Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wakefield not as "rusty" as he looked

The Boston Herald claimed Tim Wakefield "labors in 1st spring start" and quoted the veteran knuckleballer as saying he "felt a little rusty" when pitching out of the stretch. The evidence: Wakefield allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits and issued two walks in his two innings of work against the Twins on Wednesday night.

Wakefield's start, though, is a good example of why you can't put too much emphasis on statistics -- particularly in a small sample size. Let's look more in-depth at Wakefield's outing:
(^ denotes pitching out of the stretch)

First inning
* Wakefield induces a lazy ground ball to shortstop on an 0-1 pitch to Alexi Casilla.
* Wakefield gets Nick Punto to pop the ball into the middle of the infield on another 0-1 pitch.
* He hangs a knuckleball on a 1-1 pitch to Justin Morneau; the power-hitting first baseman drills it up the left-center-field gap for a double.
*^ He walks Michael Cuddyer on a knuckleball inside.
*^ Jason Kubel pops to third to retire the side.

Second inning
* Wakefield sees Delmon Young go up and get a knuckleball and hit a ground ball between third and short for a base hit -- the type of ground ball that would have been an out had it been hit four feet in either direction.
*^ Brian Buscher hits a hard line drive off the glove of Kevin Youkilis for yet another infield single. Young goes to third.
*^ Wakefield drops a knuckleball in on the hands of Mike Redmond only to see Redmond bloop it over Dustin Pedroia but in front of Brad Wilkerson for a single that scores Young.
*^ Jason Pridie goes after a first-pitch fastball and lofts a sacrifice fly to center field.
*^ Wakefield gets a break when Alexi Casilla chases a 3-0 knuckleball up and out of the strike zone, but Casilla then fists a knuckleball up and over Kevin Youkilis at first base, a bloop hit so awkward that Casilla hesitated a little on his way out of the batter's box.
*^ Casilla steals second.
*^ Punto flies lazily to left.
*^ Morneau walks on four pitches.
*^ Wakefield misses on back-to-back pitches to Cuddyer before the outfielder reaches for one on the outer half and dribbles it to second base to retire the side.

The end result?

Wakefield allowed two hard-hit balls in two innings -- the double to Morneau that didn't hurt him, and the line drive right at Youkilis that put runners on first and third with no outs. That's it. The leadoff single from Delmon Young is going to be an out 75 percent of the time; the RBI singles from Mike Redmond and Alexi Casilla are going to find gloves 90 percent of the time.

Now, Wakefield's inability to find the plate in key spots with two outs wasn't good; you don't want to put any extra runners on base in front of a slugger like Kubel. But that's the knuckleball -- and that's the sort of thing that's going to come along as the spring progresses.

To look at the box score and deduce that Wakefield had to labor through two innings because he was charged with three runs, though, is to miss the point.

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