Friday, September 30, 2011

Rangers vs. Rays Update

Did I just see that?

With a man on first and nobody out in the 6th inning, losing 8-0, Ron Washington just had his #3 hitter, 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton sacrifice bunt.

I... can't even put into words how bad baseball that is. That's not smallball, that's stupidball. They only had 12 outs left to make up 8 runs - and Josh Hamilton gives them a better chance than anyone with the possible exception of Mike Napoli to get them back with a single swing. And he wasted that out to get a guy to second base?

Predictably, the Rangers now only have 9 outs to make up 8 runs.

I'm officially changing my prediction. Rays in three.

2011 Playoff Preview, AL Division Series Edition

Here we are. It's the playoffs, and we're just in time for me to predict eery series incorrectly, the way I almost did in 2006. (Hey, I got the Mets over Dodgers right!) Don't you remember those 2006 World Champion Twins! Long story short, these are probably wrong. That's never stopped me before though.

Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees
Detroit: 95-67. Scored 787 runs, Allowed 711 runs.
New York: 97-65. Scored 867 runs, Allowed 657 runs.

Initial irrelevant thought: These two teams have the best home uniforms in baseball. So win or lose, these teams will look sharp doing it. 

Expected lineup:

SSDerek Jeter0.7CFAustin Jackson2.4
CFCurtis Granderson5.23BWilson Betamit1.3
2BRobinson Cano4.6LFDelmon Young0.0
3BAlex Rodriguez2.71BMiguel Cabrera7.1
1BMark Teixeira2.4DHVictor Martinez2.9
RFNick Swisher3.4CAlex Avila5.4
CRussell Martin1.3RFMagglio Ordonez-1.9
DHJorge Posada-1.0SSJhonny Peralta4.4
LFBrett Gardner4.22BRamon Santiago1.3

Yankees: Jesus Montero, Eric Chavez, Eduardo Nunez, Chris Dickerson, Andruw Jones
Tigers: Omir Santos, Brandon Inge, Andy Dirks, Don Kelly, Ryan Raburn

Starting Rotation:

C.C. Sabathia6.9Justin Verlander8.6
Ivan Nova3.5Doug Fister5.7
Freddy Garcia3.4Max Scherzer2.4
Rick Porcello1.0

Yankees: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, AJ Burnett, Rafael Soriano, Phil Hughes, Boone Logan, Luis Ayala, Cory Wade
Tigers: Jose Valverde, Al Albuquerque, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, Dan Schlereth, Brad Penny, Ryan Perry

Justin Verlander vs. C.C. Sabathia, the matchup of arguably the two best pitchers in the American League this year (Jered Weaver says hi from the golf course), will only happen once, as the Yankees will counter their starting pitching depth disadvantage by simply using fewer starting pitchers. It's a good move, as Sabathia proved in '09 that he's able to pitch on short rest, and Nova will get two travel days between Game 2 and a potential Game 5. 

Still, I think Game 1 is more important for this series than it is for any of the others. Both teams have a pretty notable dropoff after their ace, and are both facing pretty good lineups - the Yankees lineup scored more runs and works pitchers harder, but the Tigers lineup's higher batting average is no fluke. There is some evidence that low batting average/high scoring teams have trouble replicating that in the playoffs, for one sort of obvious reason. Being patient and waiting for pitches to drive out of the park works great against #5 starters on bad teams. Teams with good enough pitching to make the playoffs though, are usually there because they do the best job keeping the ball in the park and not walking guys.

The Yankees lineup is generally better, top-to-bottom, but starting Posada over Montero is a mistake. Montero was a monster the last month, and Posada is old. The Yankees might as well put Reggie Jackson or Yogi Berra out there. Maggio Ordonez is in sort of the same position for the Tigers, but is only out there because Brennan Boesch is out. He'll be lifted for defense in the late innings.

