Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Curious Cases of Zach Duke and Paul Maholm

Hmmmm...Joe Kerrigan says that they overworked Zach Duke and threw Paul Maholm out while injured, according to Chuck Finder of the Post Gazette. Are the inmates running the asylum?

The more worrisome case is regarding Maholm. Kerrigan as much as admitted that his knee was never really OK in 2009, and they sent him out with a brace for a couple of starts.

Now Maholm will never be mistaken for Sandy Koufax. But the lefty is a bulldog, and when he's on, he's capable of being a perfectly acceptable mid-rotation arm, and that's a valuable MLB commodity that should be handled with care.

No player, especially one with Maholm's demeanor, passes up an opportunity to take the ball. That's why teams have docs, trainers, and coaches - someone has to be the grownup and be willing to say "no" when the situation calls for it.

But in this case, it appears the Pirates would rather risk their talent than show the due diligence most clubs would exercise. Instead of shutting him down until his knee recovered, they sent him out to the mound 31 times, and he logged 194-1/3 innings on one leg.

We understand that Maholm downplayed his injury; he's a pro. We'd hate to think that a paper-thin rotation and the threat of 100 losses had anything to do with the decision to keep trotting him out to the mound.

Duke is a surprise. He went deep into games, as befitting his recent MO; he threw 3 complete games and should have had a fourth. He's worked 398 frames in the past two seasons, making 63 starts.

Most teams would be pleased as punch with that kind of performance. But Kerrigan thinks maybe they left him on the hill too long, citing his second-half meltdown.

He did toss 28 more innings in 2009 than he did in 2008, but that's just a 13% increase, pretty much within the limits. Actually, he should have imploded in 2008, when he jumped from 107 injury-plagued innings to 185 (and he did).

Hey, we thought the point was to get seven good innings out of a guy. His woes from August on had more to do with a bullpen that couldn't hold a lead and the trades of Jack Wilson and Steady Freddy, a major blow to a ground ball pitcher that doesn't miss many bats.

It seems to us that the answer is to cut down on his off-day regimen during the dog days (which the team says it did), strengthen the middle infield (which they did, too, to a degree), and put together a bullpen that he can hand the ball to in the seventh or eighth inning without fear of an impeding train wreck. That's yet to be seen.

Telling the media that a guy is gonna have his innings cut back isn't up there with the diatribes that the suits launched against Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny, we admit. But it does devalue a pitcher whose claim to fame is as a dependable inning-eater, and a little nagging voice wonders if it has something to do with contract leverage rather than effectiveness.

We'd like at least to see some more consistency in the way they handle pitchers; some are shut down and others are given the ball every fifth day. Ditto with the injured guys, like Tyler Yates, Craig Hansen, and Jose Ascanio, who pitched until it was time for the knife.

We're hoping that there's no management favoritism (or ineptitude) involved, especially with Littlefield-inherited pitchers, just a young coaching staff feeling its way around. But one can't help but wonder...


WilliamJPellas said...

If nothing else, I'm glad to know that Maholm was hurt in 2009, because otherwise his dropoff from 2007-2008 would be a lot harder to understand. I'll say again that I really don't think most Pirates fans understand just how good Maholm was from the second half of '07 through all of '08. I mean, he was an absolute horse. In fact, he was SO good that he had the best run of sustained starting pitching this team has seen since Doug Drabek's Cy Young season. Yes, you read that right, and you can look it up. He would easily have won 15-20 games in '08 with any kind of team at all behind him.

So, he did what he did in '09 while pitching on one leg. On the one hand we salute his courage. On the other hand, pitchers with bum wheels often end up with bum arms because their mechanics are screwed up. I can't believe this team didn't shut Paul down at least for a little while last year. You'd a thunk that a guy like Joe Kerrigan---of all people---would be on top of that situation, but apparently he wasn't.

If Maholm is healthy, I think he is one of the best pitchers of his type in the National League. I think other teams know this about him. I just hope the Pirates do, too.

Ron Ieraci said...

Will - I wonder about the Buc's docs myself; it seems not only Maholm but Moss played on one leg last season. I know they were thin, but trotting out guys that are hurt, especially for the lost cause that 2009 became, doesn't seem like a great way to preserve and protect your talent.

WilliamJPellas said...

Yeah, Moss in particular is a shame. I'm still not convinced he's a legitimate big league regular, but his career totals to date---over the equivalent of about a season and a quarter at the ML level---do show a guy who has some extra base power if not true home run power; given that a lot of hitting comes from your legs, ya gotta wonder if Moss was cut down by his knee injury last year. It's just so hard to tell with him, which is why it's so frustrating watching him.

But more disturbing is the way the medical staff handled things, or didn't handle them, last year. Let's hope they'll do a better job going forward.

Anonymous said...

Great article, Ron. The struggles of most teams can almost always be traced back to how an organization handles it's young pitchers.

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