Posts Tagged ‘Boston Red Sox’
You know you’ve made the big time when you start getting taken down by blogs. I feel like making an acceptance speech or something, because the Southpaw just called B.S. on me calling B.S on the myth of the Jays playing to the level of their opponents.
Now normally I would just take the high road by invoking Hitler to wipe the offending blog off the face of the earth, or rage into an indignant huff at how anyone could question my authority after so many, errr…months of experience, but I actually had some more to say on this but figured two posts on the subject had driven it sufficiently into the ground. Rebuttals are cool and edgy, though, no?
First, there’s a reason I didn’t generalize into teams above and below below .500 like you often hear. An overall average doesn’t show if the Jays have trouble against ALL good and bad teams, or are just extremely skewed against a select few. As I showed, it’s the latter. Here’s the Jays 2005-2007 record against +.500 teams:
When you see that, do you still think that the Jays have to find a way to beat up on the cellar dwellers, or that they have to find a way stop losing to @#$@#$ Texas constantly? Split things up by team and while the overall average might be low, there’s no trend across the entire group- and that’s what people are talking about.
You also end up lumping in disasters like 2005′s Kansas City (.346) with an average Texas (.488). Meanwhile, an almost identical Minnesota (.512) team gets the “winner” label. So it ignore very significant differences between some teams while creating others that aren’t there. A .500 team like the Jays could be doing just fine against legitimately bad teams but lose a bunch of coin flips to other .500 teams (and vice versa) and this kind of wide-brush analysis would not show the difference.
So with all due respect to my friend Jon, yes, it is a legitimate complaint to observe the Jays do not run up the win total against vulnerable teams, collectively, in the same way that the Yankees and Red Sox do.
This is 100% true- but also self-fulfilling. What if the Jays have not run up the wins against lousy teams as much as their rivals because they have simply not been as good a team, instead of the other way around? I mean, Tampa Bay has not run up the win total against sub .500 teams as well, but that is clearly not their problem. On its own, this doesn’t really mean anything. What would be significant is if while failing in this regard, the Jays do play against the good teams the way playoff teams do…
The interesting thing I found when it came to how the three teams played versus teams with winning records was this: over the three years in question the Jays have a slightly BETTER record against those teams than do the Red Sox. That is the case because in 2006, the Jays did MUCH better than the Red Sox against those teams. Collectively, on the three seasons, the Yankees were at .553, the Jays at .498, and the Red Sox at .479 against AL teams with winning records.
Also true- but does it really tell you anything about the Jays? Which number really looks out of place here?
|Team||Overall||Below .500||Above .500|
|Boston||0.569||0.620 (+51)||0.479 (-90)|
|New York||0.588||0.629 (+41)||0.553 (-35)|
|Toronto||0.514||0.537 (+23)||0.498 (-16)|
The world champions, one of the most dominant teams over the last three years, have a losing record against teams over .500, a huge difference from their overall record. Intuitively, that’s just bizarre, and logically it must be the exception to the rule- it’s hard to have too many great teams that can”t beat good teams. There is a flaw with just comparing the Jays to our rivals- the Red Sox aren’t the model for a playoff contender, they are a highly unusual exception.
So, again, as Jon rightly observes the Jays do not play great against winning teams. However, it can be fairly stated that they win enough of those games to be a contender IF they would rack up wins against the weaker sisters of the league.
At an unusually high rate, yes. But losing more than you win to + .500 teams is not enough to be a contender for most teams (and certainly not in the AL East). Boston has proved that it’s possible, but that doesn’t mean that this is what is holding the Jays back, which is how the (still a) myth goes.
Ah, the playoffs- it’s a time of magic, when heroes are made and wins are won and real men show their grit, toughness and (especially) heart battling it out for the ultimate prize as they leave it all on the field in the most important games of their lives, for it all comes down to this, there’s no tomorrow, it’s the final showdown between the best of the best on the biggest stage and only one team can triumph, reach the pinnacle of performance, banish the ghosts of past failures, create new epic tales of greatness, and start a legend for the ages as they achieve the supreme ultimate position of baseball gods among men and etch their names forever in history….BARRRRRRF.
Sorry. Fox overdose. I just can’t stand it any more. The playoffs are exciting, but do they really need to be tarted up in all this dramatic hyperbole? Do more people watch the games when you precede them with half an hour of purple prose? Instead of pointing out some of the finer points of what you’re watching it’s all about puffing up the drama with crappy cliches. I’m pretty sure if you think baseball is boring, long speeches with epic musical scores about how exciting it is are not going to change your mind, especially when they push the broadcast over four hours and into the next day.
Anyway, let’s not forget that for every Joe Carter moment of indescribable joy bounding around the bases, there is at least one Mitch Williams, or Bill Buckner, or even Donnie Moore, suffering long-term psychological damage for being unable to prevent said joy. In fact, the Baseball Almanac keeps a rather morbid list if you’re into that sort of thing.
