Friday, September 17, 2010

How Long Do You Wait?

Baseball is a tough business. Everything is measured. There are hitting stats and pitching stats and wins and losses and big money at stake for everyone involved. And it's only gotten tougher now that Big Brother is really watching and all of us can look at a player like we look at the Eiffel Tower on Google Earth. There is no place to hide when the performance isn't happening. Because of this new environment, we have determined that a short leash is put on prospects once they get to the majors. If they don't perform, they get their plug pulled and get, in the immortal words of Daffy Duck, "More briefing."

The tricky question that the Fan is glad he doesn't have to answer is: How long do you wait?  The Rangers and then the Mariners gave Justin Smoak a good long look to see if he could get it going. He never did and went back to the minors. That was a look that lasted months. The younger LaRoche that's still with the Pirates was given two years to see if he could get it going. He never did. But that same team (the Pirates) is still sending Charlie Morton out to the mound every fifth day despite horrid stats (he did pitch well on Thursday night) Lucas Duda has started his career with the Mets with a 1 for 32 thud. How long do you wait?

The examples are all over the place. The Mets gave Ike Davis enough room to grow this summer when he was really struggling. Matt Wieters looks like he's starting to figure it out after a year and a half. Joba Chamberlain was given three quarters of a year to see if he could be a starter. Elvis Andrus has batted at the lead off spot all year despite a .276 batting average.

The one obvious factor is how high the draft pick was and how expensive the prospect was to acquire or how high the stakes are because the prospect was the key poker chip in a big blockbuster trade. Those guys will get a longer shot (like Wieters). Though there are exceptions. Homer Bailey has never been given a leash long enough to last half a year. But, with a guy like Bailey, they keep trying, right?

Whenever the Fan contemplates these kinds of things, the thoughts always drift back to Mike Schmidt and Willie Mays. The Fan supposes you've heard of those guys? Mike Schmidt came up as a rookie in 1973 and was given 443 plate appearances despite batting .196 that year with a .373 slugging percentage and 138 strikeouts in 367 official at bats. It helped that the Phillies were going nowhere that year. If they were contending, who knows if Schmidt would be in the Hall of Fame. All Schmidt did after that year was hit 530 more homers.

Willie Mays was a rookie in 1951 and the Giants WERE contenders and Mays hit .048 in May. But the Giants waited him out and of course, he's one of the best players ever to wear a major league uniform. So again, the question is, How long do you wait? Lucas Duda can relate to Mays' first month, can't he? So the question once again becomes: How long do you wait? The Fan doesn't know the answer. The Marlins would have waited a looooong time for Delmon Young. But would it have been worth it? Don't know.

All the Fan does know is that for every Mike Schmidt, there are a hundred Lasting Milledges. The trick is always going to be when to cut your losses or when to hang in there with a guy you believe in. The jury is still out on Justin Smoak. But it does look like Ike Davis is going to make it. Certainly, if you were picked in the first round and have a big contract and a big agent, that patience will be longer. But even then, a team has to make tough decisions. Sometimes it's good to be a blogger and not a manager or general manager.

No comments: