Would Stephen Strasburg and/or Chris Sale be HOFers if Their Career’s Went Like This?

June 25, 2012

Two young pitchers who have performed very well in their brief major league careers are Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals and Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. Both youngsters were dominant in college. Strasburg was the top overall pick in the 2009 draft, while Sale was selected 13th overall a year later.

Both made their major league debuts very quickly. In fact, Sale signed right after the 2010 draft and was in the majors after only 10 innings in the minor leagues.

Strasburg has been solely a starting pitcher while Sale started in the bullpen and this season became a starting pitcher (Sale did have a relief appearance earlier this season, when he came in relief after the White Sox moved him back to the pen because of elbow stiffness). Strasburg and Sale, after both were called up to the major leagues in mid-season during 2010, have been downright dominating at times.

Strasburg has gone 15-5, 2.51 ERA in his short career, while Sale has a 12-5, 2.41 ERA. Both have similar WHIPs, ERA+ and H/9 numbers, with high K/9 rates. Strasburg’s numbers have been affected by his Tommy John surgery and Sale’s overall numbers by his two-year bullpen stint.

Each filled a glaring need for their teams. Strasburg became an attendance draw for a franchise in the early throes of their resurrection. Sale, however, was needed to become a stopper in the bullpen for two years before his transformation to starting pitcher, a role he has known throughout his entire career.  

Let’s fantasize a little and plot out one of these young pitchers careers. We can choose either Strasburg or Sale in our “for instance”, and since I am an American League fan, I will select Sale. Remember, although I will consistently reference Sale, these scenarios could also play out for Strasburg.

For arguments sake let’s say Sale, who has two Grade A pitches (fastball & slider), plus a very nice developing change-up, continues to pitch well in 2012 leading the White Sox to a playoff run.  He ends up winning 16 games, losing 7 while posting a great ERA of 2.85. Bothered by some arm issues the following season, Sale regresses to a record of 9-7.* The White Sox resist the Joba Chamberlain urge to move Sale back to the bullpen and he comes back strong in 2014, winning 22 games, losing 5 with a stellar ERA of 2.54. His strikeouts pile up consistently during that 2014 season, and Sale finished with 267 whiffs.

He will, of course, win his first Cy Young award.

*Sale does have a wicked delivery, one that if off-line to the plate and takes his throwing arm back way behind his body, getting into a high “Inverted W” arm action. Many evaluators believe this type of delivery is great for his velocity, but terrible for his health, and some have predicted a future arm surgery. While predicting future arm surgeries are not difficult for today’s pitchers (many, many pitchers who are babied have them –including Stephen Strasburg), I believe Sale’s delivery (except being off-line to the plate) is more like Randy Johnson’s. Johnson leaned over when delivering the ball, giving the image of a terrible delivery, when his delivery was actually not harmful to his health.

Over the next six seasons (while hitting his prime), Sale racks up totals of 20, 18, 17, 21 (another Cy award), 18 and 18 wins. American League hitters are oftentimes in awe and state “Sale is the premiere pitcher in the A.L…,” and “the movement on his pitchers sometimes make him impossible to hit.” After a devastating 19 strikeout performance against the cross town Chicago Cubs in the summer of 2015, a Sports Illustrated writer quotes the home plate umpire as saying, ” that was the best pitched game I have ever umpired.”

Remember that Strasburg (despite still being on strict pitch counts and innings limits) is putting up equally gaudy number in the National League. Because of these two phenoms, the drafts of 2009 (Strasburg, Dustin Ackley, Zach Wheeler, Drew Storen, Shelby Miller and Mike Trout) and 2010 (Sale, Bryce Harper, James Taillon, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey, Christian Yelich, Zach Lee) is now being considered two of the best drafts of all time.

After those 7 great seasons, Sale runs into some unforeseen difficulties and more elbow problems, posting only 31 wins over the next 4 seasons. But, in 2025 he bounces back, making 34 starts and going 21-7 with a 2.30 ERA and 295 strikeouts.  A third Cy Young award takes its rightful place in his trophy case (just missed his fourth in 2015, placing second to Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees). But, late in the comeback 2025 season Sale has a recurrence of the elbow problems which had plagued him over the prior four seasons.

With the White Sox clearly wanting him to continue playing, at age 36 Sale decides to take the Sandy Koufax/Mike Mussina route and retires gracefully from the game, and as George Costanzo would likely approve, he exits on a high note.

His career numbers are exceptional with a record of 213-118, an ERA of 2.97, with 2882 strikeouts recorded in slightly more than 3000 innings. He won the three CY Young awards and helped lead his team to at least one World Series title.

Remember it could also be Strasburg that has this career.

After that type of career, do you think Sale or Strasburg would be a Hall of Famer? Absolutely they would!

The writers would be falling all over themselves to proclaim Sale/Strasburg as the “best pitcher of his generation” and are predicting they might generate close to the vote totals of Greg Maddux, who became the first unanimous player voted into the Hall of Fame. 

So why then is there any debate at all about Roger Clemens’ chances for Hall of Fame induction?

Those career “fantasy numbers” presented above are exactly Clemens’ career totals AFTER the 1997 season in Toronto. This was the season BEFORE he has been named by his trainer Brain McNamee of being on the receiving end of “performance enhancing steroids” and human growth hormone (HGH).

Early in Clemens’ career, he had shoulder surgery and bounced back to go 24-4, slightly better than what Sale or Strasburg “did” above. But Clemens also won four Cy Young awards during this early period, before his ultra-competitive nature allegedly pushed him into the forbidden zone of performance enhancers.

