Yesterday I labeled a bunch of position players from years past as useless, and many people felt that pitchers should have been included as well. A bad pitcher isn’t useless. They can be quite useful for the other team. When talking about useless players I was thinking of players that had little to no outcome on wins and losses. Guys that people barely remember existing. A bad pitcher is going to be remembered.
Because of the unforgettable nature of bad pitching I have decided it deserves its own list. A list of pitchers that Nationals fans would like to forget. Not all bad pitchers are unforgettable though. There are a number that are very forgettable. Looking at the baseball-reference page for the 2005 Nationals I can’t recall any of these bad pitchers. Except for the ones that continued on into 2006, but names like Matt White, Joe Horgan, and Antonio Osuna are all but foreign to me. The one name that does stand out is John Halama, but I have a feeling that is for later injustices as he only appeared in 10 games and had a moderately below average ERA of 4.64.
Overall the Nats pitching staff in 2005 wasn’t bad. Livan Hernandez and Estabian Loaiza both had over 200 innings with respectable ERA’s and John Patterson had a breakout year posting a 3.13 ERA and 2.85 K/BB in 198 innings pitched. The Nationals top three starters that season were as good as any in the game. It was just they had to rely on guys like Zach Day, Tomo Ohka, Tony Armas Jr., and Ryan Drese to fill the back end of the rotation, and if a guy wasn’t getting hurt then Jim Bowden was trading them away for a middle infielder.
The real pain of Nationals pitching began in 2006. Livan Hernandez was nowhere near as good as he was in 2005, and the mish-mash of minor league bums and washed-upped has-beens the Nationals trotted out as a pitching staff was bad, but not as bad as it was to be in the years to come. From 2006 to now there are a lot of pitchers on the Nationals I would like to forget, and I am sure other Nats fans would like to forget as well. I am going to limit this to ten things about the Nationals pitching Nats fans would like to forget. It won’t always be an individual person as I am sure there are 10 pitchers alone from 2007, 2008, and 2009 people would like to forget. I am also going to list it chronologically so it is not a real top 10, even though most recent events might be the ones people would most like to forget.
A lot of the pitchers that were good for the Nationals in 2005 weren’t so good in 2006, and Joey Eischen was the original left hander on the Nats that only had a job because they were left handed. It is hard to forget Joey Eischen not because he was bad, but because it was so hard to watch him be bad. He had an extremely likeable and somewhat insane personality. He claimed he got ready for games by hating his opponent as much as possible and his favorite breakfast cereal was eggs. He wore a mouth guard on the mound and starred as the batter like he was going to strap them to a table and carve them into little pieces after the at bat. The only problem was that the at bat normally ended with the batter getting to circle the bases as Frank Robinson went to the mound to get Eischen out of the game.
John Patterson’s Forearm
What exactly is exploratory surgery? John Patterson went from pitching 98 innings in 2004 to 198 in 2005 and showed why most believe a 30% increase in workload is the most a pitcher’s body can handle. Of course doctors could never find anything physically wrong with John Patterson. They would repair the nerve damage in his forearm and then a few weeks later Patterson would make a rehab start and complain of tightness the next day. Back into the forearm the doctors would go, and claim to have repaired something again. After awhile the doctors just stopped saying they were repairing anything and just called it exploratory surgery. Like they were looking for a new galaxy in John Patterson’s forearm. Patterson even went so far as to go to some new age healing center in Canada and when that didn’t work he was cut by the Nationals. John Patterson was often referred to as the Ace if healthy, but he was never healthy and his lack of health allowed a number of undeserving pitchers to step on the mound at RFK.
