Harden perfectly moving up the A's ladder

As Rich Harden continues to dominate in the minor leagues, a spot could soon be opening for him on the A's starting staff.

Originally Published: April 9, 2003
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

A few random notes while wondering if the Tigers will ever win another game, and if the Royals will ever lose one ...

  • Did you see the story about Rich Harden retiring 39 straight hitters to open this season?

    In case you didn't, Harden is a right-handed pitcher in the A's system, and before this season was generally regarded as the organization's top prospect. He throws four pitches for strikes, and last year he went 12-6 and struck out 187 hitters in 153 innings.

    Yet the A's are being incredibly cautious with Harden, who just turned 21 last November (he's two months younger than Baldelli). Eight of his wins last season came with Midland, the Athletics' Double-A franchise in the Texas League ... but this spring, it was back to Midland for Harden.

    Well, he's made two starts, faced 39 hitters in 13 innings, and has yet to allow even a single baserunner. And with absolutely nothing left to prove in Double-A, Harden was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento on Wednesday.

    So (you might be asking) why wasn't Harden allowed to go for the perfect game in either of his starts?

    Because the A's are incredibly cautious with Harden. In his first start, he was pulled after 80 pitches. In his second, he was on a 95-pitch limit, and so was pulled after throwing 92. According to A's assistant GM Paul DePodesta, Harden's limit will increase as the season progresses, to the point where he'll be allowed to throw as many as 105 pitches in a game.

    Some of you might think such limits are overly restrictive, and -- as some old coots are known to suggest -- merely "teach pitchers how not to pitch."

    Maybe. But let me give you three names in rebuttal ...

    Zito. Hudson. Mulder.

    Sometimes the proof is in the pitching.

  • A couple of things about Ivan Rodriguez drawing five walks last night ...

    Ivan Rodriguez
    Ivan Rodriguez would be a dose of fresh air for the Tigers.

    First, we're talking about a player who's never drawn more than 38 walks in a season. And yet, somehow last night Pudge drew as many walks as any National Leaguer has drawn since 1891.

    I've not been able to find out just how many National Leaguers have drawn five walks in a nine-inning game, but I do know that Vince Coleman was the last. And as you probably remember, Coleman wasn't exactly a champion walker. That said, Coleman did walk quite a bit more often than Rodriguez. Here are their career walk rates, expressed as a ratio of walks to walks plus at-bats:

              Walks  Walks+AB   Ratio
    Coleman    477     5406     .081
    Rodriguez  305     5680     .051
    

    In other words, Coleman walked in roughly eight percent of his plate appearances, while Rodriguez has walked in only five percent of his. So while we wouldn't have expected Coleman to walk five times in nine innings, we really wouldn't have expected Pudge to walk five times in nine innings.

    And what of Walt Wilmot, the only major leaguer in history to draw six walks in a nine-inning game?

    Wilmot played in the National League from 1888 through 1898, mostly as a left fielder for the Cap Anson-captained Chicago Colts (who didn't become the Cubs until 1902). In 1891, when Wilmot drew six walks on August 22, he finished the season with 55 free passes in 121 games.

    In addition to playing left field, Wilmot was similar to Coleman in a variety of ways. Like Coleman, Wilmot was a switch-hitter. Like Coleman, Wilmot was fast; twice, he stole 76 bases in one season. And like Coleman, Wilmot walked in approximately eight percent of his plate appearances.

    Unlike Coleman, Wilmot had pale skin, slicked-back hair, and a bushy mustache.

  • David Schoenfield, my erstwhile editor, points out that Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli have combined this season for 21 strikeouts ... and one walk.

    This has to be a concern for the Devil Rays. Yes, it's been just slightly more than a week, and in the grand scheme of the baseball season a week doesn't mean much. On the other hand, it's not like Crawford and Baldelli have been champion walkers in the past. Here's what they did last season:

              Games  Walks
    Baldelli   117     23
    Crawford   148     29
    

    They're both 21 and they've both got plenty of time to get better. But I can't help but wonder where they're more likely to learn the strike zone: in the minors, or the majors? The problem with learning in the majors is that all eyes are upon you, which makes it harder to try something new ... like not swinging at a pitch that might be a strike (but might not be).

    On a happier note, the rest of the Devil Rays are drawing walks, so the club actually ranks fourth in the American League, with 28. And they're scoring plenty of runs, too. Unfortunately, the Rays have allowed more runs than any other team in the majors. And I don't know that these trends are going to reverse, because Lou Piniella has always been pretty good with hitters and pretty bad with pitchers (unless he's got Bryan Price working with the moundsmen).

    Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published in April by Fireside, appears here regularly during the season. His e-mail address is rob.neyer@dig.com.

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