Brain Damage  (05/18/01)

It's getting to the point where it's downright funny.  Yes, both AJ Burnett (68 points) and Javier Vazquez (58 points) were sitting on my bench this week.  But I'm not worried.  The talent is there to produce those kind of numbers on a fairly regular basis this season.  The positive spin is that I'd much rather them be on my bench than on someone else's.

Have a Cigar

Burnett had pitched well versus the Dodgers in his first start, allowing only one run and 3 hits.  The reason I didn't start him versus the Pads is the 5 walks he gave up.  If he can give up 5 walks to a team that doesn't walk - the Dodgers are currently 13th in the NL in drawing walks - imagine how many he'd give up to a team that was leading the NL in free passes.  Well, I figured that part of the equation correctly; Burnett walked 9 Padre hitters and hit another.  It just never entered my mind that they would not get any hits against him.  You gotta figure that a team that gets 9 walks is gonna score at least some.  Burnett got some spectacular defensive support, so I think this particular performance was pretty fluky.

Regardless, I don't think I'm gonna start him until I see better control.  It's close to impossible to walk as many batters as Burnett has and continue to keep the opposition off the scoreboard.  However, if he does get control, he'll be pretty good.  His "spike curve" is one of the most unhittable pitches that you'll see (right up there with Randy Johnson's slider and Trevor Hoffman's change-up) and his fastball resides in the mid-90s area code.  With control, he'll be a similar pitcher to what Ryan Dempster was last year, only better.


Vazquez is finally showing some life.  After getting hammered by St. Louis, Milwaukee and Houston, he's shut out back-to-back opponents and allayed my fears that he was suffering from some kind of over-use related arm troubles.  The only reason I can think of that might explain his struggles was the slightly sprained ankle he suffered in his April 18 start against New York.  I believe it was his landing foot that suffered the injury.  If so, it's possible that he was either trying to land gingerly on the foot and compensate with his arm action, or he was pitching with his normal mechanics and the pain was causing his muscles to tense, thus affecting his velocity and movement.  Either way, the result would be reduced effectiveness.  Watching the highlights of his last outing versus the Dodgers, I didn't see any awkward mechanics and his pitches looked sharp.  So if that was the problem, he isn't suffering from it any more.

Another Brick in the Wall

However, it may be time to give up on Hideo Nomo.  He's had 2 amazing outings this year - a no-hitter versus the O's and 7 innings of 1-hit ball versus the Twins.  But his other outings have been pretty awful: 29 innings, 23 hits allowed, 22 walks and 19 earned runs.  His ratio and ERA in those games has been 1.551 and 5.89 respectively.  Worse still, in both starts versus Seattle and his last start versus Oakland, he looked intimidated to throw strikes.  He can't set up his split finger pitch if he's afraid to throw strikes with his fastball.

Were it not for the fact that he'll get to pitch against the O's and Devil Rays several more times, I'd have dropped him sooner.   If he doesn't pitch well his next time out, I will make a change.  It's simply not worth carrying a pitcher in order to use him for just 4 or 5 starts.

I am considering either another starter like Tony Armas Jr, Randy Wolf or Adam Eaton, or a reliever.  Even with Rocker and Wagner pitching effectively and often, I'll probably fall short of the 140 game limit for relievers.  At some point, I'll need to pick up another closer.  I started out with Esteban Yan, but Bob Wickman is still out there and pitching well, so I'll more than likely get him if he's still available.

I made no changes to the roster this week.

Us and Them

Unless I find a deal that's too good to pass up or I have a player who's way too hot for his level of talent, I normally don't make trades until at least a quarter of the season is passed.  The reason I hold off is because many sleeper pitchers don't really get going until a month or two into the season.  I can usually find 2, 3, maybe even 4 pitchers on the waiver wire in that first quarter who will make a big difference by the end of the year.  By the time June rolls around the guys who are gonna make some noise in the second half are usually on a 1 or 2 week roll.  To give you a recent example, last year in an NL league I was in, I picked up Livan Hernandez, Glendon Rusch and Felix Rodriguez off the waiver wire in the first month and a half of the season.  This year, in the Sandbox Mock Draft League, I got Jaret Wright, Ismael Valdes and Mark Mulder.  I would include AJ Burnett in that group, but I actually drafted him, then waived him while he was injured.

My draft strategy is almost always to get a good hitting team and a couple of pitchers I know I can count on.  Pitching fortunes can change pretty dramatically for all but the elite pitchers.  If you spent anything on Gabe White, Jose Silva or Steve Trachsel in your draft this year, you understand what I'm talking about.

For this reason I just don't see a need to spend valuable picks or auction money on middle relievers or on second or third tier starters.  If I can get them for minimum salary, then I'll take a shot.  But every year at least a half a dozen guys in each league show a little life in spring training, don't get it really together until a little ways into the season, but end up having very nice years.  And almost all of them are available on the wire for the first 4-8 weeks of the season.  Unless you are in an ultracompetitve league where the rosters account for more than 80% of all available major leaguers (like a 12-team AL only league, or a 12-team NL-only ultra league), you can almost always find that kind of talent on the wire up until a third of the way through the season.

