On What To Expect From Mike MacDougal

Hey, I like Mike MacDougal just fine. He’s carved himself out a nice little career, pitching in parts of ten seasons and being paid roughly $8m to do so. With heat in the mid-90s, he’s had a few seasons that were pretty good (2003, 2006), and a few seasons that were slightly less-than-good (uh, all of the rest). He even made himself an All-Star team in that 2003 season, thus earning him the legal right to forever be known as “All-Star Mike MacDougal“, assuming that no one takes the time to see that the ’03 Royals rotation was led by luminaries like Darrell May, Chris George, and Runelvys Hernandez.

Since he left the Royals midway through 2006 via trade, he’s bounced around from team to team, spending time in Chicago, Charlotte, Jupiter (that’d be Marlins spring camp), Harrisburg, Syracuse, Washington, Memphis, and St. Louis. He carries around the usual tale of spring redemption - though I have to admit, “I used a neti pot to clear up a sinus infection that left me weak” is a new one on me – and he’ll be 34 this year. According to his baseball-reference similarity score, the list of relievers who he most resembles through age 33 reads like a who’s who of “hey, that guy existed!” – Doug Henry, Rudy Seanez, and Scott Proctor among them.

This is all fine, though. He’s still a live arm, and this is exactly the type of guy you bring in to camp on a non-roster invite, hoping to strike gold - if by “gold” you mean, “I hope one of those 20 jokers can give me a few league-average innings.” Thanks to the injury to Vicente Padilla, the less-than-impressive springs by Scott Elbert & Ron Mahay, and the stop-me-if-you’ve-heard-this-before disappearance of Ronald Belisario, MacDougal stands a pretty fair chance of breaking camp with the big club.

That’s fine too, because every team has one of those guys at the bottom of the pen, and those spots are so fungible that the likelihood of MacDougal lasting past May is probably pretty slim, anyway. Here’s what worries me, though, and while I’m picking on Jon Heyman here, he’s not the only one:

#dodgers think theyve fixed the talented but perpetually underachieving Mike MacDougal (0.00 ERA so far this spring)

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know how I feel about ERA as an indicator of pitching value. You probably also know that I think it’s even more useless for relievers, because of small samples, and because it often depends so much on inherited runners. Take those two factors and mash them in a blender with “he’s pitched just five spring training innings, generally late in games against minor leaguers at that” and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how meaningful his 0.00 ERA really is.

Remember, this is a guy who over the last four seasons has pitched in 144 major league games, and has a K/BB rate of 99/95, while allowing more than a hit per inning, and his minor league numbers haven’t been much better. I’m not immune to the idea that guys can get healthy or fix a mechanical issue that brings improved results, but rarely does that happen at 34, and in this case, the nice ERA isn’t really justified. I’ll let my Twitter friends, all three of whom are BP writers, explain:

Kevin Goldstein:

5.1 IP, 4 BB, 2 K #stillbroke

Michael Jong:

Trusting ERA for RP is already dumb as it is. Spring, in 5 IP is downright criminal.

Jay Jaffe:

 the Zombie Ortiz Brothers say hi

Jay nails it there, because don’t forget that it was just one year ago that Ramon and Russ Ortiz weaseled their way onto the roster because they had nice spring ERAs of 0.96 and 2.50, despite years of mediocrity. How’d that work out?

Hey, I’d like nothing more than for MacDougal to come out and succeed. It’d be great for him and for the team. Let’s just not act as though five relatively meaningless spring innings are more important than four sustained years of poor performance, okay?

******

Casey Blake may need to start the season on the disabled list, claims Don Mattingly. If so, that’d slide Juan Uribe to 3B, and open up the possibility that my worst-case scenario of Aaron Miles starting at 2B on Opening Day (remember, he’s a switch-hitter, and the Giants will start righty Tim Lincecum) is one step closer towards coming true. Not that I think it will – Jamey Carroll is the more likely choice, handedness aside. But Carroll is battling a sore finger that has cost him some time, so…

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  1. [...] people were putting far too much importance on five scoreless spring innings (to that point), I looked at what was realistic to expect from him: Remember, this is a guy who over the last four seasons has pitched in 144 major league games, and [...]

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