Surprised by Ivan Nova's low WAR? The whole "he pitches in the AL East" thing may seem to indicate he should be rated more highly, but he somehow only pitched against the Red Sox twice, and obviously never pitched against the Yankees. The Jays, Rays and O's aren't exactly offensive juggernauts, and Nova really pitched well against those three, going 6-1 with a 2.79 ERA. After the Yankees, the next two highest scoring teams were Texas (2-1, 4.67 ERA, 9 BB, 6K) and these Tigers, who he didn't pitch against. Either the Yankees did a good job protecting him so that he'd build confidence, or he got exceptionally lucky with what days he happened to be pitching.

With that in mind, if this gets to a Game 5, he'll be pitching against Justin Verlander. It'll be in Yankee Stadium, which would be a boost for the Yankees, but how much. I think whoever wins Game 1 tonight will win the Series - if the Yankees take it tonight, I think it goes four, if the Tigers do, I think it'll take them all 5. 

Prediction: It seems like a bad year to pick against Justin Verlander. Tigers in 5.

Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Area Rays
Texas: 96-66. Scored 855 runs, Allowed 677 runs.
Tampa Bay: 91-71. Scored 707 runs, Allowed 614 runs

Initial irrelevant thought: I'm not bitter.

Expected lineup:

LFDesmond Jennings2.32BIan Kinsler5.2
CFB.J. Upton3.8SSElvis Andrus3.5
3BEvan Longoria6.3CFJosh Hamilton3.6
2BBen Zobrist5.11BMichael Young2.4
DHJohnny Damon2.93BAdrian Beltre5.2
SSSean Rodriguez2.4CMike Napoli5.5
1BCasey Kotchman2.9RFNelson Cruz1.4
RFMatt Joynce3.0DHYorvit Torrealba0.8
CKelly Shoppach1.4LFCraig Gentry1.4

Rays: John Jaso, Jose Lobaton, Reid Brignac, Elliot Johnson, Sam Fuld
Rangers: Esteban German, Matt Treanor, Mitch Moreland, David Murphy, Endy Chavez (Note - Murphy will be substituted for Gentry against right handed starters)

Starting Rotation: 

Matt Moore0.2C.J. Wilson5.0
James Shields6.1Derek Holland2.7
Jeremy Hellickson4.2Colby Lewis2.2
David Price3.7Matt Harrison4.0

Rays: Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, Wade Davis, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, Brandon Gomes, J.P. Howell
Rangers: Neftali Feliz,  Alexi Ogando, Koji Uehara, Mike Gonzalez. Scott Feldman, Darren Oliver, Mike Adams

First off - Matt Moore starting Game 1?? I know the Rays are willing to trust the kids, but that takes some intestinal fortitude on the part of Joe Maddon. The kid only has 9.1 career innings and one start! Initially I expected Moore to be on the roster in an attempt to replicate David Price's 2008, but wow.

The Rangers, as you can see score a LOT more runs than the Rays this year. For most of the year though, the Rays didn't have Desmond Jennings in the lineup, and Evan Longoria was hurt the first month, and ineffective up to the all-star break. After dominant second halves by both players, this lineup is NOT what it was in the first half. The middle of their lineup though still can't compete with the power Hamilton, Napoli and Beltre in there for Texas.

The Rangers will also have the advantage in the bullpen. Feliz was much less dominant than last year, but Alexi Ogando will move nicely into his 2010 role, and Scott Feldman will be a nice addition there as well. I found it odd that the Rays left Jeff Niemann off the first round roster. His stuff would seem to translate better to the pen than Wade Davis, and if the Moore experiment goes kaput, he's a better bet in long relief.

If this series goes all five games, I do not expect to see Matt Moore start (however, I've also learned that it's folly to try to predict the actions of Joe Maddon). James Shields, coming off a fantastic year will get the nod then.

On paper, the Rangers have the better team. However, the Rays play better defense, have the more daring manager, and are all too familiar with being the underdog.

Prediction: The Rays are intriguing, but the Rangers have too much firepower on offense. Rangers in 4.

