The End of an Era

added 4/1/2005 by Scott Barzilla

“You’ve just learned lesson number one. Don’t think: it can only hurt the ball club.” -Crash Davis in Bull Durham

Yes, our resident Nuke Laloosh has left town. Tim Redding has been dealt to the Padres for Humberto Quintero. If you haven’t heard of Quintero don’t take it too hard, I had to do some studying myself. What I found is somewhat encouraging for 2006 and beyond, but the real story in this deal was the player leaving and not the player coming in.

In order to really understand the significance of this deal we have to go back about five years. At that time, the Astros had four very good starting pitching prospects coming up the pike. Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller have had success at the big league level while Carlos Hernandez and Tim Redding have been more limited. Five years ago, scouts thought Redding was going to be the best of them all. We know the rest of the story.

This story is not unique to the Astros. Nearly a decade ago, the Mets had a similar situation with Paul Wilson, Jason Isringhausen, and Bill Pulsipher. The so-called “Generation K” never really materialized in New York. Isringhausen has gone on to have a good career as a closer and Wilson is a serviceable starter, but the three never lived up to the hype.

The Astros are fortunate to have the one good pitcher they have. Yet, they would have loved to have had the success of the Athletics big three (Mulder, Hudson, and Zito) or the big three of the Braves from the 1990s (Smoltz, Maddux, and Glavine). Even amidst those great stories are failures we barely remember. Todd Van Poppel was a phenom earlier in the A's organization while Steve Avery threatened to make the Atlanta trio a quartet. Neither materialized.

Separating failed development cycles from successful ones is not a perfect science. In some cases, injuries have ravaged the opportunities. Wade Miller would still likely be in the Astros rotation and on pace to win fifteen plus games if it wasn’t for his shoulder problems. Paul Wilson could have been one of the top five pitchers in baseball if it wasn’t for numerous arm injuries. You cannot predict injuries, but you can help prevent them with intelligent use. The Mets haven’t had intelligence in their front office since the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Then, there are the Tim Reddings of the world. The million dollar arm and five cent head is apropos here. Redding never could seem to get on track despite his electric stuff. As things usually go, his stuff became less and less electric as he continued to struggle. Redding’s story makes the case better than any for including psychological makeup in scouting. Sure, Redding doesn’t have many of the issues of other infamous prospects like the Devil Rays “Toe” Nash (Nash has been involved in numerous crimes and other bizarre events) or Dale Berra, but there is something in his head keeping him from being successful

In the scouting community there is a huge debate between number crunchers and traditional scouts. They both have it wrong in some instances and this appears to be one of them. Both sets of scouts would have fallen in love with Redding through A and AA. Redding’s stuff was good enough to overpower those hitters without much of a struggle. The issues for Redding could be seen in AAA and the majors. What happens when adversity hits? Nothing on the radar gun or on a sabermetrical encyclopedia can answer that question.

The difference between a Cy Young award winner and an AAA pitcher is not as much as you think. In many instances it has nothing to do with stuff but with what a pitcher is thinking on the mound. Pitchers like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Roy Oswalt are able to summon something on the mound to get them through the rough innings. Tim Redding struggled to do that even when he was pitching well in 2003. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Redding do well in San Diego. Maybe there is a coach there that can help him find that certain something that Clemens, Pettitte, and Oswalt have. For his sake, I hope he finds it.

Final Roster Questions

The biggest question the Astros have facing them before camp breaks this weekend is what to do with second base. Phil Garner has said he has already made up his mind. Here is one fan that hopes that Chris Burke gets the call at second base. Unfortunately, all signs point to Biggio being the club’s second baseman against the Cardinals on Tuesday.

All Burke has done is hit over .300 with a .400+ on base percentage. For equal measure, he has slugged well over .500 and covered more ground than Biggio. Ironically, Burke has said before that he idolized Biggio growing up. One has to wonder how he will feel when his idol bumps him out of a spot even though he has proven everything he can in AAA and this Spring. How he handles the blow will be a key point in his development in the organization.

The only other real drama is at the fifth starter spot, but the hunch here is that the Astros will send Astacio down to make a couple of starts in Round Rock. He has plenty of options and the club won’t need a fifth starter until mid April. That means that Duckworth has a spot for now, but I wouldn’t add him to any of my fantasy teams any time soon.

If Duckworth lands in the pen then it will have a definite effect on the rest of the pen. Chad Harville would appear to be the pitcher in the most trouble. He looks like he has been pitching with gasoline instead of his fastball. Rumors that the club will put him on the DL with whiplash are premature, but he could end up being cut loose. He is one of those out of options, but you have to wonder about a guy that is pushing thirty and hasn’t had one complete season in the big leagues.

Scott Barzilla is the author of “Checks and Imbalances” and “The State of Baseball Management.”