Blast from the Past: Notes on an Old Rant

I stumbled across an old rant of mine the other day about Bob Brenly’s mismanagement of Byung-Hyun Kim during the 2001 World Series. First off, that was a pretty good rant, if I do say so myself. It had plenty of bluster and just the right amount of condescension.

Second, I speculated at the time as to how Brenly’s curious decisions might affect Kim:

His manager set him up for failure two nights in a row, first by leaving him in way too long, then by bringing him back exhausted. Honestly, the way Brenly has treated Kim, I’m hoping all he blows is the World Series. I don’t want to put some kind of jinx on Kim but if he does come down with a major arm injury next season, we won’t need to look too far to figure out why.

In case you’d forgotten, Kim threw 62 pitches in Game 4 and 15 more the following night. Seven years later, it still doesn’t make any sense.

As for my concern about Kim’s arm, for a time it looked like he might survive. In fact, 2002 saw him named to his first (and only) All-Star squad.

Kim had one more good season after that, then moved into the rotation, where he rapidly transformed from dominant closer to mediocre starter and eventually faded into obscurity. The guy was washed up by age 25.

It’s easy to forget just how good Kim was when he first arrived. On checking his list of similar players through age 25 over at Baseball-Reference, we find some interesting names, including a few with ties to the Padres:

Through Age 25: Kim, Fingers, McCullers, Selma
  Years IP ERA ERA+ SV H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
Statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Kim ’99-’04 419.2 3.37 138 86 6.76 0.84 3.77 9.76
R. Fingers ’68-’72 509 3.31 100 52 7.71 0.87 2.69 6.21
L. McCullers ’85-’89 476.2 3.25 114 39 7.44 0.81 4.25 7.70
D. Selma ’65-’69 549 3.34 105 4 7.89 0.70 3.59 7.11

Selma isn’t a great comp, but he started the first game in Padres history so I have a soft spot for him and I include him here. As for Fingers, some horses start strong while others finish strong. In the period just following the one examined above, from 1972 to 1978, he averaged 9 wins, 25 saves, and 122 innings a year. Those numbers just don’t compute in today’s game.

That leaves McCullers, who threw all of 49 2/3 big-league innings after his 26th birthday, although he’d already shown signs of premature decline on first leaving San Diego in the Jack Clark trade following the 1988 season. Through age 24, McCullers’ list of comps includes some good pitchers (Scott Garrelts, Victor Cruz, Scott Williamson) and a few that are/were better than that (Jonathan Broxton, Huston Street, Ugueth Urbina).

Moving beyond McCullers, I guess what intrigues me is that we never know how things play out until they actually do. This is self-evident, yes, but let me ask you: How many people would have identified Fingers as a future Hall-of-Famer after his first five years in the big leagues? Or, to use an example from my youth and confuse the issue even further, how many would have identified Darryl Strawberry as a guy on the outside, looking in? (Hint: Strawberry’s numbers were better than those of Barry Bonds at the same age and matched quite well with those of Reggie Jackson.)

It’s humbling stuff. And thinking back on the post from years ago that inspired this piece, I suppose that’s why I don’t rant as much as I once did. It’s not so much that I’ve mellowed with age (believe me, I haven’t) as I’ve learned to wait a little longer and gather more information before making judgments.

Some people find value in spouting every thought that pops into their head. I’m not one of them.

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14 Responses »

  1. Maybe i missed it, but i haven’t seen anything from Geoff on the current craze that is sweeping Mission Bay, otherwise known as the padres estate sale ..

    Geoff no opinion?

  2. #1@william: It’s been a busy week, but I will post some thoughts tomorrow. The short version is that there isn’t really anything to report yet.

  3. It looks like the D-Backs are lowballing their venerable over 40 free agent too, with a much more insulting offer than the Padres gave to Hoffman, at a time when they need Randy Johnson a heck of a lot more than the Padres need Hoffman (in a baseball sense, at least). But Randy Johnson is not a life long D-Back, so there seems to be a lot less emotion on both sides there.

  4. The dominant theory coming out of the current state of the Padres is: They are terrible at public relations. Yes, yes, yes, I agree. That is an area that matters.

    But trading Peavy and not re-signing Hoffman may be the right things. Fans are focusing on their hurt feelings, instead of — are these the right baseball decisions for the Padres.

    I would rather have an unfeeling Alderson than a total incompetent who is a great PR guy.

    I know that many feel that Alderson has held up his bargain in the area of being very competent, but that’s a different argument.

  5. #2@Geoff Young: I’m a bit out of touch as I left for Iraq last Saturday. What is the estate sale referred to?

    #4@Kevin: It sounds like you are surprised the fans are being emotional. But I’m sure you know that’s what fans do, react emotionally, and business is, or tries to be, rational. Hopefully both situations, Peavy and Hoffman, will work out for the club business-wise and then the fans can be happy with the increased wins and/or new and productive players. Either way it will be an interesting winter, imo.

  6. #5@Pat: By “estate sale,” he means selling off the team piece by piece.

    I shouldn’t be surprised by the fans. And I shouldn’t be surprised that the guys on XX Sports Radio are the voice of the fans and ask lame questions.

