Whither Pitching? 

El Lefty Malo dips into the mailsack to answer an excellent question from a regular correspondent:

As a former pitcher, to what do you attribute the string of
awfulness that has hit virtually every Giants pitcher
from the starting five (or six) to the bullpen? Just
bad luck that is catching, everybody's favorite
scapegoat that is AJ or something else? I wonder how
much AJ's lack of experience and work ethic is
affecting things. I'm still not surprised by the awful
bullpen performance since you can't lose both Nathan
and Worrell and pick up a few Brewers castoffs and a
minor leaguer without any minor league experience
(Aardsma) and hope to be as good as last year.

- amanda

First of all, how much awfulness has the Giants' staff tossed our way this year? The 5.10 staff ERA is 26th out of 30 ML teams. The 174 Ks is 25th; the 106 BBs are 16th. The 37 HRs allowed place them in a four-way tie for 22nd (the worst is St. Louis, with 46 allowed). The staff is also giving up 1.5 walks and hits per inning, which is a lot. The OPS-against is .802, good for 25th overall.

In short, this staff is not good. It's not even fair. It's more or less at the bottom rung of the major leagues.

Certainly there have been bright spots. Felix Rodriguez, although not striking out nearly as many as he used to, is pitching extremely well (fewer than 1 baserunner per inning). Tyler Walker has been a godsend, and both Jason Schmidt and Jerome Williams have pitched well after a couple shaky outings to start their respective seasons.

Much of the ugliness comes courtesy of Woody Rueter and Tomko the Bombko: their 76 innings pitched represent a full quarter of the staff innings. In those 76 innings, they've allowed 129 baserunners--and that doesn't include fielding errors or hit batsmen. Other than Woody's last start in Cincy, these guys have stunk. So have the 5th starters (Correia/Cooper/Hermanson).

Can we blame AJ? According to the "catcher ERA" statistic, Giants' pitchers are just as bad no matter if AJ or Yorvit is behind the dish. With the Twins, AJ's catcher ERA was much lower than the total team ERA in 2003; just slightly lower than the total ERA in 2002; and again just slightly lower in 2001. So he doesn't seem to be a cancer compared to other catchers on his teams.

It's certainly possible that Giants' pitchers dislike throwing to him or resent his clubhouse behavior, which in turn affects their focus and small-muscle coordination when throwing a baseball. As I mentioned Friday, a pitcher's psyche can be fragile.

I will venture something else, however. As others have recently noted, the 2004 Giants, supposedly built so solidly on pitching and defense, have demonstrated a shocking lack of the latter, which in turns kills the former. Durham has made critical errors. Alfonzo booted away a game in New York. Neifi made an all-world stupid blunder in San Diego and nearly cost them a game. Tucker and Hammonds have had nightmare games in the outfield. Feliz is still learning first base. Bonds covers gaps the way the U.S. military covered post-"victory" Iraq. (Hey, you can't be everywhere at once.)

So, Amanda, my roundabout answer is this: Brian Sabean has cooked up a discount bucket combo of pitchers who give up lots of hard hits and don't strike out many batters, plus defenders who are only sporadically pickin' and glidin' and snaggin' those hard-hit balls.


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