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Just The Sports: 2009-10-04

Just The Sports

Thursday, October 08, 2009

In Defense of Jorge Posada

A.J. Burnett may not have explicitly stated he would feel more comfortable pitching to Jose Molina over Jorge Posada in the playoffs, but due to his abysmal performance against the Boston Red Sox on August 22nd, where over five innings he gave up nine earned runs and three home runs while pitching to Posada, the prevalent thinking is that Burnett is a significantly better pitcher when Molina is his battery mate. In fact, the popular opinion is so widely accepted that even New York Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, has fallen prey to it. Therefore, Girardi is removing Posada, the 7th most valuable hitter on the Yankees roster according to win probability added, in favor of Molina, who actually does more damage to the Yankees than he does to the opposing team when he bats, under the hope Burnett will perform better on the mound.

At first blush, Burnett's splits with Posada and Molina seem to support Girardi's thinking. Burnett has pitched fifteen starts with Posada behind the plate and eleven when Molina was making the pitching calls. With neither catcher did Burnett pitch deep into games, averaging just a little over six innings no matter which one of the two was receiving. However, there the similarities end. When Posada was his catcher, Burnett had a fielding-independent ERA of 4.84, but his fielding-independent ERA with Molina was over a run less at 3.68. This difference indicates that for every nine innings Burnett pitched, he gave up 1.16 fewer runs with Molina than Posada.

Furthermore, Burnett was a much better strikeout pitcher with Molina, striking out 10.10 batters per nine innings compared to striking out only 7.26 batters per nine innings. By striking out more batters, Burnett pitched to less contact, which helps explain why his gross product average (GPA) against [(OBP*1.8 + SLG/4); read like a batting average] is so much lower with Molina (.225 GPA to .263 GPA).

By now, you the reader probably agree with Girardi in thinking the Yankees have a better chance of winning if Burnett is allowed to pitch to Molina. I caution you against reaching that conclusion. We have already seen what the statistics say at first blush and now we must delve a little deeper.

The disparity between Burnett pitching to Molina and Burnett pitching to Posada is easily explained away by the quality of opponents faced. Burnett's pitching numbers with Posada suffer from the fact that Posada caught all four of Burnett's starts against the Boston Red Sox, the second most prolific offense in the regular season. In his four starts against the Red Sox, Burnett had an abominable fielding-independent ERA of 7.95, allowed the Red Sox hitters to have a .336 GPA against him, gave up 2.65 home runs per nine innings, and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.00. These four starts completely skew the true picture of what kind of pitcher Burnett is with Posada.

Once those starts are taken out of the equation, the truth is revealed, which is that Burnett is almost the same pitcher with Posada and Molina. His fielding-independent ERA drops to 4.02 in games caught by Posada, which is only .34 runs above his fielding-independent ERA with Molina. The only significant advantage that remains is Burnett's strikeouts per nine innings pitched; even without the Boston Red Sox games, Burnett still struck out only 7.31 batters per nine innings pitched. However, since the now removed Red Sox games accounted for 16 of the 46 walks he gave up with Posada catching him, the strikeout-to-walk ratios are not that dissimilar (2.10 K/BB with Posada to 2.66 K/BB with Molina).

Burnett is not a good enough pitcher with Molina to warrant Girardi's refusal to allow Posada to catch him. No matter who catches him, Burnett is still the same pitcher. What really matters in how he performs is which team he is facing. If the Yankees really want to ensure their postseason success, it might be best to simply disallow A.J. Burnett from pitching to the Red Sox should the occasion arise. As if Yankee fans didn't have enough reasons to root against the Boston Red Sox already, they have one more; the Red Sox are Burnett's kryptonite.


Monday, October 05, 2009

Still Some Value In Lidge

Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Brad Lidge has been a disappointment to the sport of baseball over the last several months on a couple of levels. The first level is a fairly obvious one; during the 2009 regular season, Lidge failed to garner a save in eleven of his forty-two save opportunities. For a supposedly elite closer, that is simply inexcusable. Closers are supposed to be the relief pitcher a team can put the most trust in; they give the team confidence that they can get three outs before sacrificing the lead. Lidge betrayed that trust and has left the Philadelphia Phillies in the precarious position of not having a reliable closer entering the postseason.

The second level of disappointment Lidge has been responsible for is the way he Jedi-mind tricked the Philadelphia Phillies into giving him a three-year, $37.5 million contract extension in the middle of the 2008 season. I say that Lidge tricked the Phillies into doing so because I do not want to believe the Phillies would give such a large amount of money for a player who is not only not even elite at his position, but whose career is the epitome of inconsistency. Instead, I choose to believe that the Philadelphia Phillies realize that closer is the most fungible and unreliable position in the sport of baseball. Success in one year from a closer is no guarantee of success in the following year. Except for a couple of closers playing in the sport today, Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon, there is no one else a team should lock up for more than one to two years at a time.

Still, there is some value left to be found in Brad Lidge in the upcoming postseason, value the Phillies can squeeze out like the last little bit of toothpaste left in the tube. However, they cannot think of Lidge like the closer they are paying him to be. Instead, Lidge should be looked at like an old black and white television set that relies on antennas to acquire reception. When the antennas are in the perfect position and the weather outside is clear, the reception will come in crystal clear. Any variation on that will produce only static. For Lidge, the perfect position for his antennas is saving games where he has at least a three-run lead in the ninth inning.

Saves can be broken down into three categories; there are the three-run saves, the two-run saves, and the one-run save. During the regular season, Lidge had fourteen three-run save opportunities, thirteen two-run save opportunities, and fifteen one-run save opportunities. As the pressure mounted, there was an indirect correlation with how Lidge performed.

In three-run save opportunities, Lidge pitched the best he did all season. He had a 3.66 fielding-independent ERA, 4.00 K/BB ratio, 1.38 HR/9 IP and only allowed batters to hit .269 BA/.321 OBP/.423 SLG/.250 GPA. While those numbers do not top his best seasons, they are a sight better than what he did when the lead was not as large. During two-run save opportunities, he had a 5.42 fielding-independent ERA, 2.43 K/BB ratio, 2.31 HR/9 IP, and .256 BA/.353 OBP/.512 SLG/.287 GPA. Lidge's numbers increased and decreased in all the wrong categories. Then there are Lidge's one-run save opportunities. In those, the only thing that would have classified him as a major league pitcher is his paycheck. His fielding-independent ERA was an abominable 7.33, his K/BB ratio was only 1.08, 2.23 HR/9 IP, and every hitter who came up to plate turned into a MVP as evidenced by his allowing batters to hit .386 BA/.486 OBP/.596 SLG/.368 GPA.

As his statistics suggest, the Phillies need to put Lidge in the least pressure-packed situations if they want him to perform adequately. This does not necessarily mean hiding him in games where the Phillies are being blown out, but he does need to pitch with a sizable lead. Also, it is important to remember no matter how effective Lidge may look under the circumstances I have outlined, the Phillies should not trust him again when the game is truly on the line. There is still some value left in Lidge, but there is not that much.