Blue Jays 7, Devil Rays 2: Usnoth's Rising Towers

Saturday, September 10 2005 @ 08:00 AM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

It is a dictum intoned by many a pundit - when your offense gets you some runs, you want your pitcher to go out there and shut the other team down in the next inning.

This Josh Towers failed to do in the first inning last night. Aside from that minor (as it turned out) lapse, he was just fine. Again.

We might point out, in the interests of a perhaps over-scrupulous accuracy, that the Blue Jays offense had very little to do with the first two runs of the game. Frank Catalanotto singled with one out. But Vernon Wells struck out, Corey Koskie hit a ground ball to first base, Shea Hillenbrand hit a fly ball to centre... hang on. Just how many outs was Seth McClung required to get in the first inning?

Five, as it turned out, because Travis Lee couldn't handle the last hop on Koskie's ground ball, and Hillenbrand's fly ball glanced off Joey Gathright's glove and rolled to the wall. Gathright paused and looked at his glove, perhaps checking to see if critters had gnawed a hole in it, before breaking into a somewhat desultory pursuit of the baseball as the runners circled the bases.

Tampa tied it up in their half, thanks largely to a couple of doubles from Crawford and Huff that weren't hit particularly well, but found nice open pieces of real estate to fall into. Towers struck out Jonny Gomes and Travis Lee to end the inning.

The Jays offense stepped up and restored the two run lead without any help from the Tampa fielders. The much-maligned Eric Hinske led off with a double and Aaron Hill walked. Gabe Gross then lined a single to left, and Brian Butterfield surprised me a little by immediately waving Hinske home. Butterfield knows more about this stuff than I do - in particular, he saw that Hinske had got an outstanding break off second base. And while Carl Crawford has an assortment of wonderful tools, a powerful throwing arm is not among them. And so it came to pass that on the 9th of September, Gabe Gross had his first RBI of 2005. At least it was the game-winner. He celebrated by instantly getting caught off the bag when Russ Adams lined a shot into Travis Lee's glove. But Frank Catalanotto delivered his second hit in as many innings, scoring Hill from second, and the Jays were up 4-2.

Towers shut the Devil Rays down through the next five innings - he only retired them in order once, but he was able to wiggle out of the one real jam (base loaded in the second). He got some help from his defense along the way. Frank Catalanotto made a couple of nice catches in left field. Even more fun was watching Shea Hillenbrand gun a fastball to home plate to catch Carl Crawford - Crawford, possibly channelling Alfredo Griffin, was attempting to score from second on a ground ball to the infield.

The offense tacked on some additional runs - Corey Koskie hit what might have been the most impressive home run any Blue Jay has hit all season, and when Lou Piniella left his reliever in the game too long (boy, have we heard this story more than once this year or what?), Adams and Koskie drove in a couple more runs in the seventh. Chulk, Speier, and Schoeneweis closed it out.

Gross ended up with three hits, Catalanotto, Hinske and Koskie had two apiece - and there's a very good chance that Koskie is the only one of those guys who will be playing over the weekend, what with Kazmir and Fossum scheduled to start for Tampa.

And so, on to Josh.

Josh Towers, it seems to me, has always been one of the most interesting pitchers the Blue Jays have ever employed. And way back in the dim and murky past (OK, it was July 2004, halfway through the Season From Hell), I commenced to speculating on just what it was the Blue Jays had here...

Towers intrigues me because so many pitchers have trouble throwing strikes. Well, Josh throws strikes at will. It's a genuine and unusual talent.

Perhaps, I speculated, he was another Paul Quantrill. But no...

There are superficial similarities - they give up a lot of hits, but they never walk anyone...Q of course is a freak who can pitch 80 games a year without his arm falling off... doubt Josh could do that....The differences between them are significant though. Towers walks even fewer people than Q - but Towers gives up more than twice as many HRs. Q can give up lots of hits because he never walks anyone and never gives up HRs. The only way to beat him is to string a bunch a hits together.

A better comparison, it occurred to me, might be Brad Radke of the Twins.

...who never walks anyone and gives up lots and lots of HRs. He's much harder to hit though, gives up fewer hits than Q... Also: Q and Radke are both groundball pitchers. Q in particular has been an EXTREME GB pitcher for his career....In the past Towers has not been a GB pitcher; this year however he is suddenly (small sample size, I know) getting many more grounders than fly balls. This has had the bonus of reducing his HR per 9 innings to a much healthier 1.03...

And that was my conclusion - Towers is never going to be Paul Quantrill. He has to figure out how to turn himself into Brad Radke.

That was then, this is now. How's it going?

PLAYER	    TEAM    G   GS CG SHO    IP   H  R ER  BB  SO  HR ERA  TBF  GDP  K/9  GB  FB  G/F
Josh Towers  Tor   30   30  1   1 179.1 209 87 77  25  99  19 3.86 784   16 4.97 256 229 1.12
Brad Radke   Min   29   29  3   1 188.2 202 90 82  21 114  30 3.91 782   10 5.44 266 250 1.06

When Towers came into the league, with Baltimore in 2001, he was an extreme fly-ball pitcher. And many of those fly balls flew right over the fence. This, of course, is a problem. Even if you never walk anybody, if you give up lots of hits and lots of home runs, there will be trouble, as Robo-Cop likes to say.

Towers immediately began getting more ground balls than fly balls upon arriving in Toronto, but he remained susceptible to the Big Fly. He had allowed 32 homers in 167.2 IP as an Oriole; in his first two years in Toronto, he allowed 31 homers in 180.1 IP. A slight improvement, but not enough.

And here you see the area where Towers has made a big step forward. He still doesn't walk people, but he's keeping the ball in the park. He's doing a much better job in this department than Brad Radke, for one, and pretty well everyone else on the Toronto Blue Jays, for another. Only Scott Schoeneweis and Roy Halladay have given up home runs less frequently.

This is a sea-change, folks. This is a different pitcher, someone who's learned that he doesn't have to always just bring it in over the plate and see what happens.

There are, of course, some other significant differences between Towers and Radke. Brad Radke is 32 years old and is making $9 million dollars, in the first year of a two year deal. Josh Towers is 28 years old, and is earning $358 thousand this season.

Well, he's going to get a raise.

By the way, Towers is still younger than Scott Downs. Besides being better.