|Wednesday, June 25
Nine men who can't get them out
By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com
It is one of the safest records in modern baseball, next to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, Happy Jack Chesbro's 41 wins, and Bobby Bonds' 189 strikeouts.
Of course, you've heard this before. In fact, Kingman is one of the game's hardiest perennials, by merely insisting on his prerogative as the last guy to drop two handfuls. He likes the fame, and wears it well.
But this year, it goes down, and so does he, because there are nine men out there in position to do so, an unusually high number for this sort of thing. Better yet for the next record-holder, three of them are on the same team, a factor with benefits that will be explained shortly.
First, let us introduce you to the field, in alphabetical order:
This is a strong group, because there isn't a real pig in the bunch. They either have had success in the past (Buehrle, Daal, Thomson), have young and intriguing arms (Bernero, Bonderman, Lawrence, Maroth) or are left-handed (Buehrle, Daal, Maroth, Rusch).
They are all important members of rotations on mediocre or bad teams, which is of course a prerequisite for this sort of thing, but there is a wild card here that usually derails any serious campaign to de-King Kingman.
They tend to want to protect players from ignominious records, as Jerry Royster did when he sat Jose Hernandez down one strikeout short of tying Bonds for the single-season air-ball record. They find reasons to make 18-game losers skip their last few starts so as not to hit the full 20. They protect fragile egos, which is one of the reasons they make the big money, as opposed to figuring out the intricacies of the double switch, for which they are justifiably paid nothing.
But Alan Trammell is the manager in Detroit, a team so devoted to rebuilding that the current record is essentially meaningless. He has three candidates in Bernero, Bonderman and Maroth, and he needs them all to get every bit of meaningful work.
Besides, if they all get close, which is how the season is playing out for the Tigers, he has to keep at least one of them in the rotation, or start forfeiting games. Trammell is something of a realist in that way.
So here is the morning handicap on The Men Who Would Be Kingman. Betting is, as always, encouraged, and that means you, Rick Neuheisel.
With two more starts before the season's midway point, he could get to 12 easily, and his ERA, while high, is not so prohibitive that he can't go deep into games. And you know what they say -- the more innings you pitch in Detroit, the more chances that something can go wrong.
Chance Of Losing 20, By Percentage: 46.
Already at 11, and the big score for Detroit in the trade that sent Jeff Weaver to New York (karma?). Highly regarded by the A's while in their system (although Billy Beane seemed less excited by him in "Moneyball"). He is one of the anchors in the Tiger rotation of the future.
Chance Of Losing 20, By Percentage: 53.
With the possibility that he may have a new manager if Jerry Manuel's team can't stop its losing ways, Buehrle's place in September is uncertain, even with his résumé, and there is still the possibility that the White Sox hitters will leave the dead ball era with the coming of summer.
Chance Of Losing 20, By Percentage: 9.
Those four wins put him behind the field, and Baltimore does tend to win games in spurts. It is hard to imagine a team that will hover around .475 can put any pitcher in position to lose enough games. Plus, Mike Hargrove's résumé is tempered by mercy, damn it.
Chance Of Losing 20, By percentage: 2.
The best pitcher the Padres have, even in this lost season. Bruce Bochy won't give him the chance, and general manager Kevin Towers has run more pitchers through San Diego than your television has "Law & Order" reruns. Can't see it.
Chance Of Losing 20, By percentage: 1.
Good ... er, bad start, plus the Tigers average barely two runs a game in his 11 losses. He can pitch well and be punished for it, in other words, and as we already explained, the Tigers have the kind of depth we're looking for here.
Chance Of Losing 20, By Percentage: 52.
Already a six-game winner, and anyone who loses 20 won't get enough starts to win 10. He has been cursed with promise, and left to find that promise with three bad teams. On the one hand, he could do it. On the other, he won't.
Chance Of Losing 20, By Percentage: 1.
Off to the worst start of the nine candidates, but therein lies the problem. His eight-plus ERA destined him for a demotion to Triple-A Indianapolis, though a quick turnaround could have him back in Brewtown in time to make a run at the mark. He deserves better, perhaps, but this Kingman chase is a cruel business.
Chance Of Losing 20, By Percentage: 13.
Pitching in Texas is its own little slice of hell, and pitching coach Orel Hershiser believes in pitchers who take the ball in good times and bad. But if times get too bad, the Rangers already have run 22 pitchers into the clubhouse. They may not have a lot of good options (and when Ugueth Urbina is traded, it will probably be for even more pitching), but they think they have options. Options are bad for a 20-game loser. At best, Thomson looks like a 12-17 sort of guy -- too good to remove from the rotation, and too good to lose those last 12.
Chance Of Losing 20 By Percentage: 4.
Brian Kingman, you have met your doom. But hey, maybe someone will sign you for next year. Let's keep a good thought, shall we?
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com