Friday, August 7, 2009

Baseball's Not Fair

"Life's not fair."

When you were growing up, did you ever that comment from your parents? I know I've heard it more than a few times. In my previous post relating to the Brewers basically releasing R.J. Swindle, something dawned on me. Baseball is like life, it's not fair.

Each organization in baseball assigns scouts to find talent that will help the team. These scouts are usually wowed by one thing, "raw talent." In a pitcher, that would be an ability to throw very hard, or have great break to your pitchers. In a position player, that would be the ability of blazing speed, great fielding ability, or the ability to make contact. These players that have that "raw talent" are given chance after chance to succeed in the major leagues.

On the other side of the fence, there are a lot of players that don't have this "raw talent," but are still able to put up solid numbers. I will use Brewers relief pitcher Mark DiFelice as an example.

DiFelice was drafted in the 15th round of the 1998 MLB amateur draft. DiFelice doesn't possess a 100 MPH fastball. He doesn't wow scouts with a large number of great pitches. In his time with the Brewers, he has generally thrown one pitch, an 82 MPH cut-fastball. The one thing DiFelice does possess is amazing control. He is a smart pitcher that knows how to get people to hit what he wants them to. This is how DiFelice has been able to succeed for the last year and a half. The amazing thing about DiFelice to me is how it took him so long to actually get his shot.

The Milwaukee Brewers are Mark DiFelice's fourth team. He never was able to make it to the major leagues with the first three. He has played independent ball for two different seasons, his most recent coming just three years ago. My question is how did this guy never get a chance to succeed at the major league level?

Mark has had great minor league numbers everywhere he has pitched. His career ERA in ten combined minor league seasons is 3.51. He has posted a K/BB ratio of almost five to one (1016-221). In the minor leagues, he was only averaging 1.6 BB/9. He was a starter for the majority of his early career and was never even given a chance. Mark made his first major league appearance last season in Boston for the Brewers. He has only succeeded in his time with the Brewers.

Over the past season and a half, DiFelice has thrown 60 major league innings. He has become one of the best relievers in the Brewers bullpen. He has struck out 59 batters, while only walking 15 (a 4/1 K/BB ratio). It is easy to say that Mark has played amazingly for a guy that didn't even pitch in an organization's minor leagues just three years ago. So what is the reason for the long road to the majors?

After the Brewers released R.J. Swindle today (someone with similar success as DiFelice and limited chances in the majors), I started to understand why these guys didn't get a chance. The only thing that makes sense is that these guys don't have that amazing "stuff" that scouts look for in pitchers. Both of the them top out in the high 80's. The truth of the matter is that you don't have to throw in the high 90's to be a good pitcher. The name of the game is location and movement. Both Swindle and DiFelice have those two things while other, "raw talented" players don't.

The best example I can think of as a "raw talent," with "great stuff" that is not a good pitcher is Daniel Cabrera. Cabrera pitched for the Baltimore Orioles for a number of seasons before coming to Washington this season. He has since been released, and picked up by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He just keeps getting chance after chance to show something that is not there.

During his final three seasons with the Orioles, Cabrera posted ERA's of 4.74, 5.55 and 5.25. He showed no ability to locate any of his pitches. He walked over five batters per nine innings during this time. His strikeouts began decreasing, basically losing any value that he would have. In his final season with the O's, he walked 90 batters, while only striking out 95 in 180 innings. This being such a terrible season, the Orioles released Cabrera. After three bad seasons, Cabrera was given yet another chance with the Washington Nationals.

In the offseason, Cabrera signed a one year deal with the Nationals worth nearly $3 million. Why Cabrera was given this contract is beyond me. Sure the guy throws hard, but he has no idea where the ball is going and is not a talented pitcher. In nine games (eight starts) for the Nationals, Cabrera went 0-5 with a 5.85 ERA. He walked 35 guys in 40 innings, while only striking out 16. He was released by the Nationals after this horrendous display of ability. You would think that this would have ended his career, no it didn't.

Just a couple of days ago, Cabrera signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was given a opt out clause if he doesn't play in the major leagues by a certain date. My question to you is why does this guy keep getting chances?

The answer is the same reason why pitchers like Swindle and DiFelice are not given chances. The "stuff" that scouts see. Sure Cabrera throws harder than both pitchers, but is he anywhere near as good? No, people just think that he is magically going to gain control and turn into the next ace of their organization. Why do teams waste their money going after players that cannot pitch, while letting quality pitchers with proven stats rot in the minor leagues?

Stats are what run the game of baseball. Why are so many pitchers overlooked when they have proven an ability to pitch at all the levels leading up to the major leagues? Maybe the "stuff" and "raw talent" these scouts should be looking at is control and an ability to actually pitch and not 100 MPH fastballs that the pitcher has no idea where it's going. An 82 MPH cut-fastball with control is more effective than a pitch that consistently lights up the radar guns while walking batters on four pitches.

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