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April 10, 2003

Box Lunch

The Week in Box Scores

by Keith Scherer

This article marks the first in a weekly series looking at box scores from the past seven days. In our review of the boxes, we'll scan for trends and tendencies, using the names and digits you see in agate type every day.

April 1

Lance Carter appeared in the box score for the Devil Rays in their 16-inning game against the Red Sox. A prime prospect for the Royals before suffering two elbow injuries, the 28-year-old Carter worked the ninth through 12th innings, allowed no runs, one hit, and no walks while striking out three. We predicted good things for him in Baseball Prospectus 2003--his stock could rise very quickly, and on a bad team he'll get plenty of innings.

April 2

Mark Hendrickson was the Blue Jays' starting pitcher against the Yankees. He gave up 10 hits and seven runs in 1.2 innings. Six of the hits were for extra bases. After the game he said: "I felt good out there tonight, I had good command...In a sense, in a small way, this may be the best thing for this team." Another outing like this and what might be best for the team would be a trip back to Syracuse.

Jim Parque started for the Devil Rays and gave up seven runs in five innings against the Red Sox, allowing seven hits and five walks and striking out only one batter. Of the hits, three were doubles and one was a home run. "The three-run jack is the one that really hurt," he said. "It was the only ball they really hit hard but I'll be kicking myself until my next start over that one." When a pitcher gets hit hard, as often as not he'll talk about how good he felt out there.

Aaron Cook started for the Rockies against the Astros. He threw four innings, allowing eight hits, four walks, two wild pitches, and one hit batsman. On the plus side, he allowed only one extra base hit and just three of his 13 baserunners scored. He struck out three Astros in his four innings. He's a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, but his strikeout rate in the minors was low enough to keep him off the top prospect lists. He can throw in the mid-to-high 90s and the decline in his strikeout as he advanced through the minors was mostly intentional as he learned to pitch rather than throw. His ability to boost his k-rate, as he did against the Astros, will have a lot to do with whether he's one of the National League's top rookies this year.

April 3

See the accompanying article on the Twins/Tigers box score.

April 4

The Expos began the season with a three-game sweep of the Braves but then ran into some weather in New York. David Cone and the Mets shut out Montreal 4-0. Game temperature was 37 degrees, with a 14-mph wind. The next day, New York won again, 3-1. It was drizzling and 36 degrees, with 16-mph winds. In the third game of the series the sun came out, the temperature rose to 41 and the wind was down to 9 mph. The Expos got the bees out their bats, scoring eight runs on 17 hits in an 8-5 victory.

The limitations of Tony La Russa's roster can be seen in the box score from the Cardinals' 12-inning, 6-5 loss to the Astros. La Russa's pinch-hitters: Kerry Robinson, Miguel Cairo, and Eduardo Perez. Valuable when used against lefties, Perez's at-bat was against Ricky Stone, a righty. Brad Ausmus caught three Cardinals trying to steal, all in extra innings--one in the 10th, one in the 11th, and one in the 12th. He also won the game with a homer.

Unearned runs cover a multitude of sins: Brett Tomko's line was passable for fantasy purposes, as he allowed no earned runs in six innings. But he gave up five runs on the day. The game began with a two-base error by Eli Marrero. After the error, Tomko allowed a single, two walks, and a home run. Because of Marrero's error no runs were charged to Tomko, but the performance was less than it appeared.

Tanyon Sturtze went 5-18 in 2002 for the Devil Rays, allowing 271 hits in 224 innings. Now with the Blue Jays, Sturtze won his first start of the year, beating the Twins 7-2. He allowed one earned run in 6.2 innings and induced 13 groundball outs, but he struck out only one batter and his strikes-to-balls ratio says he'll need to prove that this one wasn't a fluke. Officially, he threw 49 strikes and 44 balls, a strike rate of about 53%. The major-league norm is 61%, and a good day would be somewhere over 65%. He struck out one and walked one while facing 27 batters, which means he put a lot of balls in play. Low strike rate and lots of balls in play--there are some troubling signs here. Understandably, the Blue Jays were happy with his start, and since he got the win and allowed only one run it was a good roto day, but let's not write off 2002 yet.

