April 14, 2003

Young arms

Last Thursday I said this:

"A.J. Burnett, returned from the disabled-list and made his first start of the season yesterday, against the Mets. I didn't see any of it, but the boxscore line looks very encouraging.

He went 7 innings, striking out 4 and walking only 1. He did give up 5 hits and a homer to Jeromy Burnitz, but allowed only 2 runs and, most importantly, was taken out of the ballgame after throwing only 80 pitches. I am still not confident about his long-term success, simply because of his idiot manager and the way his arm has been abused and likely will be abused, but I will hold off on more bashing of Torborg as long as he keeps those pitch-counts reasonable. Who knows, maybe he has seen the light."

Well, that whole "maybe he has seen the light" thing lasted exactly 5 days. Jeff "Ruining Young Arms One at a Time" Torborg let A.J. Burnett throw 113 pitches last night against the Phillies. And they weren't 113 "easy" pitches either, they were high-pressure pitches with runners on base and Burnett threw them in only 5 total innings of work. He walked 5 and struck out 7, giving up 3 runs off of 4 hits.

A.J. Burnett has pitched well this year (so far) and he has tremendous stuff and unlimited potential, but if he pitches more than 100 innings this season I'll be shocked and I wouldn't bet on his career lasting very long. Why?

Here are his pitch-counts from 2001, 2002 and the first part of this season, in games where he has pitched at least 100 pitches:








































As you may have noticed, that's a really long list! 39 total games with 100+ pitches out of a total of 58 starts, which comes out to a little more than 67%. Think about that for a second. A.J. Burnett doesn't turn 26 years old until 2004 and over his last 2+ seasons he has thrown 100+ pitches in two-thirds of all his starts.

While I do believe in pitch counts for pitchers, particularly young ones, I am not someone that sees 102 pitches thrown in a game and freaks out. Isolated incidents of throwing 102 or 105 or even 115 pitches in a game every once in a while, or even every month or so, isn't so horrible. But A.J. has been throwing 100+ pretty much every single time out there.

And it's not just 100+, it is 120+ and 130+ - and that's scary. Over his last 58 starts he has thrown 120+ pitches 12 times and 125+ pitches 9 times. Of course, the latest "incident" of 113 pitches last night is perhaps worse than even all those 125+ pitch outings because it came a week after he was activated off the disabled list with an arm injury.

I'll be keeping an eye on Burnett throughout this season and he's on my Diamond-Mind keeper league team so I really hope he does wonderfully this year, but I am not very optimistic. I gave Torborg the benefit of the doubt and he went back to abusing Burnett just a week later, so he is now on my permanent s@#% list.

Perhaps the only thing that could save A.J. Burnett's right arm at this point is Jeff Torborg getting fired as manager. Thankfully, that might actually happen, or at least that's what Peter Gammons says in his latest "Diamond Notes":

"The Florida Marlins are playing well and were helped out when staff ace A.J. Burnett returned to the starting rotation last Wednesday, but there are some internal disputes. Near the end of spring training, club president David Samson wanted manager Jeff Torborg to fire pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, but Torborg refused. Then a week into the season, when Josh Beckett, who has nine career wins, was critical of Ivan Rodriguez's pitch calling, the assault on Arnsberg continued, and got heated enough so that there was some pressure put on Torborg's job. Stay tuned."

Keep those fingers crossed.

Last week, after he beat the Twins with a grand slam in Yankee Stadium, I talked about Hideki Matsui and I showed my prediction about him that I made during the pre-season. It's only been a week, but I think it's time to re-visit the issue again:

When I was doing my various predictions for the 2003 season, I said this:

"Hideki Matsui will prove all of the idiots that say he won't hit for power in the United States completely wrong."

I also said this:

"Matsui will have a tremendous season and will be one of the best outfielders in the major leagues. Some people have compared his offensive game to Brian Giles'. While I think that comparison is a decent one, I don't think he will walk as much Giles does (135 BBs last year), so I think a better comp would be Ryan Klesko.

Since coming to San Diego, Klesko has had batting averages of .283, .286 and .300, on-base percentages of .393, .384, .388 and slugging percentages of .516, .539 and .537. Those are the types of numbers I think Matsui will put up in 2003. I'll officially say .290/.390/.525, with some pretty good defense in left field."

