SweetSpot: Kerry Wood
2. Seventy-five of his 100 pitches were fastball, touching 97 and averaging 95.1 mph.
3. As Curt Schilling said on Baseball Tonight on Monday: "I've seen more kids reaching the big leagues this year and throwing in the mid-90s than I've ever seen before."
4. He got four strikeouts on his curveball and three on his slider. The pitchers are similar, with the curveball having a tighter break when Fernandez is on with it and the slider possessing a wider, sweeping motion while throwing a little header.
5. Fernandez has allowed a .193 average -- the same as Clayton Kershaw, fourth-best among starters behind Matt Harvey, Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish. That's some company to hang out with.
6. Is this a good time to remind everyone that Fernandez had fewer than 150 innings in the minor leagues?
7. The Marlins have been very careful with him. Monday's game was just his third 100-pitch outing, although all three have come in his past four starts as Mike Redmond has started extending him deeper into games.
8. Fernandez's Game Score: 87. The last 20-year-old pitcher with a higher one? Kerry Wood's famous 20-strikeout game in 1998. Umm.
9. Shelby Miller had the early lead in the NL Rookie of the Year Race, but Miller has struggled some his past four starts and now it's an interesting race. The numbers:
Fernandez: 5-4, 2.72 ERA, 92.2 IP, 6 HR, 33 BB, 94 SO, .193 AVG
Miller: 8-6, 2.79 ERA, 93.2 IP, 8 HR, 22 BB, 101 SO, .223 AVG
10. From the readers:
@dschoenfield baseball fans win. Fernandez a little more raw, little better pure stuff, miller has better command and feel for pitching— Joe Carter (@jcarter5317) July 2, 2013
@dschoenfield Jose Fernandez all day, better stuff— Vincent Ball (@Go_Blue33) July 2, 2013
@dschoenfield Fernandez for ceiling, Miller for floor— TheBulge (@TheBulge27) July 2, 2013
11. Not to ignore Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, who is 6-3, 2.83, and may end up pitching a lot more innings depending on what kind of workload Fernandez and Miller are held to.
12. By the way, notice that the National League has all the best rookies so far? Fernandez, Miller, Ryu, Julio Teheran, Trevor Rosenthal, Gerrit Cole, Tony Cingrani, Yasiel Puig, Jedd Gyorko, Anthony Rendon, Marcell Ozuna, Nolan Arenado. The AL has Jurickson Profar, Wil Myers and Nick Franklin, although none have played too much yet.
13. Marlins are 14-7 over their past 21 games.
14. Imagine Fernandez and Harvey together. Well, it could have happened. The Mets drafted high school outfielder Brandon Nimmo with the 13th pick in 2011; the Marlins took Fernandez with the next pick.
15. The air of confidence. On his final out in the eighth, Fernandez snared a one-hopper back to the mound, counted the seams and finally tossed the ball to first.
16. I suspect we'll see Fernandez at the All-Star Game in a couple weeks.
You have to feel for Jordan Zimmermann, he of the Friday evening one-hitter, and Kyle Kendrick (three-hit shutout) a little bit. On any other night, either of those two would have been the story. But they were both upstaged by Anibal Sanchez, who set a Detroit Tigers franchise record by striking out 17 batters in a 10-0 victory against the Atlanta Braves.
That's right, a current member of the Tigers holds the franchise record for strikeouts in a game, and it's not Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer.
Sanchez isn't in the class of Verlander or Scherzer as a strikeout pitcher (few are), but he did whiff 202 batters while pitching for the Marlins in 2011. So that got me thinking: Could the Tigers' pitching staff set the record for most strikeouts in a season?
The record is just 10 years old, and it was set by the 2003 Chicago Cubs; the Mark Prior/Kerry Wood-led staff fanned 1,404. Through 21 games, the Tigers have 211 strikeouts, which is a hair more than 10 per game and puts them on pace to shatter the record with 1,628.
That figure is a bit misleading due to the fact that the season is in its infancy, and Sanchez's performance is being given too much weight as a result. Rick Porcello and his 2.1 strikeouts per nine innings are set to take the bump for the Tigers on Saturday, and if Detroit's pitchers only rack up five strikeouts, for example, that strikeout "projection" would drop to 1,583.
Nonetheless, this staff has what it takes to threaten the record. Verlander and Scherzer are in the upper echelon of strikeout pitchers, and it wouldn't be unheard of for each of them to surpass 230 Ks apiece, as they did last season. For context, Wood and Prior had 266 and 245 for the Cubs, respectively, in 2003. The Cubs club didn't have another pitcher crack the 200-K plateau, which is where Sanchez can give the Tigers an edge.
Assuming Sanchez can surpass 200 punchouts, the Tigers would be halfway to the record before any of their other starters or relievers entered the equation. Thus far, the Tigers' relievers are doing their part, as Al Alburquerque (15.2 strikeouts per nine), Darin Downs (13.0), Joaquin Benoit (10.5) and Phil Coke (10.4) are all fanning more than a man per inning. And the recently promoted Bruce Rondon throws 100 mph and should pull his weight in the strikeout department. As you might recall, the 2003 Cubs featured two relievers who racked up a ton of strikeouts, with Kyle Farnsworth fanning 92 and Mike Remlinger whiffing 83.
When it comes down to it, the Tigers' chances of breaking the record will be dictated by two factors: health (duh) and Porcello. While his current strikeout rate is lower than his career rate of 4.9 per nine, he's never been a guy who misses a lot of bats. If he remains in the rotation all season, he will make it difficult for Detroit to pass the Cubs.
