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You might think things would get a little easier for Larry Dierker after
his first season when he took over a ill-used Astros’ pitching staff and
fashioned it into the best rotation outside of Mazzoneville. That wasn’t
going to be the case. The Astros headed into 1998 without three-fifths of
the rotation that finished the 1997 season. Darryl Kile moved on to Planet
Coors, and Chris Holt and Ramon Garcia were both lost for the season with
rotator cuff and elbow woes (respectively), it was time to see if Dierker
could pull several rabbits out of a hat. Pick up Sean Bergman from the
Padres, promote Jose Lima from the bullpen, and shuffle your fifth starter
until GM Gerry Hunsicker can fleece Woody Woodward at the trading deadline

1998 Overall Pitcher Use Patterns
Days rest -> 4 5 6+ CS Totals
Starts 1 105 39 17 162
QS 0 66 22 7 95
%QS .00 .63 .56 .41 .59
BQS 0 4 3 0 7
%QS+BQS .00 .67 .64 .41 .63
Avg # pitches 98 102 95 88 99

and–voila! Three fuzzy bunnies! While two years isn’t much to draw the
conclusion that a Dierker-managed staff exceeds expectations, their 1998
performance was extraordinary. As a group, 59% of their starts were quality
starts. Even though the Astrodome is one of baseball’s great pitcher’s
parks, this is an outstanding figure. The team also had only seven blown
quality starts, confirming Dierker’s reputation for knowing when to pull a
struggling starter. Overall, the Wrangler sure can manage his pitching
forest. Let’s look at the trees.


Shane Reynolds is the Astros’ oldest established starter and was asked to
carry the heaviest workload. Reynolds didn’t miss a turn during the season
and was moved up in the rotation when days off allowed. Now 30 years old,
Reynolds has managed to avoid serious reconstructive surgeries despite
heavy abuse by Terry Collins. He averaged only 100 pitches per game,
suggesting that the trend may continue. Like most of the Houston starters,
he actually threw fewer pitches the more days off he had between outings.
After stumbling out of the blocks (1 QS in his first 4 starts), Reynolds
was very effective, posting a 69% QS+BQS for the season.


Dierker seems to be testing the Prototypical Pitcher’s Body Theory, using
Mike Hampton as the guinea pig. Hampton, he of the diminutive physique, has
now assembled consecutive 200+ IP seasons before turning 26. He was the
Astros’ #2 starter and pitched well until a strained groin sidelined him
for three starts at the end of June. He was apparently rushed back to the
rotation too soon, as he struggled with only 3 QS in his next 9 starts,
which had even Larry Dierker second-guessing himself publicly for letting
him come back. However, Hampton finished strong, logging 7 QS+BQS in his
final 8 outings. He has been worked relatively hard at a young age and
should be monitored closely in 1999.


Entering the season, it appeared that The Excitable Boy, Jose Lima, would
work out of the bullpen, as he has for most of his big league career. But
necessity is the mother of invention, and the Wrangler delivered a
masterstroke. He inserted Lima into the rotation, and Lima shot from the
gate, logging 10 QS in his first 11 trips to the mound. Probably
unaccustomed to throwing that many pitches, he had only 2 QS+BQS in his
next 7 starts. Dierker remedied the problem by giving him nine days off at
the All-Star break. Lima recovered and went 12 for 15 QS+BQS to finish the
season.


Mid-season slumps from starters two through four and virtually nothing from
the five-hole had Dierker looking for a new horse at the end of July.
Horse-stealing used to be a crime in Texas, but the Randy Johnson deal must mean
they don’t prosecute those cases any more. Probably at Johnson’s
insistence, Dierker rode him hard. The Big Unit averaged more pitches per
start than he did under Piniella’s whip and only took a fifth day off when
it fell on his scheduled start day. Unable to "focus" in Seattle, Johnson
was ferocious with Houston, reeling off 10 QS in 11 tries. However, it
might be time for Johnson to swallow his pride and accept an occasional
extra day off. Reports that his heat was down into the low 90s at the end
of the season indicate that 4000+ pitches took a toll on the 35-year-old.


A spot starter/long reliever with San Diego, Sean Bergman opened the
campaign as Dierker’s fifth starter. He missed a few turns in late April
with assorted nicks and returned as the fourth starter–a role he kept for
the remainder of the pre-Johnson period. Though Bergman easily surpassed
his previous career high for innings pitched in a season, he held up well
as Dierker kept his pitch counts low and gave him plenty of rest (8 starts
with 6+ days’ rest).


