February 18, 2005

Mind Games: Vicente Padilla's War

Forget all the talk about Pat Burrell's wrist. The season's essential body part rests on the shoulders of the Phillies most enigmatic player.

On Monday, Philadelphia Daily News columnist Bill Conlin shared with readers what it'd be like if Pat Burrell's wrist could talk, but in real life, his wrist would have about as much to say as Vicente Padilla.

The introverted right-hander, considered by many scouts to have the best stuff in the rotation, doesn't talk to the press anymore. He even cut ties with "La Prensa," the national newspaper of Nicaragua, where they proudly hail him as the nation's best ball player since Dennis Martinez.

There’s a lot riding on Padilla’s big noggin. In the post-Schilling era, no pitcher has looked more dominant at times than Padilla. Labeled a pitcher with the right tools but wrong head, he's known to blast through 2 2/3 innings, walk the pitcher, and give up a home run to the next batter.

From someone moderately in tune with the new math of baseball, I still haven't found any numbers to gauge "concentration," because I'd love to apply them to Padilla.

Off the mound, one gets the impression teammates and team officials can't get a handle of Padilla, either. Certainly there are cultural barriers. He's the only current Major Leaguer from Nicaragua. The team's other misunderstood Latio player, Bobby Abreu, a native of Venezuela, speaks highly of him, often offering positive quotes in La Prensa.

For those of us on the outside, this is what we know: Best Nicaraguan baseball player since Dennis Martinez. All-star. Lightning stuff, including 95 mph fastball with movement. Drops velocity to 86-87 mph in pressure situations. Has no approach to hitting. Faithfully returns to Nicaragua in offseason and plays baseball, pitching more innings than Phillies would like. Involved in two off-season automobile accidents in past two years, one resulting in a fatality. Allegations of alcohol abuse stemming as far back as his days with Arizona, allegations he hasn't personally denied. Has since halted interviews with press. Alleged insubordination with former manager and former coach.

The problems with Larry Bowa came to light this week on XM Radio, when the former manager said Padilla would take himself out of games rather than throw 100 pitches. During games, he's shown little patience for error. Kevin Roberts of the Courier Post wrote a column last year titled "Phils Need Padilla to Get It." Roberts reported:

"On Aug. 21 in Milwaukee, Jason Michaels butchered a fly ball and Padilla discarded his glove in disgust. He was, literally, backing up home plate barehanded. Padilla quickly gave up five runs.

"Against the Braves Sept. 1, Padilla got upset at an umpire's call and immediately went south. His fastball dropped to 87-88 mph and he allowed five runs in five innings. Afterward Bowa - who's always been in Padilla's corner - chided him for losing focus. It was an astonishing display; Padilla came perilously close to quitting on his teammates."

The "it" goes well beyond anguish following a botched play or blown call. Zeroing in on specifics, Padilla was generally terrible last year with runners in scoring position, posting an ERA of 15.23, almost two runs higher than the next highest starter, Brett Myers, with 13.31.

Milton: 12.98
Wolf: 13.07
Millwood: 13.27
Myers: 13.31
Padilla: 15.23

Going deeper into categories considered tough situations - noting Padilla pitched in only 20 games, Wolf 23 and Millwood 25 - there's evidence at least part of his problems are mental.

Pitching from behind in the count:
Milton: 5.17 ERA
Wolf: 5.35 ERA
Milton: 7.09 ERA
Myers: 7.57 ERA
Padilla: 9.82 ERA

Man on second:
Wolf: 3.27 ERA
Milton: 4.70 ERA
Myers: 4.74 ERA
Millwood: 7.94 ERA
Padilla: 9.00 ERA

Man on first and second:
Myers: 7.71 ERA
Wolf: 8.18 ERA
Milton: 10.97 ERA
Millwood: 11.70 ERA
Padilla: 16.20 ERA

And concentration? Pitching with two outs:
Milton: 3.00 ERA
Myers: 5.69 ERA
Wolf: 6.03 ERA
Millwood: 6.39 ERA
Padilla: 6.81 ERA

When I looked into men on third, second and third, and bases loaded, I felt there were too few chances in 2005, and surprisingly, Padilla actually did OK with the bases juiced. (I'll continue to look for some more stats this afternoon - I ran out of time last night).

This next one is my favorite. Pitching against pitchers should be an automatic out, but creates an awkward standoff. Here's how the starters measured up against their adversaries:

vs. pitchers
Millwood: 0.00 ERA
Milton: 0.44 ERA
Wolf: 0.77 ERA
Padilla: 2.31 ERA
Myers: 3.14 ERA

Padilla isn’t inconsistent. He’s consistently beating himself in pressure situations.

Much has been made about the positive attitude and smiling face of new manager Charlie Manuel (take Manuel’s smile, Burrell's wrist, and T.O.'s ankle, and you can start a media Frankenstein). If a single player stands to gain anything from Bowa's absence, it's the player with the most raw talent, but most mental baggage, and that's Padilla. Unlike Burrell, there's no issue with mechanics. It's all there … ready and waiting.

In a way, Padilla is symbolic of what 2005 means and how the season will eventually unfold. With too many doubts surrounding Randy Wolf and Brett Myers, Padilla has, in my view, the best shot to improve of those three. Readers of BPF agreed, with over 50 percent picking Padilla to have the most improvement of any Phillie starter this season.


At 3:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How to measure 'concentration'? Some of the figures you presented are quite interesting. I would also suggest perhaps the following stats as well:
1) ERA or BAA in innings pitched right after your team scored; 2) How many times a pitcher gave up consecutive hits; 3) Number of infield hits to the 1st base side; I'm sure there are other, perhaps better, indicators.

George S

At 8:59 AM, Anonymous Tom G said...

Very interesting. George S has some creative suggestions, and I share your favorite Jason, ERA vs. Opp. P.

Here's one, how about looking at this stat, BAAKVMOFM?

(Batting Average After Kerrigan Visited the Mound and Opened his Fat Mouth)

At 10:40 AM, Blogger el123chico said...

since tom g mentioned him, i will add a side note that i was in the rhawnhurst tavern a few weeks ago and in walked joe kerrigan. i couldn't decide whether "does vincente pitch better drunk or sober?" or "how does it feel to have ruined brett myers?" was a better question, then decided that fighting joe kerrigan wasn't the best idea so just heckled him from afar.


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