Friday, February 25, 2005

IT AIN'T OVER UNTIL... WELL, PROBABLY NEVER, ACTUALLY.

A while back, a yankee fan conceded to me that the Red Sox lineup is better than that of the yankees, but challenged me to prove that the Sox rotation was the better of the two. What follows is my attempt to do that. To do this I first ranked the pitchers one through five and then compared them straight up, one vs. one, two vs. two, and so on. I didn't do much statistical analysis in this piece, even of the amateur variety, which is pretty much the only kind I can adequately comprehend. Mostly that is because I put this together at work and didn't want to get caught looking stats up online, as I'm on thin enough ice already. I'd rather not be the first guy to get fired trying to prove that Matt Clement is better than Carl Pavano.

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#1 Schilling vs. Johnson:

While Johnson is the better pitcher, I would argue that Schilling is the best big game pitcher in baseball. Johnson also has 5 years on Schilling not to mention some serious back and knee problems that have limited his effectiveness in some seasons, as recently as two seasons ago.  If Johnson is healthy you have to pick him as the better of the two, but the question is will he stay healthy.  A healthy Schilling is obviously much better than an injured Johnson. (Taken out of context that last sentence could sound bad.) When healthy Johnson is the 21st century's Sandy Koufax, but when injured he regresses to the 21st century's Gene Brabender, who's name I am not making up, and who posted a 4.36 ERA for the Seattle Pilots in 1969.  Its important to note that I'm talking about the best starter in the NL last season vs. the second best starter in the AL last season.  This is quite a match up.  Both are excellent strikeout pitchers with terrific control, but overall I have to favor Johnson. There really hasn't been as dominant a pitcher since the mound was lowered in 1969, inexplicably sending Gene Brabender's ERA skyward. But back to the matchup at hand: Johnson is a better pitcher (see sentence #1) but since Johnson's health is in serious question, I'm going to wimp out and call it a draw.

Advantage: Even 

#2 Clement vs. Mussina:

This looks like an advantage for the Yankees.  In one sense Mussina is the AL's version of Curt Schilling, having almost won the Cy Young a number of different times, though never quite reached that pinnacle. The only thing is Mussina is 36, and last year he had the worst season of his career.  He turned it around towards the end, but his numbers were quite less than spectacular even after the turnaround.  Basically, he's not the pitcher he was when he came to New York, or when you could count on him for consistent excellence back in Baltimore. Come to think of it, it's been a while since anything in Baltimore has been consistently excellent, but I digress. Mussina has had injury problems over the last couple years which have limited his innings.  Clement, too, has had injury problems, but as a guy who is six years younger (are you noticing a theme here?) he's much less likely to get those nagging injuries which can cause you to miss a start or two, or to just not be at your best. All of Clement's numbers last year were excellent except wins and losses, but those are more due to lack of run support than anything else.  He had a higher strikeouts-per-9-innings than Mussina, more total Ks, and a lower ERA (granted in the NL, but it was about a run lower, which is still significant).  There are questions about Clement, no doubt, though I believe he will have an excellent year with the run support that the Sox give their pitchers.  I wouldn't be surprised if Clement ended up with much better stats and Mussina ends up on the disabled list for a good part of the year.

Advantage: Red Sox 

#3 Arroyo vs. Pavano:

Some people would argue about Arroyo as the Sox #3, but since he was one of the eleven best starters in the AL last year in terms of ERA I won't be one of them.  Last season Arroyo had a better ERA than Zito, Mulder and Mussina did.  So if we accept Arroyo's legitimacy, then we can move on to the match-up. Pavano comes with a number of questions attached to him.  First off, he was a successful pitcher last season, but his peripherals aren't great.  He doesn't strike out lots of guys and his ERA last year was assisted by luck in two forms: 1) very low batting average on balls in play which is due for a regression towards the norm (i.e. more batted balls will fall in for hits against him this year than they did last year), and 2) the Marlins excellent defense, which the Yankees definitely don't have, especially in their outfield.  Still, his good numbers last year in terms of wins and ERA are what he's being paid for this year and over the following three.  But what about every year before last?  He's had some injury problems which have slowed him a bit, and like Clement and Wright he's got an under .500 career winning percentage.  That doesn't mean he's a bad pitcher, but it raises the same questions that Wright's (and Arroyo's and Clement's) record raises about him.  Personally, I'd rather have Arroyo, as he's younger and much cheaper.  Arroyo's walk rates in the minors were unreal, and now that he's started to challenge hitters a bit more inside (see A-Rod, Plunking of) his strikeouts are improving too. But since there is a massive amount of selective data in this past paragraph, and since the Red Sox tried hard to sign Pavano too, I'll be a gentleman to the yankees fans out there and call it even. (I'd still take Arroyo though.)

