All 15 Year Team: Starting Pitchers

So far, we’ve taken a look at the Thunder’s All 15 Year Team nominees for catcher, first base, second base, shortstop, third base and the outfield.

Now, it’s time to take a look at the starting pitchers.  Now that the team has been announced, it’ll be interesting to look back and see who was on the ballot compared to who actually made it.

What can I tell you about David McDonough, our featured writer, that I haven’t copied and pasted six times now?

Well, Dave is…ummm…Irish. So he’s got that going for him. Outside of that, McDonough’s entering his 15th season of covering Thunder baseball. One of the most helpful people on press row, Dave’s been up close and personal with just about every single player on the entire ballot, and provides unique and interesting stories that you won’t be able to find anywhere else.

With the team having been announced, I’ll only add a few select Thunder Thoughts, which will be italicized.  Dave’s breakdown is below, and you can find my picks at the bottom.

Carl Pavano: Yankees fans may not want to hear this, but Carl Pavano was the best starter in Thunder history.

Now, part of that was circumstance. The Red Sox left Pavano in Trenton all season in 1996. There’s no doubt that if some other Thunder pitchers had put in a full year in town, we would have seen some eye-popping numbers. Phil Hughes comes to mind.

But that doesn’t take way from the fact that Pavano was All-World in 96. He went 16-5 with a 2.63 ERA, and walked only 47 in 185 innings. He was 8-0 with a 1.05 ERA in his last eleven starts, was Minor League Pitcher of the Year and helped the Thunder to a first place finish.

He was a big, goofy 20-year-old kid enjoying the first flush of real success that season. When he came back ten years later to rehab with Trenton, the joie de vivre seemed to be gone. In between, he had been traded to the Expos with Tony Armas Jr. for Pedro Martinez (1998), had an outstanding post-season with the Marlins in 2003, including beating the Yankees in the World Series, won 18 games in 2004, and signed a large 4 year deal with the Yankees in 2005. He has spent a huge amount of time over his career on the DL, and has been a waste of money for New York. He is currently one of the most reviled players in Yankees history. Coming back to Trenton under those circumstances was bittersweet, to say the least.

Jeff Suppan: The 20-year-old Soup went 6-2 with a 2.36 ERA in 15 games for the 95 Thunder before being called up to Red Sox in July. He was the first pitcher to go directly from Trenton to the big leagues. In a strange twist, Thunder pitching coach Al Nipper, an old teammate and friend of Roger Clemens, was promoted along with Suppan. (Nipper lasted less than a year as Red Sox pitching coach, since it was clear the Sox weren’t going to re-sign Clemens.)

Suppan didn’t do much with the Red Sox, and they let him go to Arizona in the 1997 expansion draft. He came back to Boston briefly in 2003, when they were in a pennant run and needed August pitching help. He went 3-4 with a 5.57 ERA for Boston, and all that cost them was future batting champ Freddy Sanchez. Now a 13 year big leaguer, he’s had his best years pitching for the Cardinals from 2004-2006.

Casey Fossum: The lanky lefty out of Texas A&M (I’ve always wanted to say “lanky”, although if I were really a baseball writer, I would have said “lanky southpaw”), pitched for the 2001 Thunder, going 3-7 with a 2.83 ERA in 20 starts as the original hard luck pitcher. That club finished 20 games out, and Fossum didn’t have a lot of offense to work with. He went right from Trenton to the Red Sox.

Being a lefty, he’s gotten lots of chances in the big leagues, first with the Sox, then with Arizona and Tampa Bay. He gets his share of shoulder injuries, and in 203 big league games over seven seasons, his ERA is 5.46.

What I remember best about Casey is that he had spooky eyes, and always looked at you as if he’d never seen you before. But then, a lot of ballplayers look at reporters that way.

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: I only ever interviewed Casey once, and that was in the visiting clubhouse of Camden Yards in 2005 while he was with the Devil Rays.  Yes, they were the Devil Rays then.  I honestly don’t remember the “spooky eyes” thing Dave’s talking about, but I also don’t remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday, so…

Jared Fernandez: Jared Fernandez worked hard for years in the minors before finally getting to the majors at age 29. He never complained, always did what was asked of him. He was a substitute teacher in the off-season and had a beautiful wife. He deserves any success he’s had.

So why do I hate him?

Because he’s a knuckleballer.

