Friday, October 16, 2009

Why Are The Phillies Starting Pedro Martinez?

  • A disaster waiting to happen:

When decisions are made based on factors aside from on-field concerns, it's a recipe for disaster. The baffling decision by the Phillies to start Pedro Martinez in game 2 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium appears to have outside influences all over it and the Phillies are going to pay for it by letting the Dodgers get on a roll in the series.

Pedro Martinez is one of the best pitchers in the history of baseball. There's no debating that. Considering the era in which he played and the ridiculous numbers he posted, there's an argument for him being the best ever, period. There's even a viable argument for what the Phillies are trying to do. They're keeping Pedro in as secure a cocoon as possible; in a big ballpark; with a high mound; and weather warm enough that him getting loose won't be as large a factor as it would be in the chill of Philadelphia. In addition to that, I'm a firm believer in fading veterans who have known greatness being able to regain that for a brief moment in the large spotlight.

This phenomenon has been exemplified in certain career renaissances enjoyed by warriors such as Orel Hershiser, Wayne Gretzky and Evander Holyfield. People who were widely believed to be finished, but regained their greatness if only for one night. The gravity of the moment can do wondrous things----to a point. But does Pedro have enough left in the tank to get past his physical limitations that are becoming more and more obvious with each passing day?

For some unfathomable reason, Pedro was allowed by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to throw 130 and 119 pitches in consecutive starts as if it was the young and spry 1999 Pedro rather than the injury-riddled and fading 2009 Pedro. He looked shaky in his final two starts of the season and hasn't pitched competitively in three weeks. Are they really expecting him to have his command? To suddenly re-emerge and appear as 1999 Pedro like Lazarus?

Is there a factor of: "Well, Pedro's on the roster and we have to use him" in play here? Wouldn't the team be better off starting Joe Blanton instead of Pedro? I would've trusted J.A. Happ (despite his wobbly playoff appearances so far); or a patched together start (of which Pedro could've been a part) using Brett Myers (inexplicably off the playoff roster in favor of the do-nothing Eric Bruntlett); or figuring something else out. Their bullpen, already beleaguered after game 1, could be ravaged beyond repair after tonight so that it's a problem for the rest of the series, undone by a short Pedro outing.

The Phillies could put a chokehold in the series tonight with a win, but they won't be able to do it if the Dodgers jump out with a crooked number in the first two innings. They're making a decision to let the Dodgers back into the series and if they lose the whole thing, they'll look back on it as their biggest gaffe in sifting through the wreckage of a lost season and lost opportunity to win back-to-back World Series. It'll all come down to this one act of stupidity and sentimentality and it's a mistake.

  • Is Jonathan Papelbon on the market?

I can understand the Red Sox frustration with Jonathan Papelbon. He's got a big mouth; he's far too impressed with himself; and he's on the verge of costing them big money if they intend to keep him. That said, he's a proven commodity; he's able to handle the big stage; and his attitude is part of his "thing" that makes him a top closer. Trading him is a big risk no matter who they have coming back and if it were me, I'd explore it and only pull the trigger if someone knocked me over with an offer.

Under Theo Epstein the Red Sox have historically diminished the value of the closer. From the ridiculous attempt at the bullpen-by-committee in 2003 (it was that, not Grady Little, which cost them the pennant that year); to the attempts to mold journeymen and youngsters who had neither the ability nor aptitude to do the job, they've repeated this process over and over and again, then retreated to finding someone who could actually do the job, first with Keith Foulke (they won a World Series) and with Papelbon (another World Series).

Even with Papelbon's meltdown in game 3 of the ALDS, he's not completely responsible for what happened against the Angels. Had manager Terry Francona not ordered his closer to walk Torii Hunter to pitch to Vladimir Guerrero, the Red Sox would at least have survived to game 4. They might've lost anyway, but it wouldn't have shined the spotlight on Papelbon as it has.

As smart and savvy as the Red Sox front office has been in the past six years, they still cling to that tenet of not overpaying for a closer, but they're missing the fact that a closer who can handle the job mentally is more important than money and stuff. Look at Huston Street; look at Brad Lidge. Do the Red Sox want to venture into the unknown again when they have someone who's gotten the job done again and again? And I'm here to tell you that having watched Billy Wagner with the Mets for three years, he is not the guy you want on the mound at Yankee Stadium with a 1-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning.

