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The Annual Deja Vu

It must be the off-season since it’s time for the annual Mark Prior-inspired period of optimism. Yesterday, Buster Olney reported the 29-year-old is prepared to work out for scouts soon enough. Three entire Major League seasons have passed since Prior last threw a pitch in a regular season game in the majors or minors. That hasn’t stopped some from still hoping Prior will one day make the long trek back to the majors once again.

Okay, or maybe it’s just me.

Everyone knows his tale of the papyrus-thin tendons and ligaments resulting in macabre injuries, but how many have forgotten that one magical season where Prior lived up to the hype, the status, and created what now seems like myth? 2003 was Prior’s first full season in the bigs after appearing in 19 games for the Cubs in 2002. He would start 30 games, pitch 211.3 innings, allow 57 earned runs, strike out 245, and walk 50. Anytime you can take a starting pitcher’s earned runs, add his homers and walks, double it, and still have a total lower than his strikeouts, I would say he’s having a special season.

Take a look at how Prior’s 2003 matches up to Zack Greinke’s 2009 – keep in mind the league averages have fluctuated a bit, so the comparison isn’t 1:1, but stick with me:

Prior 28.4%
Greinke 26.5%

Prior 5.8%
Greinke 5.6%

Prior 33%
Greinke 32%

Prior 7.5%
Greinke 4.5%

Comparable by those measures. Prior’s 2.47 FIP and 3.23 tRA match up considerably well to Greinke’s 2.33 FIP and 2.81 tRA, as well. Prior pitched fewer innings and induced fewer groundballs, but being “slightly worse” than Greinke’s 2009 season is a tag most pitchers would desire.

The odds of Prior making it back to the majors are probably pretty low. I realize that. I’d just rather ignore it for a few days a year.

For more prospect-related talk, feel free to check out my piece on evaluating young catchers at Baseball America. A subscription is required.