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How good will Yu Darvish be?

3 Feb

Yu Darvish is carrying over $100 million of expectations on his arm to deliver for the Rangers, but without having thrown a single pitch for an MLB organization yet the lingering question is how good will he be? Is he going to be more Dice-k or Nomo his first year out? Will he be a whole different beast – and beast is what Texas is paying for – make no mistakes about that,.

Those who are evaluating with their heart see 20 wins, 300 strikeouts and a 2.25 range ERA. Darvish has tools to do that according to some scouts – he has to have SOMETHING good going on to land the deal he did and the record setting posting fee, but that good? Another set of scouts see him being better than Nomo was early on, but certainly not a Cy Young winning range of pitcher. What is reasonable to expect?

1. Early success – No one has a sufficient range of video and personal contact with Darvish yet to build a strategy for facing him. Like many NPL imports, he has a decided advantage there. Unlike many others, he has better command of his breaking stuff and a devastating fastball by not just NPL standards but MLB standards. 20 wins out of the gate? nah, but a 16 win freshman season is totally reasonable. he will feast on the weak teams, but according to one former NPL manager turned scout, Darvish has never really faced a steady diet of deep lineups. Teams like Anaheim, Boston and New York might present problems for him where strings of 4 hitters in a row can take him deep.

2. Darvish has great control and a filthy fastball, but he nibbles corners for strikeouts too often. Call it the Dice-K disease. If Darvish starts relying on his fastball as a put away pitch more, he can rack up 250 K’s. It is that good. The problem will be getting him to believe that and throw it more often rather than trying to get better hitters than he has ever faced on a daily basis to chase breaking balls 3 inches off the plate.

3. ERA will be good – but more like a 3.50 good. Darvish is coming from a league where teams play not to lose rather than to win. A tie is an outcome in the NPL and games are only 9 innings regardless of score. It does change the way pitchers and hitters approach the game. He is used to seeing teams play for one run at a time station to station style. Seeing teams that can, and do, play for big innings will be new. He will get torched on this for a little while until he adjusts to the different mindset the MLB game has vs the NPL.

Darvish will not be a bust – not like some are predicting, but he also isn’t the second coming of Nolan Ryan even if he looks that way until June. Posting fee aside, texas got a bargain. More so than any NPL imported pitcher, Darvish has the ability to be an MLB Ace. The only question is if he will reach that potential before his deal with Texas is up.

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Why established closers are often bad free agent signings -including Papelbon

28 Jan

After a recent post about the Jonathan Papelbon signing possibly being a bad move by the Phillies, I took some heat. I’d love to have left a few of those comments up, but I have a three F-bomb per comment limit. There is a reason I think the Papelbon signing was not necessarily bad, but definitely overvalued – and why that is true of most relievers around his level. Stick with me here – there will be a point made.

Aside from Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera, name a closer that has gone more than about 7 seasons as a lights out closer over the past 20 years – let’s call it since 1991. How many can you name?

John Wettland – 9 seasons as a closer and the last two were a bit rocky with 3.60+ ERA’s and a decent assortment of blown saves.

Rod Beck – 13 seasons as a closer – 6 dominant in the middle, the last 5 he only saved 46 games total – and was out of the game completely for a full season to boot.

Doug Jones – 18 season with 8 good ones, His “quality streak” ended in ’94 with 27 saves (22 saves in ’95) and it wasn’t until ’97 he put up a decent mark again. After that is was mop up work pretty much.

Robb Nen – 10 seasons closing, 8 quality seasons in a row, and then a torn muscle ended. Never pitched again in the bigs.

Roberto Hernandez had 10 solid seasons of closer work, then his last 5 years he picked up 8 total saves – and 4 came in 1 season.

Jeff Montgomery we’ll say 8 of 9 on and then he was done. When he was done, I mean he was over! He hung out a couple seasons, but it was just scrub duty mopping up.

John Franco was a bit of an anomaly. He had 11 quality closer seasons, but he was used so many different ways it’s tough to bag the guy. He closed, he went long – and he’d close multiple innings. he was more of a 70’s style closer than ’90’s style.

Frankie Rodriguez – yeah he was money for awhile, now he’s just glad to have a job.

Who else is there? Dibble, Aguilera, Bryan Harvey and almost 200 other guys have closed at some point the last twenty years. Maybe 10 of those guys can say they put together more than 7 quality seasons as a closer in a row, Fewer still can say ten total. It’s not easy to do. The odds are against the closer.

here is my take on why it is so hard to sustain as a closer. The first few seasons you close, guys see a particular closer so little they lose the edge. The closer owns them because no matter how much video you watch on a guy, live pitching is different. Closers evolve more when they are younger picking up an extra pitch, tweaking their delivery. They may seem small so far as changes go, but any change is big to the hitter. It’s a new adjustment to make. Then there is the issue of health – going full out like that over and over takes a big toll on an arm. Warm up fast and then deliver fast. it’s a different beast than starting. They have to maintain the closer mentality of confidence and not become complacent resting on their laurels. A lot of things have to go right to make it several years in a row of closing out games at a high level.

