Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Camping Out
2007-08-27 10:40
by Phil Bencomo

If you found the weekend quiet around here, know that I was enjoying quiet of my own -- camping with the family at Starved Rock.

The majority of campsites weren't flooded, ours included, but the Illinois River was:


* * * *

The way the Brewers are playing, they'll be lucky to finish the season above .500. 9-21 over their last 30, and just swept by San Francisco ... the Cubs had better take advantage and give themselves some breathing room.

Now if only the Cardinals would cooperate...

* * * *

Number of the day: 54.

As in the percentage of people (as of 11:30 CT) who believe Mark Prior's role is that of a starting pitcher. 3466 votes have been cast.

Which leads me to wonder: What sort of people vote in these online polls? A majority, not merely a plurality, of voters envision Prior as some sort of feel-good Disney character, beating all odds -- and past injuries -- to make a triumphant return to the starting rotation and lead the Cubs to sweet, sweet postseason glory.

Come on now, people.

It's time to face reality. The man can't do it anymore, plain and simple. It happens to all ballplayers, some sooner than others; skills diminish, roles change. Kerry Wood finally came to terms with himself and his capabilities, and he reached the conclusion that Prior should come to. Polls like the linked above only fuel Prior's fantasies; only 15.8% voted "bullpen."

But perhaps I'm selling the voting masses short. The poll does not specify a league -- even a sport -- when it asks, "What should Mark Prior's role be?" So perhaps the public has wisely determined that Prior's only hope of starting again is in a slow-pitch softball league, where he can lob the ball underhand without fear of shoulder and/or elbow damage.

But I doubt Prior will fall so far. The Cubs will follow the Kerry Wood regimen: Sign him to a one-year deal, get him healthy, and then stick him in the bullpen. The Cubs have invested so much time and money that I can't imagine the team will do anything but hold on to him. The opportune time to shed Prior passed years ago; if he amounts to anything, it will be as a reliever. For that reason alone, the Cubs should, and probably will, try him out of the bullpen, making it clear that failure means the end of his career with the Cubs.

* * * *

No game today. The Cubs start a three-game set with Milwaukee tomorrow, and Alfonso Soriano will be back in the lineup.

2007-08-27 11:27:40
1.   Sandus
What's to say Prior can't start again? Obviously recent history says otherwise, but Chris Carpenter bounced back from a similar surgery and came out better than he started.

Yes, it's a long shot. But when you think about it, where else is he going to go? He's never really been a power pitcher. Prior is a control pitcher, and historically control pitchers don't fare well in the bullpen (with some notable exceptions). If he's healthy, he SHOULD be a starter.

All this hinges around the fact of whether or not he's going to be healthy and he's going to be the same person next season. If he is, then why not make him a starter?

2007-08-27 13:02:23
2.   Phil Bencomo
If he's healthy, the concern should be on keeping him healthy, something he hasn't been able to do as a starter.

So even if Prior does become the second coming of Carpenter, his injury history -- and mechanics ( -- suggest more arm trouble in the future. At least as a reliever he can minimize the risk of repeated injury with far fewer innings and pitches.

Whether or not he'll be a successful reliever is another question. But if he comes back with good stuff -- that itself being very iffy -- I don't see why he wouldn't be able to make it work.

But regardless, the key is keeping him on the field, which a move to the bullpen will only help. As a starter... well, there's a reason pitchers move to the bullpen after arm injuries.

2007-08-28 00:59:06
3.   Sandus
While I agree with what you say about keeping him healthy, I just think that he has no value in the bullpen.

Keeping Kerry Wood in the bullpen keeps him healthy (or it's supposed to), but makes him virtually expendable. Wood was always the kind of pitcher who starts shaky and then hits a groove and tears a team up for the next 6-7 innings. Prior was similar in that he'd usually have one shaky inning (though you never knew when it was coming) and then he'd find or regain his control and be lights out for the game.

When you move a pitcher into the pen, you force him to find that lights out part right away, and most starters have real trouble doing that.

Likewise, if you put him in the pen, you waste his talent (assuming he has it left). I always say that, with the exception of closers or future closers, if a relief pitcher were any good, he wouldn't actually be a relief pitcher. If a pitcher is good enough to start, then he'll start, regardless of whether or not you're afraid he'll get hurt. Look at guys like Rich Harden, Ben Sheets, and A.J. Burnett. Nobody says "let's move those guys to the pen so they're less likely to get hurt." In fact, it's the exact opposite--"this guy is going to anchor our rotation and let's pray that he doesn't get hurt again."

I know it seems heartless, but baseball teams are in the business of winning games, not keeping players safe. You put your players in a position that gives you the best chance to win games, and if that involves crossing your fingers over 200 innings, then so be it.

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