09 May 2007

Big Bad Jon and Big Bad Mark

by Joshua Worley

What a mess that game was.

When Broxton came in to pitch the ninth, my wife indicated she was worried. This annoyed me, since he has an era of 1 and strikes out about a quarter of the batters he faces. She's never been quite comfortable with him, I guess because of how he started with the team at the end of 2005. Back then the strikeouts were there, but so were a lot of walks and a lot of hits on the balls in play he did allow, so he did rather poorly in terms of runs allowed. After that initial first impression, I guess the times he does fail stick in the memory and build up; I don't know how else to explain why she gets nippy about him. Maybe she will write a comment or entry explaining. :-)

So, was she right to be worried? 1) No, because Broxton is really good, whether you go by this year's ERA, this year's peripherals, or last year's ERA or peripherals. 2) Yes, because there was no margin for error, and any pitcher can give up a run, especially if things don't break his way, and especially against the top of the Marlins order, maybe the best top of the order in the National League. 3) Yes, because he did in fact give up a run and lose the game.

I still say the answer is 1) No, but hey, she was right, wasn't she? It may not be sound reasoning to argue from what did happen rather than what was likely to happen, but it is psychologically the most satisfying answer.

The villian of the ninth inning for me was the umpire stealing a strikeout from Broxton against Uggla. Two of those pitches called balls were strikes. Clear, unmistakable strikes. I would have thought they were strikes against a Dodger batter. I won't say the umpire stole the game from the Dodgers, but he did steal a strikeout from Broxton and resell it on the black market as a walk to Uggla. I only mean that figuratively: I'm not suggesting the ump was crooked or anything. Only his eyesight was crooked.

Dwelling on ump calls is stupid, I know. But this one really made me bitter. If Broxton gets his rightful strikeout, then he probably walks Cabrera, or at least he can pitch to Cabrera differently. I don't normally endorse the intentional pass, but I sure would with a man on second and two out with Cabrera up. Broxton's pitch to Cabrera looked ok, but the man can hit, and he got solid wood on it for a liner to center.

The real turning point of the inning wasn't the stolen strikeout or Cabrera's single, though. It was Eric Shane Reed and his career 0.109 batting average getting a single to start the inning. Broxton needed to strike that guy out. When he didn't, he left himself open to an umpire screwing up the game for him.

The thing is, Broxton will be fine. He's a great pitcher. We can't say the same thing about Hendrickson. The tall guy allowed 2 home runs and 4 walks in 4.2 innings pitched, with only 2 strike outs. It was a vintage 2006 performance from him, his first of 2007.

It's just one bad game for him in 2007. One game doesn't tell us anything, and shouldn't erase the good work that came before. I'm not just saying that; I do believe it. Hendrickson's previous 26 innings are more important to evaluating him than his 4.2 innings on Tuesday. The problem for Hendrickson is that appealing to sample size exposes him for what he is. Hendrickson's entire 2006 is more important to evaluating him than his great 26 innings to start the year. One hot stretch doesn't tell us much, and shouldn't erase all the crappy work that came before.

I want to believe Hendrickson can turn it around and be a good pitcher. I really do. I want to give every player this chance. But Tuesday's game destroyed the suspension of disbelief I was willing to grant him. His game doesn't have much effect on how he should be evaluated; it did have an enormous effect on the psychology of how I think of him.

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