03 September 2009

The Seed of Failure

At what point do you give up on a player? This should be a rational process but I think most often it isn't. Ideally it should only be when a player's performance falls below a certain statistical threshold, with sample size being a huge component of this. But it doesn't work that way for most people. Maybe it comes in a moment, a flash of lightning that illuminates everything, all the past failures. Maybe one day you just wake up and know that a player isn't going to make it. I'm not sure, but most of us watch these games with emotion ( else why watch them? ) and we react with emotion, so it is very likely that the act of giving up on a player will have a large emotional component.

I am certain that if I was a Snakes fan I would have given up on Chris Young by now. I am not a person overflowing with sympathy and kindness, especially for Snakes players, but still I can only find what has happened with Chris Young depressing and sad. I guess they really thought they had a good player there. Power, speed --- he had it all, everything but the ability to consistently get on base. I was always skeptical of Young's future prospects for that reason, even when he hit the 30 home runs. So many strikeouts. But Matt Kemp strikes out a lot, and he's not doing too poorly. It's crazy to think of now but there was a time when you could make a passable argument that Young was just as good as Kemp. Now they're at opposite ends of the center field rankings. And if we're talking about striking out too much what about Mark Reynolds? He strikes out more than anyone and he's become an elite hitter. I would have gone broke with both my knees broken by a loan shark if I had bet on what kind of player Mark Reynolds would turn out to be. It's not just the strikeouts. I don't know what it is.

At what point to we give up on Chad Billingsley? My answer is 2011 at the earliest. Late 2011. Funny thing about that question is that a lot of people won't understand asking it for entirely opposing reasons. For some even asking the question is an emotional overreaction to a few bad starts, a rough stretch in which Billingsley has pitched a little hurt, a little unlucky. I find this perspective utterly convincing, in a top-brain way, but not in a hind-brain way. Fair or not, the seed has been planted now, but more on that later. For other people, the question is unnecessary because they have already given up on Chad Billingsley. I have to admit that I don't find this persuasive at all, not even in an emotional way. Perhaps I overestimate the number of people who have given up on him. But it's out there. His performances against the Phillies in the playoffs last year is proof. His latter-half slide this year is proof. His demeanor is proof. So much proof, all of it poof. Air and heat and impatience. I'm guilty of talking about Billingsley in terms of whether he is an ace or not, but I don't use it as a bludgeon against him the way other do. He's not an ace! Justification: he's not clutch like Hamels. Implication: he's a failure. What a lot of nonsense.

But the seed has been planted. The seed of failure. I'm asking the question now. I wonder if Billingsley will indeed turn out as good as we thought he would be. He's not as far as Loney is down that path, but it's started. I feel like we're past the point where you can say it's just the typical struggles of a young player. It's more like the typical struggles of a starting pitcher now. And if he ends this year well and then pitches well next year that's all it will be. But if he keeps struggling, now and in the future, then this will be the beginning of his transformation into Brett Tomko. Now there's a despressing thought. Good thing it probably won't happen.

There is one other thing in all this, probably the most important. What about Chad himself? Has the question occurred to him? I hope not. Probably not. Most ballplayers are pretty delusional about their own abilities, if their quotes are anything to go by. The Tomkos and Hendricksons of the world are always one mechanical adjustment away from suddenly being the good pitchers they really are. But still, the failure has to eat at you eventually. Billingsley has to deal with start after start running into trouble in the fifth or sixth inning. A fast start in a game doesn't mean anything later on, and he has to know that. He has a really tough job, and most of it is mental.

Game 134 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Billingsley -- 1
Kemp -- 1
Loney -- 1

Game 134 Unfair Win Shares ( Snakes )

Scherzer -- 2
Allen -- 1

1 comment:

Griffster said...

I think Billingsley is pitching hurt, and that's all. Judging him harshly by his first post season start in a crunch series [ the Cubs series became a cake walk the moment Loney (!!) hit that grand slam ] is way too small a sample size. I agree there.

I don't think Billingsley is destined to be a Tomko. But I think he may well be destined to be a Penny. Stretches of good, often at the start of the season. But not an ace, unless the rest of the staff is on the weak side.

We'll see!

As for Loney - I have ( almost ) resigned myself to the fact that he's going to be the one of the crop of young players who blossoms early, forms a nice tomato, and then gets blossom end rot and doesn't quite make it. Starts off promising, but then you're left with a tomato that looks good from one angle and all the others show a rotten end. Loney's good angle is that he doesn't strike out much. He walks more than he strikes out, and has the 55 strikeouts to go with 486 at bats. That's decent. But his average is .273 and his slugging is .385. There's the rot. His stats show a steady decline, so far. He can still turn it around, but I don't know that he will.

At least he's not Chris Young, not yet. That is just a sad story - and it was a hasty decision by the Snakes to give him that contract. He didn't even have one monster year to justify it.