Instead of saying just how bad Billy Traber was I am going to describe a game I witnessed in person. This game also featured some pretty bad managing and the worst combined use of platoon splits and the intentional walk, but it demonstrates why Nats fans would want to forget Billy Traber. On the day Traber pitched 2.2 innings and gave up 8 runs, but it is the third inning I will never forget. Here is how it went down. The Nationals entered the inning leading 4-2 and Traber gave up a single to Tony Pena followed by a double to Marcus Giles. Edgar Renteria then hit a double to tie the game before Traber got two quick groundouts. What happened next is an exercise in terrible managing combined with terrible pitching. Having no faith left in his starting pitcher Frank Robinson ordered an intentional walk of Jeff Francoeur to pitch to Brian McCann. Just let that sink in for a second. Frank Robinson walked the over aggressive strike out machine Jeff Francoeur to pitch to a guy that might be the best offensive catcher in baseball. McCann proceeded to rope a double that scored another run for the Braves. Not done with the dumb intentional walks and the poor use of platoon splits Frank Robinson then ordered his second intentional walk of the inning. This time he walked Matt Diaz in order to pitch to Adam LaRoche, and of course LaRoche hit a double that scored another run. Traber was then lifted from the game, but he would be back to give Nats fans even more unforgettable memories like this.
Mike Bacsik and the Rest of the 2007 Starting Pitching Staff
Bacsik might not be getting his own category but he does have to have his name mentioned. The moment when he grooved a fastball to Barry Bonds to let him have the homerun record might be one of the single worst moments in Nats history. The rest of the starting pitching staff that year was no better. The only guy that was even halfway decent was Shawn Hill and he ended up going the route of John Patterson by coming up with mystery aliment after mystery aliment. Who could forget the great starting done that year by Jason Simontacchi, Micah Bowie, Tim Redding, Jerome Williams, Levale Spiegner, Jason Bergmann, and Matt Chico. It is funny to think now that people were near ecstasy when John Lannan got called up near the end of 2007 and he didn’t look awful. The Nationals that season were predicted to lose 140 games by some experts and looking at the starting pitching it is a surprise they didn’t. Perhaps if they didn’t play in an extreme pitchers park like RFK they might have.
His ERA never really looked bad, but he had a talent for letting inherited runners score. When the team moved into Nats Park his true talent level started to get exposed. No longer could he be a fly ball pitcher that suppressed homeruns. Saul Rivera’s change demonstrates why relief pitching is thought to be so volatile. Rivera was never a good pitcher. His career 1.511 WHIP is enough to show that, but pitching inside of RFK he was able to keep the damage to a minimum. He still gave up a few ringing doubles and enjoyed allowing inherited runners to score, but he had a knack and leaving his own runners on base. A typical Saul Rivera inning would go like this. He would enter the game with runners on first and second and one out. He would then walk the first man he faced and then get to 1-2 on the next batter before giving up a double that allowed both inherited runners to score. After those runners had scored he would strike out the next batter before getting a fly ball to the warning track. Rivera is not the only pitcher that wasn’t helped by the move to Nats Park, but he might be the one it exposed the most.
I still blame Bergmann for all 102 loses in 2008. The Nationals were sitting at 3-0 off to a good start and about to sweep the Phillies as they were up 6-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning, but then Bergmann’s meltdown happened. Bergmann had always looked like a pitcher that when he had his pitches could be lights out, but when he didn’t all he could do was throw beach balls to the plate. In 2007 Bergmann got a dressing down from GM Jim Bowden after having allowed a 50 pitch first inning. It is almost hard to believe such an inning is possible, but Bergmann did it. Bergmann was also a pitcher that could lose it at any moment, and even though he had been cruising up until this point it did not mean it would continue. The sixth inning started harmlessly enough as Shane Victorino hit into a 3U, but then Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, and Geoff Jenkins all singled before Bergmann was pulled in favor of Saul Rivera. Rivera did what he does best and allowed the inherited runners to score, but he also failed to record an out and gave up three more singles to tie the game. He was then replaced by Ray King who hit a batter and then allowed the go-ahead single to Shane Victorino before getting Utley to ground into a double play. This game marked the beginning of a 9 game losing streak for the Nats, and from this point on the Nationals were firmly entered in the Stephen Strasburg derby.
