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.

Theo Epstein named The World’s Greatest Leader

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Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.

For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.

So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?

The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.

Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.

But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.

 

 

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.