THE LAST TOMKO IS COMIN’ DOWN THE LINE
Yesterday, the intrepid Peter Abraham reported that Brett Tomko was bitter about being designated for assignment:
“I don’t think I got a fair shot,” he said. “I pitched great in spring training and didn’t make the team. I pitched great in the minors, got called up and didn’t get much of a chance. I understand other guys are pitching great. But it could have been different. I can’t see the point in coming back.”
In response, Joe Girardi said, “A lot of it was circumstances… We played a lot of tight games and we went with the guys we were using in those innings. It’s tough sometimes because you want to use everyone and get everyone innings.”
This was very gracious of Joe; I imagined him saying something more like Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup in “A Few Good Men”:
“I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said ‘thank you,’ and went on your way.”
Tomko might very well have said “thank you” to Girardi and Brian Cashman for giving any chance at all to a 36-year-old with who had not posted an ERA under 4.48 since 2004 and had an ERA of 5.07 and a record of 22-41 over his previous four seasons. Tomko has never been a good pitcher, and that he had 14 good innings at Scranton is meaningless when held against the nearly 1800 innings of his big-league career.
As rarely as Tomko pitched, there was good reason for Girardi’s reluctance to use him: you can’t have a reliever who gives up more than two home runs for every nine innings pitched. Close games get un-close in a real hurry and bad games get worse. Tomko can’t even blame Yankee Stadium II for his longball problems, as four out of five cannonades came on the road. Such results would seem to call for more humility. That’s not Tomko’s way–his career will be remembered more for tiffs with Jack McKeon, Don Gullett, Lou Piniella, and Felipe Alou than for his pitching.
MEANWHILE, THE COMPETITION II
In talking about the Adam LaRoche trade to the Red Sox, I forgot to take into consideration Rocco Baldelli as a right-handed alternative to J.D. Drew, but fortunately the Red Sox made another deal so I get to revisit the fellows from the Fens.
Theo Epstein’s second deal of Wednesday involved dumping shortstop Julio Lugo, who had been designated for assignment. Lugo sometimes hits well for a middle infielder, but doesn’t always–see his utter disappearance as a member of the Dodgers and Red Sox during the second half of 2006 and all of 2007–but he doesn’t give his team enough offense to make up for the fact that he’s a mediocre fielder.
Lugo still makes for a good pickup for the Cardinals because they’re locked in a tight race in a slack division (or maybe that’s a slack race in a tight division) and any little advantage they can claim could make an outsized difference. Due to Khalil Greene’s various problems and the general failure of various substitutes, Cards shortstops are batting only .251/.307/.356. Any good stuff in there was contributed by Brendan Ryan (.294/.328/.382, which is better than nothing without being great), but Ryan can’t be counted on to hit the rest of the way–he’s currently in a pretty good slump right now. A .271/.335/.390 career hitter, Lugo should be able to keep the Cardinals overall production at short on the good side of what they’ve done to date.
The Red Sox are picking up the rest of Lugo’s contract, which runs through the end of next season. In return, the Sox get a player they can’t really use right now, outfielder Chris Duncan, brother of Shelley. A left-handed power hitter who hasn’t hit for power since having back surgery (if not before), Duncan is a defensive disaster in the outfield, so even if he were to start hitting Terry Francona would have a hard time figuring out where to place him. He’s headed for Pawtucket right now, and he needs it–over the last two seasons, Duncan has played 163 games, or just over one full season, and he’s hit .237/.337/.361 with 11 home runs in 482 at-bats. A corner outfielder who does that is flirting with professional extinction.
20-GAME WATCH: ATHLETICS AT YANKEES
W-L RS/G RA/G AVG OBP SLG AB/HR SB CS HR/9 BB/9 K/9
A’s 9-11 5.0 4.6 .297 .354 .439 37 21 7 1.1 3.9 7.9
Yankees 15-5 5.4 4.6 .281 .370 .463 24 8 10 1.2 3.5 6.9
The numbers above make the A’s look like a better offensive team than they are; they’re distorted by their just-completed series with the Twins in which they twice scored in double figures. The A’s hit .376/.444/.573 in those three games, .281/.336/.412 in the other 17 games in our sample. That’s still a nice uptick from the team’s seasonal rates of .250/.321/.378. I credit the surge to the team’s sending Jason Giambi to the disabled list with a critical case of not being able to play baseball.
Despite the recent flurry of hitting, the main thing this A’s team has going for it is a young pitching staff which has exceeded expectations. If the Nationals had gotten this kind of performance out of their staff of randomly selected 22-year-olds, they’d be a borderline contender in the NL East. The A’s have the opposite problem, not enough hitting to support a surprisingly effective group. Thanks to the four-game series, the Yankees will get to sample the entire rotation with the exception of Trevor Cahill. New Jersey native Vin Mazzaro goes tonight (weather permitting), and he’s going to have problems in YS II–although his fastball reputedly sinks, he’s been pitching like a scary fly ball type and giving up home runs, with four balls leaving the yard in his last 14 innings, which is a rate that would frighten even Tomko.
Friday’s starter, lefty Brett Anderson, came to the A’s as part of the Dan Haren trade (ah, Dan Haren). Just 21, Anderson is a fastball-slider-occasional curve/change guy who throws in the low 90s and up. He’s taken a step forward in his last five starts, going 4-1 with a 1.15 ERA (including a shutout of the Red Sox). Opposing batters have hit .150/.216/.187 with no home runs in those starts. The Yankees have faced some very good pitchers in the last month–John Lannan, Josh Johnson, Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe, Jarrod Washburn, Roy Halladay, Jared Weaver, John Lackey, Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson–Anderson is a challenge worthy of that group.
Lefty Gio Gonzalez was acquired from the White Sox as part of a package for Nick Swisher. He’s a fastball-curveball guy who was a first-round supplemental pick back in 2004, which suggests that scouts saw great promise in him. Certainly his career minor league strikeout rate of 10.3 per nine innings bears out that evaluation. Gonzalez brought the strikeout rate with him to the Majors, but his control stayed in the sticks. He’s walked 6.2 per nine innings in his brief career, which is the prime reason, along with a Tomko-licious
16 home runs in 61 innings, that he has an 8.41 ERA. He allowed four home runs in just 2.2 innings to the Twins in his most recent start.
Finally, 25-year-old Dallas Braden, a veteran on this staff, goes Sunday. Braden is your standard low-velocity lefty, and he’s a fly ball guy too. Despite the latter tendency, he doesn’t allow many home runs, but some of that may be due to park effects. His changeup makes him very tough on his fellow lefties–they’re hitting just .174/.225/.223 off of him this year. Joe Girardi doesn’t really have a good righty platoon bat on his bench, but if he did, Sunday would be a good day to play him. Maybe Shelley Duncan is free that afternoon…