Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Lightning 3.21.2010

  • The Stephen Strasburg debate:

Much like the questions surrounding how much money the Washington Nationals should have committed to star-in-waiting, ├╝ber prospect Stephen Strasburg when he was drafted, the newest debate with the young pitcher is whether or not to let him jump straight into the big league fire with barely any professional seasoning.

I'm not of the Rick Peterson school in thinking that a pitcher must have a certain number of minor league innings to best prepare him for the big leagues; a cookie-cutter system in any endeavor disregards individuality both personally and professionally. Nor am I in the camp of prescribing a number of innings for pitchers and adhering to them no matter what; such a strategy leads to the way the Yankees have come precariously close to the edge of ruining Joba Chamberlain.

When a pitcher's ready, he's ready; and if a pitching coach and manager are incapable of watching said pitcher's mechanics and knowing whether or not he's altering them slightly due to fatigue and not to push him any further in a game regardless of him having thrown 80 or 110 pitches, then perhaps they shouldn't be in those positions of power, entrusted with the organization's most valuable assets to begin with.

After talk that Strasburg might make the Nationals out of spring training if he was judged "ready", the club sent him to Double A. Strasburg was impressive in the spring with 1 walk; 12 strikeouts; 8 hits allowed; and an ERA of 2.00 in 9 innings.

Could the Nationals keep him in the majors and not hinder his development?

Is it possible that he really is ready for the majors now?

Yes.

Is it worth it to run that risk?

No.

Stephen Strasburg has not thrown one regular season minor league pitch. He's 21-years-old and the Nationals are going to be atrocious. They've invested a ton of money in him and his success or failure will define the organization for the next ten years. There's no earthly reason----aside from selling extra tickets and garnering attention to a last place team----to keep him in the majors when it's smarter and safer to let him hone his craft in the diminished pressure of Double A.

Because he's so gifted, Strasburg would probably hold his own in the big leagues now; but why? Why gamble on such a talent? Even though he's armed with a fastball that comes along once every generation and a wicked curveball, that doesn't mean he's mentally polished enough to step right into the spotlight and function as a freakshow for a team that's going to be terrible.

I said months ago that I'd send Strasburg to Double A to start the season; let him pitch; get acclimated to professional baseball; then see what happens as he moves along. The biggest obstacle for Strasburg will probably be mentally preparing himself for the distractions that come from being such a household name and borderline legend before he starts his career.

Double A is now where the real prospects are housed. Strasburg will likely dominate the young hitters, who themselves are still learning to play; it's Double A where the prospects are separated from the journeymen/organizational filler.

If he pitches well into the summer, then send him to Triple A and let him deal with the veteran players who are interchangeable with the 24th and 25th men on every big league roster. Triple A is a warehouse for veteran insurance, mostly with everyday players who have big league experience. Their discipline will be better; they won't be starstruck by Strasburg; and they'll actually be focusing with greater intensity to get to Strasburg and draw attention to themselves.

This is the right thing to do for his development.

I'm not a fan of players----especially pitchers----"learning" in the big leagues. It's not the physicality that's the issue; it's the ancillary parts----mental and emotional----that have sabotaged many a player and ruined them.

When you hear people like Keith Law, who have such a wooden view of players that you have to wonder if they even have a concept of what it takes to be a big leaguer aside from regurgitated scouting terminology that he endlessly parrots. Law appears to suggest that it makes financial sense for Strasburg to be in the minors, but he's ready for the big leagues now. Here's the clip about his on-field readiness:


Getting him to the majors sooner would accelerate his development for future years, since he has very little to work on in the minors -- "slowing his delivery from the stretch" is a new one for me -- and what he does need to improve is only going to improve in the big leagues.


The Nationals don't have to give a reason for demoting him. If it were me, I'd say: "I'm sending him down because I'm sending him down." Their responsibility is to the organization and the player, not the media and armchair experts.

There's such a thing as shellshock and if Strasburg, who's known nothing but success on his way up, gets rocked repeatedly, his development will be hindered, not accelerated. What people like Law are evidently incapable of understanding is that the mental part of the game is far more important to such a prospect than his talent. Someone like Strasburg might be more inclined for self-doubt and questioning of his ability than a player who's had adversity and fewer natural gifts.

The most talented among us are sometimes the most insecure. If he's in the majors and struggles while pitching for a rotten team, who does that help?

It makes no sense for Strasburg to pitch in the majors now. It won't hurt him or the Nats to let him pitch in Double and Triple A, then if he shows the physical and mental maturity for a late season promotion, bring him to the big leagues. For right now, putting such a burden on a 21-year-old pitcher is a recipe for disaster.

