Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Brothers in arms

On Boston's Jon Papelbon, who dazzled in his big-league debut Sunday:

This might sound crazy, and I don't want people to get carried away with this, but he's the best young righthander I've seen since Roger Clemens to come up with the Red Sox. He reminded me a little bit of Roger, how his fastball exploded at the end. It's not that straight 92-93 mile per hour stuff - he's got that late action on the fastball, and those guys (the Twins) weren't even close to it.

Now, you see signs of other good pitches, a splitter and and a slider. Those obviously need refining, and I'm not saying he's ready to be successful now. But I see a kid that reminds me an awful lot of Clemens when he first came up to the big leagues. He's got that arm. And I really think he's going to be a big winner for the Red Sox.

Now, we here at TATB have been accused by more than one of our 39 readers of fawning over Papelbon since seeing him pitch in Portland a while back. Supposing the previous quote came from us, you could say we are guilty as charged.

But those aren't our words. They're Jerry Remy's.

Yep, the RemDawg, who usually leans toward skepticism when hyperbole is the other option, took the opportunity during tonight's pre-game show to compare the Sox's 23-year-old phenom to perhaps the greatest pitcher who has ever toed the rubber. And remember, Remy was still an active player when Clemens made his debut in '84, so he delivers his plaudits with the benefit of been-there, seen-that knowledge.

If Remy is wowed by the kid, then dammit, the kid must be pretty good. It's almost enough to make a Sox fan giddy, no? Oh, right - we already were.

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On Kansas City's Zack Greinke, who was scheduled to pitch against the Sox on Thursday but may now be bumped back to Friday in Oakland:

With apologies to Jon Landau, we have seen the future of pitching, and his name is Zach Greinke. There are two sets of opinions on Greinke. There's the camp that thinks all the talk about his being the most extraordinary young pitcher of his generation is overblown hype. Then there's the camp of people that have seen him pitch.

Start with his statistical record. He debuted in the majors less than two years after he was out of high school. His 3.97 ERA would have ranked him in the AL's top ten if he'd qualified. Most impressively, he walked just 1.67 men per 9 innings. In the last 70 years, only three other pitchers as young as Greinke walked fewer than 2.1 men per 9 innings. Two of them were Bret Saberhagen and Bert Blyleven.

But Greinke's stats are less distinctive than his style, which may be unprecedented for a pitcher his age. A scouting report will say that he throws his fastball 93-94, but he only throws maximum velocity on maybe a quarter of his fastballs, preferring to throw 88 with precision than sacrifice some command for increased velocity. He changes speeds on all pitches, actually; in any given start he'll throw at least one pitch at 62, another at 94, and hit most every number in between. And that doesn't count the 50 mph floater he learned from Dave LaRoche, his Triple-A pitching coach and famed a generation ago for that pitch.

Greinke's ability to keep hitters off-balance extends beyond simply changing speeds. He struck out Ivan Rodriguez on a quick-pitch last summer before Pudge could plant his feet. In the minors, he was known for setting up hitters with a quick-pitch to rile them up before returning with a slow curveball that they would invariably be out in front of.

And the praise keeps a-comin' . . .

. . . He has excellent mechanics, has never thrown 110 pitches in a game, and since he rarely throws at maximum velocity, he's about as low an injury risk as any young pitcher in the game . . . His profile is so unique that trying to predict his future is a fool's errand . . . All we can say is that in the past 30 years, the pitcher Greinke best compares to as a rookie, both statistically and stylistically, is Saberhagen. As a sophomore, Saberhagen won the Cy Young Award.

Pretty intriguing, huh? That take is probably the longest individual player assessment in this year's edition of Baseball Prospectus, and quite possibly its most glowing.

So how come we haven't heard more about this can't-miss Saberhagen clone this season? Because, to put it mildly, he is getting lit up like his name is Wasdin, that's why. This season, Greinke is 3-13 with a 6.14 ERA. He has allowed 153 hits in 118 innings, while striking out just 72.

Chances are he is not going to win the Cy Young Award this season. Maybe that other "camp" was onto something after all.

Now, you're probably wondering why I brought this up. Two reasons, actually:

1) With young pitchers such as Greinke and Papelbon, you just never, ever know, even when you are pretty damn sure you do.

2) Because it's so rare that BP - of which I am an unabashed fan, in part because it convinced me to use late-round Rot League picks on Morgan Ensberg, Jorge Cantu and Clint Barmes - goes over-the-top in pumping up a prospect, it's kind of funny when their experts miss the mark by such a large margin. I can't wait to read what they write about the kid next year.

(And that said, click on the Amazon link on the right column and buy the book already. It's absolutely worth every penny, Greinke-lovin' aside.)

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As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

As if we need one more reminder of Clemens's remarkable ability to fend off the twilight of his career, when this card of baby-faced Rocket was issued, Papelbon was 3, and Greinke was less than a year old.