After putting up good numbers at New Orleans in 1997, Dierker and pitching
coach Vern Ruhle hoped that John Halama was ready to pitch the 1998 season
in the big leagues. Apparently he wasn’t, as he pitched poorly in his first
three starts. Quality starts in two of his next three outings didn’t
prevent a return trip to the Big Easy, where he pitched well the rest of
the year. As the PTBNL in the trade for Randy Johnson, Halama will now be
toiling in the shadow of Mt. Piniella, about as extreme a change from one
management style to another as you could think of.


Had Pete Schourek pitched well after his elbow mended, maybe the Johnson
trade wouldn’t have happened. Fortunately for Astro fans, he didn’t.
Inserted for Halama, Schourek managed only 5 QS+BQS in 15 tries, despite
gentle handling by Dierker. He was then sold off to the Red Sox, who were
in search of the ever-popular crafty veteran for their playoff push.


Dierker deserves special recognition for how he handled blue-chip prospect
Scott Elarton. Called up in June when Hampton strained his groin, Elarton
got two starts before being moved to the bullpen. Dierker resisted the
temptation to give Elarton a full-time slot in the rotation even though his
starters were slumping. Instead, Elarton averaged a couple of relief
appearances a week for the remainder of the season and pitched
exceptionally well. He totaled 150 innings for the season between Houston
and New Orleans–just about the right amount of work for a 22-year-old.


Dierker has been true to his word about having his starters carry a bigger
load. None of the starters pitched significantly better with 5+ day’s rest,
indicating that they seem to be able to handle it. The starters’ pitch
counts were kept low, with the notable exception of Johnson–and that may
be a macho thing on his part. Holt and Garcia both missed the entire 1998
season with arm problems following the heaviest usage in their careers in
1997. Lima and Bergman’s career paths are similar to those of Holt’s and
Garcia’s, although their styles differ (Lima and Bergman both throw harder
than Garcia or Holt did, even before their surgeries). This bears watching
next year. Hampton also seems high-risk, both because of his size and his
workload at his age. Elarton has been groomed nicely and appears ready to
step into the rotation. One skill that Dierker has demonstrated repeatedly
is the ability to develop starting pitchers. How much of their success is
due to the way he uses them is unclear.

Reynolds           Days rest                 Lima               Days rest
                3    4    5   6+   Totals                         4    5   6+   Totals
Starts          1   24    8    2       35    Starts              21    9    3       33
QS              0   17    4    2       23    QS                  15    5    2       22
%QS           .00  .71  .50 1.00      .66    %QS                .71  .56  .67      .67
BQS             0    0    1    0        1    BQS                  1    1    0        2
%QS+BQS       .00  .71  .63 1.00      .69    %QS+BQS            .76  .67  .67      .73
Avg # pitches  98  104   95   87      100    Avg # pitches      103  103   96      102

Hampton            Days rest                 Bergman            Days rest
                     4    5   6+   Totals                         4    5   6+   Totals
Starts              21   10    1       32    Starts              14    5    8       27
QS                  14    6    0       20    QS                   8    3    3       14
%QS                .67  .60  .00      .63    %QS                .57  .60  .38      .52
BQS                  1    1    0        2    BQS                  0    0    0        0
%QS+BQS            .71  .70  .00      .69    %QS+BQS            .57  .60  .38      .52
Avg # pitches      105   94   78      101    Avg # pitches       91   78   89       88

Johnson            Days rest                 Schourek           Days rest
                     4    5   6+   Totals                         4    5   6+   Totals
Starts               9    2    0       11    Starts               9    4    2       15
QS                   8    2    0       10    QS                   3    1    0        4
%QS                .89 1.00  .00      .91    %QS                .33  .25  .00      .27
BQS                  0    0    0        0    BQS                  1    0    0        1
%QS+BQS            .89 1.00  .00      .91    %QS+BQS            .44  .25  .00      .33
Avg # pitches      121  128    0      122    Avg # pitches       92   85   87       90

Halama             Days rest                 Elarton            Days rest
                     4    5   6+   Totals                         4    5   6+   Totals
Starts               5    1    0        6    Starts               2    0    0        2
QS                   1    1    0        2    QS                   0    0    0        0
%QS                .20 1.00  .00      .33    %QS                .00  .00  .00      .00
BQS                  0    0    0        0    BQS                  1    0    0        1
%QS+BQS            .20 1.00  .00      .33    %QS+BQS            .50  .00  .00      .50
Avg # pitches       88   97    0       90    Avg # pitches      106    0    0      106

Miller             Days rest
                              6+   Totals
Starts                         1        1
QS                             0        0
%QS                          .00      .00
BQS                            0        0
%QS+BQS                      .00      .00
Avg # pitches                 68       68