Thursday, June 24, 2010
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Part 9 of 13
5 Bill Buckner's First Base Mitt
Bill Buckner accumulated 2,715 hits and more than 15 thousand putouts in his 22-year major league career; however, the ball that he did not touch is the one that is most remembered.
With two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning and the Boston Red Sox poised to end the "Curse of the Bambino" in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Mookie Wilson's topped ball rolled under the first baseman's glove to allow the New York Mets to turn a 5-4 loss into a 6-5 victory.
Of course, as Murphy's Law would have it, the Mets went onto to win Game 7 and keep Boston's World Series title drought going until 2004. The slow grounder that eluded Buckner's grasp makes the glove a highly interesting artifact that kept and entire city's misery intact.
Additionally, the batting glove that Buckner wore beneath his fielder's mitt provides an interesting accessory. A close look at the glove reveals that it bears the Chicago Cubs logo— baseball's other cursed team.
Part 8 of 13
6 Jason Grimsley's Grease Stained Uniform
Throughout the 10-year period from 1991 to 2000, Albert Belle was one of the most feared sluggers in the big leagues. His injury shortened career was also tainted by controversy, including an infamous incident in 1994.
After growing suspicion led the White Sox to request that Belle's bat be examined, umpires confiscated it. Although the actual blackened lumber is a desired artifact, the sequence of events that transpired afterward made for an even better memento.
With the rest of his Cleveland Indians teammates knowing that all of Belle's bats were corked, Jason Grimsley snaked through a ceiling crawl space into the umpires' locker room to swap out a replacement bat for the one originally confiscated.
Both players were busted when umpires found a "Paul Sorrento" model bat where they had left the "Albert Belle" model. Although Grimsley was spared suspension, his soiled uniform would make for the more interesting symbol of the "Batgate" caper.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Part 7 of 13
7 Sammy Sosa's Corked Bat
The Chicago Cubs former star helped re-invigorate interest in the National Pastime after Major League Baseball's strike in the mid-90's with his prolific power display. During that period, Sammy Sosa was both the toast of Chi-Town and a league-wide fan favorite.
Unfortunately, the slugger began a fall from grace when he was caught using a corked bat in 2004 and then later when his name was linked to performance enhancing drugs.
On an innocent ground out against the Tampa Bay Rays, Slammin' Sammy's bat shattered. When umpires gathered the broken pieces they discovered exposed cork and immediately ejected Sosa.
The broken pieces somehow disappeared and the Cubs slugger explained that he mistakingly used the bat which was altered for batting practice displays to entertain fans. The shattered bat of baseball's sixth leading home run hitter of all-time would surely be a treasured artifact if it somehow turned up.
Part 6 of 13
8 Graig Nettles Superballs
Graig Nettles enjoyed a long, accomplished career for six different teams, but gained most fame during his 11-seasons with the New York Yankees. Besides playing on four pennant winning Bronx Bomber clubs, the six-time All-Star third baseman also gained notoriety for an infamous incident in 1974.
After hitting a home run in his first appearance to provide the Yankees 1-0 margin of victory that day, Nettles shattered his bat the next time up. Interestingly, six superballs shot out of the barrel onto the field that were quickly gathered up by Tigers' catcher Bill Freehan.
Afterwards, the Yankees slugger claimed that he had no idea the bat was doctored and that it had been given to him by a fan. Apparently his proclaimed innocence influenced baseball executives as Nettles was never suspended for using an illegal bat.
Friday, June 18, 2010
9 A-Rod's Little Black Book
New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez has reportedly had— shall we say— an active social life. The multimillionaire heart throb has parlayed his "GQ" looks, record contract, "Big Apple" headliner status and inclusion on "People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful" list into an abundance of admiring women.
A-Rod has been linked to well known stars such as Madonna and Kate Hudson. The Yankee "third sacker" has also been rumored to be involved with "B and C-List" celebrities such as fashion, fitness and bikini models. And, to his chagrin, New York Post's Page Six has reported involvement with more discreetly famous women such as Eliott Spitzer's madam and night club "dancers."
Should it exist or be made available, Rodriguez's "Little Black Book" would surely command a great deal of interest. Besides providing confirmation on previously rumored relationships, some other very interesting names could very well pop up.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
So, let's do the math. Heading into tonight's game, the Phillies were 9-3 with him and 23-27 without him.