Next Round, just for the record: Tigers in seven

Tables made with TABLEIZER:
Statistics from Baseball-Reference:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Stop Pinch Running for Adrian Gonzalez in Close Games

Instead of writing about the newly tied American League wild card race, I am posting a write-up that I actually started during the second game of Sunday’s Red Sox vs. Yankees doubleheader. I started this when watching Lars Anderson, rather than Adrian Gonzalez, come up in a couple of key situations. Anderson was in the game because he pinch ran for Gonzalez. In this must-win game, Terry Francona had removed his best hitter for a pinch runner. It wasn’t the first time he’s done so, so I decided to go back through the season and check on what happened in other games where Gonzalez was pinch run for when the Red Sox were in close games :

May 4 vs. Los Angeles of Anaheim – Adrian Gonzalez, on sort of a crazy play, “singles” between the pitcher and catcher to score Jason Varitek with two outs in the 8th inning, cutting the Angels lead to 2-1, and advances to second on a throwing error by Fernando Rodney. Marco Scutaro goes in to pinch run for Gonzalez. The next batter, Kevin Youkilis, lines a hard single to left – Scutaro advances only to 3B. David Ortiz flies to center, stranding him there.

The Angels get that run back in the top of the 9th, but the Red Sox tie the game with two in the bottom of the 9th. We go to extra innings.

  In the bottom 10th, Marco Scutaro led off the inning with a short fly out down the left field line. This proves to be somewhat significant, as David Ortiz walks and Jed Lowrie singles. The Red Sox leave runners on first and third.

In the bottom of the 12th, Scutaro hits a one out single. The next batter, Kevin Youkilis, doubles, and Marco Scutaro is thrown out at the plate. The guy who was pinch running for the Red Sox best hitter, the guy who is in the game because he supposedly is a baserunning advantage over Gonzalez, makes the out on the bases. This proves significant again, as Darnell McDonald, the next batter, singles, and Youkilis is only able to advance to third.

The Angels won the game on Bobby Abreu two-run single in the top of the 13th.

June 4 vs. Oakland – Adrian Gonzalez singles to lead off the bottom of 10th inning, tied 7-7. Drew Sutton pinch runs. Advances to second on a one-out groundout. Was stranded there.

In the 11th, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a two-out double to score Jarrod Saltalamacchia, tying the game 8-8. With the winning run on second base, and knowing that Sutton, rather than Adrian Gonzalez, was “in the hole,” Bob Geren had Andrew Bailey intentionally walk Dustin Pedroia. Bailey then struck out Sutton. Pinch running for Gonzalez effectively took the bat out of the hands of BOTH Pedroia and Gonzalez.

In the 13th inning, we had a remarkably similar situation. With the score still tied 8-8, Ellsbury hit a leadoff single. With Pedroia at the plate, Ellsbury (showing low awareness of the situation) stole second base. Geren had Michael Wuertz intentionally walk Pedroia once again. Wuertz then induced a soft lineout from Sutton to end the inning. That is now twice that both Pedroia and Gonzalez were unable to hit with the game on the line.

The Red Sox did end up winning this game in the 14th on an RBI single by JD Drew, but the fact remains that Francona’s management strategy cost the Red Sox four at bats by two all-star hitters.

August 8 @ Minnesota –Gonzalez singles with two outs in the top of the 9th with the game tied 1-1. After advancing to second on a Dustin Pedroia single, Darnell McDonald is brought in to pinch run. McDonald scores from second on a single by David Ortiz, a ball Gonzalez may not have scored on. So this time, the pinch running worked, right? Not so fast. The next batter, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, doubled, scoring Pedroia, making the game 3-1.

The only way this pinch running made a difference is Gonzalez had been sent by the third base coach AND been thrown out on the play. There is something between a 5 and 20 percent chance of this.

September 5  @ Toronto –Gonzalez walks with two outs in top of the 10th inning. Mike Aviles pinch runs. David Ortiz grounds out, Aviles is stranded.

Gonzalez’s spot in the batting order never comes up again. Dan Wheeler gives up a game winning home run to Brett Lawrie as the Red Sox season begins crumbling beneath them.

