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April 15, 2003

Box Lunch

The Week in Box Scores, April 7-13

by Keith Scherer

In response to one of last week's Box Lunch articles, one reader asks: "I see the intellectual interest in all the detective work of reconstructing an inning from a box score, but in this day and age, who would do that instead of clicking on the game log provided right next to the box score at ESPN if you really want to know what happened?"

Maybe some of the same people who think it's still worthwhile to cook their food on a stovetop. Also, newspapers don't publish game logs. Box scores are portable, foldable, markable.

April 7

Sean Burroughs started but made only two plate appearances before being replaced by Lou Merloni. When you see this, you make a note to check the news account to see if Burroughs aggravated his shoulder injury. He did.

One of the Padres' lefty pitching prospects opened the game, and one closed it. They both had trouble against righties. Oliver Perez gave up three home runs to righties in five innings, including back-to-back one-out homers in the third, and Mike Bynum gave up two more working the last frame.

Working as a starter through five major league seasons, Carl Pavano has never pitched more than 136 innings. His health is the defining characteristic of his career, as if the center field camera has superimposed a "if he could only stay healthy" tag on his butt. Jeff Torborg has a reputation for being a profligate with pitch counts, but so far he has been sensible with Pavano, working him six innings per start and keeping his pitch count under 95. On Monday the immense talent that prompted the Expos to choose him as the main cog in the Pedro Martinez trade went into flashback mode for 5.2 innings. He held the Braves scoreless on two hits and no walks until there were two out in the sixth, when he gave up three consecutive home runs to earn the Marlins a 3-0 loss.

So far, there are no official categories for recording errors as "taking eyes off ball," "rushing throw," "butter fingers," or "releasing ball too late and throwing it straight to the turf," but Mark Grace was charged with an error for "missing base," which is a bit more helpful to us visualizers than the functional notations for "field," "throw," and "bobble."

April 8

It was 34 degrees in Cleveland, with a 17-mph wind blowing in from right field. The Indians and White Sox hit the ball hard enough but it never left the park. They combined for eight doubles and no homers.

Jim Parque lasted only 1.2 innings against the Orioles. He gave up five hits and nine walks. If you take out the hits he allowed, Parque threw more balls than strikes in his two starts. Maybe it was talent, maybe it was injury, but his combined line likely earned him a permanent hook from Piniella:


 IP   H   R   ER   BB   K   HR    ERA
6.2  12  13   13    9   1    1  17.55

The A's used three relievers to preserve their victory over the Rangers, and at first glance the relievers' lines in the box score don't reveal much except that they were effective:


               IP   H  R  R  BB  K  HR
Rincon          0   0  0  0   0  0   0       
Bradford       .2   0  0  0   0  0   0
Foulke        1.2   0  0  0   1  0   0

There's a lot more here than that here, but you have to use the box score to see it. Ricardo Rincon has no data in his line.

  • A pitcher who is announced but who does not throw a pitch due to an injury gets credited for one game in the official batting stats but no game pitched--analogous to a pinch hitter who is announced but does not bat.

  • If a pitcher is removed from the game due to injury after throwing one or more pitches but before any batter or runner is retired or any batter reaches base, he is credited with a game pitched but no batters faced.

  • Whether the pitcher is included in the box score if he doesn't throw a pitch depends on the organization doing the scoring and their level of expertise. The official scoring is as above, but the official scorers don't prepare a newspaper-style box score.

  • The box score for this game says Rincon faced a hitter. His blank line could result from a hit batter or an error. He didn't hit anyone and the A's committed three errors, so one of them accounts for Rincon's batter.

Chad Bradford's line in itself doesn't reflect that he stranded a runner or wiped him out with a force play before turning the game over to Keith Foulke with two outs in the eighth. Tally up the batters faced for Zito, Rincon, and Bradford, and you see that Foulke came in to face switch-hitting Carl Everett after Bradford had retired two righties, demonstrating that Bradford wasn't being stretched out yet.

Unlike the roster Tony La Russa works with, Boston's hitters give Grady Little a lot of flexibility in the lineup and off the bench, in addition to the options his bullpen committee gives to his pitching staff. Millar, Ortiz, Nixon, Mueller, and Hillenbrand can be used in a variety of combinations to cover first base, third, base, the corner outfield slots, and designated hitter. On Tuesday, Millar stared in right, Hillenbrand was at first, and Mueller covered third. By the end of the game, Millar was at first, Hillenbrand was at third, Nixon was in right, and Mueller was out of the game, a chain of events started when Nixon pinch-hit for Mueller in the eighth.

