Mateo, Bane of the Bullpen; or, Welcome Back, Rafael Soriano

Jeff · August 3, 2006 at 10:16 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Sometimes people ask me why my blood pressure readings spike when Juio Mateo pitches late in close games.

To understand why, we must have a gander at Mateo’s numbers. But we also must understand that Rafael Soriano is slated to come off the disabled list tomorrow.

Soriano hasn’t pitched since June 28, but with him healthy, the Mariners simply have the best relief corps in a division full of good bullpens. Even without him, the team has some lights-out arms.

Small sample size caveats apply, but look at the strikeouts per nine inning rates of these guys:

J.J. Putz 11.67
Mark Lowe 10.66
Rafael Soriano 9.99
George Sherrill 9.87

Of those four, the highest ERA and WHIP belong to Sherrill, at 2.90 and 1.23 respectively. Lowe and Putz have allowed fewer than one baserunner per inning, with WHIP at .87 and .79 respectively. They miss bats, and hitters miss the feeling of getting on base.

Then there is southpaw Eric O’Flaherty, who is tearing up Double A San Antonio with a 1.02 ERA, a strikeout per inning and a left arm that threatens to replace Jake Woods as the second lefty.

To give some perspective on this, Julio Mateo’s WHIP is 1.62. Compared to Lowe, he’s giving up baserunners at a time-and-a-half rate.

Here’s another fun comparison. Hitters are batting .307 against him, getting on base at a .372 clip and slugging .482, for an OPS of .850.

This means that the average American League hitter, facing Mateo, suddenly becomes roughly equivalent to Mark Teixeira.

Barring injury, the bullpen ought to be a real strength. Julio Mateo ought not have the opportunity to enter one-run ballgames in the eighth inning unless Putz has cholera, Soriano becomes a leper, and Sherrill and Lowe are fistfighting over a girl.

They ask: why does my blood pressure rise when Julio Mateo enters a close game? I ask: doesn’t yours?


79 Responses to “Mateo, Bane of the Bullpen; or, Welcome Back, Rafael Soriano”

  1. jbabious on August 3rd, 2006 1:39 pm

    i’d rather see soriano pitch lefty in a tight game than have mateo on the mound…at least i could laugh at that. especially this weekend.

  2. AQ on August 3rd, 2006 1:40 pm

    #48 – I seem to recall Mateo always being a fairly extreme flyball pitcher. The main difference that I see (with my amateur eye) is that he’s simply not missing bats like he used to. And that observation seems to be reflected in the lower K/9 rate.

  3. thehiddentrack on August 3rd, 2006 1:44 pm

    “Is there any theory on how Lowe could be so average last year in Wisconsin in 22 starts and so dominant one year later?”

    He’s pretty young, he may have just worked on his pitches in the off-season and was ready to take the next step.

    And I’m an advocate of moving him into the rotation because he can be successful even if he replaces a 98 mph fastball with a 93 mph fastball because of his command. He’s too young to say he can’t start, I would bet he’d easily be the best starter we have right now (other than Felix, when he throws strikes).

  4. thehiddentrack on August 3rd, 2006 1:45 pm

    #52 – Yes, he’s not missing bats like he used to because his stuff has dropped off.

  5. msb on August 3rd, 2006 1:56 pm

    re: Lowe as starter, in a post-game show, Bavasi said that he asked Bob Fontaine about Lowe starting, and Fontaine said strongly ‘no’– no word on just why, though, as Bavasi didn’t want to speak for Fontaine.

    another fine quotes of the day:
    “In trotted Lowe, who got out of the inning but allowed one of those Hernandez walks to score. That closed the gap to 2-1 on the scoreboard — and marked the first of 11 inherited runners Lowe had allowed to score. “I’m going to give up hits,” Lowe said. “Eventually, I’m going to give up runs, too.”

    “Yeah,” deadpanned Jamie Moyer. “Probably in 2007.”

  6. Mouse in a Bottle on August 3rd, 2006 2:00 pm

    55 – Love the quote.

  7. Thingray on August 3rd, 2006 2:04 pm

    Does anybody know for sure what the problem with Soriano’s shoulder is? Everything I read says he has “soreness behind his shoulder”, but doesn’t mention why.

    Is this just him getting back to full strength after Tommy John, or something more serious?

  8. gwangung on August 3rd, 2006 2:06 pm

    re: Lowe as starter, in a post-game show, Bavasi said that he asked Bob Fontaine about Lowe starting, and Fontaine said strongly ‘no’– no word on just why, though, as Bavasi didn’t want to speak for Fontaine.

    What are they seeing that we aren’t? (I have to give Fontaine a fair amount of credibility….)

  9. Steve Nelson on August 3rd, 2006 2:15 pm

    re #44: I’m glad you’re writing more, Jeff. Your style is the most conversational of any of the USSM authors, and instantly recognisable.

    It’s those one sentence paragraphs that do it. Jeff is the Steve Kelley of USSM. (I think it’s time to duck now.)

