Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Progress Report Card: Starting Pitchers
As promised I said I was going to start posting more frequently than I did in the past, which had really slowed down to about a bi-annual pace, and then it takes me a week to follow through with my first posting. Once again I blame my lack of updates on being busy with work and also for having a lousy work ethic. I know that last sentence sounds contradictory, but I wouldn't be the nervous, sweaty and insecure person I am today if I didn't possess the amazing ability to immediately contradict everything I say and do. I always thought I worked hard. I got through school relatively quick. I eschewed all sorts of parties in college and grad school to stay home alone crying and sewing sweaters for my cats....wait.....I meant to say studying for exams and reading casebooks. In retrospect I realize that I was only working hard in comparison to my pothead friends from high school who still work at an outlet mall. So even during those days in college where I slept in until 1 in the afternoon I didn't feel like I was being too lazy because I knew at least one of my friends was probably sitting in a darkened room, eating a box of Cheez-It's and watching a seventh straight hour of "Married With Children" on DVD without having gone to bed yet. However, now that I've been working with my Dad for the past six weeks I get to see first hand that my work ethic is sorely lacking. My Dad is literally a machine programmed to practice the law. I wouldn't be surprised if one day he cut open his arm and revealed a titanium skeleton underneath, or some kind of motherboard that has all the Court reports programmed into it, or if he shot orange juice out of his finger and had a microwave where his stomach should be. Hmm, well I guess those last two things aren't really relevant for being a lawbot but it would be pretty convenient nonetheless. My typical day begins with me getting to the office at 8:30 bleary-eyed and ready to go back to sleep and I'll find him already there carrying on three separate phone conversations, writing out a fax, checking an e-mail and barking at his secretary. It's madness and it makes me feel like I'm a lazy slacker for having commissioned a guy to paint a "closed for naps" sign to hang on my office door. I've tried to keep up but it's been impossorous. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if my Dad, in his free time, already operated a Tigers blog that updated news daily, provided pre and post game reports, live game blogs and had 100x's more traffic than my site all while writing under the pseudonym Ian Casselberry.
Anyways, I was going to write a midseason report on the Tigers but I realized that by the time I actually finished it the season would probably be over and no one would care about mid-season grades anymore. So instead of a comprehensive mid-season report I'm going to break it up into smaller groupings and hand out progress reports. I hated progress reports when I was in school. It just seemed like another way for the slower kids to get in trouble for having bad grades. I always felt terrible for the Louis Morrises and Billy Thorns of my grade who were perpetually grounded during the school year because they were required to bring home a report card full of failing grades every four weeks or so. Of course I only felt bad for as long as it took me to turn my straight-A progress report cards into free video game rentals at the video store or free games of bowling at the bowling alley. Of course this is because I'm a selfish jerk and it was hard to feel sympathetic for Mike Rock, who was probably chained to a leash outside his house after he got a D- in Global Studies, when I was in the middle of trying to beat Double Dragon II or impress some girl by bowling a 150, but I digress. Fortunately the Tigers are off to a rousing success to begin the season and are currently leading the AL Central so the grades I hand out are going to be pretty favorable and that means none of their parents are going to have to beat them with a sack of potatoes. Well maybe Nate Robertson.
Edwin Jackson: I don't think I ever wrote about it at the time but I was one of the people in the long line of naysayers who thought the Tigers blew it by trading away Matt Joyce for Edwin Jackson. Like a lot of Tigers fans I fell instantly for Matt Joyce. The powerful left handed stroke, the frozen rope throws from the outfield, the fearlessness in the field and on the basepaths, the handsome face, the gallant stride, the confidence in his voice, his dreamy eyes, *sigh*, and all we got in return was Edwin Jackson. Sure he won 14 games in 2008, but who cares. He was extremely lucky as his peripheral stats, namely his strikeout and walks, were middling. He didn't even profile as an inning eating mid rotation guy as his inefficiency led to high pitch counts and therfore short outings. Sure he threw hard and he looked like he should be better than he was, but he had already enticed and frustrated two organizations with potential but had disappointing results. I thought Detroit was going to be burned badly on this one and I had visions of Matt Joyce on his way to a 30 homerun season as Detroit continued its search for another lefty bat to balance the lineup. All the meanwhile E Jack would struggle to keep his ERA under 5.00 which would leave me planning to raise Bobby Veach from the dead to platoon with Ryan Raburn in RF. However this is why I'm not a scout and why I only show up at high school games posing as one to leer at the players hot teenage girlfriends. This is also why I'm not allowed within 1,500 feet from a high school. Anyways Jackson has been a revelation this year and if he had any kind of run support, like he did last season with Tampa, he would easily be in double digits for wins. It looks like he's actually putting all the talent and promise that enticed for years together in one complete package, not unlike Vanessa Hudgens. Grade: A
