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Mound Musings: The Frustration Rotation

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

For more than 25 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.

The Frustration Rotation

I don't know about you, but one of the most frustrating things for me is watching a pitcher who should be very valuable, angling to get the guy on my roster, and then gritting my teeth as he falls back into mediocre or worse performances. And, not only does he have one bad outing - all pitchers have those now and then - but he strings together enough poor starts to make an ugly dent in your stats for a long time. How does that happen? If you have the ability to be good, shouldn't you be good? Let's take a look at why some guys just don't make it happen.

You look so good one day, and then you turn into a troll.

One of the hardest things I have to write about is figuring out a response when someone asks what I think of and I don't really like the guy but don't have concrete reasons why. It's easy to say I love this guy because or I don't like this guy because, but it's hard when you like almost everything you see, but the pitcher in question always seems to fall from grace.

Actually it's not always a guessing game. One of the most common reasons a pitcher with excellent stuff struggles for a period of time is a tendency to lose his release point. If he has an erratic motion, especially with a lot of moving parts, a small deviation can lead to significant loss of command, and that can mean anything from elevated pitch counts and more walks to a lot of balls left out over the plate landing in the seats.

Injuries can also figure into that equation. Almost every pitcher works through minor aches and pains during a season and they generally don't create a lot of problems. However, some pitchers keep more serious injuries to themselves and try to pitch through those too. When something hurts, your body compensates. You may not even realize you are doing it, but you alter your delivery to minimize the pain, and that can lead to the aforementioned command issues. What's even worse, that altered delivery can become something of a habit and linger even after the reason for it has healed.

What about the guy that doesn't really have any of those excuses? There are pitchers out there that I have watched dozens of times, repeatedly coming away with a positive impression, checking off: good stuff, quality pitches, able to throw multiple pitches in any count - the whole "I like this guy" list. And, then for no really obvious reason, that same guy becomes Batting Practice Bill and it gets ugly, sometimes for quite a stretch. Is it a loss of focus? Years ago I started trying to quantify losing it for no obvious reason. It's frustrating, but focus does appear to be a factor.

Here are my nominees for the Frustration Rotation:

Homer Bailey (Reds) - Homer is more or less the poster child for the Frustration Rotation because he probably has the best stuff of the bunch, and he can look so incredibly good at times, but then, somehow, it all just goes away. Despite some ups and downs, he had the best season of his career in 2013. So far this year, except for a couple of pretty snappy outings, Dr. Jeckyl is back to his Mr. Hyde ways. He frequently tweaks his mechanics, but with mixed results. Yes, the ability he displays when it's going well is mesmerizing, but will it ever last?

Ubaldo Jimenez (Orioles) - At least with Jimenez you can lay some of the blame on his somewhat out of control delivery. You'll remember that in 2010 he gave us a full season of the very good, but it's been a hodge-podge of the bad and the ugly ever since. Yes, he can throw one of his dominating performances out there on any given night, but his unrepeatable motion typically leads to lack of command, high pitch counts, and general ineffectiveness. If you are a big Jimenez fan, be content watching videos of his 2010 campaign. He might return to that form one day, but the sand is streaming through the hourglass.

Phil Hughes (Twins) - Almost every season I concoct some excuse to give one of these guys another chance. This year that guy was Hughes in a couple of leagues. I love the guy's stuff when he's in synch, but when he is just a bit off, pitches start staying up and they flatten out. That is a very bad omen. I decided to try Hughes again this year based on my old changes in latitudes angle. Moving into a less home run friendly park and out of the white-hot lights of New York couldn't hurt, right? The first few starts were more of the same, and the numbers suffered, but the last few he has stayed on top of the ball and gotten solid results. I have my fingers crossed.

Yovani Gallardo (Brewers) - For a few seasons when he first arrived I owned him whenever possible and I liked what I saw - the ceiling was quite high indeed. Unfortunately he just doesn't seem to trust his better than average stuff, and what's worse, when he needs to trust it most is when he falls away from it. What makes it harder, like all of these guys, Gallardo isn't even a good streaming candidate. He can dismantle the best bats in the game when he's on and get battered by mediocre-at-best also rans when he's not. I typically ride for a very long time on someone I see having that delightful high ceiling, but I have actually scratched Gallardo off the list and I don't own him in any leagues.

