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David Palmer

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David William Palmer

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[edit] Biographical Information

David Palmer was a very marginal prospect, drafted in the 21st round of the 1976 amateur draft out of Glens Falls High School by the Montreal Expos as a "local boy" pick. After a tough professional start, when he went 0-5, 7.20 for the Lethbridge Expos in 1976, he had a couple of solid seasons as a starter with the West Palm Beach Expos and Memphis Chicks in 1977 and 1978. He earned a call-up to the big league club at the end of 1978, during which he went 0-1, 2.79. He then unexpectedly made the Expos' pitching staff as a reliever at the start of the 1979 season, skipping AAA altogether. He pitched extremely well that first year, going 10-2, 2.64 and being inserted in the starting rotation at the end of the year when the Expos were battling the Pittsburgh Pirates for the NL East title.

He then missed a chunk of the 1980 season with an injury, being limited to 24 games and 19 starts. He pitched well when he was healthy, though, going 8-6, 2.98 as one of the team's most reliable pitchers down the stretch, when the Expos once again lost a tight pennant race, this time to the Philadelphia Phillies. He was injured again at the start of the 1981 season, but was placed back on the roster when the team resumed play after the mid-season strike, after starting one of two exhibition games the Expos played against the Boston Red Sox to get ready for the second half. But before he could get into a regular season game, his elbow acted up again, he returned to the disabled list, and did not come back until 1982. It was more of the same that year: he only made his first start on May 25th, then pitched very well for a while, but reinjured his elbow in his 13th start, on August 13th. He ended up at 6-4, 3.18, and then missed the entire 1983 season due to the injury.

Palmer was back with the Expos at the start of 1984, but this time the Expos' brass wanted to nurse him along, given his injury history. His first outing came in long relief on April 7th, facing the Atlanta Braves and he picked up a win by giving up only a run in 5 innings. He did not pitch again until April 21st, when he started the second game of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a date with history as he pitched five perfect innings before rain ended the game, getting credit for a 4-0 shutout. The Expos could not avoid putting him in the rotation, what with him seemingly pitching as well as anyone in the majors every time he took the mound. However, he struggled from that point on, getting knocked out early a few times in May but avoiding any losses. On June 9th, he lost a game to the New York Mets, 5-3, ending a streak of 21 starts without suffering a defeat at Stade Olympique, dating back to the first home start of his career back in 1979. No one has matched that home winning streak since. After going 0-3 in June, he was 3-0 in July, missed all of August and added a couple of wins in September, ending the season at 7-3, 3.84. He was a remarkable 31-16 for his career at that point, but would struggle to even make .500 over the next few years.

In 1985, Palmer again missed a month of action for the Expos, this time making only one appearance in August, but was otherwise busier than he had ever been, making 23 starts and pitching 135 2/3 innings, both career highs. However, his record was only 7-10 and his 3.71 ERA was only equivalent to an ERA+ of 92 in the low-scoring environment of Stade Olympique in the mid-1980s. The Expos did not make much of an attempt to retain him when he became a free agent after the season - they were beginning their cycle of being constant sellers of talent at that point, and he moved to the Atlanta Braves in 1986 on a one-year deal. The Braves had no qualms about limiting his innings, using him every fifth day that year. On July 3rd, he defeated the Expos, 3-1, coming within one out of pitching a complete game and lowering his season's ERA to 2.77 (although his record was only 5-6, but then, the Braves were an awful team that year). With everything going right, he said in an interview that he did not understand why the Expos did not pitch him more often, which was not well received north of the border given that the Expos had been extremely patient in bringing back from injury after injury, and he had never been healthy enough to pitch a full season except as a rookie. In any case, the rest of the season did not go quite so well, as his ERA eventually rose to 3.65, but coupled with a record of 11-10 for a last-place team, and 209 2/3 innings in 35 starts, he was easily the Braves' best starter. Rick Mahler won more games at 14-18, but his ERA was a full run above David's and he and reliever Paul Assenmacher were the team's only pitchers to finish above .500 among those with more than 30 innings.

Palmer re-signed with the Braves for 1987, but he was not as efficient as he had been in his first season in Georgia. His record fell to 8-11, his ERA shot up to 4.90 as he seemed to feel the strain of having pitched all those innings the year before. He made another stay on the disabled list, this time from mid-June to late July, and was as a result limited to 29 starts and 152 1/3 innings. He then signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for 1988, but continued to pitch poorly. His ERA improved from 4.90 to 4.47, but that was entirely an illusion: in 1987, he was pitching in a hitter's park during the peak offensive season in almost four decades; in 1988, offensive numbers went down significantly throughout baseball, and he was pitching in a more neutral park. As a result, his ERA+ actually got worse, from 89 to 80, well below average. His record was only 7-9 and he was limited to 22 starts and 129 innings, making only one appearance in April and none after August 30th. He came back in 1989, this time with the Detroit Tigers, but had little left in the tank at that point. After starting the year in AAA with the Toledo Mud Hens, he made 5 starts in the American League, going 0-3 with a 7.79 ERA and was released on July 13th, a couple of weeks after his last career start. The Cleveland Indians gave him a look, sending him to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, but did not call him up to the big leagues. He tried to hang on by pitching with the unaffiliated Reno Silver Sox of the California League in 1990, but gave it up after 3 starts.

In total, Palmer went 64-59 with a 3.78 ERA in 10 big league seasons, his record helped with his excellent first few seasons. He was never a power pitcher, relying on smarts and an assortment of good pitches to get batters out, never striking out a ton of opponents. His big handicap was his inability to stay healthy, as he was tantalizingly good during the brief stretches when he could take the mound in full health. One can only wonder about the sort of career he could have had had he had more of a rubber arm.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 1 (1986)

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