Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Plummet Of Mark Mulder

  • What happened to this guy?

With rumors going back-and-forth that he was retiring, then "clarified" to say that he'd halted his throwing program and was weighing his options----Sporting News Story----Mark Mulder's career is at a crossroads. Unsure of whether or not to try and continue at a diminished capacity from the 20-win, Cy Young Award contender or hang it up, it can't be an easy decision for someone who was as good as Mulder once was to either accept his limitations and move forward trying to pitch as something wholly other; or take his career for what it was and retire before diminishing it by clinging to memories that are no longer possible.

Does he want to alter everything to "kinda sorta" be effective again?

Does he want to push forward doing the things he used to do and hope everything falls into place?

Does he want to run the risk of going back out and embarrassing himself because he physically can't perform anymore?

For a proud athlete who has Mulder's resume, there comes a point where he has to look into the mirror and ask whether or not it's worth it to possibly make it back as someone's fifth starter/long reliever/Triple A insurance or if he should move forward with his life. What makes it worse is that Mulder is at an age (32) where he'd still have at least 3-4 more good years of productivity at his early career levels, and then probably another 2-3 years of being useful had his body not broken down as it did.

Of the three young Athletics starters of the early part of the decade (Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito), Mulder was the pitcher who looked as if he was built to last. Bigger and stronger than Hudson; a cleaner, smoother and more repeatable motion than Zito, Mulder made it look easy. He was efficient; he threw strikes; and his motion was a thing of beauty----effortless, clean and simple.

In his first five full seasons, Mulder won: 21, 19, 15, 17 and 15 games while pitching over 200 innings in four of those seasons. He wasn't abused; he didn't overstress himself on the mound; there was no reason to think that he'd break down. But by the third full season in 2003, there were warnings as he began having trouble with his hip, a death blow to a pitcher.

By 2004. the signs were too glaring to miss even as he was still able to rack up wins and build up a gaudy record of 15-3 by August 3rd. Mulder was getting pounded far too much for a pitcher of his formerly lofty status. His fastball was short; his mechanics were off and it was clear that he was in decline. His Gamelogs from 2004 show that alarming drop like spilled ink forming a red flag.

He wasn't the same. Mulder had always been hittable----it wasn't as if he was Pedro Martinez, circa 1999 where if he was on his game, you might as well just go up to the plate without a bat---but he was never hittable to the extent he was showing by late 2004. Sometimes that issue is simply mechanical; sometimes not.

Famously, Orel Hershiser got rocked by the Giants in late August of 1988 when a mechanical flaw was spotted in which he was stepping too far toward first base as he landed, causing his arm to lag behind his body and flatten his pitches. Once that was corrected, he pitched as well as anyone ever has or ever will, with six straight shutouts to end the regular season and a classic performance in the playoffs and World Series, singlehandedly destroying both the Mets and the Athletics.

Fixing Mulder's mechanics wasn't going to alleviate the physical fall.

Billy Beane, clearing salary and retooling, traded Mulder to the Cardinals after the 2004 season in a deal that brought Dan Haren to Oakland. Mulder pitched well for a title-contending Cardinals team in 2005, winning 16 games, but he wasn't the pitcher he'd been early in his career. Had he been playing for a bad team, the issues would've been more obvious.

Instead, the Tony La Russa/Dave Duncan magic of maximizing their players and putting them in the best possible circumstances to succeed covered for Mulder as he went 16-8 with numerous brilliant games; but there were still the games in which a pitcher of Mulder's caliber got bashed. It was as if his physical issues were chronic and his results depended upon whether he felt good or not and was able to do what he wanted to do on the field.

An athlete knowing what he wants to do but being physically unable to do it generally doesn't happen until very late in their careers; but Mulder was faltering. By 2006, possibly due to the over-taxation on his arm by the lower body and back problems, Mulder's shoulder gave out. For a pitcher as smooth and free as Mulder was to injure his shoulder was a clear indication that it was the rest of his body that was the problem.

