Distinguished Senators, the Washington Nationals Blog That Is Great

Sunday, June 12, 2005

I Come to Praise Tomo, Not to Bury Him

"The bull . . . flowed together to the ズ to this day." That was the reaction of the inscrutable, poorly-translated Japanese media to the news that Tomo "Landlord" Ohka was dealt to the Brewers in exchange for second baseman Junior Spivey, while the Nats also claimed pitcher Ryan Drese off waivers from Texas. The bull did indeed flow, and author Joseph Santoliquito is right to express doubt as to its end.

The trade is a pain to analyze, since there are all kinds of hypotheticals and differing projections and that kind of nonsense to take into consideration. I like the Endy Chavez/Marlon Byrd trade a lot better: it was obvious from the moment I heard about it that Jim Bowden had just done to the Phillies the equivalent of the thing where you have your friend get on all fours right behind some dude's legs and then push, and I've heard no one but Phillies fans say anything different.

It boils down to this: we gave up a solid starter having a rough year. Milwaukee gave up a second baseman with one really good season under his belt and that's about it. It's more complicated than that, of course. Ohka hasn't been right all year. After walking 1.5 dudes per 9 innings in 2002 and 1.6 and 1.7 the next two years, his BB rate shot up to 4.9 this year. His strikeouts have declined in the same time frame: from 5.1 per 9 in '02 and '03 to 3.6 in 2005 and 2.4 this year. However, he was hurt for most of 2004 after taking a line drive off his forearm. He had a rough start to this season, but seemed to be coming around before his infamous three inning, Frank-baiting turn against the Marlins, and his ERA was the best among a very capable group of Nats starters.

Ohka's been having a rough year, but Junior Spivey's been having a rough career. He didn't make the majors until he was 26, but had a really nifty All Star season in 2002: 865 OPS, 120 OPS+, 34 doubles, 16 homers. Since then, however, anything you say about Spivey can be preceded with the phrase "limited by injuries." Limited by injuries, he's played only 165 games over the last two years. Limited by injuries, his OPS+ was only 88 in 2003. Limited by injuries, he struck out 95 times in 106 games. Limited by injuries, he's stolen only 9 bases in two years. Etc, etc. With Jose Vidro out until the All Star break and no one in the middle infield hitting, we needed a stopgap. We don't need Spivey for long, so maybe the injuries won't matter. He'll certainly be an offensive improvement, doubly so if Guzman gets to catch some pine every now and then in favor of Jamey Carroll.

I don't think we got enough for Ohka. Good starting pitchers are worth more than middling second baseman. The argument in favor of the move is that Ohka is no longer a good starting pitcher. It's possible that his new, problematic strikeout and walk tendencies are permanent, his sub-4 ERA is an illusion, and that he'll turn into 2005-vintage Zach Day in Milwaukee. I doubt it, though. His crappy stats in 2004 came in only 84 innings and were surrounded by injuries. His even crappier 2005 is the product of only 54 innings, and it's also worth pointing out that he's had a solidly above-average ERA both years. It's far more likely that Ohka will regain his 2002-2003 form than that Spivey, who's hitting only 234/316/370 this year, becomes an all star once again. A trade like this would have made a lot more sense when the Nats had starting pitching depth. But Jon Rauch got hurt, Zach Day got everyone mad at him and then got hurt, and Claudio Vargas was so bad they fired him. We're relying on Ryan Drese, a reclamation project with a 5.36 ERA and 200 IP only once. Drese could certainly become a servicable starter. But the idea that he could replace Ohka is at least optimistic.

Mere performance, though, was the not the sole reason for the trade. On June 4 in a start against Florida, Ohka famously "showed up" Frank Robinson. After watching Ohka walk three in three innings and fall behind another hitter, Frank came out of the dugout to get him. Ohka turned his back on the manager, and Frank snatched the ball from his hand as though he were trying to prove to his kung-fu master that he had completed his training. I'm willing to defend Ohka in this incident. Frank yanked Ohka in the middle of an at-bat, something he's fond of doing and something that's unnecessarily humiliating for the pitcher. Yes, Ohka shouldn't have turned his back. But can't he be forgiven a slip-up in such a frustrating situation? I'd rather see a player enraged at his failure than cool with it. Similarly, I understand Frank's burst of anger in yanking the ball away from the pitcher. What I don't understand or condone is Frank's actions afterwards, as he continued to bitch about Ohka to the press.
"When I come to the mound, you're gone," Robinson said. "You're not going to talk me out of it. Give me the ball, leave the mound."