I bring this up because after Jeff Francis’ slightly disappointing start (for a look at the gory details, check out my post on the Jays’ Nest), Franklin Morales and Ryan Speier produced two of the outings that keep sports psychologists in business. Morales lasted 2/3 of an inning and allowed 7 runners to reach base. Not to be outdone with fewer outs to work with, Speier entered with the bases loaded and threw 12 balls in 16 pitches to walk in three runs without retiring a batter for a much more efficient display of specraplitude.
Sadly, the mocking and shadenfreude must stop then, because he wasn’t really that bad. I was hoping for something that lived up to what has to be one of the worst outings of all time, but he was generally around the plate. Looks like he was just trying to be too fine in his first World Series appearance (which tends to happen) and once he had shown no ability to find the plate wasn’t getting the benefit of the doubt from the home plate umpire (which also tends to happen). Anyway, here was Mr. Speiers location last night- let’s not with his movement because they were all fastballs except one (2nd from the right):
A quick request from Mr. Roman who, after watching Travis Hafner way behind pitches in the ALCS, (striking out an ALCS record 12 times, capped off by going down on three straight heaters to Papelbon in the 7th game with two on) wondered if Boston was feeding him high fastballs, possibly taking advantage of him trying to go the other way off the Green Monster. Here are the fastballs that Hafner saw, and what he did with them (this includes cutters and two seamers- anything above 90 that didn’t break more than half a foot).
As you can see, Boston made a concerted effort to pitch him up and away. He took a lot of pitches right on the outside edge, fouled off a few right down the middle, and couldn’t catch up to anything at the letters. Kind of surprising for a batter who mashed those pitches all year. I wonder if the Red Sox, who have notoriously good advance scouts (check out Schilling gushing about them on his Blog) picked up something, or if his bat speed was just down at the end of a long season so they kept pounding him.
It’s kind of hard to see graphically, but between the first three games in the series (when Hafner went 3-11 with two BB and a HR) and the last four (when he went 1-19 with 11 K’s) the Sox changed from going low and away in the strike zone to challenging him with high heat. Hafner didn’t swing at the low and away pitches (that’s all those called strikes), but he went for the high stuff and couldn’t do anything with it. Here are his fastballs split between early and late in the series:
He may have gone a little too aggressively after the corners early in the count, but Fausto Carmona was also getting squeezed all night by the home plate umpire Dana Demuth. Here were the calls made by the umpire tonight (from the batters perspective). He wasn’t getting anything on the corner that his sinker dives towards. The zone was tiny all night, but Schilling didn’t have it near as rough.
Also marked is where the pitches in the first inning were- I think you can guess which pitch Victor Martinez and Wedge were getting in the umpire’s face about after the inning was over.
The umpire rankings I’m working on show Demuth as having the third-smallest zone in the majors, but it’s mostly because he’s really small on the other side of the plate and doesn’t call the low strike (which explains a few of the calls on both sides).
I have to admit, when I saw Curt Schilling’s first few fastballs float in at 88 mph, I predicted a quick exit for the veteran hurler and an end to the Red Sox in the 2007 playoffs. But the old man got the job done, allowing only 6 hits over 7 innings, striking out five and walking none. He never topped 93 on the radar gun (and only hit it once against Hafner), but kept the Indians off balance with his splitter and threw a lot of first-pitch strikes. Here’s his location over the night.
Amazingly, of those 14 called strikes, 9 of them came on the first pitch to the batter. He started almost every at bat with a fastball. Here’s the movement on his first pitches- there are 2 curveballs and one splitter, and the rest of them relatively straight fastballs:
Otherwise, his control was good but not great. He left a lot of pitches up and over the plate that the Indians were unable to take advantage of. Why? Take a look at his pitch movement over the night:
After the first pitch, he threw a ton of splitters and they were diving a over half a foot. His fastball was also moving up to eight inches to either side, and quite often he took up to 10 mph off of it (although I’m not sure about those pitches that pitch f/x says were under 70 mph- one of them was the 4th pitch of the game to Grady Sizemore and there’s no way that was a 59 mph fastball. Two of the release points in that at-bat were about a foot to the right so maybe they were still setting up the system).
He also tossed in a handful of curveballs mostly as a show-me pitch. I don’t think he throws a cut fastball, but some of his fast splitters moved almost like a normal pitcher’s cutter. The two parallel lines made by his fastball and splitter suggest his split-fingered pitch cuts in and down and he can modify it for speed vs. break in the same way as his fastball.
All in all it was a pretty predictable game plan for a reformed power pitcher. Schilling threw first pitch fastballs for strikes, and then threw offspeed pitches to induce weak contact and expand the zone for strikeouts later in the count. The Indians took a lot of early strikes and had trouble with his splitter and a variety of different fastballs. There was nothing special about either his control or movement tonight, but the crafty vet had the Indians on the wrong foot and guessing wrong all night. Expect Westbrook to attempt the same thing tomorrow night.
So far using pitch f/x it’s been pretty easy to break down what is important for Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, and A.J. Burnett to be effective. Compare a really good start to a really bad one and things pop out like how much a fastball is tailing, a curveball is curving, or a changeup is working.
