Soon, I’m going to begin with my potentially entertaining and informative analyses of the the 2011 Norfolk Tides players. As I was assembling my thoughts, I realized that I hold several contradictory beliefs about pitchers. Rather than clutter the individual items with qualifications and hedges, I will explain my beliefs and try to reconcile them, realizing that they are probably irreconciliable.
Postulate 1 — Almost every pitcher who succeeds at AAA can succeed in major leagues.
Despite what some people believe, there really isn’t much of a difference between AAA and the major leagues. While all the best players are in the major leagues, there is a considerable overlap between middle-range major leaguers and the better AAA players. Pitchers who get AAA batters out, with sufficient time to get over intial nervousness and shock, can usually be successful major league pitchers. And there are plenty of examples — Edwin Jackson, Bruce Chen, Jeremy Guthrie, Jamie Moyer, the Tampa Bay bullpen. They may not become stars, but they become successful rotation starters and set-up relief pitchers. Because of this, I may be more optimistic about marginal pitchers than you would expect.
Postulate 2 — Pitchers are available. You can build a winning pitching staff with pitchers whom other organizations have given up on.
Don’t believe me? Look at the 1993 Phillies. With the arguable exception of Terry Mulholland, every single one of their pitchers was, at one point in their career, given up on. Houston traded Curt Schilling away because he was out of options and couldn’t make the Astros.
Actually, this postulate doesn’t directly affect my player comments — it’s just interesting. The corollary to this postulate is Corollary 2A – It’s not necessary to build a pitching staff within your own organization. Corollary 2B — Don’t waste early-round draft picks on pitchers.
Despite these earlier postulates, I still believe Postulate 3 — Some pitchers are better bets to achieve success than others.
I’m going to be very critical of the Baltimore Orioles and their handling of some of their pitchers. Essentially, I’m going to say that a competent organization wouldn’t choose to give starts to pitcher A while burying pitcher B. How can I reconcile that with Postulates 1 and 2, which imply that one pitcher is as good as another?
The unimportant point is that some of the pitchers the Orioles have confidence in haven’t had much success at AAA, or in some cases anywhere. If you have two pitchers, one of whom went 4-9 with a 5.75 ERA and the other went 10-4 with a 2.75 ERA, giving the major-league job to the first pitcher is nonsensical.
The important point is that, despite Postulates 1 and 2, some successful minor-league pitchers are better bets to succeed, or perhaps more properly achieve a higher level of success, than others. You can have two successful AAA pitchers, but the twenty-one-year-old with the devastating stuff is a better bet for long-term success than the twenty-eight-year-old who relies on command. “Success” for the latter might be a few years as a league-average pitcher; success for the former might be a Hall-of-Fame career.
Last off-season, I profiled every Norfolk Tides player, answering what I thought were the basic questions about each. While some of my answers proved to be true, others remain open and still others were untrue. By popular demand — one person, who admitted to reading the entries and finding them interesting — I will be doing the same this off-season. Last season, I began the entries before the major-league regular season came to an end, and so some of my supporting data – accurate at the time — proved inaccurate. So, this season, I won’t begin my player analysis until after the major-league season ends.
On the whole, 2011 was a very strange season for the Tides. What wasn’t strange was their record, as the Tides have finished no better than .500 in any season I’ve worked for them. On the other hand, the Tides had no interesting young pitchers for any length of time. They had their share of once-interesting prospects and major leaguers send down to recover their groove, but no one who stayed with the team more than about three weeks or so. Among the position players, the Tides had neither fun veterans nor interesting prospects. The veterans tended to be former utilty infielders and backup catchers, and the young players tended to be low-level prospects. For the most part, the team played hard every day; they were simply not as talented as most of the other teams.
While the game of September 3 was mostly unusual from the 2011 Tides perspective, the game of September 5 was unusual in general.
- Durham starting pitcher Brian Baker struck out 7 and walked only 1 in his five innings. Unfortunately for him, he gave up ten hits and eight runs, leading to a final pitching line of
5 10 8 8 1 7. In addition, he gave up hits — including back-to-back home runs — to the first six batters he faced, then retired eleven of the next twelve (with the one who reached base being eliminated on a double play.)
- The Bulls used five singles and three home runs in four innings off Tides’ starter Ryohei Tanaka to produce three runs. Tanaka was pulled after four innings, not getting a chance for a win despite a 6-3 Tides lead.
- The Tides scored all eight runs without leaving a man on base. As soon as I mentioned that in the press box, the Tides hit two singles and left them on base.
