The Cardinals don't find themselves using very many rookie starters, so this doesn't really shock me, but I'm not sure I can think of one who's had a more generally impressive sustained month than Jaime Garcia. Of the rookies I could find in the Cardinals' rotation in the last ten years or so several of them have had fine stretches; Jason Simontacchi did the pitch-to-contact thing for a while to great effect, and Matt Morris, Bud Smith, and (to stretch the definition) Adam Wainwright mixed inspired pitching with occasional roughness. But only our Patron Tragic Hero had a month that was clearly better.Here are the numbers, if you're interested, though the weak-hearted might consider clicking through to the jump instead:
Which is to say that Zack Greinke should talk a little sense into—
Which is to say, I guess, that even the best pitching prospects can break our hearts, and that it might take them more than a month to do it. But every new starter seems to possess some unique attribute that makes it clear he'll be the one to buck the trend; Anthony Reyes had his gaudy minor league numbers, and now Jaime Garcia has his extraordinary ability to adapt his gameplan to the strength of his pitches at a given moment. Starting pitching eluded us then, but that's no matter — tomorrow they will throw faster, perfect their mechanics earlier... And one fine morning— —
Which is to say, finally, that young starting pitchers make me even more nervous than they make Tony La Russa. But Jaime Garcia looks great right now, and if I have no reasonable way of predicting his future success that's fine. Right now all of his off-speed pitches work, and his fastball is about is good as a left-hander's fastball gets without engendering that Ankiel-ian sense of dumbfounded awe. As if that weren't enough he's the kind of pitcher that Dave Duncan seems to help, a third starter from birth who is able to gain an edge in St. Louis by doing without one walk per nine innings or adding a fractional ground ball for every fly ball he used to allow.
What's most fun about watching him now, though, is that the Cardinals don't need him. They aren't reliant on his continuing to pitch over his head, and it won't bring the team down when he finally allows a few home runs.
I'm more nervous still, of course, about Brendan Ryan. I've avoided mentioning him so far because he is, by now, my favorite Cardinal, and subconsciously I am convinced that if I avoid mentioning the fact that he is slumping about as badly as an offensive player can slump—the offensive equivalent of throwing several pitches over the catcher's head—nobody will notice it, and the whole thing will eventually go away.
Now, then, the subconscious mind moves to inexplicable cause-and-effect reasoning round two: the counter-jinx. Brendan Ryan is slumping about as badly as an offensive player can slump. Let's talk about it until we are proven wrong by a month-long offensive breakout.
Talking point one: He looks terrible out there. Resident video guru thepainguy, among others, expressed concern about this video, in which a number of hitting platitudes accompany a series of lunging, off-balance pop-up swings. It's a frightening video, and every hitting mistake since then has been built upon this unverifiable foundation. There's a new hitting coach, Ryan is more vocal than any other player about retooling his swing, therefore the new swing is making him hit like a pitcher, and not a good pitcher.
To make matters worse, Kawakami made him look particularly terrible today. Ryan didn't make good contact on a single pitch, and while he got deep into counts he also struck out looking twice.
Talking point two: His stats are terrible, too. He's always struck out more than his good-average no-power profile leads one to imagine he would—56 times in 390 at-bats last year—but yesterday's performance has left him striking out in 30 percent of his at-bats in April, which is deep inside Adam Dunn territory. He's not hitting a lot of line drives, he's got two extra-base hits, and the one thing that's working for him thus far is a propensity for walks that when hitting this feebly is more easily taken for a character flaw than a virtue.
We're certainly more amenable to high-walk/high-strikeout guys than the general baseball-fan population, but if his mental approach is better to this point he has not yet figured out how it will work better for him.
Anybody can have one bad month, and if there weren't so much for which we're able to exercise our attribution biases this slump might not be so worrying. But as someone who'd like to see less of the first video and more of this one, I hope this counterjinx is sufficient.