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la russa's latest remarks on anthony reyes, courtesy matt leach's blog:

I consider him competing [for a spot in the rotation]. That's not a healthy thing for Anthony to say, hey, go ahead and buy a house, you're here. That's not a good attitude. I think he'll respond better if he knows and the club knows...

Kip is an experienced starter. He's had enough success. But the other three guys that pitch in that rotation, as of right now, should be guys that walk out of camp and can say, 'I won that job. I earned it.'

He's a year older and he's a year better pitcher. I just don't think it's smart to make a statement that you can't back up. And if he goes into camp and can't get anybody out...

and so continues tony/dave's long-standing pattern of skepticism toward this player. a lot of us don't understand it; he has been the organization's #1 prospect for two years running, has pitched extremely well in the minor leagues, and from his very first game in the majors has exhibited flashes of brilliance. yet from the earliest days of spring training last year, when they began force-feeding the kid the two-seamer, la duncan have gone out of their way to treat the rookie as nothing special. you could say the trend goes back even further --- to last off-season, when the organization went out and signed sidney ponson rather than commiting to reyes as their #5 starter. tony and dave steadfastly refused to commit to the youngster for most of the year, staying with veterans no matter how badly they struggled while giving reyes --- who outpitched every starter but carpenter and suppan last year --- almost no benefit of the doubt. he stayed in the minors even as marquis floundered and mulder's arm fell off, got skipped in the rotation several times after he did join the big-league club, and was shipped back to memphis in late august to clear a roster spot for the obviously unfit mulder. indeed, until marquis' final, unforgivably bad start of the regular season, reyes' inclusion in the postseason rotation stood in doubt; the world series might have ended very differently if jason had taken the ball for game 1.

yet here we are, two months later, still pretending that reyes has to "compete" for a rotation slot on a team that has no rotation. why?

here's my theory: reyes' confidence irritates la russa. i think he views the kid as cocky and too big for his britches; i think he wants to bring reyes down a notch or three. but not entirely out of jealousy or petty spite; i think tony believes he's administering a form of tough love, acting in what he considers the player's best interests.

i base my opinion in large part on this passage from 3 Nights in August, where la russa discusses reyes' old college teammate, mark prior (page 74, for those of you reading along at home):

[I]n emotional terms, Prior gets under his skin. It isn't Prior personally that bothers him but what Prior represents: the young player with the big talent who instead of being circumspect his first few years in the league routinely rises to the media bait so prevalent today and gives answers to everything, when he hasn't been around long enough to have the answer to anything. . . . I think he needs to be doing this a while is the way La Russa thinks about it when he watches him pitch. It's an old-fashioned comment, said by a manager who believes in circumspection among young players because that's the way he came up: Your first couple of seasons, no matter how good you are, you should be in the corner, shutting up and soaking it in.

. . . . [Prior] has the swagger that is the hubris of youth, taking his invincibility for granted when nobody ever should. . . . .

taking it for granted --- that's what la russa abhors. he believes a ballplayer, particularly a young one, should earn everything he gets, every step of the way. to repeat the comments cited above: "That's not a healthy thing for Anthony to say, hey, go ahead and buy a house, you're here. That's not a good attitude. . . . ." don't take it for granted that you've got a job; compete for it. win it on the merits. prove that you deserve it.

reyes is not nearly as smug as prior was when he first came up, but he does have a swagger. the hat and socks alone make a statement: i am different. i am special. notice me. it's well documented that he has resisted the organization's instructions (issued in 2005, if not sooner) to alter his pitching philosophy and embrace the pitch-to-contact approach. then recall these words from cardinal farmhand blake hawksworth, reyes' former roommate and off-season workout partner:

ever since i've met him, he's been really confident. he's always thought, ever since he signed, that he's a big-league guy. so in that way -- i don't want to say he's stubborn, but he knows he's good, which is huge for success i think. . . . it's never disrespectful, but he knows when he's on the mound that he's the best thing out there.
i don't think reyes comes off as cocky; i just think he knows himself and has faith in his talent. i was impressed by his maturity and his poise under pressure this sept/oct, as well as his ability to make adjustments. but i believe la russa sees a young player who acts like he is the sh*t, when --- being a rookie --- he ought to act like he doesn't know sh*t.

