Friday, March 7, 2014

Ankiel Retires

Rick Ankiel retired yesterday. You may not remember Ankiel, but he was a second-round draft pick by the Cardinals as a high school pitcher in 1997 and appeared briefly in St. Louis in 1999. In 2000, at age 20, the lefty started 30 games for the NL Central champs, going 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA, best on the team, and 194 strikeouts in 175 innings, ranking second in the NL in strikeouts per nine innings. He blew up on the postseason, though. He walked six in 2.2 innings in the first game of the NLDS against the Braves. (The Cards won the game anyway and swept the series.) He failed to make it out of the first inning of the second game of the NLCS against the Mets, throwing just 14 strikes among 33 pitches, while walking three in 2.2 innings. He pitched two thirds of an inning in the fifth and last game of that series, walking another two. His postseason ERA was 15.75 and he walked 11 in four innings. 

That was pretty much it for his pitching career, as he could never find home plate again, in the majors or the minors. His 2004 season raised hopes, as he tore through three levels in the minors (23.2 innings, 0.76 ERA, 23 strikeouts and just two walks) and walked only one in ten innings in the majors during a September callup. But after throwing only three strikes in a 20-pitch appearance in spring training in 2005, he made the surprising decision to give up pitching to become an outfielder. 

He played outfield in the minors in 2005 and 2006 and earned an August callup in 2007. He hit a home run in his first game back and finished the year batting .285/.328/.535 with 11 homers in 172 at-bats. There were more references to The Natural in the national media than you could shake a stick at. The next year he set career highs for plate appearances (463), hits (109), runs (65), homers (25), RBI (71), walks (42), and on base percentage (.337). He wound up playing for six teams in an eleven-year career, hitting 76 home runs--not a bad career for a guy who looked washed up at 21. In the field, he was primarily a center fielder. While a lack of control doomed his pitching career, he retained a powerful arm, as evidenced by the perfect strike he threw here (note the baserunner not budging off third):
(Video from the Baseball Prospectus Effectively Wild podcast Facebook page.)

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