Who needs Clemens? We’ve got Wake…

May 7th, 2007 → 2:55 pm @ // 20 Comments

The Clemens news will — as it should — dominate the local headlines for a while. For the most part, I feel a sense of relief. As I’ve said before, I think there’s been a quasi-irresponsible lack of coverage concerning the various ‘roid rumors (and circumstantial evidence) that’ve been swirling around the Rocket for years. And my interest in the steroid issue has less to do with the sanctity of baseball or any of that crap than with the effect all of this idolatry has on kids, a subject I wrote about at some length in yesterday’s Globe Magazine. (The Times‘s Selena Roberts does focus on the issue in her column on the front of today’s Sports section: “The threat to the Yankees has nothing to do with Clemens’s age, but how he hasn’t aged at all on the approach to 45 when he once seemed kaput at age 35. Maybe Clemens has developed a natural youth potion, an organic Botox for his old bones. Certainly, Clemens deserves credit for his greatness — with a talent that is an understandable siren’s song for the Yankees — but he has also witnessed his aura undermined by a steroid whisper campaign.” Whatever risk that poses to the Yankees, it would have been magnified a lot in Boston…)

I also kind of think Roger’s a self-satisfied prick, and it sure looks from what’s come out thus far like Clemens and agent Randy Hendricks played the Sox in order to get a couple million more per New York. (Interesting fact: assuming his pitch count averages around 100 pitches per game, he’ll be making $8,000 bucks per pitch. Apparently the $120 million or so he’s made thus far in salary alone isn’t quite enough…) I also think his demands — to have the freedom to take off when he’s not on the mound (no emergency relief appearances for him) — wouldn’t have worked out all that well on the Sox.

But I digress. The real reason the Sox don’t need Clemens is because of the ace of their staff…Timothy Wakefield. Wakefield, who’s set to make $4 million a year in perpetuity (or approximately what Clemens will pull down per game), is going through another one of his brilliant, unhittable stretches: his 3-3 record is the result of nothing so much as the criminally low run support he gets, as evidenced by his 2.11 ERA and his .197 BAA(!). To put that in some context, Schill’s ERA is 3.28 and his BAA is .298; Beckett weighs in at 2.72 and .219. Wakefield is, in fact, at the top or near the top of virtually every metric that looks at opponents’ offensive averages.

It’s true that Wakefield goes through one or two lights-out stretches each year. It’s also true that, since 2004, he’s been the teams best starter. Don’t believe me? Look it up. In the last three years, Wake’s ERA is almost a half-run better than Schilling’s (4.13 vs. 4.55) and he’s thrown 55 more innings (403 vs. 348). The only reason his record isn’t better (26-26 over that time, compared to Curt’s 27-16) is because of aforementioned lousy run support.

I’m not, of course, saying that Wake is a better pitcher than Curt. To me, the real question is why Wake doesn’t get more consistent respect. My theory: the knuckleball. The knuckleball — and the knuckleballer — is seen as kind of a flakey, flukey pitch. When it’s on, who can say why? And when it’s not working, well, who can explain that one?*

But how is this really different from any pitcher (or any pitch)? Sometimes pitchers never get a good feel for the ball, or they never get in a good rhythm, or their mechanics are off. And sometimes the same thing happens to Wake. But if he’s not complaining, I shouldn’t be either; it’s the reason the Sox get away with paying him so little…

* Preemptive apologia: I may have read/heard something along these lines before; it’s also possible that I’ve simply thought this same thing to myself sometime in the past. I just can’t tell, but I’m not trying to steal anyone else’s thunder…


Post Categories: Curt Schilling & Knuckleball & Roger Clemens & Steroids & Tim Wakefield

20 Comments → “Who needs Clemens? We’ve got Wake…”


  1. amos

    10 years ago

    Good call on the apology. I’m pretty sure Bill James gives a speech like that in the Historical Abstract. Don’t remember who it’s about… Someone who should have won Cy Youngs.