Additionally, the hometown team has outscored opponents 74-35 with him, but have been outscored 226-201 with him idle.
That's a 290 point differential in winning percentage.
Breaking it down a little further, that represents a 3.75 swing in run differential per game. With the player, the Phillies recorded 3.25 runs more than their opponent, but have scored .50 runs less than their opponent without him.
The numbers seem to serve testimony to the importance of Jimmy Rollins in the Phillies formula for success.
The Gold Glove shortstop has had a difficult time living up to expectations after his phenomenal 2007 MVP season. He set the bar at such a high level with a campaign that hit on all cylinders, magnificently displaying his five tool skills that perhaps his value to this Phillies ball club has been underestimated ever since.
That season, J-Roll did everything but sing "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch and handle the tarp during rain storms. Oh, yeah, he did that, too on one excessivley windy day in Colorado.
Because his batting average and OBP have been down the past two seasons, it might be easy for critics to overlook all the other ways Rollins contributes to the team's success.
When J-Roll is swinging the bat well his value to the team is highly apparent. A lead-off man capable of spraying line drives around the yard, racing to take extra bases, swiping bags at a near perfect success rate, and going yard 30 times in a season will surely jump start any offense.
When you layer on the fact that the same player grabs his glove to assume the most important position in the field and has been recognized as the best glove man in the business three years running— it becomes even easier to see why he is so sorely missed.
But, perhaps the Phillies recent slide points out that despite how talented Rollins is offensively and defensively, his greatest contribution might lie elsewhere. As much as players look up to Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and now Roy Halladay, none of them provides the spark supplied by Rollins.
For much of his absence, the team has looked lifeless and listless. Levity throughout the ranks seems clearly AWOL without J-Roll's infectious smile. A suffocating tightness seems to envelope the team.
It is unclear when Rollins will be fit enough to return. Considering his premature return the first time around, the organization is rightfully taking a cautious approach.
What is clear, though, is that Rollins is the type of difference-maker who could jolt a moribund team. The Phillies and their fans can only hope that comes sooner rather than later.
Part 4 of 13
10 Catcher's Reflective Tape Used in Dock Ellis' 1970 No-Hitter
The late Pittsburgh Pirates hurler joined baseball immortality by tossing a no-hitter in 1970. Later, Dock Ellis admitted to being high on LSD during the game and battled in his mind everything from distorted vision to the baseball changing in size.
Ellis was particularly wild that day, walking eight and hitting a batter during the "masterpiece." Due to his pitcher's altered consciousness, Pirates catcher Jerry May wrapped his fingers with reflective tape to help Ellis determine the pitch call.
Animator James Blagden created the following short video to tell the amazing, infamous story.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Part 3 of 13
11 Herman Franks' Telescope
In 1951, the New York Giants found themselves hopelessly 13 1/2 games behind the arch rival Brooklyn Dodgers in August. Somehow, though, the Giants went on a tear and ultimately clinched the National League Pennant on Bobby Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world" on the season's last day.
Recently, former players admitted to an elaborate sign stealing system that may have provided a big boost that season. The scheme was keyed by coach Herman Franks using a telescope behind the center field fence to read opposing catcher's signals to begin a relay process to the batter.
It is unclear whether Thomson was aided by the Franks system, but it seems clear that at a minimum, arguably the most famous home run and moment in baseball history would likely have been reduced to just an exciting way to end the regular season.
Part 2 of 13
12 Mike Scott's Emery Board
Mike Scott was one of the best pitchers in baseball over the second half of the 80's. The Houston Astros right-hander went 86-49 during that period and won the NL Cy Young in 1986 when he went 18-10 while leading the league with a 2.22 ERA and 306 strikeouts.
That same season he was reportedly involved in a now infamous incident. Spurred by growing suspicion from opponents about his on field mastery and an inordinate number of scuffed up baseballs, umpires confronted him on the mound to search for the baseball doctoring source.
Demonstrating quick thinking or a well thought out plan, Scott reached into his back pockets and animatedly pulled the insides out while throwing his hands into the air as if to say "who me?" Somehow umpires missed what cameras and fans picked up— Scott had also tossed a small, white emery board behind him in the process.
Last week, a historic piece of baseball memorabilia officially was put up for auction to the highest bidder. The 34-inch Mizuno bat was used by banished former star Pete Rose in 1986 when he recorded his final and major league record 4,256th hit of his career.
The auctioneer, Lelands.com, expects that the collector's item could potentially fetch the highest price ever obtained for a baseball bat, perhaps exceeding the $1.3 million paid for the one Babe Ruth used to hit his first home run at Yankee Stadium.
It is interesting that the fallen star's bat could command a greater price than that of the universally acknowledged greatest player in baseball history.
Although Rose broke another legend's all-time record when he passed Ty Cobb on his way to establishing his hit mark, the former Reds and Phillies player quickly fell from grace after his playing career ended. The gritty, gamer led a checkered existence and, of course, was ultimately banned from the National Pastime for betting on his own team's games.
Many baseball artifacts have commanded large prices through the years— from Lou Gehrig's $451,000 uniform to Honus Wagner's $2.35 million baseball card to Mark McGwire's $3 million record 70th home run ball. Other more unusual items such as Babe Ruth's Sale Contract garnered almost $1 million and Joe DiMaggio's personal journal was listed with a $1.5 million starting bid.
But, seeing the Mizuno bat used by the controversial Rose listed for sale evoked thoughts of what other— shall we say, less conventional— artifacts might be in great demand?
Although these baseball memorabilia items may not commemorate a historic milestone, they surely would draw a great deal of interest due to the controversy surrounding them.
Here is a countdown of the 12 most desirable, off-beat baseball memorabilia should they be made available. Think of it as the list of items that would provide countless content for an MLB show produced by "TMZ" or "Inside Edition."
Saturday, June 12, 2010
The Final Word
Perhaps more so than anytime in the past ten years, forecasting how the Eagles will fare this season is particularly challenging. The team has engaged in an almost complete purge of the veteran players that led this period of unprecedented success.
Some players like Kolb will move from the supporting cast to a leading part. Other young players such as Allen and Graham will be asked to play important roles despite little or no NFL experience. And, players rebounding from injury such as Jackson, Bradley and Hobbs are being counted on to not only return to previous form, but perhaps to take their play to the next level.
There are clearly a lot of variables in the equation. Success does not hinge, however, on all these unknowns being answered affirmatively.
Some have obvious greater import than others. However, many are symbiotic in nature and the degree of success achieved in any individual area has the potential to overcome other less successful areas.
For instance, everyone can agree that a huge pass rush would take a great deal of pressure off the secondary.
On the other side of the ball, the importance of McCoy's play would surely be lessened if Kolb turns out to be "all that and a bag of chips."
8. Can Brandon Graham and Darryl Tapp elevate the pass rush?
Offseason activity highlighted that Andy Reid and Howie Roseman clearly saw a need to upgrade the pass rush. They traded with Seattle to acquire Darryl Tapp and paid a small ransom to move up in the draft to select Brandon Graham.
Tapp has specialized in getting to the quarterback, but not necessarily bringing him down. He
The key attribute that made Graham most attractive to the Eagles is that he has a "non-stop motor." Like Trent Cole, he will relentlessly work towards his goal of getting to the qb until the whistle blows.
Persistence pays. Besides wearing down blockers, eventually a dogmatic, max effort approach can find the crack to make a big play.
The Eagles hope that they two can help elevate the pass rush to be a game changing force. A nugget of prevailing wisdom in the NFL has long been that "it all starts up front."
Simply put, big-time pressure by the defensive line minimizes the need to gamble with blitz packages and suddenly makes all the other defenders on the field a little bit better.
Will Reid and Roseman's blitz to bag Graham and Tapp sack an obvious weakness from last season?
Thursday, June 10, 2010
20 Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies May 29, 2010
With the newspaper ink barely dry on Braden's big day, Philadelphia Phillies ace pitcher Roy Halladay added his name to the hallowed list. Coming off his worst performance of the season and surrounded by a slumping team, Halladay made one unearned run stand up by setting every Marlins hitter down in order.
The lanky right-hander overpowered the Marlins primarily with his signature heavy, sinking fastball. Halladay pounded the edges of the strike zone inside and out, while occasionally mixing in breaking balls.