Mark Hendrickson watch: After getting hammered by the Yankees in his first start, Hendrickson gave up only two runs in 6.2 innings against the Red Sox. He only struck out two and five of his seven hits were for extra bases (he gave up six extra base hits against the Yankees), but he survived because he induced 13 groundouts. His place in the rotation depends on his ability to keep getting those ground balls.

The Cardinals and Rockies played a 13-inning game at Coors in which they combined to throw 470 pitches. The game took 4 hours and 48 minutes. Loads like this aren't rare in Colorado, and when the temperatures ride in the 90s through much of the summer you can see why games there place so much stress on the players. It's why the Rockies need a long bullpen and a bench full of hitters who can field a variety of positions.

Jason Simontacchi and Aaron Cook started the troubles. Simontacchi walked five in three innings while Cook walked four in five (one was intentional). Together they pitched eight innings, with nine walks and only one strikeout. Simontacchi threw 85 pitches, Cook threw 93. In his first start, Cook racked up 99 pitches in four innings. That's 192 pitches in nine innings. Even with the team playing well, his Rookie of the Year chances are zilch if he keeps this up. He probably has until the end of the month to get in tune, or he'll disappear from the box scores for a while.

In Houston, it took Ryan Dempster only 97 pitches to get through nine innings. He induced 13 groundouts and Roy Oswalt got 14 as the Astros and Reds completed a 10-inning game in two and a half hours.

When a team throws a lot of balls and gives up a lot of hits but not many walks, the pitchers fell behind in counts and had to groove some pitches to try and catch up. When a team throws a lot of balls and walks several hitters but doesn't give up a lot of hits, they were just wild. In 10 innings against the Phillies, the Braves gave up four hits and 10 walks. By official count they threw 154 pitches and 84 strikes, for a strike rate of 54%, well below the major league average of 61%. They used six pitchers and all of them except for Jung Bong were below average for the day. Bong was at 61%.

April 9

In his first start, Steve Trachsel picked two Cubs off first base. On the WGN broadcast, Steve Stone claimed the umps were letting Trachsel get away with an illegal move. Last Wednesday against the Marlins he picked Alex Gonzalez off second but he was also called for a balk.

The Astros are heavy on right-handed batters. Lance Berkman and Geoff Blum are switch-hitters, but Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Kent, Richard Hidalgo, Brad Ausmus, and Julio Lugo are righties. Except for Lugo, the righties won't be platooned. A couple of years ago the Cardinals' lineup tilted too heavily to the left and paid for it when they got paired with the Mets in the playoffs. The Astros could run into a similar problem. They are in the Cubs' division, and the Cubs have Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Matt Clement.

Dennis Tankersley didn't break camp with the Padres, but he was the starting pitcher against the Giants. An unexpected start like this so early in the season is likely to be an emergency start. The box score doesn't tell you what the emergency was, but it alerts you to the problem.

April 10

Miguel Asencio began his major league career on April 6, 2002, by throwing 16 balls and zero strikes. All four batters scored, so that his official, debut line was 0/0/4/4/4/0. Last Thursday he led the Royals to their seventh consecutive win. In five innings he walked three but allowed no earned runs. He threw 103 pitches, 63 for strikes--an ordinary strike rate.

Last week I discussed a different way of looking at strike rates. Officially, balls-in-play and two-strike foul balls are tallied as strikes. I suggested that if we're using a simplistic split, instead of counting pitches as balls and strikes we could look at them as "bad" and "good." Good pitches would be strikes, two-strike fouls, and outs-on-balls-in-play. Bad pitches would be balls and hits. Balls thrown on intentional walks would be removed from the total number of pitches thrown. This could be quickly calculated from a box score. I noted last week that the average strike percentage in the majors is 61% according to the official method of counting. A few readers asked what the average strike percentage would be under this good/bad system. By last year's data, the "good" strike average would be 57%.

Take the hits out of Asencio's strike count and you have a strike rate of 54%. He won because he was facing the Tigers and got them to hit into nine groundouts in five innings. He has come a long way since his debut, and as a Rule 5'er with upside we root for him. But he's not there yet, and it might still be better for him to be in Triple-A or the bullpen.

You can scatter your baserunners even when you get shelled. The A's touched Colby Lewis for one run in each of the first four innings. Lewis threw 103 pitches in 3.2 innings, giving up eight walks and four hits, but didn't get discombobulated. By either the official method or mine, he threw more balls than strikes and put 12 men on base in less than four innings, yet gave up only four runs. The Rangers eventually won the game.

Jeff Suppan was dominant again, beating the Brewers 3-1. He recorded 19 groundouts and allowed only one extra-base hit in his first two starts. He allowed only two runs, one in the second inning of his first game and one in the first inning of his second game.

