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Olympic Prospectus series: |
Olympic Outlook |
Team USA Pitching |
Team USA Hitting

(Ed. note: This isn’t
another NBC joke.
Derek filed this prior to the
Olympic competition began, only to see it disappear on the editorial desk.
Our apologies to you readers.)

I have two things to get off my chest before I get to the exhibition
roundup and outlook for the United Stated baseball team in Sydney.

Every time I pick up a sports magazine with an Olympic preview, the capsule
of baseball reads, more or less, "Despite allowing professionals to
compete and hopes for a basketball-style ‘dream team’, the U.S. will be
sending a team largely composed of unknowns to Sydney, where Cuba will
win." Hey, if you don’t follow the sport enough to know who Sean
Burroughs
, Kurt Ainsworth, Adam Everett and C.C.
Sabathia
are, I suggest that you ask someone who does. Knowing the
Olympic schedule–and IOC drug testing–everyone knew that Mark
McGwire
and company weren’t going, and sure, Cuba has a good team, but
it’s not perfect (unlike those cool Cuban umpires), and this kind of
disrespect for some of the best prospects in baseball riles me.

That’s the chip off one shoulder.

The second? Tommy Lasorda is an idiot. He was granted one of the best
pitching prospects in baseball in C.C. Sabathia. The Indians made a
reasonable request for an organization loaning a pitcher to a Tommy
Lasorda/Phil Regan combination: they wanted Sabathia to start games and
work on strict pitch counts.

Instead of using him that way, which would have been the smart move in the
any case, Lasorda decided that Sabathia would start only one game and pitch
out of the bullpen the rest of the time. The Indians, rightfully angry that
Lasorda had breached their understanding, recalled Sabathia to the States,
costing Team USA one of its best pitchers.

The logic behind using Sabathia for one start and then having him relieve
is that the team doesn’t need four starters (which,
as I pointed out last time,
is clearly not the case). They’re intimating they’ll use Ben
Sheets
, Kurt Ainsworth and Roy Oswalt. Sheets will pitch
against Japan on the September 17, get five days off, pitch against Cuba
and then, if needed, pitch again on three days rest in the gold-medal game.

This is amazing stupidity. They could have set up a great four-man
rotation, no silliness required, of Ainsworth/Oswalt/Franklin/Sabathia.
Everyone gets four days off between starts, everyone pitches two games, the
first starter throws three times. Instead, Team USA has decided to make
Sheets the ace despite having four better options, and use him in the three
most important games, including the final on three days’ rest. And, in
order to make this dumb idea come to fruition, it cost them their
sixth-best pitcher, a flame-throwing intimidation machine.

That said, Team USA went 5-1 in exhibition play against a bunch of weak
opponents, but we can look at what went on and see some interesting patterns.

September 7: U.S. 11, Italy 2

Team USA comes to town and promptly lights up Simontacchi like he was
Norm Charlton, scoring six runs in three innings. No Italian pitcher
gives up less than two hits (though none give up any walks). Rick
Krivda
, who will likely get the cheap win against Italy in the actual
competition, manages to give up four hits in four innings to one of the
Games’ weakest lineups.

Fortunately, Ryan Franklin and Bobby Seay can pitch, and they
toss four shutout innings. Todd Williams closes for Team USA,
establishing a fine precedent for the use of a traditional closer, though
he’s clearly not as good a pitcher as, say, anyone else on the team.
Anthony Sanders starts in center field, weirdly. Brad
Wilkerson
hits two doubles, because he’s cool.

September 8: U.S. 3, Australia 1

After cleverly managing to get Luke Prokopec called up by the
Dodgers so the team wouldn’t have to face him, Pastaman reaps his evil
rewards. Sanders starts again in center field, Marcus Jensen starts
at catcher. I’m glad to see Jensen is going to be getting some playing
time, but it’s clear that the team misses the superior veteran experienced
pitch-calling of Pat Borders, as Roy Oswalt strikes out seven
in four innings. Williams closes again. The team steals three bases.

September 9: U.S. 5, Australia 3

Travis Dawkins starts, due to his international experience over Adam
Everett
. Sanders is still out there in center field. Doug
Mientkiewicz
is thrown out stealing. Go small baseball. Meanwhile,
Sabathia earns Pastaman’s wrath by striking out a man an inning and
allowing six hits over five innings.

September 10: U.S. 17, South Africa 1

Some highlights: Dawkins starts at shortstop. His international experience
allows him to make an error and steal a base. Jensen catches. Kurt
Ainsworth frightens the Afrikaaners and small children with a terrifying
five-inning shutout in which he strikes out seven (just under half the
batters he faced) and allows only two hits. Tim Young and Shane
Heams
each throw two innings of shutout relief.

September 11: Holland 4, U.S. 3

Didn’t see that coming, did you? Dawkins sucked it up starting at shortstop
while Everett, put in later, went 2-for-2 with a double and scored. Jon
Rauch
gets drilled, putting on ten runners in five innings, four on
walks, and gives up all four runs. Ex-San Francisco Giant Rikkert
Faneyte
, playing center field for Holland, drives in three of those
runs and then gets the save pitching. Mike Kinkade starts at third
base again, so we can be fairly sure that Team USA isn’t carrying him as a
catcher after all. No-walk Sanders plays center field and doesn’t do
anything. Jensen catches again instead of Borders.

September 12: U.S. 15, Korea 0

Korea supposedly didn’t use its top pitchers and didn’t play home-run titan
Lee Seung-Yeop, but did field their national all-stars and got beat
like Richard Butler at a Black Panther reunion. Ben Sheets pitched well for
five innings, striking out six and allowing only two hits, and Williams
again closed the game. The right outfield played (Ernie Young/Brad
Wilkerson/Mike Neill), Everett got the start at shortstop over
Dawkins, and Kinkade again started at third base. Why is Kinkade starting
over Sean Burroughs? No idea.The team struck out 15 times and walked
eight times, hit three homers and got caught the only time they tried to
steal.

So what does the lineup look like? While we can safely assume that Lasorda
was goofing off with some of this, here’s what it looks like:

C:     Pat Borders/Marcus Jensen
1B:    Doug Mientkiewicz
2B:    Brent Abernathy
SS:    Adam Everett
3B:    Mike Kinkade/Sean Burroughs
RF-LF: Brad Wilkerson/Mike Neill/Ernie Young
CF:    Anthony Sanders/Wilkerson
DH:    John Cotton/Mike Coolbaugh

Not too bad, given what they have to work with. The four-headed outfield is
annoying: clearly, Wilkerson, Young and Neill should get the vast majority
of plate appearances.

Now the baserunning: cut that out, Tommy. I know it’s exciting and it makes
it look like you’re doing something, but the fact is that none of these
guys can steal well enough to make it worth it.

Now, to the pitching. Ryan Franklin pitched really well in relief,
and even with Sabathia out it’s unlikely he’ll get the chance to start.
Meanwhile, there’s a bizarre fixation with Ben Sheets pitching as many
games as possible, even if it will mean the team has a significantly worse
chance at the finals.

Besides which, if I was the Brewers, I’d be thinking about pulling Sheets
at this point. Lasorda clearly doesn’t have his head on straight if he’s
thinking about starting one of your best prospects three times in 11 days,
especially given the Pastaman’s historic blind spot for pitch counts and
Phil Regan’s awful record protecting his pitchers from abuse.

Derek Zumsteg can be reached at dzumsteg@baseballprospectus.com.