Wednesday, June 02, 2004

FREE MLB.TV! I'm too cheap to pay $60 for MLB.TV, so I was resigned to not having TV access this season. But I discovered a few days ago that if you sign up for MSN Premium (with the first three months FREE, thereafter $10 a month), you get MLB All Access as part of the package. Not a bad deal, methinks.

Jeremy Report
Anyhoo, I was finally able to watch Jeremy Affeldt as a closer. I mostly liked what I saw - he gave up two sharp singles, but he also struck two batters out and coaxed Rondell White into a weak popup to end the game. I think he is going to be a very effective closer, but its going to take some time for him to develop the kind of consistency necessary for the position. His main problems are curveball inconsistency and a tendency to overthrow his fastball. When he spots his curveball, though, it is simply devastating, and makes than 96 MPH fastball look like 102 - he's Barry Zito on BALCO. If he can learn to consistently throw his curve where he wants - and that's a big if - then he's going to be a top-5 closer in baseball for years to come.

I must admit that I've become convinced pretty quickly that this is the right thing to do for this season. I thought the decision was pretty hasty at first, and I'm still somewhat suspicious of using a highly talented pitcher 70 innings a year instead of 200. But the facts are right in front of us - since he came up to the bigs, he has been a much better reliever than a starter. Right now, at least, he seems like a pitcher who does better when he can go balls out for an inning or two, rather than throw 110 pitches. His fastball is very straight, not a lot of movement, so he needs to be able to pump it in there at 95-97 to be effective, which he can do in short bursts but not as a starter, where he routinely throws it at 91-92. He just gets pummelled with a 91 MPH straight fastball, especially when he's not spotting his curveball.

The Royals haven't had someone of his caliber and talent in the closer position since Jeff Montgomery oh so many years ago, and its arguably the single most important position in baseball. The Royals have been emotionally devastated by bullpen failures over the past several years, so if this can stabilize the closer spot for the next 5 years, then I'm all for it.

If he can get through this season without developing blisters, though, then I'd like to see the Royals try him as a starter again next season. I think its possible that he's unwittingly pitching too carefully as a starter to avoid blisters, which is why he's struggled so much this year. I think this early season nonsense about not striking batters out was an attempt to get him to throw with less gusto to avoid blisters. Anyway, if he can get past that mental block, he may yet be the dominant starter we all think he can be.


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