Of course, Porcello might pitch himself out of the rotation if he can't get his ERA into single digits posthaste, and the Tigers' chance of breaking the record would almost certainly get a boost from whomever his replacement might be. (It would likely be Drew Smyly, who is fanning 10.2 per nine as a reliever this season and has a career mark of 8.7.)
With the way strikeout rates have been rising over the lpast decade, it's only a matter of time before the team strikeout record falls. With Anibal Sanchez in top form, the Tigers are equipped to make it happen.
Leave the kudos for later: He’ll be an All-Star, he’s a Cy Young contender, he’s all that. If you’re a Nats fan, this is exactly what you signed up for in 2009 (when he was drafted) or even sooner, if you understood that your guys were going to pick this generation’s one-and-only out of San Diego State with the top choice in the draft.
But in a nutshell, those numbers also capture the agonizing logistical challenge the Nationals have in front of them, because Strasburg traveled past another not-so-little number: His halfway point to 160, the innings total that he’s “supposed” to pitch if plans are set in stone and circumstances aren’t allowed to change and if we want to pretend that general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson are actuarial obsessives instead of men charged with players and possibilities. Strasburg’s 14th start of the season put him at 84 frames so far.
How good is Strasburg? As J.R.R. Tolkien might have said, his stuff pierces cloud, shadow, earth and flesh. But it’s the last of those things that might make you wonder, because even after a night like tonight, Strasburg is mortal. He’s had to go under the knife before, and the nightmare is that by pushing too hard too soon, he might have to again.
One old theory on pitcher workloads was that you wanted to be careful with guys younger than 24; before then, they were in “the injury nexus,” as I think my old colleague Jonah Keri (now of Grantland fame) liked to put it. Strasburg is 23, a month away from his 24th birthday.
Johnson has been entrusted with generational greats before, of course. He was the man in the Mets’ dugout when Dwight Gooden came up as teenage phenom in 1984. You can’t place the provenance of Gooden’s eventual breakdowns to any one thing -- overwork at such a young age? Being a kid on that team of good-time charlies? Getting coached to throw more breaking stuff early on? If you want to plead any of those for why Gooden will merely be well-remembered as a treasure, and not as a guy you’ll see in Cooperstown, you’d have a case.
But as distant as 1988 is to the present in terms of workloads or offensive environment, it puts the concerns about Strasburg into some perspective when you notice that at this time of year in Gooden’s season, he had made 15 starts to Strasburg’s 14, thrown 112 1/3 innings to Strasburg’s 84 and delivered 1,571 pitches to Strasburg’s 1,332. Gooden was also in his fifth full season in the majors. And as history records, Gooden needed shoulder surgery in 1989, the first in a series of injuries.
So, as far as Strasburg and the Nats are concerned, that sounds reasonable, right? Strasburg’s working less and has had considerably less mileage on his arm now than Gooden did by then. Well … maybe. This was also Strasburg’s second start of the season with more than 110 pitches, which will alarm some folks, especially since they’ve come in two of his past three turns. That’s the development I find more troubling than his innings or his starts or even his cumulative pitch count.
Even if you’re generous and want to note that 120 pitches is the standard we ought to be using for the hard line between OK and overworked for most pitchers, it’s worth noting that even that reliable defier of pitch-count paranoids, Justin Verlander, threw only three such starts in his age-23 season back in 2006, and his last one (on September 2) pretty much gassed the rookie for the remainder of the season -- and the postseason, when Verlander The Invincible would have made a big difference in the World Series against the victorious Cardinals.
And that’s the other nightmare scenario: They pile even more work on Strasburg to no happy ending, not unlike what the Cubs asked of Kerry Wood in the National League Division Series in 1998, only to find that they had asked too much of their wunderkind top gun.
None of this is guaranteed bad news for Strasburg, of course. Every pitcher is a unique talent. Every pitcher creates his own possibilities. Verlander didn’t break, even if he did wear down in 2006. Despite years of confident assertions that Livan Hernandez’s arm was going to fall off throwing the workloads he was tasked with, it never did. (Livan could probably still throw 230 innings if you asked him. They wouldn’t be good innings, mind you.)
And there is no talent like Strasburg’s. Now that we’re beyond the theory of what might have been the case, now that Strasburg is beyond the halfway point, you can bet that he’s not going to throw “just” 160 innings -- not pitching like this. Not even if the Nats try to give him additional rest around the All-Star Game by kicking him to the fifth turn post-break, and not even if they give him a two-week trip to the disabled list due to “tired arm” or some other malady general enough to be plausible. At this point, his trajectory’s going to take him past all of that.
To some extent, the cap has become so much nonsense, but that’s because Strasburg has made it so at the same time that the team’s bid to win is making it so. In the broad strokes, the Nationals have been as moderate as you could wish for in managing his workload up to this point, even as they tried to temper expectations by having tossed out that “160-inning cap” notion in the first place. You can fidget -- as I do -- over the pitch counts accumulated over multiple starts, but if Strasburg keeps upsetting all these good intentions, it’s because he’s the real deal.
Don't feel sorry for the Nats, that they have this call to make. There are 29 other teams that would kill for the chance to be making the tough choices Rizzo and Johnson will have to make. Simply as an observer, I say enjoy it while it lasts, because like Gooden 25 years later, we'll still be talking about Stephen Strasburg 25 years from now.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
1. Kudos to the Mets and Orioles for midweek interleague sweeps against other contenders. Believe it or not, the Mets and Orioles are each in the top 10 in runs scored!
2. We get Dave’s opinion on Matt Cain and the greatest games ever pitched, and praise R.A. Dickey for postgame comments about his performance.
3. Dave shares his thoughts on what Team USA could look like in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
4. Our emailers have thoughts on Randy Johnson’s dominance, Wrigley Field and more!
5. ESPN Sunday Night Baseball will feature the Red Sox and Cubs, but there is plenty of other interesting action, including Yankees-Nationals, Reds-Mets and Chris Sale versus Clayton Kershaw!
So download and listen to Friday’s fine Baseball Today podcast, thanks again for supporting the show and have a great weekend!
Kerry Wood had struck out 20 batters.
He was 20 years old, making his fifth career major league start for the Chicago Cubs, and he had just blown away the Houston Astros, one of the best hitting teams in the league. We saw the highlights on "SportsCenter." Yes, it was a gray, overcast day at Wrigley Field, and maybe the Astros had trouble picking up the ball, but I'm not sure it mattered all that much. I remember the "SportsCenter" highlights, in which they showed all 20 strikeouts in rapid-fire fashion. I've since watched the game on replay.
You can talk about Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson at their best, but I've never seen a more dominating pitching performance. His pitches were moving like whiffle balls thrown in the middle of the Columbia River Gorge, except they were moving at 95 miles per hour.
The Astros had no chance.
They managed one infield single and Wood hit a batter, so it wasn't a perfect game or even a no-hitter. But by the Bill James Game Score method, it was the best game ever pitched. Game Score rewards pitchers for strikeouts, and subtracts points for runs, hits and walks. There have been just nine starts of nine innings in which a pitcher scored 100 or better. Ryan (twice), Johnson, Curt Schilling, Warren Spahn and Brandon Morrow scored 100; Ryan (with a 16-strikeout, two-walk no-hitter) and Sandy Koufax (his 14-strikeout perfect game) scored 101.
Kerry Wood's game? 105. Nine innings, one hit, no walks, 20 K's. Untouchable.
We all know what happened after that. Wood threw across his body, causing an abrupt snap as his shoulder crashed into his chest, and analysts predicted that motion would eventually lead to an injury. It didn't help that Cubs manager Jim Riggleman had Wood run up some high pitch counts that rookie season -- 133, 129, 128, 123, 123, eight games of 120-plus in all. He missed the final month of the season with a sore elbow, but the Cubs brought him back to start a playoff game. The following spring, his elbow gave out. Tommy John surgery.
To his credit, Wood never blamed Riggleman. "My elbow was going to go," Wood told The Washington Post in 2010. "If it didn't go with [Riggleman] it would've gone with someone else. It was the way I was throwing, the stuff I had, the torque I was generating. It was a matter of time."
Wood recovered and returned as a power pitcher, although his stuff was never quite as electric. In 2003, he made the All-Star team and led the National League in strikeouts. The Cubs won the division. Dusty Baker worked him hard that year. He threw 141 pitches in a May victory against the Cardinals, 130 in a 1-0 shutout against the Marlins in July. In his final six starts of the regular season, he threw 125, 120, 122, 114, 125 and 122 pitches.
In Game 5 of the division series, Wood allowed one run in eight innings to beat the Braves in the series clincher. It was one of the great moments in Cubs history, getting them one round closer to the World Series, the unthinkable becoming believable. And then, in the NLCS against the Florida Marlins ... Game 6, the heartbreaker. But the Cubs still had Game 7 and Wood on the mound.
I remember sitting at home alone that night, watching the game. I wasn't a Cubs fan but of course you were rooting for them, rooting for Wood, a reward for all the elbow pain, the surgery, the rehab he'd gone through over the years. Miguel Cabrera hit a three-run homer off him in the top of the first, but the Cubs fought back. Wood himself hit a two-run homer in the second; the Cubs led 5-3. Wood to the rescue.
The World Series, of course, was not to be. The Marlins scored three runs in the fifth. Baker stuck with Wood, unwilling to admit Wood couldn't will the Cubs to victory that night, no matter how sentimental that storyline. Baseball isn't like that. Finally, after two singles in the sixth, Baker went to the mound. The Cubs' fans gave Wood a loud ovation, bittersweet and melancholy.
Wood was never the same after that. He got injured in 2004, made just 10 starts in 2005 and four in 2006, then spent the past six seasons pitching in relief, moving from the Cubs to the Indians to the Yankees and back to the Cubs.
It's weird; you're only supposed to feel sad, I suppose, when your favorite player retires. But for some reason, I felt a pit in my stomach Friday when I heard Wood was retiring. I can't help but think back to the May afternoon and those 20 strikeouts and how a co-worker of mine always referred to him as "Baby Kerry" after that because he looked so young and was a little chubby in his appearance, a kid in a man's sport, a kid with unhittable stuff. Maybe it's just remembering your own younger days, when you could watch in awe of an athletic performance, thinking of that golden arm.
Wood won 86 games in his career, never pitched in the World Series, made a lot of money. He does have one important lasting legacy, beyond that 20-strikeout game: In part because of what happened to Wood (and teammate Mark Prior and others), teams are more careful with how they handle young starters. You won't see 20-year-old kids throwing 130 pitches in a game, no matter their ability. One reason we're seeing so many good young pitchers now and declining levels of offense is that pitchers are healthier and not flaming out in the minors or early on in their major league careers.
Sure, maybe teams are too cautious with this approach, but I'd rather see that than what happened with Wood. He undoubtedly won't view himself as an unfortunate trailblazer, but rather as a pitcher who grinded his way through 14 major league seasons, giving his best.
