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Two starters we'll be seeing three years from now

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I haven't been paying much attention to Kyle Lohse this season, and I'm not sure I will—it's not that I don't think he'll be valuable, it's that I don't think there's a situation in which he's better, more 2008 than the rest of his career, and we can tell he's going to be better. If he has another career season coming on, I don't think I'll recognize it. 

Even so, having labored through all that it's still good to see him pitch well. Here in March both Rich Hill and Kyle McClellan are no-doubt future all-stars, but once the regular season starts Kyle Lohse is a useful third-and-a-half starter, whether he's being paid for that or not. 

Meanwhile, for Jaime Garcia there is this cold consolation: he is another object lesson in my unending effort to avoid making the same mistake more than five or six times, when it comes to the particulars of following a Tony La Russa team. Which is to say that a month and a half ago I was sure that Jaime Garcia would spend a significant portion of the year in the Cardinals' rotation, and now I am just as sure that I'm an idiot. The mistakes I made, if I may be so bold as to use an ordered list:

  1. I assumed that if the fifth starter role were not filled by a "real" external candidate it would go to the internal candidate most likely to keep it once he had it. 
  2. I assumed that the competitions La Russa would set up in the absence of an experienced candidate would be, to some extent, a sham—and not only a sham but one that would be tilted in the direction of Jaime Garcia, the first and arguably best candidate. 

My kremlinology, alas, was a mess.

The first one might be seven or eight years of non-stop Baseball Mogul addiction talking. A season in Baseball Mogul lasts three or four minutes if I'm rebuilding; month-to-month variation is coming from the proverbial stat-producing-robot of columnist nightmares, so even if I want to I have a hard time paying attention to it. So a guy like Rich Hill having a great month doesn't enter my mind, even when richhill.txt does.

Of course, the other columnist nightmare comes into effect here, too. I really do spend most of my time in front of a monitor, and I really don't get to see the games, and I don't spend all day watching these guys pitch, work out, goof around in the locker-room. As often as that pejorative gets stretched out—I don't need a press pass or eyes to know that Bert Blyleven was a better pitcher than Jack Morris, or that a player with a high on-base percentage is doing more to score runs than a player with a low on-base percentage—it really does apply here. I don't know what goes on; Tony La Russa is covered in what goes on. Whether it's the best way to choose a fifth starter or not, I'd probably do the same thing if somebody gave me the chance. 

I can't blame perspective on the second mistake, though. With La Russa, who's both clearly intelligent and an opposition figure in the artificial divide between cool statistical analysis and personality management, it's easy to infer a kind of distance from the completely earnest things he says. It's the difference between, say, leveraging the idea that successful teams always seem to think they're underdogs and the possibility that he actually believes that his team is always the underdog. He's a difficult guy to read; he wears sunglasses too often. 

In this case, I think he really does believe in the competition that goes on every year around this time and is resolved, sometimes, before it even gets started. If it seems like Kyle McClellan has been fated to take the job since his name was first floated, and that Jaime Garcia hasn't had a chance for two weeks now, it might be true; but I don't think La Russa starts from that proposition and builds the idea of competition around it. 

For instance: he might be fooling himself, or he might be fooling us, but today's Strauss feature on Garcia has the usual he's-very-much-in-it language:

Duncan said before the game "it would be impossible to ignore" what Garcia has done so far. "You certainly take note of it," he said. "Where does that take you? It's hard to say because it's still early. But he's been impressive."

kremlinology-wise, La Russa's indication that he could end up in the bullpen sounds, depending on how I play it back in my head, like an indication that he will. But for now I'll stick to my first two mistakes.