When Robin Ventura's slow hook meets the mean

Gavin Floyd is blindfolding himself to make pitching more interesting.

As painful as it was to witness, Jake Peavy was due for a bad start. We all knew he's not a sub-2.00 ERA pitcher, and his extreme flyballing tendencies, a power-hitting lineup and a lively park teamed up on Tuesday to put him in his place.

His place is still a nice place. He's 4-1 with a 2.65 ERA, and he's averaging better than five strikeouts per walk.

But now that Peavy gave up ground in the race for the hypothetical Cy Young Award If The Season Ended Today, it allows Gavin Floyd to grab some of the spotlight ... provided he can put out the fire from Peavy's five-and-dive bomb, of course.

Floyd is now the staff leader in ERA at 2.53, and he's snuck up on everybody after an unremarkable first three starts. But he's made up considerable ground over his last four starts by allowing four runs combined, and the other peripherals are handsome, too:

  • Innings pitched: 28.2
  • Hits: 17
  • Walks: 5
  • Strikeouts: 26
  • Home runs: 0
  • Opponents hitting: .165/.204/.194

Floyd is due for some regression himself, and that could happen against the Angels tonight. But we may as well highlight those numbers while they're there, and also use them to point out something else that's new, noteworthy, and has future implications: Robin Ventura rides Floyd hard.

Floyd has thrown an average of 114 pitches over his last five starts. He threw 117 pitches against Baltimore on April 19, which tied the fourth-highest total of his career. His next time out, he used 119 against Oakland, and that start took sole possession of third place in the same category.

So he's running unusually high pitch counts more frequently than ever before, and earlier, too. Entering this season, Floyd had exceeded 110 pitches 14 times, and only once before Mother's Day.

He's already done it four times this year. And they have required every square inch of his BHB, because he's received little support (three runs a game) and he's facing respectable lineups. He's more than proved his toughness to Ventura over the brief time they've known each other.

That said, it would be a good time to scale back -- but not just because of pitch count itself, or the injury risk it supposedly represents. It's all about general effectiveness.

Referring back to the numbers above, Floyd has allowed 17 hits over his last four starts. But six of those hits have come in the last inning he started. And in three of those starts, he didn't finish the inning he began.

That's no knock on Floyd. It's natural, because pitchers always fare worse when they're 1) fatigued, and 2) going through a lineup for the fourth time. As well as Floyd has pitched, he's not impervious to either fate.

Here's how his season breaks down by pitch count:

Split PA AB R H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
Pitch 1-25 40 37 3 8 1 0 1 2 7 .216 .275 .324 .599 .241
Pitch 26-50 47 41 2 7 0 0 0 4 13 .171 .261 .171 .432 .250
Pitch 51-75 39 35 2 3 1 0 1 3 9 .086 .179 .200 .379 .080
Pitch 76-100 40 36 5 8 2 1 2 2 8 .222 .275 .500 .775 .222
Pitch 101+ 17 15 1 5 1 0 0 2 5 .333 .412 .400 .812 .500

And then by innings:

Split ERA PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
Innings 1-3 2.14 81 73 13 1 0 1 6 19 .178 .259 .233 .492 .226
Innings 4-6 2.61 78 69 11 2 1 3 5 16 .159 .234 .348 .582 .157
Innings 7-9 3.86 24 22 7 2 0 0 2 7 .318 .375 .409 .784 .467

Of course, these numbers include his unremarkable first three starts. I can't drill down as precisely with B-Ref for chunks of seasons, but BaseballMusings.com's database at least allows me to break down his last four stars by groups of innings. The result is the same, just more distinct:

Split AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Innings 1-3 43 7 0 0 0 2
11
.162 .200 .162 .362
Innings 4-6 38 3 1 0 0 1 8 .079 .103 .105 .208
Innings 7-9 22 7 2 0 0 2 7 .318 .375 .409 .784

Even though Floyd is damn near unhittable for the first two-thirds of the game, the remainder is a different animal for just about every pitcher over a whole season.

Oddly enough, Peavy was the one true exception to the rule in the White Sox rotation prior to his start on Tuesday. But we may as well clip and save these numbers now, because they're going to change after his latest line is thrown into the mix:

Split PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
1st PA in G, as SP 63 60 12 3 0 0 2 20 .200 .222 .250 .472 .293
2nd PA in G, as SP 63 59 12 2 1 1 2 18 .203 .238 .322 .560 .268
3rd PA in G, as SP 56 53 9 3 0 1 3 4 .170 .214 .283 .497 .167
4th+ PA in G, as SP 13 13 2 0 0 0 0 2 .154 .154 .154 .308 .182


In terms of results, Peavy had made a mockery of the 75-pitch barrier that whupped him last season. But then you see the massive drop-off in strikeouts and BABIP, and one of those abnormalities had to give. Unfortunately, it's the BABIP (and the triple-slash numbers with it).

Star-divide

Ventura has shown a slow hook so far, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Certain situations call for it, especially if the good relievers need a break. However, it often seems like he's slow to even get the bullpen stirring as the starter approaches or crosses any of the above thresholds, which leads to situations like Will Ohman facing three righties in a close game. That's a failure in planning for any inning before the 14th.

It hasn't hurt Ventura on a regular basis, but as Peavy can tell you, baseball can correct the outliers in a hurry. Floyd sidestepped a similar correction for some of his stats when Matt Thornton left the bases loaded in the eighth his last time out. And regardless of who's hot in April and May, as the weather warms up and pitchers enter the dog days, tired starter arms are going to be a dicier proposition.

We'll see how Jesse Crain affects Ventura's managing. Theoretically, having three late-inning arms at his disposal should give Ventura more confidence to go to the bullpen in the seventh, and it should also take some stress off Thornton. But this is all uncharted territory. All we can do is anticipate, and hope Ventura is anticipating better than we are.

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