I have told before the story of the argument of the man who built the Yankees’ last twenty years of success, Gene “Stick” Michael, on making a big trade for a star pitcher. Still a consultant when New York was offered Johan Santana for Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, and a minor league body, Michael said he would leave the finance and the health to others. But in terms of baseball, he pointed out that whether through injury or under-performance, 50 percent of all pitching prospects don’t even approach their highest ceiling.
Thus, he said, you have to consider the two pitchers as one: Hughnedy, or Kenughes. And suddenly you’re seeing the trade for what it was: one pitcher with 13 so-so major league starts and a proclivity to injury under his belt, for Johan Santana. He said you’d make that deal every day of the week.
And yet the Yankees didn’t make the trade. The money issue is now clear: the only thing the Mets gave up for Santana that has yet to pan out is Philip Humber, and that wasn’t until this year and it wasn’t in Minnesota. The Mets wound up tying up a huge amount of cash in Santana and got one great season, two fair ones, and this one that might see him back from serious surgery to make six or seven starts this year.
Still, the Yankees could’ve afforded that from Santana. As a major league General Manager explained it to me, the reason they didn’t make it was that they must have seen signs that the Twins weren’t certain about Santana’s health. Was he getting extra time between starts? Had his pitch count been limited? Were his innings per-start level, or coming down?
In fact, Santana’s innings per-start had dropped by 0.15% from 2005 to 2006, then another 0.13% from 2006 to 2007, meaning he was coming out of every game roughly one batter sooner in 2007 than he had been in 2005. This other statistic is a little looser as an indicator, but the total number of batters Santana faced in 2007 was 45 fewer than he had in 2006. Doesn’t seem like a lot, but it suggests that the ‘torch factor’ – the exact number of pitches at which you go from being a guy who gets batters out, to a guy who gets torched. For whatever reason, Santana was coming out of games six or seven pitches earlier. That’s a red flag.
All of which brings us to Ubaldo Jimenez. Why wouldn’t you trade for a man who shined the way he did the first half of last year? Why, he was 15-1, and he was still 17-2 and the consensus Cy Young Winner before he got “tired.” He’s a solid citizen, and judging by that ‘bicycle license plate’ commercial, a very funny, grounded man. Heck, he’s got an Emmy Award for narrating a special for the regional cable network in Denver (I don’t have an Emmy Award). Well, in the year since he reached that 15-1 mark, he’s 10-16. And if that number is too obvious for you, let’s go back to the tip-off the Yanks evidently used on Santana. In 2010, Jimenez lasted 6.71 innings per start. This year, he’s lasted 5.86.
That number suggests if he’s not hurt, he’s going to be.
So what did the Indians give up for this? A pitcher in Alex White who had successfully stepped into their rotation before a serious but hardly chronic finger injury knocked him out. He’s just beginning rehab and should be starting for Colorado within a couple of weeks, and he’s a sinkerballer going to the thin air of Denver. Then there’s Joe Gardner, a pitcher who’s struggled in AA, but another sinkerballer. And then there’s Drew Pomeranz, that rarest of pitchers, the lefthanded flamethrower. There’s a high-risk throw-in, an ex-catcher named Matt McBride.
All of this for a Jekyll-and-Hyde starter who is showing early signs that a serious injury is in his immediate future. Or, if it isn’t, that he reached a peak of efficiency last July and has been heading downhill ever since. I’m confident that this is a trade the Indians will regret next year. I think they may regret it next month.
I rocketed past this point in this morning’s post because I thought it was so obvious. But the blowback on Twitter from some Giants fans was as if I had said Tim Lincecum didn’t belong on the NL All-Star team (he probably doesn’t, either, but there’s an argument to be made for previous performance counting).
“What about overcoming the odds?,” I was asked. “Wins are the poorest metric of a pitcher’s performance,” I was told. “Ever read Moneyball, idiot?,” I was hit with (yeah, and Moneyball has yet to produce a league champion, let alone a World Champion). When I argued that Vogelsong shouldn’t have even been considered because he had been tested so much less that he had not yet thrown enough innings to be considered for the ERA leadership, I was told that he would achieve that in his next start. The point was missed: in his “season” he is about where all the other starters were three weeks ago. If he were to give up five runs in five innings in his next start that sparkling ERA to which his supporters point, would balloon to 2.52. Remember that number.
But these guys love them some Ryan Vogelsong.
Trust me, I’ve got nothing against him. Great story, wonderful to see him make his way back (although I don’t recall many Giants fans saying the same thing about Colby Lewis during the World Series last year). He’s pitched well, although you could argue he’s been no better than the 14th or 15th top starter in the National League this season.
