Talking Baseball

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Posted by Ben K. on Sunday, February 22, 2004

Now Pitching for the Astros...

I pride myself on being a member of the media. I've been working on school newspapers for the past seven years, and I feel as thought I know a little something about the world of journalism. That being said, I'm not going to argue about Mike's last post. He's completely correct in labeling members of the medias mediots. I'm going to try to explain this phenomenon.

When a reporter gets a story assignment, he or she has to go out and find the story. "Cover the Astros," says the editor. It's then up to the reporter to find the interesting news coming out of the Astros' camp. Today, the interesting news, as reported by the Associated Press, is that Jimy Williams has common sense. He has decided to name Roy Oswalt as Houston's Opening Day starter. This, I contend, is not really news worthy of any story.

Now, wait a second, you might say to me, what about Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte? The Astros went out and signed two high-profile pitchers. Wouldn't one of these well-established pitchers be a better choice than the often-injured 26-year-old Oswalt? The reason this story, in my opinion, isn't news, is because the answer is clearly no.

Let's look at Andy Pettitte first. On the surface, Pettitte had a great season last year. He was 21-8 for an explosive New York Yankees team. While his ERA was 4.02, he enjoyed a ridiculous amount of run support. He gave up 21 home runs last season, as compared to 6 home runs in 80 fewer innings in 2002. He sported a respectable WHIP of 1.33, yet his opponents hit .272 off him last season. Most telling, however, is the fact that his RAA (as calculated by Baseball Prospectus) was 0, meaning he gave up the average number of runs by American League standards last year.

Next up, Roger Clemens. Last season, Roger was 17-9 with a 3.91 ERA. His WHIP was 1.21 and opponents hit only .247 off of him. He did surrender 24 home runs, a three-year high. Remember, the home run stats are important because he (and Pettitte) will be pitching in Minute Maid Park, a stadium, surprisingly enough, on par with Yankee Stadium. In other words, Clemens and Pettitte will both give up a lot of home runs, but no more than a natural progression from the last few seasons would indicate. Clemens' RAA was 11; he was responsible for 11 fewer runs than the league average.

Finally, Roy Oswalt. Last year, Oswalt was plagued by a groin injury that limited him to 21 starts. Yet, he threw well despite this injury and had surgery in the off-season to correct the problem. He was 10-5 with a 2.97 ERA. He had a WHIP of 1.14, and NL opponents hit .246 against him. With an RAA of 17, he was responsible for 17 fewer runs than the league average. Furthermore, when the Astros needed him most last year, he pitched lights-out ball. Returning in September from his injury, he went 4-0, giving up only 6 earned runs in 27 innings.

So what, then, do we see? First, having Andy Pettitte start Opening Day makes about as much sense as Ralph Nader running for president. His numbers last season show him to be merely average with a lot of run support. While I am a big fan of Andy, the Astros may be in for a surprise if they don't give him the run support he enjoyed on the Yankees.

It comes down to a battle between Oswalt and Clemens. Oswalt, in my opinion, is a no-brainer, however. He gave up a run less per 9 innings than Clemens did, and he had a lower WHIP by a significant margin. Oswalt is young, and Williams needs him to front that rotation for a long time. Giving him the confidence by making him the number 1 guy over two established veterans is a much smarter move than going with the Hall of Famer during the twilight of his career.

Finally, there's one more part of this story worth mentioning. Williams has announced that Pettitte will pitch second. With Clemens in the picture, Pettitte should be number 3 in the rotation. Yet, he's going with Pettitte second; that's the inexplicable part. Maybe it's because Clemens is sort of retired, but I doubt that. Andy Pettitte was the marquis signing this off-season, and he'll be around longer than Clemens. I guess Williams is going to show that he has faith in Pettitte to be a number 2 guy. I'm not so sure of that.

Now, why is this news? It's news because Clemens and Pettitte aren't starting Opening Day. It's not news because Oswalt should start Opening Day. Anyone who knows anything about the Astros and their triumvirate of pitchers would be hard-pressed to disagree with Jimy Williams' decision. It's only the Associated Press trying to create a controversy as they pit Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte against the young and supremely talented Roy Oswalt.

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