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August 16, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Surprise!

by Joe Sheehan

Hmmm...now what other team can I say nice things about, sending them into an ugly tailspin?

OK, so maybe there were some good reasons to ignore the Padres, who have scored two runs since Sunday in losing a pair of games to the Braves. The last two nights' starters--Jay Witasick and Woody Williams--have shown both good stuff and a debilitating curiosity about the effect of hanging sliders on close games.

On the other hand, they've run into two pretty good pitching performances. Tom Glavine, who beat them Monday, is the tenth-best starter in the league. John Burkett threw six strong innings Tuesday and, surprise of surprises, has been a league-average starter this season.

Burkett, released by the Devil Rays at the end of March, latched on with the Braves and is having his best season since 1997, including a career-best strikeout rate of 8.4 per nine innings. He has cut off the running game as well, allowing just four steals all season, and given the Braves a viable alternative to Terry Mulholland in the fifth starter slot.

Burkett heads the list of random, where'd-that-come-from performances this season. Here are some others:

  • Hipolito Pichardo, Red Sox. Another Joe Kerrigan special, Pichardo has returned from surgery to be a godsend for the Red Sox in middle relief. A 2.28 ERA and just one home run allowed in 50 1/3 innings are just the beginning. Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools peg Pichardo as the fifth-best reliever in the American League, on par with teammate Derek Lowe. On a team where the non-Pedro starters rarely get through the sixth inning, he's been one of their unheralded heroes.

  • Herb Perry, Chicago White Sox. Perry is a great story, having returned from five knee surgeries and a couple of lost seasons to claim the third-base job for the best team in the league. He's hitting .306/.359/.482 (a .269 Equivalent Average) and playing acceptable defense at the hot corner. Perry isn't a star, but anyone who's been through as much adversity as he has is someone whose success you have to enjoy.

  • Frank Castillo, Blue Jays. I'm not surprised. This is exactly what I expected from Castillo.

    In 1996.

    Castillo made 29 starts with an ERA of 3.21 in 1995 and looked like the next big thing in the National League. He has an off-year in 1996, but the decline was all in how many hits he gave up: his strikeout and walk data improved. And ugly won-loss record, 7-16, and a big jump in ERA contributed to the idea that he'd regressed badly.

    In June of 1997 he was traded to Colorado and subsequently fell off the map, returning from oblivion to make the Blue Jays' rotation in spring training, and inspiring more derision from the Gord Ash haters here at BP. He's shocked the world, posting a 3.86 ERA with good peripherals and ranking as the sixth-best starter in the AL, as measured by the Support-Neutral stats.

Sometimes the road to success is bumpy, a tad longer than you expected and includes a detour into the ninth circle of Coors. But that just makes the wine taste a bit sweeter, no?

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

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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