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Robin Ventura can't quit Matt Albers

When regression turns into decline, demise isn't far off

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

While two of Robin Ventura’s worst habits sank the White Sox in Detroit last night, one of them is actually somewhat excusable, depending on whether he considered the Sox on the fringe of contention.

For instance, trying to push Anthony Ranaudo through his third-time-through problems serves a purpose, even if the Sox ultimately learn he’s unable to do it. Considering the many other times Sox starters have been burned by TTOPover the years, I’m skeptical that there was any higher aspiration. I’d also wonder whether August was the best time even if it were any entirely developmentally-oriented decision, since players are still clinging to the idea of contending, at least publicly.

The decision to bring in Matt Albers afterward has no such benefit, as there’s nothing to learn and nothing to gain, unless you want to punish Ranaudo for giving up that leadoff double. Albers is the least valuable reliever in baseball according to both FanGraphs (-0.8 WAR) and (-1.7 WAR) which is remarkable considering he started his season with 10 scoreless appearances and 12 without an earned run. Both he and the White Sox have laid waste to the idea of the head start.

(The bottom three in the latter: Albers, Tim Lincecum and James Shields. That’s two White Sox sandwiching a guy a lot of White Sox fans wanted to see on the South Side.)

When you take out that head start, he does not resemble a major league pitcher in the slightest:

Since May 1 44 36.1 55 38 33 9 16 20 8.17 .353/.415/.615
Since June 1 31 26.1 39 28 23 5 13 13 7.86 .348/.422/.580

I often see Albers’ post-April numbers used against him, but considering he wasn’t as good as his 0.00 ERA over the first month, it seems only fair to allow him to have a worse-than-usual month to level off. Even accounting for the inevitable regression — and even resisting the urge to start tabulating on June 2, after the Matt Albers Game -- there’s nothing to like. Not only has he allowed more runs than innings pitched, but he’s also allowed 44 percent of his inherited runners to score.

Even with this body of work against him, he still has the third highest leverage index on the team behind David Robertson and Nate Jones (it’s still higher than Zach Duke’s). And he still has somehow appeared in nine games in August, ahead of guys like Michael Ynoa and Latham’s Tommy Kahnle, who have pitched in seven games apiece. .

Granted, that the options are Ynoa and Kahnle is probably why Albers has pitched so much. I can imagine the reluctance to hand the ball to either of those guys in anything resembling a challenging situation — Ynoa especially, sine he’s allowed 19 free batters (14 walks and five HBPs) over his 19⅔ innings. Kahnle, though, is working on a streak of six consecutive scoreless outings. He still strikes me as Daniel Webbish, but the Sox learned something from running Webb out there, even if what they learned is, "We don’t have a bullpen if he starts the year in Chicago." And either way, that’s better than what Albers has offered, because both pitchers stand a better chance of getting a strikeout when one is needed.

In Ventura’s defense, he has given the ball to Jacob Turner more often than Albers in August. Likewise, Chris Beck has also pitched more frequently than Albers since rejoining the team (six appearances since Aug. 13). Considering neither of those guys are considered enviable options, it probably already seems like Albers has been kicked down the leverage ladder by a considerable degree. Plus, Ventura might have accelerated Albers’ regression by running him out there in every situation that would’ve called for Jake Petricka, rather than allocating some of the load to Zach Putnam, so maybe it seems like Albers' appearances are relatively spare.

For one reason or many, it has to be disorienting in the dugout to see the once-reliable Albers be less worthy of pressure innings than Turner, Beck, Ynoa and Kahnle, especially since Albers is the least likely to self-destruct by walks. That’s what it looks like, though, and since Albers is the only one who is a free agent afterward, there’s no upside to seeing Albers try to prove everybody wrong.