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, October 24, 2007

 

Root for the Rox, Bet on the Sox

As I did on Opening Day, I awoke at virtually the crack of dawn this morning and did a handful of drive-time radio hits across the country, previewing the World Series for Fox News Radio. Starting at 7:10 AM, without benefit of coffee or an alarm besides the phone (some idiot who shall remain nameless forgot to tell my wife about my schedule), I hit WREC (Memphis, TN), WJCW (Tri Cities, TN), KFAB (Omaha, NE), WPIN (Blacksburg, VA), WHJJ (Providence, RI), WERC (Birmingham, AL), and KCOL (Fort Collins, CO). No, they're not all New York City, but a couple of those hits are close to the cities of the two Series participants, and it's always fun to spread the Baseball Prospectus gospel and the Futility Infielder name to new and occasionally out-of-the-way places.

Which isn't to say that I'm overwhelmingly bowled over by the prospect of this World Series, as I'm not exactly prone to rooting for either team. I was greatly disappointed that the Red Sox came back from a 3-1 deficit in the League Championship Series to defeat the Indians, but I was hardly surprised. Since the 2004 ALCS, I refuse to believe the Red Sox are dead until I see somebody picking the splinters out of their fingers after hammering a wooden stake into their collective heart. The Indians had their chances to apply the coup de grâce to Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka, but they failed to deliver, then lost the late-inning battles in a big way. The Tribe's bullpen was charged with 16 runs allowed over their final three games and 11 innings, helping to create the widest average margin of victory in a seven-game series at 6.28 runs. The Sox, in winning despite not starting Josh Beckett in Game Four, undid my prediction for the series because of those bullpen failures, but also because the real C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona -- to say nothing of Travis Hafner -- never showed. Requiescat in pace.

The Sox are overwhelming favorites to win this series as well, and when pressed for a prediction, I've called it in six games on all of my radio hits. But I do believe the Rockies have a shot thanks to the vulnerability of Boston's rotation. Game One starter Josh Beckett remains the modern-day answer to Bob Gibson, but Game Two starter Curt Schilling will be going on four days' rest, something he's done only once since returning from his seven-week stay on the DL; manager Terry Francona has done everything but volunteer to take the ball himself in order to get the Big Schill an extra day of rest. Game Three starter Daisuke Matsuzaka hasn't gone longer than five innings in his three postseason starts after a brutal final six weeks of the regular season. With Tim Wakefield left off the roster due to shoulder trouble, Jon Lester is the potential Game Four starter. As an extreme flyballer, he isn't best suited to Coors Field, where fly balls tend to wind up littering Pike's Peak.

Additionally, the Sox are faced with sitting David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, or Mike Lowell in the games at Colorado due to the loss of the DH. Ortiz can play first base (he had seven games there this year) but may sit against lefty Jeff Francis in Game Five, and if he's in, Youkilis is out unless he plays third, where he saw only 13 games worth of action. Given how top-heavy the Sox lineup has been this year, losing one of those guys is a blow both offensively and defensively (Youkilis > Ortiz, Lowell > Youkilis), though Francona's overdue decision to start Jacoby Ellsbury over Coco Crisp in centerfield has reduced the number of offensive sinkholes by one.

As for the Rockies, they've got vulnerabilities in their rotation as well. Game One starter Jeff Francis, the staff ace, is good but is no Beckett. Rookie Ubaldo Jimenez is prone to walking hitters (3.86 unintentional walks per nine, including the postseason). So mediocre is Game Three starter Josh Fogg that he's never posted an ERA better than the park-adjusted league average; his career ERA+ is 91, nine percent worse than the league. Game Four starter Aaron Cook has been sidelined by an oblique strain since August 10; starting him at the expense of rookie Franklin Morales is a huge gamble, and while one can point to Cook's ability to keep the ball on the ground as a reason to pitch him at Coors, Nate Silver points out, he's not a particularly good matchup for this lineup. Morales lasted only seven innings in his two starts, though he came into the postseason as hot as any Rox pitcher. As another lefty, he too may have forced Ortiz to the bench, which is a chance worth taking.

Beyond that, I don't have a ton to add at this point. Nate did an excellent job previewing the series at BP; it's free. He makes a couple of salient points worth remembering:

• Though the Rox have won 21 out of 22 and become one of the great Cinderella stories of all time, being an especially hot or cold team coming in to the World Series has no predictive value in and of itself.

• The 2007 Sox are the best Secret Sauce team since Division Play began. The Secret Sauce, as created for Baseball Between the Numbers is the combined ranking of each team in the only three categories found to be statistically significant in systematically predicting the outcome of a series: the quality of the team defense as measured by Fielding Runs Above Average, the power-pitching orientation of the staff as measured by Equivalent Strikeouts per nine innings, and the quality of the closer, as measured by WXRL ranking.

One more not-so-predictive tidbit to add, courtesy of USA Today. With the Rockies coming off an eight-day break in the action, it's worth noting that last year's Tigers to the contrary, seven of the last 10 teams to enter the series on five or more days of rest have won. Be that as it may, I'm sticking with my prediction of the Sox in six, but I'll be pulling for the purple gang from Colorado to provide an upset for the ages.

Oh, and I'll add another prediction or two to the pile: Don Mattingly in as Yankee manager as of Friday. Back on that score later this week.

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