    Reply

  2. V06

    10 years ago

    My first reaction to hearing the news was: “Fuck you Roger Clemens!”

    Reply

  3. djarm18

    10 years ago

    Somebody post the audio of Susan Waldman hysterically blathering: “Roger Clemens is back, ladies and gentlemen! Roger Clemens is back!” I thought the Pope had stepped into the batter’s box.

    I was concerned that Yankees pitching was going to come to form in the few weeks with Hughes, Wang, et al starting to strut their stuff and Rasner being this year’s Aaron Small. I now eagerly anticipate the distraction Clemens presents, the unrealistic expectations projected upon his return, and the absolutely “bat shit insane” possibilty of a Dice K vs. Clemens match up.

    Question: Is Clemens more liable to brush back Ortiz or Manny than Scott Proctor?

    Reply

  4. kinshane

    10 years ago

    It’s funny, over at Soxaholix the other week, the fact that Timmuh doesn’t get the respect he deserves was mentioned and discussed in the comments for some length. I think it is because he is so dependable that we don’t mention him much. You know that when Big Tim takes the mound, he’s going to throw a bunch of pitches, give up a gopher ball or two, and make a bunch of major-league batters look like schmucks. This year can change that, though. Ever since coming off the DL last year, his stuff has been downright electric. If he can just get that fastball-per-inning over the plate for a strike, his ERA will dip below 2.00 and stay there.

    Reply

  5. tinisoli

    10 years ago

    It would have sickened my heart had John Henry forked over that kind of dough for the ultimate mercenary. I absolutely despise Roger Clemens. I suspect him of steroid/HGH use just as I suspect Bonds, Giambi, McGwire, Sosa, and all the other wide-jawed goons who became gigantic and miraculously elevated their games and/or prolonged their careers. To me he is just another gluttonous man-child for whom vast riches and athletic achievement weren’t enough. He always wants more. More glory, more money, more strikeouts, more Cy Young awards, more respect, more special treatment from ownership, more goddamned “retirement” tips of the cap to fans who have been duped several times too many. Too much is never enough for this pig. Should we expect somebody this stupid and this spoiled to grow old gracefully or abstain from the Syringe of Youth? No way. But we shouldn’t give him a pass or denounce the whisper campaigns just because he was great in the first place. To me, the guys who were shoo-ins for the HOF before they swelled into ageless hurlers and elephantine sluggers are the most vile of all cheaters. I can almost sympathize with the thousands of young ballplayers who are dabbling in doping just to get a shot at playing in the Show; but for these bloated brats, who have already had it all, I have nothing but contempt. They are the greediest, the most egotistical, the most corrupt. If I had a HOF vote and I had hard evidence that Clemens was a juicer, I would never vote for him. I don’t care if his numbers up until ’97 or even ’03 were untainted. When guys who are that successful get that greedy, and they have to cheat to sate their bottomless appetites and fuel their ego trips, they have forfeited the right to join the ranks of Williams, Ruth, Mays, Aaron, Koufax, Gibson, and Robinson.

    Reply

  6. Tim W.

    10 years ago

    It’s a shame that more people haven’t glommed on to Timmy W’s status as one of the greatest pitchers in the game. (No relation, btw.) One of the most dominant? Not even close, of course. Even when his opponents look like those batters in a Bugs Bunny cartoon who swing and miss three times at a single pitch Wake’s not what you’d call dominant…but he really is an astounding talent.

    As big a Wake nut as I am, I didn’t know the numbers. Thanks for passing them along.

    Not getting respect because of the knuckleball?!?! In this scientific, secular age, the knuckler is the closest thing we have to a miracle. That, and Mirabelli catching it.

    Reply

  7. bennya

    10 years ago

    Perhaps we should consider it a weakness that wakefield can’t get run support and factor that into his other pitching statistics. Actually that’s my question: why don’t they score runs when he’s on the mound?

