The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 27, 2012

Thoma column: The strange exclusion of Anthony Slama

By Edward Thoma

— The Greg McMichael Rule may not apply to Anthony Slama.

The McMichael Rule — If you get outs, they’ll find a role for you — is, or should be, a universal truth about pitching. No team is so rich in pitching that there isn’t room for one more.

Certainly not the Twins, who entered Saturday with a team ERA of 5.50 — almost a full run worse than anybody else in the American League.

Slama, a 28-year-old reliever, is burning through the International League — one measly run allowed in more than 20 innings with 33 strikeouts. He has dominated minor league hitters at every level, yet he has gotten all of seven innings in the major leagues, and right now he’s not even on the 40-man roster.

When the Twins decided on Saturday, after another string of short starts, that they needed yet another bullpen arm, they brought up not Slama, but Jeff Manship.

Granted, Manship is more capable of eating innings than is Slama, and thus a logical choice for a long-relief role, but still: Slama has been the more effective pitcher this season.

What gives?

Paul Molitor, who serves as a roving instructor/evaluator in the Twins system, was pretty blunt about Slama when asked about him during a radio interview last week: He has a high walk rate, and he gets his outs by getting hitters to chase bad pitches. The Twins do not believe Slama can get major league hitters to chase at anything approaching that rate.

That skepticism is backed up by Slama’s limited exposure to the American League. Seven innings, eight strikeouts — and seven walks. (ERA 5.14)

Slama’s stuff has been described as mediocre, and the combination of poor command and mediocre stuff is not promising.

Still, an 0.44 ERA at Triple A is attention-grabbing, and all the more so when the big league club is starting pitchers with ERAs above eight. (Of the five Twins with more than 30 innings pitched, three have ERAs above eight: Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn and the soon-to-be-released Jason Marquis.)

The fact of the matter is that International League hitters aren’t good enough to make Slama throw strikes. And seven innings are not conclusive proof that Slama cannot make his approach and delivery work in the majors.

I suspect that the Twins are right about Slama — that AL hitters will not be deceived by the delivery, that they will take more walks and get into more hitters counts, that they will force Slama to throw strikes and that they will hammer those strikes.

I suspect that. I don’t KNOW that. And neither do the Twins.

Slama may not be the pitcher the Twins want, but at some point even their stubbornness has to give way to the Greg McMichael Rule. Doesn’t it?

Edward Thoma maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.