About 99% of the baseball public has already persecuted Clemens, and an informal survey of 80 probable Hall of Fame voters, taken the day after the Mitchell Report came out, witnessed 28 saying they would vote YES for Clemens, 21 voting NO, with 31 UNDECIDED. Many undecided’s are clearly in the NO category after Clemens’ recent trial acquittal.  

The source of Clemens’ involvement was his long time trainer, Brian McNamee, who said he personally injected Clemens with steroids and HGH during the 1998, 2000 and 2001 seasons. Most people who have an opinion believe McNamee, but what McNamee said was under direct pressure from the federal government to “tell the truth” or face deep prosecution for distributing controlled substances.

While Greg Anderson kept his secrets regarding Barry Bonds, McNamee felt compelled to tell what he knew. And like I mentioned earlier, mostly everyone believes him.

But for the powers that be (the writers) to reduce Clemens’ entire body of work before the allegations made by McNamee is ridiculous.

Clemens is a Hall of Fame player with HOF credentials. If you add in the seasons which McNamee said he didn’t administer PEDs to Clemens (1999, 2002-2007), the non-alleged PED numbers are even more staggering. If you want to remove all the seasons from Clemens’ career after his first use of PEDs, then you still have a tremendous career. Clemens (and Barry Bonds) were HOF players before they became supposed “cheats.”

Should we then remove Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker from the HOF, great ball players who were implicated in a game-throwing scandal during the 1919 season? Do we remove from the HOF all the players like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Willie Stargell and Mike Schmidt who supposedly used “greenies” and other amphetamine drugs to stay on the field during the 1960s and 1970s?

Is it OK because the use of greenies (and reds, etc)  that was widely accepted in the game back then?

MLB writers constantly call on the game’s umpires to just call the game and not impose themselves into the game. Now it appears like the writers are not only calling the HOF game, but are actually imposing themselves into the contest.

And that is bad for baseball.

 

 


Is Prince Fielder Destined to Be a Washington National?

December 8, 2010

Based on the deal for Jayson Werth and what Adrian Gonzalez is expected to earn via an extension, the Milwaukee Brewers are well aware they will not be able to re-sign Prince Fielder to a long-term contract.

Tons of teams have looked into the big first baseman, including the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. With the Cubs not in yet, it appears they will go with a shorter-term fix like Carlos Pena. However, look for the Cubs to be players if Fielder reaches free agency.

With Scott Boras as his agent, Prince is likely to become a free agent, but there is one team which might be able to keep Fielder off the market.

Why not the Washington Nationals for Fielder? Boras is Fielder’s agent, and he just moved his outfielder Jayson Werth to Washington. The Nats are a natural fit for Fielder as they need a first baseman for 2011, but might be able to wait another season to sign the free agent to be.

However, if the Brewers are not in contention for the playoffs come July, could the Nats trade for Fielder, then sign him to a long-term extension thus keeping other potential suitors away.

The Nats have some pitching they can give up, with quite a few guys at the major league level and Triple A.

At the Winter Meetings, I asked Boras if he will push for a Fielder trade to the Nats. His reply? “I would love to be able to dictate things, but I can not force deals to happen.”

And he gave me a questioning look.

Boras appears to have a great relationship with Nats GM Mike Rizzo and the Lerners, having already worked on deals for the last two top draft picks, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper plus the recent Werth contract.

If Fielder is not traded to the Nationals this off season, look for him to be in a Nationals uniform by 2012, if not sooner.


With Strasburg’s Injury will Yankees Alter Their Plan for Phil Hughes?

August 27, 2010

Stephen Strasburg needs Tommy John surgery (TJS), and if you are in shock over this, you shouldn’t be. Strasburg has all the requirements of a guy destined for this procedure.

First, he throws extremely hard, upwards of 100 MPH. That is just too taxing on the throwing arm’s tendons and ligaments. There is a certain threshold for the body when it comes to pitching a baseball. Second, Strasburg has brutal pitching mechanics, with a very violent motion.

Rather than a smooth arc in his arm’s backswing, Strasburg uses a direct path, leading with his elbow. In leading the backswing that way, Strasburg’s elbow ends up well above his shoulder, putting extra stress on his arm.

With his velocity, that combination is a terrible one-two punch, most often leading to surgery. AJ Burnett, who still has bad mechanics, was a similar pitcher at a young age and needed TJS many years ago.

Unless they have great mechanics, most hard throwers have multiple arm issues. I spoke at length with pitching coach Rick Peterson last winter and he agreed that the Strasburg and Burnett-type arm action was detrimental to a pitcher’s health.

Strasburg has been babied and coddled as much as any pitcher ever and he still came down with an injury (actually two if you count his shoulder soreness earlier). But like other hard throwers who had TJS (Josh Johnson, Tim Hudson, Chris Carpenter), Strasburg will eventually come back and throw.

Let’s hope he has better mechanics upon his return or he is destined to be a reliever.

Many people are wondering why Strasburg was even in the majors just one season after his college career. Well, he dominated every level up to the major leagues and had nothing left to prove. He was carefully monitored, and likely would have the same injury pitching in the majors, minors, or college this season.

It is just a good thing that the Nationals were not in a playoff race and using Strasburg more than what he was actually used. That would have brought down a heap of big criticism from fans and media about “what is best for the player” and “the Nationals caused this injury.” *

*I am waiting for the criticism to start on Tony Gwynn, Strasburg’s head coach in college. While there is NO WAY Gwynn had anything to do with this injury by pitching Strasburg, someone has to be responsible in this blaming society we live in. Dusty Baker will never live down the injuries to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, yet he had nothing to do with the terrible mechanics of both young pitchers.

