NY Sports Dog: Late Bloomers

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Late Bloomers

My good friend Andy the Lawyer penned an excellent article about "Late Bloomers" and makes a great point about our current outfield.


I started this piece on Tatis a week ago, but it seems even downright prescient now, after he's hit homeruns in consecutive games.

When Tatis was 24, he hit 34 HR and drove in 107 RBI, with a 139 OPS+, for the Cardinals. Despite that, he was never given 500 at-bats in a season ever again, and by 2008 he was a minor leaguer who hadn't played in the majors in two years, a guy generally not expected to do anything and who many complained about getting a call up when he came up to fill in due to injuries.

Suddenly, he has become a key part of the Mets offense, slugging away at a .306/.361/.479 clip with 6 HR and 24 RBI going into today's game, when he went 3 for 4 with a HR, 2 doubles, and 2 more RBI.

The question for Mets fans is, "what do we really have in Tatis?" Is he simply a guy on a hot streak, or has he "got it" at the youthful age of 33?

The tendency in baseball circles is to assume that anyone who is ever going to be a good player will do so by 25 years old or so (maybe longer in the case of pitchers, especially lefties). I think that comes from the way scouts assess prospects, based on how old they are at which levels. And the truth is, if you are going to have a hall-of-fame career, you better get started by 24 years old, since its basically required if you are going to hit the accumulation milestones required for the Hall. But so-called "late bloomers" are seen ALL THE TIME in baseball, baseball "experts" just pretend that it doesn't happen.

Remember Rick Reed? To call Reed a "journeyman" when he came to the Mets would have been charitable. In 1997 he was 32 years old, blackballed as a scab for playing during the strike, a guy with a total of 266.4 innings pitched in a 8 season career. His prior two years, he had only 8 appearances with a 5.90 ERA.

He then proceeded to be a dependable #2 starter, generally one of the best pitchers in baseball over the next two years, and had 2 all-star game appearances in 4.5 seasons as a Met. His career numbers at Shea, when all was said and done, were 467.2 innings pitched to a sterling 3.14 ERA, with only 426 hits and 70 walks allowed, versus 346 strikeouts. He was a great Met.

And I'm sure we all remember Carl Everett, who only showed flashes of power (and temper) as a Met but whose offensive game didn't really come around until his 7th MLB season, in Houston (the temper stayed, sadly).

And I don't think you can't chalk up those examples to the steroids era, as it still happens today. How about Ryan Ludwick? After hitting .220 in both 2004 and 2005 (and not getting a MLB at bat in 2006) he winds up in St. Louis, and in 2008, at 29 years old, he's got 23 HR and 70 RBI at just beyond the halfway point.

Expecting Tatis to play 3 more years at this pace is foolhardy - I'm not advocating signing him to a long-term contract based on 150 at-bats. But is it unreasonable to think that, for this year, he's our best bet to get power out of an outfield position? Its not crazy to imagine that this burst isn't an "illusion" as much as a veteran guy finally figuring out how to hit a bit better.

His .840 OPS+ this year is better than Raul Ibanez, Ken Griffey Jr., and most of the other options folks discuss as potential trade targets (Jason Bay is better, though).

If Church is done for the year, the comparisons are moot, since there will be plenty of at-bats for Tatis. But if he comes back, its not clear that giving Tatis' at-bats to Raul Ibanez isn't a downgrade for this team.

-- Andy

Zemanta Pixie

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails