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.