Friday, January 12, 2007

Arms, At Last

The Nats have signed right-handed pitcher Jerome Williams to a one-year deal. Lefty Brandon Claussen has agreed to a minor-league contract.

Williams is an intriguing signing. While his last season stunk, it stunk for most every Cubs pitcher not named Zambrano or Howry. And he has youth on his side. He's turning just 25 this year.

Despite that, there are some warning signs. Since his wonderful 3.30 ERA as a rookie, he's declined across the board every year. He hit the pitcher's trifecta o' death: More walks, fewer Ks, more homers. Everything, even his lowly 4.2 K/9 performance in the minors, points to him having lost his stuff.

Williams has had conditioning issues in the past. He's had a tendency to put on weight, and without really having seen him, I can't tell if that's still an issue. At the very least, it could point towards his work ethic. If he's to rebound, the Nats are going to have to hope he gets the fire, and not just donuts, back in the belly.

Although his later performance in the minors didn't warrant it, I'm kind of surprised that the Cubs bailed on him so early last year. He had a rough spring training (6.65 ERA) and started in the pen. Of his three outings, he gave up only 2 earned in just one of those appearances. They gave him a start against Pittsburgh, and he shut them down for six innings. Then he got the crap beaten out of him by the Cardinals in his next start and that was it. On a team that bounced around starters even more than we're projected to, it was surprising that they bailed on him so early. By the end of the year, he had worn out his welcome, was waived and picked up by the A's, who never put him into a game.

Given the steady three-year decline, I'm not overly optimistic that he's going to rebound. But as far as he's fallen (take a look at how good those minor league stats were), he's facing a personal challenge. If he works hard, he's got the opportunity to reposition himself and have the career most people thought he'd have after those first two excellent seasons. If he works, there's no reason he can't be a solid #3 starter, giving the team 180 innings of near-league average ball.

Basically, there's no downside to his signing. If he shows up fat and lazy, they can cut him. If he works out, the Nats get his performance, plus, because he doesn't have 6 years of service time, the Nats would control him for the next year or two. And he's young enough that, if he does rebound, he could stick around for a few years.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. This is a pitcher who's seemingly lost it. It's up to Randy St. Claire to find it. And, for all his wonderful individual successes, this is the same pitching coach that presided over the disastrous staff of last year.

  • I'm much less excited about Claussen. If he threw with a different appendage, he'd be dumped in the Simontacchi dustbin. That being said, he's a flyball lefty who pitched in a tough park with a lousy outfield defense. He strikes out enough batters, but walks a few too many. If he has his health, which is a huge if with him, he could be a surprise. If the Nats got his 2005 performance out of him, they should be ecstatic.

    Eh... hit publish too soon. Claussen had arm surgery late last year to repair a torn rotator cuff. That's usually the kiss of death for pitchers, so he'd be unlikely to show up on the radar before mid-season anyway. He's not one to count on for innings, even after he does come back, as it usually takes some time to get the touch back after that surgery -- assuming he's able to, at all.

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