Everyone knows how strict the Nats were with Strasburg. He never threw 100 pitches in any start, topping out at 99, and only entered the seventh inning in three of his 12 starts.

Yet he still needed surgery. It is more bad mechanics and his great velocity which put more torque on the elbow and shoulder than innings or pitch counts.

But while the Nationals had no playoff aspirations when Strasburg was called up, the Yankees do have World Series thoughts on their minds.

That begs the question of Phil Hughes’s innings limits this year. Hughes is 24, and has not had a full season on the mound yet in his major league career. He has a somewhat similar backswing arc as Strasburg, but it is not as drastic or violent as the Nationals phenom.

Hughes’ limit this year is in the 170-180 inning range, and he is currently at 144. He should be expected to make about six more starts which could give him another 35 innings or so. The Yankees might look to skip Hughes a start, or limit him in certain games, piggybacking Javier Vazquez in Phil’s starts.

But according to Cashman, come playoff time, “it’s all hands on deck” and Hughes could be part of the playoff rotation. The Yankee GM said he could not look people in the organization in the eyes and not use his best pieces in the most important games.

That means Hughes in the postseason rotation, likely slotting into the No. 4 spot.

While I have many times stated in the past that Hughes will definitely not be part of the postseason rotation, but will be in the bullpen, it likely is not the case. This is not to say that is what I thought the Yankees should do, but what I expected the Yankees to do was to put Hughes in the postseason bullpen.

Despite his last start in Toronto, Hughes is the Yankees’ second most consistent starting pitcher next to CC Sabathia. I trust him more in a playoff start than I do Javier Vazquez, Dustin Moseley, or even AJ Burnett.

Although I expect Andy Pettitte to come back into the rotation, and today’s news of an issue-free bullpen session was positive, Hughes still needs to be part of the rotation if the Yankees will win this year.

So, if Hughes is OK with getting postseason starts and innings, putting him over 180 for the season, why isn’t it OK for him to get a few more regular season innings? Important, down the stretch innings? *

*And for the record, major league innings in May and September are the same. There are no “extra stress” innings. Pitchers do not throw with less effort in May than they do in September, or less effort in the third inning than they do the seventh. Certain pitches in certain game situations might be thrown harder (AJ does this way too much) but pitchers generally throw with the same effort all the time. High stress innings is one of the biggest misnomers in baseball pitching theory.

That 34-inning increase violates the Verducci Effect and, according to the theory, would put Hughes in an “at risk” situation the following year. This is why the Yankees are looking to maybe skip Hughes or use the piggyback method. 

Before his last start, Hughes suffered miserably after he was skipped in a start around the All-Star break. He needs to pitch on a consistent, rotated basis and not be skipped or reduced. The Verducci effect has not been proven to be a precursor to injuries, and all the pitchers on this “at risk” list over the last two seasons have been major injury-free.

The injury to Stephen Strasburg showed that pitchers who are limited and coddled are not immune to injuries. Most pitchers go through arm problems and it’s not a given that if Hughes is limited, he will be immune to injury. The risk is always there.

But that risk and concern should have no bearing on the Yankees winning another World Series title this year. The idea of baseball is to win games and World Series titles.

Hughes has been durable all year and the Yankees need his innings down the stretch, especially with 10 of the last 14 games against the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox.

And if Hughes does have any arm issues next season, then worry about it next year. While he is going over his limit with the playoffs, another 12 regular season innings is not going to drastically affect his future. His career will not end if he throws 200 total innings this season including playoffs.

Winning another World Series title and ring should be the important thing right now.


2010 Strasburg or 1981 Fernandomania: Who Had the Bigger Craze and Hype?

July 7, 2010

When Stephen Strasburg first toed a major league pitcher’s rubber on June 8, 2010, the media attention was amazing.

Hordes of reporters were dispatched to Washington, DC, the Nationals sold out their home game with the Pittsburgh Pirates (the lowly Pirates!), and throngs of fans lined up to buy Strasburg jerseys and T-shirts.

Strasburg sensationalism was born!

He did not disappoint. Strasburg dominated the weak Pirates lineup to a tune of seven innings, allowing four hits, two earned runs, and striking out an amazing 14 batters, the last seven in a row.

After blowing away Adam LaRoche to end the seventh, Strasburg left the mound (everyone knew he was done for the day) to a rousing standing ovation, a good lead, and eventually his first victory.

It was a good moment for Major League Baseball.

But as one of my old baseball coaches was fond of saying, “If you think that was good, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Strasburg’s debut, and his subsequent five additional starts, do not even compare to the wild ride in 1981 ushered into baseball by Fernandomania, the phenomenon which was Fernando Valenzuela.

While Strasburg allowed two earned runs in his first major league start, Fernando did not allow his second earned run until his SIXTH start of his rookie season.

Check out his game log from 1981 here.

After the first eight starts of his rookie season as a Los Angeles Dodger, Valenzuela was 8-0 with a 0.50 ERA.

Relying on a screwball that he only began throwing a year earlier, Valenzuela threw seven complete games and five shutouts—including 36 consecutive scoreless innings—in those first eight starts.

In two other games he allowed only one run, and the only time he did not throw a “complete game” was a 10-inning affair in Montreal where he went nine innings.

