CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article On the Beat: Notes on ... (10/15)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Deci... (10/14)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Today: The ... (10/16)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (10/15)

October 15, 2008

Prospectus Today

Big Ball

by Joe Sheehan

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

Well, no one’s talking about Terry Francona’s tactical missteps any longer.

For the second straight day, and the third straight game, the Rays obliterated a Red Sox starter, scoring five runs off of Tim Wakefield in the first three innings on their way to a 13-4 win that puts them one win away from the World Series. The Rays have now scored 31 runs in the last three games of the series, including 22 in the two games at Fenway Park. Just as a point of comparison, the Rays scored 25 runs all year in nine games at Fenway over three separate trips. They seem to have gotten used to the dirty water.

There’s not a whole lot to analyze. Unlike Monday, when Jon Lester pitched reasonably well outside of a four-batter stretch in the third, Wakefield didn’t last long enough to provide that kind of context. He allowed back-to-back homers in the first to put the Sox down 3-0, then a two-out, two-run bomb in the third to Willy Aybar that, on the heels of an aborted rally in the bottom of the second, effectively ended the game. As Rob Neyer pointed out, this is nothing new for Wakefield, who outside of the 2003 ALCS has been getting hammered in post-season play for a very long time.

It was the wrong night for the Sox to fall behind, as they were facing a pitcher, in Andy Sonnanstine, who is the type to make comebacks difficult. This is speculation to some extent, but I have this notion that giving a pitcher such as Sonnanstine, who lives to get strike one and doesn’t walk people, a multi-run lead early is more valuable than giving that lead to a comparable pitcher with a different approach. The risk in pitching like Sonnanstine or Paul Byrd or others of this ilk is the long ball. Once you change the game to make any individual home run less damaging, you shift things in favor of that type of pitcher. Whereas, say, a Scott Kazmir or Daisuke Matsuzaka might start walking people and give you a chance to get back in the game, with Sonnanstine you’re going to have to hit the ball successfully a bunch of times.

Sonnanstine would give up a homer and a triple for runs, but that was it. He threw just 97 pitches in 7 1/3 innings, about two-thirds of them strikes, and issued just one walk. You could say he was pitching to the score, but he wasn’t: he was pitching like Andy Sonnanstine, and the score was perfect for him.

The Rays are starting to remind me a bit of the 2002 Angels. That Angels team reached the postseason on the strength of very good defense, leading the majors in Defensive Efficiency and PADE. They led the league in runs allowed, and had a good, not great, offense built around hitting for average and being faster than the other guys.

Come the postseason, the Angels, who slugged .433 with a .151 isolated power from April through September, slugged .511 with an ISO of .190. After placing tenth in the league with 152 homers, less than one a game, they hit 24 in 16 October contests. Some of the batting average and slugging average was due to their put-the-ball-in-play philosophy—in the Division Series against the Yankees, they had a batting average on balls in play of .842, including 1.471 in the deciding Game Four (Tim Salmon was credited with two singles while ordering a venti americano in Tustin the morning of the game). However, in a more serious vein it wasn't getting balls in play that made the difference, it was that they increased their long ball output by 50 percent. They didn’t win by playing their game; they won playing big ball.

Now, the Rays weren’t quite the Angels in the regular season. They played great defense and kept the other team off the board, and they stole a lot of bases, yes, but they also hit 180 regular-season homers, good for fourth in the league. But they’ve ramped up even that performance of late. A team that slugged .422 with an ISO of .162 and homered once every 30.8 at-bats all year is slugging .535 with an ISO of .243 and a homer every 18 at-bats in the playoffs. That’s how the Angels won in 2002: by hitting the snot out of the ball for three weeks.

I keep coming back to the central theme of any baseball postseason. The champion isn’t necessarily the best team, but it is almost always the team that plays the best in the short series of October. The Rays aren’t getting "lucky" in any sense other than they’re playing well when playing well has some excellent rewards. The Red Sox aren’t getting "unlucky," other than that they’re playing poorly at the same time. The Rays are playing better baseball, and thanks to that, they’re one win away from something that would have seemed preposterous to all but one man and his trusty CPU seven months ago.

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

Related Content:  The Who

14 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

sbnirish77

"Well, no one’s talking about Terry Francona’s tactical missteps any longer."

Really ... what is the purpose of Paul Byrd on the playoff roster. Its not

a) to pitch in extra innings when you're out of pitchers except Mike Timlin
b) to shadow Tim Wakefield in case he blows up
c) to cover for an injury to Becket that the Red Sox kept hushed up

so what really is he doing there?

Oct 15, 2008 10:15 AM
rating: 3
 
nyc phils fan

If this series continues along these lines, will any mainstream baseball analyst even question the sacrosanct notion that postseason experience is critical? Or that teams can only win in the postseason by playing small ball? On the latter point, as a Phillies fan, I can only hope that Jerry Manuel carries out his plans to remake the Mets into more of a small ball team.

Oct 15, 2008 10:26 AM
rating: 1
 
One Flap Down

Until baseball exhausts its current generation of announcers and sportswriters, this canard will continue; after all, the Marlins' runs in 1997 and 2003 did nothing to extinguish it so I doubt the Rays will kill it.