"He has this thing that goes back for years that I don't have confidence in him," Robinson said. "He just thinks I have something against him personally, I guess."

Robinson said he addressed the issue of respecting a manager in Spring Training, and doesn't want an incident to alter relationships with the rest of his players.

"It just sets a bad precedent," Robinson said. "The chemistry should be sky high right now on this ballclub -- and it is. But one person can damage that chemistry to a point where it hurts the team."

I've got no problem with the fine Ohka had to pay, and I know it's important to maintain discipline in the clubhouse. But why get the press involved? Why denigrate one of your own players in public? It's not an isolated incident, either. Frank's been less than reticent when pitchers displease him, and Jim Bowden isn't afraid to take a smirking shot at someone on his way out (On Endy: "When Chavez learned he was being sent down, he told Bowden, 'Trade me.' 'Other clubs view you the same way we do,' Bowden said he told Chavez, meaning he wasn't worth much in a trade." On Ohka: "We certainly don’t want any player who has a problem playing for a first place club. I’m sure he’ll be happy in Milwaukee."). It appears that our team is in the hands of some less than classy people.

And that brings me to my final point (I promise). When Inning-Endy was sent down, I compared to him an assassinated emperor: "now that he's gone, people are lining up to sing the praises of his successor and assure everyone that they always hated that last guy." It's even more pronounced this time. Suddenly everyone hates Tomo: he had what's coming to him, the disrespectful jackass. Ron Darling's performance before Friday's game was shameful. He gleefully recounted the back-turning incident before exclaiming, "You're outta here!" Look, we don't know the whole story, but we can gather from Frank's comments that there's been tension between him and Ohka for some time. Why do we assume that Ohka is the jerk here? Is it because Frank's the manager, as though that makes him infallible? Is it because Ohka's said next to nothing while Frank has mouthed off repeatedly? Is it resentment that Tomo's baneful influence on team chemistry kept us to only eight games over .500? If you're quick to condemn Ohka for not getting along with his manager but ready to absolve Jose Guillen of any act of violence against his, you may want to consider whether your judgments are based on the personalities involved or on the letters on their caps.


Chris Needham said...

It's a shame that you left the best part for the last few setences.

Those who need to read those the most are going to be the least likely to make it that far through the post.

(And don't misread that as a criticism! It's a solid post!)

Ryan said...

You think Ron Darling's attention span is that short? He went to Yale!

Harper said...

I couldn't agree more. (I tried. It didn't work.) This was a deal to remove Ohka, more than get Spivey. We might not ever "pay" for it. Ohka isn't likely to bust out 3 straight 15 win seasons, but we got the short end of this small stick.

And thank you Chris, for maintaining at least a minor anti-Frank sentiment. Stick by your guns!

Anonymous said...

The Nats gave up on a pitcher who was having some problems finding the plate during the first 2.5 months of the season. But they only traded 3.5 months worth of Tomo. No way was he going to resign with the Nats whether Robby was manager next year or not.
I don't see how his trade value would increase when you're talking about a rental with an ever decreasing term.

If the Nats are forced to continue to part ways with other players due to Robby's style then the issue would need further discussion.

Ryan said...

Is Ohka a free agent after this year? I assumed he was due for another round of arbitration. It'll be interesting to see what happens when Day comes back. Frank was pretty hard on him.

Rocket1124 said...

Very well written, Ryan. But for what it's worth, Robby did not pull Ohka in the middle of an at-bat. He pulled Kim with a 2-0 count, and replaced him with Nitkowski. McKeon countered by pinch-hitting Conine for the first batter, who escapes my memory right now.

Chris Needham said...

I'm 99% sure he's got another year of arb-eligibility.

Ryan said...

Rocket - Damn. Has he pulled Ohka mid-AB before? I could swear that's happened at least once.

Chris Needham said...

As far as I can remember, he's done it three times.

Once to Day.
Once to Ohka.
Once to Kim.

I still think he's harboring resentment over WWII. (Tho, someone should tell him that Kim's Korean)

I've got my book in front of me now... entering this season, Ohka had just over 4 years of service time. You need 6 for Free Agency.

Ryan said...

I knew he wasn't an FA. It would have been mentioned in the trade analyses. I'll correct the mid-count thing at some point. Maybe.