When the Nationals signed Cuban defector Yunesky Maya in July, we thought we were getting a seasoned international competitor, a professional pitcher who would be the next in a good line of comrades who have made an impact in the majors.
After watching and commenting on his MLB debut, I was impressed. Maya wasn’t overpowering but showed a great variety of pitches and a fearlessness on the mound.
However, his fourth start yesterday (box/gamer) demonstrated the same issue that plagued him in his first three starts; the big inning. In each start now, he’s had one bad inning amongst several good ones. Yesterday he was unlucky to give up an unearned run in the 3rd, but then gave up 4 runs in the 6th and was yanked. The crushing blow was a no-doubter homer from Atlanta’s shortstop Alex Gonzalez on a first pitch hanging curveball. Suddenly the Nats are down 5-0 and have given up 4 runs in an inning, a relatively insurmountable score because of the “big bang” theory of baseball scores (see this Boswell chat for more details, but analysis of box scores over the years shows that in more than half of baseball games, the winning team scores more runs in ONE inning than the losers score the entire game).
This is why these big innings are troubling. You give up 3 or 4 runs in an inning with an offensively challenged team like the Nats (playing yesterday without Espinosa, Zimmerman, and without original #5 hitter Willingham) are almost always going to lose. Sure enough, Derek Lowe shut them down for 6 relatively innocuous innings and the Nats never scored at all.
I was at the game yesterday, which makes analysis of Maya’s stuff rather difficult. All we can see is the mph on the pitch to guess whether it was a fastball, curve or change. Maya didn’t seem to be throwing hard (averaging 88-89, maxing out 91 or so per yesterday’s pitch f/x data), and certainly wasn’t getting strikeouts (1 K in 25 batters faced, not even getting his counterpart on strikes). His pitching coach was interviewed though and commented that Maya has found MLB hitters to be far more patient than in Cuba or International competitions, and that MLB umpires are not giving him pitches on the corners. He seems to be nibbling, not throwing strikes or trusting his stuff. It also goes without saying that he is still in early season/spring training mode, having only made his professional debut for us on August 13th. Still, it is hard not to be concerned about his performance thus far. Did we waste $6M on him?
Side note about the unearned run in the 3rd: Gonzalez made a fantastic diving stop with guys on 1st and 2nd and 2 outs, only to see Kennedy failing to cover 2nd base for the easy force out. Possibly a mental error but more likely a result of the exaggerated pull shift the Nats employed on Atlanta’s catcher McCann. So he forced a throw to first from his knees that short-hopped Dunn. Dunn ineptly missed the throw, it got by him and a run scored. This error was then attributed to Gonzalez, who gets penalized AFTER making a great play and to try to make up for his teammate’s mental error. A better first baseman makes that play easily. This is just another example of how unfair our basic fielding stats are these days and how you just can’t measure some things in a box score.
On the same play, as the ball was getting past Dunn, the Atlanta runner running from first (Heyward) blew through the stop sign and was thrown out by 20 feet …. so he did what came naturally to major leaguer,s recently; he tried to bowl over our catcher (Ramos) instead of sliding or giving himself up. Ramos pulled an “ole” move, kinda dodging the collision attempt and getting the tag in. I realize that in some cases a catcher blocking the plate gives the runner little choice but to try to dislodge the ball by barreling into the opposing player. But on a play like this I think the choice to try to deliberately harm the catcher needs some league retribution. Heyward, to his credit immediately apologized to Ramos for his decision, which probably prevented further retribution.
Lastly, read this nugget in Nats News Network, where Riggleman has said that Olsen takes too long to warm up and thus can’t really be used out of the bullpen. In other words, be prepared for a non-tender on December 1st.