Have you ever had a recurring nightmare? Mine is watching Matt Williams continue to try and manage his bullpen in the eighth inning. If it feels like you're reading a story I've written before, that's because you are. I'd love to write about something other than Williams going to Blake Treinen to face a bunch of lefties in the eighth inning, but considering the fact that he stubbornly keeps doing that, he's not giving me many other things to write about.
Since Williams just keeps doing this, I've taken the time to calculate Treinen's minor league split totals. The 2015 stats don't include last night's game, when Treinen faced four lefties and three of them reached base. Regardless, including his time in the minors, Treinen has allowed an .800 OPS against left-handed hitters in his career.
How good is an .800 OPS? If you're a fan of the steroid era, it's not all that spectacular. The steroid era is over, though. Just 35 MLB hitters who qualified for the batting title last season had an OPS above .800. The player with the lowest wRC+ on that list was Justin Morneau at 123.... that's 23% better than league average.
Still, Williams continues to go to Treinen and consider his decisions based on what inning it is rather than trying to create a strong matchup. Comparing this with some of the other situations in which Williams has gone to Treinen because he's the (made up) "eighth inning guy," calling upon him to start the inning wasn't that bad Wednesday. The Cardinals had Jhonny Peralta (R), Jon Jay (L), and Yadier Molina (R) due up to begin the inning, so I can get behind going to Treinen to mow down the two right-handed hitters and hope for the best against Jay. Jay isn't much of a threat to go deep. Then again, neither are Matt Carpenter or Kolten Wong, and they both did Wednesday.
Once Jay reaches on a walk and the neck tattoo follows it with a single up the middle to put Jay on third base with one out for Kolten Wong (L), you have to adjust, right? You'd like to think that Matt Thornton would have been up and getting ready with Wong, a pinch hitter, Carpenter, and Heyward due up after Molina's at bat.
Alas, that's not the way that things work with Williams managing the bullpen. Treinen stayed in. Wong ripped a double just inside the left field line. The Cardinals scored the go-ahead run and added another in the ninth to defeat the Nats 7-5. As has been the case all year, the result isn't what's frustrating. The process that Williams is using is completely ignoring a pretty significant subset of data (Treinen's splits against LHH).
Tanner Roark should be seeing a lot more leverage work than he has so far this season. Treinen should be seeing a lot less leverage work than he's seen so far this season. One of the two established himself as one of the better starters in baseball last season. The other barely threw enough innings to lose his rookie eligibility for 2015. Particularly with the bullpen hurting, it would be best not to have a kid just getting his feet wet learning the ropes in high leverage spots.
We didn't really get to see Fister pitch in April last season because he started the year on the disabled list. He certainly struggled in his first start of the year last May, allowing three homers and seven runs in Oakland. Fister isn't off to a great start so far in 2015, and one of the reasons why was on display Wednesday. Two Cardinals left-handed hitters who aren't exactly known for their power crushed meaty fastballs at the top of the zone above the Nationals bullpen.
For one reason or another, Fister hasn't seemed to have great fastball command so far this spring. He had some issues keeping the ball down in spring training, and it seems to have leaked into the regular season so far. In Fister's first two starts this season, Fister had just a 36.6% groundball rate and a 0.94 GB/FB rate. For a pitcher who makes his living killing worms (career 49.1% GB rate, 1.49 GB/FB), that's certainly not what we'd expect. It's still early, and we should expect for Fister to turn this around at some point in the near future.
That said, I took a look through Fister's career monthly splits to see if there's a history of slow starts that we didn't get to see last season. It could be reasonable to assume that a pitcher who relies primarily on command gets crisper as he gets more regular work and gets a little more movement on the ball as the weather warms up. Unfortunately, this hasn't been the case for Fister... In fact, it's been the exact opposite.
Fister's career ERA (2.24) and FIP (3.31) in April are actually the best numbers that he's had in any month throughout his career. There's no real outlier in any of his seasons either. He had a 2.38 ERA in April 2013. He missed most of April in 2012, but didn't allow a run in his lone April start that season. He had a 2.70 ERA in April 2011. He had a 1.67 ERA in April 2010. Fister debuted in August 2009, so those are all the years we have to look at.
Fister has actually been quite good in April throughout his career, but he hasn't been all that great so far this season. He did enter Wednesday's game with a 0.69 ERA, but both of those starts were against the Phillies. His previous start was kind of an ugly "battle" start where he actually walked more hitters (4) than he did in any of his starts last season. I don't think there's an injury issue here or anything, but there were some rumblings last night that he seems to be having some trouble with his mechanics right now.
Fister doesn't throw particularly hard and the movement on his secondary stuff isn't mind blowing. He thrives on command and he's best when he's living at the bottom of the zone. It's still early enough so that I'm not concerned about him yet, but if he doesn't seem to be commanding his fastball better after a few more starts, it might be time to start worrying a bit.
The rubber match
With Adam Wainwright not pitching for St. Louis this series, Thursday's matchup is the one that I've been looking forward to all week. Michael Wacha is a fantastic young talent with a 2.92 ERA and 3.19 FIP in essentially one full season's worth of work (30 starts, 185 innings). The Nats managed to defeat the Cardinals 3-1 last April when they faced Wacha thanks to a couple of unearned runs that scored on a Yadier Molina error. In 2013, they faced Wacha in the final week of the season in St. Louis. I was at that game... Ryan Zimmerman broke up a no-hitter on an infield single with two outs in the ninth inning. This kid has a chance to be really special.
The Nats will throw their big offseason acquisition, Max Scherzer, against Wacha. Scherzer has been terrific in his first three starts, striking out 25 batters in 21.2 innings with a 0.83 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. Not only will we get to see the Nats ace against the Cardinals (potential) next big starter, though. We'll also be seeing Scherzer, who grew up in St. Louis, make his first start against his hometown team since 2009. Prior to Mad Max signing with the Nats this January, there was a lot of speculation that the Cardinals were extremely interested in signing him in part because he's from here. This could be an emotional start for Scherzer.