Actually, the explanation for the heading “Why Ryan Vogelsong Isn’t An All-Star” takes just two words: Tommy Hanson. Opponents are hitting .222 off Vogelsong. They are hitting .192 off Hanson. Vogelsong has averaged 7.26 strikeouts per nine innings. Hanson has averaged 9.62 of them. Vogelsong’s WHIP is 1.15. Hanson’s is 1.04. Vogelsong has won 6 of 13 starts. Hanson has won 10 of 16. In one category and one category alone does Vogelsong best the Braves’ righthander. His ERA is 2.13 and Hanson’s is 2.52 – exactly where Vogelsong could wind up with a five earnies in five innings performance next time out.
I think it’s open and shut right there. Individual metrics are all in Hanson’s favor, and the results – and some day we will shake off the Felix Hernandez foolishness of last year and recognize that, yes, a win or a loss is at least somewhat a starting pitcher’s responsibility – the results are decidedly in Hanson’s favor.
His interiors aren’t that impressive, but the idea that Kevin Correia has won 11 games with what is still a dicey Pirates’ line-up, is extraordinary. A 3.74 ERA and a .260 opponents’ BA give me the willies. But wins and losses do count for something.
But there are several other pitchers – and for our purposes here these are pitchers drawn only from the same Cinderella category to which Vogelsong belongs – whose statistics and results are slightly better or just slightly worse than Vogelsong’s. It’s easiest to look at them in column form:
PITCHER W-L ERA WHIP OBA SO/9
Ryan Vogelsong 6-1 2.13 1.15 .222 7.26
Dillon Gee 8-3 3.47 1.20 .222 6.29
Jeff Karstens 7-4 2.55 1.07 .240 5.29
Ian Kennedy 8-3 3.38 1.14 .236 7.58
Shawn Marcum 7-3 3.32 1.15 .221 8.26
Jordan Zimmermann 5-7 2.82 1.10 .240 6.29
The crazy thing here, of course, is that our hypothetical five innings, five earned start for Vogelsong not only gives Hanson a shutout on the stat board, but it also turns the Giant into only a slightly shinier version of Jeff Karstens.
But I have heretofore left out the favorite meme of the Vogelsongians: he pitches for the Giants therefore he must be better because the Giants never score runs and every game is torture and blah blah blah, blah blah.
Correia and Gee, you can dismiss on this point. The Buccos are scoring Correia 7.17 runs per game; the Mets 6.94 for Gee. But all the other pitchers mentioned here are getting, at most, half a run more per outing than is Vogelsong, who gets 5.44 (Marcum 5.96, Kennedy 5.81, Hanson 5.70, Karstens 5.56 – and poor Jordan Zimmermann is struggling along at 4.80). If you want a macro view of where a 5.44 run support should get you, Cole Hamels was getting a 5.37 and Jair Jurrjens a 4.88 before their starts tonight. And somehow in the American League, Michael Pineda is doing what he’s doing with an RS of 4.42, Jered Weaver’s getting 4.04, and poor Dan Haren, 3.87. That’s lack of support.
This is a good point to mention my all-time favorite season of any pitcher in professional history. It’s amazingly instructive about the true value of interior statistics. At first blush, this looks like a pretty good year, in AA ball, for a 22-year old pitcher in 1967: 2.81 ERA (that’s two earned runs in each of his 20 starts, 1.39 WHIP (he was a little wild), 5.3 K/9, only 7 homers allowed all year. His name was Dick Such, his team was the 1967 York White Roses, they were no-hit four times that year, and Such finished the season 0-16. That’s right: no wins, 16 losses. Rather remarkably, he not only didn’t quit the sport, but made it to the majors as a pitcher and, for 19 years as a pitching coach (16-1/2 with the Twins).
There’s one more deeply disturbing aspect to Vogelsong’s selection by his manager Bruce Bochy that was explained on MLB Tonight by Jerry Manuel. To paraphrase him, he said he’d love to be getting the criticism Bochy is getting for picking three of his own starting pitchers, because it meant – no duh – that he had won the pennant last year instead of getting fired.
But more importantly, Manuel observed, it would mean that he had done right by “his guys” – that given the choice between a completely neutral decision about the eight best starters in the league this season, and not offending his own starters, he’d take not offending his own starters, every time.
