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The Jim Leyland managing today managed very differently from the pre-1997
models. Working for the Pirates, Leyland was comparable to Felipe Alou in
his careful handling of starting pitchers, but in 1997 things changed. The first
victim was Alex Fernandez, who went down with a torn rotator cuff after
being repeatedly overworked late in the year. All of baseball got to witness
Leyland’s new heavy-handedness in the NLCS and World Series, as he pushed Kevin
Brown
and Livan Hernandez to the brink of exhaustion. Though Leyland’s
1997 transformation is difficult to excuse, it is easy to understand. After all,

1998 Overall Pitcher Use Patterns
Days rest -> 2 3 4 5 6+ CS Totals
Starts 1 4 84 52 19 2 162
QS 1 1 30 19 7 2 60
%QS 1.00 .25 .36 .37 .37 1.00 .37
BQS 0 0 9 2 0 0 11
%QS+BQS 1.00 .25 .46 .40 .37 1.00 .44
Avg # pitches 90 78 98 94 91 95 96

earlier in the decade, Leyland’s excellent Pirate teams came oh-so-very close, but
never made it to the Series. Now he was working for a despot who had raided the
free-agent market in an effort to buy a championship. Leyland was chosen to lead
the Huziengites to baseball’s summit. Tired arms were not a major concern, as long
as the end justified the means. That "logic" was not applicable to the
1998 Marlins, as they were never going to contend. During the well-documented
sell-off of players following their championship, GM Dave Dombrowski was able
to obtain a lot of young talent in spite of a compromised bargaining position.
Surprisingly, Leyland decided to stick around and work on the Fish Farm in 1998.
It was a poor decision for both Leyland and the young Marlin moundsmen, as Leyland
didn’t return to his pre-Blockbuster ways, and the arm slagging continued. As
gruesome as it may be, let’s look at what happened. You may want to have any
young children present leave the room.


Florida opened the ’98 season with a rotation that had a combined total of 23 major
league starts, with 23-year-old Livan Hernandez having logged 17 of them. Leyland
rode his "veteran" brutally; asking him to throw nearly 4000 pitches in
the most blatant abuse of a young hurler since Phil Garner led a corn-fed
Cal Eldred to the slaughterhouse. Incredibly, Hernandez went the whole season
without missing a start, and posted a respectable 52% for Quality Starts plus Blown
Quality Starts (QS+BQS). Leyland tried to defend the mishandling by employing a
strict five-man rotation after the first month of the season, while making a few
self-serving acclamations about how Hernandez gets stronger as the game goes on.
It’s possible that there is some truth to this, as Hernandez, working deep into
most games, had only 3 Blown Quality Starts (BQS) in 33 starts.


Eric Ludwick was the only other member of the original five who had previously
started a major league game. 1998 was a great opportunity for the 26-year-old to
establish himself in the majors, but he managed only six starts sandwiched around
three trips to the disabled list. The good news is that the injuries were not to his
throwing arm and they enabled him to dodge Leyland’s Little Shop of Horrors. The bad
news is that he further dimmed his once-bright star, and will be pitching elsewhere
in 1999.


A pair of left-handers out of the bullpen in ’97 got the chance to start for the
Marlins in ’98. God only knows why, but Leyland picked 22-year-old Felix Heredia
to begin the season as a starter (his only real starting experience over the previous
two seasons having been in winter leagues). Heredia was roughed up in his new role in
spring training, and after two ineffective starts, Leyland ended the experiment.
Heredia moved back to the bullpen, and eventually north to Chicago. From the outset,
Leyland should have gone with Kirt Ojala, who had been a starter throughout
his long minor league career. Ojala was finally moved from the bullpen into the
rotation after the All-Star break. He did a pretty good job with 7 QS+QBS in 13 tries,
and Leyland was surprisingly modest with his pitch counts.


Following the fire sale, and in conjunction with Ludwick’s fragility, there were spaces
in the rotation for Rafael Medina and Andy Larkin, a couple of Triple-A
starters with histories of arm problems. How did Leyland treat their tender appendages?
Do you remember the wood chipper scene in Fargo? The 23-year-old Medina opened
the season as the third starter and didn’t log a quality start in four tries before
being shut down with a sore shoulder. Four months later he returned, and under Gentle
Jim’s watchful eye, averaged 116 pitches per game in his last eight starts. Andy
Larkin logged 3 QS+BQS in his first three starts, flashing the talent that has been
obscured by injury. He followed that with only 3 QS+BQS in his next 11 tries, while
making visits to Charlotte and the bullpen. Only his frightful ineffectiveness prevented
another physical setback, as he was worked extremely hard on the rare occasions when
he did pitch well.


