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Entries in Boston Red Sox (105)


Tim Wakefield Tidbits

So long, Tim Wakefield. The 45-year-old has lobbed his last flutterball toward home plate, retiring after a 19-year career made possible by the knuckler. While he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting with the Pirates in 1992, Wake was left for dead after a disastrous 1993 during which he was demoted to the minors. Instead, he latched on with the Red Sox and went on to throw more innings (3,006) than any other pitcher in club history while placing third in wins (186), behind Roger Clemens and Cy Young.

Wakefield was rarely an ace-caliber arm, making just one All-Star team and finishing with a 105 ERA+, but he'll go down as one of the most beloved pitchers in Sox history. In honor of the knuckleballer, here are some Tim Wakefield tidbits:

- Some guys are likely hooting and hollering that no hitter will ever have the misfortune of facing Wakefield and his knuckler again. Here are the batters who had the lowest career OPS versus Wakefield (minimum 20 plate appearances):

Reed Johnson 23 .367
Cecil Fielder 30 .348
Jay Buhner 28 .334
David Newhan 22 .332
Denny Hocking 20 .300
Jeromy Burnitz 21 .297
Rocco Baldelli 28 .294
Jerry Hairston 28 .263
Doug Mientkiewicz 20 .205
Adrian Beltre 21 .095


- Other guys, meanwhile, are sad to see him go. Aaron Rowand and Vlad's chances of reviving their respective careers just got a little harder, and Kevin Millar certainly "Got Eeeeem!" when he faced his erstwhile teammate. Here are the hitters with the highest career OPS against Wake:

Aaron Rowand 25 1.782
Vladimir Guerrero 35 1.749
Dave Nilsson 32 1.679
Juan Encarnacion 20 1.676
Olmedo Saenz 20 1.538
Jose Lopez 20 1.45
Phil Nevin 23 1.378
Evan Longoria 25 1.362
Kevin Millar 37 1.361
Jose Canseco 27 1.36


 - Wakefield's knuckleball didn't just fool hitters. Since 2008 (the first year for which we have Pitch F/X data) to 2011, Wakefield's knuckler got called strikes on pitches thrown out of the strike zone 14% of the time. The league average for all pitches over that time is 10.5%. He got those extra calls on pitches thrown in the upper half of the zone:

Wakefield's called strike rate on out-of-zone pitches taken by batters, 2008-11 

- Wake's threw his knuckler at a bunch of different speeds, ranging from 54 mph up to 76 mph. Check out his distribution of knuckleballs by velocity:

VelocityPct. Thrown
60 mph or less 5
61-65 mph 35.4
66-70 mph 51.6
70+ mph 8


His really slow knucklers were most effective, while his "power" knuckleballs were hit the hardest:

VelocitySlugging Pct.
60 mph or less .358
61-65 mph .456
66-70 mph .392
70+ mph .472


- The element of surprise is key to the knuckleball. Hitters, Wakefield and his catcher had next to no idea where the knuckler would end up, and that's reflected in his percentage of pitches thrown to each region of the strike zone:

LocationPct. Of Knuckleballs thrown to location
Up and In 9.2
Up and Middle 14.5
Up and away 10.8
Middle and In 11.7
Middle and Middle 18.2
Middle and Away 13.6
Down and In 6
Down and Middle 9
Down and Away 7


- Wakefield's knuckleball and the element of surprise made his low-70s "fastball" -- which would be smacked into orbit under normal circumstances -- a decent pitch in small doses. Wakefield threw his fastball about 5% of the time from 2008-11, with hitters slugging .427 against the pitch. That's actually below the .441 MLB average over the past four seasons.


Sox Turn to Scrap Heap for Starters

Boston's rotation was a major weakness in 2011. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett had quality years, but a back injury cut Clay Buchholz's season short and starts by other Sox pitchers were short and  brutal. Boston placed ninth in the American League in starter ERA, 11th in Fielding Independent Pitching and second-to-last in innings pitched.

But, rather than making a big-ticket free agent or trade acquisition to compete in the arms race with the Yankees and Rays, the Red Sox are hoping for a return to health for Buchholz, a successful transition from the 'pen for Daniel Bard and perhaps Alfredo Aceves, and a bounce back year for at least one of a trio of recently-signed scrapheap starters. Here's a look at new Red Sox reclamation projects Aaron Cook, Carlos Silva and Vicente Padilla.

Aaron Cook

Cook, 33 next month, used an earth-scorching sinker and exquisite control to emerge as a quality starter for the Colorado Rockies. From 2006-2009, the righty overcame a sub-four-per-nine strikeout rate to post a 116 ERA+ and compile nearly 10 Wins Above Replacement. Since then, however, Cook has dealt with shoulder, leg and finger injuries, most recently missing three months in 2011 after breaking his ring finger in a door. His ERA+ since 2010 is just 83, and he has been worth less than one WAR in over 220 innings.

