The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, July 25, 2001

 

Cone-tender Once Again

David Cone continues his unlikely resurgence in a Red Sox uniform. He won his sixth straight decision for the Sox last night, allowing 3 runs in 6 1/3 innings as they beat Toronto 6-4. Dating back to June 3, the Sox have won Cone's last ten starts. Cone has been especially effective since Pedro Martinez went down with a rotator cuff strain, going 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA in 29 innings since Pedro's demise.

Cone's resurgence isn't the only reason the Sox pitching has them hanging tough in the AL East race. Hideo Nomo's gone 4-0 over the past month, with a 3.52 ERA, and Rolando Arrojo has pitched well, posting a 1.64 ERA in 22 innings (1-1). But Tim Wakefield (1-3, 7.17), and Tomokazu Ohka (0-3, 11.25) have undone their good work, enabling the Yankees to overtake the Sox.

A deeper look into Cone's numbers makes one wonder how long his performance can continue. He's averaging only 5 1/3 innings per start, upping that to a whopping 5 2/3 over the course of the streak. His 4.24 ERA is almost half a run higher than the team's ERA (3.76), and his WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) is a mediocre 1.50.

More clues can be found in examining his reverse batting record--that is, the cumulative batting statistics of those who faced him. Opponents are hitting .277 off of him, with 13 home runs (1.72 per 9 innings) and an OPS around 800. They've created about 45 runs, using Bill James' formula (ten more than Cone has actually allowed), posting a .595 Offensive Winning Percentage.

So how is he doing it? For one thing, he's been getting good run support, 5.3 runs per game. For another, he's been striking out lots of batters, 7.3 per 9 innings pitched. And though his low innings count means he's not exactly doing the Sox's overworked bullpen any favors, he does at least afford them a measure of predictablity--he's been over 5 innings in every start of the streak, and it's not as if he's taking anybody by surprise when they pull him in the sixth inning. For Cone's part, he attributes improved breaking pitches to his return--something that was sorely missing from his arsenal last season.

I wouldn't bet the farm on him just yet. Given these tendencies, there's a pretty solid chance Cone's performance will decline between now and the end of the season. And who knows how long his luck with the bullpen will last? Or how long the rest of the staff will hold up? They've reattached body parts in so many ways that they could run testimonial ads on thistothat.com.

It is with no small dose of mixed emotion that I watch him succeed. Cone was a favorite of mine in New York, and he's shown the kind of heart, guile, and poise which so endeared him to Yankees fans, only this time wearing an enemy uniform. After he suffered through such a monumentally disastrous season with the Yankees (4-14, 6.91 ERA), it's nice to see him catch a break here and there. I'm not rooting for him with the same zeal I rooted for a departed David Wells. But I'd love to see him reach 200 wins and give himself a shot--however long--at the Hall of Fame. So if anybody's going to help keep the Sox afloat, it might as well be David Cone.

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