Sep 23, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Addison Reed (43) is congratulated by catcher Josh Phegley (36) for a victory against the Toronto Blue Jays at U.S Cellular Field. The White Sox beat the Blue Jays 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

If Addison Reed is running on fumes, why is he running?

 

Addison Reed is not exactly sprinting it out to the finish this month. He’s blown a couple of saves and has a 7.11 ERA for September, which is only across 6.1 innings, but is accompanied by every indicator that he’s deserved the punishment. Seven walks, under 60% of his pitches are finding the strike zone, his typical scary-low groundball rates combined with line drives hammered everywhere.

He’s just looked a mess, anecdotally, with his fastball often sitting 91-92 mph, the strike zone morphing into a mystical concept for him and tight sliders eluding him. So it was no surprise to hear Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone comment that he was “running on fumes” at this point in the season. Especially since they had done it before, noting his herculean three-inning, 55-pitch effort on June 5, and when Hawk ominously asked Reed while he was in the midst of his August streak of saving six games in a row, “Are you going to be able brush your teeth tomorrow?”

It’s more than a little odd, though, for the broadcast crew–one marked by a friendly and supportive attitude toward the franchise–to make a regular point of noting how exhausted the team’s closer is. It only requires a few steps of logic for a viewer to realize that high-leverage situations are being handed to a pitcher working in a diminished state, where he is in a position to fail with disastrous consequences, or that a presumably highly-valued player on the team is being misused. The broadcast team does not just to such conclusions, of course.

The pregnant pauses after every Alejandro De Aza baserunning mistake is the closest Hawk comes to really letting it be known what he would change about the team, and the sentiment that Reed pitching through physical limitations is a great test of his mettle pervades any on-air discussion of him, just as Chris Sale‘s velocity loss at the end of 2012 was termed as him “learning how to pitch,” by the local press. The line between a pitcher working through not having his best stuff and being diminished, or fatigued is blurred, seemingly intentionally.

The incomparable work of BrooksBaseball.net show Reed’s fatigue as something to measure rather than just speculate about.

While some velocity variation is inevitable, just compare the charts of the similarly heavily used Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom. Reed’s late-season fall-off also aligns with an easy explanation: he bottomed out in August, a month in which he pitched 17.1 innings and appeared on three-straight days three times, and six out of seven days once. Since then, he’s pitched like crap despite a lighter pace. Reed has never brought the pyrotechnics and consistent high-90′s heat that his 2011 season promised, but his breaking down at the end of a long, 95+ loss season is less worrisome than confusing.

Why the August winning streak was treated like a playoff race is confusing once more, what is the point of seeing Reed hang himself with four walks Saturday when September call-ups are all over the place? What does he really have to prove for the rest of this season? Either it’s his unique placement in the circle of trusted relievers, his own enthusiasm for being never relenting, or just a hesitance to treat the last half of a doomed season to be as meaningless as it can be. The White Sox don’t want to be the Astros, or stop competing, but stepping back and realizing that working your aces until they can no longer uphold their own standards is self-defeating should be easier now, not harder.

 

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan

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