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June 29, 2009

Prospectus Today

Quadruple Play Day

by Joe Sheehan

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Thoughts on a Monday afternoon on which I lack focus:

  • Now that the hype about Zack Greinke has faded a bit-even as he continues to be one of the best pitchers in the AL-let's turn to a pitcher who knows from hype. Felix Hernandez, after Saturday night's dominance of the Dodgers, has moved to fourth in the AL in Support-Neutral Value, fourth in ERA, and seventh among pitchers in VORP. Since getting knocked around in May, Hernandez-King Felix to his supplicants-has pitched like a man intent on earning the crown that was given to him so long ago.

    In his last seven starts, Hernandez has allowed just 10 runs in 53 innings pitched, with a 51/14 K/BB. The dip in his ERA is even more impressive because five of the runs he's allowed have been unearned. At that, he's been a dominant force on the mound in his fourth full season. It's something to remember: Hernandez is just 23 years old, and if it feels like we've been waiting on him for a long time, well, we have. Even through his development, though, he's been an effective pitcher: a 3.80 ERA in 104 starts with a 13.2 WARP3 through the end of last season.

    Let's not forget that the Mariners sent him out to the mound without all his royal armaments. He wasn't allowed to throw his slider in 2006, his first full season at the age of 20. In 2007, he added it back to his repertoire a little too much, throwing it nearly 20 percent of the time. It may have been both learning the pitch and learning how to use it, because in 2008 and 2009 he's settled in to a consistent pattern: fastballs about 65 percent of the time, and a balance among his other pitches. This is someone who is learning the range of his talents, and how best to use them.

    Now, it's fair to say that Hernandez has been somewhat fortunate, as both his BABIP and HR/FB rate are low. Even noting that, however, it's hard to not get excited about what he's doing right now. For all the worry over how the Mariners would handle their phenom back when he was called up at the end of 2005, consider this: Felix Hernandez has never thrown more than 120 pitches in a game. He's been handled beautifully, and he's going to win a lot of hardware over the next decade.

  • There seem to be a lot of people very unhappy with Manny Ramirez's rehab assignments, as he prepares to return from a 50-game suspension for violating the Joint Drug Agreement. Other than the usual content-free moralizing from a category of writers making a living off of same, I don't get the objection.

    This player has been idle for nearly two months. You can forbid him from playing at all until the suspension ends, at which point he'll need a few games, maybe a week, of rehab work. This would effectively make a 50-game suspension a 56-game excusal. That's not fair to the player, his team, or the fans of both. If the player, and step back from Ramirez for a second to consider other cases, elects to skip a rehab assignment starting at the end of his suspension because he's eager to help his team, there's the risk of an injury, as well as one of poor performance. Nefarious villains they may be, but I don't think anyone believes that the aftermath of a suspension should be a season- or career-altering injury due to the idleness caused by the suspension. Simply from a worker-health standpoint, you have to let the player play his way back to game shape.

    For some people, especially those so heavily invested in this storyline, 50 games, or 56 games, or a year of door-to-door apologizing, wouldn't be enough. Instead of railing against a rational approach to the problem of how to best let a player return from his sentence, perhaps the subset of sportswriters ignoring all reason and logic in bashing Ramirez and the rules that allow him to do his job could turn their attention to the next story, to finding out what in 2019 will be to today what steroids were in 1999, the thing everyone saw and no one had the balls to write about until it became acceptable to do so.

    My breath is bated.

  • If you drafted Chien-Ming Wang in your fantasy league, congratulations! He tied David Robertson last night by getting credited with his first win in his third straight just-shy-of-quality-start outing. Since re-entering the Yankee rotation June 4, Wang has been something less than mediocre, with a 6.35 ERA and a 19/10 K/BB ratio in 22 2/3 innings. That's less than five innings an outing. He does seem to have his velocity back, which adds to the evidence that the problems that haunted him in the first weeks of the season were related to an injury.

    Wang seems to be established again in the Yankees rotation, with Philip Hughes pitching well out of the bullpen and Wang putting up just enough innings to keep his job. Now, his season is ruined-he still has an ERA north of 10, and it will take a lot of good pitching just to get that down to even a bad number, like 6.50 or something. However, if you separate out the historically bad start to the year from what came after, which the Yankees should do in evaluating him going forward, you find that he's a struggling pitcher performing in line with many fifth starters. Wang is on a path that will return him to the pitcher he was in 2007 and 2008, when his heavy fastball generated enormous numbers of ground balls and enabled him to win with a low strikeout rate.

  • In relief of Wang, Mariano Rivera was credited with the 500th save of his career, pitching out of a jam in the eighth and mixing in his first career RBI, on a bases-loaded walk, to boot. (Ah, interleague action.) The tributes that came forth were a bit strange given that it's about 15 minutes since Rivera was a story in New York, with some people asking questions about whether he was coming to the end of his effective career.

