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You don't know what you got til it's playing in the AL Central

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Last November the Mets traded a AAA shortstop to the Texas Rangers for a AAA second baseman. New York got about what you would expect; the guy played okay for about a month before losing his season to injury. The Rangers, on the other hand, found lightning in a bottle - their new shortstop played way beyond anyone's hopes and is now a serious candidate for rookie of the year. Still, because the Mets have shortstop pretty well covered, and because the trade only happened in the land of belabored hypotheticals, no one in New York is crying in their beer about the trade.

But there's been a lot of crying, gnashing of teeth, even pulling of hair over the trade that sent Brian Bannister to Kansas City in exchange for Ambiorix Burgos. Every time Bannister scatters nine hits to beat the Twins, the second-guessers emerge from the woodwork, putting in their two cents by dialing up the FAN, whining on a blog, or writing a column for Newsday. "Omar's an idiot!" "Bannister's the Mannister!" "I told you so!" And of course, "Oh, how the Mets miss could have used him this year!"

Please. Are these Monday Morning GMs for real, or are they auditioning for the role of bar-know-it-all Cliff Clavin in the hotly anticipated Broadway revival of Cheers? The New York rotation now features two Hall of Famers and three guys in the top 20 in ERA; their #6 is a first-round draft pick who was a bloop away from a no-hitter last week. The Mets didn't miss Bannister, the New Orleans Zephyrs did.

Of course, Mike Pelfrey wasn't exactly lights out in the first half of the year. He was faced and replaced by Jorge Sosa. Mijorge Pelsa combined to make 24 starts for New York, going 8-13 with a 4.92 ERA; in his 23 starts for K.C., Bannister is 12-7 with a 3.16 ERA. No wonder people want to call do-overs, reverse the trade, and award the Mets an extra 4.5 wins. But the Royals have given Bannister 4.7 runs a game to work with, a full run more than Pelfresosa's gotten. If you fired up the time machine, kept Bannister in orange and blue, and he got 3.6 runs a game to work with, he'd be, what, 11-9? At best his presence on the Mets would mean a three-game lift. With Atlanta and Philly on the mat, who cares?

We haven't even tickled the 800-pound gorilla in the room yet: Bannister's a fraud. His success this year is a fluke with a capital F. Broadcasters love the idea of a crafty finesse pitcher surviving on savvy and guile - because nobody in the booth has a 93 mph slider in their arsenal. But you can't make it in the show if you can't miss bats. Striking out four guys a night and putting the other 23 outs on the defense isn't a winning equation. It sure as hell doesn't equate to an ERA around 3 for very long, believe me.

Take any "control" pitcher you can name - anyone that Mel Stottlemyre would draft ahead of Dwight Gooden, for instance - and you'll see that by the time they reached Bannister's current age of 26, they'd demonstrated an ability to put guys away. When Greg Maddux was 26, he threw 268 innings, allowed 201 hits and struck out 199, a rate of 6.68 per 9 - in Wrigley Field. Tom Glavine struck out almost 200 when he was 25 - in the Fulton County launching pad. Jamie Moyer struck out 6.58 per 9 innings when he was 24 - in Wrigley. John Tudor had 6.72 K/9 when he was 28 - in Fenway. Etc., Etc.

The only guys who can survive with a K/9 rate anywhere near Brian's 4.37 are the sinkerballers who get three double plays a night. But Bannister's not a sinkerballer - his groundball / flyball ratio is just about even. You're looking at a guy who's hittable - he's given up more hits than Pelfrey and Sosa have in their starts, albeit with fewer walks - who doesn't get twin killings and doesn't strike anyone out. That ERA is about to regress to the mean faster than you can say "BABIP."

Not that I'm hoping Bannister collapses just to prove me right. I already know I'm right. He can win 20 games a year forever for all I care, as long as he keeps doing it in Kansas City. I hope they name a street after him. This weekend in particular, I wish him all the luck in the world.

But that's exactly what's behind Bannister's run this year: luck, something you tend to run out of. Ambiorix Burgos has had wicked luck so far, but he also owns a skill: He can throw a ball harder than 99.99% of the planet. That skill gives him a good chance to help the team when he comes back in 2009, when he'll still only be 26.

I still like the trade.