Mahay start the ninth with a four-run lead and watched the left-hander load the bases without recording an out before giving way to Jon Rauch, who allowed all three runners to score plus a couple more as the Twins watched a 6-2 lead turn into a 7-6 deficit.

I'm baffled with the anger at Gardenhire. Mahay had been highly effective all season up to that point and was facing the bottom three hitters in the Milwaukee lineup, two of whom were lefties. Still, it was clear on this day that neither Mahay nor Rauch could get the job done, and unfortunately Gardenhire's other options were limited. That's because he'd already been forced to use two of his most reliable relievers in the game due to Kevin Slowey's inability to get his job done.

Despite being handed a 4-0 lead in the first inning, Slowey was unable to work through six frames on Saturday, as Gardenhire was forced to remove him with two outs in the sixth after Corey Hart launched a deep bomb against the right-hander. While that was the only run he allowed in the start, Slowey was unable to work efficiently through the Brewers lineup in spite of his comfortable lead, as his pitch count sat at 102 when Gardenhire took the ball from him.

The short start marked the continuation of a disturbing trend for Slowey. Outside of his eight-inning gem against the punchless Indians lineup early in the season, Slowey has failed to complete six innings in any of his nine starts. This hasn't necessarily been the result of bad pitching, as Slowey has allowed more than three runs only twice, but it's taking him way too many pitches to get people out.

Relief implosions like the one we witnessed on Saturday are bound to happen if you're leaning too hard on your bullpen, and Slowey has been doing just that all year. Blame Gardenhire, Mahay and Rauch for the meltdown all you want, but Saturday's ninth inning nightmare was inevitable and it will happen again if Slowey can't find a way to start pitching deeper into games.


Leslie said...

I wonder if Slowey's wrist is still bothering him. He mentioned his concern about his wrist in spring training.

He continues to give up home runs. He can't go deep in games. He has not take the next step. I rather watch Kyle Gibson right now than see Slowey.

Leslie said...

Wait a minute. Why should Gardenhire escape blame for what happened in the ninth? You don't use Ron Mahay to close out a 6-2 game.

Even if it was not a save situation, let Rauch finish it from the start. Rauch would have been used for this situation. Mahay has not been good lately. Once a pitcher gives up hits, it snowballs, and that's what happened with Mahay.

I did not like the move, and Gardenhire deserved to be called out.

Ed Bast said...

So Slowey should be expected to pitch a complete game every time out so Gardy doesn't have to make a bullpen decision based on whether or not a statistic is available for his closer? Even if Slowey goes 8 and leaves with a 6-2 lead, Gardy still goes to Mahay because it's not a save situation, the principle of which is completely stupid, and why Gardy deserves to be called out.

Basically you're telling Slowey to pitch long enough so that his manager can't screw up the game. Which is fine, but perhaps a little silly.

Nick N. said...

Even if it was not a save situation, let Rauch finish it from the start. Rauch would have been used for this situation. Mahay has not been good lately.

He had a 3.09 ERA and 13-to-1 K/BB ratio over 13 appearances prior. He'd been solid.

Even if Slowey goes 8 and leaves with a 6-2 lead, Gardy still goes to Mahay because it's not a save situation, the principle of which is completely stupid, and why Gardy deserves to be called out.

Or Duensing pitches because he's still available. You know, the same Duensing who came in and shut down the Brewers after Slowey came out early?

Gardenhire was not wrong for electing not to use his top reliever in the situation. A four-run lead in the ninth inning is safe over 98 percent of the time; any reliever should be expected to protect that lead. Doesn't help, though, that once things started to go south, Gardenhire was without a couple of his better relievers.

If you force the bullpen to pitch 3+ innings every time you start, eventually it's going to come back and bite you

Dave said...

Maybe the principle that Gardy was going with was that there were lefties to get out. Lefties are hitting Rauch at a .300 average, while lefties are hitting Mahay at a .182 average. That is a no brainer call.

Ed Bast said...

How "safe" is a 3-run lead in the 9th? Save situation though, so Gardy would have turned to Rausch. Heck, the MLB average for converted saves is around 85%. Using that theory, why even have closers? Any reliever should be expected to protect any lead!