    Rivera has struck out 39 batters and walked just two unintentionally this year. That alone is remarkable, and the numbers at the time of the stories were just as impressive. The difference between Rivera this year and in other seasons is that a handful of guys have run into some balls. He's given up five homers, which just by looking at him seems more like a fluke than the loss of some skill that will lead to more homers, a la Trevor Hoffman. He's still chewing up lefties (.215/.239/.338), and he's allowed just two doubles and a triple, so the home runs are more a fly ball-related fluke than a trend toward his allowing people to hit for more power against him.

    Eventually, Rivera will walk away, and it's probably going to be more because he wants to do something else than because the hitters force him to do so. I think that when Rivera leaves the game, he'll do so completely; he'll go build churches and preach and never really miss baseball at all. He'll come back, six summers after his last one, and give a speech that should be as anticipated as Rickey Henderson's, but for different reasons. Rivera has shown so little of himself over the years, and spent his time deflecting the spotlight rather than embracing it; I look forward to what he'll say when all eyes are upon him. Honestly, I envy the man, because as someone who has almost never been at peace with himself, I wish I had Mo's total command of more than just his cutter.

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

Related Content:  Year Of The Injury

22 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

buffum
(458)

"The dip in his ERA, down to is more impressive ..."

Missing a number (between "to" and "is") here.

Jun 29, 2009 14:38 PM
rating: -1
 
antoine6

Actually, the "controversy" about the Manny rehab games was only created by the media and had a very short lifespan, and I don't think anyone has really paid much attention to it. But of course you had to use it as a straw-man to once again rail against anyone who would dare to speak out about PED usage. Or to prove your contrarian bonafides once more. Either way, it's getting to be tired. There are far more interesting things for you to write about.

Why not just do what you claim the fans want and ignore it and move on? Your constant defense of PED usage and hysterical rants against the "moralizing" from the mainstream media is just as divisive and ultimately irrelevant as that which you are purporting to be against.

Jun 29, 2009 14:52 PM
rating: -3
 
Jason D

Don't think it qualifies as a straw man if people are actually arguing the position.

Jun 29, 2009 16:19 PM
rating: 5
 
R.A.Wagman

Attacking the baying hounds of hypocrisy (mainstream media) does not equate to defending PED users. Which I don't think Joe is doing

Jun 29, 2009 17:30 PM
rating: 3
 
Dave Pomerantz

Unless my memory is failing me, Joe has in the past frequently been an apologist for PED use.

Jun 30, 2009 13:33 PM
rating: -3
 
Dave Pomerantz

I forgot to mention in my first post that in this case, I do agree with Joe about mainstream media hypocrisy.

Jun 30, 2009 13:34 PM
rating: 0
 
TaylorSanders

I disagree. The moralizing is real and its irritating as hell. And really is just moral posturing. Noone really feels the game has been 'tarnished' and 'sullied'. Thats all BS. Everyone saying that has been watching all along and enjoying it just as much if not more. And all this 'what about the children?' stuff is just as bunk.

Jun 30, 2009 14:30 PM
rating: -1
 
EnderCN

"He’s given up five homers, which just by looking at hims seems more like a fluke than the loss of some skill that will lead to more homers, a la Trevor Hoffman"

Doesn't the fact that Hoffman has allowed 0 HR so far this year and that most of his HR last year were at home instead of the road and that his K/BB have stayed steady or improved suggest that his HR spurt was just a fluke as well.

Jun 29, 2009 14:59 PM
rating: 0
 
antoine6

I forgot to add that the "interesting things for you to write about" include the rest of the piece, which was quite good.

Jun 29, 2009 15:00 PM
rating: 1
 
Matt Kory

"Wang is on a path that will return him to the pitcher he was in 2007 and 2008, when his heavy fastball generated enormous numbers of ground balls and enabled him to win with a low strikeout rate."

I think the jury is still out on Wang. He gave up two runs in 5.1 innings to a Mets team that was batting Alex Cora second. Lets see how he does when he faces a major league lineup.

Jun 29, 2009 15:40 PM
rating: 0
 
mafrth77

Wang has no chance of being effective against a good line up. Too many walks and too much hard contact. The illusion that he is back because he got a win last night is going to get him probably three more starts, likely losses, before the Yankees make the right move and start Hughes. What do you think the marginal value of 3 wins is in the AL east this year?

Jun 29, 2009 16:16 PM
rating: 0
 
baserip4

I think you make a really good point about the "rehab" assignment for PED suspensions. When a player is on the 15-day DL, he can go to the minors after 10 days to start rehab.