Rick Porcello: Thank god I was to busy to write a season preview because if I had I would be eating more crow than usual because of Rick Porcello (Note: During my previous life as a Depression Era wandering vagrant I had to get creative at times when it came time to find my next meal. I found crow to be an excellent source of nutrition and much tastier than possum and voles. This Depression Era alter ego still comes out in strange ways, so don't be surprised if I write a report on Tommy Bridges or am carving hobo code into the fence surrounding your lawn.) My friend Bill and I had a pretty heated argument over whether bringing Porcello north coming out of spring training was a good idea or not. I was firmly opposed to the idea and had reams and reams of evidence printed from the internet to support my conclusions. Unfortunately most of the stuff I printed from the internet were just nude photos of Rue McClanahan which didn't really support my argument and ended up just being a colossal waste of time and resources. Anyways the crux of my argument was that I didn't think this year's Tigers squad had what it took to contend and I thought it was a desperate move that could end up hindering Porcello's progress. I've always wondered if the Tigers rushed Jeremy Bonderman. Granted the circumstances surrounding Bonderman's arrival were much different than Porcello's as the 2003 Tigers were essentially a minor league team playing at the Major League level, but it seems like Bonderman's biggest hindrance was his inability to ever develop his changeup. This seems like something that, had he been able to follow a typical path to the big leagues, he would have developed and gained confidence in at the minor league level. Who cares if you get your brains beat in at Erie because your throwing some rudimentary changeup that some 28 year old organizational soldier hit 450 feet for a homerun? However if that happens at the big league level, you are costing the team games, a chance at the playoffs and letting major league hitters know they don't have to worry about being fooled by some sloppy offspeed offering. After reading that Porcello had been restricted in what he could throw at A ball last year I thought for sure he was heading for disaster while testing out his full arsenal at the big league level, regardless of how good he looked in spring training. So far I've been proven wrong as he's been essentially a league average pitcher while showing an impressive amount of poise and ability to get big league hitters with a heavy groundball generating sinker. I wish the K rate was higher and hopefully that's something the Tigers can see improve in the second half. But so far so good. Grade B+
Justin Verlander: JV was another guy I was pessimistic about entering the season. Mostly because I'm a terribly negative person who sits alone in a large barren mansion surrounded by dozens of cats with human names like Paul and Brenda. With all the stimulating cat conversations I have who needs any human friends? Back to JV though. I was worried that he was going to be one of those pitchers who had his best seasons early in his career and then slowly regressed to a league average pitcher, while everyone else wondered what the hell happened to the guy who regularly touched triple digits and had the stuff to once throw a no-hitter. My biggest fear was that he would continue to pitch just good enough for the fan base to put pressure on the front office to reward JV with a big contract extension before he settled into relative mediocrity or worse. I call this the Bobby Higginson/Damion Easley/Tony Clark Effect. Of course, despite feeling this way about Verlander and since I have a self-defeating personality and like to needlessly torture myself I felt obligated to draft Verlander for my fantasy team, which would allow him to frustrate me twice as much as normal. The season got off to a predictably bad start as through JV's first four starts he sported a tidy 9.00 ERA and my personal frustration level was through the roof. However despite the ridiculously high ERA there were signs that the Verlander of old was returning as his strikeout rate remained high and his velocity and movement seemed to be at 2006/07 levels instead of last years debacle. The very next start at home against the Yankees Verlander began what may be the most impressive nine game stretch by a pitcher I've ever seen. He won 7 straight decisions, regularly racked up double digit strikeout totals and with the help of Curtis Granderson's spectacular game saving homerun catch against Cleveland Verlander recorded his first shoutout since that no-hitter against the Brewers two years ago. He's cooled off slightly in the past month but has still pitched well enough to sport the best ERA of his career and lead the league in strikeouts despite his disastrous month of April. If he can keep up this performance during the second half and hopefully into October, Verlander and Jackson could make up the most formidable 1-2 punch in the A.L. Grade A:
Armando Galarraga: Just to reinforce the fact that I know absolutely nothing about baseball even though I have been watching this game my entire life, that my predictions are terrible no matter how much I trust my gut or statistical projections and that you shouldn't even be reading this blog no matter how witty and engaging my commentary may be, I am going to share with you what my preseason feeling about Armando Galarraga was. I thought he was going to be the ace of this staff and surprisingly turn into one of the best pitchers in baseball. Instead, of course, after a brilliant April he has struggled mightily and during Jeremy Bonderman's abbreviated return this season Armando was in serious jeopardy of losing his job in the rotation. The thing that seems odd when I watch Galarraga (And by the way trying to spell Galarraga's name makes me feel dyslexic. Just in this post alone I've spelled it Gallaraga, Galaraga, Galaragga and Ggaallaarraaggaa. My brain hurts) this season is that, in most of his starts he looks fine. It seems like his two seamer still has a ton of movement on it and that his slider has good bite to it, but it feels like every time a batter makes contact with a pitch it gets hit hard. I know there have been a couple of occasions this year where I have been watching a game and seen a little slider that looks like a nice pitch get hit to the outfield and look like a routine lineout and when the camera pans to the outfield it's scraping over the fence for a homerun. Granted there have been a few times, namely a start against the Pirates back in June, where Armando has just looked terrible, but you could say that about nearly any pitcher not named Verlander or Jackson. I almost wish that there was some sort of website that had advanced statistics that was easily accessible and gave information like BABip and line drive rate. Maybe I'll invent it and name it Fangraphs or make a subscription website named Baseball Prospectus and charge people for that data! This is how I'm going to make my millions off the Internet and leave this whole law job behind. Suckers. Now to just go register those domain names and.......wait.....hmmm......it seems someone has already done that. Crap. Well now I'm way to disappointed to actually access those statistics and make a point about Galaragga hopefully heading towards some kind of correction between his stats and performance. Here's hoping that he finds some middle ground between his April stats and his current ones and turns into a solid league average #4 starter down the stretch. Grade C-
