Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sisyphus, Tantalus, and Ross Ohlendorf

8-18-10: vs. the Florida Marlins

Sisyphus, Tantalus and Ross Ohlendorf

A starting pitcher who goes eight full innings with five strike-outs and only three earned runs really deserves to get a win. Or at the very least a no-decision. The Pittsburgh Pirates' Ross Ohlendorf has not been quite so lucky. Over his last ten starts, he has accumulated a 2.35 ERA despite the fact that his record is 1 and 10, with the sole win now a faint memory from almost two months ago.
"How pissed is Ohlendorf?" asked one disgruntled Pirates fan in an online forum following yesterday's loss. This rhetorical question could easily be asked of any member of the Pirates pitching staff, but Ohlendorf's situation is the one most deserving of sympathy.

Allow me to explain.
Let's take inventory of the 2010 Pirates Starting Pitchers, Past and Present:
Jeff Karstens is indeed one of the few unsnapped tension cables preventing the Pirates' 2010 season from dropping full-speed into the abyss, but that doesn't change the fact that he started the season as an invite to spring training and is currently a consistent long relief pitcher in the midst of a career year posing as a fifth starter on a team that can barely go legitimately three deep. Karstens would have never had the opportunity to be this kind of hero anywhere else; he is one of the few guys in the Pirates system who has genuinely benefitted from the multitude of woes that have plagued this season.

Zach Duke was covered pretty thoroughly yesterday, but I will reiterate the point that he has serious weaknesses that prevent him from being effective without any additional assistance from the team. Pirates fielding exacerbates these weaknesses to no small extent, but it is safe to assume that he would not have bested his 2009 season anywhere.

Paul Maholm's season is doing a fairly good job of defying analysis at this point. He started off well (especially in comparison to the rest of the starters), allowing four runs or fewer per start through June 23. However, he seemed to lose his mind to some degree following a 1-inning 5-earned run start in Texas. Since this time, nearly every start demands a 180-degree change in analytical perspective on his season. The fact that his ERA has grown from 4.18 in June to 6.23 in July to 7.63 so far in August paints a fairly clear picture, however: Maholm's pitching has apparently developed a bipolar disorder, the median of which is growing steadily worse.

Charlie Morton is currently pitching to guys like Nate Mclouth.

Brad Lincoln can hopefully take solace in knowing that he played a key role in Joe Kerrigan getting fired. It's not like he was aware of it at the time, and I'm sure he would have much rather just adjusted to the majors and remained in Pittsburgh, but at least it's more than Charlie Morton can say.

I'm scared to write anything about James McDonald. He may be a mirage, but I'm not going to know until I've eaten a fistful of sand. Come on, Baseball God, just let us have this one for Cry Eye.

Daniel McCutchen is apparently adjusting to his new role as a long-relief pitcher, but given the kind of season he's had, I really wonder what it is that he's saying to God every time he bows his head before taking the mound.

And finally, Kevin Hart is probably getting drunk at some bar in Indianapolis at this point.

This brings us to Ross Ohlendorf. His year started badly, with a stint on the DL-15 following only one start. His injury was weird; back spasms pushed his second start back to may 10th, and seemingly affected his performance through June. It's not an injury that has plagued his career much, and surely not something one would expect from a starting pitcher at the beginning of the season. It raised questions in my mind about Kerrigan's approach to pitcher conditioning, and perhaps foreshadowed the pitching coach's recent firings. Ohlendorf has improved greatly since, posting an ERA of 2.86 in July and an ERA of 2.46 in August.
Not that his 1-10 record indicates this, of course. His ground-out to fly-out ratio has also done an about-face, with a 16-22 in last month and an 18-34 this month. One needs to get strikeouts in order to win with Pirates fielding, but his record doesn't reflect this either.
So, then, just how pissed is Ross the Boss? Sisyphus and Tantalus figure prominently in Grecian myths as men doomed to a hell-like eternity of constant futility; Sisyphus rolls a heavy boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down, and Tantalus is stuck in a flooded room whose water level always ebbs when he is nearly within reach of the fruit hanging from the ceiling.
A cynic might say that Ohlendorf faces a similar predicament. He is the only pitcher who began the season as a starter that has managed to consistently claw his way out of the vortex of failure, and yet his 1-10 record is still nearly the worst in the majors. It's a good thing that Ohlendorf is an educated man who can hopefully put this in perspective. His ERA is down to 3.90, and although they say that great pitchers win ball games, the significance of a low ERA is just as much a truism.
More so than anyone else with the possible exception of Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf has shown an ability to adapt his game to the weaknesses of his team. Ohlendorf has every reason to be frustrated with his team, but he is one of the few Pirates pitchers who has no reason to frustrated with himself.

And now, onto the pictures....

A rare instance of Ronnie Paulino doing something of significance at the Pirates home plate.
Doumit and Ohlendorf exiting the 8th inning. I can't read lips, but I imagine Doumit might be saying something like, "Hey Ross-at least you can't blame this loss on me!"
Josh Johnson is not an easy pitcher to go up against. With an ERA of 2.27, he is currently fourth best in the league.
Given my well-tempered expectations at this point, I'm just happy that we managed to avoid another shutout.
Jose Tabata gets caught stealing for the second time in as many games.
Delwyn Young gets a helping hand following a double-play.
Logan Morrison reacts to a strikeout.
Mike Stanton drops a pop-up.

Uggla watches, seemingly transfixed.
Pedro was visibly upset following a game in which he went o-4 with three strikeouts and three LOB.

Argenis Diaz gets the award for the facial expression that most exemplifies this particular game.
Evan Meek's inning started out shakily, but he managed to pull it together and get out unscathed.

His frustration was nevertheless obvious. It's tough being a human crutch.

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