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Izzy or isn't he? (plus Game 39 Open Thread)

Loop Soup
5-1, 3.95 1-2, 5.22

In considering the Izzy situation, I’m less ready than others to write his obit just yet. He’s had some bad outings, to be sure, but we forget that he was pretty good as the year began. He didn’t just lose it between April 9 and April 12 of this year. What’s interesting is that the year started with him coming out like gangbusters – he pitched in 6 of the Cards’ first 9 games and had 5 saves and 5 baserunners allowed w/ 7 K’s in his first 6 IP this year. Granted, it’s a small sample size but w/ closers we’re almost always dealing w/ small sample sizes.

Yet, something did change after that 6th game. Did LaRussa use him too much in the first week and a half? I’d have a hard time believing that. We’re talking about 6 freaking innings. Thursday, LB referred to the fact that so few of his strikes have been on swings-and-misses but that problem has been magnified since his April 9 outing against the Astros. In his first 6 appearances, he had 9 swing-and-misses. Since then, in his last 12 appearances he’s only had 11. During this stretch of 12 games, he’s walked 6 and given up 16 hits in 9.2 IP. He’s given up his only 2 homers of the season and only struck out 4 batters. It’s a distinct difference from the way in which he started the season. This gives me hope.

Is Izzy done? I don’t think so. His first 6 IP (small sample size caveat) were too much like last year and the rest of his career for me to think he lost it for good between his 6th and 7th appearance this year. Still, though he has suffered some tough times in his career, with the exception of his injury-riddled 2006, it’s the roughest stretch of his career. Other bad stretches:

2007 11.1 13 11 7 7 2
2005 18.2 20 12 10 21 2
2002 11.2 15 11 3 12 2
2001 12.1 20 9 6 13 2
2000 18 25 18 11 13 4

Though this is the roughest stretch of his career, he’s been through rough times before. He even went through a fairly rough stretch last year and one in the Cards’ 100 win season (2005). What strikes me about this stretch and, to a lesser degree, last year’s is the high number of walks and the low number of strikeouts. 4 K in 9.2 IP, to me, is problematic – more so for him than for Ryan Franklin b/c Izzy depends on the K much more than Franklin. That K rate is about half his career average – a sizable dropoff and one that needs to be fixed if Izzy’s going to have any success this year.

Tony chalks this up to mechanics and Izzy insists he’s not injured. I’ve seen nothing to contradict that. His fastball still gets up there in the 92-94 range and his curveball still has a lot of bite. I see no indication he’s injured or that his stuff is significantly worse than in the past. The results are, of course, a lot worse but I don’t see why it’s not correctable. There’s one thing I definitely see and that’s that his cutter’s not cutting. Right now it’s a terrible pitch – like a slider that just spins in the middle of the zone. Tony believes that fixing his mechanics can get him on the right track; I hope he’s right. I can say this – he’s got to get that cutter out of the middle of the zone or he’s going to get hit hard often.

I got to wondering about similar closers and when they seemed to "lose it." Is it possible that Izzy really is done? His top comparables from baseball-reference include people like Ugueth Urbina, Jeff Brantley, Armando Benitez, Rod Beck, Todd Worrell, Jeff Shaw, and Robb Nen. All of these guys, at one time, were pretty good closers. Nen was fantastic until injury ended his career. Benitez, at times, was dominating. So, how old were they when they just lost it? Urbina – 30; Brantley – 33; Benitez – 33; Beck – 30; Worrell – 37; Shaw – 33; Nen – injured and never threw another pitch following his age-32 season. Yikes! Izzy is now 35 years young. Is it possible we’re lucky to have gotten those extra 2 years out of him? While I would argue that Izzy’s been better than most of those guys on that list, baseball-reference found that Izzy’s numbers were more similar to these guys than people like Hoffman, Rivera, and Billy Wagner.