I don't have a huge problem with this particular decision but the larger Gardy philosophy reeks: use your best reliever for a max. of 3 outs and only when statistically mandated (not when tied, not when up by 4, etc). He did the same thing with Nathan. It's stat-padding, and it's stupid.

Anonymous said...

I thought i was reading a dick bremer transcript when i read that garbage about slowey "not doing his job". He gave up 2 earned run in 5.2, he pitched fine. I would venture a guess that 5.2 is at least leauge average for a start duration. The rest of the reasoning is hindsight and pretty baseless. Slowey could have pitched 8 innings and still not picked up the win. The point should have been that relievers are going to have bad games too.

I think you are very wrong when you say that slowey pitching deeper would have changed how gardy managed the bullpen. In a close game gardy is going to use guerrier in the 8th and rauch in the 9th. If those guys have a bad game the starting pitcher might not pick up a win. How the relievers pitch has nothing to do with how the relievers pitch. Not pitching deep into games just means that lesser relievers may have to pitch innings. Trying to equivocate a complete bullpen melt down in the 9th inning to slowey not pitching deep into the game is really stupid.

If you are looking for actual analysis as to why slowey has been inefficient his BABIP is sustainably high and people are fouling a lot of pitches. Both these things are likely location issues mixed with being unlucky.

Anonymous said...

Blackburn and slowey have similar eras and blackburns FIP, xfip, siera, ect are all way higher than sloweys. Blackburn walks more, strikes out about 1/3 as many too. Blackburn has the lowest k rate of any stater in baseball. Blackburns peripheral have regressed from terrible to putrid but people seem to think that blackburn is ready to take "the next step" while kevin slowey is really struggling.

Nick N. said...

Not pitching deep into games just means that lesser relievers may have to pitch innings.

You act like this is no big deal. Keeping the lesser relievers out of the game greatly enhances the team's chances of winning. If Slowey pitches deeper into that game, Mahay is likely never called upon. And even if he is, Duensing/Guerrier are available to step in and stop the bleeding when both Mahay and Rauch both prove totally incapable of getting anyone out.

If this were an isolated incident for Slowey, I wouldn't make much out of it. But you're completely wrong in your implication that having starters pitch deep into games is an archaic and outdated baseball truism. Failing to complete six innings eight times in nine starts is unacceptable, particularly for a pitcher with as much talent as Slowey.

Blackburns peripheral have regressed from terrible to putrid but people seem to think that blackburn is ready to take "the next step" while kevin slowey is really struggling.

You can say what you want about his peripherals, but Blackburn has been giving the Twins much better starts than Slowey this month.

SoCalTwinsfan said...

It was also Gardy's decision to pull Slowey in the first place. Yes, he had given up a home run, but the previous three batters were Braun, who struck out; Fielder, who grounded out; and Casey McGehee, who popped out. At 102 pitches, a 4-2 lead, two outs, the bases empty and the bottom three batters up, I saw no reason to pull Slowey. If he had gotten one more out with no more runs allowed, it would be a better than a quality start and there wouldn't be any complaints about his start. Plus, he might have started the seventh and Duensing might never have been used. If anything, Gardy should be blamed for the quick hook. If he doesn't give pitchers a chance to work through even minor adversity late in games, then he shouldn't complain when they are unable to go deeper into games.

Anonymous said...

It was never my assertion that starters pitching deeper into games didnt improve a teams chances to win, rather that id rather have 5 innings of 1 run ball than 8 innings of 5 run ball. I also thought your example was a particularly bad one. Lesser relievers played no part in the collapse, unless you consider mahay a less reliever which it doesnt seem you do since you deemed him solid. And if you believe that theres any way gardy would have gone to guerrier after he put rauch in in the 9th youre wrong. I guess my real issue is that you chose to pick a incident where the bullpen was particularly bad and attributed a portion of that melt down to sloweys short (although i dont think it was that short) start. I got the feeling you were trying to make it seem like a 5.2 inning start will lead to a blown 4 run lead on a regular basis. I think it would have been a more worthwhile blog entry if you had simply stated that short starts will lead to lesser relievers pitching innings and that will in turn lead to more runs scored instead of trying to equate a bullpen disaster to a sloweys short start. It wasnt a particularly good example since the twins closer was the one that was terrible but either way it greatly overstated your point to the point it was unfair to slowey.