    I don’t think he can qualify as an ace, as you’ve hyperbolically named him, if his record remains at or below five hundred while other pitchers, like beckett, manage to win twice as many games.

    Reply

  8. HFXBOB

    10 years ago

    Absolutely agree that Wakefield doesn’t get the credit he deserves. The statistical comparison with Schilling I find a bit unfair because it includes the horrible numbers Schilling posted in 2005 when he was obviously damaged. Schilling’s ERA that year was 5.69, the only time since 1994 his ERA was over 4. But I’m a big fan of both guys, and I think they both suffer from image problems that make people discount their on-field performance. Wakefield because he’s quiet and throws the knuckler, Schilling because he’s…well, not quiet. When it comes to giving it everything every time out, you cannot ask for more than these guys. And Wakefield’s been doing it for us since 1995. Amazing.

    On the other hand there’s Clemens, a grand master of public image and proof that’s it pretty easy to fool a lot a whole lot of people. It gladdens my heart to read the scathing comments of others who haven’t been fooled by him. Though I have to almost give him credit for addressing the Yankee Stadium crowd as ‘y’all’ after agreeing to the most extortive contract in sports history. It’s a wonder he didn’t get them to show video clips of his career highlights for the rest of the game.

    Bill Simmons has been a hardcore Clemens hater for a long time and I knew he wouldn’t disappoint me today. Part of the Simmons diatribe: ‘He’s defying the career paths of every other pitcher in the history of baseball…the odds of Clemens either breaking down or becoming involved in a massive scandal seem to be much greater than the odds of him continuing to be an elite pitcher. And if he stinks…it’s going to be glorious. Just glorious.’

    Reply

  9. mtalinm

    10 years ago

    one of the reasons Wake doesn’t get much run support is that his personal catcher is a one-man rally killer, almost hitting below the Mendoza line last year. things seem better this year, but I’m not holding my breath.

    here’s a post I wrote up last year. I’d like to know where this is off-base…

    Aside from our waiver-wire parade of pitchers, he has the worst starter record on the club. Yes, even Matt Clement (and Kyle Snyder!) have slightly better W-L records. (You’re right, I’m conveniently not counting Wells 2-3 record since he’s off the team, though I suspect Boomer would have put together at least one win in he past month to even out at .500).

    I hear the objections: W-L is a lousy measure of a pitcher; he’s only second to Schilling for starter ERA! It’s the team’s fault for such lousy run support! Well, maybe. But remember that Wakefield also impacts the run support but saddling the team with Mr. Mendoza himself, sporting a laughable .184 BA and an anemic .248 OBP. Sure, Miserabelli hits home runs more often than half the infield (and almost as often as WMP, roughly 1 in 22 AB), but aside from the occasional blast, playing with Mirabelli is like a day trip to the NL where pitchers bat (but Papi doesn’t have to field a ball). Not to mention taking up space on the roster and luring us into one of the season’s more discouraging trades.

    Oh, and he’s such an innings-eater! Well, sort of…he did pitch the team’s only (!) complete game this season. But his average innings pitched per game is 124.2/20=6.21, which is lower than Schilling’s 192/29=6.62 and only slighly better than Beckett’s 184/30=6.13. So it’s not as if he is helping the bullpen that much than the other guys, though to be fair he lasted longer innings-wise than Lester and Clement (both around 5.4).

    Is it the intangibles? Is Wakefield the token move by the F.O. to show that Tin Man Theo really has a heart while otherwise ruthlessly pursuing purely sabermetric calculations? I recall this quote:

    “For the last 11 years, Tim Wakefield has represented the best of the Boston Red Sox,” said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein the day the new contract was announced. “His continuing contributions to the success of the franchise on the field are matched only by his dedication to community service. This agreement virtually guarantees Wake will retire as a Boston Red Sox, which is fitting. In the long, proud history of the franchise, few men have brought greater honor to the uniform.”