Even so, I expect to see Izzy pitching in the 9th again this season. Friday, LB predicted that Franklin would get the first call and yesterday’s game proved him correct. Franklin handled it well, though Ludwick’s 9th inning, 2 out single helped provide a buffer to settle any butterflies that Franklin may have had. Tony’s planning a closer-by-committee approach for the time being – using Franklin, Springer, and maybe even Flores (gulp!) in the 9th until he’s ready to stick Izzy back in there. To me, that’s the biggest indicator that Tony sees this as temporary. Nobody’s more in favor of relievers having definite roles than Tony. If Tony felt Izzy’s problems couldn’t be fixed, he’d try to find a permanent closer, whether it be Franklin, Springer, McClellan, or Chris Perez. The fact that he’s going to go closer-by-committee tells me he doesn’t anticipate Izzy throwing in mop-up duty for too long.

Unlike a lot of others, I thought the saddest news of the week (Cardinal version; let’s not get too carried away in talking about sadness w/ tens of thousands killed in a cyclone in Myanmar) was the Pads’ release of Jim Edmonds. While I see Izzy’s situation as temporary, there’s little doubt that Jimmy is done. He was pretty bad for us last year and has been awful for the Padres this year. Who’s going to pick him up? Anybody think Jimmy’s going to be willing to go to AAA to try and fight his way back to the majors? Me, neither. Looking back, it would’ve been great if he had just sailed away into the sunset following the Cards’ tremendous postseason run in ’06 but….well, we all know the rest.

When he was traded last December, I waxed poetic (as poetic as I get, which isn’t very damned poetic, BTW) about Jimmy’s leaving the organization and his chances of making the Hall of Fame. I’d like to draw your attention back to that post – not b/c I think it was Pulitzer Prize winning stuff – but b/c, w/ Jimmy about to begin his 5 year clock, I surprised myself when I was able to make a pretty good case for him getting into the Hall of Fame. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think he’ll make it but I started that journey believing him to be in the mold of Andre Dawson or Dale Murphy. He was much better than that. I still think he’s about 2 pretty good seasons from being a definite Hall of Famer but he still merits discussion.

That post compared Jimmy’s Hall of Fame numbers to the average Hall of Fame CF, using metrics established by baseball prospectus. His career WARP3 was 105.2, compared to the average Hall of Famer’s 109.1. Just 4 wins short for his career. And the average Hall of Fame CF includes people like Mays, Mantle and Dimaggio. His peak WARP3 was 5.5 wins higher than the average Hall of Fame CF and his JAWS score is slightly better than the average Hall of Fame CF. Jimmy’s problem, as I said then, was that a lot of Jimmy’s value came from the fact that, in his prime, he was a fantastic defensive CF. That means, of course, that his offensive numbers are lacking, compared w/ the other CF’s. There are no CF’s in the Hall of Fame b/c of their defensive ability alone. If Ozzie or Bill Mazeroski played CF, they wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. Granted, Jimmy was better than those 2 offensively but he wasn't Mantle or Mays.

I have no idea how the Hall of Fame voters will act when his name appears on the ballot 5 years from now. Hell, it’s hard to predict what they’ll do w/ Clemens and Bonds, to say nothing of people like Jim Edmonds but it would be a tragedy if he doesn’t get the 5% required to be on the ballot a 2nd year. It’s likely Jim friggin’ Rice will make the Hall of Fame this year and Rice is nowhere near as good a ballplayer as Jimmy Edmonds was.

It won’t, however, be tragic if Jimmy never becomes a Hall of Famer. It won’t even be a miscarriage of justice. It is, though, if not tragic then extremely unfortunate the way his career ended. Jimmy deserved better than that. At the time, I supported the trade to the Padres. The job of the Cards’ front office is to put together a team that will win games and Jimmy just wasn’t in the game-winning business anymore. And David Freese isn’t doing too badly w/ Memphis – his first year above A ball. He’s not ready to take Glaus’ spot at 3B, but he might be this time next year. Still, I would’ve liked to have seen Jimmy return to St. Louis w/ the Pads in mid-July and the standing ovation that he would have received, even as a member of the Padres. Alas, it was not to be. You’ll be missed Jimmy. You were a helluva player and baseball, and St. Louis, was better off b/c you played the game.

Well, here we are. Another Sunday, another rubber game. Our old friend, Supp, takes the mound for the Brewers. It’s fitting, I suppose.