Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Fallacy of a Savior

It's official.

The San Diego Padres have played their last game in the Pre-Rizzo era. They lost 5-3 to Colorado. But the loss to the Rockies was quickly overshadowed by Jed Hoyer's official announcement of something everyone with an internet connection already knew. Anthony Rizzo is being called up from AAA Tucson and will start on Thursday vs Washington.

I am understandably excited. I think any Padres fan paying even the slightest of attention is excited. An offense that has been lackluster all year (though admittedly better recently) will get a shot in the arm from Rizzo who has made the Pacific Coast League his personal playground, all but forcing the hand of Jed Hoyer to call up their prized prospect earlier than expected.

Expectations are high. Of course they are. And to some degree they should be. Rizzo and Casey Kelly were the major pieces of the Adrian Gonzalez trade, a trade that will, for better or worse, define Hoyer's GM tenure.

But let me say this. Perhaps we temper expectations. Perhaps we take a breath, allow Rizzo to get accustomed to playing at the Major League Level and let him come into his own. If he goes 0 for 4 on Thursday, let's not freak out. If he struggles out of the gate, let's not toss around the word "bust" to quickly.

The promotion of Rizzo reminds me of the last time the Padres brought up their hot, young prospect. His name was Chase Headley, who was quickly nicknamed (somewhat tongue - in - cheek) "The Savior" despite Kevin Towers attempts to lower the expectations upon his arrival. So, with Rizzo on his way, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to look back at the promotion of the "Original Savior," Chase Headley (for this exercise, I'm using 2008 when Headley played 91 games. He played in 8 games in 2007).

Headley's first game in 2008 was on June 17th. At that time, the Padres were 31-41 and were 6.5 games back in the National League West.

The opponent? New York Yankees in New York (the final year of old Yankee Stadium). As it happens, I was in New York for this series and got to see Chase Headley's first game.

Chase Headley being announced at Yankee Stadium

Despite the Padres losing 8-0 in this game, Headley went 2 for 4.

Rizzo's first game will be on June 9th. The Padres are 28-35, 7.5 games back in the National League West.

Headley hit .245 in 13 games in June of 2008, hitting 3 HR (I know, I know, hard to imagine now) but striking out 17 times in 53 AB's.

But he also showed improvement, increasing his BA in each subsequent month in 2008 (July = .244 ok ok, that went down 1 pt; August = .280; September = .293)

He ended 2008 hitting .269 with 9 HR's and 38 RBI in 91 games. He also hit better Right Handed than Left Handed (.276 vs .265). This is of course notable for his struggles from the right side of the plate throughout his career.

The Padres...not so great, finishing 2008 63-99 and last in the National League (ironically, this team also had the highest payroll of the Petco Park era).

Now, I consider myself a Chase Headley apologist. I'm a fan, what can I say. Have been since he first got here. And I've often noticed a light undercurrent amongst the fans that Chase Headley has been a bust. Has underperformed based on his talent level.

I disagree. Has he played below the expectations? Yes. But considering the expectations were that he would be "The Savior" I would argue no player could have. But he is beyond a serviceable MLB player.

And keep in mind, Chase Headley was not only asked to be the savior of a franchise struggling but he had to do it while learning a new position (LF). Headley was and is a natural third basemen (has been since the University of Tennessee).

This time around, Hoyer is doing it right. Rizzo isn't being asked to play a position he's not comfortable with. He's being brought up to start in a home game vs the Nationals at a time the Padres are hitting, well, better at least.

Geoff Young of Ducksnorts said it best I think, "Try not to be too bummed out if he only has Adam LaRoche’s career."

Rizzomania has officially landed. Let's try to enjoy it for a bit before the cynicism sets in.

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