    I dunno. I think the world of him personally, but I start to wonder whether the Mirabelli albatross is worth it. Maybe I’m particularly sensitive since we were saddled with Mirabelli while Tek was out, even though there were no knuckleballs to be caught at the time. Just thinking out loud here…tell me where I’m off-base.

    Reply

  10. wired1

    10 years ago

    Seth, my first time posting here, but I’ve been reading/enjoying it for a while.

    I think the lack of respect is partially due to the ignorance of broadcasters. I’ve seen some of the various broadcast teams on MLB EI discuss Wake, and the question is usually ‘do you want a knuckleballer on the staff? They will either be very bad or very good, and end up a 500% pitcher…’.

    That totally ignores the fact that Wake has been a much more consistent pitcher, especially since 2002 which is when I think he developed his curve ball. I think he’s pretty steady in his performance, and cannot remember the last time he was bombed out in the early innings, which did happen fairly often in his early years with the Sox, particularly ’96-00. He’s such a good athlete, which I don’t think has been typical of many knucklers, I think that will help him be successful for a few more years.

    Reply

  11. beausox

    10 years ago

    Your disclaimer at end Re: that your analysis may have been first made by another or others is wise in the age of google. Analyis can be arrived at simultaneously and the exremes of simultanenity(?) and no crime committed.If the stats cited (which are the basis of your analysis) are not your own work product then a crime.

    Reply

  12. Zeph

    10 years ago

    Seth,

    Great props to Wake. His ‘basic’ stats (W/L, ERA…) are misleading in the context of how much value he provides to this team.

    My question, which is also almost too apparent right now, is – why do different pitchers received such widely varied run support? Is there any recognizable pattern or reason for it? Right now, Beckett gets over 8 runs per game on average, while Wake gets 2-ish. Has anyone studied why that might be?

    Is there a rhythmic, cyclical-type of batting pattern behind it? In other words, do 4th and 5th starters typically get less run support because of where they sit in the order, or is it more a function of the pitcher himself? Or both? If Wake were swapped with Beckett or Schilling in the pitching order, would things change?

    In a nutshell, are there any players here besides the aforementioned Mirabelli factor and your lack of respect for the knuckleball idea?

    Reply

  13. jtrelstad

    10 years ago

    This is a great debate (run support by pitcher), but it’s flawed. It’s flawed because a pitcher has no affect on a batters performance. In Wake’s case, one could argue that Mirabelli’s poultry batting average has an affect, but it should be limited to the bottom of the line up, furthermore Mirabelli has already done more than his share of work winning games this year and still Wake is 3-3!

    What then does have an affect on the batters if it isn’t Mirabelli? What about the opposing pitcher? Wake as the 4/5 starter faces all sorts of crap-ass pitchers year-in and year-out, who we’ve never faced. Why don’t we demolish these pitchers? The reason is the Sox look horrible each and every time they face a new pitcher! Look at the 2007 season, 2 out 3 losses were to pitchers the Sox had NEVER faced (Tejeda and Igawa). The other loss came at the hands of the Toronto’s bull-pen which has some good and bad arms and seem to have our number.

    So my point here is that Wake seems to get the short end of the rotation stick. Often he faces the random call ups that populate the bottom of the orders for most teams. I haven’t gone back beyond 2007, but I’d wager that the numbers will play it out – that he more often than not is pitching against a poorly scouted opponent.

    Reply

  14. rog

    10 years ago

    I’m very happy to see a longitudinal analysis of Wakefield, which is rare in the era of knee-jerk blogging. The first couple of starts after Wakefield signed his contract (last year), Boston Dirt Dogs started whining about it because he incurred a few earned runs (and losses). Talk about ‘small sample size.’ I’ve recently had Wakefield on my mind because I think he’s valuable to this team in so many different ways. He can start on short notice, he can do long work in relief, he can shut down a team that plays in a domed environment, he can close (sorta) and pitch long innings in a double-header. That’s on top of his low ERA and BAA. But none of that matters to the imbeciles who start bellyaching when he throws a wild pitch with a runner on base.