the organization's handling of reyes is the probably reason that so many fans --- including those of us who believe in reyes' ability --- have set such low expectations for him in 2007. rather than confidently project that he'll grow into a solid mid-rotation pitcher, we have to wonder if he'll have a lousy spring and pitch himself onto the memphis roster. let's try to take that element out of the equation: what can we reasonably expect from this pitcher? reyes' page at baseball-reference.com doesn't list any comparable pitchers yet, and after trolling around on the lahman database i can see why --- there simply aren't many meaningful comps out there. for those of you not familiar with this resource, the lahman database lists every player/season from 1871 through the present --- tens of thousands of batting and hitting lines. to find comps for reyes, i began by searching for pitchers with similar workloads. reyes made 17 starts and threw 85 1/3 innings last year; i filtered for pitchers who have started 15 or more games in a season while throwing fewer than 100 innings. that whittled things right down to 342 pitcher/seasons. then i looked at strikeouts --- reyes fanned 72 last year, so i filtered for pitchers who fanned at least 70 men, and that brought the list down to 46 pitcher/seasons, a manageable number. at that point i simply began wading through line by line, looking for guys who are close to reyes' age and close to the beginnings of their careers, and who had similar pitching lines.

some very good pitchers turned up on the list. it includes the rookie seasons of livan hernandez, ramon martinez (who also happens to be reyes' #1 comp per PECOTA), and oliver perez, as well as roger clemens' second year and some mid- to late-career seasons by andy pettitte, john candelaria, bret saberhagen, and todd stottlemyre. there are some washouts, too --- bobby witt, paul wagner, and darren dreifort appear, along with the unfortunate david clyde. none of the foregoing are particularly meaningful as comps for reyes; the pitchers either were not close in age during the season in question, or they diverged sharply in one or more telling stats (hr rate, walk rate, hits/9, era+, etc). of the 46 pitching lines, only 2 seem close enough to tell us anything remotely meaningful:

age w-l era whip gs ip h bb so hr/9 go/ao era+ opp
avg
reyes 06 24 5-8 5.06 1.383 17 85.1 84 34 72 1.8 0.87 87 .262
capuano 04 25 6-8 4.99 1.449 17 88.1 91 37 80 1.8 0.96 83 .269
patterson 04 26 4-7 5.03 1.485 19 98.1 100 46 99 1.6 0.65 82 .260

that's chris capuano of milwaukee and john patterson of the nats; the similarities speak for themselves. patterson threw more innings than reyes but also started more games; they're virtually tied in terms of innings per start. both pitchers followed up their reyes-comp year with major steps forward. capuano went 18-12 in 2005 with a 3.99 era and 176 strikeouts; he followed that up with an all-star season in 2006. patterson emerged as washington's staff ace in 2005, going 9-7 with a 3.13 era in 2005 with 185 strikeouts; injuries limited him to only 8 starts in 2006. you can only take these comparisons so far; capuano is a left-handed pitcher, a rather striking dissimilarity to reyes, and patterson moved into a new, pitcher-friendly park in '05, which seems to have helped him. but those are still encouraging precedents.

here's the next best comp:

age w-l era whip gs ip h bb so hr/9 go/ao era+ opp
avg
reyes 06 24 5-8 5.06 1.383 17 85.1 84 34 72 1.8 0.87 87 .262
peavy 02 21 6-7 4.52 1.423 17 97.2 106 33 90 1.0 1.12 85 .274

jake peavy was three years younger than reyes; he pitched in a much friendlier park for pitchers, lasted more innings per start, allowed a higher hits/9 total and a lower hr/9. but these two season are still relatively close. peavy went 12-11 the following year with a 4.11 era, then broke out in 2004 with a 15-6, 2.28 campaign.

kip wells' age-23 season is comparable in some regards:

age w-l era whip gs ip h bb so hr/9 go/ao era+ opp
avg
reyes 06 24 5-8 5.06 1.383 17 85.1 84 34 72 1.8 0.87 87 .262
wells 00 23 6-9 6.02 1.865 20 98.7 126 58 71 1.4 1.18 86 .312

reyes pitched far more effectively --- better control, fewer hits, higher k rate --- but the pitchers carried similar workloads, were close in age, and had nearly identical park-adjusted era+s. wells went on to have a string of good years --- league-average in 2001 (10-11, 4.79), followed by his two best seasons at ages 25 and 26.

if these comps support any conclusions at all --- and step on them lightly, they won't bear too much weight --- they suggest that reyes has a good chance to progress at least to league-averageness in 2007. despite la russa's comments above, i think he has the same expectation.