You had to be there to appreciate the control that Fernando Valenzuela had over the hitters in the National League AND the entire baseball world.

He was similar to Babe Ruth in stature, both in his popularity and in his physique. Like the Babe, Valenzuela was also a pretty good hitter and a really good left-handed pitcher.

His tremendous 1981 season, however, was not his beginning.

After being signed out of the Mexican League, Valenzuela was promoted in late 1980 during the Dodgers‘ pennant run, where he posted a 2-0 record, one save, and a 0.00 ERA in 10 relief appearances (17.2 innings). 

Add in the two wins and 17.2 scoreless innings from late in 1980, and after his first 18 major league appearances, Valenzuela had a 10-0 record with a 0.37 ERA.

His success spurred a phenomenon called Fernandomania, and while the Los Angeles Latino community were already big baseball fans, after “El Toro” (Valenzuela’s nickname) came alive, the Latin fans were now out rooting in full force.

People of all types clamored for his rookie baseball cards (I know, as I just began as a card dealer back then), and Fernando had to give press conferences before every road series.

When he visited the New York market for a June road series, Valenzuela was met by almost a hundred photographers, and that did not include all the TV cameras and print reporters.

I remember my junior year in high school, hanging out with friends at someone’s house on May 8, watching that Friday night game in New York that Fernando pitched against the Mets.

A bad Met team (managed by Joe Torre) drew almost 40,000 fans that night to see Valenzuela. He did not disappoint, posting his eighth straight win and fifth shutout. 

While Strasburg has been hyped due to the over-reaching 24-hour media outlets, Fernandomania was due mainly because of the person. Valenzuela was a quiet, unassuming 20-year-old Latino with a baby face and big smile.

At that time ESPN was still doing mostly log-rolling championships and world’s strongest man competitions.

They did not have the presence they do now.

Even 20 years later, Fernandomania still is discussed.

Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda said, “It happened so fast, it was like a forest fire…he attracted crowds on the road and at home like you’ve never seen. Fernandomania was something I will never forget.”

Valenzuela was an instant celebrity, and his presence began the marketing of Latin sports figures to a Latin market hungry for Latin heroes. His presence is the sole reason the Dodgers led the National League in attendance both in 1982 and 1983.

Fernando’s patented delivery (see photo), including him “looking to the sky” before every pitch, was in itself a separate phenomenon.

Fernando only went 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA, but he missed two months’ worth of starts due to the 1981 players strike.

Stephen Strasburg is a really good pitcher with a bright future. He throws the ball up to 103 MPH, and that fastball is only his third best pitch after his 90 MPH change-up and knee-buckling curve ball.

But all the hype and following he has now does not captivate an entire nation (and two distinct cultures) like Fernando Valenzuela did in 1981.

Valenzuela was only a 173-153, 3.54 ERA pitcher for his career, and while he was dropped from Hall of Fame voting in 2004, his early career, and the madness which ensued, were definitely Hall of Fame worthy.

There will never be another player who had the stature and charisma so early and so young as Fernando Valenzuela.


New York Yankees: Good Decision in Limiting the Innings of Phil Hughes

June 28, 2010

Phil Hughes, aka Phranchise, will start Tuesday night’s game against the Seattle Mariners and Cliff Lee. Hughes, though, had his last start skipped out on the West Coast trip through Arizona and Los Angeles.

The reason? After throwing mostly in relief last year, he is on an innings limit this season, with the Yankees likely not to let Hughes go above 180 innings. After throwing 105 innings last season, Hughes would have that number bumped up by 75 innings over 2009.

Depending on the source, this number of 180 innings does or does not include playoffs.

Why so much of an increase? The Verducci Effect, says that any young pitcher under the age of 25 who throws more than 30 innings over the prior season is ripe for injury or a lower level of production.

It started out as 40 innings over the prior season, but I guess there were not enough injuries, so Verducci reduced the number to 30. The original theory only contained injuries, but King Tom also added an increase in ERA to prove his points.

Well, Hughes did throw 111 innings in 2007, 100 in 2008 (including the 30 he threw in the Arizona Fall League), and 105 last year. He also threw in the 2007 and 2009 post season.

Maybe the Yankees feel that Hughes has built up enough innings over the last three years (316) that he can withstand the “rigors” of 180 innings.

I feel that Hughes also can withstand those innings, and much more and I would not have sat him at all, especially with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays in hot pursuit.

But I understand why the Yankees did it. They do not want to be blamed for anything if Hughes ever hurts his arm*. Don’t want to hear if from the fans, the media, the agents or even fantasy baseball owners. They don’t want to lose their future investment of a great arm.

* Newsflash! Almost all pitchers hurt their arms during their careers, many needing surgery. It is the nature of the beast in a most unnatural act. Even Roger Clemens, one of the most durable pitchers of all time, had shoulder surgery in 1985 at age 22. He only won 350+ plus games afterwards, and is 16th all time in total innings pitched.

Those who do not hurt their arms, usually have tremendous mechanics like Greg Maddux, who threw 167 pitches in a game at age 22, and still made his next 700+ starts. Maddux also has starts that season of 131 pitches (twice), 134 pitches and 143 pitches in his first start, April 6th.

Maddux also had accumulated 86 professional innings in 1986, jumped to 186 innings the following season (increase of 100), then threw 196 in 1986. After throwing 183 comined minor and major league innings in 1987, Maddux threw 249 major league innings in 1988, a jump of 66 innings over the prior season.

