Is Andrew Heaney a bust?
I had this exact question posed to me yesterday by a fellow baseball fan who was gearing up for the Marlins series with the Cardinals over this 4th of July weekend. I stared incredulously at him, and asked, “why would you say that?”. “Have you seen his stats?”, was his response.
Heaney makes the 4th start of his young major league baseball career against the Cardinals this afternoon in Busch stadium. He enters the game with a 0-3 record, 5.29 ERA, and 12 strikeouts in 17 innings pitched. I understood the Cardinals’ fans point. How good can this top left-handed prospect really be with stats like that posted against the Mets, Phillies, and A’s? Oakland not withstanding, that isn’t exactly a murderer’s row of hitting.
Maybe we were spoiled by Jose Fernandez‘s meteoric rise last year, as he dominated the Rookie of the Year and made a valiant chase at the Cy Young Award, but understand, Fernandez is the exception, not the rule. History is littered with pitchers who struggled their first year or two, figured out how to be successful, and went on to have stellar careers. For instance, one Hall of Fame pitcher started out his first year and a half in the big leagues by sporting a 8-18 record with an ERA over 5.50. After that, it would be 10 more years till his ERA made it over 3.50 for a season, I don’t know about you, but it is probably a good thing the Cubs didn’t label Greg Maddux a bust.
Now I am not saying that Heaney is the next Greg Maddux, only that we have a tendency to look at small sample sizes without taking into account the actual games that the stats were accumulated in. Large sample sizes of stats can be extremely useful in predicting the future, small sample sizes generally reflect unique situations and circumstances.
Heaney actually pitched masterfully in his first game. He allowed a solo-home run to David Wright in the first inning, and went on to allow only 3 more hits and no more runs through the next 5 innings. His pitch count got a little high, but that is understandable for a young pitcher trying to be extremely careful.
The one start that Heaney showed his youth was certainly the next one against the Phillies in Philadelphia. Making his first start on the road, he had trouble in the first inning, hitting Jimmy Rollins and walking Chase Utley. His defense failed him with a throwing error by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and two batters later Marlon Byrd parked a home run finishing off the 3 runs. He would go on to allow another run in the second inning off a wild pitch, but would settle down after that. He allowed only 1 hit in the next 3 innings, and departed in the sixth after allowing a lead-off double. That run would go on to score completing his line. It was a learning experience for the young pitcher, albeit a costly one to his stats.
The Oakland game was another learning experience for Heaney, and even though he took the loss, I believe we started to see what he is capable of. Oakland has been playing great baseball but for 5 innings, Henaey was masterful. He allowed 4 hits and kept the Athletics off-balance. The third time through the order though, he started to have problems like many pitchers do. He lacked the trust to go to his third or fourth pitch to keep the hitters guessing, and they made him pay with a 4 run inning that inflated his ERA. After giving up 3 straight singles with two outs, a home run cost Heaney his first win.
As Heaney learns to pitch against major league hitting, there are bound to be bumps in the road. He actually hasn’t pitched much worse than Fernandez did last year, the difference is, Fernandez quickly figure out how to pitch out of jams. Heaney will learn that with time.
I proudly told the fan that Heaney is just getting started. Then I told him that he was going to get his first win today against his beloved Cardinals. While that may, or may not be true, I have seen enough from Heaney to know that he will have a successful career, even if there are a few bumps early on.