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Wagnerian Opera
2003-11-10 13:34
by Mike Carminati

From am email from the LP:

I got a question fer ya - Why no mention of the Wagner trade? You must love the trade, correct? I don't think Ducky's gonna make it as a starter. The kids they gave up, esp Bucholtz, may someday be a good pitcher, but it's worth the chance. Think about it - the Phils now have a legitimate closer. And he's relatively young!

However - it won't do them much good if they don't go out and get a good quality starter. I want to see a trade for Vasquez or Schill. They go middle of the road, and I don't care WHO the closer is.

Yo me lo respondi:

I do love the trade. Wagner is one of the truly useful closers in the game and he is coming off one of his best seasons (and the 86 innings were a career high). The Phils gave up a player they had already given up on (Duckworth), a 25-year-old prospect who was still in Single-A [actually 24 in Ezequiel Astacio], and decent pitching prospect [Taylor Buchholz, 9-11 with a 3.55 ERA at Double-A Reading at age 22 in 2003]. It's Millwood Pt II. The Phils are picking up bargains now that they are swimming against the payroll-downsizing current.

But you are equally right in saying that it won't mean squat if the Phils can't cobble together a decent rotation. I think they took a step back in this department last year. Millwood started off on a high (the no-no), went downhill quickly, and probably won't be back. Wolf and Myers ended up with mediocre at best seasons and terrible second halves. Padilla ended up basically the same pitcher as 2002 (which is a good thing). Duckworth was abysmal. Telemaco was surprisingly mediocre (and I mean that in a good way) in replacing Duckworth. For a team whose rotation fell apart in the second half, the Phils tried very few changes (quickly dropping Roa and swapping Telemaco for Duckworth) either out of incompetence or as a vote of confidence in the young rotation.

Whatever the reason, their rotation is now Wolf, Myers, Padilla, possibly Telemaco, and at least one starter to be named. That rotation doesn't really scare anyone. They may have a young core on a par with the Braves at the beginning of the Nineties or they may have a bunch of, at best, number three starters. Given the Phils history dating back to Jim Wright, LC, and Randy Lerch, and the second-half flailings, the latter may be more likely.

They will need an established starter at the top of the rotation to appease the fans enough to get them to come out in droves to the new ballpark, their sole desire. Schilling seemed a strong possibility but now reports have him going to a number of other places and the Phils are rarely mentioned. Vazquez may be problematic given that a high-visibility trade within the division by the MLB-owned Expos will draw some criticism. Besides the Expos reportedly won't have a budget or know where they will play until December, so they may not be able to address player issues until well into spring training or after the season starts.

Something should shake out since the Phils have the cash and a deep organization that they will not be afraid to plunder. Given that this offseason promises to be ever more wacky than last year's in which Johnny Estrada for Kevin Millwood could possibly make sense, anything can happen. The Phils will have to exploit the opportunity. If Wade and Arbuckle are worth their salt, they should. I still view the Phils' brass like the country viewed the Nixon presidency (during his tenure, not after the post-death revisionism): I am leery of anything they do because their goals (making money) are clearly not in sync with mine (To field the best team in Philly). The last twenty years of running this team as a small-market club demonstrate that. Hopefully our goals will come into alignment long enough for the Phils to field a playoff-caliber team. Let's hope.

Let's say I'm not sanguine, but the Phils did pull off one heckofa trade. Some scouts say that Duckworth could still turn into the prospect everyone thought he could be. He will be 28 next season and does own a 4.87 ERA in two and one-half major-league seasons.

I thought it would be interesting to compare his stats as a 27-year-old to the historical record to determine his chances of turning his career around. Through 2002, there had been 3044 27-year-old pitchers with career ERAs over 4.50. Of those only 34 won 100 or more games. Here they are, with totals through 28 and then career ones:

Red Ruffing4.50851232983.80273225624
Dazzy Vance4.5208203.24197140442
Mike Cuellar5.0955343.14185130453
Chick Fraser4.8945861423.68175212433
Red Donahue4.6169951833.61165175368
Jamie Moyer4.5134491334.14164125439
Rube Walberg5.18816564.16155141544
Bruce Hurst4.5942461463.92145113379
Rip Sewell12.660053.4814397390
Bobby Witt4.6359591604.83142157430
Bert Cunningham4.64731122014.22142167341
Mike Morgan4.8433621354.23141186597
Gerry Staley5.4254493.70134111640
Al Leiter4.731716703.66130103326
Bob Purkey5.10515523.79129115386
Preacher Roe13.500013.4312784333
Mike Scott4.641427843.54124108347
Thornton Lee4.8922273.56117124374
Kid Carsey4.981181372944.95116138294
Bob Tewksbury4.841121543.92110102302
Denny Galehouse4.7034391443.97109118375
Bill Dietrich5.3650692394.48108128366
Fred Frankhouse4.6741311533.9210697402
Whit Wyatt5.2327451973.7910695360
Bob Walk4.682421744.0310581350
Fred Norman5.5145773.64104103403
Roy Face5.041115833.4810495848
Ray Herbert5.4413221214.01104107407
George Pipgras4.81117464.0910273276
Sam Jones6.2524163.59102101322
Alex Kellner4.5851601544.41101112321
Ray Benge5.262133884.52101130346
Lefty Stewart4.691520614.1910198279
Johnny Klippstein4.5740612324.24101118711

There are some fairly successful pitchers in the list. Among them is former Phil Bob Walk, the prototypical number three starter. Walk never had nearly the stuff of Duckworth, but equally Walk's career would be a best-case scenario for Duckworth.

There are a good deal of soft tossers who took time to develop, but Leiter, Vance, Witt, Scott, Hurst, and Sam Jones struck out their fair share. So maybe they are better models for Duckworth and all of them enjoyed some success. However, any group that whose best members have a collective ERA of 3.91 and a .514 winning percentage, as this group does, is not one that a pitcher wants to be a member of. It would not be unprecedented for Duckworth to turn his career around, but then again, the odds are really not in his favor either.

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