Baseball BeatSeptember 15, 2004
Tuesday Night Fights Ballgames
By Rich Lederer

If you enjoy watching pitchers throw baseballs from the mound toward the plate rather than folding chairs from the bullpen into the stands, then Tuesday was your kind of night.

I felt privileged to watch two of the ten best pitchers in the history of baseball, one of the most underrated pitchers of the past 15 years, the favorite to win this year's American League Cy Young Award, and two of the most highly prized pitching arms in the game. All in one sitting. All via MLB Extra Innings.

Roger Clemens. Pedro Martinez. Mike Mussina. Johan Santana. Zack Greinke. Scott Kazmir. You might say some of the most dominant past, present, and future pitchers all before your eyes. Together, these pitchers threw 40 innings, allowing only 19 hits and five runs while walking 14 and striking out 48 batters.

Clemens, who is old enough to be Greinke's and Kazmir's father, hurled seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball against the best offensive team in the National League. Roger is an ageless wonder. Who would have thought a year ago that Clemens would even be pitching, much less 17-4 with a 3.12 ERA?

The Rocket has now won 327 games in his 21-year career and his W-L percentage (.666) is the second highest among pitchers with at least 300 wins. In fact, Roger is just one win shy of having twice as many victories as defeats. Only Lefty Grove (300-141) can make that claim.

Martinez, who just may be the best pitcher ever based on rate stats, struck out 10 Devil Rays in just six innings but was dealt only his sixth defeat of the year against 16 wins. Although Pedro's ERA is higher than what we have come to expect, he is having another outstanding season. How many baseball fans outside of Boston know that Martinez is in the top five in the league in wins, winning percentage (.727), strikeouts (213), ERA (3.43), WHIP (1.11), and BAA (.226)?

Mussina (11-9, 4.76) pitched his best game of the year, shutting out the Royals for eight innings on just three hits and one walk while striking out 11. Don't look now but Mike has pitched a total of 23 innings in his last three starts, allowing only 14 hits and three runs while walking one and striking out 25. While Kevin Brown sits out with a broken left hand and Javier Vazquez wonders what went wrong, Mussina is taking over as the ace of the staff as the Yankees ready themselves for the playoffs.

Santana pitched another nearly flawless game, allowing only two hits, one walk, and no runs over seven innings. That was his third consecutive outing without allowing a run. The only time Santana failed to give up two or fewer runs in 18 of his last 19 starts, he allowed--get this--three!

The 25-year-old southpaw is now 18-6 with a league-leading ERA of 2.76. Santana also ranks first in the league in strikeouts (240), WHIP (0.92), and BAA (.193). He is a shoo-in for the Cy Young Award and should receive serious consideration for the Most Valuable Player Award as well.

Greinke's numbers (6-3-2-2-2-6) weren't quite as impressive as the others, but seeing was believing. He is an artist in the mold of Greg Maddux. The youngster changes speeds, works both sides of the plate, keeps the ball down, and, most importantly, throws strikes. Zack has allowed only 1.6 BB/9 IP this year, a terrific rate for any pitcher--much less one who still isn't old enough to drink alcoholic beverages.

Kazmir had his way with Manny Ortez & Co. last night, shutting down the vaunted Red Sox lineup for six innings while striking out nine--including five in a row at one stretch. I guess no one told the rookie that lefthanders aren't supposed to pitch well at Fenway. Kazmir is now 2-1 with a 4.09 ERA. He has fanned 26 batters in just 22 innings while allowing only one home run.

While on the subject of great pitchers, YES broadcaster Ken Singleton told his listeners last night that Bob Gibson was 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA in 1968 but excused him for a third of those losses because Sandy Koufax had beaten him three times, 1-0. Gosh, I knew Koufax was good, but I didn't know he was thaaaaaat good! I mean, shutting out the Cardinals three times two years after he retired? Boy, I have more respect for Koufax than ever before. Thanks, Kenny, for making my evening complete.


Well Rich, we know you've now seen Zack and Kazmir pitch this year. You start a team, who do you want? And...let's throw in Ankiel.

