Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Taking Stock: How to Beat the Tribe

My first thoughts after last night's slightly surprising victory revolved around disappointment. Not because I was looking for another media-fest fueled Red Sox/Yankees championship series; far from it. I just wanted a five game series to mess up Cleveland's rotation, to make things a little easier for Boston coming into Friday's start.

However, I've mended the error of my ways, and I'm excited about both this series and the opponent Boston will be facing for a whole of reasons, starting with the glee over the depression some FOX executive is feeling over the loss of ratings that departed with the Yankees, and ending with the scheduled match ups of the first two games: Beckett versus Sabathia? Schilling versus Carmona? It's like someone took the joys of alcohol and distilled it into pitching form. Even better, because it's not Yankees and Red Sox head-to-head, there's no hype. It's pure baseball, and our team happens to be one of the contestants. I think my head might explode from the sheer geeky bliss.

Speaking of geek bliss, let's get on with the series breakdown:

Season Record
Boston and Cleveland played seven games this season; the Sox won five of them. Two of those wins came at home, three on the road, which is a nice even split, and speaks well for Boston's chances in either park. Unlike the Angels, when Cleveland wins, they win with their starting pitching: Carmona and Paul Byrd have both shut down the Boston offense long enough to garner wins, and their bullpens backed them up. Relief pitching should be a much bigger factor in this series, and all things being equal, the team with the most consistent pen will likely emerge the victor.

Batting Versus Pitching
The Indians are a harder team to hit than the Angels: about 31 percent of balls Boston knocked into play turned into hits, and the Sox averaged about 1.46 hits or walks per inning. What's interesting is that the split between Sox wins at home and in Cleveland continues here with hits and walks per inning: it's consistently about 1.44 per inning at both locations. What's even more interesting is that the splits of percentage of runs scored is about the same in both parks, too: 36 percent at Fenway, 38 percent in Cleveland. Boston's overall runs success rate against Cleveland is about 37 percent.

The Indians present a slightly different picture. 32 percent of the balls they put in play against Boston pitching became hits, but the Tribe could only muster about 1.10 hits or walks per inning - not a particularly good success rate. Cleveland converted 40 percent of those base runners into runs, which is not only higher than Boston's percentage but a point higher than the team's 2007 average. The Indians have the same weird near-equal split in percentage of runs scored at both parks: a 34 percent success rate at Fenway, and a 40 percent success rate at The Jake.

Boston has one key hitting statistic that's giving them the edge over Cleveland: they're able to get more men on base. The Sox haven't been able to score as many of those men as Cleveland in 2007, and they've also found Indians pitching much harder to score against than the rest of their opponents - about 9 percent fewer runs scored than the 2007 average. One of the big keys to this series for Boston will be keeping Cleveland off the bases to eliminate the scoring threat, especially when pitching at Jacobs Field.

In overall pitching, the two teams are very closely matched: ERAs of about 4.20 for both groups of starters, 3.10 for Boston relievers and 3.75 for the Cleveland pen. Over 2007, Boston starters given up about 3 runs per game, while Cleveland starters surrendered 3.1 runs per game.

This series will be about two things: which pitching staff can last the longest, and which offense can break through. With such equal pitching match ups, the Sox will have to exploit their superior base runner-creating ability to manufacture runs, break down starters and force the Indians to exhaust their bullpen. Boston's relatively equal hitting success both at home and in Cleveland is an advantage, but Boston's pitching needs to keep Cleveland off the bases so they don't score runs. However, both teams are capable of such excellent performance that I foresee nothing but a hard fought series that could go all seven games. I call Boston in six. GO SOX!!!