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May 27, 2009

Prospectus Today

The Bergesen Tour

by Joe Sheehan

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It wasn't intentional, but I ended up on the Brad Bergesen Tour of America in May, seeing three of his last four starts in three different ballparks. I can now say that I have a read on the right-hander. He's not a prospect the way that Chris Tillman or Brian Matusz is; rather, he's good enough to be the fifth starter on the teams that they anchor in the 2010s. Bergesen tries to keep the ball down and works both sides of the plate, and his best pitch is a slurvy breaking ball. The thing I noticed most about him is that he doesn't have a great deal of stamina. He's a max-effort guy who loses it rapidly between pitches 90 and 100, and while he throws enough strikes to get into the sixth or seventh inning, he has to be monitored carefully for signs of fatigue. There's 100 percent of Brad Bergesen that is a major league pitcher; 90 percent of Brad Bergesen isn't.

The last of the three Bergesen starts I saw came on Sunday at Nationals Park, part of a two-day trip in which I continued to see more Orioles baseball than Peter Angelos does. This game was notable not for Bergesen's performance, which was shaky, but for the Nationals bullpen, which was inexplicably awesome. Ron Villone, Joe Beimel, and Joel Hanrahan combined to retire the nine hitters they faced. This is a very rare event; the Nationals' bullpen has been scored on in all but 11 games all season, and that total was just nine when Manny Acta took Shairon Martis out in the seventh on this night.

It was also notable for Adam Dunn, who hit two home runs that looked for all the world like short fly balls off the bat; they just kept going and going and going. The second was an opposite-field grand slam off of a Jamie Walker breaking ball that wasn't a bad pitch. Dunn just dropped the bat on it, and 360 feet later, the Nationals had an 8-5 lead. Dunn's size doesn't come through on TV the way it does in person: he's just a huge guy. Also worth mentioning is that Dunn, playing first base after Nick Johnson was a late scratch, showed good range on a foul popup, and good hands on some errant throws by his teammates. He's not Mark Teixeira, but he's probably a better first baseman than he is a left fielder. Dunn is quietly hitting .299/.421/.599, and while my choice of him over the field for a spot on the NL All-Star team didn't please everyone, his combination of track record and 2009 start fit the best for me from a field in which everyone had some flaw.

Nationals Park, perhaps unfairly compared by me to New Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards, did not leave a strong impact. It's certainly a nice park, with all of the modern amenities, but there's a lack of distinction to it, a lack of identity, like the kid in high school nobody hated, but who ended up with only four signatures in his yearbook. It's not helped by the scene outside the park, still one large construction site more than a year after the park opened, and behind that a Metro station ill-equipped for the volume of baseball fans it saw on Sunday. (The system itself was choked by baseball fans to and from the game, which was a surprise to me given how the park usually plays on television.) It's great that the park is hard by a station, as I think all parks should have easy access to public transportation. It's less great that the experience makes an A-train veteran think "too crowded."

Back at Camden Yards on Monday afternoon, I watched the Orioles bounce back by chipping away at Brian Tallet and accosting B.J. Ryan on their way to a 4-1 win. Jeremy Guthrie became the latest pitcher to shut down a suddenly anemic Jays attack in what would be the seventh of eight losses in a row (a streak that may be ending this afternoon in Baltimore). Adam Jones continued to justify my love, with a single, a walk, and terrific range in center field. The Orioles, who will make a significant upgrade before the week is over-Matt Wieters is coming!-are a much better team than their 20-26 mark, deflated by a brutal set of opponents, would indicate. They're probably a top-15 team in MLB, and if they had to, could be better than that by pushing their young pitching a bit more quickly. As it is, the next few months have to be about getting value for Melvin Mora, Aubrey Huff, Jamie Walker, and any other pieces that can be sold off for potential additions to future Orioles squads. The Orioles are the next team coming, in a way that the Rangers and Rays have been those teams in recent seasons.

Monday's contest was the seventh ballgame I'd attended this year, in three parks in three cities. For me, that's a lot. In fact, among the first questions I'm asked when people learn what I do is, "So you go to a lot of games, right?" The truth is, I haven't. I've argued that I get more ideas from watching a full slate of games at home via satellite-which I do, every day I'm home-than by watching two teams at one park. There's a large opportunity cost, from a writing standpoint, to attending a game, and honestly, I feel as if all of the time I've spent at games and on the road in the last 10 days has me far behind in knowing about the rest of MLB.

With all that said, I've had more fun in the last couple of weeks than is really fair. Baseball, unlike football, is much better in person than on TV. Baseball, unlike football, can be entertaining in a one-game dose. Sitting in a ballpark, a barbecue sandwich (Boog's is one of those rare things that stands up to the hype) on my lap, sun peeking down through the clouds, watching the greatest game ever invented... yeah, that's a good day. I'm just not sure how days like that fit into the process of trying to be the writer our readers deserve.

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

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

BP Comment Quick Links

Matt Hunter

Bergesen sounds like a decent candidate to be a 150-160 inning uber reliever. Because of the max effort, quick decline, and the ability to go through a lineup more than once.

I know nobody employs this tactic, it seems reasonable to me.

May 27, 2009 16:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Hunter

120-130 oops

May 27, 2009 16:13 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Just a quick correction: Nats' relievers threw three shutout, hitless innings, but only retired seven straight at any point.

May 27, 2009 16:30 PM
 
McNulty

I think every BP writer should spend the first month at the ballpark instead of worrying about how to get over the small sample size time frame. Kinda reminds you of why this game rules, yes?