  10. Thingray on August 3rd, 2006 2:17 pm

    I won’t make any comments about grammar, puncuation or spelling. There’s a reason I work with numbers!

  11. msb on August 3rd, 2006 2:41 pm

    #58– another reason I’d love for Fontaine to be a feed guest!

    #57– ‘fatigue’

    Hickey: Reliever Rafael Soriano, who threw about 40 pitches in the Baltimore heat Wednesday, is ready to come off the disabled list Friday. He’s ready in every sense of the word. For one, his right shoulder, which has bothered him off and on for about five weeks, isn’t causing any pain. For another, after going two weeks without getting into a game, he wants to be given the ball again. “I feel good,” he said. “I want to be out there.”

    Brock: Reliever Rafael Soriano threw 40 pitches before the game on Wednesday during a successful bullpen session, essentially showing the Mariners that the right-hander will be ready to rejoin the team Friday. Soriano, who threw 25 pitches off the bullpen mound on Monday, was placed on the 15-day disabled list Saturday with fatigue in his right shoulder, although, at that point, his shoulder was already starting to feel better.

  12. Evan on August 3rd, 2006 2:47 pm

    On the more optimistic side, yesterday Grover brought in Putz to get the last out of the eighth. If he’s been replaced by a competent pod person (as yesterday suggests), perhaps he won’t use Mateo in high-level situations, anymore.

  13. eponymous coward on August 3rd, 2006 2:50 pm

    The way I see it is that instead of paying Shiggy 3 million a year on a multiyear deal to be the “veteran reliever” with low K/9 and high flyball and gopher tendencies a Mariner manager misuses, we’re paying Mateo around one million a year on a multiyear deal.

    Looks like progress to me, folks.

  14. eponymous coward on August 3rd, 2006 2:53 pm

    Does anyone have an opinion about why Mateo is seemingly much less effective than he once was? His numbers are a little hard to figure out (at least for me).

    His fastball velocity’s down. A lot. From 94 to below 90. Not everyone can hit 94, but 88 is pretty close to batting practice.

  15. Jeff on August 3rd, 2006 3:25 pm

    Steve, them’s fightin’ words. Besides, I think of myself as the Steve Nelson of USSM.

  16. MKT on August 3rd, 2006 3:37 pm

    17. I noticed Mark Lowe’s the only pitcher in the top 30 with a negative Fair RA. Does that mean he’s being left in the ugliest of situations and mopping them up well (such as the bases loaded jam in NY)?

    I don’t know the details but it’s something like that — some pitchers do so well, in the context of baserunners-and-outs situations that they pitch in, as well as the ballpark they play in, that BP’s formula gives them a Fair Run Average that’s even better than 0.0. We can see that their stats do show him with an immense number of “inherited runners prevented from scoring”, immense given the small number of innings that he’s pitched.

    I don’t think they publish their exact formula, but it evidently involves some *subtraction* from a player’s RA, as opposed to reducing it by a percentage (in which case 0.0 would be the best that a player could do).

  17. chris white on August 3rd, 2006 3:52 pm

    [caps, name-calling]

  18. Rain Delay on August 3rd, 2006 3:55 pm

    67- Lets watch it with the caps. No need to yell..

  19. Phoenician Todd on August 3rd, 2006 4:05 pm

    67 – Do have any evidence that Bavasi is telling Hargrove to use Mateo in high-leverage situations?

  20. chris white on August 3rd, 2006 4:15 pm

    Why else would you pitch him? Not because he is doing well is it? Trying to cover up another bad contract he signed someone to.I truly believe he doesnt have good scouts are he doesnt use them with the choices he uses to spend the mariners money on.

  21. Ralph Malph on August 3rd, 2006 4:51 pm

    Why else would you pitch Mateo? For the same reason Hargrove stuck with Everett so long but never gave Petagine a chance…not to cover up a bad contract but because he has an inordinate amount of patience with veterans who have a record of success. He honestly thought Everett was a better option for all that time. And he honestly thinks Mateo has that certain veteran presence that will cause him to get people out despite his recent track record.

    Saying it’s because Bavasi tells him to is succumbing to conspiracy theories when there’s a perfectly obvious reason why Hargrove plays veterans.

  22. chris white on August 3rd, 2006 5:10 pm

    Mateo isnt a vet he has been in ML for 2 years everett is he has 10 plus seasons.Why he didnt give petagine a shot because bill gave everett a guarenteed 3.5 million dollar deal.Of course carl is at home getting paid by another bavasi mistake contract ..but what else is new? Why would anyone give mateo a 2 year deal for what he has done as a mariner before this year?

  23. Ralph Malph on August 3rd, 2006 5:12 pm

    This is Mateo’s 5th major league season. He came up in 2002. I’m not defending him, but he does have a track record of success.