The Nationals are doing the right thing in playing it cautious and it's not going to damage the pitcher to spend some time in the minors. It's the smart move.

  • This looks familiar....

I like Bill Madden as a columnist, but someone said the following already about Rangers manager Ron Washington. This is from today's column in the NY Daily News:


In spite of his heart-felt apology, it would seem he's still got a lot of explaining to do. I mean are we really supposed to believe, as Washington implies, that this was a one-time deal by a 57-year-old man? And, if so, where and how did it happen and what possibly possessed him to put his career on the line (literally) like that? Clearly, something's amiss in Washington's life to engage in such a reckless manner. Perhaps if he were a player it might be a little more understandable – and easier to grant a second chance. But Washington is a manager – and therefore a role model. And not only a manager, but one whose best player, Josh Hamilton, is a recovering drug addict.


I must have heard this somewhere before.

Oh. Yeah. It was the voices in the vast expanse of my head and exploded out through my fingertips and hit the mark with laser precise accuracy.

  • Kerry Wood out for 6-8 weeks:

Indians closer Kerry Wood has a back strain and could miss the first two months of the season.

In the grand scheme of things, the only negative about this is that the Indians are going to have to wait for Wood to show himself to be healthy enough to get something for him in a trade at mid-season.Realistically, it's not a negative. It's a positive.

The Indians are going to be 100-loss bad, so they're not going to have many games for Wood to close; he's got an option in his contract for 2011 at $11 million that kicks in with 55 appearances. The injury pretty much demolishes that possibility which, if he's pitching well when he gets back, will make him more attractive to a contending team looking for some bullpen help. The return will be greater in a trade due to the non-guarantee for anything past this year.

It's not unseemly to take such an occurrence like an on-field injury (as long as the player is not damaged long term) as a positive. Years ago, the Mets got a bolt from the sky when Mo Vaughn's knee ended his career and they were able to get rid of a clubhouse distraction; a financial albatross; and a declining player while collecting the insurance money for a contract that was more bloated than Vaughn himself.

Teams can say all the right things, but we all know the sigh of relief that emanates from their lips as the decisions are made for them and it's saving them multiple millions.

  • Viewer Mail 3.21.2010:

Gabriel (Capo) writes RE the Cardinals and the Blue Jays:


I think the Cardinals are in a little better shape than that, they have a better lineup than the Mariners and Brad Penny will eat innings and win around 12 games at least.

On another concern, what do you think of Dustin McGowan? Seems like he's been hurt forever, and maybe it's time to call it a career. Whenever he feels ready, he's shut down due to soreness, fatigue or pain. I don't think it's realistic for the Blue Jays to count on him anymore.


I think Penny's going to have a good year for Dave Duncan as well; and if Kyle Lohse shows his form from 2008, they'll be okay; but if they want to contend for a title, they need Chris Carpenter. Period.

I haven't seen McGowan pitch this spring, but he's only 28; it's a little early for him or the Blue Jays to bag it. He had got great stuff and after what happened when they dumped Carpenter, I'd think they'll be more willing to give McGowan a chance to recover.

That said, we regularly hear the stories of pitchers coming back better than ever due to the new techniques that weren't available 30 years ago to repair what was seen as a career-ending injury. Orel Hershiser came back from shoulder surgery; and Tommy John surgery is almost a guaranteed success now; but there are sometimes pitchers who can't make it back.

I'm thinking of former White Sox and Marlins pitcher Alex Fernandez. Fernandez blew out his shoulder as the 1997 Marlins were making their World Series run, had surgery and came back to pitch serviceably in 1999, but repeated injuries to the same shoulder ended his career in 2000.

It's too soon to think this is anything more than "dead arm" and a slight setback for a pitcher returning for a shoulder reconstruction; but it's not something to dismiss entirely as a part of the recovery process. McGowan needs time to regain his footing. Dumping him now or having the pitcher give up entirely would be a mistake.

4 comments:

She-Fan said...

I think the Nationals made the right move. They can always see how Strasburg progresses through the system and react accordingly. But he's too great an asset to just dump into the mosh pit known as the bigs.

Jeff said...

I feel sorry for the Indians... the one piece they looked to maybe get a dollar and a cent for before the trade deadline is back on the DL... plus, he isn't that good anyway.

And I commend the Nats for this decision. It's the first smart thing they've done since signing Zimmerman long-term... oh, and signing Strasburg too. That was a good move.

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