A moment of courage

added 3/31/2008 by Scott Barzilla

A lot of Astros fans were surprised that Woody Williams was cut after a horrible Spring Training. This alone shows you how unusual such a move is. Of course, old timers will bust out with their "back in the good ol' days players made the team on their own merits...." but we aren't in the good ol' days anymore. Woody Williams is now owed 6.5 million dollars and as a local, he has a lot fans here locally.

Last season was about getting Craig Biggio his 3000 hits and bringing in as many fans into the ballpark as possible. The Astros succeeded on both fronts. Biggio retires with his glory intact and they surpassed the three million fan mark. 2008 is about competing and this move reinforces that fact. Keeping Woody Williams might have been more cost effective and popular with his teammates, but it makes the Astros a more competitive team.

One of my favorite tacts from sports writers is when they overestimate what a move might mean. A team makes a change and suddenly they've added or subtracted five or ten wins. In essence, you would have to replace Buddy Biancalana with Honus Wagner to do that. Replacing Woody Williams with Chris Sampson doesn't make the Astros a 100 win club. It does make the Astros a better team. Signing Claudio Vargas would do even more, but we'll get to that later.

The Hardball Times was one of the many publications to do pre-season projections for players and teams. Naturally, some things have happened since they published, so I took the liberty of updating for last minutes trades and injuries. So, I took the 25 man rosters and projected runs scored and runs allowed as if those 25 play the whole season. In other words, these are the best case scenario projections according to THT (except for players that are already injured).

                      RS      RA       Record
Chicago Cubs          850     731      87-75
Milwaukee Brewers     837     760      85-77
St. Louis Cardinals   799     743      84-78
Cincinnati Reds       834     788      83-79
Houston Astros        797     769      82-80
Pittsburgh Pirates    788     793      81-81

Don't worry too much about where these records end up and who is in front of who. There are too many publications out there to put all of our trust in THT. However, we will see this kind of thin gap from all of the projections. So, allowing nostalgia to get in the way of sound judgment doesn't make any sense at this point.

Will this be the final standings? Obviously, there is no way all six teams will finish .500 or above. Assuming all 25 men stay healthy is like assuming there will be no upsets in the NCAA tournament. THT has the 12 man pitching staff projected for the 1173 of the 1458 innings. It isn't likely that the pitchers that hurl the other 285 innings will produce at the same rate as the first twelve. Of course, other teams are more prepared for those depth concerns and that is why they are projected higher in the standings.

This is where Claudio Vargas comes in. THT has him projected at a 5.05 ERA and 142 innings. The other projections will likely be similar. For a million dollars you aren't going to get a Cy Young candidate. What you will get is a merely mediocre pitcher to take half of those innings away. If someone like Jack Cassell and Chad Paronto take the other innings then you might get close to the projected number of runs allowed.

Mark Antony said, "I come here to praise Ceasar, not to bury him." It would be easy to pile on Williams at this point. However, a pitcher of his stature deserves more than that. It isn't easy to win more than 130 games at the big league level. It isn't easy to be an effective pitcher at 40 years old. This is especially true when you consider that he didn't throw hard like Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens. He had to get by much like Greg Maddux does.

In essence, they did him a favor. Sure, it doesn't look like they did him much of a favor at this point, but it beats having your image tarnished by getting your brains kicked in. Unfortunately, most athletes have to be told when their time has done. Williams has chosen to retire, but it wasn't fully his choice. You have to respect someone that forces the team to rip their glove out of their hands. It's just refreshing to see a team willing to do that. It can't be easy.