Cook was effective when he complemented his ground assault with few walks (2.3 BB/9 from 2006-2009), but he hasn't been near as sharp over the past two years (3.6 BB/9).  You might think he's missing out of the zone more often with his sinker, and you'd be right. Cook's percentage of in-zone sinkers has fallen in recent years, and hitters are chasing fewer of those off-the-plate pitches to boot:

Player2008-09 Zone%2008-09 Chase%2010-2011 Zone%2010-11 Chase%
Cook 52 29 50 25
League Avg. 46 29 51 27


Put another way, his zone percentage with the sinker was 13 percent above the league average in 2008-09 and two percent below average in 2010-11. Cook is still getting grounders with his sinker, but the extra walks and hitter's counts in general have made the pitch much less effective (batters slugged .417 against Cook's sinker in 2008-09, and .454 the past two years). If Cook doesn't start being more precise with his sinker, the door could slam shut on his career.

Carlos Silva

Owner of the lowest walk rate among active starting pitchers, Silva had a few nice seasons with the Twins in the mid-aughts. But the beefy righty and the four-year, $48 million deal he signed with the Mariners had become a punch line by the time he was shipped to the Cubs after the 2009 season for Milton Bradley in a dead money challenge trade.

Shockingly, Silva was actually pretty good in Chicago. He had a 100 ERA+ in 113 innings, striking out far more batters than ever before (6.4 K/9) while still being stingy with the walks (1.9 BB/9). Silva radically changed his approach: while he threw a fastball nearly 70% of the time in 2008 and 2009, he went to his not-so-hopping heater about 57% with the Cubs, mixing in more changeups and sliders. Check out the difference in his opponent contact rate in 2008-09 and then 2010. Keep an eye on the low-and-away area for righty batters, where most of Silva's stuff was located:

Opponent contact rate by pitch location vs. Silva, 2008-09Opponent contact rate by pitch location vs. Silva, 2010Hitters swung and missed at Silva's pitches a paltry 11 percent of the time in 2008-09, but that increased to a little over 17 percent in 2010.

Unfortunately, Silva's comeback was curtailed by a heart condition that required surgery in August. Chicago cut him on the eve of the 2011 season, and Silva didn't throw a big league pitch while suffering from shoulder soreness and pitching scarcely in the Yankees' farm system (New York also released him in July). If the 32-year-old is healthy (an admittedly large if), Silva at least keeps the Sox from praying that Andrew Miller can avoid hitting the backstop in the event that the club needs a spot-starter.

Vicente Padilla

Padilla pitched just 8.2 innings out of the bullpen for the Dodgers last year and has dealt with a litany of ailments in recent years, including surgeries for a chronic problem with a bulging disc in his neck and a trapped nerve in his forearm in 2011. When on the mound in 2009 and 2010, Padilla was a decent, if unspectacular rotation option (99 ERA+ in 242.1 innings pitched).

If Padilla does end up on the mound for the Sox in 2012, new manager Bobby Valentine should try to use him on days when Boston is facing a lineup slanted to the right side. With a low three-quarters arm slot and little in the way of secondary stuff, Padilla is susceptible to lefty hitters. Walks are Padilla's biggest bugaboo against lefties:

Padilla's splits, 2009-2011

Vs Left 565 .259 .339 .419 17.7% 9.9% 3.6%
Vs Right 561 .246 .299 .378 18.4% 5.5% 2.9%


There's no harm in the Red Sox bringing in low-cost retreads like Cook, Silva and Padilla to add rotation depth. It's possible that one or two of the trio comes to camp mended and performs well enough to help out in 2012. Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia did the trick for the Yankees last year. But the absolute best-case scenario for any of the three is adequacy -- there's no plausible scenario in which one of these guys has a huge season.

Given that the Bombers and the Rays have both have top-tier talent and 7-8 legitimate rotation options, I find it hard to believe that Boston won't kick the tires on a higher-upside option like Roy Oswalt (seeking a one-year deal), luxury tax concerns aside. A pitcher capable of three-plus WAR like Oswalt or settling for Cook, Silva or Padilla could be the difference between a playoff spot and another cold, acrimonious winter for Red Sox Nation.


Papelbon vs. Madson

Over the weekend, the Phillies agreed to terms with reliever Jonathan Papelbon on a four-year, $50 million free agent deal that includes a vesting option that could take the total value of the contract north of $60 million. Philly was thought to be on the verge of a four-year, $44 million deal with incumbent closer and fellow free agent Ryan Madson, but the deal supposedly fell through due to a fifth-year vesting option that would have bumped Madson's potential earnings up to $57 million.

