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jaime or the highway

i’m sitting in for HC today on a preprogrammed thread ---- he’s taking over for me on monday and tuesday while i’m on vacation.

the cardinals haven’t had much luck developing left-handed pitchers. since world war II they have produced only 3 who won as many as 50 games for the franchise: steve carlton (77), ray sadecki (68), and joe magrane (51). by contrast, their top 3 homegrown right-handers during that span all won more than 100 in a cardinal uniform --- gibson (251), forsch (163), and morris (101). in the la russa era, the cardinals have gotten just over 100 wins from left-handed starting pitchers of any type, whether homegrown or not --- versus more than 500 from right-handers. their 5 winningest left-handed starters during his tenure have been mulder (22 wins), donnie osborne (22), kent mercker (17), rick ankiel (13), and darren oliver (13). bud smith stands tied for 6th, with 7 wins (chuck finley also has 7).

speaking of smith, since he came along the cardinals have only gotten 1 start from a homegrown left-handed pitcher --- chris narveson. every every other pitcher the cards have developed and promoted to the big-league club --- haren, wainwright, reyes, parisi, boggs, travis smith, josh pearce --- has been right-handed. until today.

jaime garcia bears a few things in common w/ bud smith. they both got to the majors very young --- smith was just 21 when he made his first start, and while garcia only turned 22 a few days ago. and both had abbreviated stops in the high minors. smith made a total of 43 minor-league starts above class A --- 18 at double A, 25 at triple A --- while garcia has made 36 (24 at double A, 12 at triple A). smith was a more polished pitcher, a 4th-round draft pick who posted very low walk rates in triple A and respectable K rates (just under 6 per 9 innings). he was 13-6 with a 2.56 era as a triple A pitcher. garcia, who wasn’t drafted until the 22nd round, comes to the Show with a 4-4, 4.59 record in triple A. his walk rate is higher than you’d like (3.3 per 9), and his K rate isn’t high enough to offset it (7.5 k/9). he does have a nice, low homerun rate, but it’s the only one of his peripherals that impresses you . . . so let’s take take stock: garcia is less heralded and less experienced than bud was, and he has a less impressive minor-league record. is there any reason at all to think he can succeed in the big leagues, where bud failed?

yeah; let me cite a couple. smith was your classic pitch-to-contact control specialist, a guy with underwhelming stuff who had to locate his pitches with great precision to survive. if he was off by 6 inches, he got killed. garcia can reach the low 90s with his fastball and has a sharp-breaking curveball; he might be better able to get away with a mistake, better able to make batters miss even if he doesn’t put the ball right where he wants it. second ---- and this is probably the critical point --- smith got hurt. after the cards traded him to philadelphia, he made only 3 starts for the phils’ triple A affiliate before getting shut down for the year. the following year he made just 10 starts, and they year after that he only made 6. i can’t find any information about what injury he actually suffered, or whether it required surgery, but whatever it was it kept him from taking the ball consistently for 2+ years.

garcia already has red flags on his health, having missed the last month of 2007 with a sore elbow. no concerns this year that we know of. given his repertoire, if he can stay healthy (and that’s the big question with any young pitcher, particularly an extremely young one like garcia) i think this guy has a decent chance to succeed over the long haul. in the short run? you never know with left-handers. the cardinals are hardly the only team that struggles against never-heard-of-him southpaws just up from double A; every team does. there’s a chance that garcia (like smith when he first came up, or like franklin morales for the rockies last year) will take advantage of hitters’ unfamiliarity w/ his delivery and his stuff to go on a little run. we can all hope that he does. we’ll find out beginning today.