My last lament for Anthony

You know, I'm getting very tired of saying the same things about Anthony Reyes, and I know that I'm exhausted with seeing the same performance from him nearly every time out.  With that in mind, I just had to get all of my thoughts regarding the kid out there one last time, and then I do believe that I'm done talking about him.  I'll even do it after the jump so as not to clutter up the diary page for people who would rather just skip the whole damn thing.  I'll warn you ahead of time, it's fairly long.  (That's what she said.)  

Sorry, the new Office DVD set just came out, and I've watched pretty much nothing else the past week.  

A few weeks ago, I posted a diary in which I postulated that it would be a good idea to have Anthony's arm looked at, to see if there are any physical problems to explain what has happened to him as a pitcher.  That didn't happen, and Reyes managed to put together a decent run of pitching, so it looked, at least momentarily, as if he was maybe turning a corner.  Following his last couple of outings, I think it's safe to say that isn't the case.  He has the same problems now that he's had all season, and I don't see any sort of solution coming any time soon.  My solution?  

Trade him.  

That's what I fully expect to happen, and, to be frank, what I'm actually hoping for.  To my way of thinking, there is no way that Anthony Reyes is ever going to be an effective starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals with this coaching staff.  I find this very disheartening, as I think Reyes has it in him to be not just a good pitcher, but a great one.  I really do.  And I'm not going to try and blame all of his problems on Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa alone.  Sometimes, however, situations just don't work out, and I think this is one of those times.  You can be perfectly capable of doing a certain job, you may work for a fine company, and it still may not be a good fit.  It happens.  Unfortunately, I think the Cardinals are in a true no win situation with Reyes, as I think either course of action they take with him is going to lead to regret.  If they trade him, I fully expect some other team, and some other coaching staff, to get him back to where he needs to be, and the Cards will have another Dan Haren situation, and they'll wish to god he were still pitching here.  If they keep him, I don't think he's ever going to live up to what he could have been, and the team will regret having gotten nothing of any real value out of him.  Damned if you do, damned if you don't.  So how did it come to this?  

I was reading through last night's game thread this morning, and I saw all sides of the issue presented.  First, there was the question of whether or not Reyes had been jerked around any more than either Adam Wainwright or Brad Thompson.  I think the answer to that question is yes.  Not a shouted, resounding yes, but a yes none the less.  The starting rotation competition of last spring training was an absolute farce, one of the most frustrating displays of all of LaRussa's worst attributes at once.  You had his distrust of youth, his dissembling attitude toward the truth, and his inability to admit that the reality of a situation didn't match what he expected on display.  Both Wainwright and Reyes outpitched Sidney Ponson, and yet he was given the job over the two of them for reasons that were'nt clear then, nor really, ever.  Wainwright went to the pen, Anthony back down to the minors, to work on pitching the way they wanted him to.  Really, it all worked out pretty well for both of them; Wainwright got to close out a championship, and Anthony set the tone for the whole thing.  Not to shabby.  

Fast forward to this season.  Both Reyes and Wainwright were installed in the rotation, which is where they should have been, and all seemed right with the world.  The handling of the two was very different after that, though.  When Wainwright struggled early in the year, Tony assured the press that "he's a keeper".  When Anthony struggled, he was criticized for his pitch selection, his preparation, whatever.  Don't get me wrong, Anthony dug himself an awfully big hole, but the attitude toward him was never one that is really conducive toward helping a young player gain confidence.  Now, I will say that both he and Thompson got the shaft, badly, this season when it comes to the way they were handled.  Thompson did the rotation a great service, stepping in and stepping up when things were very bleak, throwing innings, (and decent ones at that) when the bullpen was starting to show signs of collapse and the rotation was a shambles.  Was he used as a starter then, and given the chance to prove he could succeed in that role?  No.  He was throwing out of the bullpen in between starts, with the rationale being that sinkerballers are bettter when they're tired.  Personally, I don't buy it, but it's conventional wisdom, so it must be right.  I realize that we can't definitively assume causality as to the downturn in Thompson't pitching, but it certainly seems to me that he got much worse after he started throwing in between in games.  I don't care if a guy would throw on that day or not; throwing on the side and trying to get major league hitters is not the same thing at all.  As for Anthony, he was skipped in the rotation several times, even early in the season, before his problems got to the point they eventually did.  Just like last night, Anthony hadn't thrown in what, around seven or eight days again, I believe?  It was eight days between starts before that, too, before the game against the Reds when he went 1+.  You have a yound pitcher who is struggling to gain consistency, and the solution is to use him on a pretty much random schedule?  Now, the last little bit here, the Cards have been back in the race, so I can understand the thinking a little more than I could earlier.  But the fact remains that the team's handling of Anthony has been basically the opposite of everything I would hope for if I were drawing up a plan for giving a young player the best possible chance to succeed.  Above all else, as someone in last night's thread so succinctly stated, (I believe it was gdm126, but I'm not going to look right now, so forgive me if I'm wrong) "(Tony and Dave) didn't try to change anyone else's pitches."  So I think that, yes, the handling of all three young pitchers has been suspect at times, but I think Anthony has been handled in a more damaging manner than either of the other two.  