As a reporter, and even as a fan, I just hate the knuckleball. It’s not that I think that baseball should belong only to the hulking brutes that can throw batting practice at 95 mph. I can admire the artistry of the change-up, that slurve, the pitches thrown by a true master of control, like Greg Maddux.

The problem with the knuckler is that there is no artistry, no control. You just grip it, throw it up there, and pray. Sometimes it baffles the hitter (Tim Wakefield, 1995) and sometimes it doesn’t (Tim Wakefield, 1996). And because it zigzags up to the plate at a cool 30 mph, it takes all day to play a game with a knuckleballer in it, which drives a reporter crazy.

Every year, there seems to be one pitcher that I see more than others. It’s just the luck of the draw that I am covering games on a day that one guy is always pitching. Last year, it was Alan Horne, which was no problem. Another year, it was Andy Hazlett. And it seemed that every year from 1995 to 1999, it was Jared Fernandez. And Jared never did baffle the hitters much in the Eastern League. It was well known that you couldn’t send him through the line-up more than once without trouble, but often, you had no choice. It should be noted that in all three years that Jared pitched more than 20 games for the Thunder, his ERA was over 5.00.

So I am happy that he got to spend parts of 5 big league seasons with the Reds, Astros and Brewers, and I hope he made lots of money last year in Japan. And I am mostly just glad that I never have to watch him pitch again.

Jason Sekany: I had forgotten that Jason went 14-4 for the Thunder in 1998. He was 22 and in his third pro year. His 3.35 ERA was a hundred points lower than in any of his other full minor league seasons. Although he was the second round draft choice for the Red Sox, he never really seemed to be a prospect. Maybe it’s because he didn’t throw that hard. He never did get out of AAA, and was through with baseball after six seasons.

Jason, an intelligent University of Virginia graduate, always talked about going to medical school when he was through with baseball. But he ended up running a baseball school in California.

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: Jason Sekany and Andy Hazlett were to me what Jared Fernandez were to Dave.  Seems like every game I went to back in my good ol’ “fan days,” one of these two guys was pitching.

Tomo Ohka: What a year Tomo had in 1999! In his first year of American baseball, he went 8-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 12 games for the Thunder, and then went 7- 0 with a 1.58 ERA for Triple-A Pawtucket. He got up to Boston by the end of the season.

Actually, the right-hander hadn’t pitched all that well in Japan when the Red Sox signed him in 1998. But the Red Sox liked his control – Tomo didn’t give up a lot of walks. He pitched a prefect game for Pawtucket in 2000, and he back to Boston. The Red Sox kept thinking he’d be in their rotation, but the AL hit Tomo pretty well. He was traded in 2001 to the Expos for the immortal Ugueth Urbina (who’s now in prison for at tempted murder in Venezuela). Tomo had one good year with Montreal, in 2002 (31-8, 3.18 ERA), but he didn’t get along with the now-Washington manager Frank Robinson. He was traded to the Brewers, had little success there, and had injuries. He spent 2007 with the Blue Jays, in the minors with the Cards, and was released from Triple-A by the Mariners last September.

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: Back when Ohka was on the team, I was a 16-year-old kid trying to get everyone from the team to sign his ball.  After a few games, my ball got pretty full, but I didn’t have Ohka yet.  Before a game, he was walking down the first base line, so I called his name and asked him to sign.  He took the ball, spun it around a few times looking for a spot to sign, and then handed it back to me without signing it.  Odd.  So I pointed to a spot, and he signed there. 

Chien Ming Wang: There was always something about Wong that made you believe he could be in the big picture. Even though his numbers at Trenton weren’t all that impressive (7-6 record with a 4.65 ERA in 2003, 6-5 with a 4.05 ERA in 2004], his ability to keep the ball on the ground was always impressive. He battled blisters while he played with Trenton, but seems to have gotten past that. The last two years in New York he’s proved that he has nothing left to prove. He may not be everybody’s idea of a No. 1 starter, but put him in rotation with a healthy Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and maybe Joba, and the rest of the American League has to be scared.

Phil Hughes: Before there were the Joba Rules, there was the Hughes Blues (as experienced by Bill Masse). That’s the rule that kept Hughes on a strict pitch count in all 21 games he pitched for the Thunder in 2006, much to then-manager Bill Masse’s chagrin. Hughes was dominating in the Eastern League. Batters hit .179 against him. He led the league in ERA with 2.25, and struck out 128 in 116 innings. There is no doubt that if the righty had stayed all year in Trenton and had been allowed to pitch into later innings, he would’ve put up some of the best numbers ever seen in AA baseball.

