Mounds of rich pitchers are producing incredibly poor performances

BASEBALL

May 15, 1994|By TOM KEEGAN

In baseball, you don't always get what you pay for. Sometimes you get less. Ballplayers, especially pitchers, don't come with guarantees.

For a pitcher, it's tough to strike a balance between having the maturity to form a well-thought-out game plan and have an arm that's not overused. Throwing a baseball is a violent action for which the arm was not made.

No matter the year, fat paychecks don't guarantee slim earned-run averages. But it's doubtful there ever has been a year in which so many big-name, big-money pitchers have been hit so hard.

Fifty-seven pitchers who have started a game this season are being paid salaries of $2 million or greater.

Five weeks into the season, 23 of those 57 starters had ERAs of 5.27 or higher.

For this season, consider them the Kevin Costners of pitching. Like Costner, they have drawn big paychecks for poor performances.

The front-runners for the Costner Awards, with salaries obtained from the Associated Press and rounded off to the nearest $100,000:

* Worst $5 million pitcher: Jack McDowell (2-5, 7.54), White Sox, $5.3 million.

* Worst $4 million pitcher: Kevin Brown (2-6, 7.07), Texas, $4.2 million. In the running: Dwight Gooden (2-1, 6.35), Mets, $4.6 million; Dave Stewart (2-3, 5.56), Toronto, $4.3 million.

* Worst $3 million pitcher: Jose Guzman (0-2, 16.43), Cubs, $3.5 million. In the running: Tim Belcher (0-7, 7.44), Detroit, $3.4 million; Bob Welch (0-5, 8.10), Oakland, $3.5 million; Kevin Appier (3-3, 6.02), Kansas City, $3.8 million; Pete Harnisch (2-3, 6.69), Houston, $3.2 million.

* Worst $2 million pitcher: Mike Morgan (0-5, 7.20), Cubs, $2.9 million. In the running: Kevin Tapani (2-2, 7.78), Minnesota, $2.6 million; Curt Schilling (0-6, 5.40), Philadelphia, $2.3 million; Bill Gullickson (2-1, 6.31), Detroit, $2.3 million.

Such instability among pitchers might suggest the best strategy for organizations is to draft an excess of pitchers, work them like dogs, then let them go elsewhere when they are eligible for free agency, rather than paying them huge salaries only to watch them decline.

Wrong. The Cubs are one of the worst teams in the majors because they let the best pitcher in baseball bolt via free agency after the 1992 season.

They played hardball in negotiations with Greg Maddux, and he took his hardball to Atlanta (he's 6-2 with a 1.12 ERA this season). His 1994 salary is $4 million, roughly $2.4 million less than the combined salaries of Guzman and Morgan, who are a combined 0-7.

The answer? Keep signing the most talented available pitchers, then cross your fingers.

In honor of their mothers

Pittsburgh's Andy Van Slyke is 14-for-19 with nine RBIs on the past three Mother's Days. Tim Wallach of the Dodgers has hit .434 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in his past five Mother's Day appearances.

Van Slyke went 10-for-12 in a series against the Cubs and had eight consecutive hits in a doubleheader last weekend. Before that, he had gone 4-for-25 with runners in scoring position.

"This doesn't mean I'm in a zone for good," Van Slyke said. "I was in a zone today. I just hope it's not the no-parking zone. Everybody's talking about the balls being juiced. The balls I've been hitting have had prune juice in them."

Strawberry laying low

Darryl Strawberry's mother, Ruby Strawberry, said he is progressing well in his outpatient program and wants to return to baseball.

"The desire is there," Ruby told the Los Angeles Daily News. "I don't know how long it will be until he says he's ready, but I know it's still in his heart. When it's baseball time, Darryl wants to be out there and be a part of it. He knows his problem wasn't baseball. It was a lot of other things and pressures around him. His main objective right now is to get back to playing ball."

Strawberry, 32, has not spoken publicly since his April 4 announcement that he had a drug problem. He was in a treatment center from April 8 to May 4. He is paid nearly $17,000 a day while on the disabled list. His mother confirmed reports that Darryl has gained weight. (ESPN reported Strawberry had gone from 215 to 240 pounds during his 27-day stay).

"He looks good, real good," Ruby said. "He gained a little weight, but to me not that much. It's not that he's gotten fat, but he just looks big."

Advantage, Expos

Delino DeShields, demoted from leadoff to eighth in the Dodgers' batting order, was hitting .206 with a .297 on-base percentage through 28 games, making the Dodgers look bad for trading young right-hander Pedro Martinez to the Montreal Expos for Deshields.

"He can't get himself in the right groove yet," Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said. "It happens to a lot of guys. They want to show everybody there is justification in the trade. In this case, we gave up a heck of a pitcher and he wants to show everybody it was a good decision."

Said DeShields: "The trade ain't got nothing to do with it. I just want to be healthy. People here, they see Delino down, they see me not talking, but it ain't that I have a problem with this club or the manager."

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