At the beginning of the season, I decided to follow Double-A reliever Danny Rueckel---well, follow his stat lines, at least. Rueckel, a righty, ended the 2004 campaign at the Natspos' No. 12 prospect, at least according to Baseball America. Why hype a guy who couldn't crack the top-ten in a system as barren as the one foisted up by this organization?
Why indeed! I wasn't so interested in all of the Nats' big-time prospects; of course, that's natural, since there really weren't any. Dropping down a level of prospectdom, I wasn't even that interested in guys you might have heard of, like Mike Hinckley, Brendan Harris, Bill Bray, and Larry Broadway. No, I was looking for someone rather obscure, yet rather good.
Stat-minded freak that I am, my eyes naturally gravitated to Rueckel, whose 2.08 ERA at Harrisburg was punctuated by a good strikeout rate, a low home run rate, and a sweet strikeout-to-walk ratio. Rueckel was listed on the 40-man roster, so that meant the organization liked him, but he was likely to be in the minors most or all of the season. Perfect!
Fittingly, Rueckel (by now dubbed "Baby Ruckles" by a reader) was nearly perfect in April, as he carried an invisible ERA into May. (Literally so! He didn't allow an earned run in the first month.) By then, Poppa Ruckles was down with The Rueckel Report. The only down side was that Baby Ruckles was still ripping up only Double-A, but a promotion had to be in the offing. It was only a matter of time.
May was fairly "Meh" for Rueckel, but things hit bottom on June 14, when he allowed six earned runs (including three homers!---in the same inning!) in what amounted to a royal FUBAR. The rest of the season, Rueckel played catch-up; it looked like the ERA would stay comfortably under four, but his final outing was nearly as bad. So he ended the season:
9-6, 4.16, 7 saves.
Along the way, Rueckel was outrighted by the club, meaning that he was removed from the 40-man roster and, perhaps, that he's off the organization's radar. The latter consideration may or may not be the case, but it's undeniable that Jason Bergmann, of whom I raved in early June, has passed Baby Ruckles in the righthanded middle relief pecking order. Bergmann, who was promoted to Triple-A New Orleans, added to the 40-man roster, and recalled by the parent club, pitched excellently all season long.
Rueckel's chances of regaining his standing (though perhaps elsewhere) are not so remote, though, because if you look at how he actually pitched (other than just focusing on ERA), he still had a nice season. The hits allowed were up, though that could be a fluke thing; the homers allowed were up a bit, but as mentioned, nearly half of those occurred in a single inning.
Though this undoubtedly reflects the sparse system, Brian Oliver's Nationals Farm Authority still rates Baby Ruckles as the No. 2 pitching prospect at Harrisburg. In addition, Brian raises the intriguing possibility that Rueckel might be exposed to the Rule V draft. Let's not get our hopes up too much, but I can think of at least a couple teams who like his type of pitcher.
Well, I'll be rooting for Danny Rueckel, no matter which organization signs his paychecks.
Capitol Punishment recently conducted a positional analysis, comparing the Nats' production at each position (both in terms of regular players and the sum of all at each position) to the National League averages. It's a sobering analysis, on two levels: 1) as we all know, the lineup, even factoring in RFK Stadium, really stunk; and 2) there are not many opportunities to upgrade.
Distinguished Senators tosses out the name of free agent pitcher/camera-man-chucker Kenny Rogers. I'm listening. Sure, Rogers will be 41 next month, and maybe his second-half pitching evinced a bit of lingering lack of focus. Given Rogers' 1.42 groundball/fly ball ratio, I don't suspect that RFK Stadium would unleash hidden greatness from him by masking too many Arlington homers, but even the Kenny Rogers of recent seasons could help a rotation whose depth was frittered away by Frank Robinson's gruffness and by Jim Bowden's compulsion to make roster moves. Given Rogers' rep nowadays, maybe he'll come cheap---and, as the Jose Guillen experiment demonstrated, DC will support a crazy man.
DM from Nats Blog tells us what he's learned this baseball season. It's a wonderful entry, and I commend you to read it. While I have the chance, I'll add something I learned this season. I've said it before, and maybe I'll expound upon it in the near future, but it's strikingly simple: "Never presume you are the exception." Take a look at the Nats' actual and "Pythagorean" records at the mid-point of the season, and you'll see what I mean.