Which brings me to the real crux of the whole thing, in my opinion.  Again, reading the comments in the game thread, both sides of the Anthony Reyes debate were represented.  His boosters tend to speak thusly:  

"If Reyes were free to pitch his way, he would be much more successful."  

"They're asking him to do things he just can't do."  

"The game plan just isn't the right way for Anthony to pitch."  

To which his detractors typically answer with things such as:  

"91 isn't enough to throw by anybody.  The guy doesn't throw 96 mph. I don't get where everyone thinks he's a power pitcher."  

"You ever think the kid just isn't good?  He doesn't seem to have good stuff to me."  

"Reyes just doesn't have an out pitch.  He doesn't have the stuff to dominate with what he currently has, so he needs to either add a pitch or something.  He's just brutal once he gets men on base."  

I hope I did a decent job of characterizing the comments from both sides; they're pretty predictable by now.  The problem is that both sides of the debate are missing the real point.  The pro-Reyes guys say Reyes should pitch his way and everything will be all right, and the anti-Reyes faction responds he doesn't have the stuff to do it.  The truth?  Somewhere in the middle, with the detractors a little closer to the reality.  Anthony does have much better success when he throws the way he prefers to, with more four seam fastballs, offset by the changeup and the occasional curve thing.  At the same time, Anthony doesn't have the repertoire of the kind of pitcher who can just blow hitters away.  When he gets runners on base, he does seem to just absolutely wilt.  The detractors say he's weak mentally, and his backers say Reyes needs to shake off his catcher and go with what he believes in.  Again, I think the truth is a little of both, but I really think Anthony has been put in a bad position here by his coaching staff.  The game plan, particularly with men on, is not one he is going to execute all that well.  He's not in a good position to shake off the catcher and do whatever the hell he wants, though, because it's very clear to everyone that he's not going to be supported if he tries to do things his way.  He's screwed either way.  

The truth of Anthony Reyes' situation is this.  He doesn't have the repertoire of a power pitcher now.  There's a caveat to that statement, though, and it's a doozy.  When Anthony came up, he was that pitcher.  He had the velocity and the movement to blow guys away.  He had command of all his pitches.  His out pitch, his changeup, was rated as one of the best in all of baseball.  This is where the real problem is.  The changes that Reyes has tried to make have robbed him of what he had.  To me, there was a very telling little tidbit in the story of last night's game, courtesy of Edwin Encarnacion:  

"When I was in the Minor Leagues, he was one of the nastier pitchers I ever faced," Encarnacion said. "I guess here, I just see the ball and hit it."  

Now, Encarnacion makes it sound like he just has a better approach up here, but,with all due respect, I think it says far more about what Anthony isn't anymore, rather than anything new that Mr. Encarnacion has discovered.  When he was coming up, Anthony's stuff was regularly described as electric.  He's always been compared to Prior, and the comparisons were pretty favorable.  He didn't have the breaking ball, but his changeup was leaps and bounds better, and a lot of scouts said that Reyes actually threw a little bit harder.  His command was nearly as good; his K/BB rate in the minors certainly bore that notion out.  