Now, it is still very early and his stats are sure to change by the end of the year, but Matsui is hitting .306/.375/.490 right now, which looks damn close to my prediction. I'd be interested to hear what Dan Gladden (one of the more outspoken idiots that talked about how Matsui wouldn't be a good hitter here) has to say about Matsui when the Yankees come to Minnesota this weekend. Of course, I can't stand to listen to Dan Gladden and the rest of the Twins' radio broadcasting team, so I guess I'll never know what he says.

Matsui won the game for the Yankees last night with a 3-run homer and now has 14 RBI on the year.

The Royals won their 10th game of the season yesterday, beating Cleveland 12-4. Kansas City is now 10-1 and they sit 3.5 games up on the White Sox and 4.5 up on the Twins. If you would have told me during spring training that I would be able to say that sentence on April 15th, I probably would have slapped you in the face and I may have called you some mean names. I still don't think the Royals are going to end up being a serious contender in the division, but if they win 4 or 5 out of their next 6 games, I might have to change my opinion of them, at least a little bit.

The craziest thing about it is that they are 10-1 without their best player! Carlos Beltran has been on the DL all year and they are expecting him back late this week. Before the year started I predicted Kansas City would finish in 4th place and I thought they would win about 67-70 games. They are really going to have to play horribly if they are gonna end up with less than 70 wins (they would have to win 39% of their games from here on out), but they are the Royals, which is why I am not putting it past them - yet.

It's fun to watch a team come out of nowhere, as long as they don't keep my Twinkies out of the post-season, of course.

By the way, this basically sums up the Royals' season so far:

Brent Mayne - .500/.515/.867 with 3 homers, 2 doubles and 10 RBI.


I watched San Francisco right-hander Jesse Foppert make his major league debut last night, against the Astros. His first inning as a major league pitcher was an easy one, as he got the Astros to go down 1-2-3, including a strikeout of Craig Biggio for the 3rd out. The fact that he made his MLB-debut last night and I watched it isn't particularly noteworthy, but I wanted to put it on this blog so I have a record of it to remind myself when he is going into the Hall of Fame in 20 years or so.

Okay, maybe that is a bit much, but I do think he is the best pitching prospect in baseball right now. In fact, I rated him as my #7 prospect in all of baseball last year, which is very impressive when you consider that I try to rank pitchers as low as possible because of their immense injury risk (see: Torborg, Jeff).

Here's what I wrote about Foppert in my "Top 50 Prospects" article for Baseball Primer:

Foppert is a converted shortstop/first baseman that is now the best starting pitching prospect in baseball.

The Giants grabbed him with their 2nd round pick in 2001 and he won the Northwest League ERA title in his first year, posting a 1.93 ERA.

San Francisco decided to take a chance with Foppert and they had him skip high-A, starting him at Double-A Shreveport in 2002. Foppert had no problems with the jump and dominated the Texas league to the tune of 10.9 Ks/9 IPs and a 2.79 ERA.

The Giants promoted him to Triple-A at mid-season, where he continued to rack up gigantic strike out totals, although he did give up 12 homers in 79 innings there.

There isn’t much not to like about Jesse Foppert. He’s 6-6 and has a perfect pitcher’s physique and throws an overpowering fastball, a great cut-fastball and a solid, developing slider. His actual performance thus far has been extraordinary. In 210 professional innings pitched Foppert has 271 strikeouts to go along with 79 walks and only 150 hits allowed. Even better, his strike out rate has not gone down as he advances to tougher levels of competition, as his 12.4 Ks/9 IPs in Triple-A would attest to.

The Giants have not been conservative with Foppert so far, so how soon he sees action with the big club is an unknown. At the latest, expect to see him make an appearance at Pac Bell (or whatever the heck they are going to call it) by mid-season.

He’s the real deal.

He is a little ahead of schedule, but I think it is a smart idea to work him into the big leagues with some work out of the bullpen. In a year or two, the Giants are looking at a starting rotation that includes Foppert, Kurt Ainsworth (my #33 prospect) and Jerome Williams (my #34 prospect). That's potentially an incredible front 3 and all of them are extremely young and will be extremely cheap for quite a while. It'll be fun watching Barry Bonds make a couple final runs at the World Series with those young guns doing the pitching.

Today's picks:

Cincinnati (Graves) +140 over Chicago (Estes)

San Diego (Peavy) +180 over Los Angeles (Nomo)

San Francisco (Ainsworth) -140 over Houston (Robertson)

Detroit (Maroth) +210 over Minnesota (Lohse)

Total to date: + $1,085

W/L record: 28-24 (After going 5-0 with $1,065 in winnings on Saturday, I picked only one game yesterday...and won it!)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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