September 25 @ New York – (In the second game of a doubleheader, the slumping Red Sox are down to a half game ahead of the Rays.) Gonzalez leads off the top of the 9th with a single off of Mariano Rivera. Lars Anderson pinch runs. After advancing to second on a Mike Aviles sacrifice bunt, and advancing to third on a JD Drew groundout to first base, Anderson is stranded there when Mariano Rivera strikes out Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

This chain of events seemed especially foolish to me. First off, with expanded rosters, LARS ANDERSON was the best pinch runner Francona could come up with???? Anderson is almost as slow as Gonzalez. He STILL needed to waste an out getting him to second. This is NOT Dave Roberts pinch running for Kevin Millar, for three important reasons: 1 . The Red Sox were losing that game. They absolutely needed to score one run then, or their season was over; 2. Dave Roberts was appreciably faster than Kevin Millar. Fast enough that he could take second base without wasting an out, and was able to score from second on a single, on a ball that Millar likely would not have been able to. Anderson couldn’t steal second, and isn’t any more likely than Gonzalez to score from second on a single. 3. Adrian Gonzalez is the Red Sox best hitter. Kevin Millar was not. Adrian Gonzalez should only be removed when his replacement has a significantly higher chance of scoring that inning. The chance of scoring off of Mariano Rivera are always slim, and Lars Anderson’s aren’t any better than Adrian Gonzalez.

In the 11th inning Lars Anderson leads off with a weak pop foul to first base.

In the 13th inning with Dustin Pedroia on first base, and with two outs, Lars Anderson is struck out by Aaron Laffey.

The Red Sox went on to win this game on a 14th inning Jacoby Ellsbury home run, but again, Francona put his best bat on the bench in a game the team pretty much needed to win.

Conclusion – Francona pinch ran for Gonzalez in four tie games and one close game in which they were losing. Those five pinch runners scored a total of one time, and it was a sequence of events in which Gonzalez would have had between an 80%-95% chance of scoring himself.

When Gonzalez’s spot in the order came up later in these games, his replacements went a combined  1 for 6. The one guy who did get a hit, Marco Scutaro, ended up getting thrown out on the bases, which I’m sure Adrian Gonzalez is perfectly capable of doing on his own.

It could be stated, of course, that the Red Sox WON three of the four tie games that they pinch ran for Gonzalez in (and also lost the game they were already losing). While true, these managerial decisions made these victories less likely. It wasn’t Francona’s managerial expertise that led to Jacoby Ellsbury hitting a three run homer against Scott Proctor, a guy with an ERA of close to 7 since 2008. Gonzalez staying in the game might not have helped them win earlier. The decision to remove Gonzalez had ZERO positive impact on the fact they won in the end.

I say this not to dump on Francona at a time where it seems convenient to do so. Francona is more willing than any manager in the league to use Jonathan Papelbon in tie games on the road, a decision that has a much higher positive potential impact than removing Adrian Gonzalez for a pinch runner has negative. He deserves credit for that. However, it needs to be pointed out - the Red Sox played 5 games this year that went 13 innings or more. Adrian Gonzalez – again, their BEST hitter – was not in there for the end of three of them. This isn’t just frustrating – it’s a sub-optimal way to manage a team.  The fact that these sub-optimal decisions didn’t always lead to losses show that managerial decisions are often unrelated to the final outcome. The best managers are the ones who do the most to optimize his team’s chances of winning. In these cases, Terry Francona didn’t do that.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Breakout Performances: Matt Moore

Matt Moore, baseball's top pitching prospect, made his first major league start in Yankee Stadium last night. For most, that alone would be memorable enough. Not Matt Moore though, who pitched 5 totally dominant shutout innings, allowing only 4 hits, striking out 11 against only 1 walk. To do that against any team is impressive, but to do it in Yankee Stadium against the AL East winning Yankees is even more so.

