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 05, 2007

 

Wang Goes Bang

Much to my chagrin, it looks as though I was right about one thing from my series preview of the Yankees and Indians: Chien-Ming Wang is not the same pitcher at home as on the road. Wang got the snot kicked out of him, allowing eight runs on nine hits and four walks in just 4.2 frames. The JV of Ross Ohlendorf, Jose Veras and Philip Hughes surrendered four more runs as the Yanks fell 12-3 in Game One of the Divisional Series.

One of my BP readers asked why a groundballer might show a substantial home-road split. Generally speaking, I tend to group the explanations into three categories:

ballpark dimensions: in addition to the fence distances, the amount of foul territory can be a factor because even groundballers tend to get infield popups now and then. Here Jacobs Field is clearly less favorable, with smaller foul territory than Yankee Stadium. Ballparks.com classifies Jacobs Field's territory as "small," and Yankee Stadium as "large."

As for fence distances, as we saw last night, they do matter when a pitcher, groundballer or no, leaves one up in the zone. Jacobs (327-370-405-375-325) is longer down the lines than Yankee Stadium (318-399-408-385-314) but a hair shorter to centerfield and considerably shorter in the power alleys.

the physical field: as we saw in the Diamondbacks/Cubs game that followed the Yankee debacle, groundskeepers can tailor the field to benefit that day's pitcher or work to the opposing pitcher's disadvantage. Shots in that game showed the Arizona groundskeepers watering down the homeplate area even the umpires watched and ordered them to apply drying compound to help groundballer Doug Davis. The result slows down balls that hit the dirt in front of the plate.

Keeping the grass longer can help a groundballer as well. For an opposing groundballer, a crew might dry out the home plate area and cut the grass shorter to help balls get to the infielders quicker. We don't know what steps if any the Cleveland groundscrew may have taken yesterday -- and it didn't matter much given that he got more air outs (5) than groundouts (4) -- but had Wang been matched up against Cleveland sinkerballer Fausto Carmona (who pitches tonight) the Yanks might have at least gotten "field parity," as the conditions would have been the same for two similar pitchers. Additionally, the mound can be an issue. Ask any pitcher and he'll tell you certain mounds are more favorable than others in terms of comfort level.

the mental aspect: there's nothing like sleeping in one's own bed; hotels simply aren't as comfortable, and living out of a suitcase is a pain in the ass. Pitchers are creatures of habit and for some, the routine of coming from home to the ballpark is very proscribed, and any variation from that routine can mess with their heads.

Now, I don't have any actual insight into Wang's tastes in fields and mounds or whether he's a particularly poor traveler. I'm just saying that given three straight years of sizable home/road splits, we can't discount the fact that he may be more comfortable in Yankee Stadium than elsewhere. My nickel is on the ballpark and field issues based on a look at his actual splits, his projected ERAs from those splits using the Fielding Independent Pitching formula [(13*HR + 3*BB - 2*K)/IP + 3.20], and his Batting Average on Balls in Play:
Home    IP   ERA    BABIP    FIP    dif
2005 66.0 3.55 .260 4.20 -0.65
2006 118.7 3.03 .267 3.79 -0.76
2007 111.3 2.75 .262 3.63 -0.88
TOT 296.0 3.04 .264 3.82 -0.78

Road IP ERA BABIP FIP dif
2005 50.3 4.65 .276 4.25 0.40
2006 99.3 4.35 .322 4.11 0.24
2007 88.0 4.91 .336 3.63 1.28
TOT 237.7 4.62 .318 3.96 0.66
Based on his peripherals which you can see at Baseball-Reference.com, Wang's performance at home and on the road yields very similar ERA projections. But his BABIPs at home have been consistently lower than league average (generally around .300) at home and higher on the road, to the tune of a .054 spread over the course of his career. This could be random, but it could also be an effect of the way the playing fields are treated on days he pitches. It's a subject for further inquiry.

One way or another, Wang had his ass handed to him last night, and there's at least some consideration being given to the possibility of the Yanks bringing him back on short rest in Game Four in New York, with Andy Pettitte pitching on normal rest in Cleveland for Game Five:
After pitching poorly Thursday, Wang said he wanted to start the fourth game on short rest. Ron Guidry, the pitching coach, said Wang could benefit from starting at Yankee Stadium, where he was 10-4 with a 2.75 earned run average. He was 9-3 with a 4.91 E.R.A. on the road.

“Maybe the next time will be different,” Guidry said. “There’s always that next time. He knows, if we bring him back in Game 4, he pitches at home, too. He pitches well at home. Maybe that’ll help him out.”
The other interesting aspect of last night was Cleveland manager Eric Wedge's decision to use his three best relievers for four innings to protect a six- to nine-run lead with a game the following night. Here's what Joe Sheehan had to say:
Up 9-3 in the sixth, with Aaron Fultz having warmed up in the fifth, Wedge instead went to Rafael Perez, one of his two best relievers. He would proceed to use Perez, Jensen Lewis, and Rafael Betancourt—his three best relievers—for 31, eight and 22 pitches, respectively, protecting leads of six, eight, and finally nine runs. It was a desperate display, and a waste of the pitchers involved. With a game the next night, why use your most valuable pitchers protecting a lead that your worst ones probably couldn’t blow? Wedge brought Rafael Betancourt in to protect a nine-run lead in the ninth; Yuniesky Betancourt wouldn’t be able to blow that lead. It was overmanaging, and if in the interests of getting his guys work, a waste of their energy. If there is even a one percent chance that the 53 pitches Perez and Betancourt wasted last night might affect what they can give Wedge tonight, then it wasn’t worth using them. When, exactly, do Fultz and Tom Mastny pitch, if not last night?
Good question. The Yankees better hope it has an effect, because they're already behind the eightball.

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