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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Report Card Time, Part 1: Bit, err, Pitching

That the Astros announced their trade for Aubrey Huff today--as opposed to tomorrow--does little more than heighten my frustration that last night's waste of time means that no baseball gets played tonight. That further complicates my ability to argue my way out of having to do home improvement chores tonight:
Her: So are you going to start on that lighting project tonight?
Me: What, are you kidding? With the all-important Home Run Derby tonight?

Her: Tonight?
Me: Nope, tonight's the All-Star game and I want to see if the Astros will have home-field advantage in the World Series this year.
Her: Couldn't you watch it while you're working?
Me: Naw, I want to score this one so that I can look back on it fondly. (As it turned out, scoring that game was a frustrating and time-consuming process that I wish I hadn't done.)

Her: Ready to work?
Me: No, I really need to catch up on what the guys on Baseball Tonight think of the Aubrey Huff acquisition.
Her: What, now you care about the opinions of guys whom you criticize just about every night, AND whom you swore you would NEVER watch again?
Me: Uh... professional bowling is on?
Her: Get to work.
On the bright side, I can hand out my rather opinionated and unfair first-half grades to an Astros team that stumbled into the All-Star break by losing three of four, including two absolute choke jobs. Oh, yeah, I'm already working myself into an appropriate lather with which to condemn.

Astacio, Ezequiel "GQ": Let me get this straight: Fat Rog is 1-2, yet this gas can managed a 2-0 record despite posting an 11.12 ERA and 2.25 WHIP? I'd take a break on this kid given that he's thrown only 5.2 innings in the bigs this year... but that was 5.2 innings too much, given the other available options to start the year. D- (if only because I had very few expectations of him except to suck).

Backe, Brandon: Is this going to be his pattern every year? Have a handful of decent starts, then spend more than half of the season on the shelf, then come back to suffer through the rest of the regular season and turn it on for the playoffs? Incomplete.

Buchholz, Taylor "The Magnet": Has shown flashes of absolute brilliance, peppered by bewildering displays of ineptitude. Because he wasn't even on the roster on opening day, and given his lack of MLB experience and pretty consistent strong performances over the past month or so, I'm actually pretty pleased with him. B+.

Clemens, Roger "Fat Rog": I would have expected him to struggle a little more, given the amount of time he took off and that--in between his last start in the bigs--two kids playing A baseball managed to take him deep. But he's pitched pretty well so far this year, off to his usual sub-3.00 ERA. My only gripes are that (1) he hasn't dealt with adversity too well, allowing unearned baserunners to score more than he usually does, and (2) his pitchcount has been remarkably high recently, given to some rather unRogerlike control issues. Still, I'm delighted to have him out there. A-.

Gallo, Mike: As critical as I've been of him over the years, I must say I was more than a bit astonished to see that he's actually posted some rather decent numbers. Until this year, that is. Not that he's alone in the bullpen, but--before his demotion--he was completely ineffective in the one job he had been hired to do: get lefties out. A .360 BAA by lefties, although righties (.420) was even worse. Still, I wouldn't be quite so critical but for that abomination that was the "wild pitch on an intentional walk" bullcrap he pulled earlier this season. That caused me to spit out some very satisfying beer. If his performance hadn't already merited it, that indignity alone earns Gallo an F.

Lidge, Brad "The Mole": Given the lofty expectations placed on baseball's best closer for the past two years, how could I give him anything other than a failing grade? His mechanics have been terrible, and he can't seem to do anything to correct them. Changing to pitching out of the stretch? Didn't work. Going back to the windup? Didn't work, either. He hasn't thrown his slider for strikes, and he's keeping his fastball up. Not surprisingly--especially if he's been tipping his pitches--everybody sits on his fastball, and he's paying for it. For some reason, nobody has encouraged him to learn a third pitch like a changeup that would have kept batters guessing. Oh... and--no matter what he says--there's some underlying mental thing going on. Giving up a bomb to Albert Pooholes? Understandable; lots of great pitchers do it. But getting beaten repeatedly by Aaron Freaking Miles? F-.