April 5

Committee notwithstanding, it looks like Chad Fox is Boston's go-to guy. Through Sunday he had made three appearances, all in critical situations. On Opening Day he blew a save against the Devil Rays and took the loss. Two days later, he pitched the ninth and preserved a 7-5 lead to pick up the save. On Saturday, he inherited a tie. That's a blown save with a loss, a save, and a ninth-inning loss -- three appearances, all in close-game situations. Maybe Grady Little's application of the Plan isn't as radical as the concept.

Brian Lawrence ran up the season's first 120-pitch game in his second start.

Having taken the last slot in the Mariners' rotation, Gil Meche lost his first start. He threw 98 pitches in five innings. Officially he threw 59 strikes and 39 balls. For scoring, hits count as strikes. If we subtract the nine hits he allowed from his strike total, his strike rate was 56%. Using the official method of counting, his strike rate was 60%, slightly below average and well below a good day. He threw 39 balls but walked only one batter. It looks like he went deep into a lot of counts, falling behind on many of them. Judging from the high number of hits, we could infer that he fell behind on a lot of counts and had to groove too many fastballs, and the Rangers teed off on him. A review of the pitch-by-pitch account--which you can do with one click from most online box scores--bears this out, as Meche fell behind 16 of the 24 batters he faced. After the game, Mariners' pitching coach Bryan Price said: "There is nobody in the league who has enough fastball to just try to pitch his way back in the count with fastballs."

April 6

It took until game six but Gabe Kapler finally made it into the Rockies lineup. Diminished by injuries last year, Kapler's power was lacking this spring as well. Towards the end of camp he caught the flu and it sapped his strength, causing him to lose five pounds. Playing at Coors in his first game this season, he went 3-for-5 with an outfield assist and two RBI, but all three hits were singles.

The Reds beat the Cubs 5-4 and for the first time this season used fewer than five pitchers to get through a game. They threw only 102 pitches, 68% of them for strikes. As noted in the Gil Meche comment, hits are officially scored as strikes. All balls-in-play are scored as strikes, as are foul balls on strike two.

I don't have a problem with saying an out-in-play is a strike. I would leave those in the sum of total balls and strikes. I don't have a problem with two-strike fouls as strikes, either, as I could think of those as effective strikes. But I have trouble rewarding hits as strikes (DIPS considerations aside). Most hits probably cross the plate as strikes, and maybe it's the lesser of evils to count them as strikes, but under the official method of counting, teams that give up a lot of hits will have inflated strike rates that mask some of the team's weaknesses. In theory, they could look the same as a team that throws strikes, works ahead in the count, and gets strikeouts.

For my purposes, I'm going to think of balls and hits in one column as "bad" pitches, and fouls and strikes in the other column as "good" pitches. So, unofficially, I am keeping hits in the balls-and-strikes total, but I am not counting them as strikes. I would remove balls incurred for issuing intentional walks and not count them in the pitch total.

In their five games before Sunday's win over the Cubs, the Reds had these strike rates and pitch totals:


Game   Official      Unofficial
      strike rate   strike rate    Pitches                    
1        57%            52%          179
2        59%            51%          121 (125 official strikes minus IBB)
3        59%            52%          158
4        61%            53%          172
5        55%            47%          179

The major league strike rate average--using the official method--is about 61.5%. Last year, the league leaders had official strike rates of about 70%, and the trailers had rates around 57%.

As the chart shows, the Reds have had poor strike rates this year. This has led to high pitch counts, early exits, and a heavy burden on their bullpen. There's no way they can continue like this and be competitive.

The official way of counting strikes doesn't reflect well enough that the Reds have been getting hit hard this year. They have allowed 71 hits in six games, for an average of 12 per game. They have allowed at least 10 hits in every game. But even using that method we can see that the Reds have been struggling. The unofficial method shows that in four of their first five games they threw just a few more strikes than balls, which means they were often working behind in the count, forcing themselves to pitch predictably in the dangerous part of the strike zone. But on Sunday they boosted their strike rate, they won, and they took just a bit of torque off their bullpen.

Related Content:  Strike,  A's,  Threw,  Rookies Of The Year,  Hits,  Two Strikes

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