Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Blowin’ in the Wind…

Posted by dannmckeegan on May 1, 2010

…or, why good pitchers who throw 88-92 beat bad pitchers who throw 88-92.

Try to keep the ball in the ballpark and commit to winning an 8-6 ballgame.

I’m paraphrasing retired pitcher Mike Bielecki, who joined Pat Hughes and Ron Santo in the radio booth during the bottom of the 6th before singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the 7th inning stretch of Friday’s game between the Cubs and Arizona.  Bielecki’s point was apropos of the playing conditions at Wrigley Field today.  In the midst of a 3-game slide, the Cubs did what they did for 70% of 2009 and plan to do for the near future: rely on their ace to put an end to the bleeding.

No, they didn’t make the saber community feel good about themselves and reverse course on Carlos Zambrano.  Ryan Dempster didn’t come back on one day’s rest.  Even the blue Flavor-Aid drinkers don’t think I mean Silva or Gorzelanny.  The real stopper, the bedrock of the staff, took the ball and channeled the conventional wisdom.  By 4:30pm, Randy Wells was in possession of his third win of the season, against no losses, in 5 starts.

The wind was blowing out much harder than it did Thursday, when Arizona hit four of the game’s five home runs in a 13-5 rout of the Ted Lilly-led Cubs.  Today, the cool before the storm lasted until a series of hits – mainly doubles – gave Arizona a 3-0 lead in the 4th.  But Rodrigo Lopez’s game-opening streak of ten retired batters came to an end with Kosuke Fukudome’s 5th home run of the young season.  The teams would trade runs in the 5th before the floodgates opened upon Bielecki’s arrival.

Ryan Theriot (NL hits leader), Kosuke Fukudome, Derrek Lee, and Arobdeer Ramirez did the little things to load the bases with one out…with some help from Lopez and first baseman LaRoche.  Tyler “Hey Guys, Look, It’s Me, The Other Rookie, The One Who Hits Over .250” Colvin made it 4-3 on a sac fly.  First pitch to Soriano: deposited in the Bank of Left Field and a 6-3 lead.

Wells came back out to start the 7th, but promptly surrendered a solo shot to Chris Snyder.  He gave way to John Grabow, who surprisingly pitched well.  Zambrano and Marmol closed the door, but it’s worth mentioning that they in their 2 innings threw more than half as many pitches as Wells tallied in 6.  But hey – 9 outs, no runs between the 3 relievers.

Soto and Byrd would start the 7th back-to-back, Byrd’s shot reaching Waveland Avenue beyond the left field bleachers.  His race around the bases may have ended before the ball landed; I’m not sure.  Bases loaded walks – 2 of them – would add to the Cubs lead.  Of all people, they were gifts to the struggling Ramirez and notoriously impatient Soriano.

So the game is over, and we can look back on it as a whole.  Let’s take a quick glance at the lines of the starting pitchers:

IP H 2B HR ER R BB K ERA FIP
Wells 6+ 8 5 1 5 5 0 8 7.50 ~2.7*
Lopez 6 7 2 2 2 6 0 4 3.00 ~6.2

Note: I used the approximation of 3.2 for the FIP adjustment. I don’t know yet what minor modifications will need to be made for 2010

Wells walks out with an ugly game ERA, good FIP, and a W for the team (and team W’s are the only thing that any player should care about.  Someone who is worried about his FIP is probably worried about his next contract.)  Lopez, on the other hand, has a decent ERA on account of his own fielding blunder, an FIP reflective of the 2 home runs he allowed, and a team L.  No free passes in the game until Arizona went to its atrocious (read: employs Bob Howry and Aaron Heilman.  On purpose.) bullpen.

Conventional wisdom agrees with the sabermetrics today: keep the batted balls to a minimum, keep them in play and don’t give out free passes; things will be okay when the wind howls out of the Friendly Confines.

Of course, FIP and sabermetrics generally overvalue the strikeout because of the prima facie evidence that it’s preferable to other outcomes. Of course, for an offensive team with runners on the corners and one out, it’s better for a slow-footed hitter to fan than to GIDP to end the threat. Six of one, half dozen of the other, and the inconvenient double-yolk of the dropped third strike. And, as an offensive team, I’d rather my hitters fan deep in counts than make weak outs on the first pitch: with few exceptions, getting to a bullpen is generally a good thing.

Of course, my personal crusade now bears mentioning: why should a pitcher’s ERA benefit from the pitcher’s own fielding error?  If he makes a bad throw, misses a catch, or misplays a ball, the runners are on base due to him just as much as they reached base on a walk or hit.  It’ll never change, but I can dream.

Randy Wells continues to drive the Cubs staff forward.  His numbers, even after today, are kind of silly: 27 strikeouts, 5 walks, 1 HBP, and 1 home run in 31.1 innings.  And while it hardly fits the accepted definition, gutting out this win – keeping the ball in the park, giving up no free bases, and committing himself to winning the 6-5 ballgame he departed in the top of the 7th – was certainly a quality start.

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