Send us back Da Vinci then we don't have to ponder
The maddening smile of "La Giaconda"
The critics say Nijinsky, the dancer, of course
While the punters would probably prefer the horse
You'll find it's quicker than history, cheaper than divorce—Elvis Costello, "Damnation’s Cellar.
The title of this entry is simultaneously a pun on the Lone Ranger’s mode of transit and the Yankees’ newest pitching acquisition, and like MacManus’s punters, I would prefer the horse. Over the weekend, the Yankees signed veteran right-hander Carlos Silva to a minor league contract. At last, after 20 years of waiting, I have seen the return to the days of Dave LaPoint.
LaPoint was a southpaw, an extreme pitch-to-contact guy who had had some success in the National League in his early 20s, but the Yankees got hold of him at the wrong time in his life, in the wrong league, with the wrong kind of Yankees team. He went 13-19 in two seasons with an overall ERA of 4.74 and was forgotten, except by me, because I left my heart in 1989.
Silva, a right-hander, could set your memories on rewind in a hurry. When at his best he fits the cliché of having "pinpoint control." His 0.4 walks per nine in 2005 was the lowest of the modern era—no one who pitched later than the 19th century is even close. That appears to have been a one-time thing; he’s normally closer to two walks per nine, but even that reflects very strong control. The downside is that because he’s always around the plate and doesn’t have the ability to get strikeouts, he gives up a ton of hits and home runs. Left-handers have hit .315/.354/.502 against him career, with a home run every 27 at-bats. You put him in Yankee Stadium and he’s going to produce souvenirs.
Having said all of that, we have to acknowledge that Silva has had success in the past. He was at his best in 2004 and 2005 (3.44 ERA the latter season), and was an acceptable league-average starter in 2007. He began the 2010 season with great results, putting up 13 quality starts in 16 attempts and maintaining an ERA under 3.00 until early July. At that point, all the injuries in the world set in, including surgery to correct heart arrhythmia. He made only five starts after the first week of July and was heartily thrashed, going 1-4 with a 14.21 ERA.
Those 16 starts were swell, but they have to be seen as guilty until proven innocent: Silva had shoulder problems in 2009 and elbow tendinitis last year, and he hasn’t shown any real consistency since ’05. The overall record from 2006 through 2010 is 39-53 with a 5.37 ERA, 849 hits allowed in 679 innings, 94 home runs, and just 318 strikeouts, or 4.2 per nine. The control remains, but there just isn’t much else—and that is including the 16 good starts.
In order for a pitcher like this to succeed, everything has to go right. The home runs have to be solo shots, the many balls in play have to be picked up by extraordinary fielders or else take more than their share of lucky bounces. The Yankees are currently tied for last in the American League in the percentage of balls in play their fielders turn into outs. Nine games is a very small sample, but we can be sure of one thing: the Yankees will not be providing quality assistance to their pitchers so long as Derek Jeter remains at shortstop. Carlos Silva, you’re on your own—too bad you can’t possibly succeed that way.
As Phil Hughes struggles to show that his fastball has not vanished, Ivan Nova tries to prove he belongs in a big-league rotation, and Freddy Garcia grapples with the most difficult existentialist question of all, "What the hell am I doing here?" we will now get to enjoy, and "enjoy" is not the right word, the spectacle of Silva and Kevin Millwood racing to get back to the majors. If one of them wins that race, the Yankees lose.