Currently in the NL, guys like Jay Witasick, Rob Bell, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Farnsworth, Wascar Serrano, Jason Schmidt, Roy Oswalt, Chad Fox, Guillermo Mota, Mike Matthews and Amaury Telemaco all have good short and long term potential and are probably available.  In addition, Mike Fetters, Dennis Cook and Josias Manzanillo could be very helpful to your ERA and ratio this year while possibly vulturing some wins and perhaps a save or two.

In the AL, Al Levine, Mike Holtz, Mike Trombley, Jason Johnson, Buddy Groom, Rod Beck, Tim Wakefield, Rich Garces, Lorenzo Barcelo, Rich Rodriguez, Paul Shuey, Steve Karsay, Bob Wells, Mike Stanton, Brian Boehringer, Jim Mecir, Paul Abbott, Norm Charlton, Arthur Rhodes, Jeff Wallace, Paul Quantrill, Pedro Bourbon and Kelvim Escobar can help your cause in ERA and ratio now.  Given an opportunity, they could help in wins and/or saves later.

Wish You Were Here

A couple of veteran pitchers came back this week: David Cone and John Smoltz made their much anticipated 2001 debuts.

David Cone was simply awful last year.  Part of his problem was bad luck.  And part of it was that he just wasn't good.  Cone could still probably be a decent short reliever with his assortment of pitches and arm angles.  But his days as a starter are pretty clearly in the past.  He simply does not have the stamina to pitch effectively for more than a few innings.  And it's looking more and more like he's afraid to throw strikes, which is the death knell for any pitcher.

John Smoltz is still essentially in the recovery process from Tommy John surgery.  His stats looked really good in his 2 rehab starts - 9 innings pitched, 6 hits, no walks, no runs and 7 strikeouts.  However, he was facing A and AA batters.  The biggest difference between them and major league hitters is that most major league hitters have a pretty good idea of what the strikezone looks like, while minor league hitters are still learning.  And that is why Smoltz will not help you much this year.

The hardest part about coming back from TJ surgery isn't recovering the velocity on your pitches.  The hardest part is recovering the control.  Both Kerry Wood and Matt Morris had great velocity last year but walked far more batters than their career rates suggest they should.  To pitch at the major league level requires almost perfect muscle control in your arm and shoulder.  After reconstructive surgery, that just doesn't come back very fast.  It takes a while - close to 18 months - to regain full command of those muscles.  So while you'll still see Smoltz hit 92-94 with his fastball, he'll give up a lot more walks and hits than he used to simply because he won't be able to paint the corners as well as he once did and his mistakes will either be way off or right in the hitter's happy zone.

Last night was a perfect example.  He had good velocity and the break on his pitches was decent, although inconsistent.  His biggest problem was location.  On many pitches, he was no where near the strikezone - mostly wide and/or high - which put the opposing hitters in favorable counts.  On the pitches that did manage to find the strikezone, most were belt high and right over the center of the plate.  Almost all of his strikes came on foul balls that the hitters barely missed crushing.  There were very few pitches that were either called for strikes or that batters swung on and missed.  Those kind of results were very rare with the old, completely healthy John Smoltz.

Anyone who thinks he'll be his old dominating self anytime soon is overly optimistic.  Sure, he'll get there eventually, but it probably won't be until August or September at the earliest.  More likely it'll come next year.  Of course, that's contingent on him not having any more setbacks.  Either way, unless you are in a really deep league, neither he or Cone will be much help this summer.

The Standings

                                       Starting P       Relief P        Hitters FP
Rank  Team                            FP   G  FP/G    FP   G  FP/G    FP    G   FP/G    Total
1     Jersey Juggernauts             728  40  18.2   339  40   8.5   1239  389   3.2     2306
2     ...Jumanji!                    618  40  15.4   320  36   8.9   1347  395   3.4     2285
3     Fantasy Baseball Headquarters  601  41  14.7   375  38   9.9   1052  380   2.8     2028
4     Press Room Pundits             714  46  15.5   236  34   6.9   1073  389   2.8     2023
5     Dr. Stats Juggernauts          894  44  20.3   192  33   5.8    921  382   2.4     2007
6     SF Mock Woodmen                461  42  11.0   205  31   6.6   1295  374   3.5     1961
7     Desert Dwelling Scalawags      675  54  12.5    94  39   2.4   1111  387   2.9     1880
8     The Write Stuff                652  34  19.2   205  33   6.2   1016  381   2.7     1873
9     WSS Hurlers                    603  44  13.7   166  31   5.4   1013  366   2.8     1782
10    Sandbox Sports                 499  42  11.9   240  32   7.5   1027  382   2.7     1766