Results tagged ‘ Pitching ’
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.
You hear it said all the time … “There’s just not enough pitching these days.” “Every team is short of pitching.” Based on what I’ve seen, there isn’t a shortage of pitching; in fact, there’s probably too much pitching around. And, paradoxically, if there were a true shortage of pitching, there’d probably be better pitching all the way around.
There are a couple of reasons why I don’t think there’s a shortage of pitching. First, thanks to Tony LaRussa, teams have been using more and more roster spots for pitchers. When I started following baseball, forty years ago, teams carried nine pitchers, sometimes ten. Thirty years ago, teams carried either ten or eleven pitchers. Fifteen years ago, it became eleven or twelve. Now, it’s twelve or thirteen. As teams demand more and more pitchers, it stands to reason that the twelfth and thirteenth aren’t as good as the ninth and tenth. So, if teams can’t find that twelfth and thirteenth pitcher, they cry that there’s a pitching shortage.
But the real reason I don’t think there’s a pitching shortage is because the major league organizations keep shuttling pitchers between the major league team and the minor league teams. They would only do this if they believed that the pitcher being called up was as good as, or almost as good as, or better than, the pitcher they were shipping out. Every team has an example of this — for the Orioles, it’s Frank Mata.
Frank Mata was signed out of Venezuela by the Twins in 2002; after the 2009 season, he signed with the Orioles as a minor-league free agent. He was assigned to Norfolk, and became the closer after a couple of week. He was called up in late May. He allowed one earned run in the seven innings of his first seven appearances; then started to struggle. He was sent down after his last outing on July 18, having pitched 15 games, 17 1/3 innings with a 7.79 ERA.
But. His ERA was blown up by three appearances. Appearance 8, June 14 — four runs in 1 2/3 innings. Appearance 12, July 1 — 4 runs in 1/3 of an inning. Appearance 13, July 3 — three runs in 1 1/3 innings. Shortly after that, the Orioles decided to return him to Norfolk and try someone else. But, overall, Mata didn’t really pitch badly. The Orioles over-reacted to a small sample size.
And they could overreact because there isn’t a shortage of pitching. Mata was “struggling” — so they sent him down and tried someone else. But, if there was a shortage of pitching, there wouldn’t be anyone worth trying. The fact that teams keep trying to catch lightning in a bottle, giving up on anyone when he has a slight hiccup, demonstrates that there isn’t a true shortage of pitching.
And, if there were a true pitching shortage, pitching would probably be better. It takes time for pitchers – indeed, for all players — to get acclimated to the major leagues. When a pitcher knows he’s essentially interchangeable with three or four other guys, it puts more pressure on him to be perfect – have a bad game, down you go to Norfolk. If he knew that a bad game didn’t mean the end of his career, he’d relax and likely pitch better. And, because his good games and bad games would be more in balance, his stats would be better and he’d have more confidence.
Sometime, some non-championship caliber team is going to pick its eleven-man pitching staff on opening day and commit to it, save for injury, for half a season. I suspect that team will be quite successful.