Nationals Baseball: I must break Roark

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I must break Roark

The Nats lost last night. Not a huge deal as they still stand 7.5 infront of the Braves, but it gives an an opportunity to delve into two pitching things of interest, the extended use of Tanner Roark and the bullpen woes.

As we talked about here and has been brought up again now that we reached it, Tanner has pitched more this season than ever before. A few innings - maybe even 20 or so wouldn't be a big deal, but he already sits at 8 innings past his previous high with the entirety of September to go.  He could easily pitch 30-35 more inning putting him 40+ over his previous high going into the playoffs. This is why most people see him as a lock for the bullpen.

What do I say? I say if he's still pitching great come the end of September, ride him into the ground.  Start him if he's in your Top 4. Relief pitch the hell out of him if he's not.

I know that may sound harsh but it's an extension of my belief that was espoused when the Nats tried to convert Christian Garcia into a starter. If you have an older "prospect" you should strike while the iron is hot and get the most use out of him NOW because any sort of future derailment could easily spell the end of his career. Garcia was an obvious case, 26, reliever, multiple previous injuries. He was a time bomb but the Nats thought they could possibly save that arm for future use.  They were wrong.

Roark isn't that cut and dried. He's a bit older (27 closing in on 28), but he's a starter with no big injury history. You could see curtailing his innings for another season if this were a non-playoff year. But it's a playoff year. It's one thing to sit down a young prime prospect a year after major surgery at the beginning of what looked like a 4 year stretch of relevance. It's a much less explainable thing to me to stop using a surprise story of an older guy finding his stuff toward the end of this stretch. (and look how well it worked out for Strasburg) There are no guarantees in sports beyond what you can put out on the field today. At some point you have to choose between playing for now and playing for tomorrow and certainly this is it, right? Saving Tanner Roark for a later date can't be a line the Nats draw in the sand, can it?

As for the bullpen, the dichotomy is alarming. In the past two weeks Drew Storen and Matt Thorton have ERA's of 0.00.  Stammen has an ERA of 1.50. Then you have every starter between 2.11 (ZNN) and 2.84 (Stras) and then the rest of the relievers. Clip (4.26), Blevins (6.23), Detwiler (6.75), Soriano (7.11). Of course it's only two weeks. Are these just blips or something to worry about?

I'm actually least worried about Soriano.  He had a few rough outings in a row then went back to being Soriano. It was market correction really as he wasn't a 1.10 ERA type knockout reliever. A 2.50 ERA feels more correct. It didn't have to happen but it doesn't bother me that it did. I don't see any other reason to be concerned.

Blevins bothers me because he has just deteriorated into such a true LOOGY.  But this isn't a two week thing, it's a year thing so I don't feel I'm reaching in being concerned in his use. Last night he was brought in to eat up an L-R-L inning. He got out those Ls. The problem?  The R hit a HR. He can't face a righty in a big spot. Just can't. 

I worry about Det too just because there something there between him and Matt Williams.  He's not a bad pitcher, but he's treated like the worst guy in the pen and just occasionally enough pitches like that so Matt doesn't have to change his mind. This spotty use (4 times in last 17 days) fails to keep him fresh, so the end result is I don't want to see Det because I don't trust him to be ready to go, because Matt hasn't used him. Matt's won.  Again though I don't feel this is a two-week judgment but a yearly one.

Clippard is the most bothersome to me. The issues with Blevins and Detwiler should be understood by now and compensated for in how they are used. I'd say that they are. Thorton has passed Blevins on the depth chart and Detwiler is caught in the Detwiler Paradox. Clippard though is different. The Nats are a 3 pitcher pen; Clippard, Storen, and Soriano, and don't need to be much more with their starting pitching. I don't see this changing.

Clippard has appeared in more games than anyone but Matt Belisle since 2010. 356 games to be precise and in terms of IP and G there is him and Belisle and a huge gap bfore you get to the next set of high use arms. They pitch often, they rarely pitch less than an inning.  Looking at all the pitchers who have pitched 300IP and have appeared in 320+ games you have Belisle - worse this year, Gregerson - better, Ziegler - worse, Axford - better (at 3.72), Peralta - worse.  Scanning alll 300+ guys... more worse than better. That in itself is not damning but add in a decreasing velocity and you get scared.

