Second-Half Pitching

Franklyn German
Not that I'm making excuses for German, because it was clear from the outset on Tuesday night that he was very nervous being on the mound in the 9th inning with a save opportunity.  Last year, the Tigers thrust him into the role as closer to start the season and he struggled terribly before getting sent down.  But Alan Trammell should give him another shot; just not right now.  Probably the best thing for German is to slot into middle relief for a few weeks and get comfortable pitching in the majors.  Then give him a couple of shots at closing before deciding if the team can trade Urbina for prospects. 

German actually struck Casey Blake out with a foul and 2 excellent fastballs at the knees.  Unfortunately for German, umpire Rick Reed was wearing eye patches over both eyes and testing if his spider-sense could identify balls from strikes.  This forced German to throw to a strike zone that was roughly the size of a postcard.  His pitches to Ben Broussard weren't as good as the ones to Blake and he eventually grooved a fastball right down Main Street that Broussard put a nice easy swing on for a game-tying homer.  It's unfortunate, but after German's struggles with the strikezone last year, I can't help but believe that reputation does play a larger role than it should in baseball.

Regardless, if German hopes to turn his success as a AAA closer into similar major league success, he's going to have to get over the fact that after working 8 laborious innings, umpires quite often are thinking about dinner after the game, or checking out that chick in row 5, or are noticing that they can make a little noise in their head if they close their eyes really tightly.  He's also going to have to believe that 96-mph fastballs and 88-mph sliders are good enough to get any hitter out, provided you throw them for strikes more often than not and don't get so predicatable that they know what's coming. 

Ultimately, I think German settles down and becomes a decent closer.  Whether that happens this year or next depends greatly on how Trammell handles him over the next month.

Nate Field
Due to the complete ineffectiveness of Mike MacDougal, the release of Curt Leskanic and the recent injury to Jeremy Affeldt, it appears that Nate Field will be the Royals closer for the balance of the season.  Sure, Affeldt could come back in 6-8 weeks, but what would be the point of rushing him back with a team that might not win 60 games.  The Royals shouldn't risk Affeldt becoming the next Mark Wohlers, who was never the same after a similar injury. 

So can Nate Field hold the job?  The question really is do the Royals have anyone who could take the job from him if he fails and the answer is... well, sort of.  Field is a decent pitcher so he won't be terrible as the closer.  He just won't put up great numbers there. 

The only guy who has comparable numbers that might be considered for closing is Shawn Camp.  However, he has an ERA of 3.90 in relief and has allowed 4 homers in 27 innings.  Interestingly enough, Camp began his professional career as a closer in the Padre system, but that was 6 years ago in the Midwest League.  While the home runs are a concern, they haven't been something he's struggled with during his career, so he might have just been unlucky so far.  He walks fewer batters than Field, but has also given up more hits and a greater percentage of extra base hits.   He did get a chance to close a game against Baltimore and didn't have too much trouble, so it's still a situation that bears watching.

Frankly, the Royals could so a lot worse at closer than Field.  As a matter of fact, they already did... last year. 

Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson
Clemens has been a great story so far this season, winning 10-games and positioning himself as the NL starter for the All-Star game.  I don't expect for him to be as dominant in the second half, largely because his ERA and opponents batting average have increased each month so far while his strikeouts have decreased.  But when Randy Johnson eclipsed 4000 strikeouts last night, it occurred to me that Clemens might have had a chance at breaking Nolan Ryan's strikeout record had he only started his career in the National League.  Ryan faced the DH in only a third of his 27-year career. 

Right now, Clemens is sitting right at 4200 strikeouts, but except for this season, that was accomplished entirely in a DH league.  During his peak years pitching in the AL, Randy Johnson averaged around 290 Ks per season.  Once he switched leagues and started facing pitchers regularly, his yearly average rose to around 350 Ks.  Granted, his K rate was greater than that of Clemens, but even adding 50 Ks per season to Clemens over a 20 year career would have put him at 5200 right now.  He'd still be 514 Ks away, but he's almost assured of getting 100 more this year and that would leave him 2, maybe 3 years away, on pace to break Ryans' record at an age 2 years younger than Ryan was when he finished. 

There are no guarantees that Johnson would have made his turn-around had he not been in the AL where he could talk with Ryan.  But had he done so while remaining in the National League throughout his career, he might have been passing 4700 Ks last night instead of just 4000.  That would still leave him 1000 away from Ryan, but he's 2 years younger than Clemens and has a better K rate.  Three to four years is what it would take to eclipse him.

Ryan's record is not unbreakable.  Obviously, it will take a special strikeout pitcher to do it, but the two biggest keys are that he pitch in the National League and not pitch for Dusty Baker.