So when I say the odds are against the Phillies getting the type of performance out of Papelbon they are paying for, it’s not just bagging Paps. I watched the guy since he was a starter.  I can see his command getting iffy more often than it used to. I see him nibbling for the corner a lot more than he should rather than going straight into attack mode. I see behaviors in his approach that make his results less than you’d expect for his level of talent. He is at a point in his career where major rejuvenation is not the norm. I’m not saying the guy can’t do it, I’m just saying I don’t think he will.

Why signing Jonathan Papelbon was a bad deal for the Philles

28 Jan

Four years and 50 million very big, very large dollars were showered upon Jonathan Papelbon to bring his hard throwing, jig dancing self to Philly to nail down the closer role and provide a little stability that hasn’t quite been present the last two years. Philly fans will get treated to 35-40 saves, odds are they’ll see him do the dance whether they like it or not. They’ll also sit there wondering how the hell they paid $10m for they guy.

Give Papelbon a lead and he can usually protect it. That’s not the tag you hang on most $10m closers. I’ve watched Paps from AAA until now, and he was a decent starter, but he’s a better closer. For awhile he looked like he was going to be a great closer. His numbers say he’s elite – he piles up saves with a high of 41 in 2008, but he’s saved fewer each year since with only 31 last year. He’s picking up wins, by virtue of blowing leads and getting bailed out by the offense which Philly can do, but at $10m should they need to? Every year that passes, Papelbon walks a thinner tightrope – and he falters a lot. In 2010, his ERA was 3.90 which for a closer is a joke, and last year it was only a smidge under 3.00 – still not too good.

Paps may do great – I kinda hope he does just so Sox fans have to hear how good he’s doing, but for what Philly spent they could have gotten someone younger, cheaper and better. Hell, the Yankees have guys that can close littering their roster right down to AAA – they’d work a deal out. All that side, I understand the deal – Paps has been in the spotlight and done well. he’s a brand name and he can be sold to the fans buying tickets as an upgrade. he is an upgrade, but then again even Joe Nathan would be and he’s a huge question mark. They needed a name, they got the biggest available early as possible and they overpaid. Then again, they can afford to – look at what Raul Ibanez is raking in.

Does Hiroki Kuroda put the Yankees over the top?

14 Jan

After doing next to nothing regarding acquiring new talent over the winter, the Yankees made a big splash doing what no one saw coming and to a degree thought possible. Picking up Michael Pineda and his fastball that hits 100mph when he’s grooving was not the surprise – although his name had yet to pop up on the Yankee radar publicly. No, the big news was spiriting away Hiroki Kuroda on a one year $10m deal when everyone seemed convinced he would only pitch in LA or go back to Japan. While the Yankees have had problems with NPL pitchers before (Irabu and Igawa most notably), Kuroda is a bit different.

While we get what some critics of the deal say pointing out that Kuroda hasn’t been a big winner, we counter with he was in LA. Joe Torre is not known for handling pitchers well, and although we love Don Mattingly he isn’t either. Add to that the fact that the Dodgers have flat out stunk and been mired in off field controversy and it’s amazing they got 25 guys into matching clothes much less won any games. Kuroda is a legitimate starter.

Kuroda can go 200 innings – something that will come easier when not being lifted for pinch hitters way too early because he’s playing in the NL and a manager that panics about offense too much too early. In Mattingly’s defense though, with the team he’s had, offense was a reason to panic before the first pitch. What Kuroda brings to the table is a strong, reliable #2 starter with an ERA around 3.00. That will go up in the AL East, but so too will his run support by nearly a 65% increase. That is significant enough to feel good about the deal.

Suddenly Burnett is coming in as a more comfortable #3 starter with Hughes and Nova likely to hold down the #4 and #5 spots. That makes Garcia the odd man out as the long man/spot starter, but that may work out well. There are always injuries and if this year is like last, scheduling problems due to the weather where an extra arm that can deliver 5 quality innings is a huge plus.

Edward “Whitey” Ford – The Chairman of the Board

10 Jan

During the the dynasty years of the Yankees in the 1950’s there was no bigger “money game” pitcher in baseball than New York native Edward “Whitey” Ford. “Slick” as his was known to his teammates, most notably long time friend Mickey Mantle, was the southpaw that anchored the pitching staff of some of the greatest teams the game of baseball has ever seen. With a great array of statistics compiled over 18 seasons and a slew of World Series appearances, Ford was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974. While that is all fine well to say, to truly understand how incredible he was one must take a closer look at his accomplishments.