I have a DVD of the very first game Reyes ever pitched in the big leagues, that August 2005 game against the Brewers.  I had bought a Tivo with the disc burner earlier that year, and I occasionally made copies of what I considered to be significant games.  (please don't come and get me MLB)  In that contest, Reyes threw his fastball right around 92-94 mph all night long.  He hit 96 eight times by my count.  (He was a little less on velo in the first, said afterward he was a little tight and nervous)  He threw fastballs all over the zone, both up and down, with tremendous movement and beautiful command.  He made one bad mistake, the ball that Bill Hall put in the left field seats, but the Brewers couldn't square the ball up whatsoever for the most part.  The kid showed every sign of being overpowering.  Right around two years later, he's anything but.  

Here's where I start to have problems with the handling of Anthony.  His struggles with the sinker have been well documented, with most people recognizing that he just doesn't do well throwing the two seam fastball.  The problem, to me, isn't the fact that he's had so much trouble with the sinker.  The attempted change to his mechanics, to keep him on top of the ball, is where I see the real issue.  The other thing I have a big problem with, but I haven't heard much about, is the change to his breaking ball.  When Reyes came up, he threw a slider.  It was a little inconsistent, but it had decent depth and nice bite laterally.  It came in in the low to mid 80's.  So he had a fastball at 92-95, a slider at 83-85, and a change in the mid 70's.  He could attack a hitter at three different speeds, and the separation between his fastball and his change, (around 17-20 mph) made the latter absolutely devastating.  

For whatever reason, (and I have yet to hear any kind of rationale) Anthony now throws a curveball.  Leaving aside the fact that it's not a very good pitch, he throws it in the low to mid 70s.  So now, with the tweaks to his repertoire, Reyes throws a sinker in the high 80s, topping out at about 91, a changeup still in the mid 70s, and a curveball at the same speed.  So now, rather than having three speeds to attack hitters with, all of his pitches are going to be one or the other.  He no longer has the same separation between his fastball and his offspeed stuff,(around 12-14 mph now) and only two speeds.  Usually, pitching coaches try to get their pitchers to diversify their repertoires, but the changes to Anthony's have, if anything, made it much more limited.  

In addition to the changes to Anthony's arm action, he's become much more passive with his delivery overall.  He no longer drives aggressively with his legs, favouring more a 'tall and fall' style.  Again, it's the sort of change one would make if you were trying to throw the ball on a downward plane.  I can only speculate, but I believe that Reyes has changed his mechanics to match the philosophy of the team's coaching staff.  The problem with this is that it has resulted in a significant downturn in his overall stuff.  When someone says he doesn't have the stuff to be a power pitcher, they're right.  He doesn't anymore.  I still think there should be a medical examination, to determine if Reyes is pitching hurt, but even if he's not, he no longer has the approach of a power pitcher, from a physical standpoint, and subsequently he doesn't have the repertoire.  

Overall, both sides of the debate are right, and both are wrong.  Reyes isn't the worst pitcher in the game, but he isn't very good.  He does have the talent to be a top notch pitcher, but I don't think he can be the way he is now.  More than anything, I think it's really a huge missed opportunity for the St. Louis Cardinals.  I don't think you can lay the entirety of the blame at the feet of Duncan and LaRussa, but the handling of Reyes has robbed the team of what could have been a tremendous asset.  I do want to say that I think Reyes represented sort of a 'Perfect Storm' for the coaches.  Reyes was young, and we know the problems that often leads to here.  He isn't the seen and not heard sort of kid that the old school guys like.  He doesn't seem brash to me, but he's definitely not going to blend in, with the high socks and the hat; he didn't seem overwhelmed when he came up.  His pitching style is literally the exact opposite of what Dave Duncan advocates; he's not a sinker guy, he challenged hitters with his fastball, whatever the situation.  Plus, his closest baseball friend is Mark Prior, a guy who is known to really get under the manager's skin.  Put it all together, and you have a player that is, quite possibly, the worst fit imaginable for this team, with this staff.  Like I said, sometimes situations just don't work.  

I think it's a shame that Reyes hasn't worked out, and it kills me to say that it'll be best for all parties if and when he's moved elsewhere.  To me, this coaching staff has become too dogmatic, too hidebound.  But I can't blame them entirely.  In the end, Anthony has to perform, and he hasn't.  The whole thing has gone as badly wrong as it possible could, and I just wanted to get all my thoughts regarding it out there.  I'm going to just let it go now, and I apologize for letting it run so long.  Thanks if you stuck around for the whole thing.  Later.  

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