Last Friday night, the Boston Red Sox visited Tampa Bay to play some baseball. The game started with contrasting starting pitchers — young fireballer Scott Kazmir vs. veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield — progressed through several eerily parallel plays between the two teams, and ended with a dramatic walk-off home run. Some baseball, indeed.
Several days before, Wakefield had signed a unique contract with the Red Sox; it’s a one-year deal in which the Red Sox hold perpetual one-year options. If they exercise the option for 2006, they’ll have another option for 2007. If they exercise that option, they’ll have one for 2008. In other words, the Sox will pay Wakefield $4 million to $5.5 million a year (depending on the number of starts he makes) for as long as they want.
On the other hand, Kazmir makes the major league minimum, and he’ll also play for the Devil Rays as long as they want him — for at least the next six years.
Anyway, onto the game coverage. As before, I will be referring to Win Probability Added to add a little analytic spice.
Tampa Bay’s pitching staff is a decidedly flyball one. They have the lowest Groundball/Flyball ratio in the American League at 0.91, and Kazmir (1.00 G/F ratio) is no exception to the Devil Ray rule. It’s worth noting that the Devil Rays have done a good job of building their defense around a flyball staff, with fleet outfielders at every position. However, the absence of Rocco Baldelli (out until June with a torn ACL) forced them to recently sign bunt specialist Alex Sanchez, and Sanchez is no Baldelli.
Kazmir brought a 4.80 ERA into the game, which is slightly worse than average, and he had particularly struggled with his command in his previous start (also against the Red Sox). In this game, however, he looked good. In the first three innings, he plunked one batter and walked another but otherwise struck out two and only allowed relatively weak groundballs and popups.
The heralded Kazmir throws hard, although his fastball is relatively straight. He does have a nice slider. In this game, he mixed his pitches well and caught the strike zone at the knees and the corners. Like many young pitchers, he needs to develop offspeed stuff, but his basic fastball/breaking ball repertoire is good enough to allow him to learn in the majors. Particularly when he’s spotting the ball like he did Friday.
Wakefield also looked good, and his knuckleball was really dodging and darting — making the Devil Ray batters and his catcher (Doug Mirabelli) look silly sometimes. In the bottom of the second, the first two Tampa Bay batters managed to have a couple of balls fall in for basehits to put runners on first and second with none out. This was the first semi-critical situation of the game, with a “P” of .153. “P” is discussed in my article entitled “Closer,” and it measures the criticality of a situation. Most situations are between 0.0 and 0.1, but a P between 0.1 and 0.2 might be called semi-critical, and a P over 0.2 is definitely critical.
In fact, this situation would be the most critical one of the game until the ninth inning, but Wakefield responded by inducing a flyout from Jonny Gomes and a groundball double play from Charles Johnson.
In the bottom of the third, the Devil Rays’ Alex Gonzalez struck out on a pitch that Mirabelli couldn’t handle, though he threw Gonzalez out at first. Then things started to happen.
Alex Sanchez hit a groundball which must have looked like a knuckler to Mark Bellhorn at second, because he booted it for his first error of the year. Carl Crawford singled and Julio Lugo hit a double off the leftfield wall for a 2-0 Devil Ray lead and a sudden 77% Win Probability for the Devil Rays. Unfortunately for them, Lugo was thrown out on an ill-conceived baserunning attempt to turn the double into a triple and the DRays batted out the rest of the inning. Lugo’s hit was a .181 WPA play, but his baserunning blunder was a negative .041. Still, the Devil Rays led at the end of three, 2-0.
Kazmir started to lose his control in the fourth. After a single by David Ortiz, he walked a couple of batters to load the bases with two outs. With two outs, the situation is much less critical than you might think (this one had a P of only .09), and Kazmir got the out he needed by getting Jay Payton to flyout to Gomes in right.
After four innings, Kazmir was the game’s top player with a WPA of .184, Lugo was at .160. On the other hand, Payton’s WPA was -.108 due mostly to his flyout, and Wakefield was at -.063.
In the fifth, Bellhorn smacked a double to left, and Ramon Vazquez bunted him to third. I’ve mentioned this before, but the first out of an inning is most precious, and this sacrifice decreased the Red Sox’s WP by .024. Johhny Damon then hit a sacrifice fly to Gomes, Bellhorn scored (on a terrible throw by Gomes), and the Sox had narrowed the margin to 2-1. The sac fly was a postive WPA event, but only barely, because there were subsequently two outs and none on. Kazmir squeaked out of the inning and Tampa Bay was sitting on a 70% Win Probability.
In the bottom of the fifth, Alex Sanchez bunted a ball down the third base line. Gonzalez let the ball roll, hoping it would wander into foul territory, but the Tampa Bay groundscrew had it covered, and the ball stayed fair. One out later, with Sanchez on third, Lugo delivered his second big hit of the day, a single for another RBI and a WPA of .096. Wakefield walked two more guys to load the bases — just as Kazmir had in the fourth — but got Cantu to groundout to end the threat.
