Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Stephen Strasburg International Airport

  • It's still only one game:

I made two jokes on Twitter last night that were apropos for the occasion of Stephen Strasburg. One, when he allowed the homer to Delwyn Young, I said that Strasburg's father---Jor-El---is incredibly angry at the hiccup. Then I mentioned that Reagan International Airport in Washington was going to be renamed Stephen Strasburg International Airport this morning.

Sound silly? Well, it's not considering the maelstrom of media trailing him and documenting every breath he takes; every move he makes.

I'm not going to get into any detailed analysis/lust/anointing of Stephen Strasburg. You can get that anywhere and everywhere. He did look great last night. It was only one game. It is too soon for anyone to pass judgment and predict where his career is going to go based on one game.

What I will do is draw comparisons between Strasburg's debut and two other overhyped pitchers whose careers took divergent turns in opposite directions after their Hollywood premiere, velvet rope, transcending the game pre-packaged hyperbole similar to that which is accompanying Strasburg.

No doubt you've seen Strasburg's line from last night, but here it is again: 7 innings; 4 hits; 2 runs; 2 earned runs; 0 walks; 14 strikeouts; 94 pitches; 65 strikes.

That's not impressive; that's eye-popping.

Now here are the lines from two other pitchers in their first big league starts:

Pitcher 1: 9 innings; 6 hits; 1 run; 1 earned run; 4 walks; 15 strikeouts.

Pitcher 2: 6.2 innings; 5 hits; 2 runs; 2 earned runs; 4 walks; 9 strikeouts.

Taking into account the era in which both pitchers arrived, the attention they received was commensurate with the silliness surrounding Strasburg as if Christ himself was showing up to lead us all away from a life of sin and toward rectitude. The coverage couldn't be more stifling had a deity arrived and chosen to ply his omnipotence in something as transient as a baseball game as a conduit to gain support from the masses.

Pitcher 1 became one of the best hurlers in history. An American hero for his commitment to the cause not just of the game, but of his country and world.

Pitcher 2 became the butt of numerous jokes and a case study of why sanity must prevail before deciding----after one start!!!----that anyone, anywhere in any endeavor is the "real deal".

The first pitcher is Bob Feller.

The second is Hideki Irabu.

Think the similarities between those two pitchers and Strasburg are off base? You're wrong.

Feller was a bonus baby who arrived in the big leagues at 17; he made a few cursory relief appearances before that first start against a rotten St. Louis Browns team. The Browns had a few guys who could hit, but they went 57-95 for the season.

Feller went on to be one of the best pitchers in the history of the game and a war hero who sacrificed almost four years of his career to fight in World War II.

Irabu was a dominant force from Japan who forced his way to the Yankees after the Padres had secured his rights. Armed with a fastball of nearly 100 mph, he was a strikeout machine and expected to dominate North America. His first start was against a barely mediocre Detroit Tigers team that went 79-83.

After that first start, Irabu was a disaster on and off the field; unable to perform consistently or handle the pressure of the big leagues in general and New York in particular; he got into constant trouble on the field for poor results and for being out of shape; and off the field drunkenness among other things.

These are two extremes in terms of ability. Strasburg's stuff appears to be comparable with Feller's; Irabu plainly and simply wasn't that good; but the bottom line is that Strasburg's was one start against a Pirates team that----aside from a few players----isn't good. The Nationals put Strasburg into the best possible situation to do well by orchestrating his appearance to be at home; and against a team that wouldn't be able to handle him. It was smart of them to do so, but the tidal wave of accolades couldn't be more intense had he pitched a perfect game and struck out all 27 hitters to face him.

Observers are agog at what Strasburg can be----and he has the potential to be a dominant force that comes along once every 20 years----but it was one game. He could be Feller; he could be Irabu; or he could be Mike Mussina----a very good, though not dominant, cog in the machine.

He could be anything.

It was one start.

Calm down.

  • Selling high?

In certain cases, there's an argument for selling high on a player who has never before achieved such heights. Players who were lifelong minor leaguers; bench players; or viewed as limited for one reason or another fall into this category. Occasionally, it makes sense to trade the player at the height of his value before he reverts to what he was that kept him in the background to begin with. Other times it doesn't. Part of being a smart and successful baseball executive is recognizing the difference between a player's planets being momentarily aligned and whether he's "figured it out".

Part of Mike Francesa's blockheaded argument for the Mets to trade for Vernon Wells was Angel Pagan's emergence as an everyday player for the Mets and his history of failure. Is Angel Pagan fulfilling his massive potential? Is he playing over his head? Would it be smart to move him while he's healthy and doing well?

It's a matter of opinion of Pagan's long term future, but to deal him now would be a typical "Mets" thing to do of dealing with a player's struggles and getting rid of him when he starts to do well to "sell high". After enduring the downs in his career that caused him to bounce from the Mets organization to the Cubs and back to the Mets, what sense does it make to get rid of him now when he's finally maximizing his significant skills, especially for a player like Vernon Wells?

Pagan's problems had more to do with being too nice; injuries; and brainlock.

A center fielder needs to take charge on balls anywhere near him and Pagan----generally regarded as polite and prone to deference to veterans----was too reticent to infringe on his teammates like Carlos Beltran or Jose Reyes and balls he should've caught would drop as he stood looking at others as if to say, "I thought you had it".

Once that hurdle was cleared and it got through his head that he had a duty not to worry about other people's feelings when it came to business, he's become an excellent defensive player.

Injuries also hindered him with recurrent hamstring and shoulder problems that knocked him out of the lineup. He was excellent on the field last season before getting injured.

As for the brainlock issues, that's something that can always pop up. Not every player can be Derek Jeter and instinctively "know". Know where to be; know what to do; know why to do it without needing to be told again and again. Pagan is a player for whom the correct fundamentals have to be repeated to him ad nauseam, and while it may seem overbearing and condescending to remind him to touch all the bases; take it halfway on a routine fly ball with one out; or to hit the cut off man, it's necessary to keep his head in the game.

There are certain players for whom the clock is inevitably going to strike midnight after a heretofore unexpected and unbelievable hot streak. With those players----the Shane Spencer-type----you ride the wave and dispatch them when a good offer comes along from a team that's fooled by the brief spurt of good play.

Then there are the Casey Blake-types who never got a chance, but took advantage of 2010BaseballGuideCover.gifit when they did and showed his goods at a late age. Pagan falls into the category with Blake and to trade him now for any reason would be a gross misjudgment of skills and future and the Mets shouldn't even consider it.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

You're definitely right in that it was only one game... but boy what a game it was!

Hype or no hype, this sorta thing is what keeps baseball fresh. I mean, how else ya gonna get a ton of people excited about a game between the Bucs and the Nats?