Everyone has bad days. Blake Treinen had a really bad one on Sunday. The 27-year-old righty entered Sunday's game to begin the ninth inning with the Nats trailing the Dodgers 1-0. By the time Sammy Solis finally replaced him, Treinen had retired just one of the seven batters he faced. The Dodgers had scored four runs to turn that 1-0 ballgame into a laugher. Heck, even the out that he recorded was on a sacrifice bunt.
On Monday, the Nats reacted to that outing by optioning Treinen to AAA Syracuse, replacing him on the roster with rookie RHP Abel de los Santos. It's tough to gauge how much the decision was due to yesterday's outing. While Treinen was lit up on Sunday, those four runs that he allowed were the first four he'd given up since June 17. He'd thrown 7.1 scoreless innings over his previous five appearances. Still, there have been a couple of issues hampering him this season, one of which has been a consistent problem throughout his career.
The inability to get left-handers out
Let's start with the problem that has plagued Treinen for his entire career. We've already talked about it here... and here.... and here. We haven't talked about it in a while, other than to say that Blake Treinen seems like he could be one of the better ROOGYs in the majors, if utilized that way. Treinen has dealt with massive platoon splits throughout his minor league career. In his first season as a reliever at the major league level, nothing has changed....
How bad is a .396 wOBA allowed, you ask? Here is the complete list of players this season who have enough PA to qualify for the batting title with a wOBA of .396 or higher:
Simply put, Blake Treinen should almost never face a left-handed hitter. On average, lefties are hitting about as well off of Treinen this season as Giancarlo Stanton hits the entire league. The concern for Treinen is that this may be an issue that he's never going to overcome. Over the past five seasons in the minors, Treinen allowed an .800 OPS to left-handed hitters. That's certainly not the ridiculous .940 OPS that he's given up to lefties so far this season, but it's still awfully high. From one of the links above......
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 wasJustin Morneau at 123.... that's 23% better than league average.
At 27 years of age with most of his development behind him, it's kind of hard to see Treinen becoming much more than he is right now. He's spent four full seasons in the minors, is at what is expected to be his physical peak, and has yet to find a weapon in his arsenal that will help him consistently get left-handed hitters out. Sending him to Syracuse will give him a lower pressure environment to try to figure out a way to be more effective against lefties, but I'm not all that optimistic that he'll succeed.
Yes... I make everything about Matt Williams. That irks some of you. Williams can't be considered blameless here, though. His usage of Treinen has been extremely questionable throughout the year. Early on, he seemed convinced that Treinen was going to be his setup man, which didn't work. After about the third or fourth outing in which Treinen struggled, Williams did adapt a bit and used him in lower leverage situations.
Where he's continued to struggle with Treinen is maximizing those platoon issues. As we see in the very first graphic above, Blake Treinen has faced 91 right-handed hitters and 89 left-handed hitters this season. For a right-handed pitcher who has held righties to an (2015) Ian Desmond line and allowed lefties to hit like Giancarlo Stanton against him, that's just inexcusable... not when two-thirds of the hitters in baseball bat right-handed.
I understand that opposing managers can counter Williams' moves as well, but that simply hasn't been the case... even recently.
- Against Cincinnati two weeks ago, Treinen was brought in to face Joey Votto, Todd Frazier, and Jay Bruce... That trio doesn't only include two left-handed hitters, but two fantastic left-handed hitters. He escaped the outing without allowing a run, but did allow Votto and Bruce to reach.
- In Sunday's debacle, Treinen came in to face a pinch-hitter (Justin Turner), Joc Pederson (L), and Howie Kendrick (R). Behind Kendrick, the Dodgers had two power-hitting lefties in Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier
I'd question the wisdom of going to your fifth or sixth reliever in a 1-0 game at home when your (and the NL's) best hitter is due up third in the bottom half of the inning anyway. With the Mets coming to town for a big series and the Nats a week away from an off day, I can get not going to Drew Storen there. However, going to Treinen and having no backup plan was waving a white flag. Once it's clear that Treinen isn't going to set the Dodgers down 1-2-3 (aka, Gonzalez and Ethier are going to bat back to back), Williams has to have a lefty getting ready to back Treinen up in the pen to try and keep that score where it's at, right? Right? Nope.
Mike Rizzo needed to treat this situation like a parent. He got his son a new toy (heck... let's say a baseball) for his birthday. Unfortunately, his son just keeps taking that baseball and throwing it around in the house, breaking windows and other valuables. At some point, you have to take his toys away until he learns to play outside where he's supposed to.
Prior to this season, Treinen had maintained a walk rate of 2.50 BB/9 or lower at each level since 2011, when he made just three appearances in rookie ball. This included his stint in the majors last season, when he walked just 13 batters in 50.2 innings (2.31). This season, Treinen has walked 21 batters in 41 innings for a 4.61 BB/9. Even if we take away the five intentional walks, Treinen's 3.51 BB/9 would be more than a full walk higher than he's allowed at any level as he's risen through the system.
Most likely, his control struggles are either a mechanical issue or a confidence issue. We've certainly seen our fair share of Treinen appearances where he doesn't seem to have much of a clue where the ball is going. We've also seen a handful of outings where he's been hit around and has responded by not being too eager to attack the zone. A stint in Syracuse could help to correct both of these issues in a lower pressure environment. If he needs to make a mechanical adjustment, it's probably going to be better for him to do it in the minors than changing his delivery up on the fly in the majors. If it's a confidence issue, he'll be facing a lower caliber of hitter in AAA, so maybe he can get his mojo back.
Treinen's demotion to Syracuse certainly doesn't mean that he's done as a major league pitcher. Anyone who can touch 98 with that kind of sink has the potential to be an effective big league pitcher. He's shown that he is an effective big league pitcher when he's facing right-handed hitters, but he's faced too many lefties and hasn't shown much of an aptitude to get those guys out. Let's hope that he magically figures out what's been ailing him against left-handed hitters in the first five years of his professional career. If not, let's hope that when he returns to the Nats, his massive platoon splits are recognized a bit more by the guy in charge of calling upon him.