Last Impressions Are Lasting Impressions Part 2: The Hurlers
Last Friday, I took a look at those hitters whose Post-All Star break numbers might portend a 2007 that will surprise baseball fans. This week, I will tackle the pitchers. Whose second half of the year in 2006 spells great things for 2007? Here goes one guy's take.
While teams tripped over themselves to ink the Gil Meches and Jeff Suppans of the world, the Yankees signed the guy that may very well have been the best pitcher in baseball over the last few months of 2006. Andy Pettitte, with little fanfare, dominated after the All Star break in 2006. While the press focuses their attention on the Bombers' neighbors to the northeast and their signing of Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Yanks might have made the low-cost (relatively speaking) deal of the off-season.
Doesn't it seem like this guy is perpetually on the cusp of superstardom? Now cast aside as a guy whose time has come and gone, the general baseball public seems to have settled on the notion that Sabathia is a mid-rotation, serviceable entity and little more. I disagree. Sabathia flashed good peripherals in 2006 and was phenomenal in the second half. Just 26, his time is yet to come.
He's 22 and one of the most valuable commodities in baseball - a young pitcher with years of cheap service time ahead of him. The San Francisco Giants, and in particular their General Manager Brian Sabean, may have a reputation for assembling old teams but Cain is one of the best young players, position or hurlers, in all of baseball. I look for Cain to be a Cy Young candidate in 2007.
Rich Hill has been putting up video game type Minor League numbers for quite some time now. Stat-heads who like to contend that Minor League performance can very easily predict MLB numbers have witnessed their dissenters pointing to Hill as an example that it takes a little something extra in "The Show." Time and again Hill would warrant a call up, and time again he would fall flat on his face. Until the summer of 2006 that is. Hill seems to have figured out what he needs to do in order to translate his Minor League dominance into Major League competence.
Everybody knows about Sheets and the numbers he put up in 2004. Everybody also seems to have written off the 28 year-old right-hander after consecutive injury-plagued seasons. Injury risk is real and I have no idea how Sheets is going to hold up going forward but fans ought to recognize that this guy is still one hell of a dominant force when he is out there. With their promising young nucleus, Sheets may well be the difference between Milwaukee competing for a division crown and faltering once again.
If you want a data point for the ground-ball/strikeout type that Rich has demonstrated are so damn effective, Reyes is your guy. A lot of the time he strikes 'em out and does it without letting 'em put it in play. But even when they do hit it, the result is often harmless as Reyes induces grounders with the best of them. Major League defenders are capable of scooping up grounders and tossing hitters out at will. Look for Reyes's star to shine a little brighter in 2006. He'll get the recognition he deserves.
Doug Mirabelli, huh? And Josh Bard as a throw in? Meredith dominated down the stretch in 2006, as he walked a batter about every full moon or so and effectively employed a strategy whereby he let hitters make a little contact at spacious Petco Park. Not quite a household name, look for Meredith to emerge as a bullpen star in 2007.
Takashi Saito was as dominant as they come late in 2006. I am well aware that he will be 37 on Opening Day of 2007 but this guy clearly has the stuff to shut down Major League hitters and better still, his motion and delivery remain unfamiliar to the vast majority of them. Saito will still be one of the National League's very best in 2007.
You never know with the pitchers but these are the guys that I think will take up a lot more of the public's mindshare than you might anticipate in 2007. Each showed impressive stuff to close out 2006 and each should continue to impress in the forthcoming year.