Shell Shocked Thomson Ready for Atlanta

Pitching at The Ballpark in Arlington is a daunting task for any pitcher. <B>John Thomson</B> proved up to the challenge in 2003 for Texas. Can he produce even better for the Braves this season? Senior Columnist Jason Walker had a chance to speak with the new Brave about what he thinks of his new surroundings and his thoughts on the upcoming season.

In Denver, Colorado and Arlington, Texas the major league baseball parks there have many fans.

Not a single one of those fans is a pitcher.

Picture yourself toiling on a team such as the Rockies or the Rangers as a hurler, constantly worrying that the next fly ball will be a fly ball out…of the ballpark. You then work to make yourself respectable despite your surroundings, only to be on teams that are not respectable themselves.

John Thomson has lived out this exercise his entire career to this point, pitching for the Rockies from 1997-2002, then going to the Rangers in 2003.

Here are the records and Park Factors for those teams that Thomson has had the "pleasure" to pitch with: (Park Factors of over 100 favor batters)

1997 Rockies: 83-79, 123 PF
1998 Rockies: 77-85, 120 PF
1999 Rockies: 72-90, 126 PF
2001 Rockies: 73-89, 119 PF
2002 Rockies: 73-89, 119 PF
2003 Rangers: 71-91, 109 PF


Take into consideration that a Park Factor of 100 is neutral and stadiums like Dodger Stadium routinely post Park Factors of between 91-93. Turner Field posted a PF of 97 last season and is historically around 100.

Thomson's numbers over his stays in COL and TEX have consistently been slightly better than the league average pitcher pitching in the same parks.

Here are last season's numbers:

John Thomson: 13-14, 35 GS, 217 IP, 234 H, 49 BB, 136 K, 4.85 ERA, LAERA 4.94

Pitcher X: 16-11, 36 GS, 218.3 IP, 225 H, 33 BB, 124 K, 3.96 ERA, LAERA 4.16

Pitcher X got a 3 year, 24 million dollar contract after this effort, and Thomson signed a 2 year, 7 million dollar deal for his very similar effort.

Of course, nobody is going to say that Thomson is going to provide the entire pitching package that Greg Maddux provides, but that stat line is strikingly similar and a possible indicator that putting Thomson in Turner Field could yield his best year, at least statistically, to date.

"It's going to be nice to finally pitch in a place that is a little bit forgiving for a change," Thomson told BravesCenter. "Nobody is perfect; pitchers are going to make mistakes. In Colorado and Texas, mistakes mean home runs, but maybe here those will be doubles instead or Andruw can run them down."

Last season, after years of the bad ballparks and some physical trouble, Thomson finally put together the full season he always envisioned for himself, but despite our statistical comparison, Thomson isn't deluding himself to believe he is of Greg Maddux timbre. Instead, Thomson sees himself settling into the 200 innings horse the Braves are hoping he'll become. That he won 13 games on a 71 win Texas team while getting his first 200 inning season was impressive, but the question is can he repeat that effort.

"My whole thing is to average at least 6 innings per start and take every start," stated Thomson about his goals for the season. "If I make 35 starts and get to six innings per start, that's 210 innings, I'll be keeping the team in the game and stat-wise things will take care of themselves."

The Braves are slotting Thomson into the middle of the rotation, behind Ortiz and Hampton, and alongside Horacio Ramirez while Paul Byrd gets healthy. When Thomson came up with the Rockies, Colorado saw him as a possible ace, but those expectations have obviously changed.

"I never saw myself as a #1 or #2 guy," agreed Thomson. "I saw myself as a #3, taking the ball every fifth day and giving seven strong innings. It felt good to finally get to 200 innings last year, to know what it takes to get there."

The stakes are higher for Thomson this year more than any other in his career. Since he was on losing teams that had poor pitching, there were likely fewer expectations placed on the righthander. Now in Atlanta, he comes to a team that has staked its long run of success on the strength of their starting pitching. That Thomson comes in right after the Braves bid farewell to Maddux might heighten the pressure to succeed.

"I probably have put a little more pressure on myself because I am coming to a team that has a tradition in pitching," allowed Thomson. "But I think that this year and last year are different in that every year before those I was fighting for a spot in the rotation, now it's just a matter of coming in and getting ready for the season. For example, before I was coming in thinking that I have to be on from the first throw of spring training all the way through. Now, though I want to be on, I don't have to worry if I stumble that I've blown my chance."

Statistically, Thomson has shown he can do the job, but will he be able to perform the same when the expectations are raised and the stakes are high.

Thomson laughed, finishing, "If I can relax I will be OK."

Jason Walker will be providing profiles, features and commentary on the Braves this season. He can be reached at jwalkr72@bellsouth.net or leave a message on the BravesCenter Message Board

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