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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Never Put A Pencil In A Baby’s Soft Spot

By Chris Russell on Jason Isringhausen
This sound advice was given to me by my mother at age 3. I had just been informed that I was going to have a new baby brother and it was very important that I not perform the horribly detrimental act mentioned above. I learned that this was just one of the many things in life a person should not do. Although a bit creepier and more sadistic, it goes along with not tugging on Superman’s cape, not spitting into the wind, not pulling the mask off of the Lone Ranger and (most recently added to the list) not giving the ball to Jason Isringhausen in the 9th inning.

Let me first say that I have always been a huge Izzy supporter. In 2002 I watched him mow down the heart of a very dangerous Astros lineup with a 9-pitch, 3-strikeout 9th inning to win a nailbiter 2-1. Ever since that game I was hooked. That’s why it pains me so much now to say that Izzy needs to be benched with the game on the line. He has been given “some time off” from the closer role, but the guy makes too much money (almost $9 million a year) for ownership to just let him sit like a bump on a log. Rest assured Bill DeWitt will try and get his money’s worth and slide Izzy back into his old job. And frankly, in a tight division race, the Cardinals can’t afford for that to happen.

After coming on like gangbusters to start the season, 5 for 5 in save chances with a 0.00 ERA, Izzy hit a brick wall… and crumbled. He blew 5 of his next 11 save opportunities and saw his record slip to 1-4 and his ERA balloon to 7.47. Yes this has been the season of the blown save across Major League baseball, but the Birds can ill afford to be lumped in with the teams that trot known chokers to the mound in the 9th inning (Eric Gagne, Joe Borowski, Kerry Wood to name a few). The situation must be remedied or the Cards’ biggest strength last year will become their most glaring weakness in the blink of an eye. Minor league phenom Chris Perez is an option, or the team can go with a closer by committee experiment, mixing and matching Ryan Franklin, Russ Springer, Kyle McClellan and lefty Randy Flores. The latter is the most likely option, at least until they find out what the hell is wrong with Izzy. Which, by the way could be one of 2 things:

Izzy done?1. Izzy is done. He’s a washed up dead-arm that just can’t cut it in the big leagues anymore. This is highly unlikely due to the incredible season he had last year. It’s rare for a pitcher to perform at that level and then 6 months later just stink to high heaven for lack of a better reason than he’s a year older.

2. Izzy is hurt. He has had an injury riddled career, but one thing has always shown through: When Izzy is healthy, he is effective. The only times in his career when he has not been able to get the job done at a high level of efficiency is when he is pitching hurt. Izzy gets a bad rap as a heart attack closer who lets too many runners on, but that is solely based on fans’ memories of seasons when he was pitching with a bum hip, shoulder, elbow, what have you; and couldn’t use his best stuff to keep runners off base as a result of it. In healthy seasons with the Cardinals his WHIP has been .980, 1.035, 1.186, and 1.071. In seasons where he was hurt his WHIP was 1.167, 1.457 and 1.723. A noticeable difference.

Option 2 is obviously the more likely scenario, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Cardinals can no longer send Izzy to the mound in the 9th inning. If he is in fact hurt, put him on the DL, get him healthy and bring him back when he’s good and ready. The team can deal in the mean time. Bringing him back now, well… that would be as dangerous as putting a pencil in a baby’s soft spot.

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