Rick Ankiel is the modern day version of Babe Ruth.
Hyperbole? Yes and no.
I can’t think of another player who changed from a damned-good (there’s a pun in there) pitcher into a potentially solid positional player ever. That’s probably because I’m only 21 years old and missed quite a few years in between the two, but in some limited research and reading I can’t think of ANYONE AT ALL who comes close. Prior to Ankiel’s losing the mental ability to throw a baseball anywhere near where he wanted to on the mound, he was the definition of a phenom. The guy was dominating the National League at 20 and 21 years old. He had the potential to be much better too, as his walk rates were high, typical for a young pitcher.
Now he’s back, and has had a nice little week up in the majors, hitting homeruns and making spectacular catches in the outfield, and he was dropping bombs in AAA all season. I’m not sure how good the guy can be, because his numbers have varied in the minors in terms of walks and on-base percentage, which is not so good, but his raw power has been evident even when he was a full-time pitcher, so time will have to tell on this one. He’s 28 now, so here’s hoping he gets enough at bats and luck to take advantage of his prime and pair with Albert Pujols to give the Cards a nice 1-2 punch over in AAAA. It would probably be cruel to ever ask the guy to pitch again, but wouldn’t that be something too?
This is also an example of why we should never forget that even though the pitcher usually looks like a fool when he hits in National League stadiums, if he practiced enough he’d be pretty good, because you know he was that same guy who hit .500 and dropped bombs in high school.
Relax, the Red Sox are fine. The Sox AND the Yanks appear set to both make the play-offs, and we all know that while the rest of baseball might not like that, the Northeast corner loves it and is hoping for another classic ALCS match-up.
Gagne is fine too, he’s still throwing the ball great, he just hasn’t executed his pitches or mixed them up correctly recently, he’ll be nasty again soon enough, PLUS he also didn’t speak English when he got to the majors, and that’s pretty cool (he’s from Quebec).
As a side note, from simply watching Red Sox games constantly since the arrival of Terry Francona, I can say he truly has greatly improved as a tactical manager over his years in Boston. When he started I would have taken Joe Torre over him in a heartbeat, but now I would actually take Francona over Torre and his 4 world championships as a manager. When Francona started he mismanaged his bullpen and routinely left his starters in too long. He has done a solid job of correcting his past errors and now generally does a great job with his ‘pen. However, since the addition of Gagne, he has resorted to this silly lefty/righty business at the end of games—silly because he’s using Okajima and Gagne in that manner when they are devastating against the opposite dexterity. Both have a great splitter/change-up and can pitch inside, mitigating the lefty/righty advantage. In fact, Gagne’s splits are actually better against lefties because of his darting change-up (lefties hit .217 with a .546 OPS, righties hit .247 and .762), meanwhile, Okaji kills everyone with his disappearing splitter, solid curve, and well-commanded fastball (righties are hitting .180 with a .485 OPS, and lefties are at .156 and .413). So, my point is this: Francona is still a good manager, but since he’s been blessed with so many toys to work with after the acquisition of Gagne to go with Papelbon, Okajima, Delcarmen, and Timlin, he has started to over-manage a bit. Like he originally said he would do, Francona should give Okajima and Gagne fresh innings because that’s how good they are—they don’t really need any help. Thus, Terry should refrain from bringing in both Gagne and Okajima as he did the other day when Miguel Tejada took Gagne deep to tie the game (Gagne threw Tejada only good, hard fastballs, which is why I’m not worried about him, if he had mixed his pitches up better there’s no reason he shouldn’t have gotten the job done against a fastball mashing hitter like Tejada). Both Okaji and Gagne are good enough to get the job done themselves, and there’s no reason to use them both when you could maximize their influence by pitching them whole innings or splitting them up on different days to keep them fresher. Lastly, in the same game, Francona warmed Papelbon up twice and never brought him into the game because there was no save opportunity, instead choosing to throw Manny Delcarmen and Kyle Snyder. This type of move is managing by the book to the extreme and should be forgotten. When you need a 0 no matter what, bring in your best reliever available. Don’t lose the game with an inferior pitcher on the mound when your ace reliever is available.