Now, of course, the day after clinching the division, the Yankees didn't exactly have their optimal lineup - Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, their two best hitters, had the night off. However, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and Jesus Montero were all in the lineup. The ancient trio of Jeter, Jorge Posada and Andruw Jones each struck out both times they faced him. (Ok - Posada has hit .094/.171/.109 with 24 strikeouts in 70 PA against lefties. NOT striking him out would have been something of a red flag. But still).

Moore's Tampa Bay Rays now sit only two games behind the Red Sox in the American League pennant race. It's very likely that most teams are now rooting for the Red Sox and their vaunted lineup to make the playoffs. (Boston STILL ranks #1 in baseball in runs scored, OBP and SLG. It's hard to overemphasize just how execrable their pitching has been. They're tied with Texas as the #1 scoring team in the AL in September, but are 5-16. Awful). Facing the Rays rotation already seemed scary enough, but with a dominant Matt Moore in the bullpen, they're going to be even tougher. A rotation of David Price/James Shields/Jeremy Hellickson/Jeff Niemann with Moore and Wade Davis moving to the pen seems more formidable than... what? Who in the world is going to start for the Red Sox after Beckett and Lester? Jon and Josh and pray for slosh?? How is that going to work against the next three best offenses in the American League?

Beyond the impact for the next week, this may spend the end of James Shields in Tampa. With Price, Hellickson, Niemann and Davis already in the rotation, and Shields looking at a pay raise, it's likely the Rays will attempt to bolster their lineup. Look for the Reds to be among the teams working to pry him out of Tampa.

This week will be interesting though. The Red Sox are in something of a must-win tonight against the Yankees, having their only clear starting pitching advantage of the series in Jon Lester vs. Freddy Garcia.  After that, Wakefield vs Burnett is a wash, with the Yankees now having the edge in the bullpen, and Lackey vs. Nova has become a clear advantage for the Yankees, though the Red Sox have not been fooled by Nova in his two career starts against them. Meanwhile, the Rays will try to fend off the Blue Jays, an underrated team who is good enough to play spoiler.

My prediction? Honestly, it's too close to call. The Red Sox are losing because their pitching stinks. They're going to get two more starts from Jon Lester, and one more from Josh Beckett. They need to sweep those three games, because they certainly count on Wakefield, Lackey and Bedard to pitch well enough to win. If they score 18 runs for one of them, like they did for Lackey on Tuesday (in a game he couldn't even pitch the minimum five innings to get the win), that's great. They shouldn't have to depend on that though. Meanwhile, the Rays have arguably the best pitching staff in the AL, and because Desmond Jennings is in the lineup and Evan Longoria is healthy, are a fundamentally different offense than they were in the first half. So right now, the Rays are better than the Red Sox, but making up two games with six to go takes some luck too. If it comes down to a tie, though, the Red Sox, who are scheduled to pitch Beckett and Lester on Tuesday and Wednesday, are probably dead meat.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Big Day

So, you may think baseball is my biggest love. Far from it.

Today I get to marry the most beautiful woman in the world. 

I love you Christine!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tim Wakefield Wins #200

Congratulations Tim!

It took a little while  - this previous post on the subject seems like a long, long time ago - but Tim Wakefield got a little help and won his 200th career game.  The win came at an opportune time as well, as the Sox were able to put an important game between themselves and the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild card chase, increasing their lead back to 4 games. 

Appropriately, the win came in proper Tim Wakefield fashion - a game where he wasn't dominant, but instead held on after a shaky start, settled in, and gave the team innings they had not been getting recently. During their five game losing streak, their starting pitchers pitched into the 6th inning zero times. It's pretty impossible to win that way, even with the potent Red Sox offense - they averaged 4.4 runs during that losing streak, down from their season average, but still a number that would place them 6th in the league. 

After giving up 5 runs in three innings, Sox fans could be forgiven for panicking a bit, but Wakefield's knuckler started knuckling, and he pitched three shutout innings, getting them through the 6th . Meanwhile, Blue Jays pitching wasn't fooling the Red Sox lineup, and when Alfredo Aceves was brought in to start the 7th, the lead was 10-5. 