    Oh, btw, I’ve been thinking that Wake would be pretty much unhittable is he developed even one more pitch, like a sinker. Just something to truly f*ck with a batter’s mind.

    Reply

  15. tinisoli

    10 years ago

    Hey jtrelstad: What’s “poultry hitting”? Is Mirabelli violent toward chickens? Hardy-har-har…

    Here’s how Wake has done and who he’s faced so far this season:
    4/6, Rangers: L 2-0 vs. Robinson Tejada
    4/13, Angels: W 10-1 vs. Lackey
    4/18, Jays: W 4-1 vs. Ohka
    4/23, Jays: L 7-3 vs. Ohka
    4/28, Yankees: L 3-1 vs. Igawa
    5/4, Twins: W 2-0 vs. Silva

    – The only true #1 he’s faced was Lackey, and actually that’s the game in which the Sox gave Wake the most run support.
    – He won one and lost one against Ohka, who is now pitching in the #3 slot for the Jays b/c Chacin is out.
    – Igawa pitched pretty well in his win against the Sox, even though Papi and others said he was hittable.
    – Silva did very well in a losing effort, and he has the best ERA of Minnesota’s starters despite being a #4.

    A lot of these games could’ve gone either way. But they didn’t. I think with this offense, much of which hasn’t yet heated up, we can look forward to some games in which Wake has 8-1 leads before he hits the showers.

    Reply

  16. V06

    10 years ago

    Hey jtrelstad: “poultry hitting”? When Mirabelli pops a ball up into the grandstands, is it a “fowl” ball??? *snicker, snicker, snicker…

    Reply

  17. tmorgan

    10 years ago

    Ironically the other guy I associate with poor run support is: Roger Clemens in Houston in 2005. Run support debatably cheated him out of another Cy Young there, as he lead the league in ERA, was 2nd in WHIP and had a similar k rate to Carpenter.

    As far as run support being the fault of Mirabelli look no further than Wake’s 12-10 record when Mirabelli was the STUD WHO HITS BOMBS in 2004. I guess you just have to chalk it up to the fact that with the entire history of the game there have to be examples of this kind of bad luck somewhere. Either that or he was cursed. Both seem like pretty good reasons to me.

    Reply

  18. HFXBOB

    10 years ago

    After Wakefield’s last start Brendan Donnelly attributed Wake’s lack of run support to bad luck. When you look at the matchups in the current Jays series, maybe Donnelly’s right. Beckett draws a batting practice pitcher, Zambrano, Dice-K draws Ohka, and Wake draws…you guessed it, 2003 Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, one of the best pitchers in baseball.

    Personally I would have thought there’s a psychological factor with the run support. Surely the hitters are aware of the fact they tend to score more runs when certain pitchers are on the mound. And ballplayers are known to be very superstitious. So who knows how all this gets into their heads.

    Wakefield’s been with Boston since 1995. Anybody know if this is a short-term trend or a long-term one?

    Reply
  19. […] The lack of respect for Wake has been a bit of a bete noire for me as of late, and when I get something stuck in my craw, I’m likely to keep on gnawing on it until I can force it down. I’m thrilled that Beckett seems to have given up the bullheaded ways of his (recent) past. I’m also excited that Schilling appears to be closer to the ‘04 model than the ‘05 model; the Sox need both of these guys to play deep into October. But it would be nice if, instead of another SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight segment on one of these two, or instead of another full-length feature about Dice-K, someone, somewhere (besides here, I mean) decided to highlight a 40-year old pitcher who’s demonstrated the beauty of a skill that looks to be in its twilight years. After all, if you were a kid, wouldn’t you want to get noticed (and paid) for bringing the high heat (even if it resulted in a mediocre record) instead of getting looked over (and underpaid) for quietly making the best hitters in the world look like fools? […]

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