Every pitcher has at least one bad game. Even an ace will have an outing where he might not last five innings, allowing more runs than innings pitched. It's happened to Roy Halladay. It happened to Cy Young.
But while those games are forgettable in the grand scheme of things, it is unlikely that Vin Mazzaro will ever forget his performance on Monday night against the Cleveland Indians. To say that he was bad is an epic understatement. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Vin Mazzaro's line:
2.1 innings pitched, 11 hits, 3 walks, 14 earned runs
When looking at that line, a few things can be extrapolated rather quickly. For one, Mazzaro did not have his best stuff. Second, it had to be a good night for the Indians. And of course, there had to be some bad luck, right?
Well first, we must put this in perspective, both a historical perspective and Mazzaro's perspective. His 14 earned runs were the most by a reliever since World War II, and the most ever in less than three innings. Lefty O'Doul allowed 16 runs in a similar time frame in 1923, but nearly all of those runs were unearned.
For Mazzaro, this one was hard to predict. He was acquired by the Royals for David DeJesus, meaning Kansas City must have seen some potential in him. In his time with the Athletics, Mazzaro never blew anyone away, but certainly seemed competent. A low-90s fastball, plus slider, and decent curveball and changeup made him a fairly attractive pitcher.
Unfortunately, that was the last positive of the night. The fourth inning was a comedy, with Cleveland compiling eight hits, two walks, and ten runs. The Indians essentially played wall-ball with Mazzaro, spraying fastballs all over the field.
If you examine the PitchFX data for Mazzaro against right-handed hitters, you will see why he had these results. I count four pitches within a few inches of the center of the plate that were hit. It was just as bad for lefties. You can guess that a few of those big dots in the middle of the chart were Michael Brantley's three-run homer or Travis Hafner's bases-loaded double.
It becomes clear after examining those charts that Mazzaro was victimized by bad command of epic proportions. Some pitchers barely miss the corners--Mazzaro missed them by a city block. For all intents and purposes, Vin Mazzaro threw just over two innings of batting practice to the Indians.
Beyond that, his slider wasn't moving, and his fastballs were rising, but not in the good way. It was almost as if they were being coaxed up in the zone by some supernatural force.
In 79 pitches, Mazzaro threw only 43 strikes. The strikes he did throw were either in the scoreless third inning or absolutely pounded in the fourth or fifth innings. Needless to say, Mazzaro's Win Probability Added was negative, at a horrific -0.129. Essentially, Mazzaro alone decreased Kansas City's chances of winning by 13%, all by himself.
The best statistic of the night comes in the form of BABIP, or batting average on balls in play. The major league average sits around .275. Mazzaro? Oh, don't worry, his was only .667.
Of course, it comes to no one's surprise that after the game, Mazzaro was demoted to AAA. But how much blame do you put on him as opposed to manager Ned Yost? This is a 24-year-old kid with a pretty decent arm who was not having a good night.
In all likelihood, Mazzaro has lost most, if not all, of his confidence. Pitching damage aside, what is the psychological effect on him? Will he ever be back in the majors? It will be very, very hard to recover from a game like this. And it was certainly preventable had Yost pulled him during the ten-run fourth.
I certainly agree with trying to save your bullpen. But I would so much rather exhaust all my arms than leave a young guy out to dry for over two innings of some of the worst pitching baseball has ever seen.
For the Royals, this game was a back breaker. Their surprising start had many excited about the rise of Kansas City, but losing by 18 runs to Cleveland and losing Kyle Davies on the way will likely relegate the Royals back to the lower half of the AL Central.
All of this comes on the heels of one of the worst pitching performances in baseball history. Vin Mazzaro is a talented pitcher. But last night might be unforgettable, as it was the day a pitcher met his demise.