There’s Knee-Jerk, Then There’s The Rest of You

“You only make one first impression.”

I used to work for a General Manager that would take one image or behavior of an associate that he had observed and run with that as a “joke” as a way of “identifying” or “relating” to them.

An example, if you will:

We had an associate rally that was catered by Panda Express (we spared no expense). One supervisor had already had a plate of whatever it was that was bought (that’s not important). Well, he decided he was still hungry, so he went back for a second helping – just as our GM cast a casual glance toward him. “Hey, man, hittin’ the Panda Express pretty hard, huh?” He said with a chuckle. During the rally, our fearless leader got on the mic and told everyone, “Better go get your food now before (name) eats it all! Saw him getting seconds!” He continued to laugh while everyone looked around either nervously or confused.

At the next rally, catered by a different high-volume fast food joint (again, not important), our GM got on the mic again. “Everyone should be glad we don’t have Panda Express, or else (name) would be eating it all!” He laughed to himself again. Every day, our GM would greet the supervisor with some variance of, “You gettin’ Panda today?” You get the picture.

In GAME NUMBER TWO of the season, Japan Central League veteran Tony Barnette made his Major League debut, relieving Martin Perez, who had just thrown six innings, in and out of danger, just surrendering two runs and leaving with a tie ball game. Barnette, who was a failed starter converted into a successful closer in Japan, was brought in to face the bottom of Seattle’s lineup with the idea of shutting down some relatively weak hitters. Single, fly out, strikeout later, and it looked like Barnette would be well on his way. Baseball’s a funny game, however, and shunned former Ranger outfielder Leonys Martin delivered a hit that scored the go-ahead run – only after Shin-Soo Choo bobbled the ball. If Choo picks that cleanly…who knows.

At any rate, he didn’t, and Barnette surrendered one more run before being pulled. The argument came up that a guy making his Major League debut shouldn’t have been thrown into a relatively critical situation to start his career. I disagree. Barnette signed to a 2-year, $3.5 million deal in December (really, a contract that had been in the works since the end of November), was not brought in to be a low-leverage, ease-into-the-situation reliever. He was signed, as Rangers former manager Ron Washington would say, to be a “winning piece.” If you haven’t gotten to know Tony Barnette, the quick line is that he saved 97 games in five seasons with the Yakult Swallows who misses bats at an above average rate. If that’s a Major League reliever, then the seventh inning of a tie game is the perfect time to pitch a guy like that.

Alas, he is not a Major League proven reliever and he had the less-than-ideal outing he had. The reaction was immediate. “Who is this guy”, “Send him back to Japan”, and “He sucks” were only a few of the barbs being thrown out in response to the outing.

A third of an out later, still in GAME NUMBER TWO of the season, former Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen made his Texas Rangers debut. If it was possible to have a worse debut than Barnette, Wilhelmsen succeeded. Facing former teammate Robinson Cano, The Bartender served up a fastball that was supposed to be down and away but was instead down and in, and was taken very, very deep. Next, facing former teammate Nelson Cruz, who had already homered earlier in the game, he allowed an opposite field double. Next, facing former teammate Kyle Seager, another double scored a run. Next, facing former teammate Seth Smith, another homer, two more runs. Finally, facing a guy who he had no real relationship with in Chris Iannetta, Wilhelmsen drilled him in the leg. Ejected.

If ever a team had a mentally documented dossier on a pitcher, it would appear to be the Seattle Mariners against Tom Wilhelmsen. Again, not an ideal outing. But again, Wilhelmsen was not brought in to be a low-leverage kind of reliever. With Seattle, Wilhelmsen racked up 67 saves and has posted a lifetime ERA of 3.11 (before Game 2, of course). The reactions came in again, as the beat writers tried to put out the fire the fans were spitting. During the course of The Bartender’s outing, it was brought to light that last year’s LOOGY reliever,

During the course of The Bartender’s outing, it was brought to light that last year’s LOOGY reliever, Sam Freeman, had been sold to the Milwaukee Brewers. Several fans asked if it was too late to trade out Freeman for Wilhelmsen. Yes, the general public, going off of one full season of mostly low-leverage relief work from Freeman, would rather have had the left-handed Texas native instead of the proven closer who had – count it with me – ONE bad outing.

Am I making excuses for Wilhelmsen and Barnette? Absolutely not. Am I saying it was a bad day at the office? Absolutely. Barnette’s ERA sits at 27.00 and Wilhelmsen’s, literally, is infinity.

It is also, I suppose I have to say, GAME NUMBER TWO of the season. So to all of you asking for the immediate release, trade, or designation for assignment of Barnette and Wilhelmsen, give it a rest. One bad outing is an aberration. Even Zack Greinke had an absolutely awful outing. Not that I’m putting the two relievers in question in the same class as Greinke, but good pitchers have bad days. Bad pitchers have good days (Phil Humber anyone?).

It’s one thing to knee-jerk jokingly – writing off the entire season, proclaiming the literal end of days, wanting to DFA the whole team – and it goes both ways. But to call into question the motive of Jon Daniels in acquiring these players to be high-leverage pitchers and Jeff Banister’s use of high-leverage relievers in high-leverage situations insults the intelligence of anyone who actually follows the sport of baseball.

We at SDI balked at the reaction of one fan who was insistent on calling Joey Gallo a locker room diva based on one part of one radio snippet from one radio host on one show a couple of years ago. That fan literally said, “Well, I’m just going off of what I heard.”

It was a bad first impression, sure. But it was just one impression. Don’t let that dictate how you see them during the rest of their tenure with the Texas Rangers.

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Matt Fisher
Matt Fisher is an Editor/Staff Writer for ShutdownInning. He is a baseball lifer, preferring to use the eye test and rely on the knowledge and analysis of baseball minds greater than his, while using relevant stats to encourage situational discussions. He is also co-host of The Most Valuable Podcast on the NextWave Radio Network, talking sports, entertainment, and sports entertainment.

While Matt's favorite team will always be his hometown Texas Rangers, he knows the ongoing story lines of every team in Major League Baseball. If you sit next to him at a game, be prepared to hear him try and do play-by-play. If you're famous and reading this, just know that he's not afraid to drop names.

Matt Fisher. ShutdownInning Editor/Staff Writer

One comment

  • I stand by my … umm… stance … that this wasn’t the best time for Barnette to make his MLB debut. Will he be a major part of the bullpen going forward? Good question – time will tell, but it’s likely he will. That doesn’t mean he should be made to walk the plank to sink or swim in the 7th inning of a tie game for is first MLB pitches. I don’t care what kind of situations he pitched in while playing in Japan – the difference between Japan and MLB is significant, as is the difference in talent in the two leagues. Someone making their first MLB appearance is going to have some butterflies and adrenaline and the opportunity to come in with a lead in the 6th inning or when down in the 8th or 9th inning would give him the chance to have those “first appearance” jitters in a situation that wasn’t quite so intense. Maybe Bannister wanted a baptism by fire for him, but I still would have rather seen Dyson in that situation.

    I was also against the Martin/Wilhelmsen trade at the time. I thought the Rangers settled for less than they could have gotten and after having Wilhelmsen on a fantasy team in 2014, I wasn’t impressed with his performance recently. He hasn’t been an effective closer since 2013.

    I don’t consider either of those opinions to be knee-jerk. I still think they can and probably will contribute in meaningful ways.

    Declaring the season over is knee jerk and in general I agree with your take on knee-jerkers – of which we have a lot in DFW. It’s too early in the season to put too much weight on one game, even one as ugly as this. But we all know every game is important, no matter if it’s in April or September – wins and losses count the same.

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