Tyson Ross (Padres) - He's pitching well enough this year that I almost felt bad putting him on this rotation, but he still has those stretches of ineffectiveness - they just don't happen as frequently and that's a good thing. I love Ross' stuff, but his delivery makes repeating his motion somewhat challenging. However, since moving to San Diego, his mechanics have smoothed a bit and that is likely why he is being more consistent. If he avoids the walks and having to pitch from behind in the count (which leads to some vulnerability to home runs) he offers exciting possibilities. He's going to get another chance from me soon if I can buy him right.

Some Other Notable Rotation Ramblings:

He's making it the business of his to find out who this Ian Kennedy is. Kennedy has always been capable of excellent command, even though he didn't always show it the past couple of years, and he can throw quality pitches. I'm still trying to decide where the extra two mph came from on his fastball, but I like it.

Tommy John surgery is becoming almost like paying your dues to pitch in the Major Leagues, and it looks like Miami's Jose Fernandez just had his number come up. When he goes under the knife, the Marlins might take an early look at their top prospect, Andrew Heaney, but I'll really miss watching Jose's curve.

Rick Porcello may be achieving the status that believers have been waiting for a long time. He's now 6-1 with a 1.03 WHIP and a 3.22 ERA. Obviously the team his pitches for helps that record, and he is still not a great strikeout pitcher, but the strikeouts are coming and they are at an acceptable level now.

Oakland really is a pitcher's paradise. Three of the top five AL starters make their home in Oakland - Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and Jesse Chavez. I think Kazmir and maybe Gray can keep it up, but Chavez hasn't convinced me quite yet. Kazmir looks more like the vintage Kazmir every time I see him.

There was a time when Zack Greinke probably would have made the Frustration Rotation, but he seems to have found consistency of late. Once a guy has frustrated me for a period of time I have a hard time believing, so I'm not ready to jump squarely on the Greinke bandwagon, but I'll keep watching.
I'm a bit perplexed regarding Scott Baker. Why did the Mariners cut him loose this spring? Why isn't he in the Texas rotation, even after a pretty solid long relief outing? More injuries have gotten him another call, but what's the hesitation? His velocity (89 mph) wasn't quite where it should be so maybe that's the rub.

The Red Sox are tinkering with the delivery and pace of Clay Buchholtz, and there have been signs that it may help. His season has been a disaster so far with a bloated ERA and WHIP, especially when things looked so optimistic last season. His velocity is coming up and he could get on track before long.

Endgame Odyssey:

So far the Angels are more or less letting Joe Smith and Ernesto Frieri take turns in the ninth inning, but I think Frieri will eventually win the job back. ... Casey Janssen is back with the Blue Jays and steps immediately into his closer's role. Perhaps even more encouraging, he's already pitched well on back-to-back days. ... The Mets pulled the chute on Kyle Farnsworth, which means we might see Jose Valverde the Sequel or a little more Daisuke Matsuzaka, but there are also rumors circulating they might give Jeurys Familia a shot at the gig. ... A lot of teams talk about closing by committee but someone usually emerges fairly quickly. In Oakland they seem to be taking the committee to heart with Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson and reemerging Jim Johnson candidates to finish games. ... Francisco Rodriguez set a record for saves with 62 in 2008, and he's on that kind of pace again. He's not this good, and I don't think the Brewers will keep winning at their current rate so I would label him a sell-high candidate. ... I am extremely impressed with Joakim Soria. He's allowed just four runs this season, and three of those came in one outing in early April, he's 7-for-7 in save opportunities, and he has a 19:2 K/BB ratio over 14 innings. He's back. ... In Baltimore the situation is grave. Tommy Hunter is getting battered, and they lack options. Probably a time share - Brian Matusz and Darren O'Day.