  24. DKCecil on August 3rd, 2006 5:34 pm

    Mateo had a very good 2003 and 2005, sandwiched between 2002 (where he only pitched 12 games) and a lackluster 2004. Last season he was very good up until that disastrous start against the Yankees (why would you even start him, anyways?). He leveled off a bit and still had a productive season. Maybe he’s just terrible in even numbered years and good in odd numbered! Watch out in ’07!

  25. thehiddentrack on August 3rd, 2006 6:04 pm

    Once again who else is Hargrove supposed to go to? I agree he has passed over Putz in favor of Mateo in tie games before when I couldn’t believe it, but in alot of other situations the choices are between Mateo, Woods, and Green. Soriano (and lately Lowe) and Putz can’t pitch 4 innings every time a starter goes 5 innings.

    If Soriano stays healthy I think the addition of Lowe will allow Hargrove to use his bullpen more effectively.

  26. DKCecil on August 3rd, 2006 6:13 pm

    I’d actually prefer Green over Mateo at this point.

  27. thehiddentrack on August 3rd, 2006 8:15 pm

    That’s pretty much a toss up. And Hargrove will always go with the vet in that situation.

  28. BelaXadux on August 3rd, 2006 10:27 pm

    So combining Grizz in #13 and R M in #18: Julio Mateo in ’05 2.1 BB/9 (+ 8 IBB) and 5.1 K/9.

    Why does Grover keep bringing in Mateo?: HE THROWS STRIKES. And he has historically. And while his K rate this year isn’t great, it’s not nothing, either. Julio is big on the ‘demeanor thing,’ too; his approach is the same whether it’s Manny the Ramirez or Joe Rookie at the plate, the same in the 5th inning or the 9th. While I don’t rate composure nearly as highly as managers do, Julio has it, and together with his ability to generally pound the strikezone in critical ABs this retains _his_ manager’s confidence in him. If it’s before the 8th inning, and there’s trouble on base or coming to the plate with the starter losing it, Hargrove can bring in various guys who are walking _at least_ 5.5 BB/9, or a reliever who’s proven he’ll go after batters. It’s really not a hard call, in it’s way, and most other managers would make the same decision.

    In ’03, Mateo didn’t sustain 94 mph on his fastball, but threw in the low 90s, with good control, and he established the ability to work his slider onto and off the corners, which he has since and still does. He’s an extreme flyball guy, but his HR rate isn’t godawful and is the same this year as always. Oh, and Julio had a fine BB/9 that year. In ’04, Mateo had an elbow problem, and lost velocity and effectiveness. In ’05, Julio was highly effective in April and May with this same pitching pattern. In June ’05, he was stuffed into the rotation, and generally toasted, which made his yearly numbers look much worse than he pitched. Back in the pen, it took him all July to recover, but he was again consistently effective in August and September, despite numerous “he’s done” comments here.

    In ’06, Mateo shows up in camp with a bum shoulder, and then misses most of ST for personal reasons. His velocity now rarely breaks 90, and LH hitters are getting a real good look at his stuff and racking him up pretty good. The change in arm slot seems to me more to take pressure off Julio’s shoulder than anything; whether or not it works, who knows. But here’s the other thing about Mateo this year: he has come in and gotten totally torched on several occasions, but outside of that he often comes in and faces 3-4 batters, throws strikes, and sets them down no problem. It’s not like he’s _constantly_ coming in and putting guys on base. Because Mateo throws strikes, but has some bad match-ups, Hargrove often calls for the IBB from him; 8 in, what?, 42 IP is a bunch, and fits my recollection. —But that’s more a sign of Hargrove’s confidence in him than not. If anything, Grover is using the IBB too much: what stands out about Mateo at home this year besides the ERA is the BB/9, and a lot of that has to be IBB.

    Given how his year’s gone, it is _at present_ much better to bring Mateo in to start an inning, and to keep him away from powerhitting LHs, but still Hargrove brings him in for high leverage situations in mid-game in preference to the alternatives because he knows Mateo will keep his composure and go after the hitters. It wasn’t a great idea to sign Mateo to a 2-year given his arm problems, but DFAing him is ludicrous. I wouldn’t be at all surprised, given his history, for Mateo to bounce back next year, either, and have a solid year. Guys like Mateo don’t look that great in the aggregate stat line—and Julio really _is_ having a down year—but these guys come in and get outs for years while guys like Woods or Fruto bounce around between the majors and minors because they can’t throw enough strikes or keep composed against the heart of opposing lineups. This was and is the issue with Giovanni Cararra, for example. He didn’t pitch one offseason, messed up his mechanics to the point where he was getting blasted. Got DFAed. Picked up here; same story. After awhile in the minors to get re-tooled, he’s back on his game, and up again with the same effectiveness he had before all of that. Guys like him and Mateo never look as useful as they are, but they stay in the game by staying around the plate.

    I’m not saying this because I’m any great fan of Mateo’s; it’s only that the ‘he’s useless’ remarks just don’t reckon with the general utility of Mateo’s career.

  29. Ralph Malph on August 4th, 2006 11:40 am

    Good analysis Bela, thanks.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.