The Paradoxes of Pitchers
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.