Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Milton Bradley vs. Carlos Silva & Cash, part 2

Posted by dannmckeegan on May 12, 2010

A name that Mariners fans loathe.  A name that causes unease among Cubs fans.  A name that, despite appearing in only eight box scores in the major leagues in 2009, has found itself featured in headlines on the web, on cable sports shows, and in print.  An absurd contract, a track record of injury, poor performance over a prolonged stretch, outspoken criticism of his team and management, and inclusion in an off-season trade of two teams’ undesirables that would make an NBA general manager proud.  Undefeated so far in six 2010 starts for Chicago.  This is Carlos Silva.

Carlos Silva's 2008 Game Log

Carlos Silva's 2008 game log shows a cumulative line that absolutely reeks. No wonder the Mariners fans turned on him and his $48mm contract...

Between that 2008 game log and a 2009 that was essentially negated by shoulder impingement, Silva’s absurdly large contract – courtesy of then-GM Bill Bavasi – had become an albatross around the franchise’s neck. A decent team from 2007 crashed and burned in 2008, experiencing injuries, regression and down years from pretty much everyone on the team. The pivotal moment was in June, when a struggling team led Silva to deliver these comments:

One thing is in here, I know everybody (has) to do their job, but don’t forget you play for a team[.] There’s a lot of people here who play for themselves. They get two hits, that’s my day, I made my day. If we lose, who cares? If I win, that’s it. It is happening, man.

From then on it appears that the marriage was over and they were trying to stay together for the kids – namely Felix Hernandez, who reportedly had developed a positive relationship with the underperforming and overeating righty.  But let’s single out a few specific instances of Carlos Silva’s struggles.  These are his five combined starts against the Yankees and Tigers in 2008:

Carlos Silva's Worst Game Log

Wow - these numbers are atrocious, even compared to his full-season game log!

Looking at these numbers compared to his full season, we see that he really fell off the table hard after a solid April. He was hammered in May four times by good offensive teams. And look at the tally row again and check out the total scores. The Mariners were outscored by a 2-1 margin in those games! But I guess that leaves us with the other twenty-three starts he made:

Carlos Silva - Game Log less NYY and DET

Amazing what 5 starts out of 28 can do to your numbers, eh?

The most noticeable aspect of this game log is that the overall for/against scoring is a -2 total. Outside of five specific starts against two specific teams, his starts were run neutral for his team. Some were very good, some were very bad, and others are what one would expect out of a number 3 or 4 starter (that being what Silva was, had been, and shall be – no matter what he’s paid).  The batting average against, babip, and isolated slugging are elevated a bit from league average, but that’s expected from a sinkerball pitcher who relies on fielders to make outs.

Speaking of fielders, here is who he had playing behind him for much of his Minnesota tenure, which of course included home games on the nice, regular turf of the Metrodome:

  • 2007: Justin Morneau, Luis Castillo, Jason Bartlett, Nick Punto
  • 2006: Justin Morneau, Luis Castillo, Jason Bartlett, Nick Punto
  • 2005: Justin Morneau; Nick Punto, Luis Rivas; Jason Bartlett, Juan Castro; Michael Cuddyer
  • 2004: Justin Morneau, Doug Mientkiewicz; Luis Rivas; Corey Koskie; Cristian Guzman

That’s a pretty solid group there, isn’t it?  Only Cuddyer was a real minus.  Now here’s who played behind him, outdoors, in Seattle:

  • 2008: Richie Sexson, Miguel Cairo, Bryan LaHair; Jose Lopez; Yuniesky Betancourt; Adrian Beltre

I think that a sinkerballer, already struggling with his command and the health of his slowly deteriorating rotator cuff, might have been further plagued by the internal screaming of, “PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD HIT IT TO THIRD BASE ON A LINE BUT NOT PAST HIM BECAUSE LORD KNOWS WHEN RAUL IBANEZ’S OLD ASS WILL GET TO IT IN LEFT FIELD!”  Shoddy defense doesn’t help a struggling contact pitcher.

At least Jarrod Washburn had a similarly ugly record with Seattle that year with an ERA in the 4’s because he was a fly ball pitcher.  A pitcher’s park works great for fly ball pitchers.  But it also allows a lot of room for grounders and low liners to bounce around before being fielded.  On the other extreme was Miguel Batista, the other M’s sinkerball starter, who had no command of the zone, more walks than strikeouts, and worse numbers in most every rate category than Silva.  The previous year, Wash and Batista had each done alright for that surprisingly good Seattle ’07 team.

The rotating door in the 5th spot rolled over from 2007 to 2008.  The addition of Erik Bedard was nice for that stretch he was healthy.  But Silva’s place was as the replacement for Jeff Weaver.  Weaver was with Seattle during their 2007 season, and the Mariners looked to Silva to improve upon Weaver’s production from the year prior.  Weaver had supplied 7 wins against 13 losses (12-15 club record), just under 150 innings pitched, a WHIP over one-and-a-half, and an ERA well over 6.

In reality, Carlos Silva had little, if anything, to do with the Mariners’ regression in 2008.  As bad as he was, he was comparable to the man he replaced.  The blame goes firmly with the offense and Miguel Batista, the guys who absolutely disappeared for the 2008 season.  No one says Silva was any good.  But we can look at his non-Yankee/Tiger starts and see how much value a rehabilitated shoulder, a fresh environment and a shift to the National League can have.

Mariners fans assumed that they were unloading a physical problem on the Cubs: out of shape, constantly injured.  But Silva’s situation has improved, thus allowing his aches and pains to be dealt with as they arise without a microscope.  That is, the Seattle and national media made such a big deal out of how bad Carlos Silva was that Cubs fans had no expectations.  As long as his success lasts, it’s a bonus AND already has paid for the Bradley exchange.  It should be no surprise that Carlos Silva has been successful thus far.  With Starlin Castro at shortstop now, though, we might see a situation where unearned runs really begin to take their toll.  While Silva is actually pitching less to GB contact so far, he’s still the one the weakened Cub defense will affect first.

Where both the Seattle and national media went wrong is not, however, in their undervaluation of Silva.  He easily could have come to Chicago in an El Guapo fat suit, re-shredded his shoulder, and found himself riding the left field bullpen pine until it bowed under his weight.  No, the error – and it is an error that the press and the “scientific” sabermetric community still seem to be making now – was and is in the lack of recognition and respect for the severity of psychological and emotional issues.  An arm can be put in a sling to immobilize a repetitive movement injury in a shoulder.  A broken finger can be put in a splint.  Muscular tightness can be given rest.  But the brain and the mind aren’t quite the same thing.  The former is an organ, one that is highly sensitive to chemical action, reaction and interaction.  The latter is the consciousness the brain creates, the awareness not only of the world but the world within.  There are treatments, both medicinal and therapeutic, for those issues.  But none of them come over the counter.  None of them are guaranteed.  And the greatest irony of all is that it’s Carlos Silva who has been open about seeking out a sports psychologist ever since coming to Chicago.

So a trade of garbage contracts was something much more.  And for both players involved, it appears that it has resulted in changes that extend beyond the diamond.

And by the way: Seattle’s essentially paying for Marlon Byrd this year and next.  Thanks.

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