- As a direct result of the point above, the Tides scored eight runs in a game in which Carlos Rojas, the #9 batter, only had three plate appearances. The Tides scored the eight runs and left three men on base, and didn’t bat in the bottom of the ninth, so the fourth plate appearance by #8 batter Adam Donachie was the last Tides plate appearance of the game (and season.)
- Durham’s Russ Canzler got credit for a base hit on a ball which fell out of Brendan Harris’ glove. Canzler hit a soft pop fly into shallow right field. Harris raced after hit, but the wind blowing out to left field pushed the ball toward center. Harris twisted his body and his wrist to get his glove on the ball, but couldn’t hang on. After agonizing and watching the replay, the official scorer decided that he couldn’t charge Harris with an error, despite the later pleading of Tides’ personnel (who wanted the run charged to Wynn Pelzer to be unearned.)
The Tides’ games of Saturday, September 3, and Monday, September 5 were the last games of the 2011 season that I worked. Often, the last games of the season reflect the season. However, these games not only did not particularly reflect the past season, these games were very unusual for any baseball games.
On Saturday, the Durham Bulls took advantage of almost every opportunity Tides starting pitcher Mitch Atkins provided them. It is true that in the second inning, Atkins hit two batters with pitches and Durham failed to score. But in the third inning, Atkins walked two batters before Matt Carson hit a three-run home run. In the sixth inning, Atkins walked Carson before Dan Johnson hit a two-run home run. Immediately afterward, Leslie Anderson doubled and scored on Daniel Mayora’s hit. Those were the only baserunners Durham had in Atkins’ six innings of work.
The Tides batters could not produce much offense against Durham starter Alex Torres and two relief pitchers, and trailed 6-1 going into the bottom of the ninth. Durham brought in Jay Buente to pitch. Buente is probably the worst pitcher in Durham’s bullpen, and the Bulls probably thought that even Jay Buente couldn’t blow the lead. They were right — sort of. Buente walked the first two batters he faced. After a fielder’s choice forceout at second base, Blake Davis singled in a run and Tyler Henson reached on an infield singled to load the bases. Durham decided that they didn’t want to find out if Jay Buente could blow the lead and brought in closer Rob Delaney. Josh Bell crushed a Delaney pitch to the wall in center field, about 405 feet from the plate. The ball was caught, but the runner on third scored and the runner on second advanced to third. The next batter, Brandon Snyder, ran the count to 3-2 and I told the official scorer “Swing-and-a-miss.” I was wrong; Snyder did swing and drove the ball into the left-field picnic area for a game-tying 3-run home run, capping a most improbable comeback.
But that only tied the game. The Tides brought in their closer, Mark Worrell, to pitch the tenth inning. Fairly or not, I remembered Worrell as someone who, after the Tides had come back late in the game to tie or take the lead, surrendered the runs that cost the Tides their win. But on this night, he gave up a mere single and held Durham scoreless.
In the bottom of the tenth, Brendan Harris led off with a ground ball that deflected off third baseman Daniel Mayora’s glove. Shortstop Tim Beckham raced toward the hole, caught the ball, turned and lept into the air, and managed to fire a strike to first base that ALMOST beat Harris to first. After a sacrifice bunt and a passed ball, Jacob Julius hit the sacrifice fly that gave the Tides an unusual come-from-behind win.
I suppose I might have been responsible for making that game-winning run an unearned run. The official scorer’s initial decision on the pitch that advanced Harris from second to third was “wild pitch”. I told him that I disagreed. The scorer looked at the videotape replay and decided to change his call to “passed ball”. It’s likely that if I hadn’t said anything, the initial call would have stood. While I have been critical of team personnel influencing official scorer’s decisions, I believe this to be different because (1) I wasn’t influencing the decision to the benefit of a player or another and (2) I would have accepted his decision not to change his ruling. There’s a big difference between getting multiple opinions to make the best decision possible and ordering the scorer to issue a beneficial ruling.
I’m working three of the last five Tides games of the year, and the games will be a little less enjoyable because Kyle Hudson, the Tide most fun to watch, has been promoted to Baltimore. Hudson has played very well over the last few weeks and I’m happy that he’s going to get a taste of the major leagues.
It’s unlikely that Norfolk will be assigned an interesting player to replace him, because the AA Bowie Baysox and the Advanced A Frederick Keys are both in contention for playoff berths. If a team is in playoff contention, most major-league teams will not promote its players to a higher minor-league classification for the last few days of the season.