Let's make an important distinction here. Wakefield getting the win even though his numbers weren't stellar doesn't mean he "knows how to win" in some innate way. What IS valuable, though, and has been throughout his career, has been his ability to adjust even when he's been terrible for a few innings. Pitching for the Red Sox offense, this has enabled him to win a couple extra games here and there, but, more importantly, it allows them to save the bullpen. With a pitcher less capable of making these adjustments on the mound, the Red Sox likely would have needed to bring in Aceves in the third or fourth inning, likely making it impossible for him to pitch the rest of the series. Instead, Aceves wasn't used until the 7th, pitching two easy innings (only 19 pitches) and remaining available for Thursday. He will need to be ready in case Kyle Weiland or Andrew Miller falter again.

In an important way then, Wakefield's night win is a good microcosm of his career. Something less than oustanding, but with a durability and adjustability to make him valuable. And, for the 200th time, victorious.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Drew Pomeranz Debuts for Colorado

Probably the biggest prize the Rockies received in the Ubaldo Jimenez exchange, lefty Drew Pomeranz made his major league debut yesterday, getting the start against the visiting Cincinnati Reds. Taken 5th overall by the Indians in the 2010 draft out of the University of Mississippi, Pomeranz has generally been excellent. In 20 starts across high A and AA, he managed 101 innings, finishing with a 1.78 ERA, 119 strikeouts, 38 walks and only 3 home runs allowed. The only slight red flag I see is the walk number - at just under 3.5 per nine innings, it's easy to envision the more patient hitters of the major leagues working deeper counts and running Pomeranz out fairly early. With his classic pitcher build though, it's easy to forget though that Pomeranz doesn't turn 23 until November. He is young enough looking in the face, but is built like a linebacker. At 6'5", he is probably fairly close to that 230 lbs. he is listed at, but has a build that you can't help but envision him gaining weight. As he grows into his frame, standardizing his release point will be the key to maintaining his control. That was his only issue in college

As with any young pitcher, he is being handled carefully, but Pomeranz has a free and easy delivery, with a motion that could be hard to pick up - his lead arm flashes out to the first base side, and he has no trace of the dreaded inverted W - check out the third base view in slow motion at around 2:20 of this video. He keeps his elbow below the shoulder until after bringing his left hand above both. 

Pomeranz was solid yesterday, pitching 5 shutout innings, allowing only two hits, striking out two and walking two. He got his first major leauge win, and while his velocity sat in the low 90's, indicating he may be running a little bit low on gas from the long season, he did enough to get the locals excited.

His upside is probably something in the mold of Jon Lester, an excellent pitcher whose occasional control issues end up leaving him with enough clunkers and make it tough for him to pitch extremely deep into games consistently. Lester has pitched into the 8th inning only five times in his 28 starts and doesn't have a complete game. For comparison's sake, Cole Hamels, the same age and with similar experience, has completed 3 of his 28 games and pitched into the 8th inning 13 times. Pomeranz, like Lester, may have a year where he puts all of his positives together, is able to mitigate his negatives, and contends for a Cy Young Award. Generally though, I'd guess we're looking at an upside of a 3.00-3.25 ERA in 200 innings (inflated slightly with Coors Field), with good strikeout totals, likely in excess of 220 a year. Certainly a pitcher you want on your team. 

It will be interesting to revisit the Ubaldo Jimenez deal down the road. He pitched poorly after the trade, but I do expect him to be better than both Pomeranz and Alex White for the next half dozen years or so. Indians fans are nervous now, but like the move the Angels made for Dan Haren last year, the move wasn't made for 2011 alone. The Indians didn't see anyone with an upside like Jimenez's 2010 season in their system, and made a gutsy move. Let's wait a year or four to evaluate it.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Alfredo Aceves Deserves a Chance to Start

Let's not mince words. The Red Sox are losing games because their starting pitching stinks. They've also been losing because their bullpen stinks too, but that's more recent, and it's been exacerbated by the fact they've needed to use the bullpen for so many innings. Daniel Bard appears fried, and Matt Albers has been so bad recently that it's hard to envision him on the playoff roster.

