Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Is This the Business Plan?

An interesting idea was thrown around on the radio last night, and this was before Jon Lester threw another semi-gem against the team who's second in the lead for runs scored per game. I say "semi-gem" only because the guy walked five, but he gave up zero runs and struck out nine. Can't say command was stellar, but he painted the corners effectively (ask Joe Maddon) and basically pitched another Jon Lester non-April game. Which brings me back to where I started.

The theory thrown around on the radio last night was that the Red Sox de-emphasize April games as far as their starting pitching goes. Tony Mazz, who knows some inside information, said that the Red Sox' offseason training program is less strenuous than other teams'. Their spring training program is similarly conservative and not aggressive. How many Red Sox starters threw seven innings in any spring training games?

Therefore, these pitchers are not ready to crush in April. They're still working things out the first few weeks of the season. And that might be why Jon Lester specifically has been such a slower starter, and perhaps why run prevention was such a disaster up until and including the Baltimore sweep.

The focus for this team is obviously on pitching well in September and October, and it's difficult for any athlete in any sport to be at their best for six or seven months straight. Obviously regarding this possible business plan, there are two schools of thought: My first instinct was to hate and say that the games in April count just as much as the games in September. However, they do NOT count just as much as the games in October. While it's troubling that there might not be any games in October if they JD out in April, that is more favorable than being completely burned out and ready to go golfing or bowhunting once the games start to count more. I mean, we've seen pitchers pitch like Cy Young in April and then not really be around in September. Citing Wakefield is not fair, but he's one of them. Lackey is historically the opposite.

Perhaps this has become a league-wide thing, as a lot of teams, Boston included, have enjoyed more offense than usual in the first month and a half of the season, as it's easier to get prepared to hit than it is to get prepared to pitch. But here it is, May 26th, and the Red Sox' starters have given up only one run since Friday. Run prevention is working.

4 comments:

TimC said...

Good post and an interesting theory. It makes me a bit nervous for the reasons you mentioned and also for the strength of the division. However, I think in past couple of seasons the Sox have had some guys whose arms require protection in some way, whether through young prospects coming into the team such as Lester and Buchholz or older guys with some injury issues such as Dice and Beckett. Maybe it is less of a strategy and more of a reaction to the types of players on the roster. It probably also does not help if certain guys go back to Japan and throw 300 pitch side sessions between every meal/beer.

I think this point also links up with some managing techniques in other sports. Why don't the Houston Rockets just tell Yao to hang out in Beijing until January 1 each year? The guy obviously cannot deal with the 82-game NBA season but is a very effective player when healthy. Had they done so in the past, perhaps he carries them further in the playoffs than they have gone. I see this type of thinking all the time in soccer, whether it is managers having players report a week or two late after a summer tournament (Manchester United is reportedly doing this next season) or by simply refusing to use players more than once per week. Obviously, in football older players sit out training camp practices (particularly during double sessions) or skip pre-season games to reduce wear.

It brings me to my final question, should/do baseball teams "shorten" the seasons of their starting pitchers? I am thinking specifically of minor league teams that currently limit innings but still pitch their guys year round. Why not start some guys off in May, or finish them up in early August? Also, I am curious if minor league teams use six-man rotations to limit innings on their prospects.

Anonymous said...

DV

It's really nice to see the Red Sox go out and get good starting pitching followed by some quality bullpen work. It makes the games much less stressful and significantly shorter.

Here's the thing that should give all Sox fans reason to be optimistic--all winter and spring everyone talked of how the Red Sox weren't going to beat anyone with offense. I was especially guilty of that. Yet, they're fourth in the majors in runs scored. That's awesome. They just haven't pitched well, at all, until lately. If they start pitching they're going to win a ton of games. And I think we can all be confident that at least three of Boston's five starters will end up having solid to very good numbers this year.

As an aside, I was watching Baseball Tonight the other day and Tim Kurkjian was saying that the Sox had to pitch because they weren't going to outscore anyone. I found this interesting because Kurkjian is one of the best in the business, but clearly was not informed about the issue of runs scored. And this is coming from someone who thinks Tim Kurkjian is a close second to Peter Gammons.

--the Gunn

the gm at work said...

Tim,

It probably is part of a strategy. Personally I think it's a little too much babying, but if it works (and now it is starting to seem like it does), more power to them. It may be something more people have been trying out since guys like Clemens and Pedro were somewhat-successful on the partial-season plan.

And to address your other question, in the minors it is not uncommon to see especially-coddled guys throw 4-6 innings at a time in the middle of June, then turn it over to a bullpen who can't get the ball over. (When you work in AA, you turn into Joe West, what can I say?) I think the approach they pull is to get them into the physical routine of throwing hard every five days. And why do they not do it in the season? The answer can be plainly illustrated. They basically did it with Matsuzaka this year. When he came back, someone didn't have a job anymore. And people aren't okay with that. Nor should they be.

Gunn,

Still not sold on the offense, especially thinking about this theory. Other teams are probably doing this, too. However, we are a third into the season. So who knows.

Kurkjian:Gammons :: Jeremy Schapp:his father. Plus he's an ostrich burying his head whenever he hears steroids. Coward.

Anonymous said...

Adrian Beltre just homered off of one knee. I think that sentence speaks for itself.

--the Gunn