Thursday, May 19, 2005

Machismo

I've written here and elsewhere about my change in thinking when it comes to Livan. I used to look at the pablum Prospectus would spew, particularly with PAP, their somewhat discredited stat, Pitcher's Abuse Points.

Essentially, they look at the number of pitches a pitcher throws, and derive a score of 'abuse'. The more pitches a pitcher throws, the higher the score, and the score rapidly increases once the pitcher passes 100. By their stat, a pitcher who throws 140 is clinically dead. (That might be an exaggeration. I don't know though; I was never very good with numbers.)

Livan has been the poster boy for PAP. Or has he? Despite being a perennial PAP All-Star, Livan's stayed virtually injury-free. Other than his frosting-filled knee, and routine strains and sprains, he's been as healthy as any pitcher could be. All that despite years of 'abuse'.

Here's where I insert the obligatory caveat about how much I love statistics. You've read it before. Just try and remember what I've said in the past.

But, their numbers show the shortcomings of a numbers-only mindset, and demonstrate that there's a need for traditional scouting.

I'm pretty confident in saying Livan succeeds because he half-asses it out there on the mound. He goes reaaaallly Old Skool (Like Christy Matthewson old) and doesn't throw 100% on every pitch. It's simple machismo. He knows that he doesn't need to throw hard to every batter, because he's better than them.

Think about the homerun derby. Hitting the ball isn't easy. And even in a situation like that, where conditions couldn't be more optimal, the top sluggers in the game still hit cans of corn. (Yes, I know it's not a perfect example, but you get the essence of what I'm getting at.)

Livan knows, as Christy Matthewson used to advocate, that some batters will just get themselves out -- whether it's swinging at junk, or even hitting a scorching liner right at someone.

So, when he's facing a weak batter, he'll loosen up, saving the juice in his arm for the big batters, or a crucial situation in the game. And this confidence also means that he's not afraid to pitch around batters. He knows that he can bear down when he needs to and get out of any jams that may arise.

Today's game was a perfect example.

With one out in the fourth, Lyle Overbay walked on five pitches. Jeff Cirillo doubled down the right field line and Overbay went to third.

Bill Hall, the passable middle infielder was up. Chad Moeller, the crappy catcher, and the pitcher were to follow.

Hall's having an acceptable season: .275 .341 .438
Moeller and Santos aren't: .119 .178 .190; and .000 .000 .000 respectively

Livan pitched to Hall as if he wanted nothing to do with him. He knew he could get Moeller and Santos out no problem.

Ball, Ball, Called Strike, Swinging Strike, Ball to Hall. Then, on a 3-2 pitch, he threw him one of his big, sloppy, slow curve balls. This, like most every one he threw today, missed low. He didn't want to give in to Hall with the expected fastball, so he tried to get him to nibble, to see if he'd get himself out. He didn't. But, that was no matter to Livan.

Moeller had one of the worst ABs you'll see a big league hitter have, striking out on four pitches.

He then tried to get Santos to nibble at two high pitches, in hopes of a popup. They went for balls. Then, Livan went in for the kill, getting a slow ball hit right back to him, for the easy out, and the end of the inning.

What looked like a crisis to us was nothing to Livan. He had things completely under control, and knew exactly what he was doing.

A few games ago, he said that he was pitching around the Dodgers' Cesar Izturis to bring up Hee Seop Choi with the bases loaded. I wasn't sure if I believe him then, but after seeing him completely change his style of pitching today to those different batters, I completely believe it.

Livan is now 7-2, and his ERA is just 3.69. He's still on pace for 270 innings. Although he's probably not going to lead the league in ERA, the IP difference is a huge factor in his favor. The massive amoung of innings he sops up for this staff are extremely valuable.

And, as we're seeing, ERA might not necessarily be the best factor for evaluating his success. He truly does appear to be pitching to the situation.

Is there a pitcher more valuable to his team than Livan? Dontrelle might have an argument, but with what I've seen so far, I'm not so certain.

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