An Optimistic Oakland Split

by Marc on April 21, 2011

in Red Sox

photo courtesy of AP

The Red Sox split their mid-week two-game series in Oakland, but there are reasons to be hopeful about both contests, regardless of outcome. Specifically, the performance of John Lackey continued the recent trend that was discussed earlier in the week–that of the Red Sox starting pitching finally performing like it is supposed to–and success against Gio Gonzalez by the lineup was also a welcome sight.

Lackey went six innings and took the loss in the 5-0 contest, but the losing portion of that had more to do with the Sox lack of offense and a poor bullpen performance than it did Lackey. Lackey scattered four hits, allowed one run, and walked just the one batter over his 93 pitches while striking out three. It wasn’t the most dominant start we’ve seen from the Texan, but when you consider he gave up six and nine runs in his two starts before that, then it seems pretty good. Not that I put much stock into Game Score, but Lackey’s 62 from April 19 is almost twice as valuable as his previous two starts combined.

Buchholz picked up a win in his start and dropped his ERA for the season to 5.31. He gave up a solo shot early, and once again walked more batters than he struck out, this time doing so without more groundballs than flyballs. His fastball velocity is down right now, and his command is iffy, but his slider is still coming in around 90 mph as it did last year.

I’m not worried just yet, but there may be something slightly off in his mechanics that is causing his heater to come in a little slower than it should–that thing is a mid-90s weapon, not a 91-92 mph pitch.

There have been some head-scratching lineups used against lefties this year, but Terry Francona seems to have a few things figured out that merit repeating. J.D. Drew in the leadoff spot makes a ton of sense, and has been something I’ve advocated for many times. He had a .379 on-base percentage from 2008-2010, and with the number of pitches he sees per plate appearance, is exactly the kind of guy you want hitting in front of Dustin Pedroia.

Jed Lowrie also seems to be getting consistent playing time now, and once against was used as the third baseman against a left-hander so that Kevin Youkilis could slide in to the DH slot for David Ortiz (who has his own issues against southpaws). He isn’t Troy Tulowitzki, despite his play since returning from mono, but he is certainly doing a worthwhile impression, and therefore merits all the playing time Boston can get him.

The Sox start a four-game series against the Los Angeles Angels tonight, and, thankfully, will miss seeing Jered Weaver, who started last night. They will face off against Dan Haren, though, but at least Boston will throw their own ace, Jon Lester, against him.

The Angels lead the AL West at the moment thanks to a black magick ritual performed over the off-season that stole the essence of Albert Pujols so that it could be given to Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis. The Red Sox are still in the basement in the East–a few wins here could help the standings in each division look more like they were expected to–though Boston will have to hope that the Legend of Lowrie is enough to combat the dark arts of Los Angeles.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

PossumAloysiusJenkins April 21, 2011 at 7:57 am

Number of Strikeouts by our starters in the last 3 games:

Matsuzaka: 3
Lackey: 3
Bucholtz: 2

Yeah, the results have been pretty, but in terms of forward-looking, peripheral indicators, I think there’s an argument to be made that we’ve been pitching worse than it seems.

I mean, I know this site is smart enough to look beyond simple ERA.

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Marc April 21, 2011 at 8:01 am

I’m mostly talking about how it’s nice that the ball isn’t flying out of the park, and that they have, at the least, not walked every other hitter in the past week. Worries about that seemed to be part of the cry of the “We’re doomed!” crowd in the first two weeks of the season.

I’ve made sure to point out when there aren’t enough strikeouts. Dice-K hasn’t sold me on anything besides he knows how to beat teams that will literally swing at anything, and Buchholz, as mentioned, has me a teensy bit worried with his fastball not coming in as hot, and his punch outs down.

Besides, we’re also smart enough here not to worry/get too excited about the number of strikeouts from our starters in a three game stretch.

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PossumAloysiusJenkins April 21, 2011 at 8:10 am

Yeah I guess my last line came across as a bit snippy.

I myself have been grasphing for straws of optimism that our rotation will be ok, and it seems like I was finding the same sunny tone on these here pages and wanted to add a note of caution for the record.

I just meant to say that what these 3 guys just did isn’t really sustainable, and that even though they just pitched better than they had been, they have to pitch even better than this for this team to catch the Yanks.

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Marc April 21, 2011 at 8:25 am

Agreed that they have to pitch better. I expect that will sort itself out in time.

The fluctuation of K from game-to-game for guys like Matsuzaka (and even Lackey) is one reason I like K/BB a lot more than just straight K rate. Lackey only struck out 3, but he also walked just one. Matsuzaka, even, struck out 2, but kept his walks down (for once). Buchholz, on the other hand, has two straight with at least twice as many walks as K, which is a bit more worrisome.

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PossumAloysiusJenkins April 21, 2011 at 9:05 am

Mildly scandalous that a BoHose fansite is timestamped to PST…

Ari Collins April 21, 2011 at 10:11 am

K-BB is better, since K/BB puts too much emphasis on control, distorting the ratio immensely when very few walks are given out. Having three times as many Ks as BBs isn’t that impressive when you only walked one. That he had only two more Ks than BBs tells a clearer story.

K rate also stabilizes very quickly. More quickly, I think, than BB rate. Though I’m not sure on that.

BigNachos April 21, 2011 at 11:37 am

2010 Carl Pavano – 3.16 K/BB
2010 Jon Lester – 2.71 K/BB

K/BB is pretty meaningless…

Matt April 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm

You’re confusing K/BB with sample size. It’s not the stat that is meaningless, it’s the sample size that is. What you’re saying is analogous to claiming on-base percentage is meaningless because Jed Lowrie has a .600 OBP. The sample is too small right now which is why there are oddities.

Ari Collins April 21, 2011 at 2:22 pm

No, that wasn’t what I was saying. Or what I meant, anyway. Did not separate my points adequately.

1. K rate stabilizes quickly, so even the small sample size isn’t totally meaningless as to his ability to get swings-and-misses.

2. K/BB tends to distort the performances of high-control low-K games and/or pitchers, like Lackey’s start, or Carlos Silva’s career. (Witness his 2005 year in particular, where his K/BB neared 8 but his xFIP was only 3.96.) If you allow one walk and K 3 every time out, you’re going to end up with very poor results despite n excellent K/BB. Whereas if you use K-BB, you can see that he’s not striking out many more batters than he’s walking.

The issue, basically, is that great control and decent stuff is not as good as great stuff and decent control, so putting BBs in the denominator can lead to overemphasizing control and actually emphasizing putting the ball in play, which is kind of the opposite of what we want pitchers to do, generally. (Of course, that’s not always true, which is why we look at GB% and defense behind them and such. But generally, it’s true.)

Ari Collins April 21, 2011 at 10:36 am

Great articles lately. Love the daily game thoughts and series thoughts. Keep it up.

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