Saturday, July 12, 2008

Flamethrower Liz Quickly Being Put Out

I know this was rough, but tonight’s 12-1 shellacking at the hands of the Boston Red Sox gives us a chance to reflect on tonight’s starter for Baltimore who looked to be aiming his fastball at the press box rather than home plate. I am going to look over the two predominant schools of thought on Radhames Liz, to figure out how to best utilize this pitcher who can seem so promising at times but falls completely flat all too often. So take a deep breath, forget what you saw tonight, and try to think about the future- at least until tomorrow.

Most analysts consider Radhames to be more of a long-relief candidate, someone whose endurance is a definite question that lead him to the bullpen. They note that Liz has yet to go beyond 6 1/3 innings in any of his appearances and tends to struggle the later he gets into games, even into the 4th or 5th inning of an otherwise solid appearance. On the other hand, they will point out that Liz has a fastball that clocks in the upper 90’s that can blow right by hitters. Combine this with a serviceable changeup and this would seem to indicate that down the road Liz could be ideal as a 6th or 7th inning candidate and hold onto leads after a starter goes shorter than expected.

There are a couple serious problems with this argument- it assumes both a problem that I don’t think Liz has, and assumes a strength that I don't think he has either. This season Liz has thrown 669 pitches over a total of 35.2 innings; an average of 18.76 pitches per inning! Liz does not have difficulty pitching a high number of pitches; he has a difficulty getting a high number of outs from those pitches. This isn’t surprising from anyone who has watched Radhames this season as he has walked 22 batters and appears to lose his cool with runners in scoring position.

Why then would anyone pencil-in Radhames as a relief pitcher down the road? No matter how his control improves, you won’t likely ever be able to rely on him not to give batters a free pass in key moments of a ballgame. If you add his lack of composure at key moments, I don’t conceive of how I could trust him to enter a ballgame after the starter puts runners on 1st and 2nd and hold a 2-run lead.

I tend to side with the second school of thought- like many fireballers with limited control, they are pulled into the majors long before they are ready by General Managers salivating over his fastball while it is still trying to find the plate. Liz was pulled up to the majors with disastrous results last year, and it seems to be happening again. The Orioles would rather not have another Daniel Cabrera on their hands and wait three or four years for him to get his fastball in for strikes when he could just as well go down to the minors for a year or two and come back. Remember O’s fans- Liz has starter potential, and a struggling starter does not equal a good reliever.

If the Orioles can find a replacement (which may be difficult given the lack of long relievers- you miss Matt Albers more every day, huh?), Liz should to be sent down to Norfolk soon, before his confidence and what’s left of his command is lost for good.

(Photo Credit: Winslow Townson, AP)

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