Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Bone To Pick With ESPN

I rarely like to call out professional writers, unless I have a good reason. Today, I have to call out Jayson Stark. In his weekly "Rumblings and Grumblings" column, he decided to talk about the struggling closer position for most of the contenders. Here is what Stark said about the Rays:

The Rays got to the World Series last year via the mix-and-match bullpen hodgepodge route after Troy Percival went down. They're trying it again this year.
They've already had eight different relievers save at least one game. And they've had 14 different relievers finish a game. So one thing you can say about Joe Maddon, besides the fact that he sure looks cool in black hair: He's no push-button manager.

The good news for them is that, believe it or not, 14 teams in the division-play era have made it to the postseason in years in which at least eight different pitchers saved a game. But the bad news is, only three of those teams -- the 2003 Red Sox, 1991 Braves and 1992 Braves -- have won a postseason series.
And the worst news is, none of those 14 won it all. So as much as some people in this sport would love to disprove the necessity of the one-monster-closer concept, reality isn't cooperating very well.
The funny thing is, though, that the Rays have had a remarkable flair for making this work. They've blown only one save in the ninth inning all year -- and it was by a pitcher (Isringhausen) who isn't even on their active roster anymore.
Nevertheless, says one scout, "They might be No. 1 on this list for me, because the pitchers they're using back there are not really 'closers.' It's just a collage of guys trying to do a job. On the right day, it can work. But on other days, you say, 'What are they thinking?'"

There is one major thing missing in this piece, and it's the name J.P. Howell, the Rays' closer. Yes, Joe Maddon likes to mix and match his matchups, especially in the latter innings of a ballgame. Maddon does NOT do this in the 9th inning anymore. The Rays have their go-to-guy, and it's J.P. Howell. In an article about closers and a long paragraph about the Rays, Howell's name wasn't even mentioned. This is preposterous. Stark discusses closers being solid if they have under a 2.50 ERA. Well Mr. Stark, Howell's ERA is right now 2.18. Sure, Howell only has 14 saves, but he has only been the closer since June. Stark mentions Howell in this article under the list of closers with the worst save percentage, noting Howell's percentage is 73.8. He did not look at the fact that Howell has only 3 blown saves since May 23, the day that Troy Percival was placed on the disabled list. The last of his blown saves was June 9. Funny, Jonathan Pabblebon has also blown 3 saves since May 23rd. And let's not forget that J.P. Howell has a 6-1 record since May 23rd.

So, Jayson Stark, I am really disappointed in your article. I was not with you when you wrote this so I will not guess as to what you looked at and didn't, but it seems to me that you did not give your fair time to J.P. Howell. He may very well be the Rays' 2009 team MVP and easily could have been an all-star. J.P. Howell deserves a lot more respect than this. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

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