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Parsing Andy Ashby
2003-03-21 09:14
by Jon Weisman

His strapping 6-foot-1 frame twisting in the breeze, the bullpen looks like the destination for the man with a 17.47 ERA in 5 2/3 exhibition innings.

And so Andy Ashby dangles through the spring like a misplaced participle.

With six starting pitchers on the roster, someone has to go to the bullpen. Seems like it might as well be Ashby, but with the health of the Dodger pitching staff still unsettled, he might get his starts. Is there any hope that he'll be effective this year?

Just last season, Ashby had a 3.91 ERA in 181 2/3 innings. On the other hand, he struggled with his health in September, lasting only 11 1/3 innings and generating a 7.94 ERA.

I've counseled many times in this space that Spring Training statistics need to be discounted as much as possible. But to further investigate that point, I dug up the stats of the Dodgers' worst starting pitchers in Spring Training over the past four seasons, and how they performed in the regular season:

2002: Kazuhisa Ishii
Previous season: in Japan
Spring Training: 8 1/3 innings, 12.96 ERA
April: 29 2/3 innings, 3.03 ERA
Regular season total: 154 innings, 4.27 ERA

2001: Chan Ho Park
Previous season: 226 innings, 3.27 ERA
Spring Training: 21 innings, 6.43 ERA
April: 39 2/3 innings, 3.63 ERA
Regular season total: 234 innings, 3.50 ERA

2000: Eric Gagne
Previous season: 30 innings, 2.10 ERA
Spring Training: 12 2/3 innings, 15.63 ERA
April: 15 1/3 innings, 4.11 ERA
Regular season total: 101 1/3 innings, 5.15 ERA

1999: Carlos Perez
Previous season: 241 innings, 3.59 ERA
Spring Training: 28 1/3 innings, 5.72 ERA
April: 24 1/3 innings, 5.55 ERA
Regular season total: 89 2/3 innings, 7.43 ERA

So what do we find? All four pitchers improved their exhibition ERAs in April. Three of the four did so dramatically.

That said, only Park went on to have what was really a good season. Ishii was okay, I guess, but had deceptively positive numbers - he was erratic almost the entire year. Gagne struggled in that battle of days-gone-by to become a consistent starter. And the 1999 season of Perez, of course, became the stuff of legend.

Perez remains an interesting story to me. As you may recall, Perez pitched very well for the Dodgers when acquired in the summer of 1998, and was signed to a three-year contract extension by Kevin Malone. Among the reasons for the extension were the four complete games he threw in September 1998, including two shutouts.

I attended Perez's first start of 1999. It was against the Colorado Rockies, and Perez led, 1-0, after six innings. Perez gave up hits to Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla in the seventh inning. Dodger manager Davey Johnson does not have anyone warm up in the bullpen. Keep in mind, we're just a week out of Spring Training.

Todd Helton then hits a three-run home run. Still, no one warms up. In fact, Perez would give up a fourth run - and though finally someone got up in the bullpen, no replacement entered the game that inning. Perez finished the seventh, and was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the inning.

I felt strongly, throughout the top of the seventh, that Johnson nonsensically was risking more than a game - he was risking a pitcher. Of course, the previous night, Ismael Valdes had gone 7 2/3 innings in a victory over Arizona. Perhaps Johnson thought the Dodger staff was bionic in 1999. On the other hand, Johnson certainly had a rested bullpen to use.

Perez gave up six earned runs in each of his next two starts. He recovered to throw seven innings of one-run ball in his fourth start, so maybe there isn't a connection. But Perez never got it together after that, finishing with that awful ERA you see above, and so that fourth start seems more like a fluke.

Maybe Perez was destined to implode that season - and I'm certainly not going to say that the huge contract Perez got could be justified. But you'd think with that contract, Johnson would have been more careful. I've always wondered whether he might have ruined Perez's career in that seventh inning on April 8.

If there's a lesson here for today, that lesson is not to give up on Ashby just yet - but to handle him with care.

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