The former Blue Jays star, who was acquired by the Phillies in the offseason in a much celebrated trade, needed 115 pitches to secure the masterpiece. He set down eight hitters by ground ball and the same number via fly ball, while striking out 11 for the game.
Similar to pitchers such as Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson, Halladay possesses the demeanor, command and overall stuff that made him a candidate to accomplish such a remarkable feat. He is arguably the game's best pitcher with a 155-79 record and 3.37 ERA over his first 13 seasons.
In just his second major league start, Halladay came within one out of a no-hitter before the Tigers' Bobby Higginson jacked a home run to spoil it. This time around, Halladay was up to the task to add another great accomplishment to his sparkling resume.
The Final Word
Over the course of 130 years— from Lee Richmond of the Worcester Ruby Legs to Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies— there have been a grand total of 20 pitchers to achieve perfection.
It is surely an exclusive club with a very clear requirement for entry. Having two players sign on in the month of May is truly extraordinary, particularly considering that as many as 34 years have passed between occurrences.
Interestingly, half of the perfect games have featured two or less runs— six with just one run. Perhaps the low run support causes pitchers to maintain greater focus, almost forcing them towards perfection.
Fortunately for Halladay, the Phillies scratched out an unearned run on Saturday— or this club's list might be at 19 and holding.
7. Will the loss of Sheldon Brown cripple the defense?
An undeniable aspect of human nature is that often times people are not fully appreciated until they are gone. My hunch is that this will be the case with Sheldon Brown.
Brown lined up every week and competed hard. He also operating mostly just under the radar in terms of official recognition as he is less flashy than good.
Trading him away to Cleveland for a draft pick might prove to be problematic. Ellis Hobbs is penciled in to take his spot, but he was already a notch below before suffering a serious neck injury that ended his 2009 season.
A key element to enable the Eagles Jim Johnson signature attacking defense is corners capable of handling receivers in single coverage. A weak link at corner undermines the whole scheme and leads to big gainers.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
6. Will Stewart Bradley shore up the linebacking corps?
Last year's linebacking corps was in a constant state of flux— both from game to game and from play to play.
Rookie Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott perpetually rotated personnel in an attempt to cover player limitations and in anticipation of the offensive play call. This became tantamount to announcing the defensive scheme.
The Cowboys routinely exploited this in the final two games. Tony Romo would often audible based on the defensive personnel to expose player weaknesses.
Prior to suffering a season ending knee injury last summer, Stewart Bradley was emerging as a scheme diverse linebacker capable of stuffing the run, but agile enough to drop into coverage.
An uncompromised, productive Bradley would go a long way towards reducing predictability and improving the overall defense.
19 Dallas Braden, Oakland Athletics May 9, 2010
Like Jim Bunning 16 seasons earlier, Dallas Braden tossed his gem on a personally highly meaningful day— Mother's Day. The Oakland A's left-hander lost his mother to cancer as a teenager and was raised by his grandmother, who happened to be in the stands to witness his historic achievement.
Braden's feat came against the same Tampa Bay Rays team that suffered a perfect game at the hands of Buehrle less than a year earlier. The 2010 edition, though, came into the game as the hottest team in baseball, sporting a major league best 22-8 record.
Apparently, the Rays do not match up well against crafty lefties as Braden deploys a very similar pitching style to that of Buehrle. The only major difference this time around was that there were no ninth inning histrionics. The closest the Rays got to a hit was Jason Bartlett's line-out to open the game.
The young pitcher is just 18-26 at this point in his career, but has demonstrated continual improvement over his four years in the "Bigs." Based on his Mother's day performance, the future looks bright for the 26-year old pitcher.
18 Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox July 23, 2009
While Johnson was perhaps a perfect game waiting to happen, Mark Buehrle is not equipped quite the same way. The Chicago White Sox hurler does not possess dominant stuff, but instead relies on great command and precision to be effective.
Although he has enjoyed a fine career mixing up his wide array of pitches, Buehrle deploys a pitch-to-contact style that leans heavily on his fielders behind him. And, in last season's perfect game, the White Sox lefty benefited from a spectacular, home run robbing catch by center fielder DeWayne Wise to preserve the masterpiece in the ninth.
Overall, Buehrle eased his way through the game against a hard hitting Tampa Bay Rays team until the dramatic play in the final frame. He retired 11 via ground ball, 10 via fly ball, and 6 via strikes.
Just two seasons earlier, Buehrle tossed a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers. Coincidentally, the same home plate umpire (Eric Cooper) called both games, so hitters might not be thrilled to see him donning a chest protector when Buehrle takes the mound down the road.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Tonight, one of the most hyped rookies in major league history launches his career. Stephen Strasburg makes his big league debut for the Washington Nationals when he takes the ball to pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The attention and interest focused on him is unprecedented. Besides playing in front of a capacity crowd in the nation's capital, the MLB Network will broadcast the game nationally with their "A" team of Bob Costas, Jim Kaat, and John Smoltz calling the action.
After being chosen with the first pick in last year's draft, Strasburg has dazzled in the minor's, displaying the dominant stuff that has had the baseball world buzzing since early in his college career. While scouts and baseball pundits drooled over him, the Nats had the courage to select the Scott Boras represented prospect and pony up a record four year, $15.1 million contract.
And, make no mistake, the hulking right-hander looks and acts the part. The 21-year old phenom stands 6' 4" tall with a solid 220 pound frame capable of registering triple digits on the radar gun.
Besides his explosive 100-mph fastball, Strasburg possesses a classic, hard-breaking curve ball and a change-up that has already been labeled a "Lincecum" as its deceptiveness rivals that of the signature pitch of the Giants two-time defending Cy Young Award winner. And, importantly, the rookie displays a demeanor and command more typical of an accomplished veteran hurler.
Rave Reviews and Spectacular Results
In an age of combine stats and radar guns, Strasburg has been more than a workout warrior and figurative phenom as he has backed up the hype between the white lines with a 7-2 record and 1.30 ERA in his brief minor league career. These numbers are strikingly similar to those he posted at San Diego State over his final two seasons (21-4, 1.43 ERA) on his way to winning the hearts of big league scouts.
He has been so impressive that former bloody sock World Series hero and aspiring politician Curt Schilling recently said that Strasburg could be baseball's best pitcher upon arrival. No pressure or anything.
The unprecedented exhuberance of Schilling and a host of baseball experts seemingly has the Nationals rookie headed to Cooperstown before he has fired his first big league pitch.
Watching Strasburg's spectacular stuff and grounded demeanor, it is easy for many to jump on the band wagon- but there is a considerable distance between tonight's major league debut in DC and the historic New York baseball shrine.
With no intent to diminish the possibility of that happening, there are many obstacles that Strasburg will need to overcome in the process. So what could stand in the way of the upstart pitcher eventually being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame?
With technology, advance scouting, and specialized coaching— Major League Baseball continues to be a game of adjustments. From bullpen binoculars to base coach stop watches to digital video breakdown, every move and idiosyncrasy of a player is meticulously studied.
Teams and hitters will search for weaknesses and clues to help them combat Strasburg's amazing arsenal of pitches. They will look for tendencies and little pitch tipping mechanisms such as where he stands on the rubber, how he grips the ball, and more.
A batter may struggle to hit a curve when guarding against a 100-mph fastball, but might square it up if he is reasonably certain that is what's coming.
Hitters will continually make adjustments to improve their chances. No matter how good his stuff, Strasburg will need to do the same.
Jimmy Rollins and Matt Stairs served up proof positive against Jonathan Broxton in the last two NLCS series that big league hitters can catch-up to the heat. Despite a blazing fastball and sharp hook, maintaining unpredictability will be a key for Strasburg.
Great stuff alone is rarely enough to succeed at the big league level without good command. The baseball history books are littered with hard throwing phenoms that never achieved a success level commensurate with their fan fare.
Perhaps the most famous comparison is the Texas Ranger's top selection in the 1973 draft. David Clyde was a can't miss 18-year old Texan who turned out to be an out and out flop. In his defense, he was immediately rushed to the bigs and never developed any of the fine art of pitching.
Strasburg is older, more seasoned, and seemingly better prepared to enter the major league cauldron, but the Clyde experience highlights that success is not built on electric stuff alone.
3. Priorities/ Overconfidence/ Complacency
A non-stop torrent of accolades and gratuitous special treatment have taken down other promising careers in a number of professional sports. Overconfidence and complacency can surely derail an athlete regardless of his physical tools and superior skills.
