Reaching into the mailbag

Trying to make a dent in the old mailbag today ...

    Rob, Love your blog, but don't you think it's time for an apology to Livian Hernandez? He's 5-1 with a 3.88 ERA. In his last 4 starts he's given up 4 earned runs in 28 2/3 innings including the Mets only complete game this year and seven shutout innings yesterday. Sure, he may break down at some point, but he's certainly proved he's more than an acceptable 4th or 5th starter.
    Andrew (Bronx, NY)

Andrew, Hernandez has pitched better than I thought he would. But four starts, really? In his first nine starts with the Twins last year, Hernandez went 6-1 with a 3.90 ERA. Then, too, readers were calling for me to apologize -- and by the way, do you think a baseball player really cares what I think? -- but I demurred, citing Hernandez's absurdly low strikeout rate.
Hernandez started 14 more games for the Twins, going 4-7 with a 6.59 ERA, and I would argue that he essentially cost them the division title. Nobody owed Hernandez an apology; rather, Twins management owed an apology to the fans for letting Hernandez stay in the rotation for too long. In a season that wound up going down to the last game.

That said, Hernandez has pitched well for the Mets, with a strikeout rate significantly higher than what he did in 2007 or '08. If he continues to strike out more than five batters per nine innings, he's got a pretty decent chance of being perfectly useful. And if that happens, you'll read about it here. No apologies, though, because while my intellect might be lacking, my motives are pure.

    Hey Rob. You need to make a blog entry about Andy LaRoche. He's been pretty darn good, plus it's a great chance for you to give yourself a pat on the back.
    Arun (Savannah)

Not my job, Arun, and anyway I haven't done anything. If anyone deserves a pat on the back, it's Andy LaRoche for gutting through some tough times. We're still waiting for the power, but if he keeps hitting .300 he's going to enjoy a long and lucrative career.

    How did you manage to make it through an extended discussion of Warren Spahn without mentioning the war? It's not at all unreasonable to think that if he had gotten to play his age 22-24 seasons, he quite possibly would have made it to 400 wins. I know you're not about counterfactuals--nor should you be because he just as easily could have gotten injured--but here's the base of my question: If Spahn had won 400, would we even be debating who was the greatest lefty?
    James (Durham)

If the "extended discussion" had been about just Spahn, we'd have mentioned the war. But the discussion was about Spahn and Grove and Johnson and a few other great lefties, so that bit of information wound up on the cutting-room floor. Really, though, you asnswered your own question ... I believe there's a decent chance that Spahn's longevity was a result of World War II, as he spent a few years of his early 20s fighting off Germans instead of firing fastballs and curveballs.
I do not mean to diminish the service of Spahn, who saw real combat in Western Europe and could easily have been killed near the Remagen Bridge. But while I've always been perfectly willing to give "extra credit" to hitters -- Phil Rizzuto, for example -- who missed time because of the war, I'm reluctant to extend that same courtesy to pitchers, and particularly to pitchers whose arms were still young and tender when they served.

Am I wrong? Perhaps. But considering that I wound up with Spahn atop my list anyway, I hope you won't hold it against me.