Oct 15, 2008 10:43 AM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

in lieu of post season experience, these Rays gained the confidence they could beat this Red Sox team down the stretch ... a set of games some (Joe included) would lead you to believe really weren't that important

Oct 15, 2008 10:50 AM
rating: -1
 
jefferickson

Judging by some of the glowing profiles I've read about Percival and Floyd's influence on the Rays, I doubt it. There's always a way to bend the facts to fit the narrative.

Oct 15, 2008 12:38 PM
rating: 1
 
relliott22

I've started seeing B. J. Upton in my nightmares. In this twisted hellscape, centerfield is a maddening abyss that sucks the very light from the air. It is a place of unspeakable torment where dreams go to die. In that black space flies a great winged monstrosity who's gaping maw is filled with 1,001 teeth, and it sustains itself by feeding on the agony of the hopeful and on baseballs left up in the zone. It gibbers as it glides, and it's song is one of madness and despair.

Oct 15, 2008 10:33 AM
rating: 11
 
eighteen

You read a lot of Poe, right?

Oct 16, 2008 10:05 AM
rating: 0
 
Dr. Dave

I'd have guessed Tycho from "Penny Arcade", myself.

As far as gibbering despair goes, this particular prose style isn't so much due to Poe as to the later trio of H.P. Lovecraft, E.R. Eddison, and Clark Ashton Smith...

Oct 16, 2008 11:09 AM
rating: 1
 
One Flap Down

By the way, tomorrow night's Game 5 matchup is Kazmir vs. Matsuzaka. If you plan on watching, it would be a good idea to call in sick for Friday ahead of time - it's quite possible that come 11PM Eastern the game will be in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Oct 15, 2008 10:47 AM
rating: 7
 
Richie

Nyuknyuknyuk! No comment, just want to give good (and very helpfully applicable) wit its just due. :-)

Oct 15, 2008 10:53 AM
rating: -3
 
johnpark99

not sure if Richie was chuckling at relliot or OFD, but I'm LOL on both

Oct 15, 2008 11:01 AM
rating: -3
 
Bogomil

I've been a lifelong Angel fans and was delirious in 2002, but I also new the costs: more Stoneman, long term deals for Ertstad, Kennedy, Anderson; allegience to the Angel way of baseball (i.e., 9 Micky Hatcher hitters), etc.

Dodgers are now infected with that bug, they think Colleti knows what he's doing and Torre is more than a guy who scraped 84 wins with twice the budget of his competitors.

Oct 15, 2008 11:23 AM
rating: 0
 
JayhawkBill

"Well, no one's talking about Terry Francona's tactical missteps any longer."

Joe, you clearly don't know me. I almost always criticize Francona, one of Chris Jaffe's lowest-rated managers, and I was berating Francona's decision to lift Tim Wakefield from the moment he communicated his thoughts through his non-verbal communication in the dugout.

Look at the Pitch f/x record of Wakefield's knuckleballs. They were moving: if some of them ended in the strike zone, and if a disproportionate number of them became home runs, that's a matter of luck, not of Wakefield's skill yesterday night. Wakefield could have been left in the game for several more innings without harm. Francona chose to burn bullpen arms instead.

Unless Francona is considering pitching Lester in Game Six and Wakefield in Game Seven, it didn't and it doesn't make sense.

Oct 15, 2008 16:21 PM
rating: 0
 
hunter

Well, the homers were up in the zone, or high. If he's consistently leaving the ball up there, he's going to continue to get hit. Though by the time it's 5-0 and you want to give up, sure, let him take one for the team.

Oct 16, 2008 13:00 PM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article On the Beat: Notes on ... (10/15)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Deci... (10/14)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Today: The ... (10/16)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (10/15)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article League Preview Series
Every Team's Moneyball: Minnesota Twins: Reb...
Premium Article Skewed Left: History Repeats Itself
Premium Article League Preview Series
Premium Article Pitching Backward: Why Relievers Get A Free ...
Premium Article Spring Training Notebook: Cactus League
Prospectus Feature: How the Astros do Spring...

MORE FROM OCTOBER 15, 2008
Premium Article Prospectus Preview: NLCS Game Five
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: The Comeback Kings
Premium Article On the Beat: Notes on ALCS Game Four
Premium Article You Could Look It Up: Drowning in Drama
Playoff Diary

MORE BY JOE SHEEHAN
2008-10-19 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Keep it Down
2008-10-17 - Prospectus Today: A Stathead Considers Chemi...
2008-10-16 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Forgotten Narrative
2008-10-15 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Big Ball
2008-10-14 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Decisive Drama
2008-10-13 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Of Beanballs and Street Br...
2008-10-12 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: ALCS Game Two
More...

MORE PROSPECTUS TODAY
2008-10-19 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Keep it Down
2008-10-17 - Prospectus Today: A Stathead Considers Chemi...
2008-10-16 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Forgotten Narrative
2008-10-15 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Big Ball
2008-10-14 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Decisive Drama
2008-10-13 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Of Beanballs and Street Br...
2008-10-12 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: ALCS Game Two
More...