Saturday, August 29, 2009

Whassup With Ryan Doumit?

JR made an uncharacteristically bold move last night when he yanked Ryan Doumit in mid game for some unnamed transgression.

What could the poster child for hustle have done to earn Russell's rare pique? Well, contrary to some of the chat boards, he still runs out most of his balls, though with an occasional glaring bout of the dog thrown in, probably due more to frustration than temperament. He ran out a possible DP grounder last night and eventually scored, although he did jake a pop up to center.

He also nearly had a head-on with Steve Pearce on a foul pop. Doumit hit the brakes a step short of Pearce, who reached out and missed a ball that was his all the way. But that sometime happens when a ball's hit into no-mans' land.

His pitcher, Zach Duke, was raked at Miller and maybe the bench bosses had some head-knocking with his calls. But that's unlikely; his catching matrix is the best its been during his career, and the Bucs just came off a home stand that he caught virtually single-handedly while they pitched lights out.

Which leads us to attitude. Since he broke his wrist, the team make-up has completely turned around. His buds are gone, and the new face of the team is, and rightfully so, Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates' unquestioned alpha dog.

The transformation from a clubhouse full of card-players to a frat house of hip bumpers happened while he was gone; it doesn't appear that he's exactly warmed up to the cultural change in Pittsburgh baseball.

There's little doubt that it isolated him somewhat; after all, he played in the minors with Nate McLouth, Gorzo, Ian Snell, and Sean Burnett and went to war with Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Adam LaRoche, John Grabow and company every day.

So the 2008 trades of veterans might not have been such a personal sea-change for him, but the 2009 wave hit close to home. He was said to be quite vocally opposed to the deals privately. Add in the frustration of hitting .182 this month, and it's pretty clear that Doumit's head isn't into the transitional Baby Buc era, where change is the only constant.

The contract he signed to make him part of the core, judging by recent practice, is nothing more than a negotiable paper, and it's logical to assume that his perceived spot in the Pirate future is a wisp.

And don't forget that Doumit has caught almost every game since he's been back, even the night-day getaway matches, and taken his fair share of shots behind the plate.

Maybe the suits were trying to showcase him - after all, they didn't really miss a beat with Jason Jaramillo and Robby Diaz behind the dish, and added Tony Sanchez to the mix - or maybe they just felt the threat of his bat made him an indispensable middle-of-the-order stick.

At any rate, Pittsburgh has a player that's tired, beat-up, and frustrated. Doumit's lost his leadership role - or did you miss that Ramon Vazquez has become the Bucs' new pappa bear? - and has become a stranger in his own land. He has no reason to believe the Pirate future includes him. A head case in the making? It sure has the right smell.

Is any of that an excuse in the baseball industry of this day and age? No. But Doumit has always been a player that runs on emotion, not calculation. What's crystal clear that he isn't performing up to expectations. We suspect this little demonstration by JR, triggered by an otherwise insignificant play or comment, is a last-ditch effort to get Doumit's attention.

If not, he'll be gone in the winter, and at a low value, to boot. The suits don't cotton to guys that don't buy into what they're selling, especially when they spend more time in the tub than the field. It would also purge the last of Littlefield's MLB postion players, which some feel has been a goal all along.

A change of scenery might be best for the team and Doumit - and hey, it may well be what he's looking for. After all, we haven't heard many complaints from the guys that left town, have we?


WilliamJPellas said...

Alas, Ryan Doumit, I knew him, Horatio. A fellow of infinite injury....

I've been wondering about Doumit's wrist surgery and how that might be lingering. I think you also hit on some very important points, Ron, regarding the "clubhouse culture" and how the wholesale changes have probably isolated Doumit. (Or might lead him to feel that he is more alone than not.)

Doumit certainly has the talent to be one of the top catchers in all of baseball. He just hasn't been able to stay on the field for any length of time to save his life, except for 2008. The results he had last year speak for themselves, but maybe this year is the last straw for him in Pittsburgh. Hopefully he'll come out swinging next season and the team can either get a significant return for him in trade, or he'll settle in for the next year or two until Sanchez gets here.

Ron Ieraci said...

Yah, Will, I think he feels awfully alone in the dugout, especially when you consider that the Pittsburgh organization is the only one he's ever known.

We're hoping a kick in the butt will wake him up. And unless he starts to smoke the ball in September, he'll be here in 2010 whether he likes it or not; the suits don't seem to like trading low, although Ian Snell played his cards pretty well (does he ever remind me of Ollie Perez!)

And with all his tub time, I'm not betting on the team keeping him behind the plate. But where he'd fit in with an outfield primed with prospects and a logjam at first is anyone's guess. Looks like he's gonna head the list of 2010 trade deadline candidates to me.