He pitched horribly from then on and the final insult was in 2008 when he started a game against the Phillies and his shoulder was such a mess that he was throwing sidearm and managed 5 strikes in 16 pitches. What La Russa was thinking in leaving him out there even that long was beyond me; even the Phillies (not exactly the kindliest bunch) appeared to be peering at the Cardinals bench with a sympathetic countenance that said, "get this guy off the field, he's hurt!!!"

Now, faced with another comeback and doubts, he's vacillating on what to do. He still wants to play, but can't do what he once did not because of age; not because of desire; but because he's physically unable. The line between moving forward at a diminished capacity, but still having value to someone and not wanting to sully what was an impressive career is hard to distinguish.

There's nothing wrong with becoming something else and being able to help, but if the cost is too great, perhaps it's time to accept that and move forward in a different phase of life, as hard as that is. The hitters have told Mulder that it may be time to give up; and what's more, his body is screaming it. Hanging on now will prolong the inevitable. It's sad, but it's the truth.

  • This could be BIG trouble for the Braves:

Jair Jurrjens hasn't gotten enough attention considering how good he is. Had he had better run support last season and a superior bullpen, he would've won 20 games easily. If he's healthy, he's a Cy Young Award contender. But considering this news, the Braves could have a big problem.

Jurrjens is having an MRI on his aching shoulder. Despite the Braves uttering all the calming phrases----"precautionary"; "no structural damage"----there have to be waves of terror flowing through the entire Braves organization.

After trading Javier Vazquez and relying on Kenshin Kawakami as their fifth starter, they must have Jurrjens healthy if they want to make up for their lack of offense with superlative starting pitching.

Maybe I'm paranoid after seeing what happened to the Mets in 2009 with the "day-to-day" status and inconclusive medical diagnosis, but the mere fact that the Braves are sending Jurrjens to be checked would lead me to panic, specifically with the small margin for error the Braves will have in being a team barely above .500 and winning 92 games.

Bottom line, if they lose Jurrjens for an extended period of time, they're screwed.

  • Mmmmmm.....Kooool-Aid:

Line up Philadelphians, and drink your Philippe Aumont Kool-Aid.

Are they going to continue to justify this forever?

We couldn't afford Cliff Lee....blah, blah, blah.

We wanted to replenish the system....blah, blah, blah.

We love the young players we received....blah, blah, blah.

In reading this NY Times column, I still get the feeling that the Phillies front office is desperately trying to convince themselves that they did the right thing in dealing Cliff Lee for prospects and replacing him with Roy Halladay----and they're having trouble believing it.

Never mind the front office though; think about this. Do you really believe that the Phillies manager Charlie Manuel (age 66); and the core of the team (Ryan Howard-30; Chase Utley-31; Jimmy Rollins-31; Roy Halladay-33) care a whit about some Double-A closer, Phillippe Aumont, and how the front office loves him and his stuff?

A Double-A closer?

The veteran players and the manager wanted to keep Lee. Bank on it.

Let's be enthusiastic and say Aumont's in the majors by late 2010 and is very good in the Phillies bullpen; will it still have been worth it? The only way that this deal will make sense in retrospect is if the Phillies manage to win the pennant again in 2010; or if Aumont turns into Mariano Rivera. Aside from that, do you think the Phillies veteran players wanted this 21-year-old kid as a "future star" instead of throwing Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay to the mound two of every five days?

With the Phillies insisting that they did the right thing for the organization, the fan base is skittish about losing Lee; and the media is jumping on the bandwagon----my bandwagon----in savaging the short-sighted stupidity of the move. There's a lot of pressure on Aumont; and a lot of pressure on GM Ruben Amaro, Jr.

We'll see how long the manager and players are in lockstep on the decision if they stumble this season. My guess is it won't be long.

1 comment:

theBrooklynTrolleyBlogger said...

(Phils) - They'll go as far as Cole Hamels and Rollins takes them. I believe that. But then again they shouldn't get too taxed by the rest of the division.

When I think of players who didn't know when to hang them up I think Mickey Mantle. He held on just long enough to ruin his lifetime
.300 avg.