Sports Center has unfortunately been filled with stories about fallen stars who have taken bad turns or fallen prey to their own press clippings. Although in no way wanting to taint Strasburg, recently fallen heroes such as Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger have highlighted how their sense of entitlement changed them and led them down an unfortunate path.
Many professional athletes through the years have suffered diminished performance after signing a large contract and perhaps losing the drive that lifted up their market value. Additionally, an abundance of players who started to buy into their own accolades or lost focus to the many distractions surrounding them have dropped back to the pack— or worse.
All indications are that Strasburg has remained grounded and driven despite signing a record contract. It will be important that he surround himself with the right people to help him keep that intact.
As father time takes its toll, it becomes increasingly difficult for an aging pitcher to maintain the same velocity that propelled him early in his career.
There have been some notable exceptions such as Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, but his ability to maintain his overpowering velocity into his 40's is clearly an aberration. Other pitchers such as Roger Clemens who were able to maintain at an advanced age have also been tainted by performance enhancing drugs allegations.
With MLB's clamp down on PED's, Strasburg will have to maintain longevity the old fashioned way. It would be unreasonable to expect that he will be lighting up the JUGS gun with triple digits as his career wears on, so success is going to require the subtle transition to the finer art of pitching.
Many Cooperstown inductees have been able to do just that, relying on improved location, command, and guile. Will Strasburg lean too heavily on his raw skills or continually evolve to make this same transition?
5. Defense Behind Him
A key reason that the Washington Nationals landed Strasburg with last year's top pick is that they were the worst fielding team in the National League (and perhaps all of baseball) in 2008.
Last season, they were clearly the worst in the game— by a long shot. Their 143 errors were 19 more than the next futile team and 48 more than the league average. And, that does not even speak to the number of missed cut-off men, throws to the wrong bases, outs that were played into hits, double plays not turned, etc.
The good news for the rookie pitcher is that he joins a Nats team in 2010 that is improved defensively. The bad news is that they are still the worst statistically in baseball.
In fact, they are on a pace to exceed last season's fielding futility. Again, on the plus side though, the team has clearly improved its range up the middle with Nyjer Morgan, Ian Desmond, and Ivan Rodriguez.
Poor fielding has the potential to drag down the results, if not the overall performance, of an excellent pitcher. Win totals go down and ERA's go up.
Additionally, players not making plays behind a pitcher— especially systemically— can frustrate to the point of lost focus. It has the potential to create a downward spiral of performance.
6. Run Support
Career victories is the statistic most heavily weighted factor for starting pitchers by Hall of Fame voters. Additionally, annual win totals translate into resume building recognitions such as All-Star appearances and Cy Young Awards.
Simply put— lack of run support equals diminished victory totals.
After a strong start offensively, the Nationals currently sit 11th in the NL in runs scored.
Besides playing for a lower scoring ball club, Strasburg might also have to deal with a couple other phenomenon's. Teams often score less behind their top starting pitchers.
Some of that can be attributed to the human psyche that whispers to hitters that this pitcher does not need as many runs. Surely a key part of it, though, is that No. 1 pitchers tend to match up against each other.
This means that in order to register wins, Strasburg will have to be a little bit better than his fellow starters— and a little bit better than the aces he faces.
Help could be on the way with the Nationals selecting Bryce Harper with the first overall pick in last night's draft, although he will need more time to develop than Strasburg. The 17-year old catcher (soon to be outfielder) is being billed as baseball's "LeBron" and figures to anchor the Nats line-up with his prodigious power.
Unless you have a workhorse with superior command like Roy Halladay, today's game necessitates a strong bullpen to win. Roughly 3 percent of games are completed by the starter.
In order to compile big win totals, Strasburg will almost assuredly need to be backed by a solid relief corps. His team's ability to hold and close out a hard earned lead will be instrumental in his own ability to compile the statistics that voters use as a compass.
The Nationals currently sport the major's leader in saves. Matt Capps, who signed a one-year contract in the offseason, has already successfully closed out 18 games. Overall, the club's bullpen has been solid, ranking 10th in baseball with a 3.73 ERA.
With Capps under contract for only 2010, and last year's other first round pick and closer of the future, Drew Storen, already in the bigs— there could be a changing of the guard in the near future.
Storen could make an immediate splash and aid Strasburg. Or, as a similarly young player, he could take his lumps and potentially hurt Strasburg's results.
