This is it. 8.5 games behind, 3 games against the division leader over the weekend, and the best chance to climb back into the race in the balance. Fortunately, the pitching matchups are highly favorable.
Schilling should beat Lieber. Arroyo, who is significantly better than his 3-7 would indicate, ought to beat the journeyman Sturtze. Note the insane 55:41 run:earned run ratio that Arroyo labors under. Go, Red Sox defense! Lowe vs. Contreras… well, that’ll be entertaining. I’m predicting an 8-7 game. In the third inning.
Mind you, Derek Lowe has an 87:66 run:earned run ratio. Yeesh. OK, I fired up the spreadsheet; read the extended cut for the bottom 15 R:ER ratios for pitchers who’ve gone over 20 innings. Hint: Red Sox pitchers are well represented, particularly if you filter for larger sample sizes. As much as Lowe was helped by great run production last year, he’s been hurt by lousy defense this year. The real Lowe underneath all the effects of the players around him is still not that good, though.
Anyhow, the point of all this before I got distracted by the lousy Red Sox defense was that I would like to believe that this is the point at which I stop expecting the Sox to do anything this year. That’ll fall by the wayside if they make it to the playoffs, but I’d like to believe it right now. If they don’t sweep the Yankees this weekend — and they need to sweep — then I think they should trade Nomar for prospects; they should sluff Lowe off; and they should think long and hard about Varitek: if they aren’t gonna win this year, and he wants a long-term contract, and they expect Shoppach to be ready the year after next, then they should trade Varitek and rent someone passable for next year to hold down the fort until Shoppach is ready. I wouldn’t feel that way if Varitek was represented by anyone but Scott Boras, but he is and I do.
(Dig those extended sentences? I can reel ‘em off all week.)
This obsession with always contending gets in the way of building a perennial contender; it may at this juncture be necessary to take a step back. There are a huge number of teams who still think they have a chance and there are not a lot of great players on the market. If the Sox’ chances are poor this year, and they are, and if they can improve their chances in future years at the cost of whatever remaining chance they have this year… they should make trades. Screw the fellowship of the miserable.
Run/Earned Run Ratios: Bottom 15 Pitchers Over 20 Innings Pitched
There’s something to the idea that the Red Sox have a poor defense this year. From the baseball prospectus stats (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/statistics/def_eff2004.html):
Boston has allowed 48 men to reach on errors. Only 3 teams (Arizona, Atlanta, and the Mets) are worse in this category. That leads to a lot of unearned runs.
Their defensive efficiency (the rate at which balls in play are converted into outs) is also not stellar at 0.6862. 8 teams are behind them, which puts them at 21st out of 30.
So, they’re really bad at giving teams free outs, and well below average on making outs when the opponent makes contact. This is bad on pitchers, particularly ones who don’t strike out a lot of people.
And boy, the Dodgers are _substantially_ ahead of the pack on both of these. 17 runners reached on errors – next closest is 25. 0.7183 Defensive Efficiency, next closest is 0.7130 and only two other teams are above 0.703. That’s a lot of why they’re in contention – I might have to make them my sleeper choice for World Series this year.
I charted strikeouts vs. R/ER for the Red Sox starters, and there was indeed a correlation — Pedro and Schilling aren’t suffering from the defensive errors as much as Wakefield, Lowe, and Arroyo.
But then I did the same chart for a wider range of pitchers and it all fell apart. I’ll play with it more this weekend; I may need to adjust for defensive efficiency.