SweetSpot: Zach Duke
So what was Russell thinking? If anyone knows, it's Dejan Kovacevic ...
- Why take out Duke?
He was not on a pitch count, Russell said, but the manager offered two explanations:
1. He wanted Duke to get an ovation.
2. He wanted to get reliever Donnie Veal some work.
"I wanted Zach to have a nice ovation," Russell said. "He did a heck of a job, pitched a great game. We were trying to get him a shutout and, unfortunately, they scored the run. We just wanted to give the fans an opportunity to appreciate what he did rather than the game just being over. ... And it was good that we got Donnie in the game. That'll make him a little more prepared."
Duke is second-time eligible for salary in the coming offseason, and a fourth complete game would have bolstered his bargaining position, tying him for the league lead with San Francisco's twin aces, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
But team president Frank Coonelly strongly rejected any link.
"It was JR's decision, and the last thing he or anyone else was thinking about at a moment like that is a possible arbitration case in the future," Coonelly said.
Is it because Zack Duke will be mad at him?
No. Maybe for an hour or three. But all will be forgiven and forgotten by next spring, when it matters.
Is it because Russell has exposed the Pirates as the they really are? No. The notion that Russell was following orders from the front office, while perhaps attractive to baseball fans who believe the CIA and Lyndon Johnson conspired to kill JFK, seems preposterous on its face.
John Russell is our Dunce of Yesterday because his move suggests a complete lack of awareness. The Pirates, so starved for good stories this season, had two of them Monday: Andy LaRoche's huge game and Duke's (almost) complete-game victory against the best team in the National League.
Too good stories, and all the manager had to do was stay out of the way. There's an old farmer's saying -- "Don't interfere with somethin' that ain't botherin' you none." -- and somehow Russell just couldn't resist interferin'. That game wasn't botherin' him none!
You know what? If Russell were a rookie manager, I could happily consider this a lesson learned by the fresh-faced kid. But Russell's nearly 50 years old and he's managed a major league club for nearly two full seasons. Two full seasons, by the way, in which his teams have lost more than 60 percent of their games.
Yanking a pitcher with two outs in the ninth inning of a meaningless game is hardly a fireable offense. But someday Russell will be fired, and I suspect he won't put this one at the top of his updated résumé.
- Mike Pelfrey was ready for me in the Mets spring training clubhouse, as if he knew I was coming.
"Look at me," the Mets right-hander said one day last month. "I'm a pretty big guy." Yes, sir. Pelfrey is 6-foot-7. Thankfully, he is a rather pleasant, mild-mannered guy.
I didn't feel threatened, but my theory about young pitchers getting overworked was precisely in Pelfrey's crosshairs. Pelfrey was familiar with my rule of thumb that pitchers 25 and under are at risk of injury or significant regression in the year after their clubs boost their workload by 30 or more innings.
So I agreed with some of what Pelfrey presented. He turned 25 in January and is a big guy, so maybe he withstands his 48-inning jump better than someone younger and smaller. That said, I'm still not taking him off my list of the most at-risk young pitchers of 2009 based on the Year After Effect. There is a reason why the Mets had an innings threshold in mind for Pelfrey, a reason why the Yankees have treated Joba Chamberlain with kid gloves and a reason, going further back, why Oakland was very careful to manage the innings growth of its young starters almost a decade ago when I first learned about this growing trend: Too much too soon is risky stuff.
This year I red-flagged 10 pitchers -- and the list includes some of the greatest young arms in the game. Here are those pitchers and the innings jumps that put them on the list ...
- How much should those guys be worried? Over the previous three years I red-flagged a total of 24 young pitchers at the start of those seasons. Of those 24 at-risk pitchers, 16 were hurt in that same season. Only one of the 24 pitchers managed to stay healthy and lower his ERA: Ubaldo Jimenez of Colorado, a guy I said would be less at risk because of his powerful body type.
In the early years of my tracking the Year After Effect, the Royals notoriously pushed young pitchers to awful results (Jose Rosado, Chris George, Runelvys Hernandez, Mac Suzuki, etc.). The Pirates have supplanted the Royals as the worst offenders (Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Tom Gorzelanny). It's one thing for the Mets to push Pelfrey with a playoff spot at stake, but it's hard to explain why a rebuilding franchise would put young starters at risk in meaningless games in September.
Last year I red-flagged seven pitchers: Jimenez, Gorzelanny, Ian Kennedy (Yankees), Dustin McGowan (Blue Jays), Chad Gaudin (Cubs), Yovani Gallardo (Brewers) and Fausto Carmona (Indians). Except for Jimenez all of them broke down with injuries -- some of them serious, not all arm-related -- and combined to go 29-32. None won 10 games. Previous blowouts that were red-flagged included Francisco Liriano, Gustavo Chacin, Anibal Sanchez, Adam Loewen and Scott Mathieson.
Verducci's method strikes me as terribly arbitrary. That doesn't mean it doesn't work. But without a control group -- without some basis for comparison -- we can't really know if pasting the photos of a bunch of young pitchers on the wall and throwing darts wouldn't work just about as well. And one thing I'm sure about: the Red Sox and Rays and Cardinals and Indians and Padres and another half-dozen (at least) teams aren't throwing darts.