Friday, September 09, 2005

Happy Thoughts Friday, September 9

If ever we felt the need for one . . .

John Patterson is having a great breakout year for the Washington Nationals. (In keeping fidelity to the theme, we'll forget about last night for the purpose of this post.) Bob Cohn recently wrote a nice piece for the Washington Times on Patterson. It didn't just recount Patterson's success this season or his frustrations with the Diamondbacks' organization in past seasons. It went deeper and gleaned more insight from Patterson than we might have previously been given.

To that end, Cohn did not merely state, "Oh, Patterson's sure been a hard-luck pitcher." (Which he has, of course.) Instead, Cohn presented Patterson's perspective on the season-long lack of run support and an individual won-lost record (8-5) not commensurate with his sterling ERA. The following passage refers to a recent game in which Patterson entrusted closer Chad Cordero, the National League-leader in saves, with a ninth inning lead; Cordero, of course, blew the lead, but the Nats won in extra innings:

But Mr. Reliable blew the three-run lead in the ninth inning. It felt, Patterson said, "like somebody punched you in the stomach." Then the Nationals won in the 12th, and all was good. Earlier in the season Patterson might have pouted, sulked or otherwise showed a hissy side. Not anymore. "I can only handle what I can handle," he said. "My job is to go out and pitch and keep the team in the game for as long as I can. Personal victories don't mean as much as a team victory."

I like the world view. Personal "credit" stats for pitchers (wins, losses, saves), in my opinion, are prone to serving counter-productive purposes. A good won-lost record can hide a bad ERA and obscure the possibility that a pitcher is declining; on the other hand, an artificially poor won-lost record can prejudice a team's evaluation of a young and aspiring pitcher, or it can obfuscate an investigation into a possible free agent bargain. A mediocre pitcher can rack up lots of saves and consequently earn far too much money. (Such is not the case with Cordero, of course.)

Thus, I feel that looking solely at a won-lost record---or at least so much so, at the detriment of other indicators---is a beknighted view. It is a team game, after all, and MASN analyst Ron Darling believes Patterson recognizes this truth:

"A lot of pitchers say, 'When I start I just
want the team to win,' but few really believe it," Nationals TV analyst and former big league pitcher Ron Darling said. "They want to win. But John Patterson comes close to really believing that."

Patterson, 27, is a genuine talent, one who has battled back from injury and confidence issues. His acquisition from Arizona for lefty reliever Randy Choate is a bright mark on the ledger of former Expos' GM Omar Minaya, who has drawn considerable blame (certainly justified to an extent, but how much is legitimate one cannot really know) for stripping the organization of its future resources. Since his arrival to the Expos/Nats, the team's instructors have done him right, too:

He worked on the alterations that pitching coach Randy St. Clair [sic] made to his delivery. And he did it alone. With Arizona, Patterson said, different coaches always were suggesting different things.

Cohn describes Patterson as "the Nationals' fourth starter at best" coming into the season, which in itself might be overstating things. He was not envisioned as making the rotation, according to the Magic Dry Erase Board. He only made the rotation because an injury to Tony Armas, Jr. (I'd note "one of many," but that also wouldn't fit with today's theme), and even a dynamite first start against the Marlins "[didn't] change his status overnight," according to manager Frank Robinson.

Patterson has thrived since then, wrestling the opportunity from others cast aside and pitching like an ace, only experiencing a slighy blip around May or June. When I recall this 2005 season years from now, John Patterson will be near the top of my memory.

And hopefully, like the Nats themselves, this is just the beginning.

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