What's in a debut performance?

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Strasburg closeup.jpgWhose major league debut was this?

Opponent: the Pirates, at home;

Line: six innings pitched, 4 hits, 2 earned runs,1 home run allowed, 10 strikeouts.

Give up? It was Mark Prior, from May 22nd 2002.

There’s a lot of that going around as people try to get their mind around Stephen Strasburg’s performance today, obviously, from references to J.R. Richard to Bob Feller to Juan Marichal to Karl Spooner.  If you extend it from debuts to rookie seasons you can throw in references to Kerry Wood, who threw that 20K, 0 BB game in 1998 to Doc Gooden, who threw two sixteen-strikeout games in 1984 and another with 14 that year as well.

I suppose there are a couple of ways to go with this. One is to freak out and make favorable comparisons to Feller and Marichal. Another is to get hysterical about, say, Frank Tanana’s or Mark Fydrich’s arm and start in with the too-much-too-soon thing.

Both seem rather silly, of course. Bob Feller and Juan Marichal would have been Hall of Famers even if they got shelled in their debut.  Nothing in Stephen Strasburg’s delivery or work load suggests the kind of injuries that Kerry Wood’s early performances did. I watched that 20K game, and even then I knew he was destined for Dr. Andrews’ office based on the torque of his delivery.

For me, I keep coming back to the Karl Spooner comparison. The guy struck out 15 dudes in his first game and made only sixteen more starts in his whole major league career. The singularity of his debut accomplishment had no predictive power whatsoever.  It just tells us that we never know with these things.

I think Strasburg is going to have a great career. After reading a whole day’s worth of reactions to his debut, however, I think I’m ready to watch it actually happen rather than sit back and try to predict it.

Brandon Belt, Jaime Barrios set new modern record with 21-pitch at-bat

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Angels starter Jaime Barrios and Giants first baseman Brandon Belt set a new modern record with a 21-pitch at-bat in the first inning of Sunday afternoon’s game in Anaheim. Belt fell behind 1-2 and mostly kept fouling pitches off. The count ran full on the ninth pitch and Belt would foul off 11 more pitches before finally lining out to right field.

As Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle notes, the previous record was set on June 26, 1998 when the Indians’ Bartolo Colon and the Astros’ Ricky Gutierrez battled for 20 pitches. Gutierrez eventually struck out.