ALDS Preview (Boston Red Sox)

Paul Hoynes is an idiot. I admire his work ethic, but he is simply a moron. When I met him in 1985, it was entirely acceptable to dismiss the ideas Bill James was publishing.

I thought it was stupid, mind you. I’d bought the 1983 Baseball Abstract, spent dozens of hours checking all his math (a lot of work in the era before even the Apple II) and convinced myself. But a lot of what he was saying was just common sense.

Pitching is 90% of the game? Then why doesn’t the team with the lowest team ERA win 90% of the time? In fact, the team that scores the most runs wins just as often– and it is usually the team who is best in both scoring and preventing runs who wins.

At was also fairly obvious that at least some of what we called “pitching” was actually good fielding. Also, the dimensions of the park and playing condition mattered. The wind whistled off Lake Erie in the old stadium into right field, which made it almost impossible for a lefthanded hitter to hit homers.

“A good hitter can hit anywhere,” Hoynes scoffed.

It was also obvious that a pitcher couldn’t win a game unless a team scored at least some runs for him– that wins and losses were heavily influenced by the hitters. That the bullpen could lose a game– or cost a pitcher a win. And that individual batter-pitcher matchups mattered.

Hoynes rejected it all. He’s a formed football writer who simply isn’t that bright. The last thing he wanted to do was question all of the folktales people had been repeating for decades. So he just pretended that none of them are true.

And he still is. Pitching is 90% of the game, and When Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, that was 50% of the Indians starting pitching. So they can’t win. Here he is bragging about his stupidity.

Here’s the reality about playoff baseball:

1. In a short series, you don’t need more than two good starting pitchers. In a seven game series, nobody uses five starters. Due to travel days, you often won’t even need four. If your three best starters get to start games one, two and three on normal rest– meaning you don’t have to start the #3 and #4 guys first because your ace and the #2 guy are gassed– three is all you need.

In a five-game series, you might not even need three. The games are on the 6th, 7th, 9th, 10th and 12th, so it lays up like this:

  • The guy who starts on October 6 has to pitch on three days rest on October 10.
  • The guy who starts on the 7th can certainly start on the 12th– that’s normal rest.

If those guys both go 1-1, all you need is your third-best starter to win on the ninth.

I don’t know whether Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer ought to be the guy on short rest. As you’ll see if you click the links, both guys have pitched onlly once in their careers on three days.

Most people would pick Kluber, because he’s 6’4″ and 215, and Bauer is 6’1″ and 190, and they feel more comfortable with the big stud. Also Kluber is the Cy Young Award winner and Bauer is an intellectual who experiments with theories. I know Hoynes must hate him– believing that he shouldn’t think, and should just listen to the coaches.

Who, for most of Paul Hoynes’s career covering the Indians, have been idiots. But never mind that.

In reality, the guys who pitch best on short rest are often the ones who struggle with control because they overthrow. Bauer might be the right choice, but we don’t know.

The wrong choice, I am pretty sure, is choosing Josh Tomlin over Mike Clevinger on the 9th. Tomlin is a journeyman with a glass arm, who had four decent months before the strain of pitching every five days caught up to him (or the clock struck 12). He had an 11.48 ERA in August– but then a 1.69 ERA in September.

In August, Clevinger had an ERA of 3.26, in two starts and five relief appearances. He had an ERA of 3.07 in his first four starts in September– then got hit hard by Detroit (2 innings, 7 hits, 5 runs) to blow his month up.

Clevinger is a rookie; he has never faced Boston. Tomlin is 31, but he’s never pitched in the post-season. And in 7 appearances against Boston (6 starts) he’s 2-3 with a 5.49 ERA– 43 hits, 11 walks and 7 homers in 41 innings.

The one thing in Tomlin’s favor is that he did pitch pretty well against Boston on August 15th. In 7.2 innings, he allowed 7 hits , no walks, three strikeouts– but two homers.

I’d take the shot with Clevinger. I think I know what Tomlin would do. And, for the record:

  • Carrasco, in five career games (three starts) is 1-1 with a 4.66 ERA (27 hits, 5 walks, 3 homers and 17 strikeouts) in 19 innings against Boston.
  • Salazar is 2-1 with a 3.24 ERA in three career starts (16 hits, 5 walks, 2 homers and 17 strikeouts) and 16.2 innings.

So even if you had either pitcher, you would expect Boston to get a baserunner per inning (or more) and take the guy deep. You’re probably not gaining that much.

Now watch Tomlin give up 6 runs in three innings, and Clevinger get belted in relief.

But if you’re Paul Hoynes, you feel more comfortable with them, because they throw fastballs and Bauer experiments with pitches.