93.53 on his fastball in March -> 93.56 -> 92.96 -> 92.75 -> 92.45 -> 92.13

The same thing happened in 2013 and the same general trend, a worse 2nd half, was seen.

This concern I will say is based a lot on just recent data so unlike my worry of Blevins and Clippard, this could just be a momentary dip in a otherwise fine season. The FB speed is dropping but maybe he works a way around it, or can dial it up for the stretch run. I'm not counting Clippard out yet. But no one's arm last forever. At some point Clippard's will run out of steam. Just not now, ok?


Kevin Rusch said...

Couple thoughts:
1) about the "ride Roark into the ground" theory -- if easing up over the next 5 weeks (pulling him after 5ip, say, and get Detwiler a little work) makes it more likely that he'll have something in the tank come October, I say do it. You get a double win of taking a little strain off the guy and getting more work for Detwiler.
2) You're right about Blevins being a LOOGY. I'm just mystified that MW and/or Rizzo haven't seen that. Maybe Rizzo has, which is why we keep adding lefties to the pen, but it doesn't seem to be changing usage.
3) Your point about Clippard is valid; he's another one where easing up the load a little might be very good for him -- I'd really prefer everyone to be in top form come October, and 3 weeks of twice-a-week for Clippard might be great.

Kevin Rusch said...

and another thing about Roark -- I think it'd be a real mistake to say "well, he's 27, so he's only going to have a 2-year career." and then guarantee it by blowing his arm off. You made the key point with Garcia - he had an injury history. Roark doesn't, and could well pitch another 5+ years (all pretty cheaply) and every year we can get out of him is one we don't have to pay for a Dan Haren or Edwin Jackson.

So other than "he didn't get good until 25" you've not made a case for treating him like he's only going to have a 2-year career.

Harper said...

KR : He could - he could not. I don't see why defaulting to the "he could!" is the way to go unless you are concerned with $, or in a long-term planning stage. Again - look at Strasburg. He was a lock to be a #1 type pitcher. He was saved. He's been good, very good sometimes, but not great. That was Strasburg. Unanimously thought to be a generational talent by all involved in baseball. Are you going to tweak your odds down a bit for 2014 because you think Tanner Roark might be a find? I just can't reason that.

Gr8day4bsbll said...

Blevins has been a LOOGY all year; there's no surprise that he keeps giving up game-changing hits to RHBs. If he makes an appearance in the post-season except (a) to get out one -- repeat, ONE -- LHB in a key spot, or (b)in a mop-up role protecting an 8-run lead, then MW should be fired on the spot.

As for Clip, I think there's more to like about him than about Soriano. You're willing to give Soriano the benefit of the doubt; the same should be said for Clip. He lives by his devastating change-up anyway, so a drop of 1/2 mph in his fastball isn't too concerning -- he still has far more command with his lower-velocity FB than many of our starting pitchers, including our supposed "ace".

The key, of course, is for the Nats to take some 6-run leads into the 9th so we can give Clip some rest...but with the Mariners and Dodgers coming up, that may be a week or more away...

Robert said...

This is why I am terrified of MW as our manager. He uses his relief pitchers like her has a script: 3 run lead or fewer in the 8th, in comes Clippard. My fear is that come Game 5 in a playoff series, if Clip has already blown a lead in a previous game, MW goes back to him instead of someone fresher or a better match-up because "that's what you do".

Wally said...

I think what happens this year is important for the organization. If they meltdown this Sep and miss the playoffs, I really do think that it leads to a fairly significant restructuring of the team, especially with the contract situation looming and some of the moves like promoting the accounting guy to AGM.

So I suspect that they will ride Roark as long as he is effective. It would be nice to see Treinen, Barrett and Hill healthy and up in September, so that if they maintain a good lead, they can ease up on Roark (and some of the position players). But if not, everyone goes until they drop.

But that is just my two cents.

WiredHK said...

I chalk up the whole bullpen situation as market correction, but maybe that's too simplistic. Your FB speeds for Clip are worrisome, although since his change-up is his out-pitch, I'm not sure I worry too much about that piece (FB velo) of his puzzle.

