Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Saturday, April 24, 2004
I think it's pretty cool that this site has reached the point where I get asked my opinion about certain things from time to time. That anyone trusts my judgement and insight at all is flattering, but I need to do a better job of recognizing when someone has basically handed me a suject for a post. Such is the case with a question I received in the comments from reader PD the other day. While I answered it in that space, it was pointed out to me that all might be best served by posting it out here. This was PD's query:
From May 25 to July 1 the Cubs play what might be, aside from September, the stretch of games that defines their season. The set includes 12 against the 'Stros, 7 against the deadbirds, 6 split between Anaheim and Oakland, 3 against the other team in Chicago, and 7 against Pittsburgh. Given the double-header against Pittsburgh on May 28 and the fact that we'll be playing tough competition, it will be crucial to have Prior back to full form sometime between June and July. Hypothetically, and in your opinion, if we don't get him back at all can the staff stand up through a Dusty June and have enough left in the tank for August and September, or will we be looking for Hendry's Ryan Dempster or Angel Guzman?
First, I might extend that stretch of games all the way to the All-Star Break. The last series with the White Sox follows that Houston series, then after a set with the Brewers, three more games with the Cards. That's 42 games in 45 days against the toughest competition they will face in a concentrated period all year. You're right, it will define the season, and if the club is within shouting distance of the division when they hold the "exhibition that matters" in Houston, consider it mission accomplished.
However, I don't think Prior being around or not is a factor in how well rested the staff will be at the end of the season. I'm starting to think that Dusty is going to ride Wood and Zambrano hard all the time, simply because he sees them as aces in the making, and he wants to teach them how to get it done. It's a foolish idea, but one he seems very attached to. I'm thinking of doing a piece on this concept when my life is a bit more settled, but suffice to say, I don't think Dusty's usage patterns are terribly flexible, and Prior being around during those big games won't change it.
That was the end of my response at the time, but let me clarify a little. A while back, I looked at Dusty's usage patterns and concluded from the data I had that he was always going to favor good starters over a good bullpen. One would think that the two would play off each other, that it would be a symbiotic relationship, but in Dusty's case it seems to all be a function of the quality of his starters.
Woody's approaching the threshold of the great pitchers who don't really need a closer in the ninth. … That's a situation where you're trying to have Woody get to another point in his career where he can close his own games. He was still throwing 97, 98 miles an hour. ... I'm trying to get Woody to the point of greatness where he can close his own game out.
Based on the way he uses them, I think you can replace "Woody" with "Prior," or "Zambrano," and still have an accurate statement of Baker's philosophy. I find it particularly interesting that Dusty sees himself as a steward of these pitcher's careers, that he is responsible for helping them to reach their full potential. While I and other observers are trumpeting a call to arms over what we see as the abusive nature of his usage patterns, he believes that he is doing these men a service by training them for their eventual "ace" status.
In my mind, the danger to these young arms has just grown exponentially. Yes, Dusty is stubborn, and there's very little that anyone can do to alter the way he thinks, but it was possible to hold out some hope for change when it seemed that he was simply trying to win the game in front of him without regard to the future. It would be conceivable in that case to imagine someone having a conversation with him that helped him understand that future considerations needed to be brought into his decision making process, and that those considerations might modify, however slightly, the way he deployed his pitching resources.
What truly scares me is that now it seems he is taking the future into account when making these decisions, and that those considerations are actually driving his usage patterns. "I'm trying to get Woody to the point of greatness where he can close his own game out." I want Wood, Prior and Zambrano to get to that point, too, but I think Dusty's methods do more damage than good.