Tuesday, April 5, 2011


For the Blue Jays to throw a crafty lefty at the Oakland A's in an early-season home series feels like comeuppance, or maybe just good old irony. It was 3 years ago almost to the day that the A's waltzed into the RC and rode the likes of Dana Eveland, Greg Smith and Chad Guadin (okay, crafty righty, that one) to a three-game sweep. Three thoroughly mediocre pitchers - one now the mopup man for the Washington Nationals, one now in AAA, and one who was released from his most recent organization just 5 hours ago - managed to flummox that Jays team's high-octane offense.

In some ways, Reyes reminds me the most of Smith. Both are young lefties who have struggled at the major league level because they allow far too many baserunners. They're hittable and wild, which is a dangerous combination. At age 26 this year, Reyes is getting what could be an extended audition (or not, depending what happens when Morrow comes off the DL); at age 26 last year, Smith got 8 starts for the Rockies and put up a 6.23 ERA. Both had about a season of big league experience going in - Smith that 2008 season, which looked superficially good, while Reyes has been called on to make 37 mostly awful starts for the Braves over the past 4 years.
It's not that I think Reyes can't be a good pitcher. He's lefthanded, after all, and anyone who's ever listened to Bill Lee talk for 15 minutes understand that left-handed pitchers operate on a different time-space continuum from the rest of the baseball world. (Whither Jamie Moyer?) Plenty of lefties sneak through a season or two on pure deception - Smith's 2008 being a prime example. But most of the time, the ones who don't control the strike zone die. Cradling that 92-mph fastball, David Purcey (control) or Jeremy Sowers (contact) drift from the rotation to the bullpen to the waiver wire, leaving mid-5 ERAs in their wake.
Sometimes, like new-age housewives, lefties find their success later in life; much has been made of guys like Randy Johnson or Jamie Moyer "finding themselves" at 30, after drifting through a decade filling out major league bullpens and minor league rotations.

I think Reyes' upside is Ted Lilly, an inconsistent starter who only really got the walks under control after switching to the National League at age 31, but has managed to stick around for 25+ starts every year since 2003 and wriggle his way to a better-than-average ERA in all but one of those seasons. Ted Lilly isn't a Hall-of-Famer, but he's a decent pitcher. He had his first solid season at age 26, but expecting Reyes to put it all together this year seems to me like hoping on a prayer - or, more specifically, a disappearing option. For the Jays, putting Reyes in the rotation is a do-or-die proposition, a high-risk, low-reward move that can be justified in a punt season. I'd take the under bet on odds he's in a Blue Jay uniform one year from today - though if I'm wrong, that can only mean good things.

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