I can't have all three? Boy, you're no fun.

I would rank them as follows:

1. Greinke
2. Kazmir
3. Ankiel

Greinke is more fully developed than Kazmir and doesn't have Ankiel's past problems (control and elbow surgery) to deal with. He is the most polished of the three by far. However, Zack's stuff doesn't measure up to Kazmir's or Ankiel's. As such, Greinke may not have their upside but he is more of a "sure thing".

Another consideration: Although only 25, Ankiel is four years older than Greinke and 4 1/2 years older than Kazmir.

I'd like to open up that same question to the readers. Feel free to jump into the discussion.

I've only seen Greinke, but I was impressed enough with him to take him over an unseen Kazmir, whom, right or not, Rick Petersen diagnosed with bad mechanics and as a future reliever. That's very unfair to Kazmir, but Greinke strikes me as a pitcher's pitcher, which is amazing for a 20-year-old.

Ankiel. I don't like Greinke's stuff or Kazmir's mechanics, and I don't like how young they are. I do like that Ankiel's gone through physical and off-field problems that would ruin many players' careers and seems on the verge of putting it all together. He still has all the talent he always had and he's still young. If Greinke and Kazmir stay healthy, they may well turn out better. That's a big "if."

I'm not sold on Greinke at all, and both he and Kazmir are too young for me to be sure of anything except their injury risk.

If I had to choose one to keep, I'd choose Ankiel. If I had to choose one with an option to trade, I'd choose Kazmir.

I'm pretty risk-averse on pitchers, though.

I'll jump in and answer my own question. I think the pick here is Greinke, bar none. I don't know if Maddux applies, or Saberhagen, but I love him. 20-year-olds that know how to pitch are scary.

Next, I'll take Ankiel. I watched his second appearance, and he's back. Control, fastball, and boy is that curve back. And Rich, peaks occur at different ages, so it's entirely possible Ankiel peaks at 28, while Greinke or Kazmir peak at 24.

Finally, there is Kazmir. I'm still not convinced he won't end up relief, though he does have some solid stuff. His workload has never been tested, so I'm skeptical what will happen at the 150 inning barrier...

I've seen both pitchers live this year; Greinke twice, Kazmir once. I am much more impressed with Greinke. Based on that one Kazmir game, I'd agree with Peterson; unless Kazmir comes up with a better off-speed pitch than I saw, he's gonna end up a reliever. He'll have trouble getting through batting orders more than once or twice with nothing but hard stuff.

If you are talking pitching, I have to go with Jose Capellan as #1. Kazmir #2.

If you are talking Hitting, I'd go with David Wright #1, BJ Upton #2

David - The same Capellan who gave up six hits and seven runs tonight in one inning? The same Capellan who gave up two home runs and had no strikeouts?

: )

Felix Hernandez.

I would rank them as follows:

1. Greinke
2. Ankiel
3. Kazmir

Mainly because GAK is the neatest product since Flubber.


"You Can't Do That"

--John Lennon/Paul McCartney

1. Ankiel
2. Greinke

Oh yeah, I agree with Jonah. Besides, I'd take Prior over all of them. Wouldn't trade him for two of them together.

Kazmir? I agree with Rick Peterson on this one.

I don't know enough about the three of them to give any kind of educated answer, but Greinke sure looked nice the other night against the Yankees.

Can I take Danny Almonte? While he's older than Greinke and Kazmir, he's thrown a no-no during championship competition.....

Posted without comment:

The three players in question were all drafted out of high school.

One outing does not a player make. Greinke looks strong, but I do like the year Capellan has had. I thank the Mets for the Kazmir gift.

I'd go...

1.) Kazmir - so young, so talented and so left-handed. What he did against the Red Sox was impressive!
2.) Ankiel - could be the highest potential. I think Kazmir could be as good as Ankiel was. I hope Ankiel can be that good again. The age thing pushes him down the list.
3.) Grienke - I guess I would compare him with Maddux (as so many have), which probably means he'll be the best long term!
4.) Capellan - I do think he'll be very good too.