Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Box Score Surfing

What can you learn from spring training stories? Not much. A center fielder going 3 for 3 is likely as critical as the report about the relief pitcher who showed up “in the best shape of his life.” Or the story about the veteran showing the rookie “the ropes.” They’re nice stories that fulfill their primary purpose – convert blank white paper (or pixels) to something with ink on it. But most of us are beyond the point that we believe they provide any insight.

But there is a report that I do pay attention to, especially when the primary position battle is in the bullpen. It’s the box score, and particularly the pitching portion. I’m not so concerned about the results – it’s the order that is often telling.

Coaches want to see the guys they’re considering facing the best players on the other team so they can get a better idea how the player is really doing. For pitchers, this means that the order in which players enter a game often represents a ranking. It’s a vast oversimplification to say it’s quite that cut and dry, but generally, the sooner they get in, the better. So let’s take a quick look at the last six games of spring training and see if anything strikes me:

3/2 vs Pirates:
Duensing, Capps, Neshek, Dumatrait, D Hughes, Diamond, J Manship, A Burnett

And right away we have a question – who it Phil Dumatrait, and why was he getting the 1st spot after Capps and Neshek? Dumatrait is a left-hander who pitched in AAA for the Tigers and then ended up playing in Korea starting in May. He pitched again on Saturday, this time pitching the seventh inning, after Manship and before Waldrop.

I haven’t heard much about him as one of the left-handed options, and there isn’t much in last year’s AAA performance to single him out. But once upon a time, before Tommy John and a shoulder surgery, he was a first round pick with some velocity from the left side. Might be a name to remember.

3/3 vs Orioles
Pavano, Perkins, C James, Hoey, Swarzak

The one exception to the general rule about ranking is the ninth inning. Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson seem to like to play around with that a bit. I don’t know what it means that Anthony Swarzak got to finish this game. I find it interesting that southpaw Glen Perkins got an opportunity over lefty Chuck James. And I find it interesting that Hoey was relegated to the 8th inning.

3/4 vs Rays
Slowey, Mijares, Nathan, Hacker, Gibson, Bazardo, C Gutierrez

Here’s another name I didn’t expect to see. Eric Hacker is not a left-handed pitcher, but is on the 40-man roster, so by definition he has a leg up on a lot of pitchers in camp. He started last year in AAA for the Giants, and darn near earned a promotion. I had him tagged for AAA-Rochester as a starting pitcher, but maybe the coaching staff wanted to see what they had there for future reference. It didn’t go well, by the way – he gave up four hits in the inning and three earned runs.

3/5 vs Rays
Blackburn, Capps, Neshek, Manship, Dumatrait, Waldrop, Burnett

Huh. Manship lept over Dumatrait. Kyle Waldrop shows up for the first time, but way back in the 8th inning. And Alex Burnett closes out his second game. I wonder if Burnett, Swarzak and Carlos Gutierrez are being considered as Rochester’s closer.

3/6 vs Pirates
Duensing, Diamond, D Hughes, Hoey, C James, Swarzak

There’s Swarzak at the end again. Diamond made a significant leap over lefties Hughes and James. Diamond pitched in the 4th and 5th, so there is no doubt he was facing major leaguers. It sounds like the coaching staff wasn’t too pleased with his pace on the mound, and he gave up two hits and two walks in two innings, but he sure looks like he was considered the top lefty going into the game. Hoey moved up an inning, for what it’s worth.

3/7 vs Cardinals
Baker, Mijares, Nathan, Perkins, Hacker, C Gutierrez

Hacker got crushed again in this game, so that sucks for him. Perkins also struggled and that was after pitching significantly later in the game than his first time out. That’s not good. And like clockwork, Gutierrez came in and pitched the last two innings. He struck out four. It’ll be interesting to see if that three-man closing rotation carries through to tomorrow.

So what did I learn?
- Phil Dumatrait might be a name for left-handed specialist that I totally overlooked.
- Scott Diamond is also meriting some serious consideration, or at least was.
- I over looked Eric Hacker too, but he is likely slated for Rochester.
- James Hoey isn’t a serious candidate yet.
- I wonder if Jeff Manship might be a serious candidate.
- Something is going on with Burnett, Swarzak and Gutierrez.

Or at least that’s what I’m going with for now. Take a look at the box scores as they come in over the next week or so and see what you foresee.


Katxena said...

Fascinating. I'm a newbie to baseball, and I find your commentary very educational. Thanks for this rundown.

TT said...

Geek -

Your basic point about the manager wanting to see pitchers against certain competition is right, but you are over-simplifying it. Almost every spring training game this time of year includes guys who will not be on the roster in April.

The manager is looking at who the pitcher will face next inning. Sometimes they may be better hitters than later innings, but not always. In the case of lefties, in particular, whether the expected hitters bat right or left may be a consideration.

John said...

"It’s a vast oversimplification to say it’s quite that cut and dry, but generally, the sooner they get in, the better."

TT said...

Yes, I saw that you SAID that. But then you seemed to ignore it.

Lets take a look at some of the other factors.

Diamond is a Rule 5 guy. He is either on the roster, gone or they will need to give up something more than the $50 grand they have already spent on him. He is obviously a serious candidate regardless of who he pitches against.

"I wonder if Burnett, Swarzak and Carlos Gutierrez are being considered as Rochester’s closer."

I doubt Gardy or any one else is paying any attention to who the closer might be at Rochester at this stage. That is something that will be considered once guys are in the minor league camp at the earliest. Moreover, I don't think the ninth inning is any different. To the contrary, what those three throwing in the ninth really indicates is that they are ticketed for Rochester and are going to have to open some eyes even to get themselves consideration.

"Diamond pitched in the 4th and 5th, so there is no doubt he was facing major leaguers."

In fact, only one of the five players he faced in the 4th innings had more than 1000 major league at bats in the 4th inning, Brendan Harris. He really only faced two major league hitters in 10 plate appearances, both in the 5th inning.

By contrast Hoey pitched two innings against the Orioles "A" lineup in the 7th on March 3 facing with Vlad Guerrero, Mark Reynolds and Adam Jones. He faced minor league players only in the 8th. The idea that indicates he isn't a "serious candidate" is a serious exaggeration. Again you are ignoring your own admonition about oversimplifying.

Anonymous said...

For once, I gotta agree with TT. You're making way, way too much of this, geek. Way, way too much.