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I Got the Modern Sounds of Modern Massachusetts: Next Series Pitchers Preview: Boston Red Sox

After finishing the homestand on a high note with a four-game sweep of the White Sox, the Jays head into Boston 19-21 May for a three-game set up 3.5 games (though just two in the loss-column) on the second-place Red Sox.  After dropping two of three to the Yankees last week, this should be a chance for the Jays to prove that they can play with other teams in the competitive AL East.  It won't be easy as the Red Sox offense enters this series averaging almost 5.5 runs per game and won't have to face Doc, but that should just further prove the detractors wrong.

Tonight, the Jays send Brian Tallet to the hill and the Sawwwwwks counter with Tim Wakefield.  The Jays send another lefty out tomorrow night when Brett Cecil takes on Brad Penny and the series closes on Thursday when Robert Ray gets the start for the Jays and Jonathan Lester pitches for the BoSox.

It would be nice to see Doc get the chance to dominate these buffoons, but it will be even sweeter if they get dominated by three pitchers 75% of their fans have likely never heard of and the other 25% of whom have been saying are overrated.


19 May

Tim Wakefield (4-2, 4.03, 1.321 WHIP)

Unfortunately, the Jays always seem to have trouble hitting junkballers and, as a knuckleballer, Tim Wakefield is the ultimate junk-baller.  In his three starts against the Jays last season, Wakefield pitched 21 innings and yielded just six runs, despite striking out just eight and walking seven.  Knuckleballers generally pitch to a lower-than-average BABIP (Wakefield's career is .273), but not that much lower.

Anyway, so far this season, Tim Wakefield is doing what Tim Wakefield does, though he's been a little wilder than in previous years.  He's pitched 44 2/3 innings over seven starts and struck out 27 (5.3 K/9) while walking 21 (4.1 BB/9) and hitting 8 eight batters (1.6 HBP/9).  He strung together three very good starts in a row (23 IP, 3 R, 17 K, 7 BB), but has run into a bit of a rough spell in his last three (15 2/3 IP, 14 R, 10 K, 9 BB).  It ought to be mentioned that he completed two of the starts in his good run earlier this season, though one of those was the absurd "rain-shortened" first game of the doubleheader on 22 April.  For those who don't remember, the umpires called the game at 10-1 due to reports that bad weather was on its way so that they could get the second game in.

So far this season Wakefield has PQSed 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3 and 0 for a mean of 2.85 and Dominance- and Disaster-Rates of 57% and 14%.  Let's hope the Jays can bring that Disaster-Rate up to 25% tomorrow night.

Knuckleballers generally do not benefit much from having the advantage in platoon situations and Wakefield is not very different.  Over his career, Wakefield has actually had  less success against righties (.255 / .330 / .430; 2.06 K/BB) than lefties (.248 / .324 / .394; 1.50 K/BB), but there is not a very large difference between the two.  Many switch-hitters will bat from whichever side they feel more comfortable against Wakefield, whether it is right-handed or left-handed, regardless of his traditional platoon split.

As everyone knows, Wakefield's stuff is basically knuckleball, slow fastball (mid-high 70's) and sweeping curve.  If his knuckleball is dancing, he will get a lot of grounders and infield pop-ups early in counts, but if it is not, hitters will sometimes wait until they can get ahead in the count and sit fastball.  He uses the curve as sort of a change-up and it comes in even slower than his knuckleball.  If his knuckleball is not moving much, the Jays should be able to hit him well, but if it is it could be a long night for our offense.


20 May

Brad Penny (3-1, 6.69, 1.679 WHIP)

As recently as 2007, Brad Penny placed third in National League Cy Young Award voting, in large part to an unsustainably-low (even in cavernous Dodger Stadium) 4.7% HR/Flyball ratio despite otherwise underwhelming peripherals (6.1 K/9, 3.3 BB/9).  He unsuccessfully tried to pitch through shoulder tendinitis in 2008 and ended up pitching badly for the first half of the season and on the Disabled List for the second half.  Through his first seven starts in 2009, Penny picked up where he left off the first half of 2008, striking out 20 (4.6 K/9) and walking 16 (3.7 BB/9) over 36 1/3 innings.  He's had one very good start (6 IP, 8 K, 2 BB), two very lousy starts (combined 5 2/3 IP, 2 K, 8 BB) and a few mediocre ones (24 2/3 IP, 10 K, 6 BB).

His PQS log reads 2, 0, 4, 0, 5, 2 and 4, for a PQS mean of 2.4 and 43% Dominance- and 29% Disaster-Rates of 29% each.  Obviously, unless he starts pitching better, he can't be considered a viable option in the rotation for a team like the Red Sox.

Penny's platoon splits are pretty interesting.  Over his career, righties (.270 / .319 / .430; 2.79 K/BB) have had a much more difficult time reaching against him, but when they've hit him, they've hit him much harder than lefties (.263 / .336 / .393; 1.71 K/BB).  This was particularly true in his terrible season last year, but has generally been the case throughout his career.

Penny usually throws a four-seamer in the low-90's but also works a splitter in a while, generally when he has two strikes and runners are on.  He's relied more heavily on his 12-6 curve this season than in the past, using it as his change-up as well as his breaking ball.  I've always liked Brad Penny, so I was kind of disappointed to see him sign with the Red Sox this offseason, it's always kind of strange to be stuck rooting for a guy when you're rooting against his team.


21 May

Jonathan Lester (2-4, 6.51, 1.617 WHIP)

Lester's been sort of the opposite of Tim Wakefield so far in 2009, putting up excellent peripherals (54 K and 16 BB in 47 IP), but seeing bad results in both his record and ERA, due to an inability to keep the ball in the park (1.85 HR/9 with an AL-leading 10 HR surrendered).  As I just mentioned, aside from the gopher ball, Lester has been building on his breakout 2008 campaign, in striking out three batters more per nine, while his walk-rate has not increased.  As his HR/fly (21%) and BABIP (.385) come down, Lester's ERA will as well, though it is unlikely that he will be able to keep his strikeout-rate around 10 K/9, even with his marked increase in swinging strikes.

Lester's platoon splits are more normal than Wakefield's or Penny's.  Throughout his career, lefthanded batters (.259 / .311 / .420; 3.10 K/BB) have had difficulty getting on against Lester, particularly this season (.322 / .339 / .644; 9.00 K/BB), but when they've hit him this year, they've hit him very hard (5 HR in just 62 plate appearances).  In 2008, lefties still hit for decent power (.185 IsoP), but they were lucky just to get to first (571 OPS against, thanks in part to a .265 BABIP).  He's never been incredibly effective against righties (career .275 / .353 / .403; 1.78 K/BB), but his cutter has done a decent job keeping them at bay.

Lester relies heavily on his slider and his curveball, which falls off the table, against lefties, but he can get his four-seamer into the mid-90's so that is not a bad pitch either.  He also mixes a straight change in, but does so sparingly, because he frequently uses his cutters to get in on the hands of righties.