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The Rotation: Tom Gorzelanny

The biggest problem with the Pirates’ pitching staff in 2007 wasn’t that Tom Gorzelanny or Ian Snell imploded, it was that they both did. One implosion we possibly could’ve handled. Two was disastrous. If the Pirates’ pitching staff is going to improve enough to make a difference in 2009, Gorzelanny is going to have to figure out what was wrong last year and fix it. So what was wrong with him? Was it an injury or did he just forget how to pitch? Which is worse?

To start with, I’d recommend you read Dave Golebiewski’s examination of Gorzo’s ugly 2008 at FanGraphs. It starts by pointing out that Gorzo’s 2007 was much better than his peripherals would’ve indicated, which you may or may not have already assumed from his walk and strikeout rates that year. He goes on to talk about Jim Tracy’s insane abuse of Gorzo at the end of 2007, which was something that we all talked about at the time. In fact, I wrote this post last February after Gorzo was scratched from a spring training start:

I say that Gorzelanny was abused last year by Jim Tracy and if things keep going like this, I’m going to be surprised if he pitches 125 innings this year.

He threw 105 with the Pirates and 35 in the minors. I’m still saying I called that one.

It seemed to me that Gorzo was dropping his arm slot early in the year to compensate for his shoulder pain. I really wanted to use PitchFX to compare his release point from 2007 to 2008, but there weren’t many parks that had PitchFX cameras installed in 2007, so I instead decided to go with three games that Gorzo pitched at PNC in 2008, one in April, one in June, and one after his return from the minors in August. As usual, a hat-tip goes to Brooks Baseball for the charts.

Here’s April 13th against the Reds:


Here’s June 29th against the Rays:


And here’s August 29th against the Brewers:


It’s really hard to draw any conclusion from just three games, but it certainly seems to me that after his return from his rehab/demotion trip to AAA that his armslot is much higher in the August start than the other two (for a guide, look at the release point in relation to the 6 foot line).

The real question from that centers on his trip to AAA. The team never put Gorzo on the DL and never really discussed his health after his stiff shoulder in February, but he certainly pitched like a guy that was hurt and the team treated him like one. His last big league start before his demotion was on the Fourth of July. He then didn’t pitch again until July 12th, and then not again until July 20th. After that, I know he pitched on the 25th and 30th, but I’m not certain where he went from there. Still, that information coupled with the fact that he was on a strict pitch count (his longest start out of his first four in the minors was 5 1/3 innings), and we’ve got a “demotion” that looks an awful lot like a rehab stint.

This is what makes it so hard to figure out what to expect from Gorzo in 2008. We can be fairly sure he was hurt, but I honestly I have no idea how badly or what the long-term implications might be. Seeing that he pitched all year, I’ve got to assume it’s something that was cured by winter rest, but how can anyone be sure? He mostly dominated at the end of his AAA stint and while it’s true he looked better (both from the arm slot observation above and my anecdotal memory of those starts), his numbers certainly didn’t improve much.

So what we know about Gorzo coming into 2009 is this: he was probably hurt last year, he lost some weight and he’s had a winter of rest, which is probably helpful given that some downtime last July seemed to straighten him out a bit. All of this is to say that I really have no idea what to expect from Gorzo in 2009. I think that he’ll probably be OK healthwise, which is the most important thing for him, but I’m certainly not positive about that. Even if he is healthy, it’s not likely that he’ll be able to post a sub-4.00 ERA again. If I had to make a guess, I’d say that his year this year will probably resemble Zach Duke’s in 2006 (4.47 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) with fewer innings (Duke threw 215 1/3). But hey, anything’s better than 6.66, right?