In the end, that's all each of us can do, no matter our gifts.
1. Kerry Wood decides to call an end to his career, and we point to his career achievements rather than focus on the negative, including his amazing strikeout legacy.
2. Atlanta Braves ace Brandon Beachy keeps on winning, and keeps on doing it in a far different way than we’ve seen from him before.
3. Interleague play is here! Time for my annual rant on why it’s not only about the teams from Chicago, New York and Los Angeles meeting, but for that 10-year-old kid in Kansas City finally getting to see Justin Upton hit.
4. Our emailers want to discuss Emmanuel Burriss, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and really, so much more, and we want what our emailers want!
5. Our weekend preview focuses on numerous series in which teams with similar records face off, from Pirates-Tigers to the battle of the Beltway and more. Plus, what to expect from Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Hamilton!
So download and listen to Friday’s fun Baseball Today, and have a great weekend! Power Rankings on Monday!
1. Kudos to Josh Hamilton for a record-tying performance in Baltimore, but what does his excellent start to the season mean for his future contract negotiations?
2. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, another poor managerial decision -- they’re everywhere, frankly -- takes the bat out of Matt Kemp’s able hands. We talk about bad managers, contract extensions and more.
3. Do managers really listen to their front office, or is it like the scene in "Moneyball" with Art Howe and Billy Beane? Law shares some inside information.
4. Emailers have thoughts about Pittsburgh’s front office, the Cardinals’ run differential, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and the Olympics.
5. Keith’s top 100 prospects are posted and he gives insight to strengths, weaknesses and other themes to watch about the upcoming draft.
So download and listen to Wednesday’s Baseball Today podcast, and not only because we tell you Hamilton can’t repeat the feat in Baltimore. For many other reasons!
Colleague Jim Bowden has a piece today about five managers on the hot seat and mentions Davey Johnson, not so much because his job is in jeopardy (the Nationals are 10-3) but because he'll eventually have to deal with the possible innings limitation placed on Stephen Strasburg.
As Jim writes, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has hinted that Strasburg will be held to 160 to 180 innings this year, even if the club is in a pennant race or reaches the playoffs. Furthermore, he won't skip starts or have Strasburg's pitch counts limited (beyond normal levels) during games. That leaves a likelihood that Strasburg will be shut down in early September. If he averages just six innings over 28 starts, that's 168 innings.
- This is a franchise that has been terrible since moving to Washington, never finishing over .500 in seven seasons. Attendance has fallen from 2.73 million in 2005 to 1.94 million in 2011. A playoff run -- and postseason appearance -- would obviously be a huge boost to not only 2012 attendance but future years as well (the year-after effect).
- You play to win now. Could you really sit your best starter if you make the postseason? Sure, the Nationals might have a bright future with all their young talent, but no future is guaranteed.
- What are the ethical obligation the Nationals have to ensure Strasburg's long-term health?
- Is there even any guarantee that Strasburg will have better health down the road if he pitches fewer innings this season?
A similar example I can think of is Kerry Wood's rookie season with the Cubs in 1998. Wood had pitched 166.1 innings with the Cubs (and five more in Triple-A), although things were a little different then and he ran up some big pitch counts -- eight starts of 120-plus pitches. After throwing 133 pitches in a 16-strikeout performance against the Reds on Aug. 26 and then 116 five days later, the Cubs shut down Wood the rest of the regular season because of a sore elbow.
They made the playoffs anyway, defeating the Giants in a one-game tiebreaker to win the wild card. Despite losing the first two games of the Division Series to the Braves, manager Jim Riggleman started Wood in Game 3. He pitched five innings, threw 97 pitches and left trailing 1-0. The following spring, the elbow went.
Wood doesn't blame Riggleman. "My elbow was going to go," Wood told the Washington Post in 2010. "If it didn't go with [Riggleman] it would've gone with someone else. It was the way I was throwing, the stuff I had, the torque I was generating. It was a matter of time."
Riggleman was Strasburg's first manager in the major leagues. He answered Kerry Wood questions for years. "If I had it to do over, I would do it differently," he told the Post. "And we probably wouldn't have gotten to the playoffs. If I had known what was going to happen, I wouldn't have pitched him that much, period. But I would have caught a lot of grief. I caught a lot of grief as it was. We lost a lot of games where [Wood] came out after five or six innings. I was getting comments like, 'C'mon, Riggs, leave him in.'"
The bigger issue, of course, is why the Cubs brought Wood back to start a playoff game when a comeback would have been unlikely. (They had to win three in a row against the mighty Braves.) But you can see why the heat will be on Davey Johnson: Use Strasburg and you might make the playoffs or maybe even win the World Series; don't use him and the 2012 Washington Nationals may just be a memory in the record books.
What do you do?
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
88.2 IP, 49 H, 15 R, 14 ER, 27 BB, 77 SO, 2 HR, 1.44 ERA
That's the collective work of Thursday's 14 starting pitchers. Eleven of the 14 allowed one run or zero runs. Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay affirmed their status as baseball's top pitchers with eight scoreless innings each. Justin Masterson and Ryan Dempster each struck out 10. Clayton Kershaw, with his own claim as baseball's best, started despite a bad case of the flu and still pitched three scoreless innings before exiting. Johnny Cueto shut down the Marlins on three hits over seven innings.
Starting pitchers: Dominant.
Hitters: Still working on their timing.
