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weekend discussion: boom bust

if you didn't see the twin boom/bust posts at cardinals diaspora yesterday, you should check them out. one lists the five cardinals most likely to have a breakout year in 2006, and the other lists the five likeliest to disappoint this season. i won't reveal ryan's picks; head over to his site to read those. what i'd like to do here is pick up the theme and throw it open for discussion -- whose stock are you buying this spring, and whose are you selling?

i'm gonna name just one guy in each category, mainly because of sheer laziness. my breakout candidate is sidney ponson. he fits the la russa / duncan redemption profile to a tee -- talented but wayward son who just needs a little tough love from mommy and daddy. tony / dave's record with guys like this is very good, going all the way back to dave stewart. i'm not expecting ponson to be another dave stewart, but i do think he'll win 13 to 15 games with a winning pct over .500 and an era close to 4.00 -- and that would be a breakout year for ponson, who has achieved each of these specs just once in an 8-year career.

but whether he booms or busts, it would be considerate of ponson to reveal himself right away -- ie, to pitch either really well or really poorly coming out of the gate. if he does the former, it'll give jocketty the green light to trade one of the other pitchers at midseason for a hitter -- and thereby open up a slot for wainwright or reyes. best of all possible worlds: improved outfield, opportunity for one of the kids. conversely, if ponson gets hit hard, then tony/dave can declare the experiment a failure and banish him from the rotation, which would open up a slot for one of the youngsters; wouldn't help the cards' trade position, though.

the worst thing ponson could do is show flashes -- pitch well for five innings but then tire, or alternate good outings with bad ones. that would leave the brass and the team in limbo -- he'd be pitching too well to declare failure but not well enough to provide cover for a trade. so reyes and wainwright would continue to wait, as would the trade for another bat. so please, sid, don't leave us guessing; either boom or bust and be quick about it.

as for likeliest to disappoint -- well, there are a disturbingly high number of candidates here. i have no faith in ricardo rincon -- and that's not just because he got lit up yesterday. he's in his late 30s and his performance has been fraying for two years; didn't like the signing at the time, don't like it now. i worry about looper too; he was never all that good to begin with, and now he's coming off an injury -- pivotal year for him, could go either way. but the guy whose stock seems most overvalued to me is jeff suppan. not going to be a popular pick, i know; we all like the guy. i am singling him out for two reasons. first, his era last year was aberrantly low.vis-vis his overall career -- not only more than a run lower than his career average, but also 0.59 lower than his previous career best. it's the rough equivalent of a career .260 hitter batting .300 one season; you don't expect him to pull it off two years in a row.

second, supps simply didn't pitch as well last year as his era suggests. his OPS allowed was .759, slightly worse than league average, yet his era was 20 pct better than league average. doesn't add up. if you run his raw yields -- hits, walks, and total bases allowed -- through the basic runs-created formula, you get an estimated runs-allowed total of 106. supps allowed only 93, and a whopping 16 of those runs were unearned. suppan was a master damage-controller last year, getting a lot of double plays and pitching out of a lot of two-out jams. with runners in scoring position, he held opposing batters to a .230 average; in all other situations they hit .289 against him. i doubt he can pull that off two years in a row.

if he can't, his era will likely return to the 4.25 range, right where he was in 2004. he won 16 games that year and pitched well in the playoffs, so i'm not exactly predicting a catastrophe. but 4.25 isn't going to get you a 16-10 record this year, not with this offense; 13-13 is more like it; and if he's a bit unlucky it might be 11-15 or something.

now that i've written it out, that doesn't sound so bad; i think most stl fans would take 13 wins and 4.20 from supps and not bat an eye. so never mind. my pick for the likeliest bust is ricardo rincon.