An admission: as the new guy on the masthead, I didn't really get the premium choices in terms of exit interviews this year. As you'll note while perusing my contributions to the series -- the immortal Tyler Cloyd, BJ Rosenberg, and Vance Worley (with JoeCatz) as well as the forthcoming Kevin Frandsen -- the recurring theme has been uncertainty. This is not entirely so much by design as it is by necessity -- with promising young pitchers coming off a year of success, we might preach hopefulness; with tremendous veterans coming off a disappointing year, we might preach the moderating of expectations; but with a young player with mediocre to forgettable results, what might one say? We can't really throw up our arms and submit to the unknowability of it all -- we're a blog, dammit! We're better than that. So, we vary uncertainty: Cloyd has projectability, one cannot write the whole book on Rosenberg, and Justin De Fratus...? Well, we really can't say much.
De Fratus has looked really solid in his big league tenure thus far, though I have to admit that I found it hard to remember any of it. Turns out, that's not too surprising: he pitched 4.0 innings in 2011 and 10.2 in 2012. A veritable cornucopia of data points. In case you missed the 18 games in which Justin has thus far pitched at the major league level, you've missed a solid-if-unremarkable bullpen arm: okay strikeouts per nine innings (6.8), somewhat high walk rate (4.9), and an ability to stop the longball (he's given up all of zero thus far), leading to a career 3.07 ERA and 3.42 FIP. All good, but all kind of small sample size'd -- nothing to really make us stand up and shout.
But, I hear you asking, if we have relatively little to glean from his MLB career to date, what might we pull from his minor league stats? Well, he was pretty injured last year, so 2012 can be seen as little more than a blip. The rest of his minor league career is pretty exciting, though: he's never had a FIP over 2.78 in the minors, and even as a starter was able to manage reasonable strikeout rates and run-prevention stats. With his move to the pen, De Fratus began to post elite strikeout numbers, punching out over 10 batters per nine innings while keeping his walks low as well. He looked like closer material, and as if he'd be the Mike Adams we so desperately needed (before we paid Mike Adams a lot of money to be Mike Adams).
So is this De Fratus still here? Can we count on 2011 AAA De Fratus, who struck out 12.29 batters per nine while only walking only 2.41 per nine over 41.0 innings? Well, we can't count on him explicitly -- injury, time, and prospects being what they are, we may never see that De Fratus at the MLB level. But frankly speaking, we don't have enough data at this point to even guess properly. My advice? Embrace the overarching optimism I've tried to court in my exit interviews thus far, and dream on the De Fratus who could be. He might end up being one of the many failed relief prospects (we all know the saying, "There Was Never Such a Thing as a Relief Pitching Prospect, Dummy (TWNSATAARPPD)), but it's a lot more fun to imagine him as the next Craig Kimbrel, as unlikely as it may be. Interview and existential crisis to follow:
We open on a white room, table in the center with two chairs, a smug GM sits across from a promising, if fragile relief prospect. Bright lights set the room in pure white.
Ruben Amaro, Jr: I don't know why I let you guys set the locations for these meetings.
Justin De Fratus: I...am I traded, Mr. Amaro?
Amaro: Come again?
De Fratus: I need to know, Mr. Amaro. I just, it's getting existential over here. You don't know what it's like in the clubhouse with all the talk, all the speculation. Mr. Amaro, it's like JP Sartre says, hell really is other people.
Amaro: I don't know what to tell you, kid. You're a Phillie right now, but frankly you're all players-to-be-named-later to me. Just depends on how late you're named.
De Fratus: That...makes sense. Yes, that makes perfect sense! If we truly embrace the schizoid premise, then of course we are all both traded and untraded at once. Perhaps I am at once the closer for the Houston Astros and the seventh inning man for the Phillies at the same moment! If we imagine this, then...
Amaro: /checking Blackberry
Eyyup...sure, that's...uh huh....
De Fratus: ...and furthermore, I will no longer be known as Justin De Fratus!
Amaro: Wait. Don't!
De Fratus: I will embrace the potential in my blank slate and follow all possibilities! I will be Justin Deleuze!
Amaro: These *(%$ing interviews.
1. How did you let your teammates down this season?
The relief pitcher is the universal producer. There is no need to distinguish here between producing (pitching) and its product (prevention of runs). We need merely note that the pure "stuffness" of the pitch produced is carried over into a new act of producing. The changeup continues to "go about its business." The filth of the changeup, however, is eaten up by the supporting framework of the at bat. The nontermination of the changeup is a necessary consequence of its mode of production. When Charlie Manuel defines "good eighth innin' guy" he does so in terms of a set of closely related characteristics: the possession of a stock of pitches or of rules of thumb that are fairly extensive, though more or less a hodgepodge -- multiple and at the same time limited; the ability to rearrange fragments continually in new and different patterns (a slurve, an eephus, my slowball) or configurations (up and inside); and as a consequence, an indifference toward the act of producing and toward the product, toward the set of instruments to be used and toward the over-all result to be achieved. To whit, pitchers are outs; pitchers are also home runs.
2. How did you let your GM and manager down this season?
Relief pitchers work only when they break down, and by continually breaking down, often requiring visits to Dr. James Andrews. Dennis Eckersly "lived for a long time without an ulnar nerve, without ligaments, almost without an Achilles tendon, with a torn ACL, without a labrum, and with shattered ribs; he used sometimes to swallow part of his own larynx with his food, etc." The pitcher without organs is nonproductive (on the DL); nonetheless it is produced (a pitcher is an out), at a certain roster spot and a certain set of minor league options in the team organization, as the identity of producing and the product: the relief pitcher is a body without organs.
3. What do you have to say to all the fans you let down this season?
Capital is indeed the pitcher without organs of the general manager, or rather of the general manager's consumer. But as such, it is not only the fluid and petrified substance of consumption, for it will give to the sterility of pitching the form whereby tickets produce wins. The pitcher without organs produces surplus value, just as it reproduces itself, puts forth high pitch counts, and branches out to the farthest corners of the National League. It makes the pitcher responsible for producing a relative surplus value, while embodying itself in the machine as reliable capital. Pitchers and fans cling so closely to ticket prices that their very functioning appears to be miraculated by it. Everything seems objectively to be produced by ticket price as quasi cause.
4. On a Scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst, how do you rate on the "it's my fault we're in this freaking mess and missed the playoffs"scale?
Numbers are essentially meaningless as binary predictions or evaluations. But, uh, 4?
5. Other than yourself, which player caused this fiasco of a season the most?
Even Rich Dubee never went beyond this narrow and limited conception of the relief pitcher. And what prevented him from doing so was his own tripartite formula-the Oedipal, ninth-inning one: Schwim-Bastardo-Paps. We may well ponder the possibility that the analytic imperialism of the closer complex led Dubee to rediscover, and to lend all the weight of his authority to, the unfortunate misapplication of the concept of grit to late inning baseball. For we must not delude ourselves: Dubee doesn't like relief pitchers without organs. He doesn't like their resistance to being slotted into an inning, and tends to treat them more or less as animals (workhorses). They mistake pitch counts for signs, he says. They are kooky, funky, cut off from reality, incapable of achieving lockdown status; they resemble knuckleballers -- "an undesirable resemblance."