He also was one of the most poised 20-year-olds I’ve ever seen in Trenton. Maybe that comes from being one of the top draft choices in the country. If Hughes stays healthy, he will be one of the best pitchers in Yankee history-probably even better then Joba.

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: This goes for almost anybody else, but I never saw or heard of Phil being a jerk to anyone.  But what’s different about Hughes’ situation is that he could have.  Everybody knew he was headed to stardom, and he probably knew it too.  But he never let you know it.  It was a pleasure to cover him.

Tyler Clippard: Over the second half of the 2006 season, Tyler was the best pitcher in the Eastern League. Harnessing his excellent change-up and good fastball, he was 10-1 from June 19 on, won his last nine decisions, and pitched the first no-hitter in Thunder history. He set the club record for strikeouts with a league-leading 175. Over two starts in July, he struck out 22 men. He ended up the season 12-10 with 3.35 ERA.

It was a remarkable turnaround for a man who struggled mightily in the first half and opened up some eyes. Tyler passed up to Triple-A Scranton in 2007, and in late May, with the Yankees scrounging for pitc hing, he got six starts for New York. He didn’t have much success, and more than a share of troubles when he was sent back to Scranton. He ended up back in Trenton as Ian Kennedy and Java Chamberlain moved up a ladder . Chase Wright, who also made his Yankees debut in 07, ended up back in Trenton too, but he was pretty philosophical about it. Tyler was not. There was a certain amount of bitterness about him at that point, and no one was surprised when he was traded over the winter. He will get a chance to be in the starting rotation with the Nationals. In July and August of 1996, he was as good as it got in Trenton.

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: I always thought Clip looked different in person than he did in pictures.  I will remember him for his small frame, and strange delivery.

Matt DeSalvo: Matt pitched part of 2004, all of 2005 and some of 2006 in Trenton. He had a 3 02 ERA in 24 starts in 2005. He missed a lot of time, two months, in 2004 with back problems. Matt used to talk about the book he was writing, science fiction, I think. Mike Ashmore got to know Matt lot better than I did, so I’ll let him tell you the rest.

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: Well Dave, you don’t ever really get to know Matt.  The only person in my six-year career as a writer who has refused a copy of the paper he was featured in.  Guys will want them for their families, or want to read them themselves, but he just didn’t care.

I’ll remember Matt for being my ticket back to the big leagues.  When he got called up to the Yankees, I called the Bronx on a hope and a prayer just to see if maybe I could get up there to cover his first start.  For some crazy reason, they let me, and I got to cover one more of Matt’s big league starts and five other games up there working on Thunder pieces.

Jeff Karstens: Last year was pretty much a mess for Jeff, and he has to hope that he didn’t miss the boat as far as cracking the Yankees rotation. 2007 would’ve been the y ear. The Yankees were scrambling for starters at the beginning of the season. But Jeff, who went 6-0 for the Thunder in 2006 with a 2.31 ERA in 11 starts, began 2007 on the DL with a strained shoulder. When he did get the Yankees Stadium he had some quick success, but April 28th, a line drive from the Red Sox’ Julio Lugo broke his right leg. The rest of the season was basically all rehab for Jeff, including one start for Trenton. With Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain all making giant leaps, it’s going to be hard for Jeff to be a starter at Yankee Stadium this April. But he’s working at it.

Joba Chamberlain: One of my secret fears is that when my grandchildren ask me to tell them about how I saw Joba Chamberlain pitch at Trenton, I will have to bow my head in sorrow and admit the truth: I never saw him play. In my defense, Joba came and went out of Trenton so quick that somehow, I missed all his starts here.

Having said that, I admit to being just as impressed with Joba as everyone else, and I look forward to seeing what the Yankees decided to do with him this year. His record with the Thunder wasn’t all that overwhelming but who cares after what he did in New York. I’m sure Mike has a lot to say about Joba.

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: I know I’ve said this before, but comparing trying to talk to Joba now to back when he was with Trenton is night and day.  If you aren’t one of the big boys, getting a one-on-one with anyone in the big leagues can be tough, especially with the so-called star players.  Getting two minutes with Chamberlain last year in the Bronx was a struggle, just a few months after I had him for ten minutes by myself and could have talked to him for as long as he let me.

