The Third Fiddle
When the Royals announced they’d traded Carlos Beltran to the Houston Astros, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. I was extremely sad that Beltran, an all-around good baseball player and an even better person, wouldn’t be patrolling center field for the Royals ever again. After all, he’d created so many good memories for Royals fans with his fence-climbing acrobatics, hustle, and game-winning home runs. I was also happy for Carlos who was heading to a better situation, and ultimately almost led the Astros to the World Series.
However, in between those emotions on opposite ends of the emotion spectrum, I was most anxious to find out which players the Royals had received in return for a half-season of Beltran’s services. The early reports had pinpointed Oakland Athletics third base prospect Mark Teahen and Houston Astros catching prospect John Buck as the two main targets of GM Allard Baird, with the only uncertainty being an unknown third prospect. At the time, it was believed that Baird coveted hard-throwing A’s reliever Jairo Garcia, but after the trade was made official, he’d accepted a lesser pitching prospect named Mike Wood. Assuming that the reports are true, Oakland GM Billy Beane wouldn’t cave to Baird’s demand as he did by including Angel Berroa in the Johnny Damon trade four years earlier, and Baird had to settle for the less-talented Wood instead to get the deal done.
Whereas Teahen and Buck immediately became fixtures towards The World of Tomorrow in Kansas City baseball, Wood was only thought to be a fifth starter, long reliever, or swingman, albeit a quality one who was ready for the Majors. The projection was reasonable; Wood never has thrown very hard, had questionable durability, and saw his strikeout rates fall dramatically after moving past Single-A competition. The Royals brought him to the Majors right away, and while he posted a rather-unimpressive 5.94 ERA in 100 innings of work, his peripheral statistics told a different story. In a neutral setting, Wood was rather unlucky in the number of hits he allowed, and Baseball Prospectus’ PERA expected him to post a 4.47 ERA.
In the early part of spring training 2005, Wood worked with pitching savant Guy Hansen, who helped him clean up his mechanics. Although I’m not a guy who puts very much stock in spring training statistics, Wood’s been on point in almost every outing so far this preseason, with his latest masterpiece being four perfect innings against the Rockies on Sunday. As if his 10 2/3 innings of 0.88 ERA ball isn’t impressive enough, he’s backed it up with a 12-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and no home runs allowed. Hansen said that the natural movement on Wood’s pitches is the closest to Greg Maddux’s on the Royals staff. While that might be damning with faint praise, there’s no doubt that Wood’s pitched like Maddux so far.
Spring training performance typically doesn’t indicate the type of regular season a player’s going to have, but when a young starting pitcher busts out in the way Wood has, everyone should be taking cautious notice. Unfortunately, the Royals haven’t taken notice, and are only considering him for a job out of the bullpen thanks to how impressive Denny Bautista’s been. I’ve already chronicled my opinion as to why I think Bautista needs to go to Triple-A, and that opinion just garnered some extra ammunition with Wood’s dominance in camp. He’d be the perfect placeholder for Bautista in the Royals’ rotation, and should have an opportunity to stick anyway due to the ineffectiveness or injuries of his rotation mates.
There’s a serious upside here, far more of an upside than I ever thought Wood would have. I think it’d be fair to say that Wood’s already way ahead of the game. He already throws strikes, knows how to change speeds, has a history of keeping the ball on the ground and in the park, and even has a streamlined delivery to boot. It’s hard not to like a 25-year-old with that entire set of skills going for him. But if the Royals don’t like him enough to give him a chance as a starting pitcher now and in the future, FREE CALVIN PICKERING! might just turn into FREE MIKE WOOD!.
Miscellaneous baseball musings...
Both players are easily replaceable commodities, but replacing Ishii’s production is going to be a much easier task than finding a catcher with good on-base skills would’ve been. Score another for DePodesta, who’s doing what he knows is right in the face of wild scrutiny.
“He threw the ball a lot better,” manager Tony Pena said. “He had a tight breaking ball. Look, you know he still has his heart, and he's still able to throw the ball across the plate.”When all you “still” have is your heart and an ability to throw a baseball somewhere in the strike zone, it’s time to hang up the spikes.
Sometimes, proof can be a bitch. Baseball needed to get itself cleaned up, and although they clearly took a big first step towards doing that, morons like Sen. John McCain and Rep. Tom Davis are getting involved in this anyway. To paraphrase Billy Beane, ESPN baseball analyst Joe Morgan often doesn’t like to allow facts get in the way of his opinions. Needless to say, the same holds true here.
By the way, I think we can safely assume that McCain spewed the Hypocrisy of the Week when he said that baseball couldn't be trusted. There's nothing quite like a Senator suggesting that somebody else's word isn't reliable.