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.

Friday, October 12, 2007

 

Playoff Prospecus: Red Sox-Indians

By now, the Yankees are old news. Contrary to my sanguine assessment of Chien-Ming Wang's chances while pitching at home, Wang made another early exit as the Yankees fell, 6-4. The loss didn't merely end the team's 2007 campaign, it may have drawn the curtain on the Joe Torre era. Since Tuesday, the national media's been abuzz, waiting to see whether George Steinbrenner makes good on his threat not to renew Torre's contract. Speculation that the team will tab Don Mattingly or Joe Girardi as Torre's successor has abounded, but by far the most disconcerting rumor -- though hardly the most credible one -- involves Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, himself in limbo with the ouster of GM Walt Jocketty.

As bummed as I am about the Yankees' defeat, I haven't really had time to pick over the bones regarding all of this, because Baseball Prospectus tabbed me to preview the AL Championship Series between the Indians and Red Sox. The preview is here, and there's an important addendum here, because I screwed something up:
In my ALCS preview, I made a provisional prediction of the series outcome, one that hinges on whom the Red Sox tab to start Game Four. Terry Francona has indicated a preference to start knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who was bombed in September [an 8.76 ERA in five starts] and missed the ALDS following a cortisone shot in his shoulder. But Game One starter Josh Beckett could also start if willing to pitch on three days’ rest, something he did in shutting out the Yankees to clinch the 2003 World Series. If that’s the case, Beckett would then be available to pitch a potential Game Seven on normal rest. But if Wakefield goes, the Sox forego that third start from Beckett and are faced with a choice of Game Three starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, himself a human piñata since mid-August [7.14 ERA over his final eight starts, plus an early exit in Game Two of the Division Series], for the rubber match, or of bringing back Wakefield, who would be on normal rest.

Neither of those choices is optimal, but the real problem with what I wrote was that I misidentified Cleveland’s potential Game Seven starter as Fausto Carmona. Carmona will start Game Two, and would then be in line to pitch Game Six, with Jake Westbrook slotting for a Game Seven. In other words, score that E-6. D’oh!

...For consistency’s sake, I’ll stick with my pick of the Indians over the Red Sox under the Wakefield-4 scenario. But I’m decidedly less emphatic about that outcome than I would be if Carmona were going.
Having written that, I'm still not 100 percent satisfied with those conclusions, and clearly many of my readers aren't either. So let's work through this together.

Scenario 1: Beckett starts Game Four
Fr 10/12: Beckett/Sabathia - tossup
Sa 10/13: Schilling/Carmona - tossup
Mo 10/15: Matsuzaka/Westbrook - Indians edge
Tu 10/16: Beckett/Byrd Red Sox - Red Sox edge
Th 10/18: Schilling/Sabathia - tossup
Sa 10/20: Matsuzaka/Carmona - Indians edge
Su 10/21: Beckett/Westbrook - Red Sox edge
As it should, the first two games feature the series' best pitchers. Beckett, Carmona, and C.C. Sabathia were all among the AL's elite hurlers any way you slice it. Curt Schilling has been forced to remake himself as a pitch-to-contact hurler in the wake of the rotator cuff strain which sidelined him for seven weeks this summer, but his control and pitch efficiency have covered for an otherwise drastic drop in strikeout rate, and let's face it, the guy has made his name pitching in October. So I'm comfortable calling that a tossup even given Carmona's prowess. By my reckoning, this scenario yields two edges in each team's favor and three tossups, two of them at Fenway, so I'll call it for Boston, but in seven games, not six as I originally did.

Scenario 2: Wakefield starts Game Four
Fr 10/12: Beckett/Sabathia - tossup
Sa 10/13: Schilling/Carmona - tossup
Mo 10/15: Matsuzaka/Westbrook - Indians edge
Tu 10/16: Wakefield/Byrd - Indians edge
Th 10/18: Beckett/Sabathia - tossup
Sa 10/20: Schilling/Carmona - tossup
Su 10/21: Matsuzaka/Westbrook - Indians edge
This time around, I've got three advantages for the Indians, and four tossups, three of them in Fenway. Even if three of those tossups go Boston's way, in my view, they still wind up
on the short end in my book. Indians in seven.

I should add here that I'm strongly pulling for Cleveland to win this series, but anybody suggesting that the objectivity of my analysis is compromised by that preference need only look back to my Division Series preview, when I picked the Indians against my own rooting interest in the Yankees. Knowing the Bronx Bombers as well as I did, I was hypercritical of their every flaw, particularly the ones which doomed them in recent postseasons. I wound up looking wise when their rotation decisions backfired, and when the Indians' bullpen gained the upper hand in the late innings based on matchups. So I had that going for me amid the bummer of the Yanks' elimination.

Predictions are a necessary evil in this business, and while getting one right certainly makes you look smart, it's critical to remember that in a short series, any damn thing can happen. To me, the process of how that prediction was arrived at -- casting aside my initial preconceived notions about a series and attempting to correctly analyze the various components of the two teams involved -- is far more important. The end result may not be a bullseye, but unless the readers are planning on taking my predictions to Vegas (and seriously, God help you if you do), they should have gained insight into what to watch for and the means by which I arrived at my prediction. It's the journey, not the arrival, that matters most to me.

Almost forgot: Brad Wochomurka interviewed me for a BP Radio hit hit this morning. We did 10 minutes, mostly on the ALCS but also covering the Diamondbacks and Rockies in the NLCS.

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