The bullpens weren't quite as effective, leading to an exciting ninth inning in Detroit as Jose Valverde, a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunites in 2011, blew a 2-0 lead; Kerry Wood couldn't hold a 1-0 lead for the Cubs, walking three consecutive batters; and Cleveland's Chris Perez collapsed in a flurry of walks and hits to surrender a 4-1 lead. That blown save eventually led to Toronto's 7-4 victory in 16 innings, the longest Opening Day game in history.
Baseball, welcome back.
If anything, the dominant form of the pitchers raises the obvious question: Will offense decline again in 2012? Check out the runs-per-game totals in recent seasons:
Of course, one day -- especially when guys named Verlander, Halladay, Kershaw and Jon Lester are pitching -- doesn't signify anything. Still we had three shutouts and nearly had two others. That isn't necessarily unusual, as there were many days in 2011 with three shutouts and May 14 with six such games. Still, three of the seven games were shutouts and we nearly had four 1-0 games.
* * * *
Fun fact of the day: In the bottom of the 12th inning the Indians put runners at the corners with one out. Blue Jays manager John Farrell brought in Omar Vizquel as a fifth infielder. Technically, since he replaced Eric Thames, Vizquel was listed as a left fielder, just his second major league appearance as an outfielder. The first one came in a remarkable game in 1999. The Indians scored 10 runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, capped by Richie Sexson's three-run homer off Troy Percival, to take a 14-12 lead against the Angels. Due to various moves in that inning, Vizquel moved from shortstop to right field in the ninth inning.
Fun fact No. 2: There were two previous 15-inning games on Opening Day. The Tigers beat the Indians 4-2 in 1960 and in 1926 Walter Johnson outdueled Eddie Rommel 1-0. That's right, both pitchers went the distance.
Hero of the day: How about Toronto reliever Luis Perez? He got out of that first-and-third jam with a double play and went on to pitch four hitless innings.
Good sight of the day: Johan Santana back on the mound for the Mets, throwing five scoreless innings.
Spring-training-doesn't-matter note of the day: Matt Kemp looked horrible all spring for the Dodgers, finishing with 26 strikeouts and two walks. He went 2-for-5 with a two-run home run and no whiffs.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
Since converting to relief full-time in 2007, Madson has been one of the game's most underrated relievers, posting a 2.89 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, relying on a 93-95 mph fastball and terrific changeup. In his first full season as Phillies closer he was 32-for-34 in save opportunities and allowed just two home runs in 60.2 innings. While Madson has missed time each of the past two seasons, neither injury was to his arm -- a hand injury in 2011 when hit by a groundball and a self-inflicted toe injury in 2010.
He's just 31, so maybe it seems like a relatively safe bet by the Phillies. Except it isn't.
I took a look at the 10 largest multi-year contracts given to relievers (according to Cot's Baseball Contracts) and compared the numbers for the 10 relievers before the contract and after the contract, using the same number of seasons as the length of the contract (so if a guy signed a three-year deal, I used his three previous seasons). Here's what we get:
- In the 32 combined seasons before signing their deals, the 10 relievers accumulated 71.4 WAR (wins above replacement, from Baseball-Reference.com) and pitched 2,152.1 innings.
- In the 32 combined seasons after signing their deals, the relievers accumulated 42.7 WAR and pitched 1,676 innings.
- That's an overall decrease in value of 40 percent and a decrease in innings of 22 percent.
- Only two of the 10 had an increase in value (Mariano Rivera and Jose Valverde) and only two threw more innings (Kerry Wood and Valverde, both on two-year deals).
Here's a closer look at each of those 10 relievers.
1. Mariano Rivera, Yankees, 2008-10, $15 million
2005-07: 9.6 WAR, 2.08 ERA, 107 saves, 224.2 IP
2008-10: 10.1 WAR, 1.64 ERA, 116 saves, 197 IP
Despite pitching 27 fewer innings, Rivera maintained his value with three more excellent seasons. His 2011 season, the first of another two-year deal that also pays him $15 million per season, was another good one. But Mariano is obviously one of a kind.
2. Brad Lidge, Phillies, 2009-11, $12.5 million
2006-08: 2.3 WAR, 3.58 ERA, 92 saves, 211.1 IP
2009-11: -1.3 WAR, 4.73 ERA, 59 saves, 123.2 IP
The Phillies re-signed Lidge after his remarkable 2008 when he didn't blow a save all season, including a 7-for-7 mark in the postseason as the Phillies won the World Series. Even then, however, Lidge should have come with a big warning sign tattooed to his forehead: His 4.5 walks per nine innings in 2008 indicated a pitcher who always lived on the edge. He fell off it in 2009 with one of the worst relief seasons of all time (0-8, 7.21 ERA) and battled injuries the past two seasons.
3. Francisco Rodriguez, Mets, 2009-11, $12.33 million
2006-08: 9.9 WAR, 2.24 ERA, 149 saves, 208.2 IP
2009-11: 4.7 WAR, 2.88 ERA, 83 saves, 197 IP
Like the Phillies, the Mets bought high on K-Rod, signing him after his record-breaking 62-save season with the Angels in 2008. Despite those 62 saves, K-Rod's strikeout rate had declined from previous years and his control had always been spotty. He posted a 2.88 ERA in the three seasons of the deal, but was hardly the dominant closer expected for a $12.3 million salary.
