The Commish Online www.thecommishonline.com
Patience Is A Virtue
June 17, 2004
In Chicago, two young pitchers heralded for their potential, Kerry Wood of the Cubs and Jon Garland of the White Sox (via the Cubs farm system), are often critiqued by the media, but for some reason, Garland always gets the short end of the stick.
Chicagoans seem to want to give credit to Wood any chance they get, likely because he is the more "exciting" pitcher. Strikeouts are sexy, and that is Wood's strength. What's not sexy, though, is arm trouble (unless you are Dr. James Andrews, who seems to have performed every TJ surgery for anyone who has ever worn a baseball cap), and after TJ surgery and another stint on the DL this year, Wood's long term success becomes much more suspect. No spring chicken in the baseball world, Wood is 27 (turning the digits today, so happy birthday, Kid K!) and has yet to log 15 wins in a season.
Most people don't realize that Jon Garland is only 23 and was forced into the spotlight about a year ahead of schedule. Looking at the career totals for both pitchers (and a few others) after the season in which they turned 23, some of the results are surprising:
What isn't shown is Garland's 40 losses compared to Wood's 13, but the point is that Garland is a healthy arm with (the dreaded word) "potential" and has already proven that he belongs in the majors at such a young age. The next question for Garland to answer is where he belongs - an ace, a number three, or a back end of the rotation guy? Rather than ridicule him and question his toughness, as some Chicago media outlets have done, I prefer to give him a few more years to prove his worth. Not that Garland is in the same class by any stretch, but the Dodgers gave up on Pedro Martinez too early, the Expos shipped out Randy Johnson, etc. etc.
Glavine and Maddux are in the chart above to show that even hugely successful careers aren't evident at age 23, especially for those not considered strikeout pitchers. Dwight Gooden is in the chart just to show how dominating he was at such an early age (sometimes you gotta have fun with this stuff). Unfortunately, he only managed 103 more victories the rest of his career.
So what does all this mean for Wood and Garland. In Wood's case, we've seen enough that it can be said that he will still thrill us with flashes of greatness, but his lack of consistent control will probably keep his ERA in the mid 3's every year and will hover just above and below the 15 win mark each year, assuming his arm holds up. The forecast is for a very good, but not great, career. Even if Wood averages 15 wins for 9 years, his win total will be just above 200 at age 36, and that's a big "if" from a pitcher with arm trouble and still seeking that FIRST 15 win season. Again, a likely very good career but not Hall of Fame worthy.
In Jon Garland's case, when he turns 27 on September 27, 2006, if he is still posting an ERA around 4.50 and struggling to maintain a .500 record, it will be said that he is nothing more than a mediocre pitcher and not worthy of the 1st round pick used on him in 1997. Until then, however, the jury is still out.