If they want to again try to use young closer such as Daniel Bard as some form of a transition, then fine. He's got such an overpowering arm that he'd absolutely be able to rack up the saves during the season and the club wouldn't miss much of a beat; but will he be able to get the outs in the playoffs? With Papelbon, they'll know he can do that. The idea that they've lost in the playoffs the last two years anyway with Papelbon is somewhat specious; Papelbon is not the reason they lost to the Rays last year and the Angels this year. The Red Sox season is no longer defined by anything that happens from April to September, but by what happens in October. Are they willing to roll the dice again of having a mental weakling pitching the ninth inning?

The market for Papelbon would be strong. The Tigers, Mariners, Cubs and Rockies would all have major interest in the obnoxious righty and the Red Sox would get some prime talent back for him, but they're better consider all the factors before making such a move because it could wreck their season in 2010 and beyond.

  • Viewer Mail 10.116.2009:

Cat writes RE my pick of Dodgers in Six:

I like your prediction of the Dodgers over the Phillies. Your comments are right on.

I love comments from new people, especially when they agree with me wholeheartedly.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes:

Leave the gun. Take the cannolis.

The main criteria to integration and advancement in my Family is following orders, maintaining loyalty and being smart. Jeff meets these criteria with aplomb. The Prince of New York steers this ship. Right....or....wrong.

Gabriel writes RE my pick of Angels in Seven over the Yankees:

Hope you're right.

The key with the Angels is that they're fearless against the Yankees and they know they can beat them. If you polled the Yankees silently under sodium pentothal, to a man they'd probably tell you that they wanted nothing to do with the Angels. But here they are and they've got to deal with it.

Peter writes two comments, one on Yankees-Angels; the other on Billy Wagner:

Will definitely be a battle to watch...especially if CC melts down.

Wagner retire, yeah right, just another attempt to seek the spotlight.

Sabathia won't be the problem. It's going to come down to Joe Girardi, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. This is a big issue for the Yankees. A big issue.

Billy Wagner puts forth this persona as a simple country guy who speaks his mind without pretense and does what he feels is right. That may or may not be accurate, but he's also been very slick and calculating at using his "honesty" as a negotiating ploy. He did not go through Tommy John surgery to pitch for a month and retire. He's coming back. Believe me.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Yankees:

I guess you're reversing yourself then. Or did you not pick the Yankees to win the WS?

Is that a reversal or reassessment?

Most, if not all, self-anointed "experts" would've looked at their pre-season picks, examined all the aspects of a possible (though necessary) alteration based on current circumstances and stayed with their original pick to be able to stand up and crow about having been "right". The thought flashed through my mind in sheer terms of self-interest, but I can't do that and maintain credibility within myself.

The truth is I did pick the Yankees to win the World Series in my book. That said, it was a different Yankee team that I expected to be playing in the ALCS (against the Red Sox in that case); that Yankee team had what is commonly referred to as a "fourth starter". This one doesn't. That team wasn't going against an Angels club on a mission to turn a tragedy into a historic tribute to a fallen teammate; and that team wasn't dealing with an Angels club that----more than anyone else in baseball----is willing to look at the "Yankee aura" and snarl rather than cower.

If I was a Yankee fan, the shortness of starting pitching would concern me; the Joe Girardi strategies of "doing stuff" and overmanaging for the sake of it would send me into a frenzy of self-doubt; and that it's the Angels coming to town would petrify me.

This was not an about face on an opinion based on convenience; it's cold-blooded reality. I sense an underlying and palpable fear of the Angels amongst the Yankee faithful (and some have privately told me as much). There's reason to be afraid and it's justified because the Yankees are going to lose.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

"There's reason to be afraid and it's justified because the Yankees are going to lose."

Believe that. I do.

As for Papelbon... he would fit right in on the Northside with the large faction of loudmouth whiny a-holes who permeate the not-so-friendly confines. Do it, Theo. Do it.