After his second questionable starting pitcher yank in as many nights, 2014 Manager of the Year Matt Williams made perhaps his best pitching change of the season. Instead of favoring his veteran Doug Fister like everyone thought he would based on past experiences with player management, he went with a rookie and announced (as first reported by Mark Zuckerman last night) that Joe Ross would keep his rotation spot, sending Fister to the bullpen.
First; some stuff I’ve wanted to get off my chest on Williams’ handling of the pitching staff as of late:
There’s already been enough kvetching about his yanking Gio Gonzalez the previous night; though my readers cannot see this “proof,” as soon as the pitching change occurred I texted a friend saying (in effect) this was going to backfire. Pulling Gonzalez made zero sense: If you’re going to yank your starter so quickly in the 6th, why let him frigging *bat* in the bottom of the 5th?? Gonzalez was only on 95 pitches; professional, veteran starters can throw at least 105-110 pitches before showing any wear, and studies show that you’re not really in “danger” of causing subsequent regression until you hit 120. And the most egregious issue: Gonzalez was set to face not 1-2-3 but 6-7-8 in the Arizona order. To this observer, it was classic over-thinking/over-managing that resulted in a blown lead, a blown game and an embarrassing 9th where a position player had to throw for just the second time in the Nats tenure in Washington.
So, what did 2014 Manager of the Year Matt Williams learn from the 8/5/15 experience?? Absolutely nothing. Ross was on even fewer pitches last night (89), was absolutely handling the weakened Arizona lineup (they sat two of their best hitters to give them a day off), and Ross was set to face … wait for it … 6-7-8 in the order. Yet another “shut down” reliever comes in and gives up a ton of runs … and it looked like yet another game would be lost. Only the heroics of Matt Thornton (waiver claim) and eventually in the 8th Clint Robinson‘s 3-run homer (minor league free agent) saved the game for this under performing $160M payroll “win now” team.
Starters are starters because, by and large, THEY ARE BETTER PITCHERS THAN RELIEVERS. If relievers were better, they’d be frigging starters! Williams needs to STOP yanking effective starting pitchers unless it makes sense. This dates back to his most egregious yank, that of Jordan Zimmermann last year in the NLDS.
Anyway. Back to the Fister/Ross decision. Here’s my quick thoughts:
- Props to Fister for taking the demotion like a pro. If it were me, i’d have gone with some BS “soft tissue” D/L stint. That was a gutsy move for a guy facing free agency this coming off-season. Maybe he and his agent talked it through and decided it would be less damaging to be demoted to the pen than take a D/L stint and have the league think you’re fighting injuries in your walk year.
- Despite the above complaints, which are the latest in a series of complaints about our “paint by the numbers” manager and his handling of the pitching staff that has been exposed recently by his lack of use of Storen or Papelbon in the Mets series (and then his subsequent use of Storen in a 5-0 laugher one day later), Williams absolutely made the right move here. Its a performance game, the team is struggling, and Fister was the low-man on the totem pole in terms of production (the team is just 5-10 in his 15 starts). Cynical view; was this Mike Rizzo telling Williams what to do or was it Williams begrudgingly realizing that Ross was giving his team the best chance to win?
- We talked before about how it might have been premature to give Ross a 2016 rotation spot based on short sample sizes; no longer. Ross is your #4 starter next year as we speak and the rest of the potentials are chasing #5 down in Viera next spring. And that’s assuming the team doesn’t make a trade or sign a FA or (could it happen?) resign Jordan Zimmermann.
- There goes any thought of giving Fister a Q.O. this off-season. He’s gone from something like a 4yr/$55M deal to looking for a pillow contract with some lesser team willing to give him a rotation spot in just 4 short months.
- How long before the Nats shut Ross down? He threw right around 120 innings in both 2013 and 2014. So far this year he’s at 76 in the minors and 45 in the majors for a total of 121, basically matching his career high. Increasing his workload by 20% means he’s only got another 4 starts in him; is this just a temporary rotation assignment? Or is the team thinking he can increase his workload considerably this year? There’s 55 games left, which is 11 turns through the rotation; do you think he’ll be allowed to throw 11 more starts? That’d put his innings somewhere in the 175-180 range, a huge increase year over year. Honestly, I think Fister will regain the rotation spot in a month’s time or so as the team shuts down Ross for the season.
Interesting day in Natstown, though, nonetheless.