Setting aside for a moment the question of whether it makes sense to pay any reliever such a sum when he pitches, at most, five percent of his team's total innings, the Phillies' preference of Papelbon over Madson seems to make little sense unless the new Collective Bargaining Agreement scraps first-round draft pick compensation. There's little difference between the two in terms of recent and projected performance, and bringing in Papelbon could cost Philly's farm system needed young talent to boot.

Take a look at how Papelbon and Madson have pitched since 2009:

Papelbon: 199 IP, 10.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 2.64 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)

Madson: 191 IP, 9.6 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9, 2.74 FIP

Papelbon records more Ks, but Madson issues slightly fewer walks and gets taken deep a bit less often. Overall, the difference between Papelbon and Madson's fielding-independent numbers has been a tenth of a run per nine innings pitched.

Digging a little deeper, we find that Papelbon holds slight advantages in getting strikes and putting the ball in the zone, while Madson actually gets more swings and misses and more chases on pitches off the plate:

Papelbon: 66.8 Strike%, 28.2 Miss% 47.9 Zone%, 35 Chase%

Madson: 65.9 Strike%, 30.5 Miss%, 46.5 Zone%, 39.1 Chase%

You might be tempted to think that, as a result of pitching in the cut-throat AL East, Papelbon has faced a significantly tougher slate of hitters than Madson. But that doesn't appear to be the case. Take a look at their Opponent Quality OPS totals from 2009-2011, from Baseball Prospectus:


2009: .792 (T-52 among pitchers with 50+ IP)

2010: .765 (T-69)

2011: .752 (T-143)


2009: .781 (T-167)

2010: .765 (T-69)

2011: .756 (T-93)

Papelbon faced significantly tougher hitters in '09, but they were tied in 2010 and Madson had the harder go of it in 2011.

There's also the question of how Papelbon fits in at Citizens Bank Park. ESPN's Keith Law thinks Papelbon's fly ball-heavy approach will get him in trouble:

Papelbon has remade himself once after bottoming out with a fastball-only approach a few years ago, but even now he relies heavily on the hard but very flat four-seamer, which likely won't translate well to a good home run park in Philadelphia.

From 2009-2011, Papelbon has a 46 percent fly ball rate. He's all about the high heat:

Papelbon's pitch location, 2009-2011

Madson, by contrast, has a 32 percent fly ball rate. He's more apt to locate his fastball, cutter and changeup lower in the zone:

Madson's pitch location, 2009-2011

Considering that CPB increases homers by 16 percent for lefty hitters and 20 percent for righties (per StatCorner), it stands to reason that some of Papelbon's high heaters that died in the Fenway outfield or bonked off the Monster will leave the park entirely.

Past performance certainly matters, but what teams pay for (or should pay for) in free agency is future production. And on that front, Papelbon and Madson (both 31 years old) are barely distinguishable, according to The Hardball Times' Oliver projection system. Oliver forecasts 6.3 Wins Above Replacement for Papelbon over the next four years, compared to 5.7 for Madson. If the two were presidential candidates, we'd call that a statistical dead heat.

If the two can barely be told apart in terms of past and projected value, Madson apparently could have been had for a slightly smaller contract, and Madson is a better fit for CPB due to his ground ball ability, then the draft pick compensation that Papelbon may cost the Phillies makes their choice all the more curious.

Philly has emptied out its farm system in recent years in the quest for present wins, and it's hard to argue with the club's success. But, considering that Papelbon and Madson are near equals performance-wise, it seems like the Phillies gave up their first-round pick (31st overall) to Boston in the 2012 draft for nothing. Both Papelbon and Madson are Type A free agents, but it wouldn't have cost the Phillies any compensatory picks to retain their own free agent. Based on past research by Victor Wang, the Phillies punted a pick worth an average of $5-6 million.

This is where things get cloudy, though -- ESPN's Buster Olney reports that the new CBA may well eliminate first-round draft pick compensation:

In return, the players would get this concession from the owners -- there will be no first-round pick draft compensation. In recent years, teams have become increasingly reluctant to sign free agents tied to first-round draft picks, which has impacted the market for those players. There will continue to be draft pick compensations, but in some other form -- either in later rounds or in supplemental rounds.

If we accept the premise that the Phillies, a high-revenue club from whom every win makes a major difference in making the playoffs, were going to spend big bucks on a closer, their choice of Papelbon over Madson is slightly questionable if the new CBA allows them to hold on to their first-round pick and a bad move if they have to give it up. Given Philly's choice, I have to believe that they expect to hold on to that pick.