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.