Joel Hanrahan and the 2009 Bullpen
What a fun year 2009 was. Jim Bowden resigned before the season started and left interim GM Mike Rizzo with little to no time to fix his biggest mistake. Jim Bowden treated the bullpen with the same level of respect that Vinny Cerrato treated the Redskins offensive line. Bowden was convinced that Joel Hanrahan would make a good closer, and he was right, but only two years too soon. As soon as Rizzo took over he signed Joe Biemel and any other relief pitchers still left on the market, but it was too little too late. Not even the veteran presence of Ron Villone could save the Nationals bullpen. There was one stretch during the year where the Nationals offense was scoring 5 runs a game, but the Nationals couldn’t stop their opponents from scoring in late innings. They got swept in a series in which they had the lead in the ninth inning in every game. All in all 2009 might be the worst year to have been a Nationals fan. Finally getting to watch an offense produce on a consistent basis only to then watch the bullpen give it all away. That might be the worst way a team has ever lost 100 games. It also doesn’t help that Joel Hanrahan got his head together, stopped throwing sliders to the backstop, and is now a dependable closer for the Pirates. Of course no one knows where Kip Wells, Julian Taverez, and Wil Ledezma are.
Perhaps I should leave Mock off this list as he wasn’t any worse than a lot of other pitchers I can name, but I think what makes him so unforgettable for Nationals fans wasn’t how bad he was in his limited time in the majors, but how he never went away. Every time the Nationals would need room on the 40 man someone would bring up the possibility of Mock being the one to go, and every time he wouldn’t. It became a running gag among Nationals fans to the point where some even started to wonder if Mike Rizzo was convinced he had already cut Garrett Mock and someone needed to remind him that he hadn’t. Mock had the makings of a decent pitcher and looked like he could command a pitching mound, but he could never put it all together or stay healthy. The only place where he had staying power was on the Nats 40 man roster, and now even that time has passed. Mock the pitcher might be largely forgettable, but Mock the wasted space on the 40 man is only something Nats fans can wish to forget.
If Mike Rizzo has shown he knows anything about building a winning team it is that he knows how to build a bullpen. After the disaster that was 2009 the Nationals needed a closer and a set-up man and guys to pitch at all other times. Rizzo ended up trading the Nats rule 5 pick to the Yankees for Brian Bruney and when the Yankees returned that pick it turns out they might have known something the Nationals didn’t. It isn’t often that a team pays $25,000 to get rid of a player, but that is what the Yankees ended up doing in order to get rid of Brian Bruney, but misses like this are going to happen when building a bullpen. Relievers are volatile and Bruney wasn’t the only new face that Rizzo brought in, but he was the one he got rid of the quickest. When Bruney was DFA’d and cleared waivers he refused his assignment saying that he isn’t a minor league pitcher. Of course most teams disagreed having watch Bruney constantly giving up walks and even walking in runs in extra innings to lose games, and all Bruney could get was a minor league deal. After posting a 6.86 ERA and 1.932 WHIP for the White Sox in 23 outings Brian Bruney might not just be a minor league pitcher, but he may in fact be an Atlantic League pitcher.
After a respectable year in 2010 Doug Slaten looked like a pitcher that could help the Nationals by getting left handers out, but in 2011 he didn’t just not get left handers out he got no one out. The most telling stat of how bad Doug Slaten was in 2011 was that in 31 appearances he only pitched 16.1 innings. There were multiple times where Doug Slaten would enter the game and then walk the first two batters he faced. It was like Slaten’s job was to set up the other relievers with high pressure situations just to find out if they could handle it. Slaten didn’t just have a BB/9 of 5.0 he also had an HR/9 of 1.7. No homer that he gave up was as memorable as his last. A walk-off homerun to Marlins centerfielder Bryan Peterson that had Nats fans calling for the head of Davey Johnson for not using anyone that wasn’t Doug Slaten.