2014 Phillies Report Card: Sean O’Sullivan

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about fate. How much of what we achieve is predetermined, and how much is the result of our own agency and conscious choices? I’d long rejected the idea of hard determinism as a philosophy, but recent events in my own life have made me reconsider. I wrote a book this spring, and as of about a week ago, it’s out for delivery (SHAMELESS PLUG: BUY IT HERE), and it’s not because of some sheer force of willpower. It’s because I was born with a talent to supportive parents who lived in a town with good public schools, then in middle school I met a kid who, 10 years later, would introduce me to an internet community surrounding the Phillies at just the right time, and an editor at the publication I’d always wanted to work for was a huge Philly sports fan who read this blog and hired me, which put me in a position where a publisher would notice me.

I worked my ass off to achieve even a modest degree of success as a writer, and I don’t think that work accounts for more than 5 percent of the end product. Hard work counts for nothing without the underlying conditions that come with it.

The counterargument, of course, is that the hard work is still what gets you over the top, and without that, all the underlying conditions count for nothing. This is also true, and that’s why I feel slightly sorry for Sean O’Sullivan. Sean O’Sullivan is one of the greatest athletes in the world–do you have any idea how much talent and hard work it takes to become even a third-round pick in the MLB draft? Or how much more it takes to reach the big leagues at age 21, then pitch more than 200 innings in the major leagues?

But O’Sullivan’s major league career lays bare how thin the margins are–it took O’Sullivan six years to tally 231 1/3 top-flight innings–that’s one year’s worth of a healthy James Shields or Felix Hernandez–and he’s had to make pit stops with five different organizations to get there. And while we’re at it, those innings haven’t been good. Not once has O’Sullivan even come close to pitching at a league-average level, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. You see, a 4.3 career K/9 ratio isn’t good. I don’t think it’s even survivable for a right-handed pitcher in 2014. For all his natural talent, good fortune and hard work, O’Sullivan just isn’t fated to be good enough to be a major league pitcher. It’s not all necessarily meaningless, because he is good enough to get the occasional cup of coffee for a team that’s hard up for a spot starter, as he got with the Phillies this year. But not enough for more, as the Phillies, who outrighted O’Sullivan off the 40-man this week, have made clear.

This is one of the hidden beauties of baseball that I’m only just coming to appreciate this year–the difference between superstardom and a lifetime in AAA purgatory is a fraction of an inch here, a fraction of a second there, a fraction of a percentage point of natural ability or a chance encounter 10 years before a player even gets to the major leagues. Baseball is the expression of determinism through sport. Sean O’Sullivan knows–he’s doing the only thing he can.

Grade: C

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12 comments

  1. Edwin

    October 10, 2014 04:46 PM

    Wow, you actually had the courage to do this one. As someone who teaches university students I am under pressure to pass as many as possible. Even those who do not merit a passing grade somehow find the curve and pass the class. Is this just another case of grade inflation? Or did he really pass with a ‘C.’ Also as a sidebar to paraphrase John Kruk, baseball players are not athletes.

    • Bill Baer

      October 10, 2014 05:58 PM

      There’s no overarching philosophy to the grades — each writer chooses the grade as he or she sees fit — but many or all of us tend to grade the players relative to expectations as opposed to simple production. Sean O’Sullivan was never going to be a Cy Young candidate, so it seems unfair to punish him for not actually being one.

      • Francisco

        October 10, 2014 09:15 PM

        And that’s what the majority of the negative comments I’ve read don’t seem to grasp. I view the evaluations against expectations not pure productions. The Phillies as a team have been quite bad. It’s still possible for many players to perform above expectations and for the team to still suck since you need much better overall performance.

        Take for example Buchanan. I believe this blog gave him a B. I took that to mean that as a 6th starter he performed above expectations. I may quibble with some fine points but overall that’s not a bad assessment. Does that mean that if you fill the rotation with equivalent Buchanan types the Phillies are a contender? Of course not. But it’s not pure production what’s being evaluated here. It’s important for sure but must be tempered against expectations.

        I believe some of the more passionate critics here would give failing grades to possibly all players for not performing at all star levels which is one way to evaluate if you want to know what caliber of a team you have but that’s not what’s being graded here.

      • Michael Baumann

        October 10, 2014 10:29 PM

        Exactly. I grade relative to what we could reasonably have expected from a player this year. We got exactly what we should have expected from O’Sullivan–replacement-level ball, and not much of it. Giving him an F because he sucks and we all knew he’d suck coming in would just feel like piling on.

  2. WayneKerrins

    October 10, 2014 05:13 PM

    What level would you say you’ve attained in your chosen profession using the baseball pyramid as a scale? And what’s your ceiling?

    • zengreaser

      October 11, 2014 01:02 AM

      32 year old, right handed bat off the bench, Low A ball. Ceiling? Reached it already.

  3. Chris

    October 11, 2014 12:19 AM

    Well if we are going to grade to expectations, Howard should get at least a solid C if not higher…

    I didnt see one report of him hitting over .250 with no more than 25 HRs. Did we expect good defense? Or good baserunning?

    I cant wait to see the consistency from the writers. Howard was awful this year and deserved a D AT BEST. But lets not act like the expectations of him coming in were anything but that of an average player.

    And is someone claiming they dont want to pile on players because they sucked this year? haha. Riiiiiiiiigggggggghhhhhhhhhhhttttttt.

    • zengreaser

      October 11, 2014 01:10 AM

      Agreed with the Howard part of your comment. If the site is truly grading based on individual expectations & results then Howard should actually score relatively high. No one expects the ’05-’09 Howard anymore so by his current standard he played pretty well.

      That being said, I agree with not piling on. One of the reasons I have come to read this site and really enjoy its content is that I am tired of the over-the-top, angry, hyperbolic “analysis” from folks more suited for calling into the WIP Morning Show. Contrary to popular belief, sports can be discussed and dissected without spewing verbal poison.

  4. Piatt Gray

    October 11, 2014 07:32 PM

    A credit to Mr. Baumann that I read a few hundred words on Sean O’Sullivan. I had to read that sentence again to remind myself that I had, against all reason, read a few hundred words on Sean O’Sullivan.
    As for his grade, I propose: ¥. I’m guessing Sean will have a stint in the Japanese league before too long.

    • edwin

      October 12, 2014 11:40 AM

      I live in Japan. He is not good enough. Try Korea

  5. bubba0101

    October 13, 2014 12:35 PM

    This guy is still better than 99.9% of people who have ever played baseball. That is quite an accomplishment in the grad scheme of things. We can’t all be Chase Utley.

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