Sunday, August 12, 2007

That Boy Is Out Of Control

Friday night's 5-inning, six-walk performance marked the sixth straight sub-par outing by Matt Chico. He has now started 24 games in his major-league career. 12 have been excellent. The other 12 have been mediocre to poor. Conveniently, those 12 bad outings bookend those 12 good ones. He didn't have it, he found it, then he lost it again.

Chico started the year very poorly. Through his first six starts he had a ghastly 6.59 ERA, making it out of the fifth inning just twice. Opposing batters clubbed him around like he was Dmitri's mistress, hitting .322/ .417/ .530. It was an ugly formula. He got behind everyone, leading to either a walk or an extra-base hit when he finally threw his get-me-over fastball. With the way he was throwing, there was no way he was going to be able to stick. He was killing the bullpen and burying the Nats early.

Then something clicked.

Those next 12 starts were terrific. Be it mechanical or mental, he started throwing strikes, getting in control of the count, and good things happened. He put up a 3.52 ERA and saw this mythical thing called the seventh inning four times. In only two of those starts did he allow more than three runs. He wasn't perfect, but he was solid, a dependable 3/4 starter.

Then something unclicked.

The old Chico came back. Ball 1, Ball 2, swung on and belted! Last 6 starts, 6.59 ERA. Here comes the chart.
           IP/G  BB/9  K/9  Strk% 

Beginning 5.2 5.9 6.3 .607
Middle 5.8 2.5 4.5 .645
End 4.6 6.6 5.6 .555

Opponents slugged .407 off him in the middle period, .555 in the end.

As he's thrown more balls, he's given up more hits, walked more batters and, what's worst for the team, been unable to get them very far into games. He buries them early, leaving plenty of mopup duty for Chris Schroeder or whoever the hell it is we've got at the back of our pen now.

So why the struggles? What is he not doing now that he was doing 6 starts ago? Was it a mechanical fix, or is this something that's in his head?

Could it be fatigue? 128 innings isn't a lot, even for a kid. He's thrown 150 or so in the minors in each of the last two years, but the California League ain't the NL. I'm not worried about injury with him, just that the potential for fatigue -- he's been the lone starter to talk the ball every five days -- could be affecting the consistency of his delivery.

Or it could be that those 12 middle starts were a fluke. I remind you of the strange case of Ramon Ortiz. (I know, I know... you had worked hard to repress that memory).

Ortiz, you'll recall, was absolutely terrible. But hidden in a bookend of crappy starts was a quiet period where he was an effective major-league starter. He had a stretch of 15 starts in the middle of the season with a sub-4 ERA. So even bad starters can do good work from time to time.

So the question is, what is Matt Chico? Fatigued kid? Overmatched kid? Crappy starter?

If I had to bet, I'd say A, but who knows.

One distressing aspect of it is that the team is starting to slap him around a bit in the press. says that the organization is "stunned" by his lack of command. WaPo says that he's in a "precarious position." The latter's clearly a valid assessment given his performance, but the use of the word "stunned", well, stuns me.

This year is about building for the future and sifting through the bargain bin to find any hidden masterpieces. Chico might be closer to a velvet Elvis than a Renoir, but if that's all you can afford, you might as well put it up on the walls of your trailer.

Ripping the poor brushwork of the design does no good after you've hung it. You knew what you were getting into when you bought it. I suppose you could hide it in a different room, or sell it to some other poor sap in Columbus. But for now it's your painting. Although that velvet John Lennon/Yoko Ono is starting to look pretty sharp... hmmm...


  • I'd also vote A, fatigued kid...if we're voting, that is.

    Call up Justin Jones!!11!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/12/2007 11:56 AM  

  • The thing is, the team is not just figuring out what its got in Chico, its developing Chico. How they handle or mishandle him now will actually affect where he tops or bottoms out as a mlb pitcher.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 8/12/2007 6:18 PM  

  • Punctuation errors aside, that didn't really makes sense. My thought was, it's not just foolish to be "stunned" by his recent stretch, it's potentially harmful. The team needs to be leading Chico to be the best pitcher he can be; usually, that takes showing some confidence and patience as a young pitcher works through a season and the league starts to adjust and he needs to adjust further.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 8/12/2007 6:44 PM  

  • I almost want to give the PTB (both PT Bowden and the Powers That Be) the benefit of the doubt on the term, "stunned." Chico has backslid after seeming to have gotten it together. And it is disconcerting to see him fall back into the bad habits that plagued him early in the season.

    OTOH, the kid's a rookie and anyone with a smidgen of sense should realize that this year is a learning year with the objective of having him develop into a solid starter after he figures out how to pitch at this level.

    Glavine and Maddux both had some absolutely horrific stretches during their rookie years. I don't think either of their GMs spouted off to the media about how "stunned" they were about their performances.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/12/2007 10:47 PM  

  • Stunned?! STUNNED??

    Oh, member of Nats front office, how i hope you're reading this. You have a kid here who should've (in a NORMAL, well run organization) hung out in AA or AAA ball this season, came up when you're pitching was nothing but a pile of shit, and has basically exceeded expectations, more than what they were certainly before this season. Don't forget, even though you're pitching staff has performed WAY BEYOND what it was supposed to, you're pitching staff was supposed to be one of the WORST IN HISTORY this season, and now you're publicly ripping a kid who you shouldn't have (in, again, a WELL RUN, COMPETENT ORGANIZATION) put out there so soon to begin with? For shame, Lerner and Lackies, for shame.

    Sorry about the caps guys, but this is just ridiculous. It reeks of Snyder & Co., just without the willingness to spend.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/13/2007 12:34 AM  

  • Given that Bacsik is the one being sent to the pen, I think this is a case of good stunned, not bad stunned. Consider that he has done so well, and clearly has been working hard off the field as well, to see him go backwards might actually be a shock to the team.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/13/2007 12:54 AM  

  • I love how it is always this mystical "some in the organization." It could be some intern that files Kasten's dental records. The only people that really matter are Manny and Bowden and from their actions and Manny's words it looks like Chico is getting the vote of confidence and a reward for staying in the rotation all year.

    By Blogger Evolution33, at 8/13/2007 8:14 AM  

  • Keep him in the pen or send him down for "seasoning". We have other pitchers who need to be evaluated at the major league level.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/13/2007 12:13 PM  

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