Luke French: After the disaster with Jacques Jones last season I was ready to swear off any baseball player that had any kind of tangential connection to France whether it be cheese, froglegs, baguettes, a French sounding name or Steve Jeltz's gherri curl . Even if Napoleons skeleton rose from the grave and his tiny stature made him the most effective leadoff hitter since Tony Phillips or I found out the Curtis Granderson was a member of the Jacobin Club I was adamantly opposed to cheering for anything remotely French again. So when I saw some dude named Luke French was not only sliding into the rotation but was also replacing my latest Latin pitching obsession I was less than pleased. However French has slowly won me over because if there is one thing I love more than hard throwing Latin pitchers with a ton of movement, it's crafty left handed pitchers that get by with control, deception, moxie, guts, whatever name you want to call it, etc, and etc. French has only made three starts since joining the rotation following the demotion of Alfredo Figaro and has pitched admirably well in all three games, including a great start against a hot Yankees team that could've earned him a win if not for Joel Zumaya's final disasterpiece before hitting the DL. The Tigers top three starters have been so good this season that they really only need to get league average or so pitching from the other two spots in the rotation to be O.K. If French can keep up a league average performance as well as provide the rotation with the token southpaw that could give some of the left-leaning A.L. teams some trouble down the stretch, he would be a very valuable commodity. However this is also coming from someone who was genuinely excited about Andy Van Hekken's future. Grade: A
Alfredo Figaro: Anyone who has read this site over the past few years knows my endless obsession with tall, thin Latino pitchers who throw hard and have a ton of movement on their pitches. The obsession began with Wil Ledezma who, and I mention this every time because it may have been the most insane thing I've ever written and this is coming from someone who just wrote about Napoleans skeleton batting leadoff for the Tigers, I thought had the potential to be the next Pedro Martinez. Seriously I should have been Ledezma's agent just for the fact that it would have been hilarious for me to be on the phone with the Washington Nationals GM after they DFA'ed Ledezma this season screaming, "I hope you know he's going to mention what a jackass you are during his Hall of Fame speech, you assclown!". After Ledezma was unceremoniously dumped on the Braves my attention turned towards Yorman Bazardo. I didn't have as high a ceiling for Bazardo as I did Ledezma because I think I only compared Bazardo to the second coming of Luis Tiant. Of course that didn't work out either as I'm pretty sure Bazardo is selling oranges in a little cart outside my law office nowadays. So when Figaro made his debut against the Brewers on national TV I made a promise to myself not to get to excited no matter how well he pitched. Of course this lasted only until about the 4th inning of a stellar debut that had me online purchasing a customized and authentic Figaro jersey. That pretty much jinxed him for life and by his next start he was giving up second deck bombs to Kaz Matsui and earning a one way ticket back to Toledo. I hope he makes it back otherwise my Figaro jersey is going to look awfully foolish. Grade: Inc.
Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman: Of course with all good news there has to be bad news. Like "hey, some girl like Andy! Oh, she's got three legs and a hump....". So even though the pitching has been a pleasant surprise this year, ranking second in the A.L. behind only the Mariners, there have been two things that have gone horribly awry and their names are Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman. Both of these pitchers are dealing with serious problems that may be putting their careers in jeopardy. Dontrelle had the stunning news at the end of spring training that he was going on the D.L. with an anxiety disorder. After months of rehab in the minors as well as medication by team doctors, Dontrelle made his debut with the big league club. With everyone, including myself, expecting the worst D-Train's first start was solid. He followed that up with an impressive one-hitter against the Texas Rangers that had many people, again myself included, claiming he was back. Things slowly unraveled from there and by his last start in Pittsburgh he was a complete and total mess. Walking batter after batter and looking completely lost on the mound. It was painful to watch someone's career ending right before your eyes. Not surprisingly after the game D-Train was back on the D.L. with a recurrence of his anxiety disorder. Bonderman's issues were physical as he had major surgery last season on his shoulder to correct a blood clot issue. Rumors spread that there may have been damage done to a nerve during the surgery and Bonderman pitching ineffectively during spring training and his minor league rehab assignment did little to dispel those rumors. After making one start against the White Sox that featured below average velocity and stuff Bonderman was back on the D.L. for another extended stay. It appears that neither of these pitchers will be able to help the Tigers this season as the team pursues an A.L. Central crown but here is hoping that they both can get their health and careers back on track and contribute to next years team in some capacity. Grade: Inc.