Greenpoint, October, 2015

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Take Your Eye Off the Ball

Tim Wakefield and Eri Yoshida (2010)
As reported in this space yesterday, the Red Sox management declined to resign Tim Wakefield to a major league contract. Wakefield went 7-8 last season, so good call, right? Wrong. I had the boys in the BTB Research Bureau take another look, and here's what they came up with.

In the games Wakefield won, the Sox averaged 6.14 runs. That's above the season average of 5.4 per game. But if you take out the 18-6 trouncing of the Blue Jays in September, that drops the average to 4.16 runs for the other 6 games Wakefield pitched, and he still won. In the 8 games Wakefield lost, the Sox averaged just 2.75 runs--roughly half their season average. Where's the love there?

The problem was not with the pitching, it was with the hitting. Here's my theory: The players in the field are trained to keep their eye on the ball, from the pitcher's hand to the bat to their glove. When a knuckleballer like Wakefield pitches, their own timing as a hitter is subtly being affected: When they do step into the batter's box, they're not swinging at the ball that's actually been thrown, but a combination of that and the knuckleballs they've been watching from the field. Result: more Ks, fewer hits.

Bonus baby?
The solution is not to get rid of Wakefield, especially when the Sox are weak on both starters and relievers, with Lackey out for the season and Papelbon gone. Instead, it's to get Sox hitters to shake off the mental images they're bringing to the plate of Wakefield's knuckleballs. Maybe, there's some kind of sunglasses they could wear in the field that filter out the ball's fluctuations....

Or maybe this calls for the homeopathic approach, get the Sox batters taking tons of BP with knuckleballers. If that's the solution, I think the Sox should sign Eri Yoshida, now pitching out of the bullpen for the Hyogo Blue Sandars. You remember, Eri Yoshida, the young Japanese woman who grew up idolizing Tim Wakefield, taught herself the knuckleball, and briefly pitched professionally for the Chico (CA) Outlaws before returning to play in Japan. Well, why not, she might end up winning more games for the Sox than Dice K.

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