I’ll remember Joba for being gracious with my questions about his heritage, since that’s always a sketchy topic with some players from non-traditional (I’m sure there’s a better way to put that) backgrounds.

Ian Kennedy: Wouldn’t it be something if Ian Kennedy had more big league success than either Hughes or Chamberlain? It’s not that far-fetched. Ian pitched very well in his three starts with the Yankees, and, like Joba, is a guy who started the season in Single A. He was 5-1 with the Thunder [yes I did get to see him pitch] and has pitched well everywhere he’s gone. He’s not as overwhelming to watch as Hughes and Chamberlain. But he had had just as much success, and, like Hughes, has an awful lot of poise. He could be in the ’80s rotation for awfully long time.

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: Talked to him a grand total of once in Trenton.  Yet, he remembered me in the Yankees clubhouse last week.  Bonus points to him.

Justin Duchscherer: There have been a lot of goofy kids through Trenton and Justin was one of the goofiest – without a mean bone in his body. He pitched well for the Thunder in 2000 on a not very good team. He pitched 8 2/3 innings no-hit ball in a game in 2000. Duke, not a fastball pitcher, had excellent control. He was traded in mid 2001 to the Rangers for Doug Mirabelli. In 2003, with Oakland’s AAA club, he had an amazing 18 walks in 155 innings. He had three good years in the Oakland bullpen from 2004-2006. Injuries have hurt him since then.

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: Loved Duke as a fan.  Loved him.  He had a big, beautiful breaking ball, and I made my dad get tickets behind home plate every time we went to see him pitch so I could study it.

Also, he signed every single letter of last name in his autographs.  Nice guy, had a pretty small frame back then.  Hated when the Red Sox lost him — but not as much as when they lost Chris Reitsma.  I actually called Tom McCarthy’s old radio show to bitch about that.  Yes, I was like 17 or 18 when that happened. 

Not on the ballot: Rob Ramsay: The left-hander had 166 strikeouts in 162.2 innings for the 1998 Thunder. He went 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA. The bullpen was horrible that year; with any kind of support, Ramsay should have had 16 wins. He was traded to the Mariners the next season and got into some games with them in 1999 and 2000. In 2002, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Although he recovered, he was never able to rejuvenate his baseball career. A very good, decent kid who had a very tough break.

Dave’s Votes Go To: It’s tough, but I’ll go for Pavano, Hughes, Ohka, Kennedy and Clippard.

Mike’s Votes Go To: Hughes, Duchscherer, Ohka, Clippard, Fossum

Joba didn’t pitch here long enough.  Fossum’s record isn’t good, but the ERA was.

Our Ballots So Far:

C: Walt McKeel (McDonough), Virgil Chevalier (Ashmore)
1B: Tony Clark (McDonough), Shelley Duncan (Ashmore)
2B: David Eckstein (McDonough), David Eckstein (Ashmore)
SS: Freddy Sanchez (McDonough), Adam Everett (Ashmore)
3B: Shea Hillenbrand (McDonough), Wilton Veras (Ashmore)
OF1: Raul Gonzalez (McDonough), Raul Gonzalez (Ashmore)
OF2: Adam Hyzdu (McDonough), Adam Hyzdu (Ashmore)
OF3: Michael Coleman (McDonough), Dernell Stenson (Ashmore)
SP1: Carl Pavano (McDonough), Phil Hughes (Ashmore)
SP2: Phil Hughes (McDonough), Justin Duchscherer (Ashmore)
SP3: Ian Kennedy (McDonough), Tomo Ohka (Ashmore)
SP4: Tomo Ohka (McDonough), Tyler Clippard (Ashmore)
SP5: Tyler Clippard (McDonough), Casey Fossum (Ashmore)

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

3 Responses to “All 15 Year Team: Starting Pitchers”

  1. Gabe Says:

    Isn’t Phil Hughes a righty?

  2. David Mac Says:

    Gabe is 100% correct. What possessed me to write that he was a lefty? He doesn’t even act like one. Give Gabe my job….

  3. thunderbaseball Says:

    A little creative editing, and…voila, it’s fixed.

    But Phil Hughes would still totally shop at the Leftorium. He’s cool like that.

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