2 Short-sequence offenses win games. A short sequence offense is built around power. “The leadoff hitter singles, the next guy gets a walk, the next guy hits a liner for at least two runs. And if he hit the ball off the fence (not over it), the next guy singles him in.” Three runs, on three hits and a walk– four batters. Maybe five if there’s a strikeout or a pop fly in here.

A long sequence offense is “The leadoff hitter walks and the next guy singles. The lead runner goes to third on a force at second, scores on a sac fly, the next guy walks to put two men on base, then the next two hitters single.” Those three runs took three hits, two walks and sever hitters.

Good pitchers and good defenses don’t let opponents have innings that long. They’ll turn that force into a GDP and the sac fly ends the inning, No runs, one hit and one walk..

It’s not just that Boston scored more runs (878) than the Indians (777). It’s that Boston led in:

  • Singles (109 more)
  • Doubles (35 more)
  • Homers (23 more)
  • Walks (25 more)

The Indians led in:

  • Triples (4 more)
  • Hit By Pitches (6 more)
  • Strikeouts (86 more)
  • Stolen Bases (51 more)
  • Caught Stealing (7 more)
  • Sacrifice Bunts (23 more)
  • Sacrifice Flies (20 more)

Except for triples and HBPs, all those things are liabilities in the playoffs. Playoff teams usually defend bunts and steal attempts better. They throw balls in better and hit the cutoff men, so teams can’t take the extra base or advance on flies.

There are exceptions (fielding was always an eyesore for the Tigers and A’s, which was a reason they underachieved), but Boston isn’t one of them. Bill James works for the Red Sox; they know what works in the playoffs.

Hoynes doesn’t think offense matters. Or, more precisely, he thinks every failure to score is due to pitching. But I would favor Boston whether or not the Indians had Salazar and Carrasco– hell, even if they had Bob Feller and Cy Young.

Boston has a better offense– one more suited to the playoffs.

3. Boston has better intangibles. Assuming that the talent is roughly equal (as it is here) and that both players are in the prime of their careers (they are), the , the team with more playoff experience usually wins.

Experience isn’t a substitute for ability. You don’t get a bump from playing 33-year-old Michael Bourn (or 36 year old Coco Crisp) in the post-season. Having better players is what wins.

But, yes, if Bobby Cox and the Atlanta Braves are making their 13th straight trip to the World Series and the Indians are making their first post-season trip in 40 years, the players new to the post-season will probably be more jittery– and make unforced errors.

That said, let me make something clear. The Red Sox won the World series in 2013, but almost none of the players on that team are still around. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are the only hitters with significant playing returning; Clay Buchholtz the only pitcher.

Yes, if you check the team page on Baseball Reference, Xander Boggaerts (50 plate appearances) and Jackie Bradley (107) are there. I don’t see that as a huge edge.

Prediction: Rather than try to pull a number out of my butt, I prefer to project game outcomes:

  • Game One: Bauer obviously could have a great game, but it’s a 50-50 proposition. Rick Porcello has always pitched well against Cleveland but it’s because they swing at pitches that aren’t strikes. In 129 career innings, he has 85 strikeouts and only 33 walks. If they don’t wait him out, they lose.
  • Game Two: I think Kluber will pitch well, assuming the injury isn’t serious. The Indians have always struggled against David Price, so I don’t expect them to start hitting now.
  • Game Three: Tomlin will get knocked out fast, and the Indians will have to cycle through their bullpen. They’ll hit Buchholtz–the question is whether it will be enough.

I think the series probably ends at this point. They’re not going to hit and they will be nervous. And Tomlin is like giving Boston a game. But if things go on, I expect the Indians to win it. One of the great things about Boston– even after three championships in 13 seasons, everyone still assumes they’re always going to blow it:

  • Game Four: The Indians will be facing 23-year-old Eduardo Rodriguez– with everyone screaming to brink Porcello back on short rest. I’d expect him to be high as a kite, and he’s the kind of pitcher the Indians will hit. I figure Bauer won’t have two bad starts.
  • Game Five: If the Indians get into game five, all the Chowderheads will be panicking– especially because Terry Francona, the guy who brought back the Sox in both 2004 (against the Yankees) and 2007 (against Cleveland) is on the other side.

By game five, any jitters the Indians are likely to have will be gone. So I’d give them a chance to play well. Plus Porcello is 0-2 with a 4.41 ERA in the playoffs, so everyone will be screaming to use Price instead. (Which manager John Farrell might even do.)

I wouldn’t bet that the Indians will win this, but if someone gives you odds (4-1 or ever 5-1) take it.  But the smart money would be Boston in three

And that would be pretty close to my prediction– maybe the Red Sox in four– even if both Carrasco and Salazar were healthy.

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