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, August 29, 2008


Masterson of My Domain

One of the saving graces of writing about baseball from an analytical perspective is that something that might rip your heart out as a fan -- say, the brazen stupidity of Dodger GM Ned Colletti or the failure of Alex Rodriguez in the clutch, with the Yankees' season more or less on the line -- can provide plenty of fodder to write about, and even make you look kind of smart once in awhile.

So it was with A-Rod's at bat on Tuesday night against the Red Sox. To refresh the memory you've spent all week trying to shake, the Sox led 7-3 in the seventh inning with one out, the bases loaded and Rodriguez at the plate when Boston manager Terry Francona summoned rookie reliever Justin Masterson in place of the shaky Manny Delarmen. Two pitches later, the Sox were out of the inning courtesy of a 6-3 double play while the boo birds rained down on A-Rod, and two innings later the Yankees' dreams of a much-needed sweep had turned to dust. A week earlier, I had noted that Masterson was being grossly underutilized in Boston's bullpen, but starting the day after that piece ran, he made three higher-leverage relief appearances and was successful in each. I'm not suggesting there was any causality, but I'll accept a smiley face and a check-plus-plus for good timing.

On Thursday, I revisited Masterson's evolution in a grab-bag piece over at BP, also incorporating a bit on Clay Buchholz which was prepared for my now-weekly radio hit on Boston's WWZN (Wednesdays, 8:05 AM on 1510 WWZN, which you can stream here if you're not within range and also crazy enough to care about baseball at that ungodly hour), plus answers to Hit List-related queries on the Twins' overperformance and a dis of a pair of Giants prospects (the latter with a hearty nod to Josh Wilker). Here's the bit on Buchholz:
In preparation for my now-weekly radio spot on "The Young Guns Show" on Boston's WWZN, host Chris Villani asked me to research some precedents for young pitchers who struggled in their first extended taste of the big leagues but turned it around the following year, citing John Danks and Fausto Carmona as recent examples. With the help of BP researcher Bil Burke, I dug up a list of pitchers who met the following criteria:
  • Their first year of over 50 innings pitched—their rookie season, technically—came when they were 24 or younger.
  • They posted an ERA of 5.00 or above in that year.
  • They shaved at least 1.5 runs off that ERA the next year and produced at worst a 4.50 ERA while throwing at least 150 innings.
The criteria are admittedly tailored to include the aforementioned names that sprung to mind, and the cutoffs aren't park- or league-adjusted, but the results should suffice for Sox fans looking for a glint of optimism regarding their golden boy's ultimate fate:
Pitcher        Age  Year1   IP    ERA    Year2   IP    ERA
Jim Kaat 21 1960 50.0 5.58 1961 200.2 3.90
Bill Greif 22 1972 125.1 5.60 1973 199.1 3.21
John Smiley 22 1987 75.0 5.76 1988 205.0 3.56
Greg Maddux 21 1987 155.2 5.61 1988 249.0 3.51
John Smoltz 21 1988 64.0 5.63 1989 208.0 3.42
Tommy Greene 23 1990 51.1 5.44 1991 207.2 3.68
Steve Avery 20 1990 99.0 7.09 1991 210.1 3.81
Willie Banks 23 1992 71.0 5.83 1993 171.1 4.04
Bartolo Colon 24 1997 94.0 5.65 1998 204.0 3.71
Mac Suzuki 24 1999 110.0 6.79 2000 188.2 4.34
Wade Miller 23 2000 105.0 5.14 2001 212.0 3.40
Mark Mulder 22 2000 154.0 5.44 2001 229.1 3.45
Jeff Francis 24 2005 183.2 5.68 2006 199.0 4.16
Fausto Carmona 22 2006 74.2 5.42 2007 215.0 3.06
Mike Pelfrey* 23 2007 72.2 5.57 2008 163.0 3.70
John Danks* 22 2007 139.0 5.50 2008 156.2 3.10
*season in progress
Among this group are a slam-dunk Hall of Famer (Maddux), a should-be Hall of Famer (Smoltz), a near-Hall of Famer (Kaat), three Cy Young winners (Maddux, Smoltz, and Colon), a pair of pitchers who helped kick-start the Braves' dynasty (Smoltz and Avery), a trio of two-time All-Stars (Miller, Mulder, and Smiley), and a quartet of pitchers whose emergence over the last few years helped put their teams in contention (Francis, Carmona, Pelfrey, and Danks). There are also a few guys whose careers amounted to only one or two decent seasons, some of whose names seem prescriptive when it comes to the fates of young pitchers (Greene and Greif). What, you were expecting a list free of grief?
Meanwhile, this week's Hit List is up as well, and I get to distill my misery and frustration regarding the #10 Yankees and #15 Dodgers into bite-sized nuggets:
An Excess of Suck Does Not Equal Success: Carl Pavano crawls out of the woodwork to make his first start since April 9, 2007 and just his 20th in four years as a Yankee; that's $2 million per start. Unsurprisingly, neither his return nor a sweep of the Orioles are enough to save the Yankees' season, as they drop the first two games of a key series with the Red Sox. With closing time looming at the House That Ruth Built, the appalingly un-American behavior of the jackbooted thugs patrolling the stadium should illustrate to Hank Steinbrenner that the players on the field aren't what sucks the most about this franchise these days.

Faded Blue: The Dodgers slip below .500 and give up critical ground in the NL West race as they're swept by both the Phillies and the Nationals. They've now lost nine of ten while scoring a piddling 21 runs, but not for lack of opportunity. Their last five games have produced 54 runners left on base and just nine runs, four of them via homers. The toast of Tinseltown, Manny Ramirez, has just two extra base hits and one RBI in that span, which should have Joe Torre rethinking the wisdom of that haircut.
Sadly, I don't think either of my teams are going to be playing in October this year, though there's still room for hope regarding the Brewers. Good thing I married well.

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