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Towers' Much-Ballyhooed Struggles Continue

  • Josh Towers and Russ Adams, who were recently demoted to the minors after horrid starts to the season, have once again encountered adversity on the field. From Wednesday's Toronto Star:
    Josh Towers got knocked around in his first start for Triple-A Syracuse, giving up six runs on 11 hits over seven innings in an 8-4 loss to Indianapolis. Only two of the runs wound up being earned, thanks mostly to an error by Russ Adams, who has switched from his shortstop position to second base with Syracuse.

    Adams made his third fielding error in less than a week last night. The former Jays infielder did enter the night with six hits in his first 16 at-bats at Triple A, including two triples and a double.

    Hopefully Towers' struggles are partly attributable to him working out mechanical kinks in his delivery, as well as perhaps working on certain pitches. That very well could the case to an extent, but it would be foolish to think his main objective wasn't to earn the win and avoid further embarrassment. His situation is worsening with each passing start, which may necessitate even more drastic measures. Remember, when Roy Halladay was struggling mightily in 2000 (10.64 ERA, 2.202 WHIP in 67.2 IP), he was demoted to A-ball in order to revamp his entire pitching approach. Perhaps that may be overly drastic in Towers' case, especially considering he's currently much older than Halladay was in 2000. But perhaps a move to the bullpen would help him regain his effectiveness. For one, a role in long relief would allow him to enter games in low-pressure, low-leverage situations. At this point, however, I'm afraid he might already be a sunk cost to the organization. He's 29 years old, his stuff is mediocre at best, and it's not unlikely that his once-stellar control has abandoned him. On the other hand, though, it seems like it's quite rare that a pitcher in his 20s suddently becomes terribly ineffective overnight. But perhaps that's simply an error in judgement on my part, because this season has featured a fair amount pitchers -- fairly young pitchers -- who've completely fallen off that proverbial cliff. Consider the following underachieving players:

    Player          Year     Age (seasonal)    ERA     WHIP     ERA+    FIP       DER*
    Josh Towers     2005     28                3.71    1.27     120     3.94     .698
                    2006     29                9.00    1.93      55     6.88     .645

    Carlos Silva    2005     26                3.44    1.17     126     4.17     .708
                    2006     27                7.81    1.66      61     6.77     .678

    Brad Radke      2005     32                4.04    1.18     107     4.45     .722      
                    2006     33                7.01    1.80      69     5.71     .628

    Jon Garland     2005     25                3.50    1.17     126     4.22     .737
                    2006     26                6.25    1.53      76     6.12     .687

    Jeff Weaver     2005     28                4.22    1.17      96     4.41     .727
                    2006     29                6.64    1.51      69     6.02     .691

    *DER (Defense Efficiency Ratio) is basically BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) for pitchers. Something around .700 is normally considered average.

    Okay, so what do they have in common (other than the fact that they're bad pitchers and were somewhat arbitrarily chosen for this list)? Well, here are a few:

    • They're relatively young. Everyone but Brad Radke is below 30 years of age, if only by the slightest of margins for some.
    • Last season's underlying statistics suggest regressions for all were to be expected, though not nearly as radical as the ones they've each experienced.
    • Each of them has been hittable, even during their productive seasons. None of these pitchers are strikeout artists by any means. As a result, they're heavily reliant on the players behind them, which, as DER suggests, have let them down.
    • There's no end in sight. Each player has been consistently awful this season, and some of them (i.e. Towers and Silva) are no longer full-time starters.
    • They're probably not as bad as they've been this season. In addition to their poor overall stats, their peripheral stats have been awful as well, but not quite as awful.
    • According to some reports, at least a few of them have exhibited much poorer "stuff." Radke's pitch selection, for example, has been very predictable and neither his velocity nor his movement are effective enough to compensate for it. Towers' fastball, moreover, has been clocked in the low to mid-80s on more than one occasion, though he's never been known to exhibit exemplary stuff anyway.