Jun 30, 2009 07:53 AM
rating: 0
 
cbirkemeier

I'm not sure you can really compare suspension rehabs to injury rehabs. The one span of missed games was punishment, and the other wasn't.

Jun 30, 2009 16:53 PM
rating: 1
 
elm
(41)

While it wouldn't surprise me if Mo walks away from baseball completely like you suggest, it also wouldn't surprise me if he decided to become a pitching coach. He has, according to beat reporters, frequently helped younger pitchers on the team, especially, but not exclusively, the Latino pitchers. If he truly enjoys this teaching, and who knows if he does, I could see him choosing to do it full time. And certainly the Yankees are an organization that enjoys employing its former players. I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a "pitching coordinator" based in Tampa after his retirement and, if he proves adept in that role, graduating to MLB pitching coach eventually.

Jun 30, 2009 08:12 AM
rating: 0
 
Schere

Has anyone with $50 million or so in lifetime earnings come back to coach? Mo will have earned ~$100 million.

Jun 30, 2009 12:29 PM
rating: 0
 
elm
(41)

How many people with that much in earnings have retired yet? Reggie Jackson was one of the highest earners of his day and he's stuck around in a part-time role as a hitting coordinator for the Yanks and was a coach for the A's shortly after he retired. Tony Gwynn doesn't quite get to 50 million, I think, but he's in college coaching. Don Mattingly made a lot, though nothing near 50 million. Can't think of anyone else off the top of my heads, but it will be an interesting question in the coming decades as more players who experienced the recent salary explosion start to retire: are the coaches drawn from the journeyman ranks even more so than in the past?

But this is why I think it depends on whether Mo loves teaching young pitchers: he's not going to do it because he needs to, but only because he really wants to.

Jun 30, 2009 12:43 PM
rating: 2
 
elm
(41)

After some searching, I found one: Marquis Grissom is the first base coach for the Nationals and he made just over 50 million in his career. A number of 25-50 million players also are coaching, like Van Slyke and Mo's predecessor, Wetteland.

Jun 30, 2009 13:06 PM
rating: 3
 
RayDiPerna

"Rivera has struck out 39 batters and walked just two unintentionally this year. That alone is remarkable, and the numbers at the time of the stories were just as impressive."

Indeed. The "Rivera has lost something" angle -- recently and still pimped by Mike Francesa -- was always absurd.

"Felix Hernandez has never thrown more than 120 pitches in a game. He's been handled beautifully, and he's going to win a lot of hardware over the next decade."

Sorry, Joe, but I don't share your optimism. You're right that there's no reason to be pessimistic, but pitchers get hurt. That's what they do. After all the attempts to study the issue, pitcher injuries seem essentially random. Can we say anything at all beyond "pitchers under 24 who are overworked seem to be at higher risk"?

Jun 30, 2009 11:27 AM
rating: 0
 
Vinegar Bend
(477)

I'm not "moralizing" about character or whathaveyou when I agree with those who say that Manny should not be allowed to play in the minors while he is suspended under the league's drug policy.
To me, it's analogous to a AAA player getting suspended for drugs and then letting him play for his organization's AA affiliate while he's suspended. Albq and Inland Empire are part of the Dodgers organization, so it makes sense that his punishment apply to all affiliates of that organization.

Jun 30, 2009 15:54 PM
rating: 0
 
cbirkemeier

When the players and the owners added the suspensions to the CBA, they had to agree on two things: length of suspension and length of rehab. Those two things had to be in there. Is it their fault that the media initially reported it as 50-game suspension instead of 50-game suspension, 10-game rehab inclusive? This information was available long before Manny went on a rehab assignment.

Plus, if they wanted a full 50 games without playing, it would have actually been a 60-game suspension, 10-game rehab inclusive, which would have been reported as a 60-game suspension. The writers who complain about these things were lazy at the time of the suspension policy announcement and they're lazy again now to complain about a "problem" they've created.

Jun 30, 2009 17:01 PM
rating: 0
 
sandriola

If I recall correctly, the minor leagues are separate entities from the major leagues and that there are working agreements between the two. Thus, minor league teams are not officially a part of a major league organization.

What does this mean? I suppose it means that the fact Ramirez is allowed to play in the minors indicates that there were bargained agreements to have a "rehab" period for those suspended, as birkem3 stated. Ramirez was suspended for 50 major league games, not 50 professional, affiliated baseball games. In fact, every major league player suspended under the drug policy has the right to the rehab period. Once again, birkem3 is right in that the media were lazy in their reporting on both ends.

Jun 30, 2009 20:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Vinegar Bend
(477)

And now we know... the rest of the story.

Thanks for the clarification.

Jul 01, 2009 10:35 AM
rating: 0
 
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