Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Comeback "Kids"

Who doesn't love a good comeback story? Granted, they never usually end up well. But for brief, shining moments, they make us smile with the improbability. Erik Bedard, Bartolo Colon, Jason Marquis and Jake Peavy have all provided those smile-making moments this season. Bedard and Colon did not pitch in the majors at all last year. Marquis was abysmal last year in an injury-plagued season and Peavy is pitching after a shoulder surgery that was as radical as the Tommy John surgery was for that pitcher all those years ago. Peavy is 2-0 after beating the mighty Boston Red Sox the other day. Bedard and Colon are only a combined 6-7 in their records, but both a pitching far more effectively than anyone could have imagined. Marquis is 6-2 for the lowly Nationals and he's pitching way better than his 4.13 ERA.

The thing about these four pitchers is that they were once very successful. Colon and Peavy have Cy Young Award hardware and Bedard went 28-16 for the Orioles back in 2006 and 2007. Jason Marquis has won fifteen games twice in his career. And it just goes to show you that as long as a good pitcher has his health, he's going to get batters out. All have had their share of success in that category this year.

Let's start with Colon. The guy is 38 years old. He was finished. His last couple of years were filled with injuries and fat jokes. He's still not the slimmest of dudes, but wowed people all during Spring Training. This writer yelled loudly when he wasn't named as a member of the starting rotation for the Yankees at the start of the season. He had earned the right. But Phil Hughes had nothing to start the season and was pulled from the rotation after a few starts and ultimately ended on the disabled list. Colon cut his teeth on the season relieving Hughes on his short outings.

Since then Colon has made eight starts. Only one of them has been bad. He's striking out 8.41 batters per nine innings with a strikeout to walk ratio of over 4 to 1. His ERA is 3.26 and he has a WPA in the positive numbers for the first time since 2005. Throwing almost all fastballs, he still has plus gas with plenty of movement and he's a strike throwing machine. He only needed 103 pitches to pitch a complete game shutout of the Oakland A's, his first since 2006. Amazing. As for the flak about his surgery. this Fan thinks such people should shut up. This is where medicine is going. Go back to your track phones and get a life.

Erik Bedard was the Nick Johnson of pitchers. He was always hurt. The Mariners paid him a lot of money and traded away Adam Jones to get him. They got nothing for either investment. Now that Bedard is making little money, he has become healthy enough to pitch. But we are talking about a guy who has always been a good pitcher. His career ERA+ is 120 and that includes years he pitched when he wasn't right. Armed with perhaps the best curveball in baseball, he started slowly this season. In fact, his first four starts were pretty bad. The Mariners lost them all. But five of his last six starts have been quality starts and the Mariners have won five of them. He is on a three game winning streak. He is striking out 8.1 batters per nine innings this season. And just the fact that he's made all of his ten starts is a total victory for him.

Jake Peavy was a brilliant pitcher. Blessed with a heavy sinker, his Cy Young Award was no fluke. After all kinds of shoulder trouble, Peavy finally seems back and healthy. He's made four starts and is averaging 6.25 innings per start. He's 2-0 with an ERA of 3.24. His strikeouts are down. Part of that is pitching in the American League without the pitcher batting and part of it is living in the strike zone. He's amazingly only walked one batter in 25 innings of work. The only concern here is that Ozzie Guillen is letting him throw a lot of pitches. He's had two games now with more than 115 pitches. That's scary for a guy who has been hurt so often lately.
And finally, there is Jason Marquis. Marquis isn't the kind of talent that the other three are. There are no Cy Young Awards on his resume. But he is a good pitcher who has had three really good seasons in his career. He signed a big contract with the Nationals and people scoffed. And after last year, they may have had every right to scoff. But Marquis was never right with his health last year and after a while, shut it down completely. Who knows how long he pitched hurt. Marquis is a ground ball pitcher who will never strike out a lot of batters. But in his eleven starts, he's induced seven double-plays. Seven of his eleven starts have been quality starts. He keeps the ball inside the park and though he's posted a 4.13, his FIP and xFIP are both better than that.

So there you have it. Four pitchers that aren't exactly young. All have been counted out before this season. All have faced serious health issues. And yet, all four are major comeback stories this season. They have been a lot of fun to watch. Nobody knows how long their success will last. Like missionaries, we look for demons behind every tree. Let's hope they can all hold up because stories like theirs are always worth writing.

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