The reason? Great mechanics, which lessened the pressure on the shoulder and elbow.

The fantasy baseball guys are already complaining about Hughes’ innings limit, but for a different reason. They want the wins and strikeouts that Hughes was bringing to the fantasy baseball table.

And since Hughes has now become what was expected of him, a really good young pitcher and is 10-1, with a 3.14 ERA entering Tuesday, the Yankees are taking it easy.

It is a mistake but I applaud this move by the Yankees to limit Hughes’ innings.  

All the horror stories of Mark Fidrych throwing 250 innings in 1976 at age 21, Doc Gooden throwing 276 innings in 1985 at age 20, are scaring off these teams. And both Don Gullett and Gary Nolan of the Big Red Machine days of the early 1970’s had logged innings totals of 200+ innings in their early 20’s, including Gullett at age 19.

All four of these young pitchers were never the same after many years of these high innings pitched seasons.

Well, can someone please let me know how Doc Gooden would ever replicate one of the greatest pitched seasons of all time when he went 24-4. 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts and 0.965 WHIP in 1985?

What many people do not understand that the idea is to win games, not protect your “investments.”

There, I said it.

That means if a young pitcher, like Hughes or Gooden or Gullett, or even Stephen Strasburg, are throwing well in a tight pennant race, they have to pitch. I don’t care how old they are, or how many innings they have thrown.

But I still like what the Yankees are doing with Hughes.

Injuries happen whether a pitcher is overused early in his career or not. While Fidrych, Gooden, Gullett and Nolan are on one side, there are guys like Dennis Martinez, Bert Blyleven and Don Sutton who threw a lot of innings before age 25, and had long, productive careers.

And I also contend that Nolan and Gooden had nice careers, too. Nolan ended up having 110 wins and started 30+ games five times, while Gooden started 410 games over a 16 year career, winning 194.

Lots of guys today are having Tommy John surgery (TJS) and have been limited in pitch counts and their innings. Josh Johnson of the Florida Marlins has TJS a few years ago, and was closely monitored throughout his pro career.

The Yankees have a bunch of minor leaguers who have had TJS and they monitor everything pitcher wise, including the use of the minor league “phantom DL” to give guys innings breaks. Heck, a few years ago the Toronto Blue Jays had a slew of young pitchers who had surgery, and they were monitored throughout their careers.

All the precautions in attempts to extend a young pitchers career has eliminated the dominant season (glad Ubaldo is here now), or that run of great seasons. Building up guys over time is fine, but now even veteran pitchers are limited to seven inning starts and a little more than 200 innings a year.

There are too many decisions going to middle relievers, guys with no business being in the critical parts of games. Is asking a pitcher to throw 15 pitches an inning over nine innings too much?

It is ridiculous to ask someone to be like Iron Joe McGinnity again, but to throw 135 pitches over nine innings (15 per inning) does not seem problematic, especially when a pitcher conditions himself to do so.

Most great pitchers like Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver and the like only became what they were because they were allowed to become what they are.

Steve Carlton only became Steve Carlton because he was allowed to be Steve Carlton.

And that is to take the ball all the time, throwing enough to win (or lose) the game that day, going out and doing it again every four (now five) days. Those types of pitchers used to “get better as the game went along.”

That phrase was even used this season about Strasburg. But Strasburg is not yet being allowed to become Strasburg. And Hughes is not yet being allowed to become Phil Hughes.

But I like what the Yankees are doing with Hughes, and what the Nationals are doing with Strasburg.

And what the Reds are doing with Mike Leake, what the San Diego Padres are doing with their young starters and what the Baltimore Orioles are doing with young starters Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta.

The Yankees, as well as many other teams, most notably Kansas City when Zack Greinke started games, lost games in which they held middle to late inning leads. What the manager did was remove the starting pitcher after six or seven innings to hand the lead over to the bullpen.

Many times this ends in team losses, and in close pennant races in September, those games blown early count just the same.

Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts died just about two months ago, and he won 286 games, including 20+ wins in six straight seasons from age 23 through age 28. He also won 19 a year later at age 29. He dominated those six/seven seasons, and despite having double-digit wins in eight other seasons.

He was really never the same after age 28 after he averaged 319 innings per season.

But I would rather have the dominating six years, than a real good pitcher for 15 seasons who doesn’t dominate, but gets his obligatory 12+ wins every year. Are these teams trying to get 30 starts out of these guys for 15 years? That would be 450 starts.

Know how many pitchers have started 450+ games? Only 77. In the history of major league baseball, only 77 pitchers have started 450+ games, the equivalent of a 15 year career at 30 starts per season.

And most of these guys began their careers before 1985, the era when pitch counts started to become common.

So let’s get these pitchers to start dominating again over shorter time periods.

Give me Phil Hughes or Stephen Strasburg or a Mike Leake dominating for seven seasons before mediocrity hits. The teams will be better because of it, and if a tam cannot develop another good starting pitcher or two (or three) in seven years, then player development is a problem.

But I like what the Yankees are doing with Hughes, what the Nationals are doing with Strasburg, and what the Reds are doing with Leake.

Because when one of these guys (or any other “limited innings” pitcher) gets an arm injury and needs surgery, then baseball can get back to the days of the dominating, workhorse starting pitcher.

I believe Phil Hughes can be that guy. Just let Phil be Phil.


Florida Marlins OF Mike Stanton: The Other National League East Rookie Phenom

June 9, 2010

He has been hyped since he was a top draft pick for the National League East team that selected him. Sound familiar?

After dominating the Minor Leagues, he made his major League debut on June 8, 2010. Sound familiar?

He performed very well in his first game. Sound familiar?

However, his game was not shown on the MLB Network, but I still switched back and forth between four games last night. Being in the Southern New Jersey area, I get the New York Yankees, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies local cable stations.

Despite the prestige that Stephen Strasburg was getting about two hours south, Florida Marlins rookie Mike Stanton was getting three base knocks off of three separate, and distinctly, different pitchers.

Stanton beat out two infield hits, showing good speed for a big man, and smacked a rocket line drive off to right field against the tough Jose Contreras.

His final at-bat produced an infield single off of Phillies closer Brad Lidge. If not for Lidge getting his glove on the ball, the grounder would have been through the middle for a run scoring single, keeping the Marlins late rally alive.

After humiliating the Double-A Southern League for the better part of the last two months, Stanton was brought up to the Majors, skipping Triple-A entirely.

At Double-A Huntsville in 2010, Stanton played in 52 games and hit 21 home runs with 52 RBI. He slashed .311 BA/.441 OBP/.726 SLG. Simply amazing numbers.

His Minor League numbers can be viewed here .

And what is most impressive is that he cut down his strikeout rates from a high of 33 percent in his 2007 rookie season (age 17), to 28 percent in Low-A (age 18), to 21 percent in High-A (age 19). When Stanton advanced to Double-A in the middle of last season, he did strike out in 29 percent of his plate appearances.

But, this year at the same Double-A level, Stanton has whiffed on only 22 percent of his PA.

At age 20, Stanton is cutting down on the worst thing a hitter can do—that is to strike out.

He was drafted 76th overall in 2007 , a second-round pick out of Notre Dame HS in California. And for those who are saying, “How can so many players be picked ahead of Stanton,” please be aware that Stanton had a full ride scholarship offer to the University of Southern California (USC) for baseball and football.

Pete Carroll, then coach of the Trojans, viewed Stanton as his future starting tight end, even personally visiting him to persuade the youngster to attend school . So there were other factors involved, including another sport.

But he decided to sign with the Marlins for a little under $500,000. A bargain, you think?

Stanton hit terribly his first season in the pros, a brief session in Rookie and Short season league. In his short season stay in the New York Penn League as a 17-year-old, Stanton played mostly against top college players, and the results were indicative of the difference in ages.

I spoke to a current NY Penn League coach and asked him if he remembered Stanton. He did because not too many current-season-drafted high school kids get an opportunity to play there. It is mostly college kids, Latin players, and older high school kids usually drafted a year or two earlier.

The Latin players and high schoolers have had the advantage of at least a full year of instructional ball before they are fed to the wolves.

Stanton had no such prep time and struggled.

Stanton was overmatched, but kept his composure.

That is likely what the Marlins wanted to see. Does a player with such enormous talent and potential like Stanton have the temperament to withstand any failures, in a game widely known for failures?

He did, and that is probably the reason he was allowed to skip Triple-A. He has the positive make up that if he struggles at the Major League level (and he will at some point this season), he will handle it like a professional.

That early test at age 17 allowed Stanton to get to the Majors earlier than he was “supposed to.”


Ten Keys to Success in the Major League Baseball Draft

May 24, 2010

With the major league baseball draft about two weeks away, there are many teams still scrambling around trying to figure out what to do.

High School versus college? Power bat versus pitcher? Immediate help or projection player?

High school or prep talent is looked upon as what is their ceiling. There is a lot of projectability here, whereas college talent usually has almost all their tools in order. They basically need some refinement.

Those teams which usually pick at the top of the draft (also known as the worst teams) usually go for the best talent but longer term projects, since one player is not likely to help the parent club very soon.

But like the Tampa Bay Rays of three years ago, you can build a nice foundation with picks, get better, and still have that one last top pick to put you over the top.

The Washington Nationals have that opportunity this draft with their second No. 1 overall pick in consecutive seasons.

Top high school players could take up to five or six years to make an impact, whereas many recent top picks have shown that highly rated college players (namely pitchers) can make a parent team better much sooner.

Because of the time involved in development, the MLB is more of a crap shoot, as players need to master various levels before making “The Show,” and then comes the biggest test of all.

Many more “can’t miss” prospects taken very high in the draft often miss badly, sometimes due to lack of ability to adjust to the many levels and just plain not having the ability to actually play baseball.

That means no baseball instincts. I feel it is always better to take the best baseball player over the best talent over athleticism.

This years draft presents a plethora of prep talent, but also word that many teams will try to take lesser talent in hopes to sign them on the cheap.

Presented are some keys to developing a major impact through the draft.

1) Everything Being Equal, Take the Hard Worker

 Eric Duncan, the New York Yankees 2003 first round pick (27th overall), was a great hitter in high school for one of the best baseball teams in the state of New Jersey.

He has a quick, power bat, but a swing with lots of holes. Those holes did not get taken advantage of in high school or the lowest level of the minors.

But the higher Duncan rose in the system. the tougher the pitching became via pitch command, and those holes in Duncan’s swing were magnified.

Duncan was informed this in the low levels of the minors, and was told he would not make it unless he worked to correct a few hitting flaws.

The former first round pick did not take heed of this advice, preferring to “stick with what got me here.”

Well, “here” is not the major leagues, and Duncan now finds himself back in Double A, but with another organization.

His inability to listen to his coaches early in his career and work hard to correct any inefficiencies in his swing did not allow his game to improve.