    Now, unless I examine each player more closely to see how this season's performance compares with last season's (and actually knew what to look for), it's difficult to offer much compelling insight into what's in store for the future. Some of them will bounce back, because their past performances suggest they almost have to. Jon Garland, for one, has posted a 2.75 ERA at home but a ghastly 7.83 ERA on the road. He's also pitched 24 more innings on the road than at home, which helps explain why his overall stats are so poor.

  • In other news, Keith Law, former Special Assistant to GM J.P. Ricciardi, has resigned from his post, effective immediately. In turn, he will join the espn.com writing staff as a senior baseball writer in the mold of Rob Neyer and Jason Stark. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what Law's responsibilities were within the organization, since his title was rather ambiguous. In the end, his time with the Blue Jays will likely be judged by the management's performance as a whole, however fair or unfair that may be.

    It's also unclear why he left a seemingly comfortable front office position to write for espn (not that I object to that, of course). Perhaps money played a role in his decision, or perhaps he wanted to leap back into the writing business. Prior to joining the Blue Jays, Law was a writer for Baseball Prospectus. He wrote during the website's so-called "glory years" and his articles were generally well-received. I haven't read whether his upcoming work will be available to everyone or whether they'll be cloaked behind that metaphorical insider veil. Assuming the latter, my espn insider subscription will expire shortly, and unless the radio show from which I won it has another trivia contest, I probably won't be able to read any of his articles (unless I unexpectedly pony up the dough to renew my subscription, of course).

  • On Thursday, Marc Normandin posted a Prospectus Notebook piece about the Blue Jays. Within the article, he voices some minor concern about Casey Janssen's future. In addition to Janssen, I'm worried about Ted Lilly's future.

    Some worrisome statistics of Janssen's:

    .782 DER, 4.2 K/9.

    Some worrisome statistics of Lilly's:

    5.72 FIP, 5.1 BB/9 (a very, very high ratio)

    Even with some regression, Janssen should be fine. For one, his control has been rather unbelievable this season, as he's only allowed seven walks and three home run in 44.1 IP.

    On the other hand, I'm very worried about Lilly, whose ERA has creeped up towards 5.00. Prior to the season, I wasn't confident in his ability to rebound from his miserable 2005 campaign, and he managed to prove me wrong for a while. Even though I hope he continues to prove me wrong for the remainder of the season, it doesn't seem likely, all things considered.

  • If you haven't been doing so already, I highly recommend you tune into David Pinto's weekly Baseball Musings radio show. It's much, much better than the sports radio shows to which I was once accustomed (I've long since wiped my hands clean of them). Although some may find it to be a touch dry, it offers much more content and insight than any other show I've encountered in the past. In terms of baseball-only radio shows, I also raise my thimbs in approval to Fantasy Focus, hosted by Eric Karabell, and Baseball Prospectus Radio, hosted by Will Carroll. They're not quite on par with David Pinto's show, though, in my humble opinion.

    Actually, on this week's broadcast, Pinto brought up an interesting point about Albert Pujols that he read on USS Mariner. Basically, the thrust of the argument is that not only will Pujols continue to see quality pitches (rather than constantly being walked), but select pitchers will actually groove their pitches to Albert's liking. Of course, their motivation in doing so would be to see Pujols break Bonds' single-season home run record of 73. That would be a cause for celebration since Bonds is such an unlikeable fellow, both among players and fans. Its occurrence is obviously very unlikely, but not necessarily impossible. It has happened in the past, with Chan Ho Park's groove job to Cal Ripken Jr. in Ripken's final All-Star Game appearance being the most memorable. In fact, there were whispers that pitchers were committing this highly immoral act during the McGwire-Sosa home run race of 1998. I didn't believe them at the time, but I was much less cynical and jaded then. In all seriousness, however, if Pujols does manage to break the record, it'll mostly be on his own merit. Considering how thin the Cardinals lineup seems to be, it would shock me if, during the remainder of the season, he were not walked at a much higher rate than he has been thus far.

    Speaking of the Cardinals, it's incredible how successful they've been despite their lack of offensive depth. It goes to show how valuable players like Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen truly are. When a team's superstars produce at rate that far exceeds their respective positional averages, it's possible to field a very competitive team despite filling in the rest of the holes with league-average talent.

  • Off topic: I never knew spelling bees have become so popular.