And youre right about blackburn. Rick anderson should work with slowey on throwing meat and having it hit hard at people. If you only strike out 2.3 per 9 it does keep that pitch count down. And if you master having a ton of ball put in play and an above average number of those balls converted into outs (this is a skill not being very lucky) like blackie has, you can pitch deep into games without the capacity to miss any bats. The twins really need to work with baker and liriano to eliminate their strikeout totals too. If they could cut lirianos k rate from 8 to 3 he could eliminate 20-30 pitches right there. That would get him deeper into the game and there is no downside to balls in play as long as youre lucky.

Dave said...

Slowey's BABIP was almost the same last year as it is this year. When someone repeats a performance it isn't bad luck anymore. Now I'm not saying he can't turn it around, but isn't that what Nick is saying, Slowey needs to turn it around? As to more conversation on luck, Slowey's strand rate is huge, and well over Blackburn's. Oh, and Blackburn walks 2.17 per 9 while Slowey walks 2.36...

I don't think Nick's level of panic is called for, but the pitching coaches definately need to sit Slowey down and analyze why he throws so many pitches to get out of innings. Say all you want about high K/IP guys, I don't want a Kazmir kind of pitcher when Slowey has the tools to be more efficient and get an extra inning per game.

Dave said...

And Mr. Ed Bast, I agree completely. Closers are overrated and lead to poor end game management. If I were managing that Milwaukee game, it would have been a lefty in there to face the lefties and a righty warming up in case of trouble. Wait a second...

Anonymous said...

lucky is lucky, reproducing lucky results doesnt make them less lucky. If i were to flip a coin 1000 with 700 being heads no one would believe i had a skill for flipping heads. Also sloweys had a 350 babip in a shortened season last year and a small portion of this. 130 of 350 babip is not a track record. Nick blackburns lob % is 76% with an unsustainable double play rate and kevin sloweys is 78. Both those percentages are very lucky. Both pitchers have been bad; sloweys 28% gb rate is terrible, blackburns gb rate is mediocre and his k rate is the worst ive ever seen. Blackburn has been lucky his entire career but 2.5 k/9 is not a recipe for long term success.

Dave said...

BABIP doesn't always measure luck. If you're BABIP is not in line with previous numbers, then yes, it is a sign a pitcher has probably been unlucky. But look at historical #'s; good pitchers have low BABIP and bad pitchers have high BABIP. Does that mean that only habitually lucky pitchers are good? More likely it means that good pitchers have better stuff and hits are going to be weaker. Or you can believe that pitching is like coin flipping and devoid of any element of skill. Its your call. (Yes Slowey had a small sample size last season, point taken, it will be a while before this BABIP can be verified as accurate)

Anonymous said...

I certainly dont think that BABIP is entirely luck based number and it certainly is an indicator of skill. I dont know how great of a stat it is because its not independent of the teams defense, ball park, or other things like cheap hits and such. I have it sort of in the same category as ERA, it has some value but is certainly dependent on things other that pitcher skill which limits its predictive capabilities. The only things i believe a pitcher can control are GB rate (ld rate, FB rate), k rate and bb rate. When i talk about players being lucky i typically mean that they are performing better than the stats they control indicate they should. Things like Double play rate compared to gb rate, hr rate compared to fly ball rate, strand rate compared to k rate, things of that nature. I used the example of flipping coins only because its something that everyone knows is not a skill to illustrate my point that i dont believe sample size matters much when it comes to things i deem lucky. Obviously there is player skill involved in all aspects of pitching and its not random chance.

As for sloweys 350 babip i do think that its pretty likely to come down. Its very high for a major league pitcher. The major factor in sloweys elevated BABIP is that his gb rate is down significantly from 2 years ago, with is LD rate rising some. Id guess thats probably a location issue that can hopefully be worked out.