Thanks Russ! We Hardly Knew You

The Braves have been rumored to be interested in bringing back J.D. Drew and Jaret Wright, but surprisingly there's no talk of any interest in Russ Ortiz. BravesCenter's Bill Shanks talks about a pitcher who should be applauded for his two years as a Brave.

He's got to be perhaps the most unappreciated pitcher in Braves history. He's lambasted as "Mediocre Ortiz" on the Internet message boards, as this new revolution of statheads has the minimized the importance of the "W" in the score sheet.

But Russ Ortiz should be given some respect. Yea, the Braves are probably going to let him go, available to sign a free agent contract with another team for more than the $6.2 million he made in 2004. However, that shouldn't minimize the contributions he made in his two seasons in Atlanta.

When Ortiz was acquired in December of 2002, he was part of John Schuerholz's plan to try and replace the departed Tom Glavine. At that point, the Braves also believe Greg Maddux was leaving for free agency. But then Maddux elected to stay, and Schuerholz had to quickly rid the Braves of Kevin Millwood and his large contract. So Ortiz was all of a sudden not only needed to replace Glavine's innings, but help the returning Maddux eat up some of Millwood's innings as well.

That's exactly what Ortiz did, although it shouldn't have been a surprise. In the four years with the Giants prior to his trade, Ortiz averaged 15.75 wins and 209 innings pitched. So in his two years with Atlanta, what did Ortiz do? Well, he simply averaged 18 wins and 208.5 innings pitched. Not bad. Not bad at all.

But the statheads pointed to different numbers. Oh my word! Ortiz allowed 214 walks in his 417 innings as an Atlanta Brave. Holy ERA Batman! Ortiz had an ERA of 3.97 in his 68 starts over a two-year period.

Now I'm not saying that Ortiz was necessarily an ace pitcher. Heck, he wasn't even going to pitch in the first round of the National League Division Series at first because of his poor second half of the season. He did have a rough time during the second half in 2004. There's no doubt about that. But overall, this guy did very well for us. He was a solid pitcher.

Another team will now get a pitcher who has averaged 16.5 wins over the past 6 seasons, along with 33 starts, and 209 innings. Ortiz's 77 wins since the 2000 All Star Break are the most by any pitcher in the game since that time. But you don't hear much about teams lining up to sign Ortiz. Has he simply developed a reputation as a pitcher that gets great run support, but is simply not a good pitcher? If so, that's tremendously unfair.

I know it's the urge of statheads to break down pitchers to see how truly effective they are. That's all well and good. But let's give a little credit to the pitchers who are consistently able to put up the numbers under the "W." After all, that still does count. That still does mean the pitcher is keeping his team in the game most of the time. Shouldn't we figure that of the 99 wins Ortiz has in the last 6 seasons, over 199 starts, that he's kept his teams in the game at least 70% of the time? I think so.

So Ortiz epitomizes a solid pitcher. Some team will probably give him a contract near the $7 million dollar mark, and if history prevails, they'll get a pitcher who will approach 15 wins. Again, that doesn't mean I want the Braves to bring Ortiz back. We've got one guy probably moving back into the rotation (Smoltz), another veteran probably coming in for a very cheap price (Kevin Brown), two more incumbents expected to return (Hampton and Thomson), and a fifth starter expected to bounce back after missing most of 2004 with shoulder trouble (Ramirez). Plus, we've got several tremendous rookie pitchers expected to knock on the door.

Even though he'd probably love to return, there's just no room for Ortiz to continue his career in Atlanta. But it doesn't mean that we can't stop to appreciate the great effort he gave this franchise over a two-year span.

He deserves at least that.

Bill Shanks can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com

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