Dave Duncan and Ponson Possibilities

 

By Keith Glab, 12/24/05

 

In July of 2003, Sidny Ponson was perceived as the most valuable commodity in baseball. Someone will have to explain to me why. But this week, the Cardinals signed him for relative peanuts, not in the hopes of resurrecting his career, as it was never that good to begin with, but in the hopes of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan being able to work his veteran magic on Sidney.

 

You see, Duncan and Manager Tony LaRussa, who are as inseparable as Trammell and Whitaker, have an uncanny history of turning ostensibly past their-prime pitchers who never reached their potential into solid workhorses or even Cy Young candidates. Although this dynamic duo has been together since the White Sox division title in 1983, lets cite examples beginning when they turned around an Oakland ballclub in 1987 that hadnt had a winning season in five years.

 

The As acquired 29 year-old Dave Stewart from the Phillies in mid-1986. Before 1987, Stewart had never pitched 200 innings, struck out 120 batters, or won over 10 games in a single season before. He had been toggling between starter and reliever, and had played for four different clubs in a four-year span. Then beginning in 1987, the 30 year-old Stewart began a streak of four 20-win seasons. In each season, Stewart threw over 250 IP, struck out over 150 batters, and had an ERA at least 10% better than the league average. He went from being a faceless swingman to having the most famous eyes in all of baseball.

 

In 88, Duncan and LaRussa got 31 year-old Bob Welch. Welch had more success than Stewart prior to joining the As, but as recently as 1986 he had a losing record (7-13) and as recently as 1984 he posted an ERA 7% below the league average (3.78), and hed never won more than 16 games in a season before. He proceeded to log three straight 17+ win seasons with Oakland, including a 27-6 Cy Young effort in 1990, a win total that no pitcher has approached since.

 

Then in 89, 29 year-old Mike Moore came over from Seattle, coming off 15 and 19 loss seasons with the Mariners. He had already been a workhorse, but in hi s seven years with Seattle, Moore only had two double digit win seasons (17 and 11) and two years with a n ERA more than 1% below the league average (22% and 10%). But in four years with the As, while supposedly past his prime, he posted three 17+ win seasons (19, 17, and 17). In 89, he finished with a 2.61 ERA (42% below the AL average) and in 91 he posted a 2.96 ERA (30% below the AL average).

 

This trio led the As to three straight World Series and four playoff appearances in five years before Oakland began a youth movement in 1993. Well, Dave Duncan does not know what to do with young pitchers, and the team floundered. But in 1996, our friends moved over to the National league, and found a club in the Cardinals who were willing to commit to a philosophy of signing old mediocre pitchers who Duncan could spin into gold.

 

When the 28 year-old Andy Benes came to the Cardinals in 1996, his ERA had risen for four straight years. In 1996, he posted his lowest ERA (3.83) since he was 25 and in 97, his lowest since he was 23 (3.10). His 18 wins in 96 were the most of his career, and his HR ratio of one every 19.6 innings in 1997 was easily the lowest of his career.

 

In 1999, The Cardinals signed competent reliever Kent Bottenfield and began converting him into a starter. The next year, the 30 year-old Bottenfield performed so well (18-7 3.97) that the Cardinals were able to parlay him into Jim Edmonds the very next year. Edmonds of course began a five-year stretch unparalleled by any center fielder not named Griffey since the 1950s.

 

In 2000, 31 year-old Daryl Kile had been coming off of two understandably miserable seasons with the Colorado Rockies. The Cardinals turned Kile into a 20-game winner in his first season there. In his second Cardinal Season, he went 16-11 and posted the second-best ERA of his career at 3.09. Tragedy of course struck in 2002, and I recommend reading 3 Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger for a very well written account of that.

 

The Cardinals got 34 year-old Woody Williams from the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline in 2001. He went 8-8 with a 4.97 ERA with San Diego, and 7-1 2.28 with St. Louis that year, before posting a career-best 2.53 ERA in just 17 starts the next year. So in Wiliams first 28 games with the Cardinals, he went 16-5 with a 2.42 ERA. In 2003, at age 26, He threw a career-best 220.6 IP and won a career-high 18 games.

 

Coming into 2004, 29 year-old Jeff Suppan had only won more than 10 games once (13 the year before). He won 16 games in each of the next two seasons with the Cardinals, and posted a career-best 3.57 ERA in 2005.

 

And before Chris Carpenter signed with the Cards in 2004, hed never won more than a dozen games or posted an ERA below 4.00. He missed most of 2002 and all of 2003 with an injury, but at the age of 29, he went 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA for Duncan and Co. Last year, he won the Cy Young award by going 21-5 2.83 and struck out 56 more batters than his previous career high.

 

So what can we expect from 29 year-old Sidney Ponson, who with two 14+ win seasons and two sub-4.10 ERA seasons already under his belt looks better than several of the other pitches on this list? The best seasons of his career, of course. 16 wins and a sub-4.00 ERA sounds like a pretty good deal for a couple million dollars in this era of overpaying for pitching.