Nine Up, Nine Down: Confidence

I’m back! Thanks to everyone who filled in, great job. Not as many no-shows as I had feared (just one other than Sam! Sam had computer trouble, so the column he made will be saved for a rainy day), your help was appreciated. Now back to your regular programming with a little Nine Up, Nine Down…
For starting pitching, the Red Sox rank 19th out of the 30 teams in terms of starting pitching (cumulative), with a 4.61 ERA. Relieving, Boston has “improved” to 27th with a 5.18 ERA. That team ERA pre-All Star Break was 4.84, good for 25th. Since the All-Star break, Boston has thankfully declined that team ERA to 4.51, to 20th out of 30 teams. Even though the pitching has improved, color me unimpressed by our starting pitching. The Cardinals’ offense being grossly overrated notwithstanding, this team reminds me of the Cardinals of 2004. The Cardinals had a good offense (not a great one, like we do) but one thing in common is that both teams were known for the offense and were just fine on defense. Like the 2004 Cardinals, the 2005 Red Sox lacked a true dominant pitcher. The 2004 Cardinals I suppose had Chris Carpenter, but he wasn’t truly dominant last year and he got hurt. Ours, Schilling, is closing games for us. We have consistent starting pitching, but consistent average starting pitching. On the flip side, the Cardinals now have what we had last year – a lights out starter (Carpenter) and a former star who still has that brilliance hovering around (Mulder) plus a more than able corps of pitching. We don’t have what we had last year, and the Cardinals now have it.
David Wells is probably our ace right now. He is 9-5 with a 4.45 ERA. However, while we’d love to see him be dominant the entire year, playoffs are not dictated by how well someone pitched in April, May, or even June for that matter. Since July 1st, Wells is 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA. That’s more than acceptable, but there’s always that danger of him slipping back. He’s been putting the numbers up, but does he inspire confidence? No. [numbers do not include last night’s start against Minnesota – he pitched quite well.] Matt Clement is 11-3 with a 4.67 ERA. After July 1, Clement is 2-2 with a sexy 9.20 ERA. Let’s leave it at that. (Side note: It was courageous of him to come back as soon as he did, but let’s leave it there. It’s not an excuse for his poor pitching, mainly because he had already been pitching poorly. If he had a 2.30 cumulative ERA, then that poor pitching could be chalked up to jitters at returning after that head shot – but it wasn’t jitters. It was ineffectiveness.) At what point do we just say that his second half woes are there to stay? It’s not like he’s 26 and has a chance to work it through, he’s on the wrong side of 30. I’m not saying he can’t work it through, but I am saying he doesn’t inspire confidence.
Tim Wakefield has been the most consistent out of all the starters, I think, and checks in at 10-9 with a 4.23 ERA. But since July 1… he’s 3-3 with a 4.91 ERA, which means he’s hit a rough patch. We all know how Wakefield and his knuckler are on, off, on, off over and over but the main thing here is that we can’t DEPEND on it, and we can’t be confident of what we can’t depend on.
I don’t know why, but the 2005 Fire Brand of the American League, Bronson Arroyo, has been infuriating me lately. His start the other day was marred by injury and he’s actually surprisingly consistent overall (9-7, 4.24 cumulative, 3-3 4.30 since July 1) but I just can’t lock in with this guy. He’s great, I love him, but when he takes the mound, I just don’t feel confident in him. I can expect a decent start, but I can’t sit back and say “Hey, it’s Arroyo. Nothing to worry about.” He’s probably the starter I have the least confidence in which is surprising given that statistically, he’s so far the most consistent. It is what it is, though, and I’ll bet quite a few people agree with me. They (and I) like to see Arroyo out there on the mound, but you’re fooling yourself if you’re confident in him.
Wade Miller has earned respect from his teammates and Rotoworld.com theorizes he could have a big year next year. But what about this year? This year he is 4-4 with a 4.78 ERA (talk about keeping your team in the game, but not the other team out of it). Since July 1? He’s 2-2 with a 4.11 ERA, so he’s improved, thankfully. Still, he sure as hell doesn’t inspire confidence, does he now?
Confidence. It’s a funny thing, and it’s where we rally around. We keep talking about having confidence in our offense. Great, offense wins games. And it should, because that’s how you score runs. But I’ve long been of the belief that just like the regular season being a marathon and the playoffs a sprint, offense is best used in the marathon, and pitching is where the spring makes its home. We have average starting pitching. Now, what if Wells consistently stays this good and Curt Schilling comes back into the rotation with a vengeance, and Foulke becomes the closer he can be? If, if, if. Bottom line? It’s all ifs, and right now where we stand, I’m not liking our chances in the postseason if we make it.
One thing I am inspired by however, is Tony Graffanino, who has rescued me from the Bellhorn doldrums. Bellhorn on the year was hitting .216/.328/.360 with a .985 FPCT, 5.07 RF, and .817 ZR. Graffanino on the year is at .300/.373/.386 (a better average, which directly leads to a better OBP – Bellhorn’s Isolated OBP Differential is much better, but that’s moot here) and a better SLG! He’s hitting .310/.356/.357 since joining the Red Sox and checks in at .993 FPCT, 4.83 RF, .846 ZR. He gets to the balls in his zone better, fields them better, but doesn’t have as much range. Overall, I’d say its a push, so Graffanino is a massive upgrade over Bellhorn, who, lest we forget, struck out 109 times in 283 AB! 100+ is terrible over a full season, this guy had almost three months worth. He’d have struck out over 200 times! Cora has hit .243/.237/.324 since coming to the Red Sox, and he and Graffanino put a nice little tandem at second and there are whispers that the Red Sox might even release Bellhorn. I’m all for it, but I’d keep Bellhorn in Pawtucket for the full 30 days you are allowed to, then since that’d bring us close to September, I’d DL someone (most likely Cora) and get Bellhorn on the active roster so both Cora and Bellhorn would be available for the postseason roster – just for flexibility. The second Cora can come off, you activate him and bury Bellhorn until we clinch a postseason spot (looking like we will) then you play Bellhorn the rest of the way to try to get him into a groove. Either way, Graffanino has been a nice breath of fresh air.
Craig Hansen, one of the Red Sox’s first round picks, finally signed with Boston earlier. So far, he’s thrown just one inning for the GCL Red Sox, and struck out two. He’ll be in AA Portland in a matter of weeks, and could provide a shot in the arm down the stretch. No need to baby this guy or worry about option years – he signed a major league contract. While on the topic of minor leagues, Jon Papelbon had a pretty good start for the Red Sox. He got burned on the walks, pushing his pitch count higher. He needs to control and break off his secondary pitches better, but he’ll be a good one. Manny Delcarmen, while having been used sporadically, should come along as well and eventually be a force in a couple of years. I doubt he’ll make the postseason roster though, unless he starts pitching a heck of a lot more.