Jerry’s never been given credit either for his acumen or his honesty. But his point is honest, and damning, and explains why now the time has come to take the defending pennant-winning manager (and all the managers) out of a decisive role in selecting All-Stars. If it has devolved into a popularity contest – as in, I want to stay popular with my own players – then it must be discontinued immediately. And the selection of Vogelsong over Hanson (to say nothing of the other Cinderellas) suggests it has.
silly little question for ARIZONA about Edwin Jackson. If he’s good enough for
you to have given up on Max Scherzer, why is he pitching for his third team in
as many seasons? And why was the other guy you got in the trade a starter who
won his first major league start on September 1, 2007 – and hasn’t pitched well
since? Ian Kennedy’s rep in New York was as a guy who didn’t seem to want the
ball, and even if that was wildly untrue, there has to be some reason he went
from untouchable to throw-in in two years. On these two starters the
Diamondbacks’ season depends; they will get another acey season out of Dan
Haren and might even get a comeback from Brandon Webb, but if both Jackson and Kennedy don’t produce,
there is nothing (Billy Buckner, Brian Augenstein, Rodrigo Lopez) for A.J.
Hinch to fall back on, and a truly potent line-up will have wasted a lot of
line-up is so productive that it has come to this: if Todd Helton suddenly
decided to return to football (at age 37, for some reason) and they had to move
Brad Hawpe back to first base and go with some kind of Seth Smith/Ryan
Spilborghs combo, there would probably be no noticeable fall-off. There is no
reason to suspect that Jorge De La Rosa’s 2009, nor Jason Hammel’s second-half,
were flukes, and thus the Rockies offer rotational depth behind Jimenez and
Cook, and they have enough in the bullpen to back-fill for an injured Huston
Street without mentioning the dreaded words “Manny Corpas.” Franklin Morales
might just steal the job from him if Street is gone too long. This is a
well-rounded, deep team, and Troy Tulowitzki, batting clean-up, may reassert
himself this year on the path to being one of the league’s top ten hitters.
ANGELES or anywhere else, I would trust Joe Torre with my wallet or my vote or
my house keys. But I think he’s in for a dreadful year. If anybody can get a
Number One starter kind of season out of Vicente Padilla, it’d be Joe; I’d
still bet it’s likelier that Padilla will achieve that rarest of feats – pitch
the opener and wind
up being unconditionally released in the same season. My memory of Padilla is
him taking a no-hitter into the middle innings at Shea Stadium, and
sportswriters from two cities, in two languages, rooting against him because he
was surly in both English and Spanish. More over, what’s the message to Chad
Billingsley? Clayton Kershaw? What’s the message to Dodger fans that your fifth
starter battle involved both perpetual retreads named Ortiz? A great bullpen
cannot stay such if it has to start getting ready in the fifth inning, every
day. And the line-up is hardly as good as it looks. The Dodgers cannot get a full
season out of Ronnie Belliard, haven’t gotten one out of Blake DeWitt. They may
have burned out Russell Martin. And Manny Being Just Manny (No PEDs) is a just
slightly better offensive force than, say, Mark DeRosa. The McCourt Divorce may
be a lot more interesting than the 2010 Dodgers, and a lot less painful to
might catch lightning in a bottle, if Mat Latos and Kyle Blanks and Nick
Hundley get off to explosive starts and there is no need to unload Heath Bell
and Adrian Gonzalez. If not, you’re looking at Aaron Cunningham and Chase
Headley as the three and four hitters, and Mike Adams or Luke Gregerson
closing. Watch, hope; rent, don’t buy.
much like SAN FRANCISCO’s outfield (maybe they should have given John Bowker’s
spring training resurgence more attention), and their third best all-around
player might spend most of the season backing up Bengie Molina, but that’s some
pitching staff Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti have to play with. After Lincecum,
Cain, Sanchez, and Zito, I think Todd Wellemeyer is a stop-gap and Kevin
Pucetas (or maybe Madison Bumgarner – and who ever went faster from prospect to suspect?) will eventually claim the fifth spot. The
bullpen has gone from wobbly to outstanding in two years (Dan Runzler might eventually make Brian Wilson expendable; more likely he’ll just make he and Jeremy Affeldt the top pair of left-handed set-up men in the league). I’d be happier if they’d invested in an
actual outfielder instead of Aubrey Huff, put DeRosa at third, and Sandoval at
first. But if Colorado falters, this is the West’s best bet.
Colorado in a runaway, unless the Giants put everything together early. The
Dodgers finish third, just ahead of the Diamondbacks – unless the Padres blossom early as mentioned above and
don’t trade everybody, in which case the three teams will place within a few games of each other.
TOMORROW NIGHT: The National League Central.