Jim Abbott might not win as many games as he did last season, when he was 12-12 with a 3.92 earned-run average, and he won't even win as many games as he loses.
But statistics tell little of Abbott's story. The 10-14 record and 4.46 ERA he takes into his start against the Kansas City Royals tonight at Anaheim Stadium seem unimpressive, but they don't reflect Abbott's progression from a thrower to a pitcher. In that regard, his season qualifies as a success.
"I think I've had a better year than some of my statistics show," the 23-year-old left-hander said. "I had some very lousy games, and I'm the first to admit that. There's a fine line between being a 15-7 pitcher and being a .500 pitcher. Certainly, my location and consistency haven't been what I'd like, and I could have had a few more breaks. But I've worked hard and I'm proud of what I've done. I think I'm a better pitcher, and next year I'll be even better.
"There are a lot of things I've learned, like getting a much better idea of what to throw and when to throw it. I'm not saying I have things down, but I know how to prepare myself better, and just being a year older helps. I know the hitters and the league better and how to pace myself through the season. I don't know what that will parlay into in the future, but my primary goal is consistency. That's the primary goal of any pitcher. You want to go out and give the team a chance to win every night, which is what Chuck (Finley) does extremely well."
It took Abbott until August to win consecutive home games, and only once--on Aug. 29 and Sept. 10--has he won consecutive decisions. He has given up 234 hits in 200 innings, a high total he deems "not a real big issue."
The issue, as he sees it, is his continued development, which has been evidenced by a new off-speed pitch and his improved control. Abbott has given 68 walks in 200 innings, compared with 74 in 181 1/3 last season, and he recorded consecutive complete games in which he didn't walk a batter on Sept. 13 and Sept. 18, the only Angel starter to do that in 1990. A victim of the team's inconsistent offense, Abbott won only one of those games. But what he has gained this season can't be quantified.
"He's a more accomplished pitcher, capable of doing more things," Angel pitching coach Marcel Lachemann said. "He's still got a ways to go; he needs to locate the ball better on both sides of the plate. But if he gets a little better each year, he's got a chance of becoming a really good pitcher in this league."
Catcher Lance Parrish thinks Abbott can go a step beyond that. "He wasn't as effective as he'd like, but his approach this year was better," Parrish said. "Instead of just pitching to people, he was thinking about how to set people up with certain pitches. He hit both corners (of the plate) with his curveball a little better and he has the changeup.
"When he polishes the things he's trying to accomplish this year, like hitting the outside corner, I think his record will improve dramatically. Then you'll see him win 17, 18, 19 games. He has the ability to do that."
His ability to ignore distractions was tested severely last season. His jump from college and the U.S. Olympic team to the major leagues was noteworthy alone, but having been born without a right hand made Abbott the center of a media throng. Television cameras and reporters pursued him as a curiosity when all he wanted to be was a pitcher.
"It's been a more peaceful year for me. Last year was very difficult, very strenuous because of all the pressure. I had to grit my teeth to get through it. Now, I'm more relaxed, and there isn't as much demand on my time," said Abbott, who has done fewer interviews but hasn't cut the time he spends with disabled children.
Despite the progress he has made, Abbott knows he isn't yet a complete pitcher.
"There have been times this year when I've thrown well. The past few weeks, I've thrown like I want to throw the ball," he said. "I have to do that consistently. I'd also like to have a real dominating third pitch. My overall maturity, more experience and knowledge will lead to more of a pitching foundation, a base to touch back on.
"Can I win 20 games? It takes a lot of things to go right to win 20. I think I can be a good pitcher and contribute positively to a contending team. That would be my goal."