Sunday, May 01, 2005

Chicago 4, Detroit 3

Sox manager's Ozzie Guillen's small ball approach paid off for his team as the Sox were able to rally for three runs in the seventh inning of a 4-3 win against Detroit on Saturday.

After Aaron Rowand led off the inning by getting hit by a pitch, A.J. Pierzyinski and Joe Crede followed with singles, the later scoring Rowand from second and making the score 3-2. Still with no outs, Ozzie Guillen instructed Willie Harris to bunt. Harris was able to execute and moved noted non-speedsters Pierzynski and Crede to second and third. Pierzynski would score on a groundout by Scott Posednik and Tadahito Iguchi singled to center to score Crede. The Sox left the inning with a 4-3 lead.

Let me explain first that I'm all for the big inning. I'm a big proponent of Earl Weaver baseball. But lets face it, Harris wasn't going to hit a three-run home run. Outs are scarce, but here's why I think having Harris bunt was the right call:

Having Harris swing away meant the most likely outcome would have been:
1) A groundout that probably would have turned into a double play, creating two outs.
2) A soft fly ball that gets caught, and if it advances any runners, it's probably Pierzynski to third, leaving the double play in order
C) Harris strikes out.

One of those three things probably happens two out of three times.

And after that the Sox are counting on Posednik to drive in whoever is left on base? Please.

Guillen decided to give up one out to get two guys in scoring position. That gave the Sox two chances to drive in guys with a base hit, and at least one chance to drive a guy in on a groundout or a flyout to tie the game. And that's what happened. The Sox got a run despite Posednik's weak grounder, and then Iguchi picked up Crede on third with a base hit.

If the situation is different, say the score were 7-2 with Detroit in front earlier in the game, then you would probably want Harris to work the count, try to slap a hit or draw a walk. That would be dangerous too, because you'd still have a man on first base, and the ball Posednik followed with would have probably been double-play material, thus getting you only one run anyway. But that's a 1-in-3 chance you have to take when you need a bundle of runs.

In the seventh inning of Saturday's game, however, the Sox only needed one run to tie and another to take the lead. And it still let them get to the heart of their order... Carl Everett and Paul Konerko both got to bat in the inning.

In fact, it was the big ball hitters that were disapointing for the Sox in the seventh. Everett got on base, but then Konerko hit into a fielder's choice. Had there been only one out, it would have been a double play.

But the point here isn't that letting the big guys swing away is a bad idea. It's a good idea, and if it had been Everett or Konerko putting down the bunt, it would have been a ridiculous play. You need those guys to do what they're good at, which is draw walks and hit home runs. But even Barry Bonds, the most successful hitter in baseball and maybe the best hitter ever, is only "successful" half the time, and less than that when you account for the situation. Most good hitters are only sucessful one out of three times. And the best hitters in the game can still kill a rally by grounding into a double play.

The guys the Sox had coming up in the lineup -- Harris and Posednik -- have by no measure Bondsian prowess. They're not even "good" hitters. So Guillen was absolutely right to cash in the runs he knew he could get. I would agree that is really "smart ball."


Take your base:
After being hit by 10 pitches last year, Crede was hit by his third of 2005 in the fifth inning. That doesn't count the incident in Oakland where he was hit but didn't get his base. I don't think Crede's penchant to attract baseballs with his ribs is the product of him leaning in with the express purpose of drawing the base -- a la Craig Biggio -- but rather a pruduct of his stiff batting posture.
Intentions aside, for a guy like Crede that only walks about 35 times a year, getting plunked by 10-15 pitches is a nice way for him to boost his value.

Getting men on:
After six hits, four walks and two hit-by-pitches, the Sox' team on-base percentage creeped upward to ..316. Still not that great, but it's on the rise.

Living dangerously:
Orlando Hernandez provided another high-wire act Saturday, allowing eight hits and walking a pair. His WHIP for the season is now a scarry 1.63 and he's allowed 36 hits in 30 innings pitched so far in 2005. The Cuban righty of undetermined age is on target to give up more hits than innings pitched for the first time in his major league career.

How damaging is it to give up a ton of hits? Lets look at who gave up the most hits in 2004:

1. Sidney Ponson 265
2. Mark Buehrle 257
3. Carlos Silva 255
4. Kenny Rogers 248
5. Mike Maroth 244
6. Jason Jennings 241
7. Kyle Lohse 240
8. Darrell May 234
9. Livan Hernendez 234
10. Roy Oswalt 233

Well, it looks like the Good, the Bad and the just plain Ugly. Of course, Buehrle, El Duque's little brother and Oswalt are good, while Kenny Rogers is underrated. I think Silva pitched over his head last year, but he had a good season. Jennings, Maroth and Lohse are bad. And after both had good seasons in 2003, it seem like Ponson and May went to the mound covered in gasoline while AL hitters took turns putting matches to them.

The next 10 on the list is the same mixed bag, with guys that were good (Mark Mulder, Brad Radke), guys that were average (hello, Jon Garland) and guys that sucked (Shawn Estes).

So what is the difference? Well, some of the really good guys like Hernandez and Oswalt still had more innings than hits allowed. Among the rest of the guys there were good, Buehrle and Radke didn't walk very many guys. Other guys that were in between, like Silva and Rogers, sort of live on the edge. The guys that were good also had a tendency to keep the ball in the ballpark, except for Buehrle, who was hurt a lot by playing at New Comiskey.

So how will El Duque survive? Well, he's on pace to walk 88 guys this season, so that will have to improve. He's only allowed one home run this year, so he's doing good there.
Or he could just give up fewer hits, right?

Posednik went 0-for-2 with a pair of walk, lifting his OBP to .354. He also stole a base and drove in a run with a soft grounder in the seventh. His flurry of 5 walks last week also almost doubled his season total and put him on pace for 129. Way to go Scotty. I'd like to think think that could last.

On Deck:
Jon Garland (4-0, 1.80) against Wil Ledezma (1-1, 5.82). For his career, Ledezma has always been a better first-half pitcher (3.12 ERA before the All-Star break, 6.54 after).


Tybor said...

It's a little misleading to look at Hits Allowed leaders. As you pointed out, this 'counting' stat depends on the number of innings pitched. A more appropriate rate statistic would be Hits per Inning Pitched.

However, we know that Hit Rate is largely a matter of luck - if a ball is put into the field of play, it has about a 30% chance of becoming a hit. Very very few pitchers in the majors have the ability to influence this hit rate. So most pitchers will regress to the league average from season to season (or even from game to game). Therefore, saying that "El Duque needs to give up fewer hits" is a bit misleading, because it isn't under his control.

What IS under his control is the ability to prevent balls in play, manifest through his strikeout rate. Also important, like you pointed out, are the only other outcomes that pitchers have complete control over - walk rate and HR rate. It is through these skills that we can assess a pitcher's real value.

It would be a very interesting analysis to see how Sox pitchers are faring these year in terms of these basic indicators. I know that, on the pitching side, the batting average for balls in play has been very low. Garland has benefited nicely from this. It would be neat to look at the rest of the staffs' skills over the first month of the season - and perhaps think about what these numbers will due over the course of the season.

Chris Pummer said...

You're right, H/IP is a better way of looking at it. I looked at overall leaders because I just wanted a quick and dirty way of looking at how starters fared.

I was also being mildly sarcastic when I suggested El Duque give up fewer hits.

I am thinking about looking at the Sox defensive efficiency and how that's helped boost the Sox' pitching staff so far.