Thursday, February 25, 2010

Riggleman's Half-Regrets on Kerry Wood

With Stephen Strasburg's emergence as the best pitching prospect in a generation, a number of people have been asking Jim Riggleman lately about what went wrong with the last best pitching prospect in a generation: Kerry Wood. Chico Harlan did a piece on it this week, and Kerry Wood commented on it earlier today.

Now, I'm glad to hear Riggleman say he wouldn't work Wood the way he did in 1998. For Strasburg's sake, I sure hope not.

The thing that still annoys me about Riggleman's statements on Wood (and I've now at least three times heard him in person give more or less the same answer verbatim that he gave Chico) is that he still can't quite bring himself to just say he was wrong and leave it at that.

Every time, he says that although he would have done it differently if he'd been clairvoyant and known what was going to happen, that a) "we were in a pennant race," b) he "probably would have gotten hurt anyway," and c) "At the time that we had Kerry, my recollection of any criticism I had was 'Why did you take him out of the game?' After the fact it's 'Well, you pitched him too much.' "

Now, if you really think you screwed up, you'd just say, "look, I screwed up, I take the blame, and I should have made different decisions. But it's that last one that really gets my goat, because I was in Chicago at the time and I remember personally worrying about the phenom's workload, not to mention the concerns raised in the press.

There aren't many news sites with archives that deep, but Baseball Prospectus does. Here's Rany Jazayerli on July 24, 1998:
Please, Mr. Riggleman, please... unlike Leyland and Francona, Jim Riggleman hasn't picked on any one pitcher, spreading the [pitcher abuse] around. But when your staff leader is 21 and has the most promising arm of the decade, it's not enough to be cautious - you have to be downright paranoid. Riggleman hasn't let Kerry Wood crack 130 yet, but he's thrown 128 once, 122 four times, and 121 once. Rule of thumb, Jim: don't let Wood start the 7th unless his pitch count is still in double digits.
So Jim, how about if we cut out the stuff about how no one raised these concerns at the time?


Hendo said...

If Riggleman did anything wrong it was either (a) agreeing to manage the Cubs in the first place or (b) agreeing to do so in 1998.

The Cubs have never had to worry much about building a real prospect base because they've always had guys like Wood, Mark Prior, Felix Pie, Jeff Samardzija, etc., on whom to hang ridiculously inflated hopes. Granted, in Wood's case Riggleman was the agent of those hopes and deserves to be called out for the results. But he was not acting in a vacuum, and his remarks provide context.

And 1998 was not exactly the apogee of sabermetrics. Few in that bogus year much knew, or cared to know, anything beyond "chicks dig the long ball." The Jazayerlis were still getting smacked down pretty regularly by the Joe Morgans and the Murray Chasses.

I'm not sure what you have against Riggleman that makes you want to stifle him, but it's not enriching the discussion.

Section 222 said...

Don't know if you saw McCatty's comments about his own career in MZ's post a few days ago on Stammen. Sounds like he didn't learn much either about wearing out a young pitcher's arm (his own) and playing through injuries. Riggleman and McCatty sure don't seem like the ideal people to put in charge of Strasburg's development. Let's hope there's some adult supervision, of them, going on.

Steven said...

Hendo--I'm worried about Riggleman's pitcher handling because his track record is lousy, which I think is fair.

On the history, again the lame false excuses bug me, especially when Riggleman's sentence usually beings with, "I don't make any excuses, but... excuses 1, 2, and 3."

Your claim that it was the "era" is also not true. If this was the 70s, you'd be right. But there were NOT 20 year old pitchers being handled the way Riggleman handled Wood. And there were complaints.

So again, how about if he and his fans just say, "he made terrible decisions. he hopefully learned his lessons. no excuses. for realz."

Hendo said...

Although I did not use the word era (so kindly remove the quotes), the fact that it was 1998 did play a role. Surely you wouldn't argue that Head Owner Bud was a bit unhappy about Wood's 1998 overuse deflecting attention from baseball's recent labor and attendance woes, just as the juiced-up home run derby was providing a similar diversion to the gullible?

Steven said...

I don't follow. What's the connect between Bud Selig and Kerry Wood's pitch count?

Hendo said...

What's the connect between Bud Selig and Kerry Wood's pitch count?

That baseball was looking for star power to re-attract fans to the game, and that pointing at Wood's bright, shiny innings and K totals might have been a more pleasant exercise than dealing with structural imbalances and PEDs. (Or with the possible overuse of young pitchers.)

jack said...


I have to agree with Hendo. People in the bb world who cared about abuse points in '98 were rare birds. Everyone knew Wood was being overworked, but he was so good and so much was riding on him that they did what they did. Wood is part of the reason the average fan doesn't freak when teams pull young starters now.

That said, Riggleman shouldn't be trusted. But he is going to be watched so closely he will have to err on the side of caution. I'd worry more about the other young kid, the reliever.

Steven said...

If Riggleman's treatment of Wood was such a mainstream, un-notable event, show me the evidence. Show me examples of other young pitchers who were ridden the way Riggleman rode Wood in 1998.

James Bjork said...

FYI- Rob Neyer at ESPN linked to this post in his Monday Mendozas. Enjoy your 15 minutes!!