fantasy baseball

here are some good things jason isringhausen has done :

  • he converted 17 of 19 save opportunities in april and may this season
  • he went more than a month without being scored upon --- july 4 through august 5, a span of 14 appearances / 14 innings
  • in his 1st four years with st louis (2002-05), he converted 140 of 159 save opps --- 88 percent
  • he has a postseason save-conversion rate of 89 percent for st louis (8 for 9) and a postseason era of 2.78
an 88 percent conversion rate over 4 years; let's not overlook that. let's not just take it for granted. over the same 4 years, mariano rivera's conversion rate was 90 percent; he blew 18 saves, just one fewer than izzy. billy wagner converted 90 pct of his saves; trevor hoffman, 92 percent; john smoltz, also 92 pct; billy wagner, 90. izzy was just a whisker less reliable than those guys --- and at least as reliable as other contenders' closers, such as troy percival (88 pct conversion rate), eddie guardado (86 pct), ugie urbina (86 pct), braden looper (82 pct), keith foulke (84 pct), and armando benitez (88 pct). in any given year, jason ranks in the upper third of big-league closers --- solidly above average, if not quite dominating. the last four series-winning teams have used percival, urbina, foulke, and jenks as their closers; isringhausen's at least as reliable as all four of those guys. that's not an opinion; it's a statistical fact.

i'll also mention that the only time in this century that st louis missed the playoffs, isringhausen's 6-week absence constituted one of the main reasons they came up short.

so when we contemplate using somebody other than jason isringhausen to close games for st louis, we have to realize that the new guy -- no matter who it is -- will probably fail to live up to the standards izzy has set. unfortunately, this year izzy himself has fallen so far short of those standards that we have to have the discussion. we're no longer talking about a couple of isolated downturns -- a bad week to open the season, a rough patch in june. now we're talking about a season-long pattern of recurrent ineffectiveness. if it wasn't apparent before, it's apparent now: the status quo is unacceptable.

yesterday he looked beaten after two hitters --- and he got the 2d one out. his pitches were not even close to molina's target; as the inning wore on, it looked as though he didn't want to throw another pitch. he had the bearing of a knight holding a plastic sword, waiting in dread for the dragon. joe strauss intimates this morning that izzy's bum hip is acting up; that would explain everything we saw yesterday, from the lifeless pitches to the standstill pace to the helpless demeanor. it also might explain the stark hot-cold periods in isringhausen's season, as captured in his month-by-month era's: 6.00, 0.77, 5.25, 0.69, 5.06. he has pitched extremely well for long stretches this year; we might now ask if those stretches correspond to periods of treatment for an ailment. and whether or not that is true, we certainly ask the following question in the wake of yesterday's game:

if he was functioning at that much less than 100 percent, why did la duncan leave him out there?

part of the answer is that, officially, izzy is not hurt at all; of course not. he's fine, and to hell with you for making insinuations when it's none of your damn business. per this regime's abhorrent custom, the manager and pitching coach and player are all pretending he's physically sound and simply needs to "fix his mechanics." after the disgraceful episode with mulder this year (of which, more in a second), you'd think they would be embarrassed to trot out that same bullshit; they must think we are idiots. whatever; we can readily enough supply the answer to our own question.

Q: is he hurt?
A: yeah, his hip's acting up on him again. but we think we can keep him patched together through the end of the season. if we shut him down now he'll be lost for the playoffs, so this is the way we gotta go. no choice, really.
fine --- that's a legitimate option (although not the only one), and we should all hope it succeeds. given izzy's long record of success as a closer, his long stretches of success during the 2006 season, and the lack of a clearly reliable alternative, i can understand why the team still isn't ready to take the drastic step of moving him out of the closer's role. but if la dunc are going to keep sending him out there in save situations, they have to learn from experience and be prepared for breakdowns -- have another pitcher ready every time izzy takes the hill. if he's laboring, and his hip -- er, mechanics -- won't cooperate, get him out of there immediately and call in the understudy. don't just sit there and lose the game. if necessary, carry 12 relief pitchers for the rest of the regular season. carry 8 relievers on the playoff roster. whatever it takes. just stop asking the players to do what their bodies won't allow. it's costing the team wins.

izzy, by the way, is now down to 50 percent in terms of protecting 1-run leads. he's come on 14 times with the cards leading by 1; he's only held the lead 7 times. in 3 of the 7 instances where he blew the lead, the cardinals still managed to win, so they went 10-4 in those 14 games. but a team with a 1-run lead heading into the 9th has a win expectancy of about 85 percent, so the cards "should" have had an .850 winning pct --- ie, a 12-2 record --- in those games. right there, izzy cost the team two games in the standings in 2006.

and he cost 'em another two games trying to protect 2-run leads. jason converted 10 of 13 save opportunities with a 2-run lead; the cards went 0-3 when he blew the save. teams with 2-run leads heading into the 9th should win about 93 percent of the time, so st louis should have gone 12-1, not 10-3, in that parcel of contests. izzy does have a perfect record when defending leads of 3 runs or more (15 for 15), but that's not much of an achievement; teams leading by 3 heading into the 9th have a win probability of 98 percent, which means even an average pitcher should go 15 for 15 in those situations. jason hasn't added any marginal value in converting those 15 saves.

so if we sum it all up, those 10 blown saves translate into 4 lost games in the standings. they're gone; let 'em go. i'm not convinced the cardinals would have done better with wainwright in the role, and they surely would have fared no better with looper. but both of those players -- and hancock, flores, sosa, maybe even kinney -- will have to be on call from now on in 9th-inning situations, just in case iz'hausen can't perform. the cards can't afford to piss away any more games like yesterday's, and they certainly can't afford to lose any such in the postseason. they need to establish a reliable method for closing out games, using all the personnel at hand --- a quasi bullpen by committee, in which isringhausen remains the first, but not necessarily the last, option.

now, back to mulder. by now you've heard that his rotator cuff is shot, and he's gonna have surgery to repair it. you might not have seen the graphic footage of mulder's trashed mechanics that an enterprising soul named carlos gomez synched up. highly recommended. (thank you to taiko for posting the link.) gomez isn't the only amateur who spotted the lost  arm velocity and other markers that are illustrated here --- so why couldn't the paid decision-makers see the same things? or did they see them but decide to pretend they didn't exist?

i'd love to see something similar vis-vis is'hausen. i'm not the guy to do it --- i have neither the technical expertise to synch up the footage, nor the perception to identify the important mechanical issues. but if such an exercise were even half as illustrative as this 30-second primer on mark mulder's motion, it might help us all understand what we've been watching in the 9th this summer.

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