Foulking Pain in the Ace
The Passion of the Derek continues...
If I was a big SABR expert like Jay Jaffe, I could write a huge three-part entry here about how and why I feel that Derek Lowe sucks this season. But I'm not, and I can't, so I'll just point to last night as further evidence that Derek may not belong in the starting rotation for the playoffs.
Argument was raging yesterday on the Big O Show about this. Granted, talk radio should always be taken with a generous sprinkling of salt, but a good point was made that a guy's last twelve innings shouldn't determine his overall performance, especially given that the Sox have a five-man rotation where each pitcher has contributed more than 150 innings for the first time since 1929.
But part of the difficulty--and the allure--of sports is that the most recent or current performance is what matters. You could say that over the last two years, Derek has pitched beautifully, including 30 wins, a no-hitter, and a stellar playoff performance against Oakland (the infamous "bite my tweeter gesture" notwithstanding). Three bad starts should be weighed against it.
But a no-hitter (which, by the way, came against the Devil Rays) two years ago didn't win the game last night. Last year's clutch performance in the division series won't win a game in this year's division series. It doesn't take a stats geek to figure that out.
If we're really serious about winning this thing, our rotation should consist of our strongest pitchers, period, regardless of their standings in the past. If we were to be truly honest about who our strongest pitchers are, right now, as we head into the playoffs, not two years ago or last year or last month, our rotation looks like this: 1) Curt Schilling 2) Pedro Martinez 3) Bronson Arroyo 4) Pray for Rain.
The controversy lately seems to have centered around the third position, which I think is filled quite nicely already by Bronson Arroyo. If this organization is in any way committed to truly pulling out all the stops and winning in the post-season, Bronson Arroyo will be the third man.
But that fourth spot is truly troubling. In the last three starts, at least, neither Lowe or Wakefield has looked particularly sharp--though we have won the last two games in which each has started. And here we get to the trickiest part of all--not the potential for stepping on egos in doling out starting spots but the strange circumstance that has come about in all this, which seems to be the portrayal of the bullpen role as punishment for whatever starter is relegated there.
For some (cough*Derek*), it may be taken that way, but from my point of view, occupying a role in the bullpen as we head into the playoffs, where pitching--not just starting pitching--is king, is not a demotion. A long reliever, particularly on a team like ours where injuries and general ineffectiveness have left the setup spot a weakness of our staff, is of the utmost importance in a playoff situation.
So it's not just as simple as, Derek sucks, let's throw him in the bullpen and forget about him. Honestly, I don't think Derek deserves to be there, either. In essence, whoever goes into the bullpen should be your fourth-ranked starter, someone who can bail the weakest guy out if he needs long relief.
So here's what I'd do: 1) Curt Schilling 2) Pedro Martinez 3) Bronson Arroyo 4) Derek Lowe, and put Wake in the bullpen, because a) Wake has been slightly stronger of late, and b) he's not going to be "psychologically damaged" by being "punished" with a bullpen spot. It sucks utterly to feel like we have to coddle Derek to get any kind of performance out of him, but my personal judgements about Lowe's personality aren't going to win any games, either. And that's what's important here. Winning.
Like anyone else in Anticipation Nation (tm), I'm nervous going into the playoffs. But it's not because I'm afraid to lose; I'm afraid to lose in a certain way. If a truly talented opposing team soundly beats us in a cleanly played game or series, that I can find a way to live with. But if decisions are made for political, personal or historical-precedent reasons and not for the main purpose of winning cleanly played games, it will be difficult to deal with for me, indeed.
"The way we've always done things" hasn't been working for almost as long as we've been doing things. The Red Sox need to prove this year that they are different, that they are bigger than their ghosts, that they are bigger than their individual bellyaches, that they are bigger than their tradition.
Meanwhile, this week marks the last occasions in which we will have the benefit of hearing a game called by Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy on NESN, as national carpetbaggers will sweep in and take over for the playoffs. So I'd like to offer this commemorative quote from Remy during last night's game that I think should be preserved for posterity:
Last night after they won, I went back to my hotel and had a little celebration of my own. I put on my boots, got on the mechanical bull, and had the room service come and spray me with champagne.
Don's reply? "Now there's an image."
You just don't get that from Tim McCarver.
Meanwhile, if you're lucky enough to get radio reception, or an audio feed through mlb.com, listen to Joe and Jerry on WEEI. They may sound like they're holding their noses through the entire broadcast, it may be unclear which of them is talking when, and they lack the pot-addled type of humor Jerry and Don bring to the press booth, but they often remind me of the two old men who sit in the balcony box on The Muppet Show. Here are two of their key exchanges last night:
Joe or Jerry: Derek Lowe, who has struggled of late, is still 2-1 against the Devil Rays this season, and 9-3 lifetime, which includes a no-hitter. Jerry or Joe: They were showing that no-hitter today on ESPN Classic. Joe or Jerry: Oh, really? Jerry or Joe: Yep, and-- (The D-Rays' lead-off hitter sends a single into center field) Joe or Jerry: Well, I hope you remember that game fondly, because it obviously won't be repeated here tonight.
(A line drive is hit directly at Derek, but gets past him for a base hit. Joe / Jerry discuss his luck in not getting hit by the ball.) Joe or Jerry: That ball looked like it was for sure going to hit him. Jerry or Joe: It did. Joe or Jerry: It looks like, on the replay, like it went right through his legs. Jerry or Joe: Yep...he was turned around, I don't think he realized where the ball was, and it went right through the wickets into center field. Joe or Jerry: It is very fortunate in this instance that Derek Lowe is about 6' 6". (A pause) Jerry or Joe: Yes. It is very fortunate.
Come to think of it, Derek is pretty tall, isn't he? I had been wondering why--in his away uniform especially, not sure why that is--he had begun to resemble that thing in The Nightmare Before Christmas.
You learn something new every day.