Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Glavine Panacea

As is often the case, Mark Bradley has caused me to change my mind. In this instance, he makes a fairly strong argument that Tom Glavine isn't the solution for the Braves' pitching problems. Bradley spends too much of his time focusing on Glavine's dreadful start on Sunday that finished off the Mets' epic collapse. As much as I like Glavine, Sunday's result made me smile because it will excessively depress his value in the off-season market (the magic of recency) and because it gave me the delicious feeling of schadenfreude. (One note on the Mets' collapse: just looking at the size of the lead they blew in the final three weeks does not do justice to the collapse. The Mets closed their season with six home games against two of the worst teams in baseball and managed to lose five of those games. They didn't just collapse; they collapsed against the easiest part of their schedule. Given the national media's tendency to overplay any baseball occurrence that involves the teams from the Northeast [or the Cubs], we'll never hear the end of the '07 Mets. Yay!)

When he's not overrating the importance of Sunday's debacle, Bradley does make some solid points:

1. Glavine is old and the Braves already have plenty of old pitchers. This point loses a little mustard because the biggest problem with older pitchers is their lack of durability and Glavine showed no signs of becoming brittle this year. That said, the other problem with older pitchers is that you never know when they are going to go off the cliff. At some point, Glavine is going to lose the ability to get major league hitters out and the Braves cannot afford to have him do so on their watch, especially when they're already paying for Mike Hampton to hit the nautilus machine in his umpteenth rehab from elbow surgery.

2. Glavine isn't much of an upgrade over Chuck James. My initial thought was that Glavine doesn't need to be an upgrade over James, who gave the Braves league-average performance over the course of the year. He would need to be an upgrade over the tripe that the Braves trotted out in the #4 and #5 spots in the rotation. However, if the Braves are going to pay Glavine somewhere in the neighborhood of $10M, then he ought to be expected to be better than a #4 starter. As with all talent acquisition decisions in baseball, the price is everything. If Glavine gives a hometown discount and signs for something in the area of $6M, then he'd be a perfectly adequate signing. If he's being paid to be a #3 starter, then the Braves are spending too much.

3. Glavine's stats declined this year. The Chuck James comparison also works on another level: both pitchers have major weaknesses in one of the three true outcomes. For James, it's home runs allowed, as he allowed a depressing 32 in 161 innings. For Glavine, it's his strikeout rate, which plummeted this year. Bradley doesn't miss this factor and it's cause for concern that Glavine is very shortly going to be Wile E. Coyote, desperately running his feet as he realizes that he's gone off a ledge and is about to fall.

Bradley's solution is to bring in a young power arm or two, which is a "no shit, Sherlock" statement on one level, but juxtaposed against spending $10M on Tom Glavine, it isn't a bad idea. The Braves would almost certainly have to pay through the nose to find one in free agency, so the solution might have to be trading one of the team's middle infielders (Yunel?) to get a quality pitcher. The Braves' farm system churns out excellent position prospects, but it can't seem to produce a pitcher to save its figurative life. The best solution for the off-season would be to illustrate the Econ 101 example of imaginary countries trading bananas and TVs by converting one of those position prospects into a good pitcher or two.


Unknown said...

I hated Bradley as a youngster (ever since they introduced him in the stands of a Kuppenheimer classic in the early 90's and people started pelting him with hot dogs) - but he's far and away the best columnist the AJC has right now.

He's spot on with this one as well, you can't have Smoltz, Hampton, and Glavine in a rotation and gamble on them all being healthy. That's a recipe for a wasted season. Of course you make a good point that its almost impossible to find young power arms - but they are going to have to figure out a way to get one. We sure can't produce any.

MLT said...

Wait. Why can't we rely on older pitchers to remain healthy?

I'm not the biggest Glavine advocate but there's nothing to suggest he'll stop being durable next year. I'd compare him to Jamie Moyer in that he's pitched a ton of innings every year because his delivery is consistent and fairly smooth. Couple that with not being a hard thrower and I don't see what the major concern is. I would be just as concerned about Glavine getting hurt as I would a young player trying to overexert and prove themself.

A better argument might be that you don't want a rotation that has 3 finesse lefties, or possibly 4 if Smoltz or Hudson goes down (Glavine, Hampton, James, Reyes).

But you take a gamble with every pitcher that there is a huge risk of injury.


Unknown said...

I think its a fair argument to say that your odds are better that a 27 year old pitcher is more likely to stay healthy than a 43 year old pitcher.

Of course that depends on the pitcher, some young players have a history of injury.

But I can remember some years (later in Atlanta career) where I felt like Tommy's arm was just about gone by the time the post-season got here. Now add a few years to that and it can't be better now. His last month in NY might be supportive of that.

Of course Chuck James' arm seems to go after 130 innings, and he's young. But I think the assumption is still valid if you sign the right player.