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A Tale Of Two (Or More) Pitchers

Yes, this post is going to be about Carlos Silva. Before you take out the pitchforks and torches, at least read it and consider. Here are two pitching lines, both pretty awful.

Pitcher A

W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP 3 7 .300 6.54 22 20 1 0 115.2 134 89 84 14 70 84 63 1.764

Pitcher B

W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP 4 15 .211 6.46 28 28 0 1 153.1 213 114 110 20 32 69 65 1.598

Which one would you want on your team? Yes, I know in a perfect world the correct answer is "neither one", but consider carefully before you go past the jump to find out who these guys are.

If you've been paying attention this offseason -- and it should be obvious from the photo on this post -- Pitcher B is Carlos Silva's 2008 season. (I quoted that instead of 2009, because Silva was hurt most of 2009 -- and may have been in 2008 also.)

Pitcher A is the 2003 season for... Ryan Dempster, who was having his second straight awful season after looking very promising in 2000 for the Marlins. Turned out, of course, that Dempster was injured; Jim Hendry plucked him off the scrap heap and he has been a good closer and starting pitcher for the Cubs, now going into his seventh season on the North Side.

Yes, I know there are many differences between the two situations. Dempster was 26, about to turn 27, when the Cubs acquired him; Silva will be 31 in April. Dempster came at the minimum salary (though he was making over $3 million with the Reds before that), Silva comes with a high price tag. And yet, Dempster, who all 29 other teams passed on when the Reds released him, has had a productive career. Not convinced yet? Would you have signed this guy?

W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP 1 12 .077 6.42 32 19 1 1 123.1 171 93 88 11 45 93 67 1.751

Pretty awful, right? You'd dump the scout who recommended him, right? Congratulations, you just passed on Glendon Rusch, who put up those horrible numbers for the 2003 Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs signed him four days after he was released by the Rangers at the end of spring training 2004, and he posted two decent years for the Cubs in 2004 and 2005 as a swingman, before having an awful 2006 (probably caused by a blood clot which risked his life, not just his baseball career).

A converse example -- here are the numbers that a Cubs pitcher put up in the 1980's:

W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP 5 5 .500 5.17 19 14 2 1 92.1 123 57 53 7 23 43 75 1.581

A guy like that couldn't help your staff, right? Look at that pathetic strikeout total! You'd release him or let him go to free agency, right?

Congratulations again. You have just let Rick Reuschel go after his 1984 season -- which is exactly what the Cubs did. Dallas Green never did like Reuschel; he left both Reuschel and Rich Bordi off the '84 playoff roster, instead putting his old Philly buddy Dick Ruthven on the roster. The Cubs could have used both Reuschel and Bordi in the NLCS. Ruthven didn't throw a single postseason inning for the Cubs. By doing so, you missed him putting up five more solid years for the Pirates and Giants, including a 14-win season for the 1985 Pirates in which he finished fourth in the NL with a 2.27 ERA, a 1987 combined year between the Pirates and Giants in which he led the NL with a 1.097 WHIP, finished third in Cy Young voting and helped the Giants to a playoff berth, a 1988 season when he won 19 games and a 17-win season in 1989 in which he finished eighth in Cy Young voting and was the winning pitcher in the decisive Game 5 of the 1989 NLCS ... against the Cubs.

Here's the point to this exercise, and I know statistically-minded people are going to say that I'm cherry-picking individual seasons and that there are plenty of other examples of guys who were as bad as Carlos Silva was the last two years... and who continued to be bad, or were simply out of baseball because they were so bad.

However, Carlos Silva, at his "best" -- and I do use the word "best" advisedly -- was a serviceable fifth starter-type for the Twins in 2004, 2005 and 2007. (His 2006 season was admittedly just about as bad as 2008 and 2009.) He doesn't walk people. Often, pitchers who come from the better-hitting American League (league 2009 triple-slash: .267/.336/.428, compared to the NL's .259/.331/.409) do better, at least until the league has seen them once. Call this the "Bronson Arroyo Effect". Silva was injured last year. He was out of shape. The Cubs have already stated they expect him to come to camp in shape.

If he does so, I don't see any reason why we as fans can't give the guy a chance in actual games before we completely dismiss him. If he can get back to his 2007 level, he'll be quite useful. The Cubs have him because of a situation that had to be resolved. Obviously, there's no way you'd pay a guy like that the dollars he is getting, if he were a free agent. But the Cubs used some of the savings in that deal to get a starting center fielder, too.

So put those pitchforks down, and at least let's see what he can do, before completely dismissing Carlos Silva.