Sunday, April 13, 2008

Game 13: Don't Give Dice-K a Big Lead

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 8, New York Yankees 5

In between the bouts of mind-numbing idiocy that Joe Morgan regularly injects into his broadcasts, he made an interesting point (I know: I was shocked, too): Dice-K doesn't seem to have the same intensity when he's pitching with a big lead that he does when things get close and tight. Not that Matsuzaka was pitching particularly well before Boston staked him to a big lead - he'd surrendered four walks of his six by the end of the third inning, when Boston's lead was only three runs - I wondered if there might be some statistical validity to Morgan's statement: does Dice-K need to keep his head in the game when he's acquired a large lead?

According to these stats I dug up on Baseball Reference, a change in focus might not be a bad idea: as the difference in score increases up to four runs (winning by or losing by), Dice-K's stats get worse and worse in all relevant categories: more hits, more walks, and most importantly, more runs. Compare those stats with high stress situations like close and late (tie game, ahead by one, or tying run on deck in the seventh inning or later) or (for a larger sample) with two outs and runners in scoring position, and Matsuzaka becomes much harder to hit, as if he needs the right pressure to perform at his highest level.

Hitting that extra level would have helped tonight. The Sox got lucky with Phillips Hughes' inexperience, and even luckier that David Aardsma and Javier Lopez had ten outs between them to stave off the Yankees' ever present offensive threats, but they scraped the bottom of the bullpen barrel a bit tonight right before going off to Cleveland. We'd better see the good side of Jon Lester tomorrow, or the relief pitching will revert to Red Scare faster than you can say, "ridiculously tough April schedule."

Totally unrelated, but way to go Gabe Kapler! The Hebrew Hammer strikes again!