In a timespan of twelve hours Tuesday, from about 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., I heard three different comments about the Rays pitching situation. All three comments were full of disgust over the pitching staff, yet all three seemed shocked at the recent poor performances. To which I ask, "Really now, what did you expect?"
Now I know the Rays have played only six games, which means there are still 156 games to go and plenty of time to correct any problems with the team. But seeing what this team did (or didn't) do to improve the pitching staff during the offseason, and seeing how the team left spring training with some of the bodies from last year's dreadful pitching staff with a few more lesser known rubber arms, can you really be upset at this?
No veteran arms (in the rotation or bullpen) were brought in, there were no lefties in the bullpen, and the youngest team in the majors since 1983 had just as much inexperience in the pitching staff this year as last year. No matter how rose-tinted your glasses are, and 29 other teams wear those glasses in March too, you had to wonder if the Rays pitching staff was actually going to be any better than last season.
So on to my three outbursts of shock, dismay, and utter confusion of what has happened in this very young season. Speaking of confusion, may I start with Joe Maddon? The ol' skipper said something that qualifies as my first bumfuzzled response to the Rays' pitching woes. Following Monday night's epic meltdown by Shawn Camp and Ruddy Lugo, Maddon summed up the performance by saying, "The dam broke." For a lack of a better phrase, ummm... yeah. But should it be a surprise the dam broke? Seeing the bullpen dam is really just seven fingers in the dike named Lugo, Camp, Al Reyes, Brian Stokes, Juan Salas, Gary Glover, and Jae Kuk Ryu, I for one wasn't taken aback but such a catastrophic performance.
Stokes and Reyes are off to a good start, and Ryu has had some good moments, but when your bullpen consists of one veteran who hasn't pitched in almost two years, a collection of rookies and young guys who have yet to proven themselves worthy of a major league roster spot, and (again) no lefties, I'm afraid Raysville will be swamped by deluges of runs because of that damn dam breaking. Then again, seeing the NDRO didn't exactly seriously address this problem during the offseason, one wonders if the Army Corps of Engineers could hve pieced together a better bullpen. Even "big-name" free agent signee Scott Dohmann was swept away in the tide back in March.
The next shocked and awed commentary came from a media member at Tuesday's Lightning practice. I won't mention his name, but suffice to say he's had some experience playing baseball in his youth and he's a huge fan. He just can't stand Maddon. "We'll never being a winning team with that f---ing guy as manager!", my esteemed colleague observed. He went on to note, "He thinks he's coaching little league! Everything is good and it will be alright!"
Thus brings in Mr. Happy's (Maddon's) approach to life. If Maddon could be nailed to a cross next to Jesus Christ, I'd be willing to bet $100,000 he would be the guy leading the crucified men in a rousing chorus of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life". There's no doubt positive thinking, and a positive attitude and approach to life, can get you farther than those who hang their heads and mope. But there are just some things in life where you have to see the glass is half-empty, and you have to address it. The bullpen just simply isn't good enough, and you need a good bullpen to win the tight games and keep things out of reach when you're blowing someone out. The Rays did that very little last season, and they have yet to show it much this season.
Maddon is now experimenting with the bullpen roles, and there is the "promise" that (hold your breath) Seth McClung, Tim Corcoran, or Chad Orvella could ride in on a white horse from Durham to solve the problem. Realizing that's not the best option, even Andrew Friedman has noted he's looking at bringing in some better arms while rumors swirl that Brad Lidge could be one of them. Both Maddon and Friedman know the team has to start showing positive signs of improvement soon or else every fan will wonder why either guy has the job he has now.
My third and final comment came from our own R.J. Anderson in his column "Melting Like Ice". In the rare posting during a game, R.J. harped about the way Maddon manages a game, specifically when it comes to the dreaded pitch count. When a guy is doing well, he gets lifted around 100 pitches. When a guy is doing poorly (or dare I say "Seo-Seo"?), he is left on the mound to "work through it". This is where micro-managing, and too much dependency on stats and matchups, kills managers and teams.
