Friday, September 23, 2011

A brief look at the catastrophe that has been Red Sox September

Peter Abraham:
It’s not difficult to determine why the Sox have lost 14 of their last 18 games. Their starting pitchers are 3-9 with a 6.75 earned run average and 1.63 WHIP in those 18 games.


Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller, and Kyle Weiland have produced two quality starts since Sept. 3. One was by Lester Sept. 6 against Toronto, the other by Beckett Sept. 16 against Tampa Bay. Those are two of the four games the Sox have won.

Yeah, it's not quite that easy, Peter. Yes, the starters have been bad. But Boston is now 5-16 in the month of September, and their lead in the Wild Card race is down to two games with six to play. If they were 10-11 in September, they'd already have clinched a playoff spot, and they are still likely to do so. So, is it just a matter of the starters performing badly?

The short answer: No. Yes, they've been pretty poor. No, they aren't solely to blame for the swoon, not even close to it.
  1. The bullpen. There certainly has been some overuse in the middle innings caused by starters not getting deep enough. But consider this - the whole game plan for the Sox, all year, is to try to get an 8th inning lead for Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon to finish off.
    • On September 1, Aceves and Bard combined to give up three in the seventh to turn a 2-1 lead into a 4-2 deficit. Loss.
    • On September 7, Bard blew a lead in the 8th, giving up 5 runs to turn a 2 run lead into a 3 run deficit. Loss.
    • Bard lost another one on the 10th, giving up a run in the 11th inning of a tie game after facing just three batters. Loss.
    • Bard gave up 3 with a 2-run lead in the 8th inning on the 14th. Loss.
    • Bard and Papelbon combined to give up 3 with a one-run lead on the 20th. Loss.
    Turn two of those losses into wins, and their magic number is three with six to play, and there's significantly less hyperventilating.

    I don't care for Wins and Losses as a metric for pitcher effectiveness, but I think this is telling. The Red Sox starters are 4-10 in September. The bullpen is 1-6. And a couple of those starter losses came when the starter left the game with a lead or at least tied and the bullpen allowed the winning, or tying and winning, run(s) to score.

    They've been almost as bad at the end of the game as they've been at the beginning.

    Red Sox bullpen - 9/2011
    ERA for 7-11th innings:5.22

    ERA in losses for 7-11th innings:5.93

    Have the starters been bad? Yep. Has the bullpen been any better? Not against established standards of performance, no they haven't.

  2. The offense. (The cry rises from the peanut gallery: "The offense? Are you nuts? They're averaging 5.8 runs per game in September! This is not an offensive problem!") Well, yes, they are averaging 5.8 runs per game in September. But remember that old saw about the man with his feet in the freezer and his head in the oven being, on average, at a pretty comfortable temperature? Ladies and Gentlemen, I present your September 2011 Boston Red Sox offense.

    Five times in their 21 September games, they've scored in double digits (10, 12, 14, 18, 18). In those five games, they're 4-1. In the other 16, they scored five or fewer. In the double-digit games, they averaged 14.4 runs/game. In the other 16, they averaged 3.125. If you're failing to score 6 or more runs in 76% of your games, you're putting up a very bad offensive performance.

    Red Sox offense - 9/2011


    Double-digit games206728826013692637.427.496.7431.23914.4065.913.3

    The other 1654050121314114945117.224.282.357.6393.1352.43.0

    They've had five strong offensive games, and then they've been awful. In more than three quarters of their games, they got performances like David Ortiz (.231/.333/.250/.583) and Dustin Pedroia (.194/.219/.339/.557) and Jacoby Ellsbury (.265/.292/.426/.718) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.139/.162/.333/.495) and Jason Varitek (.050/.136/.200/.336) and Jed Lowrie (.000/.048/.000/.048) and Josh Reddick (.209/.244/.279/.524) and Kevin Youkilis (.150/.261/.200/.461). They've lost 5-4, 4-3, 3-2 and 1-0. Shut out twice, one of which took 11 innings.

    They lost 3 of 4 in Toronto despite outscoring the Jays by 9 in the series. They scored 24 in the middle two games, and 4 runs in the bookends. They lost 3 of 4 at home to Baltimore despite outscoring the Orioles by 6. They scored 18 runs in one game, 14 in the other four combined.

    It's certainly an indictment of the pitching staff that they've gone 1-14 when scoring fewer than 10 runs, but it's an indictment of this offense that they've had 15 games in which they scored fewer than six, 11 (more than half) in which they've scored fewer than five and seven games in which they failed to score at least four.

    They struggled against Mariano Rivera and James Shields and David Price, but they also struggled against Pedro Strop and Willie Eyre and Jason Berken.

    The offense has been full partners in the "swoon." The offense has been just as ineffective as the pitching, or nearly so, but the nature of the beast allows for spectacular performances to skew the averages badly, and that's what they've done. A spectacular pitching performance, on the other hand, such as allowing 1 run in the 11th after 10 scoreless, can't make up for a bad one. So it looks like the pitching has been much worse. But it hasn't. Probably a little worse, but not MUCH worse.
I have zero interest in castigating the GM. Or the manager. Through the end of August, they were on a pace to win 100+ games. This is a talented team that's just played horribly in all phases of the game for three weeks. The slumps have all come together and they had two starters get hurt in three days when they already had two on the shelf, which challenged the depth. It's been painful to watch, and certainly, the starting pitching has been bad.

My only point is this - so has everything else. The relief pitching has been bad. The offense has been bad. They've lost games this month with bad starting pitching, bad relief pitching, bad base-running, bad batting and bad defense. (And bad luck. Barrel of the bat takes out the SS and directly leads to four runs scoring? Diving 3rd baseman lands on the base for a double play? Murphy's Law has been in full force.)

It may continue for another week, in which case they'll probably miss the playoffs. And they may come out of it. Either way, if they're still playing after next Wednesday, all of what's just happened has no bearing on what will happen going forward.

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