4. Joe Nathan, Twins, 2008-11, $11.75 million
2004-07: 13.0 WAR, 1.94 ERA, 160 saves, 282.1 IP
2008-11: 6.8 WAR, 2.49 ERA, 100 saves, 181 IP
Only Trevor Hoffman recorded more saves than Nathan from 2004 through 2007. Over those four years Nathan allowed a lower OPS than Rivera. Entering his age-33 season, the Twins gave him a big four-year deal. He was terrific for two seasons before tearing a ligament in spring training in 2010 and undergoing Tommy John surgery.
5. Francisco Cordero, Reds, 2008-11, $11.5 million
2004-07: 10.1 WAR, 3.06 ERA, 152 saves, 279.1 IP
2008-11: 6.2 WAR, 2.96 ERA, 150 saves, 279.1 IP
Cordero was exactly as advertised: A durable closer who makes you gnaw your fingernails on a nightly basis. He blew 24 saves over his four-year deal with the Reds, giving him a save percentage of 86 percent. In other words, the Reds paid top dollar for a guy who was essentially a league-average closer.
6. Billy Wagner, Mets, 2006-09, $10.75 million
2002-05: 10.8 WAR, 2.01 ERA, 138 saves, 287 IP
2006-09: 5.2 WAR, 2.35 ERA, 101 saves, 203.1 IP
It's hard to say this signing turned out well for the Mets, although Wagner posted good numbers when healthy. In 2006, he blew a 1-0 lead in Game 2 of the NLCS. By Game 7, Willie Randolph had lost confidence in Wagner and left in Aaron Heilman in the ninth inning of a tie game; Yadier Molina homered. In 2007, Wagner blew fives saves, but two of those came in late August and the final one came in late September, in the middle of the Mets' horrific collapse (he allowed three runs in the bottom of the ninth to the Marlins, who would win in 10 innings). In 2008, he missed the final two months as the Mets blew another division lead in September. That led to the club signing Rodriguez for 2009, which meant the Mets paid over $20 million for two relievers. They lost 92 games.
7. Kerry Wood, Indians, 2009-10, $10.25 million
2007-08: 2.1 WAR, 3.28 ERA, 34 saves, 90.2 IP
2009-10: 1.2 WAR, 3.74 ERA, 28 saves, 101 IP
After a solid 34-save season with the Cubs in 2008, the Indians took a chance on the injury-prone right-hander. He had a 4.80 ERA in 81 games with Cleveland, before getting traded to the Yankees at the trade deadline in 2010.
8. B.J. Ryan, Blue Jays, 2006-10, $9.4 million
2001-05: 7.5 WAR, 3.25 ERA, 42 saves, 318.1 IP
2006-10: 4.5 WAR, 2.95 ERA, 75 saves, 155.1 IP
Ryan had emerged as a dominant reliever with the Orioles in 2004 and 2005 (he averaged 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings those two seasons), leading then-Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi to sign Ryan to mega-deal worth $47 million. The Jays got a great 2006 out of him (38 saves, 1.37 ERA), but then Ryan hurt his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery.
9. Brian Fuentes, Angels, 2009-10, $8.75 million
2007-08: 2.8 WAR, 2.90 ERA, 50 saves, 124 IP
2009-10: 1.5 WAR, 3.41 ERA, 72 saves, 103 IP
Fuentes posted solid numbers with the Rockies, relying on his deceptive left-handed delivery to fool hitters. While he saved 48 games for the Angels in 2009, his big platoon split made his overall numbers mediocre and Mike Scioscia limited him to just 55 innings. The next year, he was traded to the Twins in August.
10. Jose Valverde, Tigers, 2010-11, $7 million
2008-09: 3.3 WAR, 2.93 ERA, 69 saves, 126 IP
2010-11: 3.8 WAR, 2.59 ERA, 75 saves, 135.1 IP
After going 52-for-52 in save opportunities in 2011 (he did lose five games, however, including one in the postseason), the Tigers exercised a $9 million club option for 2012. Needless to say, Papa Grande will be hard-pressed to match his 2011 numbers.
Madson is a good pitcher, but predicting good health for a reliever -- especially a 30-something one -- is clearly a dicey proposition. The Phillies are now of baseball's big-market monsters, so they can afford a $40 million gamble more than most teams, but that's what signing Madson would be -- a very big gamble.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
1.Why is John Lackey still starting games for the Red Sox? Is it the money? Or is there nobody else? The Red Sox overcame this in the second game of Monday’s doubleheader, and now the onus is on the Rays.
2. Meanwhile, Craig Kimbrel is human! The Cardinals top Philly again -- as Tony La Russa does some of his best work -- and the NL wild-card race is alive. The Braves and Red Sox, partners in rotation woes.
3. Kudos to Mo Rivera. We discuss how the best reliever ever is aging, as well as bigger picture relief stuff reminiscing about the old days.
4. If this is it for Kerry Wood, some of the memories will certainly be positive ones.
5. Did Dice-K ruin it for future Japanese pitchers coming to the U.S.? I admit I was surprised where this conversation went.
Plus: Excellent emails, poor Brian Matusz, the awesome Ian Kennedy, being a Rays minor leaguer and much more on a packed, but fun, Tuesday edition of Baseball Today! Download now and get those questions in for Wednesday at email@example.com!
Nick (editor): Verlander alert!
Dave (blogger): Crap! At the grocery store after going to the gym.
Nick: He’s thru 6, with 10 K’s.
Dave: On way home.
Nick: Thru 7 and making the Indians look stupid.
Justin Verlander, of course, didn’t get his second no-hitter of 2011 on Tuesday night, but he did throw what might have been the most dominant game of the season: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 12 SO. Using the Bill James Game Score method, which grades a start on a 0 to 100 scale, Verlander scores a 94, the best of the season, edging James Shields’ 13-strikeout, three-hit shutout over Florida on May 22.