Miller, "Trev-2ER": One of the benefits of this exercise is getting to re-examine what I think I know about everybody. For example, Phat-C had dubbed Miller "Trev-ER" because it was pretty much a guarantee that Miller was going to give up an earned run every outing. For my part, I renamed him "Trev-2ER" based on my experiences watching him. But, in all fairness, Trev-2ER has been doing what Mike Gallo was supposed to do--get lefties out. Lefties are hitting only .235 against Miller, and that's decent enough. I'm not entirely satisfied with his ERA although, being a situational lefty, he rarely gets to finish an inning he starts; given some of the other gas cans in our 'pen, it may be that they're simply allowing Trev's baserunners to score. But his WHIP is too high for a reliever (1.38), but he isn't our problem. C+. (I know Phat-C will disagree with me on him.)

Nieve, Fernando: I've actually been pretty pleased with his performance, although I'm happier seeing him as a reliever than a starter. He's been pitching well of late, and lowering his ERA to a pretty satisfactory level for a long reliever. B-.

Oswalt, Roy "Harvey": Roy Harvey is one of those perfect examples of why the won-lost record is so highly overrated. ("Magic Audrey" Rodriguez is the opposite side of the same coin.) 6-6, yet his 3.15 ERA leads the team and ranks seventh in the NL. But for freaking terrible support from his offense (among the worst run support in the majors) and the bullpen (9.00 ERA behind him), his record is 11-4. As it is, he's going to have to have an incredible turn of luck in the second half to get to 20 wins again. He should be talked about in the Cy Young debate... but conventional wisdom will be completely unable to overlook his record. A.

Pettite, Andy "Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel": This is, by far, the worst season of his career. I just love it when sports columnists opine that Andy looks to have "turned the corner." Cletus then (predictably) responds with a terrible outing. His outings are maddening to watch because he's so darn "deliberate" (read: inefficient), and because he screws around instead of going after guys. He's had some success recently, so that means that he's due to suck again in the very near future. D-.

Qualls, Chad: Although he's frustrated me at times, on balance I'm more often happy with his outings than I am angry with him. His ERA has suffered mostly from a few terrible outings, such as the three-run jack he gave up to the Royales with Cheese. Still, he's allowed only one run in his last nine outings, and his ERA (1.13) isn't too terrible for a reliever. B+.

Rodriguez, "Magic Audrey" Wandy: I promise I'll stop harping on the inadequacies of adjudging a pitcher's performance by wins and losses, after this entry. Despite rather underwhelming pitching, and an ERA almost two runs higher than Roy Harvey's, Magic Audrey has managed three more wins. He started the season out well enough, but has been fading recently and was demoted to the bullpen to make room in the rotation for Backe. He's still technically a rookie, so I don't really expect that much of him. In that regard, he hasn't disappointed me. C.

Sampson, Chris: I like this kid. He was also prone to some big innings, although one of those was in a 14-3 Cincinnati rout where he actually ate up 5.1 innings. Two more outs and he's pitched a "quality start." Well, except for the fact that he didn't technically start the game. Still, he zeroed the Cubs (not that that's a huge accomplishment), and shown a fair amount of moxie for a rookie. Was saddened to see him go down again. B.

Springer, Russ "Potato Chips": But for his ERA--which isn't impressive one way or the other--Springer has been pretty effective out of the bullpen. 1.03 ERA, only 9 walks in 30 innings, .203 BAA. Plus, he beaned Barroid. Hero in my book. A+.

Wheeler, Dan: I need to NOT consider only last year's sterling work in assigning an expectation level for Mr. Wheeler. Clearly, he sold his soul for last year's results, and he's paying the price this year. He hasn't been terrible, but he hasn't been consistently good, either. Like Qualls, though, he's been pretty solid recently. That thing he does with his hand in his glove, though? That's bugging the heck out of me. C+.

So the "hitters" are tomorrow. If the fact that I placed "hitters" in quotes doesn't tip you off that I'm not too enamored of their "accomplishments" this year, then the fact that they're tied for worst team batting average in the NL should tell you something about what you can expect from me tomorrow.


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