That said, I'd like him to get some rest in this next month and I'd like to see Thornton and Storen get some 8th inning close-game hold chances (esp Thornton, because in the playoffs we will need a lefty in a close late-game hold setting and I hope MW will have the courage to use him).

I don't have much disagreement with with Roark sentiments. He's healthy, he's effective, keep trotting him out there. Easy.

Jay said...

MW must be a genius. He is starting Hairston and Frandsen over Harper and Laroche. I guess it's no different than what Davey Johnson used to do against Randy Johnson....
Of course there was an article in the Post just the other day about how Harper is hitting much better and hit a double off a tough lefty reliever. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

...then he has Harper and LaRoche available but still opts to use Espinosa as the pinch hitter in a one-out, bases-loaded situation. later, once the game is basically over, he puts both in.

Froggy said...

Ok, I'm officially concerned about Clippard.

...and Gio, I dunno what to make of him. If the playoffs were starting tomorrow my starting three would be ZNN, Fister, and Strasburg, with Roark out of the pen.

WiredHK said...

Froggy - Not that I disagree on Clip (he needs real rest), but...if Adam is playing 1B tonight, is Revere even on base there? That run he allowed tonight was tough, but it didn't come by being knocked around and roughed up, right?

Froggy said...

Good point. So maybe just some bad luck he's getting out of his system. Gio didn't pitch badly, but when he got hit it was for triple, and two dingers. He just won't win unless there is run support greater than his ERA.

Jimmy said...

Harper please weigh in on the reversed calls last night and probable balk i need some impartiality to ease my feelings that we were utterly screwed by the mlb. I was under the impression that the review had to be definitive felt like we were jobbed on both calls.

Harper said...

Jimmy - It does have to be definitive but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. In both cases I felt - watching replay that the ump was wrong and I'd lean heavily toward the opposite call. If your standard is "Oh yeah, I'd have called it differently seeing this" then I feel that standard was met. If your standard is "There is no possible way I could see it the umps way when looking at this" then no, it wasn't met. You could convince yourself the ump was right even in slo-mo.

So that answers nothing really. depends if you think it should be removes reasonable doubt or removes all doubt. I like the former (we're trying to get closer to the right call with this stuff) but I can see the arguement for the latter.

Jay said...

I agree both calls and the balk could have gone to Washington. But there were other plays that were just as big. Giving up a triple to Sizemore when you're ahead in the count on a hanging breaking ball and then giving up a 2 run homerun to a guy hitting .044 with an obp of .120. Pretty bad. Hanging another breaking ball for another homerun. Having Espinosa pinch hit with the bases loaded. Espinosa is the opposite kind of hitter you want in that situation. You want someone who can get one to the outfield and makes good contact - doesn't strike out too much. Why you wouldn't use Laroche or Harper there boggles my mind. Oh well.

The most important thing that happened last night - the Braves lost. They are still 7.5 games back and they only have 30 games to play. I get the impression that MW is managing like he has a big lead. Resting players now. Trying not to use the back of his bullpen too much if they don't have a lead, etc. Hopefully it works, but it does make me nervous. It doesn't help that the Nats are 0-2 on this road trip with Seattle's top 3 pitchers and Kershaw ahead. Feels like a 3-6 road trip to me. This is a similar road trip to the one the Braves went 0-8 on. We'll see.

Anonymous said...

Not to defend MW or anything, but Espinosa did crush that ball.

As for Gio, I thought he was reasonably sharp. Sizemore was fooled on that triple - he just got the barrel on it. And you challenge guys hitting sub .100 with no power with high fastballs. When a guy like that hits one out, you tip your cap. There's no defending the pitch that Ruhf annihilated though.

The other indefensible thing is sitting Harper. He needs ABs. The difference between the Nats as a quality playoff team with as good a chance as anybody in the NL and the Nats as the NL favorite is Harper. He's the one guy in the lineup with super duper star potential. He needs to find his groove. Or, at the very least, he needs the chance to find his groove. He needs to play every inning of every game for the rest of the season, period. If you want to sit lefties against Hamels, sit Span. I have no idea what MW is thinking with the way he jerks Harper around.