The “Chairman of the board” ended his career with a record of 236-106 for a .690 winning percentage which is the highest of any pitcher in the twentieth century that made has a minimum of 100 wins. It also ranks as third all time, most all time against all pitchers with 200 or more wins. In addition to leading the league in wins three times, ERA once, and shutouts twice, Ford took home the 1961 CY Young Award, unbelievably his only one. Add that to a career ERA of only 2.75 and you have a legend. What earned Ford his reputation as a money pitcher however was they manner he took control of the World Series.

While some of his World Series records have fallen, there remain three which may never be broken. His marks of ten wins and 96 strikeouts may one day fall, although given the game today it is hard to imagine any pitcher getting enough opportunities. What seems most likely to never be broken however is his 33 2/3 scoreless innings streak. That is better than 4 1/2 consecutive complete game shutouts. It is hardly likely we will even see a pitcher throw four shutouts in their World Series career, much less more than 4 in a row. Consider also his record 22 games started as a pitcher and total appearances as a pitcher, which are still records, and it is likely he will continue to be regarded as the greatest World Series pitcher for a long time to come.

Ford, unlike many dominant pitcjers of the era, didn’t have the great fastball we so often think of an ace having. He istead controlled the game by using a variety of off-speed pitches he could command with amazing precision. As if that weren’t enough he had one of the best pick-off moves in the game just to further frustrate anyone that dared wander off base.He was considered one of the first of a new era of “thinking” pitchers that analyzed hitters rather than try to overpower them.He was quoted once as saying: “You would be surprised how many important outs you can get by working the count until the hitter is sure you are going to throw to his weakness, and then throw to his power instead.”

By the time he retired in 1967 he had already established himself as an astute businessman parlaying his fame in to numerous money making opportunities, many of which he is still involved in today. Ford didn’t make it to the hall of Fame on his first ballot, but when he went in with the player he considered his best friend, Mickey Mantle, in 1974 it just seemed right to all involved. Of course by this point in his life the long and wild nights on the town with Mickey were mostly behind him, he liked to joke retirement cut down on his carousing.

Whitey is still with us today regularly speaking and appearing at any number of functions, for a fee of course. While he isn’t out taking a bite out of the Big Apple as often as he used to, you can still be sure to see him hanging around Yankee Stadium whenever there is a big game. From the greatest money pitcher in World Series history, we could expect no less.

Why Tommy John should make the Hall of Fame

9 Jan

The riddle as to why Tommy John has yet to find a home in the Baseball Hall of Fame (BBHOF) is a mystery that has left countless followers of the game scratching their head. Over his 26 year career which began in 1963 with the Indians and finished with the Yankees in 1989, John was a model of consistency and truly placed himself among the all time elite pitchers in baseball history. One has to wonder what else he could have done aside from continuing on for another year or two for the sole purpose of padding his statistics, an option he did have but declined. To see how John ranks among the greats of the game we can first start by looking at his record.

As junk-balling southpaw, John depended on allowing hitters to put the ball in play rather than using the tactics of a power pitcher to simply strikeout as many batters as possible. This is evidenced by what many consider the one are he is deficient in which was strikeouts. He only had 2,245 which was averaging less than 100 per year. To some sportswriters that was a black eye for some reason. Still, John’s other numbers were as good as or superior to most. His 288-231 career record place him at seventh place all-time for wins by a left handed pitcher. The only southpaw with more wins not in the Hall of Fame is Randy Johnson, since Johnson is still playing he is not yet eligible.

John further had a career 3.34 ERA, led the league in shutouts three times, and was a four time All-Star. He posted three 20 or more win seasons and appeared in three World Series. While John was never a pitcher associated to being the Ace of a staff, he put up numbers which were similar. The argument can always be made he easily lost the 12 games need to reach 300 due to playing for terrible teams nearly the first decade of his career. Of course there was also the missed 1975 season when he underwent ligament replacement surgery which has now famously been named for him.

Tommy John is a prime example of a player who is being punished for being consistent over a quarter century of play without ever being the marquee player of a franchise. Whether he only averaged 13 wins a season or not, the fact that he did that for 26 years still counts for something. We can’t reward one player for being durable and consistent and then say another isn’t worthy because they exhibit the same qualities when it comes time to vote. As John failed to reach the minimum tally to remain on the ballot, he ws dropped and will first be considered by the Veterans Committee in 2010. While it isn’t likely he will make it the first time, it will be hard to keep him out much longer, especially with so many players who have been enshrined with similar numbers and careers.

