Mariners Analysis

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pitcher command

Some people have made the argument Washburn is pitching better recently because his command has improved. Dave at USS Mariner made a point documenting his pitching hasn't really changed at all, while Geoff at the Times thinks it has.

As a casual fan, it's easy to think pitchers can become better because of a sudden gain of command. Whether this gain comes because they are trying harder, make a mechanical adjustment, injury goes away etc... it doesn't matter as long as the command is there.

The reality is pitchers have to live with less than optimum command all the time. A good analogy is golf.

Any one who has played golf can tell you some days you have it and some days you have no idea where the balls going. You can hit great warming up on the driving range and suddenly lose it during a round. It's part of the game.

Tiger Woods struggles with his command just like an 18 handicapper. The hacker loses it and puts in the 2nd fairway over 30 yards from the tee. Tiger loses his command and places in on the golf cart path. The difference is the hacker is 350 yards from the green while Tiger drove his "mistake" 270 yards and has a mid-iron to the green. The professional golfer has the talent to recover from his mistakes, and possesses the ability and confidence to turn a poor drive into a manageable event.

Washburn is closer to the hacker. There may be days when he really is putting the ball where it needs to be. The problem is this is not a repeatable skill. Pitchers need to have the raw skills and talent to challenge batters even when they don't have their best stuff.

Washburn will start to suck again very soon. Part of it is due to not facing the worst hitting teams in the league. The rest is due to his "command" disappearing.

Some fans may wonder what makes a guy like Greg Maddux so special. He can't hit 90 mph on the radar gun, but he has outstanding command. There are very few pitchers who can so consistently live off of their ability to locate pitches, and Maddux is obviously a first-ballot HOF candidate.

Washburn (Or Silva tonight) didn't suddenly reinvent themselves. They don't possess the ability to consistently make hitters miss and they can't rely on pin-point command. They are pitch to contact starters who will have good games and terrible games, and really be the same pitcher in both. I know the press and broadcasters will try to convince you otherwise but don't fall for it.

Washburn is what he is, and he didn't ingest a magic pill or fix a flaw in his mechanics the past few weeks no matter what the papers say.