May 27, 2009 16:34 PM
rating: 1
 
Llarry

Yeah, Dunn is huge when you're in the same park with him. Went to a D'Backs-Giants game at Chase last year. Dunn played 1st, Unit and Tiny Tim squared off. It was a whole night of size comparisons...

May 27, 2009 16:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Lou Doench

First time I saw Dunn as a rookie I said to my wife (GF at the time) "That is one BIG KID" And that's what we've called him ever since.
Damn happy that Dunn is off to a good start, too bad he's wasting it playing for peanuts in Washington.

May 28, 2009 05:06 AM
rating: 0
 
strupp

Joe, find your thoughts on Nationals Park interesting. I have the exact same feeling in Miller Park, with the added "bonus" of always feeling indoors, even with the roof and panels open.

May 27, 2009 18:10 PM
rating: 0
 
breed13

I found those comments interesting too, based on my visits to Nationals park (and a yearbook with no signatures in it)...

May 28, 2009 09:20 AM
rating: 0
 
sandriola

Joe, I agree that trying to keep up with the league is tough to do when you're travelling anywhere, especially baseball games, I really enjoyed this article. I appreciate reading your experiences of a night (or nights in this case) at the ballpark.

Keep up the good work!

May 27, 2009 19:01 PM
rating: 0
 
Christopher Miller
(88)

I'd like to point out that the relative "size" of ballplayers is a bone of contention for me. I walk the field in Milwaukee on a regular basis, and I'm consistently shocked by how SMALL all of the players are--even, say, Prince Fielder. These guys are, even if taller, only recognizable by their smaller girth. I may just be a Wisconsinite talking, but Corey Hart isn't that tall, Seth McClung isn't that big, and Prince Fielder isn't that rotund, at least not compared to the average person on the street. And that's remarkable, compared to football and basketball.

May 27, 2009 21:52 PM
rating: 0
 
TGisriel

Joe:

The Orioles are bringing up a flood of young players because of a combination of poor play and injuries. As of Friday, when Wieters arrives, the O's will have replaced 4/5 of its starting rotation, 2 everyday starters and some of its bullpen as compared to Opening Day.

The Nationals designating Daniel Cabrera for assignment, leads me to reflect on the difference between the current actions of the O's front office in promoting players to the majors and the promotions of the former front office.

You may recall that the O's brought Cabrera to the majors directly from A ball because of the team's need for a starter and Cabrera's potential. By contrast, the current O's front office has expressed the intention, and by its actions confirms, the intention not to bring up players until they are ready, regardless of their potential and team need.

We can speculate whether Cabrera would have been an effective pitcher if he had waited in the minors until he was "ready", but there is little doubt that he never developed at the major league level. His best seasons were his first 3, but he never really improved from his first season. After that he regressed.

In left field this season, the O's started with the Felix Pie experiment. Pie is a player with potential who has not been able to make the transformation to the major leagues. The O's were able to acquire him from the Cubs because of his failure to develop and his lack of options so the Cubs couldn't send him down for seasoning. The O's had 2 outfielders in spring training who had played very well in AA in 2008 (Reimold and Montanez) and who both played well in spring training. The O's began the season with Pie as the starting left fielder and Reimold and Montanez in AAA. Pie struggled while both Reimold and Montanez crushed AAA pitching. Montanez was the first to come up. He played sporatically, and did OK, but he injured his thumb and is not out until at lease September. Reimold came up next, has been playing left field regularly, and has certainly staked a claim to the position, including yesterday's walk-off homer in the 11th.

Weiters is about to come up on Friday. His performance in 2008 at A and AA is now the stuff of legends. The O's said they wanted to see him succeed in AAA before bringing him up. (The delay of service time and free agency was probably a factor as well). He started slow in AAA, sat out a slight hamstring injury, and has recently heated up big time. So now he's coming up.

Perhaps the most intriguing promotions are the starting pitchers. The O's system is now full of pitchers with high potential (Tillman, Arrieta, Matusz). At this point Tillman is the only one who has reached AAA. Hill was also acuired from the Cubs and was also available because of a bad 2008, and lack of options. He was injured at the beginning of the season, but has come out of rehab and pitched well (other than yesterday). The rookies who have been promoted have been Bergesen (referenced in the article) and Hernandez who makes his major league debut tonight.

Many are wondering when we will see the young pitchers with all of the potential. As a long time O's fan who remembers Boddicker stuck in AAA until a rotation spot opened for him, and then paced the O's to a World Series in 1983, and who remembers the waste of Cabrera, I am willing to give the current regime the benefit of the doubt. Let's wait until we are sure they are ready before we bring them up. We also get to keep them longer that way!

May 28, 2009 08:55 AM
rating: 0
 
TGisriel

oops. I forgot to mention Berken, another rookie starting pitcher who has come up. He was dominating at AAA and he pitched well in his first start in the majors.

The remarkable thing so far is that the rookies who have come up don't seem overwhelmed and over matched.

It will be interesting to watch the O's as they bring up the cream of their pitching prospects.

May 28, 2009 09:09 AM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

[I'm just not sure how days like that fit into the process of trying to be the writer our readers deserve.]

You're doin' just fine, Joe.

May 28, 2009 11:11 AM
rating: 0
 
wpmulligan

Joe,

In the future don't use the Navy Yard station when leaving Nationals Park. Take the 10-15 minute walk up New Jersey Avenue to the Capitol South station and hop on an empty train.

May 28, 2009 11:29 AM
rating: 1
 
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