    But it does seem like there is a lot of focus on how the fans received the bad news instead of the actual news.

  7. #6@Kevin: The Padres are in the entertainment business. One of baseball’s strongest selling points, relative to other sports and particularly to other entertainment choices, is the connection fans make with players. It’s simply stupid on the part of the Padres to ignore it, especially when it would take relatively little effort to explain things differently.

    For somebody who “did a lot of research” about possible fan reactions to a Bonds signing and claimed that it was a terrible idea BECAUSE of those potential reactions, this is a surprising about-face.

    Does anyone believe, or have a shred of evidence to believe, that these moves aren’t motivated by Moores’ personal and financial situation? Of course there’s going to be a focus on the non-baseball aspects, because the root cause of the decisions is not related to constructing a team. The Padres had strong reasons to believe they’d compete last year. Are we now to believe that their methodology changed so much that they’re forced to throw in the towel because they think they can’t manage 86 wins next year with some changes? It would be crazy if people DIDN’T react with skepticism.

  8. #7@Tom Waits: I think they were in an impossible situation with Hoffman. I could see why they didn’t want him back (although it’s true that you can make an argument that last year’s HR numbers were fluky and they will improve, of course you could say that with the rest of the numbers as well going in the opposite direction).

    Four to five million dollars is a lot to spend on the third or fourth best reliever in your bullpen. In fact, Trevor hasn’t been the best reliever in the pen since 2001 (according to VORP). With his stuff, or lack thereof, he’s just too unreliable as a 9th inning closer, certainly with a one run lead. And if he’s on the Padres, he almost certainly has to be the closer (not even counting the salary). He might not be the worst closer in the majors, but he has to be the one with the least overpowering stuff. And unlike a majority of pitchers, if his location is off, than his only hope is that batters either miss his meatballs or they get hit right at people. That’s not exactly the profile I’d want out of my highest paid reliever.

    Even if Moores was the greatest owner in the world it still might not make sense to re-sign Hoffman.

  9. #6@Kevin: Thanks, Kevin. I was confused by the Mission Bay reference. It didn’t really seem to tie in with the Padres.

  10. #8@Schlom: No one’s disputed that there are reasonable baseball reasons to move on from Hoffman. How smart is it to handle the situation in a way that further alienates your fans? How smart is it for the front office to once again act as if they DON’T need to build trust with the public?

  11. #7@Tom Waits: I don’t see how my comment deserved your snarky one, but I will do my best to address it.

    I made sure to point out that yes, the Padres are doing a poor job of public relations. I said that it’s an area that matters.

    I simply said that having a poor front office with great PR skills would be worse. Not a controversial statment. Maybe a mild rant.

    I didn’t comment one way or the other about Moores and his personal and financial situation. I’m not talking about fans reacting with skepticism. I was talking about the reactions of hurt feelings.

    You are talking about the “whys” of what is happening, which is, of course, a valid discussion. What I said is: People are not focusing on baseball decisions and the “whys.” They are focusing on their hurt feelings, taking what they see as a personal affront to Hoffman as a personal affront to them.

    All this is their right, of course. I was just saying — take a deep breath. Not a controversial statement.

  12. #11@Kevin: Really, you don’t see how writing “I shouldn’t be surprised by the fans. And I shouldn’t be surprised that the guys on XX Sports Radio are the voice of the fans and ask lame questions” is an obvious slam on the fans? If the people reflecting the concerns of the fans are asking lame questions, the fans themselves, and their reactions to this situation, are therefore lame. You don’t see that as even mildly inflammatory?

    I would hardly classify myself as a talk radio fan, but I’m upset about both the baseball side of things (how did their process fail so badly in 2008) AND disappointed in the way the team is handling the news. I’m far from the only fan who sees the past season, probably the past year and a half, as an almost complete disaster. When anyone — say Sandy Alderson — acts as if fans have a moral obligation to believe the team rather than our own eyes or competing viewpoints, that’s a problem for me.

  13. #12@Tom Waits: I should add, it’s intellectually dishonest of anyone to claim that people are ONLY upset about the WAY the front office has handled the recent news. That’s simply patronizing. It’s Wise Old Alderson patting the fans on the head and saying “Once you’re older, you’ll understand and things like this won’t upset you so.” Bull. Lots of people are upset about the news itself, that the Padres, who supposedly needed Petco to create a foundation for competitiveness, are now at the mercy of non-baseball related financial issues. They’re cutting payroll to the point that it could be covered by the team’s portion of MLBAM, revenue sharing, and the national media deals. A lot of fans are upset about that more than they are about the ham-fisted front office stance. It’s NOT just soft-skinned fans wanting a kinder, gentler management team. The news itself is the primary driver in the negative reactions, not the way that Burgermeister Meisterburger Alderson presents that news.

  14. #12@Tom Waits: I don’t think I ever denied slamming the fans. I don’t see anything I said as inflammatory. I don’t think “lame” is a racy word. I didn’t use any sort of epithet.

    But we just disagree, which is fine.

    I wish the talk radio guys acted more like journalists instead of the guy in the stands with a beer. But that’s fine, too. The world does not conform to what I want it to be.