The next thing I want to look at is what happened to Roy Halladay in May (other than the obvious- his appendix exploded). The Doctor was the best pitcher in the league in April, and from June 10th on had an excellent ERA of 3.32. But he pitched like a little-leaguer for three starts around the time that he went on the DL with acute appendicitis.
In the two starts before he had surgery, Halladay allowed 16 runs. He came back quickly from the DL and had one good start, but in his next one was absolutely shelled by Tampa Bay for 8 runs in 3 1/3 innings, the only time this season he did not go 5 innings. Roy said afterwards that it was a mechanical, not a physical problem, and he wasn’t getting on top of his pitches. Later it came out as Sal Fasano suggested a different grip (which Halladay later abandoned) that he was having trouble with his cutter. Let’s take a look at what was different in those three starts to make him so hittable.
First, here’s the pitch movement in a good start by the doctor, from April 13. He went 10 innings to beat the Indians, allowing only 6 hits and one run – an absolute classic from the Jays ace on top of his game. Remember, this is pitch movement as compared to some mythical perfectly straight pitch. Those red dots on the left are diving, moving fastballs. Compare it to the movement of another pitcher to get an idea of how much- the scale is in inches.
This is what the “new” Halladay looks like, ever since he remade himself from a power pitcher into a ground ball pitcher. He doesn’t throw a big 12-6 breaking ball, just a little breaking pitch that is more like a slider. But his fastball sinks and tails away to a ridiculous degree- over 6 inches even when compared to McGowan and Burnett’s 2-seamers. Can you imagine trying to hit a 93 mph pitch that sinks and tails that much? And now here’s his location. Everything is low and he cuts his fastball in on the hands of left-handed batters.
Ok, enough drooling at Cy Young stuff. Here’s Roy’s first rocky start in May where he allowed 12 hits and 9 runs against the Texas Rangers.
Doesn’t look that bad, does it? All his pitches are sinking even more. There isn’t the same sort of crisp definition between his two fastballs, but his velocity and breaking ball is fine. And as you’ll see in a second, for the most part his location was there as well.
So what was different? Well, this game actually came down to one inning, the third. After a strong start, the Rangers strung together 8 hits and 6 runs. Then the Doc recovered and the only other runs credited to him were when Josh Towers allowed a couple of inherited runners to score. In the next graph you can see the pitches from the third inning with yellow dots inside them, and the pitches that went for hits are marked with X’s:
(You may notice that the scale is a little different- for the second time I used pitch “break” instead of movement. It’s very similar except it takes into account the “loop” of a pitch, which makes it a little easier to define breaking pitches and changeups).
As you can see, almost all of those pitches that blurred the line between the Doc’s two fastballs came in the third inning, and most of the hits that inning came off those pitches. So it looks like the Doc’s cut fastball deserted him for half an inning. Here’s his location with the 3rd inning pitches and hits marked. All the pitches from that inning were missing just off the inside corner, or were cutters that didn’t cut how he wanted them, ended up right over the plate, and were smacked for hits.
If you can stand looking at another graph about this start, you can see here that the Doc was right about what went wrong- his release point slipped down for that one inning.
Right before his Appendix Exploded, Halladay had a rough outing against the Red Sox. 5 innings, 11 hits- and again he had problems in the third inning, allowing 6 runs off 7 hits. Again, the problem was with his cut fastball, except this time in that inning it was cutting more than usual. I assume that he couldn’t control it, because all the hits came off his sinking fastball that Boston was sitting on. Again, the yellow dots are his trouble inning and the X’s are Boston hits. The final nail in the coffin was off a slider low but right down the middle (the blue + on both graphs).
And now his location, which wasn’t so bad, really: He was just facing a good hitting team and not hitting his spots dead on like he usually does. Amazing what a couple of inches can do to a pitcher’s plan.
The last blemish before being strong for the rest of the season came on June 5. After 7 shutout innings in his first start back, he was lit up by Tampa bay. There’s no secret what happened this start- too many pitches left up. On all of the Doc’s other starts, there are next to no balls in the upper half of the plate. Here is his location for that start and where Tampa got their hits (check out the Greg Norton single on a ball that was apparently a foot off the plate away from him).
Release point was the culprit for those pitches. It’s a little hard to see, but I’ve tried to show what happened to Hallday’s release point throughout the game in the next diagram. In the first two innings it was very consistent and centered. In the third and fourth, it started varying wildly- up to 3 inches to each side, down and up. And the only times that Halladay was able to go back to his old release point? They were those high pitches that were hit hard by Tampa. I know Doc’s too much of a warrior to admit anything was wrong physically, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the result of him rushing back and just running out of strength after a few innings so he ends up guiding the ball.
So there you have it- Halladay’s bumpy patch was caused by two different issues. First he had some problems with his cut fastball coming and going (while going up against two of the best offenses in the league- not a good combination) that lead to big innings. Then after being on the DL, he couldn’t keep a consistent release point and that led to him being unable to keep the ball down. Thankfully it only took him a few starts to self-diagnose himself, and for the rest of the year 2007 was another fantastic season for the doctor.