What’s frightening to opponents -- and in particular to American League Central rivals such as, say, the Cleveland Indians -- is that Verlander seems to have turned it up a notch since that May 7 no-no in Toronto. That day, Verlander struck out just four and after the game talked about his maturation as a pitcher, not always going for the strikeout and conserving his energy early in the game. Indeed, he was clocked at 100 mph in the ninth inning.
Well, as of five days ago, he had yet to strike out 10 batters in a game this season. Now he’s done it in back-to-games. He’s 8-3, his ERA is 2.66 (more than a run below his career average), and he’s walking fewer hitters than ever and allowing fewer hits. Opponents are batting .185 off him. I’m pretty sure most observers would agree he’s the best pitcher in the AL right now.
* * * *
As I drove home, I started thinking of this question: Since I’ve been a baseball fan (1976), which starting pitchers have had the most dominating stuff? By that, I guess I mean something like from a scouting perspective -- velocity, command, pitch variety, stamina, stature and so on. Here’s the list I came up with:
1. Randy Johnson. Once he developed control of his 100 mph heater and wipeout slider, he just destroyed hitters. Lefties would come up with colds, sore backs and pink eye when he pitched. To put his dominance in perspective: Verlander has 18 10-strikeout games in his career; Johnson twice had 23 10-strikeout games in one season. Good lord.
2. Pedro Martinez. As former ESPN analyst (and former major infielder) Dave Campbell once told me, “The thing that makes Pedro so unhittable is he has four pitches. Guys like Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton were basically fastball-slider guys. You could feel comfortable against them. You’d go 0-for-4, but it would be a comfortable 0-for-4. Against Pedro, you have no chance.” At his peak, he had an explosive fastball and the best changeup in the game, plus a slider, curve and cut fastball, all thrown with impeccable control -- and an occasional one high and tight, just to make sure you didn’t dig in a little too much.
3. Nolan Ryan. He’d be downgraded for lack of command, but there’s a reason he threw seven no-hitters, throwing his fastball and curve (and adding a changeup late in his career), never giving in to a hitter and knocking you on your rear end if he felt a little mean that day.
4. Stephen Strasburg. Yes, he was that electrifying. Even if he comes back at 90 percent, he’ll be great.
5. Justin Verlander. The most impressive thing is his ability to maintain his velocity into the ninth inning. The command hasn’t always been there and at times the fastball can be too straight, which has made him a little more hittable at times than you would expect.
6. Dwight Gooden. The young Doc had a high fastball that he blew by hitters, and a big curve that made girls swoon and grown men cry.
7. Kevin Brown. Threw a hard, two-seam sinking fastball that would dive in on right-handed batters. The pitch was so dominant it was both a strikeout pitch and a ground ball pitch.
8. Kerry Wood. Oh, that rookie season ...
9. Roger Clemens. Primarily a fastball/curveball pitcher early in his career; added that unhittable splitter later on.
10. John Smoltz. On pure stuff, he would grade higher than Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
Anyway, that’s my list -- many others I could have included, such as CC Sabathia, Bret Saberhagen, David Cone, the young Bartolo Colon, Curt Schilling, Mario Soto, Mark Prior, Johan Santana ...
* * * *
Back to Justin Verlander. Is this the year he puts it all together? By that, I mean keeping his ERA to less than 3.00 (his career best is 3.37), maintaining his health (never an issue with him during his career) and keeping his focus for 30-plus starts?
I think it is. Maybe that May 24 start against Tampa Bay, in which he allowed six runs with only two strikeouts, was a bit of a wake-up call. As talented as he is, the great pitchers still have to pitch and think and work hitters. Verlander has the stuff. But there is no cruise control in baseball. His foot is on the pedal, and right now -- like Dwight Gooden in 1985 or Pedro Martinez in 2000 or Randy Johnson in 2001 -- he’s become appointment viewing.
Because I suspect I’ll be getting a couple more “Verlander alert!” emails this season.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
And yet, here we are again. With the Rangers considering moving Feliz to the starting rotation, the debate is once again raging on. And as usual, precious little of the debate seems to hinge on whether or not Feliz can start. That question would certainly be reasonable, but instead we're once again arguing over which role would be more valuable to the team.
Consider this column by Ken Rosenthal speculating about how difficult it would be for the Rangers to replace Feliz in the closer role. But didn't we just see the Twins replace Joe Nathan with Jon Rauch (and then Matt Capps) last season en route to winning their division by a rather comfortable margin? Didn't we see the Yankees pick up Kerry Wood for peanuts, after which Wood turned in a truly dominant performance over the last two months of the season? Haven't we seen teams trading for relievers at the deadline pretty much every season? The truth is, relievers aren't that hard to get, and as you would expect from Posnanski's research, basically any average reliever who finds himself with a lot of save opportunities is going to rack up a hefty number of saves.
More bizarrely, look at the potential trade targets Rosenthal breaks down. Every single one of them is an incumbent closer. There isn't a single non-closing reliever on the list, as though there aren't any relievers out there Texas could trade for and install in the closer spot. Never mind that most of the best closers in the game were non-closers first (including Rivera himself).
This is indicative of the strong bias sports fans and commentators have toward the status quo. This isn't only true in baseball, of course. Consider the near universal ridicule Bill Belichick received a couple of years ago when he opted to try to get a first down against the Colts' defense to clinch a game rather than punt the ball and give Peyton Manning a chance to win the game. As though that were just self-evidently crazy.
