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Is Jeff Suppan Sleepwalking Through The Season? Or: Why I Don't Like the Taste of This Soup

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(Note: This post is probably a little outdated, as the Brewers' pratfall against the Padres has given us new things to complain about.  But I wanted to vet this theory first, to make sure I wasn't completely off my rocker; hence, the delay.  If you're no longer fired up about Jeff Suppan, by all means: you don't have to read this. You won't hurt my feelings.)

Since word got out that Jeff Suppan and his $12.5 million anchor were being banished to the Milwaukee Brewers’ bullpen, there’s been a lot of discussion of Suppan’s comments to reporters – that he felt he’d made a lot of improvement, that he’d made some good pitches in his two starts, that the decision on the demotion was made by people in "big offices" – and deservedly so.  At the least, those comments reveal a man who’s seriously out of touch with his abilities and his performance; at worst, they show a man who’s completely delusional.  As KL pointed out, there are about a hundred different ways to say: "I’ve been awful" without actually saying it.  Oddly, despite being given about a dozen opportunities to fess up to his shortcomings, Suppan chose none of them.

In this post, though, I want to focus on a different set of comments coming from a different set of people -- or, to be more accurate, I want to focus on a type of comment I've never heard anyone make about Jeff Suppan.  For example: when asked about Soup’s performance and the decision to exile him to the ‘pen, Ken Macha said:

"It's tough because the type of person and the pro that Jeff is.  But he's had two starts, neither one of them quality, and we've pretty much had to go into the bullpen early in both games. That kind of stuff hampers you."

Of course, we’ve heard time and again what a fantastic person Jeff Suppan is, how he’s great with fans and donates generously to a variety of charities and supports the troops and once teamed with Lassie to rescue Timmy from an open well.  Similarly, we've heard what a good "pro" Jeff Suppan is -- that he doesn't air dirty clubhouse laundry in the papers, that he doesn't throw teammates under the bus, that he won't openly gripe about decisions he doesn't agree with.  But while I’ve heard the exploits of Jeff Suppan the Man championed ad nauseum, I’ve never heard a coach, or manager, or teammate say something like this:

"Yeah, Soup’s struggling right now, but he’s not taking this lying down.  He’s the first one in the clubhouse every morning, and he’s the last one to leave, and he’s putting in hours trying to get this right.  He’s looking at video.  He’s studying hitters.  He’s leaving no stone unturned.  He’s busting his ass."

Now, there are two potential explanations for why we’ve never heard something resembling that hypothetical quote: (1) Soup is doing those kinds of things, but Macha / Melvin / Peterson don’t feel the need to mention them; or (2) Soup isn’t doing those kinds of things. 

No. 2 seems like the more likely option to me for a couple of reasons. 

  • For one, this coaching staff hasn't been shy about mentioning the extra work the players are putting in: last year, for example, Dale Sveum discussed all the work Corey Hart had done in the offseason after his nosedive in September '08. In like fashion, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Alcides Escobar have been praised for working overtime on their fielding with Willie Randolph.  And, this spring, Carlos Gomez got some pub for working with Sveum, Fielder, and Weeks to improve his on-base percentage. 
  • For two, and probably more importantly, I think No. 2 is the more likely option if only because I’d expect someone – ANYONE – to bring up the fact that Soup is busting his hump to try to deflect some of the vociferous criticism that the man receives on a daily basis.  The guy is getting trashed day after day after day; if he was putting in overtime trying to find the cure for his ails, wouldn’t somebody say so?

In the end, I think that’s what bothers me the most about Suppan: it’s not that he’s terrible, it’s that it appears he’s not going above and beyond to try to find a way to not be terrible.  You would think, at some point, no matter what you’re being paid, if you’re getting shelled as often as Suppan is, your pride would kick in and you’d realize: I have to do more.  I have to be better. I have to try anything and everything to put an end to this. Doing what I've always done isn't cutting it. 

I'll give you a "for instance": after posting a 13-15 record and 4.24 ERA in 2005, Greg Maddux, he of the four consecutive Cy Young awards, realized that the same ol', same ol' wasn't going to work anymore.  So, before spring training in 2006, the soon-to-be-40-year-old Maddux embarked on a brand new training regimen with a Las Vegas physical therapist.  Maddux started out great in 2006, was eventually traded to the Dodgers, and put up a 3.30 ERA in twelve starts for L.A.  He wasn't a world-beater, but he was a more-than-competent starter for a contender.

Apparently, $40 million over four years can't buy that kind of self-awareness.  Instead, we get quotes like this, on the day Soup reported to spring training:

"My approach has always been the same regardless of if I was 20 years old or 35. It’s the same thing."

"The same thing" isn’t hacking it, and it hasn’t been for awhile.  Hopefully, Soup realizes that and does something about it before his option is declined in the fall.