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April 20, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

When Smart People Aren't

by Joe Sheehan

For your enjoyment, here are two pitching performances:

Pitcher A: 4 IP, 2.25 ERA
Pitcher B: 5 1/3 IP, 11.81 ERA

Sure, it's a small sample size, so maybe it doesn't mean that much. Let's look at a larger sample:

Pitcher A: 73 IP, 5.47 ERA
Pitcher B: 147 1/3 IP, 5.62 ERA

Hmmm...not much to choose from there. Neither of these guys looks particularly good by those numbers. Let's see some others:

Pitcher A: .208/.315/.410, 7.94 K/9, 1.7 K/BB
Pitcher B: .307/.358/.474, 5.86 K/9, 2.1 K/BB

Now we start to see some differences.

You're probably growing impatient with this exercise, so I'll stop throwing random data at you. Pitcher A is Bruce Chen, while Pitcher B is John Burkett. And in a particularly silly bit of roster shuffling Tuesday, the Braves sent Chen to Richmond and kept Burkett on the team.

Chen's lost a lot of his glow since he went into camp in 1999 as the Braves' #5 starter. He was beaten out for that job by Odalis Perez, then bounced between Richmond and Atlanta last season, putting up the major-league performance you see above. (The first set of numbers is the two pitchers' performances this year.)

Burkett, meanwhile, has been getting more hittable and chewing up fewer innings each year. He had a nice run as a #4 starter for much of the 1990s, but his decline hit a nadir this spring when he was unable to crack the Devil Rays' staff. After his release, the Braves signed him, and now seem reluctant to let him go, despite his performance to date.

You probably don't need me to tell you how silly this is. The Braves already have one soft-tossing veteran swingman on the staff, and at least Terry Mulholland has a few positives and a decent track record the past few years. Atlanta has a flood of live arms for the bullpen, and many of those (Chen, Luis Rivera, Kevin McGlinchy) have experience as starters.

The only thing Burkett has on Chen is experience, and that's not enough to make up the yawning gulf between the two pitchers. The odd thing is that at the same time the Braves are making this choice, they're playing 19-year-old, straight-out-of-A-ball Rafael Furcal in the middle infield half the time. There's no internal consistency.

Rudy Seanez will be coming off the disabled list soon, and you have to hope that this will spell the end of Burkett. It's possible, though, that Cox and John Schuerholz will instead ship out McGlinchy or Rivera in an effort to keep around a player who simply has nothing to contribute to a championship team.

Chen is a big part of the Braves' future, and deserves a chance to make that future now. He should be their #5 starter, and every start he makes for Richmond is wasted by a Braves' team that, for the first time in a while, could really use the help in the rotation.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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