Four young Marlins jumped the last rung of the fish ladder and went straight from
Double-A to Miami: Brian Meadows, Jesus Sanchez, Joe Fontenot
and Ryan Dempster. Meadows began the year in the rotation and made it
through the season relatively unscathed, except for a groin pull in late July. His
45% QS+BQS equaled the team’s rate, and isn’t bad for a fifth starter. Leyland
worked him relatively carefully, as he never threw more than 115 pitches in any
of his starts. You could argue Leyland seemed to pick and choose whom he abused,
with Meadows as one of the lucky ones, but Meadows’ good control also helped keep
his pitch counts low. That said, Leyland could have been pushing the envelope with
him as well, because control pitchers will always have lower pitch counts than power
pitchers. Jesus Sanchez was not one of the lucky ones. The talented 23-year-old was
dropped into the rotation when Rafael Medina was placed on the DL. Leyland wasted
little time in overusing the relatively diminutive (5’10”) lefty, as Sanchez threw
146 pitches in his fourth start. A mid-season slump "helped" to keep his
pitch counts down, but didn’t change Leyland’s convictions. Sanchez threw 127 and
137 pitches in his last two September starts–for a 54-108 team! His 4.47 ERA is a
better indicator of his potential than his 46% QS+BQS. Four pitchers who started
1998 in Double-A Portland were taking turns in the Florida rotation once 21-year-olds
Joe Fontenot and Ryan Dempster were recalled at the end of May. Neither was ready to
make the jump to the majors, although Fontenot did manage 4 QS+BQS in 8 outings.
Leyland pushed Fontenot hard whenever possible, prematurely ending his season with a
sore shoulder in early July. Dempster made eleven starts (3 QS) despite being clearly
overmatched at the big league level.


When Eric Ludwick received his May delivery from the Injury of the Month Club,
journeyman Chris Hammond was recalled from Triple-A Charlotte. Although
Hammond’s three starts were unimpressive, his subsequent release was probably unwise.
He was the type of veteran pitcher that Dombrowski could afford to let Leyland use at
the back end of his rotation, instead of rushing the kids into the fray.


The Marlins knowingly renounced their 1998 title when they dumped their high-salaried
players following the World Series. Because of the way Jim Leyland mishandled the
young pitching staff, a big chunk of the future has also likely been sacrificed to no
good purpose. But should all the blame be placed on Leyland? Pitching Coach Rich
Dubee
witnessed the carnage and might have interceded. Where was the front office
while the abuse was occurring? After making the commitment to youth, the Marlins’
organization should have created a plan to maximize their chance for
success–particularly for a commodity as precious as starting pitching. Instead,
Leyland was allowed to use the youngsters without adult supervision, simultaneously
mortgaging their futures and the team’s. Fortunately for all concerned, Leyland has
left the Sunshine State–albeit a season too late–and John Boles is back to
try and pick up the pieces. We’ll see if they have been damaged beyond repair.

L. Hernandez       Days rest                 Meadows            Days rest
                3    4    5   6+   Totals                    3    4    5   6+   Totals
Starts          1   17   12    3       33    Starts          2   13   12    4       31
QS              0    7    5    2       14    QS              1    4    6    0       11
%QS           .00  .41  .42  .67      .42    %QS           .50  .31  .50  .00      .35
BQS             0    2    1    0        3    BQS             0    2    1    0        3
%QS+BQS       .00  .53  .50  .67      .52    %QS+BQS       .50  .46  .58  .00      .45
Avg # pitches  84  125  117  109      119    Avg # pitches  65   85   86   70       80

J. Sanchez         Days rest                 A. Larkin          Days rest
                     4    5   6+   Totals                   CS    4    5   6+   Totals
Starts              15   11    3       29    Starts          1    8    4    1       14
QS                   5    5    2       12    QS              1    2    0    1        4
%QS                .33  .45  .67      .41    %QS          1.00  .25  .00 1.00      .29
BQS                  2    0    0        2    BQS             0    2    0    0        2
%QS+BQS            .47  .45  .67      .48    %QS+BQS      1.00  .50  .00 1.00      .43
Avg # pitches       91   97   99       94    Avg # pitches  90   90   94  123       93

Ojala              Days rest                 Medina             Days rest
           2    3    4    5   6+   Totals                         4    5   6+   Totals
Starts     1    1    8    2    1       13    Starts               9    1    2       12
QS         1    0    5    1    0        7    QS                   2    0    2        4
%QS     1.00  .00  .63  .50  .00      .54    %QS                .22  .00 1.00      .33
BQS        0    0    0    0    0        0    BQS                  0    0    0        0
%QS+BQS 1.00  .00  .63  .50  .00      .54    %QS+BQS            .22  .00 1.00      .33
Avg pit   90   97   94   85   62       90    Avg # pitches      106  138  119      111

Dempster           Days rest                 Fontenot           Days rest
                     4    5   6+   Totals                         4    5   6+   Totals
Starts               5    5    1       11    Starts               3    3    2        8
QS                   2    1    0        3    QS                   2    1    0        3
%QS                .40  .20  .00      .27    %QS                .67  .33  .00      .38
BQS                  0    0    0        0    BQS                  1    0    0        1
%QS+BQS            .40  .20  .00      .27    %QS+BQS           1.00  .33  .00      .50
Avg # pitches       86   73   67       78    Avg # pitches       98   94   84       93

Ludwick            Days rest                 Hammond            Days rest
                     4    5   6+   Totals                             CS    4   Totals
Starts               2    2    2        6    Starts                    1    2        3
QS                   1    0    0        1    QS                        1    0        1
%QS                .50  .00  .00      .17    %QS                    1.00  .00      .33
BQS                  0    0    0        0    BQS                       0    0        0
%QS+BQS            .50  .00  .00      .17    %QS+BQS                1.00  .00      .33
Avg # pitches       77   34   87       66    Avg # pitches           100   75       83

F. Heredia         Days rest
                          4    5   Totals
Starts                    2    0        2
QS                        0    0        0
%QS                     .00  .00      .00
BQS                       0    0        0
%QS+BQS                 .00  .00      .00
Avg # pitches           100    0      100
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