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Torres: Too Much?

The most interesting article in the Pittsburgh papers recently is this one in the Beaver County Times, which asks whether the Bucs might be using Salomon Torres too often.

Pirates manager Jim Tracy also worries at times that he might be using Torres too much. However, he keeps coming back to one thought whenever the idea crosses his mind.

"This is my first year here, but everybody keeps telling me that if I like his stuff now then I should see what he's like in the second half of the season," [Jim] Tracy said. "He is one of those pitchers who just get betters with more work. You look at the second-half numbers and it's clear that he gets better as the season goes along and his sinker becomes an even better pitch when his arm is a little tired."

I'm not sure there's enough evidence to prove that's true. As WTM points out, Torres was fighting nagging injuries in the first half of 2005, and his velocity was off. That, more than anything pertaining to his sinker, might explain why his second half that year was so much better than his first. In 2004, Torres posted a 3.00 ERA before the All-Star break and a 2.25 ERA after, but that was entirely because of a poor April. Throughout the rest of the year, he was excellent. (And it wasn't because his arm got tired in April, either, since he only appeared in ten games that month.) Those two seasons are Torres' only full-time seasons in relief since 1997. In 2003, when Torres started and relieved, he was actually worse after the All-Star break than before.

But let's say that Tracy is right, and that Torres is, in fact, better when he gets a little tired. Here are Torres' appearances and innings pitched in the early parts of the last three seasons.

April-June 2004
42 appearances, 45 innings

April-June 2005
32 appearances, 36 innings

April-June 2006
50 appearances, 56 innings

Torres has always pitched a lot, but this year he's logging significantly more appearances than he ever has. Torres may be more effective the more tired he gets, but surely there are limits to that. The problem is that we don't know where they are, and Tracy seems like he really wants to find out.

As the BCT article above points out, Torres is on pace to break the Pirates' record for appearances in a season. If his pace continues, he will also approach the major-league record for appearances in a season.

There is nothing prima facie wrong with this, since all pitchers are different. But if I'm the Pirates, I wouldn't let a pitcher appear in what the BCT describes as a "historic" number of games if I'm committed to him long-term, as the Pirates are with Torres. If you're going to do something to a pitcher that's borderline-abusive, you should do it to a guy who's signed to a one-year contract. If the Pirates continue like this with Torres, they probably don't know what's going to happen to him, and it would be awful if Torres were terrible in 2007 and 2008.

Tracy is in a tight spot here because the Pirates' starting pitching is neither especially durable nor especially good. The Pirates have a number of relief pitchers logging a large number of appearances - it's not just Torres.

I can think of a couple of potential solutions to this problem. One is for the Pirates to let some of their relievers - I'm thinking mostly of Damaso Marte here - pitch to more batters in each appearance. At this point in his career, Marte is probably best suited to the semi-lefty-specialist role in which Tracy is currently using him, but desperate times call for desperate measures. This would only help so much, however.

The other potential solution is for the Pirates to carry an extra reliever for a while.