Interesting Question: Alou Abuse, Part Deux

Not All Coaches Believe Pitchers Are So Fragile

I came across a very interesting interview/biography of Leo Mazzone done by ESPN that was linked to on a blog I frequent: Dan Agonistes (he writes for The Hardball Times, another site I visit regularly).

Since I compared Alou with how Cox uses relievers often and Mazzone used to be the pitching coach for Atlanta, I found these quotes interesting from Tom Glavine on Mazzone's technique:
Glavine - [Mazzone] was very ambitious and gung-ho. He was going to get the starting pitchers to throw twice between starts instead of one time, and to try
to get the relievers to throw off the mound more often, even though they might
pitch in a game that night. The biggest shock was that, here we were, doing what
we've done for so many years, and all of a sudden it's, hey, we're going to throw even more than we do now. I remember it being a very foreign way of thinking.
Glavine - You get guys to throw as much as they want to, so they can develop feel on their pitches and understanding of their mechanics. In terms of getting guys to throw more often, I think a lot of people don't want to do that simply because they are scared to death somebody's going to get hurt. Coaches are going to err on the side of caution and not encourage guys to throw as much as Leo does.
That was part of the philosophy that Johnny Sain passed on to Mazzone when Sain was nearing the end of his coaching career and Mazzone was starting his.

Mazzone - The throwing program is based on common sense. I don't think it's that big a deal, but you'd be amazed how people can't understand. Somebody told me one time that you can't do that because pitchers would break down late in the year. I asked him what he did. And he said that his pitchers played catch in the outfield. And I said, "Well, explain the difference between playing catch in the outfield and playing catch on a mound when you're only 60 feet, six inches from your target." He said, "Well, they had a tendency to throw too hard." I told him, "That's what the hell they pay you for, to regulate the effort."

Not that Alou does all this - I have no idea whether he does or doesn't or if Righetti does or doesn't, since it sounds like Alou delegates the duty of handling the pitchers to Righetti - but I thought I should bring this up to show that not all successful coaches believe that babying pitchers is the best way to keep pitchers productive, that there are other perspectives on how to handle pitchers.

I personally think the pendulum has swung too far the other way and that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. I'm hoping for the first brave soul who will go out and have a four man starting rotation again, especially with all these 5th starters who are not very good at all. That would also open a spot up for another reliever or bench position player.

Why Join the Giants If Felipe Is So Bad?

There are also some things to note about this reputation Alou has with Giants fans for abusing relievers that I have not figured out. For one thing, if Alou abuses relievers, why would Hermanson and Fassero return to pitch under Alou? They needed to resurrect their careers, not bury it, why come here? Or even Christiansen, who pitched one season for Alou and in his free agency, after another bad year with us, decided that SF was the best place to be? Plus this year Worrell came back for more "abuse" - why would any pitcher in their right mind put up with abuse that could ruin their career? They were free agents, they had more options than re-chosing Alou as their manager but they chose to be with Alou again.

And if Alou was that bad, why would other free agent relievers come here, like Tyler Walker and Armando Benitez? If his abuse is so bad that fans can see this, why hasn't this bad reputation spread through the league and discourage relievers from signing with us? Like any organization, there are grapevines in baseball and a bad rep should pass pretty quickly if he is as bad as some Giants fans are making Felipe out to be. And yet it hasn't stopped pitchers from joining or rejoining Felipe on the Giants.

All in all, I understand why some fans question Alou's handling of the pitchers but given all that I've presented, I don't see why it sticks. I won't say he is perfect - he could have handled the Schmidt non-start in the playoffs much better, he shouldn't have throw Brower out there to face Finley when he had nothing, I wouldn't have skipped Jerome Williams start after a good first start early in 2005 - but I don't find myself very perturbed about how he or Righetti handle the pitchers.

Why Do Some Fans Still Cling to Baker Still?

I especially find it odd for the people who still wishes Dusty Baker was still here over Alou. I was not happy with how Dusty handled the pitchers. From not starting Rueter when he had the chances to do so in the playoffs to taking out Ortiz in Game 6 to starting Ryan Jensen over Kurt Ainsworth, there was a lot that I was not happy about how he handled the pitching, let alone the position players. I'm happy he's gone.

In addition, from Bill James Handbook, the stats show that Baker is hard on pitchers too. Baker has some of the highest Long Outings among managers of the past 10 years. Alou's high with the Giants (13 in 2004) was surpassed by Baker in 6 of the past 10 seasons, with one tie, meaning that Baker had less than 13 only three seasons - and in two of the three, he had 10, which would have (and did) ranked 2nd worse by a large margin in 2005. He has seasonal highs of 27, 26, 25, basically double Alou's worse with the Giants. Alou had 8, 13, and 7 LO.

And Baker used relievers as much as Alou. His average since 1994 is 434 relief appearances while Alou's since 1994 is 451. And Baker has as quick with the hook as Alou the past three seasons, as he had 101 quick hooks while Alou had 102. Baker had more slow hooks, with 142 slow hooks while Alou had 126 the past three seasons, so he was leaving his starters in longer relative to other managers.

Stats or no stats, I've been happy with Felipe Alou as the Giants manager, though not necessarily with the results, but I don't blame him for the injuries and the failure to produce, for the most part, that has hurt the Giants chances to win the division or get into the playoffs. I think he has done about the best he could with what he was given to work with. As I've noted in other posts, management/ownership has failed to give Sabean enough money to get Alou the talent he needs given the budget situation skewness that Bonds places on the budget. Plus they should have planned for some overspending during Bonds' final contract years to sign a primo free agent who would both be his successor and backup offensive force should he fall to age or injury.


Fool Me Once, Shame on You, Fool Me Twice...