The converse of that is that coaches who "play by the book" are basically covering their backside. If your starting pitcher loads the bases with no outs in the seventh inning while your team is holding a two run lead and you, as the manager, bring in one of your middle relievers only to see them give up a grand slam, well you did the right thing and the pitcher just made a mistake. On the other hand, if you bring in your closer to get you out of the jam and a lesser reliever ultimately blows the game in the ninth, you can probably expect to be roundly ridiculed in the papers the next day. The only exception is for teams who don't have an obvious closer in the bullpen, but even those managers generally succumb to the temptation to squeeze someone into the role, as no one wants to have the dreaded "closer by committee."
This isn't to say that good relievers aren't a nice thing to have by any means. Having a really good pitcher or two in your bullpen who can come into the game to get you out of jams can be extremely useful, especially if you use them right, deploying them in high-leverage situations rather than managing the game to get your closer that almighty save. Of course, no one is doing that (though the Rays' Joe Maddon seems to be planning on it), and I definitely don't expect Ron Washington to buck the trend.
If Feliz can start, he should. If that bolsters the Rangers' rotation and the offense generates enough runs, the Rangers won't have any problem finding someone to hold a ninth inning lead 92-96 percent of the time.
Brien Jackson is a contributor to It’s About The Money, a SweetSpot Network member. Brien can be followed on Twitter. IIATMS can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.
(I am not including Chris Perez, who was excellent as a closer last season. He is the closer. Everyone else does … everything else.)
Still, even understanding the attrition rate of young relief pitchers (not to mention the fact that not one of these players looks to be elite), signing Durbin seems, well, kinda pointless.
There is one especially galling issue with Cleveland relievers from 2010, though:
- Lewis: 19 BB in 36.1 IP
Pestano: 5 BB in 5 IP
Smith: 24 BB in 40 IP
Tony Sipp: 39 BB in 63 IP
Overall, Cleveland relievers walked 210 batters in 484 1/3 innings. This is simply too many free passes. And while Herrmann only walked nine hitters in 44 2/3 innings, he gave up six homers, negating much of the value of limiting walks. (Only Sipp with 12 and Hector Ambriz with 10 allowed more for the Tribe in relief.)
Still, a funny thing happened on the way to making a joke about the Cleveland bullpen: The bottom five guys were Aaron Laffey, Jamey Wright, Ambriz, Kerry Wood, and Todd. Laffey is kind of an ersatz starter/swingman: of the other four, Wright was waived, Ambriz blew out his UCL, Wood was traded (and subsequently signed with the Cubs), and Todd will go back to playing Luke on "Modern Family" in all likelihood. (Untrue, but he does look youthful, and he is unlikely to pitch much in the majors in 2011.)
Eveyone else in the bullpen had an ERA under 4.15.
Overall, the Indians sported a 3.83 ERA even with Woods' 8.10 ERA and Ambriz's 1.76 WHIP. In the second half, the bullpen posted an ERA near 2.50.
Still, it's probably nice to have a veteran arm: on the salary list for the Cleveland 40-man roster, two pitchers are listed as making more than $430,000, and one is Rafael Perez at $795,000. (Fausto Carmona is well-paid.) And Durbin did a better job at limiting free passes (27 in 68 2/3 IP) than most Cleveland relievers last season.
If there's a concern with Durbin, it's that he's been worked pretty hard the past three seasons. Now 33, he threw 87 2/3, 69 2/3, and 68 2/3 innings as a pure reliever over that stretch. The last time someone got aired out like that at a similar age before signing with Cleveland, he was Juan Rincon, and we did not care for the experience. On the other hand, Durbin gave up only four homers in 37 2/3 innings in Philadelphia's bandbox, so there's some hope than Rincon II is not forthcoming.
Cleveland's rotation really needs a lot to go right to be even average, and there are reasons to think there will be some extra innings for the bullpen to absorb. Keep in mind, though: this was, in all likelihood, the thinking behind signing Jamey Wright, too.
Steve Buffum writes The B-List, a blog about the Cleveland Indians.
- Wood is the least of the bullpen problems as bad as he has been lately, and that is a pretty sad but true statement. I can recall at least seven games this season already, when the Indians had at least a three-run lead after five innings and have lost the game.
Eric Wedge needs to go. He is bringing in the wrong pitchers in the wrong situations and has had zero luck finding a cork for the leaky dam we call the Indians bullpen. The bullpen, and Wood in particular, need to step it way up and do a better job for the next manager. Wedge downplayed last nights almost tragic collapse and said, "Wood got the last out and that's what matters most.” Wrong Eric, what matters most is the fact that Wood should not have even been used in the game and that you have serious problems behind the fence in your bullpen.
Not much of a pattern there. Well, these last two seasons have been disastrous. But is it Wedge's fault that Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez, who were so brilliant in 2007, haven't been nearly as brilliant since? Did he know how to run a bullpen in 2003, forget in 2004, then really remember in 2005 ... before forgetting completely again in 2008 and '09?
I don't mean to completely absolve Wedge. I seem to recall Bill James once writing that a good manager should be able to cobble together a reasonably effective bullpen from the materials at hand, like a good cook can come up with a fine meal with whatever she finds in the kitchen (that last part is mine).
Anyway, we probably won't have Eric Wedge to kick around much longer. According to this report, the Indians' owner is soon going to meet with the Indians' general manager about the Indians' manager. And as Craig notes, "One of the most important things I've learned in my life is that you never want to be an agenda item at a meeting to which you're not invited."