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September 19, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Oh, What a Night

by Joe Sheehan

That was interesting.

Four of the National League's eight--and with the Mets six games out, I guess we have to say "nine"--contenders blew leads in the ninth inning yesterday:

  • The Diamondbacks had the most spectacular implosion, blowing first a six-run first-inning lead, then watching Byung-Hyun Kim serve up back-to-back solo shots to Todd Helton and Jeff Cirillo in the bottom of the ninth to turn a 9-8 win into a 10-9 loss.

    One problem we see managers have in running their bullpens is a slavish devotion to the notion of a single closer. Bob Brenly has had seven pitchers get saves this year, but seems to very much like the idea of just one guy in the ninth inning. To that end, he replaced Greg Swindell with Kim to start the ninth, and I'm wondering why he did that:

    
    Helton vs. LHP:  .288/.373/.484
    Helton vs. RHP:  .357/.455/.766
    

    That's not a fluke, as Helton had a similar split last year, and a more dramatic one in 1999. He's a good hitter against left-handers, but he's a ridiculous one against righties. Leaving Swindell in to face him, especially as the leadoff hitter, seems like the prudent decision. Giving Helton about 350 points of OPS was unnecessary, and might have cost the D'backs an important game.

    Something to worry about: Kim's ERA this month is 10.80, and his ERA last September was 13.00. He's been worked like a dray horse by the D'backs, and may well be tiring again.

  • The other dramatic loss was the by the Cubs, who like the Diamondbacks, blew a bottom-of-the-ninth lead against a non-contender. In this case, it was the Reds putting up a three-spot to play spoiler.

    While the Cubs might chalk this one up to missing Tom Gordon--unavailable due to a sore elbow--the pitcher who coughed up the lead, Kyle Farnsworth, has actually been about as good as Flash this season:

    
                   IP   ERA   BB   SO   AVG   OBP   SLG   ARP
    Farnsworth   74.2  2.89   25  100  .215  .280  .344  16.6
    Gordon       45.1  3.38   16   67  .188  .262  .306   4.5
    

    Farnsworth's big edge in innings pitched and good work with inherited runners give him a higher Adjusted Runs Prevented score, and as you can see, his peripheral numbers and ERA are a good match for Gordon's. Having him pitching the ninth inning wasn't a bad thing for the Cubs; it just didn't work last night.

    If there's a concern it's that Farnsworth--like Kim--has been hit hard in September. He's posted an 8.10 ERA after throwing 31 2/3 innings in July and August. He's a converted starter, so you'd think he'd be able to handle the workload, but having to throw so many high-leverage innings for the Cubs may be taking its toll.

  • One other game ended with a big crowd around home plate: the Braves continued to make the NL East interesting by blowing a ninth-inning lead, leading to a 4-3 Phillies victory and closing the gap between the two teams to 1 1/2 games.

    The winning run scored on a Scott Rolen single with one out. Rolen has been on fire this month, batting .385/.479/.718. This on the heels of a great August as well. People looking for a reason might point to Dallas Green's public reaming of Rolen as the reason for the surge, but I have my doubts about that. His overall numbers don't look unusual in his career path, and are a good match for his Wilton projection:

    
               AB    H 2B 3B HR  BB  SO  SB CS   AVG  OBP  SLG  EqA EqR
    Projected 448  133 32  2 24  63 101  10  2  .297 .384 .538 .301  79
    Actual    513  151 38  1 22  64 122  15  5  .294 .377 .501 .298  89
    

    The playing time is the big difference: Rolen has already played more than he did in 1999 and 2000, and his ability to stay in the lineup while playing at his established level has allowed him to reclaim his status as the NL's second-best third baseman behind Chipper Jones.

    Within a season, player performance can take all kinds of strange directions. Hot starts, cold finishes, hitting well in alternate months... Voros McCracken rightly points out that much of what we see as "streaks" is actually just a function of picking our endpoints selectively. That Rolen has performed well since the midsummer controversy isn't evidence that the tirade by Green caused that performance. That's an important distinction.

    Give Rolen credit for his hitting, not anyone else.

  • Finally, in the one dramatic game that a road team pulled out, the Astros rallied to beat the Giants 3-2, scoring twice off Robb Nen.

    As I pointed out yesterday, the Giants have a hellish last three weeks. It's conceivable, should the Padres win tonight, that the Giants will not play another under-.500 team until next April. They won't get any sympathy from the Astros, who certainly aren't going to see a sub-.500 team the rest of the way.

    The Astros got a scare last night when Roy Oswalt left the game with a strained groin. This is on the heels of losing Pedro Astacio for the year with a torn labrum, and has to cause the team some concern. Tim Redding stepped in for Oswalt last night and threw three shutout innings, and will probably get Oswalt's next scheduled start.

    In the Astros' favor is that they have a 4 1/2-game lead in the NL Central, and a 5 1/2-game lead over the Giants for the wild card, plus tremendous pitching depth. It will take a significant collapse for them to miss the postseason, and once there, they'll be the favorite.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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