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August 22, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

El Titan de Bronze makes his return to the Bronx Sunday in a start against the Baltimore Orioles, replacing El Enano de Papel de Estaño in the rotation. Weaver was diplomatic about the move, telling reporters, "Oh man, I have no idea what's going on."

In all seriousness, this was a move the Yankees had to make. When Weaver first got bumped from the rotation, his ERA was 5.17, although his peripherals were much better than that. He had been pitching unspectacularly, but not poorly, in bad luck, and a baseball world that evaluated with its eyes or a quick glance at the wrong stats couldn't see that. All they saw was a pitcher who was doing nothing good that stood out, and had poor results. From his last start in June through July, Weaver pitched well, except for one start in Toronto. Unfortunately, he couldn't keep it up in August, and has, for the most part, been mediocre in bad luck. He's been given a fair chance to keep his spot in the rotation, and he didn't come through.

On the flip side, Jose Contreras might have deserved Weaver's spot anyway. Before getting injured, Contreras had been given two starts, against Detroit and Cincinnati, and in 14 innings, had struck out 12, walked 4, and given up only 2 runs. Okay, so one of those starts was against the Tigers, but he still pitched well.

Contreras hasn't pitched enough this season to evaluate with any confidence. His 4.62 ERA in 25.1 innings is distorted by disastrous results in his first two major league appearances in Toronto, and a terrible inning in Boston which was made worse by Sterling Hitchcock allowing both inherited runners to score in relief of Contreras. I can't say that Contreras is going to be an ace, but you can't say for sure that he can't be, either. What we do know is that he strikes out a lot of batters, and has done a good job of keeping the ball in the park--and his 1.88 G/F ratio makes one believe that he can keep that up, too. His problem is that he walks far too many men, which might keep him from ever being an effective short reliever.

But a pitcher who can strike out 9 men per nine innings is valuable to the Yankees, whose defense is horrible. If he continues to strike men out and keep the ball in the yard, and can cut down the walk rate, he could be a great pitcher for the Yankees, and answer a lot of questions for next season. The Yankees have a 7 game lead on Boston right now, putting them in a position where they can afford to try Contreras out for a few starts. I think this is a good move. If Contreras pitches poorly, it's not going to knock them out of the playoffs, and if he pitches well, it might help them advance--and make it back next season.

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Alex Belth posted his interview with Jim Bouton today (heard last month on Baseball Prospectus Radio), talking about his new book, "Foul Ball", his acting experiences, and more.