In the second half, the Red Sox are 30-22 with a mediocre 4.09 ERA. If that 4.09 ERA were evenly distributed, that would be one thing, with the way the Red Sox score runs. It's not though. Check out the player stats so far in the second half:
Jonathan Papelbon 200.471919.06102240.00.911.4
Alfredo Aceves 512.002136.0228213320.53.38.0
Jon Lester 522.18957.74314323570.53.68.9
Josh Beckett 422.871062.75320913611.31.98.8
Scott Atchison 003.0013.0310000.00.00.0
Kyle Weiland 013.3828.0730320.03.42.3
Dan Wheeler 113.431921.018834171.31.77.3
Erik Bedard 123.66632.03113213320.63.79.0
Franklin Morales 013.792219.020835201.42.49.5
Daniel Bard 124.222021.3141027240.83.010.1
John Lackey 635.201062.38136919431.32.76.2
Michael Bowden 005.4048.39534103.24.310.8
Tim Wakefield 135.431058.067351114381.72.25.9
Randy Williams 016.4878.31060560.05.46.5
Andrew Miller 336.751038.74929627301.46.37.0
Matt Albers 117.432123.02919412261.64.710.2
Felix Doubront 0015.4332.3440320.011.67.7
Darnell McDonald 0018.0011.0120200.018.00.0
Team Total 30234.15195481.7467222571694241.13.27.9

Two of the starting pitchers, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, and two relievers Alfredo Aceves and Jonathan Papelbon are pitching excellently. The rest of the staff has been bad, going 14-18 with a 5.25 ERA.This is how we start talking ourselves into John Lackey as the #3 starter in the playoffs - he's been bad, but not obviously so against the other guys. Bedard has pitched pretty well, but his health is always up in the air, and he is missing his next start. Much has been made of Tim Wakefield's struggle to win his 200th game, but the fact is, he generally hasn't pitched well enough to earn it - his numbers above don't reflect the fact that he has 12 unearned runs already in the second half. This puts his RAA at 7.29. And Andrew Miller seems long removed from the promising project he was in June. 

Lester, Beckett and Papelbon are supposed to be the pillars of this staff. Even with both Beckett and Papelbon coming off subpar years in 2010, all three were counted on, and all three have delivered. Aceves, though, has been a revelation. With the Yankees, he had been hurt often, and gained a reputation as an uncoachable headcase. So, despite still being under team control, with options, he was nontendered by the Yankees. When the Red Sox scooped him up, they were planning to stretch him out in Pawtucket as a starter, but when the need came in April for more consistent bullpen work, the call went out to Aceves. With all due respect to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Aceves is the man who has most gone above and beyond expectations. As he closes in on 100 innings, it is his durability that has been most important, consistently stepping in when starters are getting blown out.

As his 9-2 record can attest, the idea that Aceves has "kept the Sox in the game" this year has been more than just an easy empty narrative. Win-loss record is obviously not a great judge of performance, but there are times when it helps with the narrative - Aceves has entered 8 times when the Red Sox trailed by 5 or fewer runs in innings 3 through 6 - in those 8 games, he's pitched 20.3 innings, allowing only 4 earned runs. In five such games in the second half, he has pitched 11 scoreless innings, allowing the Red Sox to come back in two of those games. 

Maybe two games doesn't sound like much, but we're talking about occassions where the starting pitcher has been knocked out before completing the sixth inning. When the bullpen has a go-to guy who can pitch multiple innings and give his chance to win some of these games, that's a huge advantage.