He is one of many highly rated players who thought that talent alone would get them to the majors.

Talent is needed, but so is hard work.

Just ask any player who hits the cages earlier than other hitters, and stays later watching video of his swing.

When a player goes onto a baseball field, they never come off the field as the same player. They either get better or get worse.

The hard-working player will get better.

2) Take the Pitcher with Command over the Power Arm

Mike Leake was drafted out of Arizona State University eighth overall in the 2009 draft. He was considered the most polished college pitcher coming out of the draft since Tim Lincecum was taken 10th overall in 2006.

Leake made the Cincinnati Reds out of his first spring training and has never pitched in the minor leagues.

Leake does not overpower hitters with blazing speed or fancy pitches. His highest velocity is only in the upper 80’s.

However, he can throw the ball where he wants and the ball always has some type of movement.

Sounds like Greg Maddux.

Compare his success with guys like Dewon Brazelton (2001 No. 3 overall to Tampa Bay) who had a big-time arm and threw gas, but did not know where the ball was going.

There are tons of those types of guys in the first round who never made an impact.

When you have command AND velocity, however, now you are really talking.

Guys like Roger Clemens and Stephen Strasburg are/will be great because they has tremendous speed but could throw the ball wherever they want.

You know what they call that?

Unfair.

While guys like Clemens and Strasburg are a very rare breed, the guy with command of his pitches and command of the strike zone will most always be the better prospect over those throwers who have the big arm.

Location, location, location is the motto for real estate, but also for a quality pitcher.

3) Take the Baseball Player Over The Toolsy Athlete 

“The New York Yankees with the 17th pick in the 2005 major league baseball draft select Carl Henry, “toolsy” high school outfielder from Oklahoma.”

Henry never made it above High A, where he really struggled.

This guy was the five-tool player who can run, throw, hit, hit for power, and field. It was all great on paper, but the athletic talent could not translate to the baseball field.

Baseball is such a difficult game that toolsy and athlete really don’t matter when the game begins. The Rays are still waiting for former No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham to play baseball, and not show all his talent.

Also, one of the greatest athletes in the world, Michael Jordan, couldn’t make it on the diamond, but was tremendous on the hardwood.

Why do the scouting directors continually believe that tools will bring benefits?

They mostly won’t.

That is just as bad as drafting someone based upon “upside.”

4) Draft Eligible Sophomore’s – Go for the Gusto!

The Yankees took the best college closer in the 2006 draft in the 17th round.

Yes, I said the 17th round! Then David Robertson, who closed at the University of Alabama, went on the win MVP of the prestigious Cape Cod Summer Baseball League.

Then he signed for well above slot money for a chance at pro baseball.

Why did the Yankees get such a talent in the 17th round and why did they have to give him earlier round money?

He was a draft eligible sophomore (DES), a four-year college player who turned 21 within 45 days of the draft. The reason why many DES are not taken is signability, as they have negotiating leverage with the selecting team.

Because they have the opportunity to go back to school for their junior year and re-enter the draft the next summer, DES have more negotiating leverage than most college draftees.

That is why teams must give much bigger bonuses to these selections.

But these DES are well worth the money and investment.

The talent is there. Go get them.

5) Draft Committed Major High School Talent In Later Rounds

The Yankees have done a great job at this.

They target major high school talent which has been committed to major Universities. Guys who have pretty much said they will go to college.

Taking these guys in much later rounds and giving them well above bonus money (many times into the high six figures to over a million bucks), could translate into getting that committed guy to sign to go pro.

The Yankees did this with Dellin Betances in 2006 (Vanderbilt), Carmen Angelini in 2007 (Rice) and Garrison Lassiter 2009 (North Carolina).

While these three examples have not yet materialized for the Yankees, it is good if the major league team hits on one of these.

This also works in taking high first round types who might fall into the late first round due to their college commitment.

They also took Gerrit Cole low in the first round in 2008 (he was a top five type player), knowing he was going to be a difficult signing, and Cole ended up going to college at UCLA.

While that did not work for the Yankees, this tactic did work for the Detroit Tigers who selected consensus first overall pick Rick Porcello with the 27th pick in the 2007 draft.

Porcello dropped due to his commitment to North Carolina and his advisor being Scott Boras.

Just like when a football player drops for unknown reasons, take the best talent.

If a top pick falls into your lap, draft him. It will only cost money.

6) If Thinking Long Term, Draft High End Prep Talent

Going over the 2001-2006 drafts, the numbers reveal that 35 of the 76 players drafted out of high school in the first round have reached the major leagues.

And a couple more are right on the doorstep.

That equals 46 percent, and includes some great names such as Zach Greinke, Prince Fielder, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Chad Billingsley and some guy named Joe Mauer.

College first round picks totaled 103 during this span with 45 making the major leagues. That equates to 44 percent, a smaller percentage than high school talent.

But 88 percent of that high school talent which made the majors were starting pitchers or everyday players compared to 79 percent of the college talent.

While high school talent takes longer to reach the majors, the results are well worth it, especially for teams which have the time and patience for the maturation process.

7) Draft Heavy in Key Positions Most Other Teams Need

Most teams need up the middle positions. They are the backbone to a team’s defense.

Guys who are steady glove men at these historically defense-oriented positions who can also rake are the ultimate prized possessions.

That is why Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer were two of the best draft picks ever. Both the Yankees and the Minnesota Twins received tremendous offensive production and good defense at the shortstop and catching positions.

Most teams do not have a good major league catcher who is adequate defensively but can also hit.

