Thursday, February 17, 2011

Jon Lester, Walk Fiend?

Jon Lester has a plan for 2011: he told the Globe so when they asked him earlier today. It seems he wants to reduce his walk totals, because he's worried by throwing extra pitches, he's shortening his starts and wearing down the bullpen. What a hell of a guy. As the article points out, he's got a bit of a point: Lester gave up 19 more walks than he did in 2009 in the same number of starts. Maybe he is anticipating the trip for 2 outs to 3 outs a little too much.

Except that after a quick comparison of his year-over-year numbers at Baseball Reference (oh, the power of statistics), that may not be the case: even with the higher number of walks, his WHIP was lower in 2010 because he gave up 19 fewer hits and pitched about 5 more innings. He gave up 6 fewer home runs and hitters were able to turn fewer of the pitches they put into play into hits. Most tellingly of all, he had more games where he pitched 88 to 99 pitches and fewer games where he pitched 100 to 119 pitches than he did in 2009.

My guess: it's not the number of pitches that's the problem, but that Lester's changed how he challenges hitters, going for the outer areas of the plate where he's more likely to miss instead of trying to blaze down the middle. If he makes his ability to paint the corners more devastating, he'll lower his walk counts without sacrificing any of the other gains he's made in his game.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

John Lackey: Not a Liar

Twitter tricked me into reading Shaughnessy's column this morning, but I'm glad I did so: it gave me the opportunity to foam at the mouth for a few minutes for absolutely no reason. This week's installment is on John Lackey, who's returned from off-season workouts on the treadmill eleven pounds lighter. He claims to have done so while watching SportsCenter, so I can only imagine some of that weight loss is fueled by anger at not having his pitching genius recognized, but either way, he's good to go, is impressing his manager with his energy, and is already making snarky comments about his teammates:
Lackey made a veiled reference to [Carl Crawford] when he said, “I definitely pitch to contact moreso than some of the guys and I think our improved outfield defense will definitely help for sure.’’

There’s code there. Lackey is telling you that one of the reasons for his inflated 2010 numbers was the Sox’ subpar defense.
'But wait,' I thought, hornets of irritation beginning to rise in my brain, 'this team was supposed to be a paragon of defense! And while I don't remember how well the defense played when Lackey pitched, I don't want to believe him because I dislike him for not pitching as well as I thought he should have!'

Fortunately, the Internets exist. A quick trip over to Fan Graphs brought up the by-team defensive statistics summary for 2010 and a secondary trip over to the Fan Graphs glossary told me I should be paying attention to UZR and DRS as the best measures of how the team built around defense did defensively. Some quick reordering and we should have this question sorted out..., the Sox really were putrid in the field. UZR puts them at 10th to last in the majors, while DRS says they were even worse: only the Pirates and Royals did more poorly. I guess less-chunky Lackey knows what he's talking about. Now, if he can turn that talk into pitching at an above-average level, we'll be cool.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

It's On, Baby

The weather has tamped down on its more homicidal tendencies, it's approaching mid-February, and I'm blogging again: a confluence of forces that can only signal the return of Truck Day. The dismemberment of the Rays, the acquisitions of Gonzalez and Crawford, and the visible weakening of the Yankees starting staff - seriously, they have Sergio Mitre listed as their number 5 starter - significantly reduces the competition in the East and might just make the 2011 division crown Boston's to lose. It's the start of baseball: let the dreaming begin!

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