8. Organizational Handling/ Coaching
Thus far, the Nationals have taken a cautious approach with their rookie phenom despite considerable sentiment that he was major league ready. They have limited innings and pitches while executing a deliberate developmental plan.
How they stick to that once he joins the big club remains to be seen. Part of the discipline they have shown relates to the economics of not triggering the pitcher's arbitration rights.
Once the club finds itself fighting to make the playoffs or when the financial issue is gone, will they take the same cautious route?
And, what guidance and support will Strasburg get from the Nats coaches and staff regarding training, injury prevention, and development?
Lastly, how will the young pitcher be handled? Will he be pulled before he has a chance to undo a strong performance in order to build confidence? Will the pitcher eventually rack up high pitch counts and innings to the point of burn out, or even injury?
Right now, the Nationals are protecting their investment and pushing out the next big pay day. Will their handling of Strasburg change when they shift into trying to extract as much value as they can from a presumably large investment? This is not to say they will mishandle the situation, but surely other organizations have done exactly that with budding stars.
9. Mental Toughness
A Major League Baseball season is a marathon with many ups and downs. The game's top players typically possess a common trait that contributes to that stature— namely mental toughness.
Teams can vacillate from winning streaks to losing skeins without notice. Hitters can transition from "en fuego" to "cold as ice" in one at bat. And, pitchers can go from making getting hitters out look exceedingly easy to hitting the showers early the next time out.
The best players have a way of staying grounded and maintaining an even keel. They also possess the mental toughness to fight through adversity and ultimately get righted.
At this point in his career through college and the minors, Strasburg has faced little, if any, adveristy. The long season and caliber of competition in the big leagues will surely test him. No one can predict how he will respond.
Perhaps the biggest unknown and the largest obstacle will be health. This is especially true for a pitcher pushing the limits, hurling a baseball 60' 6" thousands of times each season.
Shoulders and elbows were not necessarily designed to fire a baseball at maximum velocity and imparting various spins. A large number of athletes at this taxing position have experienced shortened or diminished careers as their bodies have succumbed to the demands of the role.
The Nationals organization has been very cognizant of this reality and have proceeded very carefully with their prized prospect. They will continue to limit his pitch counts and the number of innings that he throws, especially at this stage of his career.
That will help, but it is impossible to predict if, and when, some part of his body might breakdown. The Rangers' Clyde, Athletics' Todd Van Poppel, Orioles' Ben McDonald and Cubs' Mark Prior were top picks that all entered baseball with "can't miss," rave reviews— and all suffered arm ailments that contributed to very disappointing careers.
The Final Word
When Stephen Strasburg takes the mound tonight to launch his major league career, an unprecedented number of eyes will be on him.
Considering that both teams are buried in the standings, it is clear that the sell-out crowd and national television audience are drawn to watch arguably the most celebrated pitching prospect in history.
Curiosity to see how this extraordinary young player fares against major league competition is tremendously abundant. Many believe that they will be witnessing the launch of a Hall of Fame career.
By all accounts, it appears that Strasburg has the talent.
In order to realize his perceived potential, though, the pitcher will need to personally navigate many possible roadblocks— and get some help along the way.
5. Will winning leaders emerge?
With the offseason make-over, the Eagles became one of the youngest teams in the NFL. They also jettisoned three more leaders from the most prosperous era in team history with the departures of McNabb, Westbrook, and Sheldon Brown.
In the recent past, the club also lost other key leaders such as Dawkins, Jon Runyan, and Tra Thomas. That pretty much makes a clean sweep of the veteran leadership during that period.
Now, discussions center on Kolb, Brent Celek, Stewart Bradley, and DeSean Jackson stepping into leadership roles. It remains to be seen whether they can pull that off— and if they will model and elicit behavior that fosters a winning culture.
Kolb had been quiet and nondescript publicly in his clipboard toting days, but current players have praised his presence on the field.
Celek and Bradley seem to have the make-up and talent to gain followership.
Although Reid has given him a vote of confidence, Jackson appears more likely to become a T.O.-like diva than the next Brian Dawkins. Recent comments and actions seem to suggest that Jackson's current priorities might be finances, stats, and winning— in that order.
Leadership is critical for success in the tough and competitive NFL world. Only time will tell how this evolves with the current roster.