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October 1, 2005

Prelude to the Playoffs

Yankees/Red Sox Game One

by Paul Swydan

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Last night's Yankees/Red Sox tilt in the Fens was a prelude to the playoffs. With two efficient pitchers on the hill, it figured to be the sort of the game that beer vendors hate and beat writers love--short and sweet. Then again, it was Yankees/Red Sox, so the beer vendors probably did just fine.

Wang threw 104 pitches, 54 for strikes, and was out of sync quite a bit. He went to 3-0 counts with four batters, walking three, and 3-1 with three other batters, walking two of those. John Olerud started the fifth with a four pitch walk. Bill Mueller followed, working the count to 3-1, giving Wang seven balls in eight pitches to start the inning. Rather than let Wang hang himself with shoddy location, Mueller instead did what Mueller does best: he grounded into a double play. Mueller ranks 18th overall and first on the Red Sox in NET DP with a score of 6.44. Logic dictates you try to draw a walk in this situation, especially when you hit into a lot of DP's and you're facing a pitcher who produces a lot of DP's (Wang is 18th in pitcher NET DP). While this may seem a bit trivial now, these are the kinds of things that pile up in a three game series. Had the Sox put a couple more runs on the board here they may have forced the Yankees to go to the bullpen sooner.

The Sox did finally break through for three runs in the bottom of the sixth, but they may have been held to one run if not for some poor defense by Jason Giambi. Did the Yankees have better options at first base?


Yankees 1B Options
              2005         Career
Player     FRAR   FRAA   FRAR   FRAA
Giambi       -3     -9     27    -45
Martinez      1     -7    225    107
Phillips      0     -1      0     -1

Todd Helton these three are not. However, Giambi is clearly the worst of the three. Giambi swerved towards Varitek's bases-loaded grounder like John Blutarsky after a bottle of Tennessee #7 and uncorked a ridiculous side arm throw, and when Posada did not come up with it, it was 4-1, soon to be 5-1. This begs the question, why is Giambi playing the field?

The problem here is that Joe Torre has an unhealthy Ruben Sierra fetish. Entering last night, Sierra had only reached base in 12 of 60 September PA's and from '02-'04 he reached in only 38 of 142 September PA's. Last night he was 0-4, striking out twice and leaving 6 runners on base. Phillips meanwhile has been busy banging out a .952 OPS and .270 ISO in Columbus this season, waiting for Torre to give him the shot that it appears he never will. While there is no guarantee that Phillips makes the play that Giambi didn't, Phillips has more ability to make the play in the field than Giambi and more ability to do damage at the plate than Sierra, and the blind spot Torre shows in situations like this must be difficult for Yankee fans to endure.

Picking on the usually solid Bill Mueller again we see his defensive positioning cost the Red Sox a run in the top of the seventh. When Robinson Cano came up with one out in the seventh, Wells had retired 10 of the last 12. Cano was able to lift an inside fastball just over Mueller's glove, who was playing in on the grass. Looking at some bunt data, we can see there was no reason for Mueller to be this close (thanks to Keith Woolner and Ben Murphy):


Universe   # outs/# on   PA      # ending w/bunt   % end w/bunt
MLB '05     0 out/0 on   44335   458               1.03
MLB '05     1 out/0 on   31672   225               0.71
Cano '05      any/0 on     209     2               0.96
Cano '05      any/any      541     7               1.29

While we can see that Cano, in a very small sample size, bunts more than the league average, this is basically splitting hairs. 99% of the time there is not going to be a bunt in this situation, and there was little reason to expect Cano to be bunt for a hit with his team trailing by four runs. This is further compounded by how Wells was pitching him - inside fastball, curveball low and outside, inside fastball - not the types of pitches on which you lay down good bunts. This was also a critical juncture for Wells. Though he entered the at-bat with Cano on pitch #83, he was, as my father described later, "huffing and puffing out there". This was in evidence during the following at-bat to Jeter, as Wells could not locate his fastball on the inside corner. On 3-2, Varitek called for a fastball on the outer part of the plate, which Jeter promptly crushed into the Boston bullpen for a two-run homer. While there might have been something in the scouting report that indicated Mueller should play up on Cano, Red Sox fans know that Mueller plays in on the grass a lot, which significantly cuts down his range. In this instance, it cost the Red Sox a run.

When Mike Timlin entered in the eighth inning, the NESN announcers made a big deal of the fact that Timlin had yet to convert a four-out save in 2005. This is the kind of comment that makes you want to throw your remote through the TV. A quick look at Timlin's 2005 outings entering last night's game:


Mike Timlin Outs per Appearance, 2005
# Outs    # Appearances
6          4
5          3
4          7
3         48
2          8
1          9
0          0

The majority of Timlin's appearances have been of the three-out variety, but he is certainly capable of getting four outs in one game. The reason the announcers made a stink is because Timlin has four blown saves in situations where he needed to get more than three outs. However, two of those "blown saves" came in games where Timlin was a) not yet the "closer", and b) games he entered in the 7th inning - specifically May 24 and June 26. In addition, Timlin had not thrown since the afternoon of the 27th, almost 3 full days rest, about as much as a man in his shoes could ask for at this time of year. Lastly, Francona's options were limited. Mike Myers is scary bad versus right-handed hitters and Jorge Posada, though 0-3 at that point, is a respectable switch-hitter. Timlin was the right call.

There were other moments that helped define this game--Posada's bases-loaded strikeout in the first, Damon's base-running blunder in the third, Wade Boggs' PC interview and hideous sweater selection, stretching out Al Leiter just to pitch around Ortiz, and the twenty feet that separated two long outs and two A-Rod homers. The Yankees had more opportunities early--totaling the expected run matrix situations for innings 1-5 we see New York had an ERM total of 11.25 compared to 9.64 for Boston, but the Yankees could not capitalize. In the end, the Sox made more right decisions and executed more than the Yankees, heightening the drama for what should be an exhilarating finish.

Paul Swydan is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  Mike Timlin

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