If a guy is throwing well into the sixth or seventh and he's approaching 100 pitches, unless he's in danger of blowing his arm out why should you remove him? Give your mediocre (and often crappy) bullpen a break! If a guy is scuffing like Jae Seo was last night, by all means get him out of there! If there's one guy who should know Ameriquest Field in Arlington can eat a pitcher up, it's Maddon after all of those years with Anaheim.
The reliance on stats can also kill a GM, and the NDRO's "Moneyball"-esque approach is not reaping many rewards. The "low risk, high payback" deals this team is looking to do should be accompanied by the term "low cost, high expectations to make chicken salad out of chicken poo". My good friend and former co-host Fred McGriff once told me, "Baseball cards don't lie." He's right-- no matter how much you spin, twist, and turn stats inside out, they are what they are. Right now only THREE Rays pitchers who have pitched in at least one game have an ERA under 4.00 (Ryu with a 1.69 in 5 1/3 innings, Glover with a 0.00 in 3 2/3 and Reyes with a 0.00 in two innings). THREE Rays pitchers have an ERA OVER TEN! One, Seo, is dangerously close with a 9.64. Only two Rays pitchers have allowed less hits than innings pitched (Reyes and Glover). Although it's still early in the season, the Rays pitching staff as a whole has the major's worst ERA (0.66 higher than 29th-ranked Seattle). And the Rays staff has the highest opponant batting average in the majors with .335, a whopping .055 higher than 29th-ranked Washington.
This is the team your NDRO has put together with all sorts of Sabermetrics and confusing algebra equations. Those stats may say one thing, but the stats that show the world what the Rays pitching staff really is are hardly flattering. Well at least the NDRO saved some money on payroll with those moves.
Again, there's 156 games left in the season. And yes, there's hope in the young arms in Durham and maybe these young guys here in Tampa Bay will someday become the studs pitchers we HOPE they're supposed to be. But right now you can see the players are tired of pitching woes (read Carl Crawford's recent comments), and you can sense the neverending growing pains of this organization will continue to grow (and be very painful) this season if something doesn't get adjusted soon.
Just don't be surprised if it doesn't.
* YAY! IT'S DISCLAIMER AND CLARIFICATION TIME! *
When you get fired from a job, like I did in September when Clear Channel decided my $25,000 salary was just killing their bottom line, the first thing you do (after you tell your wife) is call your friends and connections you've made over the years. In the past six months I have done that, and one of my connections happens to be in the Raysvision department at Tropicana Field. Through those channels, I have picked up some part-time work with the Raysvision staff this summer. Obviously this is great for me because I get to keep working in baseball, and somewhat in the broadcasting world, during the dead time between the end of this Lightning season and the start of next Lightning season. Still, this presents some problems to me writing for this website.
To me, websites such as draysbay and many others are the new media. People who are under the age of 18 nowadays are not getting their news and information from traditional media outlets such as broadcast TV, radio, or the newspapers. Even the Tampa Tribune announced a reorganization this week to shift more content to tbo.com while consolidating (a.k.a. "saving money") on the traditional printed newspaper. So despite the fact that 98% of internet content is crap, I feel a journalistic responsibility when writing for a fine and well-run website such as this. Since I will be getting paychecks from the Rays, there is an obvious conflict of interest here.
There's no doubt I can sometimes be critical of this team (see above article), but I am only because I really really REALLY want to see this team succeed some day. So if I feel something isn't done right, I'll be damned to not speak my mind. At the same time I can be compliementary of the team, as it is in many ways miles and miles ahead of the Namoli days. In the end I have to be objective in my opinions.
After much discussion with draysbay.com editor Patrick Kennedy the past couple of weeks. We have both decided I can still write here without any prejudice from me (positive or negative)because I receive a check from the team every two weeks. I will continue to strive to bring my best to this website in a (usually) weekly column about the Rays or something in baseball in general.
Starting now, every column will end with a disclaimer explaining my position with the Rays. And please let it be known my comments and opinions are not those of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, its ownership, management, coaches, players, or other employees. As it has been from day one, it's come straight from my heart, whether you like it or not.
** Finally, one quick funny observation: While driving on Ulmerton Road near U.S. 19 a few days ago, I noticed a "gentleman's club" located next to a restaurant. The restaurant was named "Fish Lips".