Kurt Ainsworth beat the Dodgers 2-1 to run his record to 2-0. Last week he allowed two solo homers in the first inning of his first start but settled down and was excellent thereafter. Take those two hits away and in his 14 innings he has allowed 10 hits, two runs, and two walks, while striking out nine and racking up 23 groundouts.

April 11

Michael Cuddyer is reportedly a good fielder in right, with a strong arm and enough agility to play third or second as well. He started against the Blue Jays and wasn't lifted for a pinch-hitter, but with the Twins leading 6-4, Dustan Mohr finished the game in right field. Either Cuddyer hurt himself running the bases in the eighth or his defense isn't trustworthy in a close game.

Many families have an Uncle Charlie, the kind of guy who at family parties won't clear out of a doorway to let the girls pass, but instead just turns sideways so he can rub up against the little girls. The savvier families tolerate his presence and give him the benefit of the doubt, but they don't trust him to be alone with the kinder. Whatever Dusty Baker's strengths are, many Cubs fans were worried that he's the wrong man to oversee a young team. Already this season, Bobby Hill is in Iowa so that Mark Grudzielanek can man second base and Lenny Harris can stay in the bigs. Hee Seop Choi is being platooned, and Juan Cruz is being discussed as trade bait for Shea Hillenbrand. Friday's lineup against the Pirates had Tom Goodwin, Grudzielanek and Alex Gonzalez hacking their way through the one-through-three slots. Late in the game, with Choi available off the bench, Baker let Karros bat against righty Mike Williams. That Karros grounded into a game-ending double play isn't the problem. Tactically, Baker is a better man for the job than Don Baylor. But strategically, the team might have been better off in the hands of someone who has had to place his trust in unproven players. It puts Cubs fans in the awkward mindset of rooting for players to slump so badly that Baker would be forced to play the kids.

In the first 10 games of the season Gabe Kapler made two appearances. Maybe if he were a lefty he'd be getting some of Chris Richard's pinch-hit chances, but at this rate he can't even be showcased for a clearance sale. Kapler didn't play against the Padres on Friday, as Richard grabbed the pinch-hitting slot against Matt Herges.

Brian Lawrence had thrown 120 pitches in his second start, but was lifted after 97 this time. He pitched six strong innings, allowing five hits and only one unintentional walk, while striking out eight. Darren Oliver started for the Rockies and gave up nine runs in 4.1 innings. He walked four and had a "good" strike rate of only 51%. He's sloppy, and that's why he's been discarded so many times. He had a night like this in one of the league's best pitcher's parks, and though his first start at Coors was decent there's nothing in his past to make you think his exposure to altitude will be pleasant. His turns should belong to Jason Young by July.

Matt Williams and Craig Counsell are keeping third base warm for Chad Tracy, but Rob Hammock showed up as a replacement at third base for the Diamondbacks on Friday. Hammock's a catcher who can play first, third, and the outfield corners. Like Steve Randolph and Oscar Villarreal, he's not someone who should be getting a lot of playing time on a good team, but Hammock's presence on the roster is an indication that the Diamondbacks are testing the depths of their young talent.

April 12

Will Carroll gave Joe Kennedy a red light in his Devil Rays Team Health Report. Whether you monitor Kennedy's abuse by innings, batters faced, or pitch counts, Piniella hasn't pushed too hard yet. His BFP are a little high, but there are no signs of negligent handling:


Start   IP   BFP   PC
1      7.0    31   97
2      5.1    26   85  
3      6.2    31  103

According to news accounts, Gil Meche got a big cheer and his manager's handshake when he left Saturday's game. He threw 107 pitches in 5.2 innings, allowing five hits and four walks, and hit a batter. As with his first start, Meche's strike rate was well below average no matter how you're counting. The fans were cheering his comeback from shoulder surgery more than the performance. The fact that he's throwing that many pitches is as important as how well he's throwing, and applause comes easy when you're up 9-3.

April 13

Through Sunday the Expos were undefeated when the game temperature was at least 40 degrees. The last time they faced the Mets it was in New York. The Mets took the wet and windy games in the mid-30s, and the Expos won the calm, sunny game when it was 41. In Chicago, the Expos lost when it was 29 with 22-mph winds blowing in, and when it was 36 with a 17-mph wind blowing in again. David Cone shut them out in New York, but in Puerto Rico, where it was 79 degrees, they ripped him for seven runs in four innings.

In January I wrote a piece for ESPN, in which I ranked the Expos as having one of the 10 best rotations in baseball. I got some cranky mail from Braves, Dodgers, and Phillies fans for having left their teams off the list while finding room for the moribund Expos. Montreal has traded Bartolo Colon since then, and I probably would have redone the list if I had made the rankings after the trade (the Phillies would probably have made the cut). Still, through Sunday the Expos had the best team ERA in the majors at 2.06.

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