Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Giants Pitching Preview 2006: Coming Back From a Schmitty Year
Jason Schmidt 12-7 4.40 1.42 WHIP 165 K's 172 IP
Ok, before we get into the ins and outs of Schmitty's crappy 2005, I just want to send a message to Felipe Alou. A serious, personal message, straight from my heart to his melting brain. Felipe, when Jason Schmidt, our beloved staff ace, has just pitched five grueling innings without his best stuff, and his pitch count is at like 110 and he's clearly gassed, please, for the love of God, do not trot him back out to the mound! There were at least five instances last year when Alou kept Schmidt in the game even though Schmidt was done like two innings ago, and as a result he got tatooed. Now, I know Schmidt's a tough guy and a gamer, but he's also a tough guy and a gamer with a history of arm troubles, and this kind of thing can't be good for his fragile elbow.
There's no doubt in my mind that Alou's whip-cracking was a major contributer to Schmidt's down year, and there's no clear reason why Felipe was so oblivious to the fact that Schmidt was constantly wearing down. Maybe he's just a bad manager, or maybe he was too preoccupied with the little green alien spinning around his head. Whatever the reason was, I plead for Alou to be a little more considerate of Schmidt's arm this season. Yeah, he's a tough guy on the mound, but even the baddest badasses break down eventually.
Schmidt gave up a home run to the first batter he faced (Cesar Izturis) in 2005, and things never really got any better from there. Schmidt's formerly blazing 94-97 mph fastball was now coming in at around 90-92 with very little movement. His formerly unhittable changeup was now simply landing in the dirt. His normally pinpoint control was now anything but, and 3-2 fastballs would no longer paint the black on the outside at the knees, but instead would sail high and away.
There was all kinds of speculation as to what was wrong with Schmidt. Injuries, lack of concentration, flaws in his mechanics, the whole she-bang, but no one could really figure it out. He just never at any point last year looked dominant, and he didn't come close to resembling the Schmidt we all know and love. Even in his best month, August, he wasn't really blowing guys away (23 K's in 31.2 innings), and there was a bunch of talk about how he was transforming into a finesse pitcher who could get guys out on less pitches.
While it's easy to take the optimist route and denounce Schmidt's 2005 as a fluke, there are warning signs abound. I talked about the loss of velocity and command, and it showed in the numbers. Schmidt threw 172 innings and struck out 165 batters, good, for sure, but still his worst K/9 rate as a Giant. His K/BB ratio took a disturbing fall to 165/85, compared to 208/46 in his masterful 2003 and 251/77 in 2004. Opponents also hit .246 off Schmidt, again not bad but also again his worst as a Giant.
Like the coming of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (warning: gratuitous Ghostbusters reference) these trends do not portend good things. Schmidt has now seemingly suffered from every pitching injury known to man and his body is beginning to resemble something like Lee Majors's. It's entirely possible, with the combination of age, injury, and mileage on his arm, that he's just starting to hit a major decline.
As for this idea that he's suddenly become a finesse pitcher, two things: 1) I'm not buying it, and 2) if true, ahhhhh shit!. First, Schmidt was still striking out a healthy number of batters even without his best stuff, and he walked a bunch of guys, even in the month when commentators were rambling about his newfound philosophy. Finesse pitchers live and die on control and low pitch counts, not strikeouts, free passes, and high workloads, like Schmidt did last year.
Second, if Schmidt is trying to find success with reduced velocity and a lot of ground balls, it's bad for his image. In past years, Schmidt was an "Ah Bloody Hell" pitcher, as in, when you read opposing fan message boards you'd see a bunch of cries of "ah bloody hell, we're facing that guy, we're going to lose! No hope! Cats and dogs living together! Mass hysteria!" From 2002-2004, Schmidt was just mean on the mound, throwing high cheese at batters' chins and sending assorted Kleskos and Burnitzes sprawling on their butts. If he's now turning into a pudgy-faced version of John Burkett, lord help us all. Having your own badass pitcher is fun, and Schmidt transforming from Rambo to Larry Darrell is a disturbing thought.
Schmidt has been an object of near man-crush proportions for me the past few years, so last season's breakdown was obviously disappointing. I've been a mincing little pessimist for this entire post, but I really don't see any good signs here. It'd be fun to just go hog wild and project a 20-5, 2.22 year for Schmidt, but at this point, with all the injuries and question marks, I'd say that 14-9, 3.60 is a pretty optimistic prediction. When you look at it, a bad year for Schmidt is actually a reasonable year for a lot of pitchers. It just demonstrates the kind of expectations we have for him now, and maybe as he enters his mid-30's we should temper those expectations.
Ah, the hell with it! 20 wins or bust!
-Note: Somewhere in this text I inserted yet another gratuitous Ghostbusters reference. Why? Is it because it's the greatest comedy of all time? Is it because I live a sad life of memorizing 80's movies line by line? Or is it because of some bizarre brain lesion? Who knows, just see if you can find it.
-Oh, and, apparently Barry Bonds is bitching about stuff again. Yawn. When does the season start?