Which begs the question - if Aceves is so often better than the guy he's called in to replace, why doesn't he get a chance to start? Well, some might say it's because he's been better out of the bullpen than he has been starting. However, that's true of almost everyone - knowing you're only going to pitch an inning or two makes it easier to "let it fly" as they say, without worrying about pacing. That's why so many good relievers are failed starters while you'll almost never see starters who are failed relievers. On the other hand, one may argue that Aceves was mediocre as a starter this year, going only 21 innings in his four starts, with a 5.14 ERA and 13 walks to 13 strikeouts. Two points: 1) in five starts with the Yankees in 2008-09, Aceves pitched 26.1 innings with a 3.42 ERA, giving him a career 4.18 ERA as a starter; 2) even that 5.14 ERA would make him better than Tim Wakefield and Andrew Miller and maybe even John Lackey. (Aside. Look, I love Tim Wakefield, and I want him to get to 200 wins. But if he's going to give up 5 runs in 5 innings every time he pitches, he's going to struggle to get there, no matter how much people want to blame Daniel Bard.)

Of course, I understand that Aceves is an important member of the bullpen. When the playoffs start, that's where he will belong, and he would become especially important if a game were to go into extra innings. Right now though? The Red Sox are losing games because their starters stink. Josh Beckett and Erik Bedard are both missing their next start, leaving a rotation of what apparently will be Lester, Lackey, Weiland, Wakefield and Miller. Maybe winning the American League East isn't one of managements goals, but winning a few games probably should be, and that rotation isn't good enough. Give Aceves a couple spot starts down the stretch. If he gets shelled, Aceves goes back to the bullpen and the Red Sox are none the worse for it. If he pitches well? Maybe that 3rd starter they've been looking so hard for has been under their nose this whole time.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Stephen Strasburg Excellent in Return

As you probably have heard by now, Stephen Strasburg returned to the Nationals' rotation last night, pitching five strong innings, allowing only two hits, striking out 4 and walking nobody. What is impressive is that this performance is pretty well in line with what he's always done in the majors. Strasburg has now started 13 games. He's pitched 73 innings, has a 2.73 career ERA striking out 96, walking only 17, giving up 58 hits, only five of which have left the park. That's an average performance of 5.2 innings, 4 hits, 7 K's, 1 walk. He's also never hit a batter in the major leagues. It's amazing for someone to have such dominant, swing-and-miss stuff and also such great control.

Yet, we're a little worried, right? A lot of the talk leading up to the event wasn't how awesome it was that he was coming back, but whether the Nationals were rushing him.Part of this, I think, is so that people can set themselves up to "blame" the Nats if Strasburg does get hurt again. "Oh he blew out his arm again? Doesn't surprise me - those stupid Natinals can't even get the name correct on their jersey." Rob Dibble went so far as accusing the Nationals of bringing Strasburg back early in order to "sell tickets and put butts in seats."We just got through this with Mark Prior, who WAS pushed pretty hard. It's tough to see guys this talented break down.

That's not entirely fair. First off - why are we interviewing Rob Dibble about it? He's the same guy who said Strasburg should "stop crying" and "suck it up" when his arm first started hurting - a hurt which proved to be a torn elbow ligament. Now he thinks they need to baby Strasburg so that he's good for 15 years? Let's all agree that everything Rob Dibble says about Strasburg is wrong and not listen to what he says anymore. As I noted above, Strasburg averages less than 6 innings per start in his career. He's thrown 100 pitches zero times. Exactly how slow are they supposed to be with Strasburg - have him pitch one inning a month until his 25th birthday? No, if Strasburg does get hurt again, it will be for the reasons Chris O'Leary and Don Cooper said before he got hurt in the first place - his delivery puts a lot of stress on his elbow. Watching him last night, his angle does seem a "little" lower, but he's still got that inverted-W thing going on. (Side note. Isn't an Inverted-W just an M?) His general mechanics are pretty much the same. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but he's probably getting hurt again.

Maybe he won't, though. So, instead of watching every Strasburg start holding my breath, wondering if this will be the night his elbow goes pop, I'm going to enjoy it. In terms of stuff, he has the best in the majors right now,better than Verlander, better than Felix Hernandez. He doesn't have anything near their durability, but even they don't dominate hitters like Strasburg does. He's not a prospect, he's a great pitcher, already. So let's enjoy watching him pitch every chance we get.