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Entries in Boston Red Sox (105)

Thursday
Sep152011

Right now, it's hard to be Bard

Slumping ballplayers are uncomfortable to watch. For example, all season long, it has made you squirm to watch the White Sox slugger Adam Dunn at the plate. Pitchers and pitches have simply baffled him this season. There are times when the Red Sox' Carl Crawford has looked that way as well. During stretches like that you wonder how they became the stars that they are.

When batter slumps you usually have to wait a few innings before you can see if he can correct his error and look better, but when a pitcher slumps it feels relentless. That is what it has been like recently for Boston's Daniel Bard, the model for the great 8th inning pitcher. Pitch after pitch you can see a guy totally out of sync and that is something that he and Boston can ill afford at any time, but especially with the postseason around the corner.

Let's take a look at Bard going into the slump.

June and July Bard was near perfect

From May 27 to the end of July, Bard did not allow a run

Daniel Bard May 27 to July 31, 25 appearancesDuring this stretch, Bard faced 96 batters who went 11-for-88 against him. He allowed nine singles, two doubles and nothing else. Not only did batters hit just .125 against him, they struck out 25 times. Batters hit .141 against the 234 fastballs he threw, .200 against the 22 changeups he tossed, and an amazing .053 against his 53 sliders. The slider was so effective that batters swung and missed 53.8% of the time.

Then the calendar rolled into August 

Bard made 10 August appearances with a 3.27 ERAIn Bard's first two August appearances, he allowed four runs in just an inning an a third. He faced nine batters, walking one and gave up four hits to the remaining eight batters with two homering. Batters went 3-for-4 against the fastball with a homer and 1-for-3 against the slider with a homer. Location in the strike zone was the issue as the fastball still came in at over 98 MPH and the slider around 84.

But Bard and associates made a correction and from August 7 to August 31, Bard was back being Bard. He held batters to a .065 batting average and struck out 13 in 9.2 innings without allowing a run.

Then the calendar rolled into September

Bard has made five appearances in September, only one has been scorelessThe heat map shows a totally different pitcher than our picture of June July. Sox manager Terry Francona said yesterday following Bard's latest meltdown, "Right now the fastball command is certainly an issue and getting him in trouble. His fastball is kind of cutting on him a little bit."

This is what Francona is referring to, Bard's fastball cutting too muchThis month batters are 6-for-15 (.400) against Bard's fastball while striking out only twice. The key to this slump is the five walks he's issued in the 4.2 innings. Location this time is not the issue only in the strike zone, it's that he has no idea where that fastball is going. It's not so much that he is getting shelled, he is out there throwing, not pitching.

One thing is for certain, when you have a starting pitching staff that is as suspect as Boston's if you have an 8th inning thrower and not a pitcher, you have a major pain in the backside with a capital "B" and that stands for "Bard."

Friday
Sep092011

Is the end near for Tim Wakefield?

I can't help but sense that we are seeing the final weeks of Tim Wakefield's career. As the Boston knuckleballer keeps trying for win #200 (Tuesday against Toronto will be attempt number eight), you have to wonder how much more he can contribute.

We know knuckleballers have great longevity because in large part there isn't a large strain on the arm, but there are other factors that have a mitigating effect on their ability to pitch at a quality level. It was two years ago that Wake was on the DL with back pain and stiffness that eventually led to postseason surgery for a herniated disk. You always have to wonder if his back, after a long season like this, just feels a little stiffer at 45 than it did 10 years when he was pitching for the Sox or 20 years ago when he was a rookie with the Pirates.

Knuckleballs are baseball's anomalies. The great Charlie Lau said, "There are two theories on catching the knuckleball...unfortunately, neither of the theories work." But I always liked Richie Hebner's description of hitting against Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, "Hitting Niekro's knuckleball is like eating soup with a fork."

One of things I wanted to do here is compare Tim's knuckleball from the first half of 2009, when Wake made his only All-Star team versus the knuckler of the second half of 2011 and see if we could see a difference in results.

First half of 2009

411 at bats, .268 with 8 homers and 36 walksWake was all over, and around, the strike zone with very few pitches in the hitting zone. One of the axioms for hitting a knuckleball is "if its high let it fly, if its low, let it go." On pitches high in the zone, batters hit .304. On low pitches, they hit .265. But the effective nature of Wakefield's pitches could really be seen on pitches in the middle part of the plate. Batters were so befuddled, they hit just .236.

The second half of 2011

In 225 plate appearances, batters are hitting .302, walking only five times.You don't need to read the stats to see the stunning difference. Wake's pitches are no longer floating out harm's way; they are in the zone. High in the zone, hitters are hitting .317. Low in the zone, .313. And while the number in the middle is better, .286, he's given up five homers in just 98 at bats when the pitch is sitting there. The difference in slugging from 2009 to 2011 is .453 vs. .542.

The walk differential

in 458 plate appearances in 2009, Wake walked 36 batters with his knuckleball.

He has faced 225 batters in the second half of 2011, approximately half as many batters. Consequently, I would expect 17 or 18 walks. He has walked just five this second half on the knuckler.

I attribute the great walk differential to a pitch that is simple not moving, dipping, and diving enough. With pitches that are no longer floating like a butterfly, Wake is getting stung like a bee.

I hope he gets win #200 before the month is out, because I think he is running out of time.

Friday
Sep092011

Top 20 Hitters on Pitches Within the Strike Zone

Top 20 Hitters on Pitches Within the Strike Zone
(Min. 500 pitches in the Strike Zone - click image to enlarge)

While Adrian Gonzalez's wOBA on pitches in the strike zone leads all hitters, it's 184 points higher than his wOBA on pitches out of the strike zone.  Jose Bautista, however, has a .467 wOBA on pitches missing the strike zone, which is 44 points higher than his wOBA on pitches in the strike zone.  Along with Bautista, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers and Mike Napoli of the Texas Rangers are the only other hitters in the top 20 of both lists.