John has stated that while it would have been great to be voted in by the writers, it would mean more to be elected by his peers. John was a true gentleman of the game and deserves this honor. The time has arrived and he should take his place among the greats of the game, his peers, the Hall of Famers.

Why baseball’s pitch count era may be ending

4 Jan

The pitch count era of baseball is now firmly twenty or so years old having reached widespread use in the late 1980’s. While initially the pitch count was scoffed at, the big money era of the early 90’s made working on a pitch count a reality for most young pitchers entering professional baseball. How and why the era began in itself leads us to see why it may also be coming to an end.

Prior the early 1980’s it wasn’t uncommon to see starting pitchers toss 20 complete 9 inning games each year. Even second tier starters could be depended on to toss several complete games. By the mid 1970’s the era of the closer became more dominant with the emergence of pitchers like Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Sparky Lyle, and Rich Gossage. Managers saw these closers as guys that could come into a game for two or three innings and go lights out. Initially the thinking was they were a specialist stopgap to aid a struggling starter, but eventually they became the go to man in every close game with increasing regularity whether a pitcher struggled or not. As closers became a more dominant part of the landscape and their roles evolved, starters threw fewer innings and likewise fewer pitches per game in most cases.

Moving forward managers and GM’s began setting teams up with the philosophy that so long as a starter could go seven innings and they could turn a game over to a closer all was well. Pitchers were then being trained with that in mind in the minor leagues. By the 90’s, big money contracts and deepened bullpens which had closers, setup men. middle relievers, and specialists that were groomed specifically for each role further cut down the need for starters to go deeper into games as well as their pitch count.

It was believed this was good thing as it protected the large investments made developing young starting pitchers by reducing the wear on their arms. it was theorized that in doing so these youngsters would remain serviceable if not dominant for a longer time period. The second bonus was they often believed that by throwing pitches teams would save money by not paying a pitcher on the disabled list suffering from arm injuries as well as their replacement that was called up from the minors or acquired from outside the system

What happened in reality is that pitchers were still getting injured as often as their counterparts from an earlier era. The second problem noted was that few pitchers that made their way to the majors who were trained on pitch counts failed to have the ability to go deep into games if need be and actually needed more rest than pitchers of earlier eras. many forget that it wasn’t until the mid 1970’s that all teams had finally moved from the 4 to 5 man starting rotation. In effect GM’s and owners are now noting that they are paying more money for more pitchers that do less than was necessary previously. It is finally clicking in this practice does not make the best sense.

What this has further led to is the huge overpayment of pitchers than can go deep into games because they have the ability to throw 125 pitches per game which was commonplace only 25 years ago. Examining the money spent on three prime examples of pitchers with high pitch count abilities; Josh Beckett. A.J. Burnett, and C.C. Sabathia, it is evident that as good as they are. dollar for dollar inflation adjusted, they are not equal to the likes of Steve Carlton, Jim Hunter, or even Don Sutton and Bert Blyleven.

Some GM’s like Nolan Ryan have completely removed pitch counts from the organization at all levels. Ryan has cited numerous times that had he been on a pitch count he would likely have had 70 or more fewer wins and a pile of strikeouts removed from his career total. His feeling is a pitcher that is trained with the mindset that going 9 innings is their goal every game rather than 6 is they way to build better pitchers, provide team flexibility, and not only save money, but make money. The philosophy states that having a staff of starters that can regularly complete games and not have to cede the mound to the bullpen due to fatigue means that a full complement of middle relievers and specialists is not necessary. The money previously spent on them can be rolled into improving the quality of the team as whole at that point without sacrificing anything. A better team equals more wins and higher revenue.

Not all teams have fully embraced this philosophy yet, but the trend is moving that way. Teams are willing to dig deep to acquire or train pitchers which are nowadays considered throwbacks only because they can throw a lot of pitches. They are seeing what Ryan is to a lesser degree. The worry still remains in figuring out how to get pitchers to the point they can safely throw more pitches without damaging their arms. As it is now a common practice to begin limiting the amount of pitches or innings kids can throw as early as little league, they can go through college these days having the mindset that 6 innings is a good start and everything else is gravy. It takes time to break that barrier down as much as it takes time to build durability.

The biggest thing in baseball is now as it has always been which is the economics of the trend. The feeling is once a new generation of pitchers comes through the majority of systems capable of throwing in the area of 130 pitches per start, the premium on them will deflate and make them affordable for all teams. Signing bonuses for pitchers in the draft exhibiting this ability will similarly decrease, and serve as a second financial factor. With that money a team in theory could improve itself by spending more on the offense, better coaches and development teams etc…, or the more likely scenario of lining their pockets with extra profits. In the end, the profit motive always wins out and may be the biggest reason the pitch count era is coming to an end.