The Yankees have stockpiled catchers in their system with drafting Austin Romine and JR Murphy but also signing Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez to International free agent contracts.

When Mauer went down with an injury in early May, the Twins called up 22-year-old Wilson Ramos, who provided adequate support behind the plate.

The Yankees also have an abundance of pretty good second basemen in their system who can play the field and hit for average and gradually improving power.

They also have about 15 good arms in their minor league starting rotations, highlighted by Zach McAllister at Triple A, David Phelps at Double A and Adam Warren and Graham Stoneburner at High A Tampa.

The major league club has Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli manning the plate, Robinson Cano shackled at second base and 60 percent of their starting rotation signed at least through 2011.

The possibility of another free agent pitcher signing next year exists when Cliff Lee becomes available.

Since all other teams needs up the middle personnel, the extra catchers, second basemen and starting pitchers provide adequate trade chips for the major league team to trade for needed talent at other positions.

The Twins have that same issue with their young catcher who could be turned into a key piece for the 2010 pennant chase.

Keep the backbone strong and the body will take care of itself.

8) Unless a Top Five Type of Pick, Avoid Prep Pitchers

I believe maturity is the biggest issue here.

Once a top prep pitcher is taken and signs, it is probably the riskiest pick type in the baseball draft.

Within the age years of 17-22, the biggest increase in maturity exists for young men. This is the time period where they could be drafted into the armed services, they can legally drink alcohol and they become more physically able to withstand the rigors of more stress.

Stress of the pro baseball scene in both the physical and mental aspects.

Taking a kid out of high school and putting him cross-country into an instructional league, then full season baseball can lead to more blowups than any other type of drafted product.

And with pitching being the prime baseball position, if these types blow up it can push back a franchise several years.

The recent drafts have produced some pretty good young prep pitchers such as Zach Greinke, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Phil Hughes, Chad Billingsley, and Clayton Kershaw.

What those guys all have is a tremendous secondary pitch to complement a pretty good fastball. High school hitters can’t catch up to the good fastball, but pro hitters can.

These prep pitchers need a good second pitch to succeed, and if it takes a few years to develop one, the confidence level and commitment can waiver for the teenager.

But unless the maturity level is already there, for every Cain, Hamels and Greinke there is a Jeff Allison, Chris Gruler, and Clint Everts, plus many more unrefined prepsters.

Even Greinke contemplated quitting baseball at the age of 20 because of anxiety issues.

The maturity level is simply not there to take such a gamble.

9) If Thinking You Need to Win Soon, Draft College Talent

The Washington Nationals had begun to build a pretty good young team prior to the 2009 draft.

They had a cornerstone position player in Ryan Zimmerman, and a bevy of young arms ready to get major league experience. They weren’t ace material, but the talent was there.

The team needed an ace to eventually carry the staff, and the Nationals drafted Stephen Strasburg No. 1 overall. He has done nothing to make the team worry about its pick in dominating every level thus far, now one step from the major leagues.

The Nationals also had another pick in that 2009 draft and selected the best relief pitcher available, projecting him to reach the majors very quickly.

Drew Storen, drafted 10th overall, has arrived in the majors and has already helped to fortify the Nationals bullpen, ranked last in baseball in 2009.

With the Nationals ready to draft another college player No. 1 overall in the upcoming 2010 draft, they might begin to contend as early as 2011.

Tim Lincecum made the same impact on the San Francisco Giants less than two-year after being drafted, as did Evan Longoria and David Price for the Tampa Bay Rays, Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies plus Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz of the Baltimore Orioles.

No less than eight college drafted players from the 2008 draft have made it to the major leagues.

The college players are more polished, much more mature and ready to produce now in the majors.

And with the 24 hour news cycle available to all people, many teams feel the need to win now.

10) Don’t Cheapen Out

Set aside lots of cash for the draft. And spend it.

There are many instances where teams with money issues have cheapened out on their top pick, taking a player of lesser talent, with that player being easier to sign.

It will cost less in bonus money to sign lesser talent. But you get lesser talent than what is available.

The prime example of this tactic was when the San Diego Padres decided not to pay Justin Verlander’s big money demands when he was coming out of Old Dominion University.

Armed with a 99 MPH fastball and good command, Verlander was easily the best player in that draft, and his success thus far in his major league career has confirmed that suspicion.

Instead of taking the sure-thing Verlander, the Padres decided to go cheap, taking a very immature prep player named Matt Bush No. 1 overall in the 2004 draft.

(Remember our rule earlier about immaturity in high school kids)

Interestingly, while the Padres thought Verlander’s money demands were going to be very steep and out of their price range, Bush actually received a slightly higher bonus than did Verlander.

Too many teams can not compete with the big market clubs in the signing of available big-money free agents and are never able to trade for established stars already making lots of money.

The way these smaller market teams can compete is with the draft, not having to compete with other teams like the Red Sox and Yankees on players they draft.

Highly drafted players demand large multi-million dollar signing bonuses. That is a fact which is likely not going to go away.

Those who reach the majors pay for themselves as they are under team control at much reduced salary structure, while producing at the major league level.

That is saving money in the long run.

There is an old money adage that says, “You need to spend money in order to make money.” Many large companies need to invest in Research and Development in order to create many new products.

Baseball teams need to invest in highly prized drafted players in order to put a good major league team on the field.

But word is that many organizations this year will punt on certain players, and less talented kids in order to save money in bonuses.

Teams that win in the draft do not skimp on signing bonuses or punt on the best players available.