In the sixth, the Devil Rays scored again, this time on an error by Kevin Millar, to make the score 4-1. In all, Wakefield allowed four runs, but only two of them were earned, and his WPA was only -.138. On the other hand, Kazmir lasted seven innings. He had regained his control after the slightly wild fourth and retired seven of the last eight batters to face him. He left after the seventh with a 4-1 lead with a .252 WPA (and the Devil Rays’ WP at .892).
In the bottom of the seventh, Lugo was on first after a single, and Matt Mantei (who was even wilder than Wakefield) uncorked a wild pitch. Lugo made it to second but was out trying to make it to third — the second time in one game he was out trying to stretch a play to third.
Manny Ramirez hit his first triple since 2003 to lead off the 8th against Travis Harper, on a ball that Baldelli might have caught. After a single by Millar scored Manny, Pinella brought in his closer, Danys Baez. This was not a high P situation, (.09) but the tying run was at the plate with only one out, so I do think that this was the right time to bring Baez in. Jason Varitek promptly hit into a double play.
There was another parallel play in the bottom of the eighth. First, Josh Phelps singled, then Cantu tried to bunt him over to second (negative 0.016 WPA, of course) but the Sox got the lead runner. Then Mantei pulled a Full Wakefield by throwing two wild pitches and walking two batters, loading the bases with one out. And Alex Gonzalez pulled a Varitek and grounded into a double play. It was almost as though the two teams were taking notes from each other on how to avoid big innings.
Leading off the bottom of the ninth, Trot Nixon worked a walk off Baez. This was a big play; it cut the Devil Rays’ WPA from 92% to 85% and created a pretty critical situation (P of .161). And to prove the point, Bellhorn hit a double to put the Sox behind by one with a runner on second and no outs. The play was .214, the Devil Rays’ WP dropped to 64% and the P increased all the way to .375.
Once again the runner was sacrificed to third (once again the WP decreased and the P dropped to .333) and then Johnny Damon singled through the drawn-in infield to tie the score. Believe it or not, the WP at this point (one out, runner on first, tie score) was exactly 50/50.
The next batter, Edgar Renteria, hit a line drive right up the middle, which Baez snagged to double up Damon off first. It was hard to fault Renteria or Damon for the play; Baez got lucky. But three straight half innings in the eighth and ninth had ended with a double play. I’ve said this before, but WPA really reinforces just how damaging double plays can be. There were a total of four double plays in this game, and they added up to a total -0.340 WPA.
Terry Francona brought in Alan Embree to start off the bottom of the ninth, and the Devil Rays sent Eduardo Perez, the son of former Red Sox Tony Perez, to lead off. Embree threw, Perez swung, the ball went over the fence, Tampa Bay won. For all of its drama and peculiarities, parallel plays and double plays, this game ended on a dramatic, sudden turn.
Here’s what it looked like:
And here’s the WPA scoreboard for all players:
Team Player Off Pitch Field WPA D Rays Perez 0.358 0.000 0.000 0.358 Lugo 0.227 0.000 0.033 0.260 Kazmir 0.000 0.252 0.000 0.252 None 0.105 0.000 0.000 0.105 Phelps 0.043 0.000 0.000 0.043 Sanchez 0.036 0.000 -0.008 0.028 Hall 0.000 0.000 0.008 0.008 Singleto 0.003 0.000 0.000 0.003 Lee -0.019 0.000 0.006 -0.013 Crawford -0.019 0.000 -0.002 -0.020 Cantu -0.009 0.000 -0.015 -0.024 Harper 0.000 -0.057 0.000 -0.057 Johnson -0.064 0.000 -0.009 -0.072 Gomes -0.074 0.000 -0.011 -0.085 Gonzalez -0.102 0.000 0.007 -0.096 Baez 0.000 -0.189 0.000 -0.189 Devil Rays Total 0.485 0.006 0.008 0.500 Team Player Off Pitch Field WPA Red Sox Bellhorn 0.254 0.000 -0.018 0.237 Damon 0.163 0.000 0.003 0.166 Nixon 0.072 0.000 0.000 0.072 Ramirez 0.062 0.000 0.000 0.063 Mirabell -0.015 0.000 0.026 0.011 Myers 0.000 0.007 0.000 0.007 Mantei 0.000 0.004 0.000 0.004 Millar 0.060 0.000 -0.058 0.002 None 0.000 0.000 -0.012 -0.012 Varitek -0.083 0.000 0.000 -0.083 Vazquez -0.114 0.000 0.016 -0.098 Ortiz -0.102 0.000 0.000 -0.102 Payton -0.123 0.000 0.002 -0.121 Wakefiel 0.000 -0.138 0.000 -0.138 Renteria -0.188 0.000 0.039 -0.149 Embree 0.000 -0.358 0.000 -0.358 Red Sox Total -0.015 -0.486 0.001 -0.500
References & Resources
Here’s a link to the MLB wrapup of the game. Without the MLB.com video service, this regular column would not be possible.