Advantage: Even

#4 Wells vs. Wright

As a number four starter, Wells doesn't seem so bad, does he?  If Wells is the Sox number two guy, then I conceed thats a worrisome thing, but if he's the number four then that's fine with me.  The guy can't get anyone out without his defense (though his strikeout numbers were comparable to Pavano's last season, which should tell you something), but he doesn't walk anyone at all ever.  His control is really incredible and because of it, as long as he can stay healthy, he can eat innings.  He's going to allow some runs, but that should be made up for by the Sox offense, which has been #1 in all of baseball the last two years in terms of pretty much everything important.  I'm not that worried about him staying healthy because he was healthy all last year (like Johnson).  He's also a big-game pitcher, like Schilling, which will be nice to have come October.  Contrast that with the Yankees who have a number of guys who have historically failed in the post-season (Mussina & Johnson come to mind, and if you don't believe me then you should check out Johnson's post season ERA.).  Wright is a guy who has been a mediocre-to-bad pitcher throughout his entire career, save one season (last season) and one month (his post-season stint with Cleveland in 1995).  He doesn't throw as hard as he used to thanks to injuries, but he seemed to put things together last year and turned in an excellent season for the Braves.  Obviously the yankees are paying the guy who had a 3.28 ERA for the Braves last season, but, what if the guy who got cut by San Diego shows up?  I'm willing to go out on a limb and say it won't matter too much as most teams would kill to have a guy like Wright as a number four, but the yankees are paying him $21 Million, so it'll be interesting to see how long of a leash the keep him on. Of these two guys you'd have to say that Wright has the most upside.  We've seen the best that Wells has to offer, but he's old now and he's not going to radically improve.  Wright isn't young anymore (he's 29), but he could be an excellent pitcher for NY this year, especially stashed at the end of their rotation.  Or he could be Leo Mazzone belongs in the Hall of Fame exhibit 43A, who implodes as soon as his uniform fails to say "Atlanta" across the front.  You might dispute me with this, but I'm going with Wells here.  He's much more of a known quantity. 

Advantage: Red Sox

#5: Miller/Wakefield/Halama vs. Brown

This match up is the first one in my humble opinion to be a slam dunk for the Sox, and really the first slam dunk of any of these match-ups.  Brown has clearly lost it.  He's just not a very good pitcher anymore, and even more than that the Sox have his number, and even more than that the Yankees hate him and would like nothing better than to get rid of him.  I still wouldn't be surprised if they dealt him sometime during spring training, maybe to Atlanta.  But regardless, he's just not a very good pitcher anymore and on top of that he makes a ton of money.  (Thats not really here or there, but I think it's funny that they Yankees are paying their #5 starter, who they would gladly give away for nothing in return, $15 Million.)  Miller is a good pitcher, but his injury concerns are frightening.  He's won 45 games for the Astros over the 3 years before last ('91-'93), and was one of the best starting pitchers in the NL during that time.  The question is will he be healthy enough to throw much throughout the year.  The answer is probably not, as he most likely won't start throwing in an actual game until June. Wakefield is a knuckler so I'm not so worried about his age, but his effectiveness has gone down over the last three years despite what he did to the Yankees in the post-season last year (me likee!). It doesn't bode well for him as a rotational starter.  His best role is probably spot starter and long reliever. Halama is ok.  He'd be best used as an innings eater out of the bullpen, but if Miller is hurt and Wake is ineffective then he's the Sox man, at least till Theo can find someone else.  Still, for pure pitching (keeping finances out of it) I'd take Miller or Wakefield over Brown.  The only guy of the three that Brown beats out is Halama, but since two guys have to get hurt for him to see the rotation, I'm giving this one to the Red Sox.

Advantage: Red Sox


Total: Red Sox 3, yankees 0, with 2 even match-ups.  You could dispute me on that and say the yankees win 3-2 or even 4-1.  Ultimately however, the yankees are playing with much more fire than the Red Sox are.  Brown, Wright and Pavano all come with significant questions about their history and effectiveness over the long term, and Mussina and Johnson are just plain old.  If Miller is healthy and effective (granted, a big "if") then the Sox take this.  If not and the Sox have to turn to Wakefield or god forbid Halama, I could see the overall advantage shifting towards New York.  But, even with my Selective Data/Homer Scoring System (copyright MK Industries, 2005) it's quite close.  The difference will probably be made up by who gets injured and who doesn't, at least up until the trade deadline. 

Thanks again for reading.

1 comment:

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