Thursday May 10th, 2007

Are you ready to admit your preseason hype fest of Daisuke Matsuzaka was a mistake? -- Eric Skelly, Boston

No, not a total mistake just yet. But I will say this: I was wrong about Matsuzaka being an early season dominating pitcher. I thought the deception in his delivery and his off-speed stuff would make him a tough read for hitters. Instead, I think what has happened is that Matsuzaka, who cruised through lineups in Japan, is having a very hard time dealing with getting hit and watching great hitters lay off his pitches out of the strike zone. The guy has never been hit in his life, and this can't be easy for him. You've seen, though, that he is a great competitor. At least three times this year he's had an awful, long inning and managed to get himself back on track and pitch well. I still think he can finish with 15 wins and a 3.50 ERA.

I was reading your latest article about the top 10 players under 25 and noticed you made one omission. Dodgers catcher Russell Martin is one of the best players in baseball, especially of the under-25 club. I see you live in Jersey, but stay up once and watch this kid play, you'll realize the error you made. -- Gabe, Los Angeles

I've seen Martin play and like him a lot, especially the way he seems to have good at-bats in tough spots. Very impressive for a young player. I like a lot of things about him, but I don't see him becoming a big home run hitter or high average hitter. You can definitely make a case for him if you like in the honorable mention group. I considered him borderline with those guys.

I never hear it mentioned but I think one of the major reasons for young pitchers, like Mark Prior, breaking down is the excessive amount of pitching they do growing up. AAU baseball and traveling baseball are much more popular then they were in the '50s. Playing baseball all summer, potentially pitching more than 100 innings as a 12-year-old, and throwing breaking balls before ones tendons and ligaments are fully developed is a recipe for disaster later in their careers. -- Sa, Chicago

I do agree with you. I coach youth baseball myself and I believe kids 12 and under should not be throwing curveballs. Our team went to the 10-year-old Cal Ripken World Series and we played teams from warm weather states who were letting 10-year-old kids throw six-inning complete games. I stress the changeup as an off-speed pitch. I've talked with Mike Mussina about this, too, and he agrees that we're losing our best pitchers before the good arms ever get a chance to get into the professional pipeline.

In response to Joe P. from Vegas, the Japanese have clearly shown us the ability to ruin pitchers by the time they're 30. I can't recall a starter from Japan being worth much of anything past 30. These guys burn their arms up throwing high pitch counts and that's with an extra day's rest in Japan. Look up pitchers in Japan the past several years, not very many there last much beyond 30. Its absurd to even think workload isn't what caused problems for Prior. Kerry Wood on the other hand had horrible mechanics from the start and the heavy workload was the nail in the coffin for him. -- Anthony, Tacoma, Wash.

Good points, especially how bad mechanics and exacerbate the workload problem. Wood getting pushed is a lot different than, say, David Wells or Greg Maddux, who had great mechanics and still do. I'm still curious from a data point of view, not just anecdotally, if there are many older pitchers in Japan pro baseball. As bad as our development system is here, we still have a ton of guys 35-and-older pitching in the big leagues. Is the percentage of such pitchers much lower in Japan? Drop me a line if you've seen such a study.

As far as the hometown baseball academies are concerned, why not allow teams the opportunity to sign players in their academy first, and then if they player chose not to sign allow them to enter the draft? It would be much like it was when the Dodgers signed all of the Brooklyn players in the 1940s and '50s. -- Brackett, Charleston, W.V.

That's not a bad idea, though I'm not sure it wouldn't invite corruption into the system (under-the-table payments, promises, etc.) to make sure a kid did not become a true free agent. I'd still prefer that the endeavor be more collegial, which I think benefits baseball in the long run.

What will you be doing when Bonds hits No. 756? I, personally, hope I'm golfing, jogging, biking, or doing anything to remind me that the purity of sport still exists. Too bad it doesn't at the highest levels of the game. -- Matthew Osborn, Brantford, Ontario, Canada

I'll probably be there. Like it or not, it is history. Being there or watching it is not an endorsement of Bonds and the choices that he made. Is it a pure moment of celebration? Not by a long shot. But it's still a remarkable achievement. In a historical context, I don't consider him the true home run king any more than I would consider Ken Caminiti, Jason Giambi and Jose Canseco true MVPs or Rafael Palmeiro a true 500-home run hitter.

It has become more than obvious that MLB either does not "get it" or are blatantly stupid when it comes to the state of affairs of their business. First Tony La Russa gets a DUI in spring training and now the Josh Hancock tragedy. This is not a Cardinals problem, but an MLB problem and a big one at that. After La Russa's incident one asked the obvious: What is it going to take for MLB to act, a death? It is bad enough that MLB continues to downplay steroid issues, so much so that they honestly insult the average fan's intelligence, but now in less than a couple of months we have two notable DUI's and not a single word from MLB. Tom, how can I, the average fan, ever take MLB seriously when they continue to blatantly claim that all is well in their fraternity? I'm not stupid or ignorant, so why does MLB treat me as such? In all honesty, I think I've seen more than enough. A very heavy sigh! -- Ernest Reed, Toronto

I'm not sure what you'd like MLB to do when it comes to the alcohol issue. More and more teams are banning alcohol from the clubhouses -- that should be a general baseball rule, anyway.I do think you have a right to be insulted by La Russa's initial reaction to Hancock's death, the way he threatened to whack media members with his fungo bat if he sensed they were asking the wrong kinds of questions -- which is known as seeking the truth, something La Russa has a hard time with when it doesn't fit his agenda (see the juiced Oakland clubs of his). What he should have said is that all of us need to ask the hard questions and do whatever we can to make sure another senseless death like Hancock's doesn't occur.

I was watching some sports game the other day and someone said "Tom Verducci" and then said something about sports writing, and I was like, "Oh my God. I know this guy!" You used to be with New York Newsday, you guys were in Fort Lauderdale to cover the Yanks. Man, that was like 20 years ago! I'm not like stalking you or anything, cause I'm married -- it just struck me as crazy that after 20 years I'd hear a name from that far in the past. It looks like you are doing very well! -- Joanna, Kansas City

Hey, where have you been for 20 years? Actually, I remember Fort Lauderdale well. I was covering high school sports and had been a backup baseball writer when the sports editor asked me if I could get on a plane tomorrow to Florida to cover the Yankees as the beat writer. I would have run there if he asked. Some very fun times.

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