Brian Fuentes on pace to shatter record for relief losses

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Somewhat obscured by Brian Fuentes ripping his manager after last night’s game is that the whole thing transpired because he was stripped of closing duties and then took his seventh loss of the season while pitching in a non-save situation.

Fuentes is now 1-7 with a 5.06 ERA through the A’s first 48 games, which puts him on pace to lose 23 or 24 times this season. Suffice it to say that would be an all-time record for a reliever. By a lot.

Here’s the current single-season relief losses leaderboard:

Gene Garber        1979     16
Mike Marshall      1975     14
Mike Marshall      1979     14
Darold Knowles     1970     14
John Hiller        1974     14

It’s no coincidence that every season listed above is from the 1970s, when relievers often logged 100-plus innings and racked up far more decisions because bullpen management didn’t revolve around the save stat. Gene Garber threw 106 innings with a 4.33 ERA in his 16-loss season, getting the save or a decision in 47 of his 68 appearances.

At first glance you might see that list and conclude that Mike Marshall must have been a terrible reliever, but that’s far from the truth. In fact, he was one of the best relievers of his era and probably the most durable reliever in baseball history. In the two seasons listed above in which he lost 14 games as a reliever Marshall logged 109 and 143 innings. And he had ERAs of 2.65 and 3.29 while winning 19 games.

Fuentes has little chance of breaking Garber’s record by losing 17 times, let alone 23 or 24 defeats, but he’s off to a helluva start.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