When I was initially hired at Baseball Prospectus—two months ago—I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to write my first piece as a full-time employee. Then came the realization that my start date was two months away and, well, you’re probably aware that when given too long to ponder a piece, sometimes writers tend to overthink things.
Then my father-in-law pointed out that Joe Hamrahi wrote a piece in which I was described as a “super-recruit.” Super-recruit? Me? Yes, some writers tend to have a tough outer shell, displaying an image of self-assured confidence, but on the inside we’re all neurotic disasters, terrified that we’ll run out of ideas or that the next piece we write will expose us as the uninformed frauds we are. Or even worse, everyone has already been well aware that I’m awful and this job is all an elaborate sham to embarrass me in some dramatic Carrie-like situation.
Okay, probably a slightly dramatic exaggeration of what goes on in my head, but the sentiment stands. Nobody respects average. If I’m going to live up to the hype of ‘super-recruit,’ I better deliver.
Don’t believe me that average doesn’t move the meters? A couple months ago, I tweeted that according to one scouting director I spoke with Cubs rookie pitcher Kyle Hendricks’ ceiling could look similar to a recent-vintage Kyle Lohse. Some were fine with that—Hendricks has had nice numbers in the minors, but the scouting reports describe a pitcher who might not have the stuff to survive long term in the big leagues. Others, however, were outraged.
It’s safe to say that fans can go a bit overboard when it comes to expectations about their favorite team’s prospects. Some of the responses seemed to suggest that if Hendricks were to have a career similar to Lohse’s, he would not only be a disappointment, but a failure.
Let’s put aside the Hendricks–Lohse comp. It could be accurate, it could be way off, but it was the reaction to the comparison that really struck me. The experience made me remember some of the best advice I ever received from a scout. “Respect the game,” he told me. Respecting the game isn't about bat flips or flamboyant save celebrations (though I love those fun, creative moments in the game as much as anybody), but about the understanding that baseball is hard. It’s about the understanding that a ballplayer put in uncountable hours of work from a very early age, all with the express goal of making the big leagues. The vast majority of these players fail to reach that goal, so the ones who make it and actually stick around for a while deserve a tip of the cap. Forget the fact that Lohse has been really good lately; he’s actually been solid his entire career. He’s posted an ERA+ of 99 over 14 years. Let me repeat that: he’s been a major-league starting pitcher for FOURTEEN YEARS. That deserves respect. Yet somehow, we all too often forget that making it to the big leagues and lasting a long time is a huge accomplishment.
To be clear, I’m not comparing what I do to playing in the majors. Their skillset is certainly much rarer than my ability to string words together and occasionally pound out a rational thought. I’ll also freely admit that I’m striving for much more than average and most ballplayers probably are as well. But I’m guessing most would be thrilled with a dozen years in the league, regardless of their final numbers.
So today, I want to embrace the average. If in 30 years, I look back at my writing career and say, “Meh, that was average,” I hope it elicits comparisons to the players below.
Dave Stewart (100 ERA+, 16 MLB seasons)
I grew up on late-80s, early-90s baseball, and during that time Stewart was regarded as one of the best. From 1987-1990, he finished third, fourth, second and third in Cy Young voting, respectively. Sure, a lot of those votes may have come due to the weight many put on the pitcher-win statistic back then, but whatever, I loved him. I grew up in the north suburbs of Chicago, but my dad worked across the border in Wisconsin. He’d take me to a ton of Brewers games at County Stadium because the traffic to Milwaukee just made it more convenient to get to that ballpark instead of Wrigley or Comiskey. Before every game we went to, I’d try and get autographs from players. Apparently, one time before a game against Oakland, Stewart was signing autographs and hugging little kids. Unfortunately, I missed it because I was in the bathroom. I want my hug.
Jim Abbott (99 ERA+, 10 MLB seasons)
Everyone knows Abbott. Not only was he a really good pitcher for a good chunk of time, but he amazingly made it to the majors with only one hand. In 1991 and 1992, he posted back-to-back sub-3.00 ERA seasons for the Angels and finished third in Cy Young voting in the former season. In 1993, he threw a no-hitter while with the Yankees. Did I mention he only had one hand? It takes amazing focus, athleticism and talent to pitch in the majors. To do it with only one hand? Absolutely brilliant. But you know this already. I don’t care what the numbers say, he’s not average. If I can have a career even close to Abbott’s, I’d do a jig.
Doug Drabek (101 ERA+, 13 MLB seasons)
Like Stewart, a pitcher from my youth toward whom I’m biased because he was dominant in my formative years. Drabek actually snagged a Cy Young in 1990 and was part of the Pirates teams that made the playoffs but failed to reach the World Series in three consecutive seasons, the last run ending in heartbreaking fashion. Remember when everyone was talking about how awesome Kyle Drabek would be and hyping him as better than his father? Yeah, like I said, baseball is hard.
Mike Scott (100 ERA+, 13 MLB seasons)
Won the Cy in 1986, finished second in 1989 and another top 10 finish (seventh) in ’87. Scott is probably most remembered for that ’86 season in which he was nearly unhittable and led an Astros playoff team that featured Nolan Ryan, Bob Knepper and a young Jim Deshaies in the rotation. He struck out 306 batters and tossed a no-no in that remarkable year. Whenever one gets in a conversation about the nastiest pitches in baseball, inevitably, Scott’s splitter will be mentioned. If by some ridiculous stroke of luck I’m remembered for something as awesome as the splitter Scott had that season, ‘average’ would be the last descriptor to come to mind.
See? Average isn’t too bad. In fact, I’m pretty sure average is above bad on the degrees-of-good scale. But even after all of that, I’d prefer to be better than average and I’ll certainly do my best to deliver better than that on a regular basis. And while doing so, I’ll always keep in mind that a decade-plus in major-league baseball—whether you’re thriving or just surviving—is a huge accomplishment. I respect that and I’ll always respect the game.
Thank you for reading
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