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You live by the bat, you die by the bat. This has essentially been the story of the 2005 Red Sox. With a much maligned and underwhelming pitching staff, the Red Sox have had to rely on their offense to win games. Looking at the monthly breakdowns we see that the Red Sox’ two best months were in June and August, coincidentally their two best months at the dish, as well as two of their three worst months on the mound (May being the other). So what happens in September? The team is having their best month on the mound, but their worst at the dish, and they are struggling.

Who is to blame? Well certainly not the terrible twosome of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz:

Player         September Statistics
              AB    AVG     OPS   HR
Manny+Ortiz  201   .303   1.019   20
Others*      670   .255    .702   12

* Cora, Damon, Graffanino, Millar, Mueller, Nixon, Olerud, Renteria, Varitek

Renteria is leading the team in September ABs, yet he has the lowest OBP among starters, a mark that would be even worse had he not heated up this past week. Damon has been hurt but has still been the best option in center, making the Payton-Bradford deal look worse with each passing day. Equally frustrating is that the first base tandem of Kevin Millar and John Olerud have actually been quite productive, combining for a line of .266/.350/.505 with six homers in 109 at bats; but Francona can’t get them into the lineup at the same time because a) Olerud doesn’t have the stamina to play every day, and b) Millar’s outfield defense leaves a lot to be desired.

However, no one is having a worse month than the Captain, catcher Jason Varitek. While the Sox’ rival captain, Derek Jeter, is busy putting together a .299/.400/.449 September, Varitek is mired in a disastrous slump: .169/.281/.195. Looking at Varitek’s career splits we can take solace in the fact that September is usually his worst month:

Month     AB     OPS
April    501    .828
May      594    .843
June     535    .792
July     492    .874
August   519    .802
Sept     509    .695

Still, Varitek’s production has fallen through the floor this month and it is costing his team dearly. As the team heads into the weekend, they can only hope this trend reverses because the Sox are facing a win or go home series with the New York Yankees. The Sox need to win at least two of the three games to stay alive in the AL East race.

As we look towards the weekend series, we do see a fairly uninspiring Yankee rotation including Chien-Ming Wang (K/9 of 3.53) and Mike Mussina. Mussina has only thrown 7 2/3 innings in September, during which he has a 5.87 ERA, coming off of a 6.68 ERA August. The Yankees do not get to trot out two of their three best pitchers, Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon, but they will get Randy Johnson on the hill. This is not to ignore the Sox’ tired bullpen; it’s not every year that teams make acquisitions this late in the season (according to BP’s Rany Jazayerli the last time a player was acquired so late was the infamous Wendell/Perez for Bielecki/Berryhill swap on 9/29/91). However, if the Sox can get another great performance from Wakefield (40 2/3 IP, 1.99 ERA in September) against Johnson on Saturday, they stand a good chance to pull off the sweep and take the division. But if Varitek, Renteria, and Bill Mueller can’t step up over the weekend, the Red Sox will be left standing off to the side when the post-season game of musical chairs concludes.

Paul Swydan

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As the Dodgers slink their way to their first losing season in five years under manager Jim Tracy, speculation has surfaced that Tracy, who went seeking a contract extension beyond 2006 on the eve of a seven-day opt-out period at the end of the season, may be on his way out. While GM Paul DePodesta has used the term “creative conflict” in describing his relationship with his manager (who was hired by his predecessor, Dan Evans), the question has been thrown open as to whether Tracy’s the man to continue under the saber-savvy GM.

Tracy’s mishandling of Hee Seop Choi might be the best argument against keeping him at the helm; from an analytical standpoint it’s difficult to identify any situation he’s mishandled worse during his LA tenure. Leaving aside his exiling of Choi down the stretch last year, when he hit just .161/.289/242 in 62 at bats following his acquisition in the infamous Paul Lo Duca trade, we’ll focus on 2005 only. Platooning Choi is one thing, making a pinch-hitter out of a 26-year-old with some clear upside another entirely, and playing Jason Phillips (.228 EQA) at first in his stead qualifies as downright criminal. Particularly with the Dodgers headed for oblivion in the second half, Tracy should have spent much more time seeing if one of the team’s few able bodied power hitters (and bargains) could find some consistency, could acquit himself against the occasional lefty, could show whether he belongs as a regular. Instead, Tracy blew it, costing the team runs on the balance sheet, including defense.

How many runs?

  • Defense: Choi’s at -4 FRAA in 47 percent of the playing time at 1B. If we assume he should be playing there 75 percent of the time (the percentage of Dodger PA vs lefties is 25.2 percent), that’s about -6.4 FRAA. The other Dodger 1Bs FRAA would scale back to -5.7 runs from -12 runs. So that comes out to be about 4 runs saved right there. Choi’s shown a career Rate2 of 99 including this season’s 94, so with playing time his rate might have improved. Maybe there’s a couple of extra runs there, but it doesn’t really matter, our estimate of +4 runs works well enough.
  • Offense: Choi is about 12 runs off of his weighted mean PECOTA VORP for reasons that have a lot to do with usage (being used as a PH for about 49 PA, where he’s been lousy to the tune of .195/.277/.317); it was already a very conservative playing time estimate (386 AB+BB), but he hasn’t reached it (362 actual PA).

That would be one estimate to plug in. But it’s easier to figure this out with the DT numbers than MLV numbers.

I think we can safely assume his rate stats would look better without the PH duty, and his counting stats would look better even if he’d been platooned to get about 75% of the 1B at-bats. If we assume he could have raised his overall .277 EQA to the average 1B (.283) and assume he should have used up about 50% more outs by increasing his playing time from 47 to 75 percent, we get 75.7 EQR, an improvement of 28 runs. Scaling back Saenz (who got 33.8 percent of 1B PA) to 25 percent there means he loses 59 PA as a 1B, which would be 17 percent of his total. Lopping off those means a loss of about 8 runs. If we take Phillips’ 1B time down to zero (68 PA, 15.7% of his total), that lops of 6 EQR (though saves lots of outs). 28-8-6 = 14 runs assuming neither of those two players gets those PAs back elsewhere.

14+4 = 18. Figuring Choi’s defense may have improved, and that Saenz may have been a better pinch-hitter (though not necessarily in the same opportunities, as he hits from the other side of the plate) and it’s a pretty reasonable assumption that the difference in Tracy’s handling of Choi and a more optimal one is between 15-20 runs. Ouch.

Jay Jaffe