Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Robert Rohrbaugh

Robert Rohrbaugh continued his successful run through the PCL on the 26th, giving up 2 runs in 6 innings against the Portland Beavers. Since his ERA's now safely under 3, it may be worth discussing his arsenal/approach.

Rohrbaugh, a 7th rounder out of Clemson, uses a well-located (usually) fastball that sits from the mid to high 90s. In this start, he was everywhere from 82-89 with his fastball. In the early innings, he was very successful at placing it on the corners. He had zero command of his offspeed offerings, resulting in 4 walks in those 6 innings (he's usually something of a low walks/low K guy).
The key to his success is something of a deceptive delivery. While someone like Sherrill uses his arm to hide the ball - and thus get a lot of Ks despite so-so to slightly above average velocity - Rohrbaugh uses his body to deceive hitters. Think of the first part of Tim Lincecum's delivery, where his trunk turns a bit and his throwing hand drops below his waist. The second part of the delivery isn't like Lincecum's at all (whose is?), but that body turn means the ball pops out of nowhere at the end of Rohrbaugh's delivery. This hasn't manifested itself in eye-popping K/9 numbers, but when Rohrbaugh's on, he gets a lot of pop-ups.
What's interesting about Rohrbaugh is his month-to-month splits, both this year and in the past. At the beginning of last year, Rob started in the Cal League, and was an even fly-ball/ground-ball pitcher. As the year went on, he became more of a GB pitcher. The same pattern held at his next stop, in San Antonio, only this time he was only even for one month. This year, he started out as a fly-baller, beforing reverting to his GB tendencies in the month before his promotion. Also, his walks dropped as the year went on. In Tacoma, his walks have again dropped each month, but he's not K'ing many either.
In the majors, he's probably an extreme pitch to contact pitcher who may start off getting a lot of fly balls, but the degree to which he's able to get grounders...that's less clear. Still, he's piqued a lot of interest given his fast start in AAA.

In other news, Baseball Prospectus produced a fascinating list of the teams that have blown the most 3-run leads in MLB history. Tied for #1 - the 1998 Seattle Mariners. I bring up this historical tidbit because in many ways, the '98 M's are the mirror image of this year's crew. That team blew so many leads because its achilles heel was a gut-churning bullpen that included full-seasons from Heathcliff Slocumb and Bobby Ayala. The latter was 1-10 with a HoRam-esque 7.29 ERA. These two 'leading lights' were ably assisted by Paul Spoljaric and Bob Wells, who chipped in with 83 innings of 6+ RA 'pitching.' This meant that despite two starters with sub-4 ERAs (plus Randy Johnson, who was at 4.33), and an offense that scored 859 runs, the team finished 76-85 - despite a pythagorean W/L of 81-80. I have personal memories of that team - as it turns out, typical ones. The first game I ever took my wife too was this one, in which Ken Cloude's best ever MLB game was ruined by Bobby Ayala's meltdown in the 9th. Against Kevin Stocker and the D-rays. The next game we went to was this one, in which the M's nearly blew a 9-1 lead - holding on to beat the Sox 11-10. Bob Wells and Mike Timlin were the culprits this time, with Robin Ventura hitting a grand slam in the 9th, and the Sox putting the tying run in scoring position with only one out. Suffice it to say, it was a nerve-wracking season for M's fans.
This year's team lacks the 1-2-3 punch of Moyer/Fassero/RJ, and a line-up with the best SLG percentage in the AL, but its strength is its bullpen. Everyone's talked a lot about the M's 'pen, and its role in the M's unexpected success - I wonder if it'll change the amount of resources teams deploy on its bullpens. Interesting if a patched-together pen made up of MiLB vets like Green and Putz, plus indie-leaguer George Sherrill is used as a data point to suggest that teams should spend *more* on their pens.

One more thing, the mysterious HR/preventing skill that Washburn had? Yeah, that's disappearing fast. Miguel Batista as the M's most consistent starter? Not so much. Jeff Weaver as lion-in-winter, rejuvenated career success story? Ouch. If the M's are going to make the playoffs, an almost unprecedented percentage of the credit for that fact will go to the pen. This team is *weird*. And I love it.


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