The Rangers swore they would never sign another pitcher to a 5 year contract after their Chan Ho Park fiasco (courtesy of one Scott Boras) and, as the Bond movie title goes, "Never Say Never Again," as they just signed Kevin Millwood to a 5 year, $60M contract. So what's different this time?

Won't Get Fooled Again

Well one difference is that Millwood appears to have had a worse career than did Park prior to signing with Texas. Park had five excellent seasons in six while with the Dodgers before signing with Texas whereas Millwood appears to have one great season every third season, filled with mediocre Tomko-esque performances in-between (ERA in 4-range). So Park's career stats looked much better.

However, Park had the advantage of pitching at Dodger Stadium, one of the most extreme pitcher's parks around. Dodger Stadium had a pitching factor of approximately 92 or 93 from 1996 to 2001, the time Park pitched there. His road stats were much worse than at Dodger Stadium: ERA 4.74, WHIP 1.44, BAA approximately .246 on the road vs. ERA 3.00, WHIP 1.22, BAA .216 at Dodger Stadium.

Millwood, meanwhile, pitched at Atlanta, once known as a hitters park but during his tenure there, it was a league neutral park, with a park pitching factor of approximately 100 from 1997 to 2002; at Philadelphia, first at pitcher's park Veteran's then at more hitter oriented Citizen's Bank Park in 2003 and 2004 (2004 was not as bad as 2005, having a pitcher's park factor of only 101); and lastly at Cleveland's pitcher's park, Jacobs Field, where he had one of his best seasons ever. So, overall, in his career, Millwood has pitched in mainly pitcher's neutral parks with a few years in pitcher's park, which gives his career numbers a slight edge towards pitching in home pitcher's parks. His split stats shows this: ERA 3.97, WHIP 1.29, BAA .252 on the road vs. ERA 3.55, WHIP 1.19, BAA .241 at home.

So based on road stats, Millwood looks to be a better pitcher than was Park when the Rangers signed them. In addition, his FIP confirms that his performance is sub-4 ERA worthy: he had a FIP of 3.82 in 2004 and 3.77 in 2005. Also applicable, since he pitched at a pitcher's park in Jacobs but is moving to a hitters park at Ameriquest, is his 2005 xFIP, which adjusts the results for homerun rate, is 3.99. But is that worth $12M per year?

Buy Me That Doggy In the Window?

As comparison, lets look at the other big money pitchers signed this offseason: A.J. Burnett, Jarrod Washburn, Matt Morris, Kenny Rogers, Esteban Loaiza, Paul Byrd. Burnett got 5 years/$55M or $11M/year. Washburn got 4 years/$37.5M or $9.4M/year. Morris got 3 years/$27M or $9M/year. Rogers got 2 years/$16M or $8M/year. Loaiza got 3 years/$21.4M or $7.1M/year. Byrd got 2 years/$14M or $7M/year. And, as noted above, Millwood got $12M/year so he got more per year than anyone else here.

I don't need to see sabermetrics to 6 sig-figs to see that mediocre pitchers are getting about $7M per year. That seems to be the bar today. So is Millwood worth the extra $5M per year?

I'm sure Steve Boras' prospectus probably made Texas think that he was. Just like he made them think that Park was worth that as well. But I don't see how the Rangers got fooled again as his FIP suggests that he's been only slightly better than average the past two seasons with an ERA approximately just under 4.00 plus his career pattern.

Millwood has been good once every three seasons. Exceptionally good but still once every three seasons. Over a five year contract, that's at best twice out of the five, but since it has been exactly 2 mediocre seasons then 1 great one for nine years now, one could say that he might only have 1 great season in the five, in his third season with the Rangers. But lets assume the best and he is great twice.

That means he was mediocre the other three seasons, meaning the Rangers got $7M worth those seasons. That means that the Rangers are paying $39M for those 2 great seasons, or $19.5M per year. That's Roger Clemens type of money. It gets a lot worse if he has only one great season.

Looking at his baseball-reference.com stats, here's his ERA+ for his career: 104, 104, 162, 100, 102, 127, 103, 90, 143. Roger Clemens career average ERA+ is 143. So maybe he could be worth it based on his two best seasons. Then again, Clemens the past two seasons had ERA+ of 145 and 221.

So I guess it all comes down to belief. Do you believe that Millwood, who could not consistently do well in pitching neutral Atlanta, could not pitch well in pitching-park Veterans, did horribly in hitters-park Citizens Bank Park, and did very well in pitchings-park Jacobs, could deliver a great pitching performance in extreme hitters-park Ameriquest Field, a park so bad that fantasy baseball advisors would note when hitters and pitchers were due to play there so as to avoid pitchers and select hitters?

Well, he did do well in his one career start there, going 6.0 IP and only 2 ER. However, he gave up 8 hits and 1 walk with 5 strikeouts, good for a 1.50 WHIP and .320 BAA. Lets take a look at other homerun hitters parks he has pitched at:
  • Coors - 3.97 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, .267 BAA in 7 starts
  • Miller - 6.91 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, .255 BAA in 3 starts
  • Great American - 6.46 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, .333 BAA in 3 starts
  • Citizens Bank Park - 4.95 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, .275 BAA in 11 starts
  • Minute Maid - 2.30 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, .210 BAA in 4 starts
  • Chase Field - 2.00 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .172 BAA in 4 starts
A mixed lot that suggests that he will do poorly in Ameriquest though there is the oddity that he did poorly in Northern hitters parks and well in Southern hitters park, particularly in Minute Maid, which is also in Texas. To bet $12M per year that he can do well in Ameriquest wouldn't be a bet I would take. But that is essentially the bet that the Rangers are making on Millwood. We will see but the odds does not seem to favor him doing so.

Happy New Year!!!

A wish for a prosperous and safe and healthy new year in 2006 to you and your loved ones!

Take care.