Friday, May 22, 2009

Failure to make play again drives up an ERA

As discussed both in this space and in the Union Leader, Red Sox fielders bear some responsibility for the inflated ERA of the team's pitching staff. Errors don't count against a pitcher, after all, but poor range and numerous other non-error examples of bad defense certainly do. According to some statistical measures, the Red Sox have subpar defenders in left field, at third base and at shortstop.

Defensive shortcomings at shortstop -- and this will be of no surprise to fans well-accustomed to booing their shortstop -- doomed the Red Sox on Friday.

Here's the scene: There was one out in the top of the fourth inning, and Daisuke Matsuzaka was starting to labor. He hung a slider that Carlos Beltran whacked into right field for a ground-rule double, and he walked Gary Sheffield on five pitches, the last one being a slider in the dirt. David Wright then jumped on a first-pitch cutter over the middle and singled to center to drive home Beltran and give the Mets a 2-1 lead.

Jeremy Reed was up next. Jeremy Reed is not a speed demon. He seems like he should be, but actually has been caught stealing in his career almost as many times (18) as he's stolen bases successfully (19). In the last three seasons, he's only attempted five steals -- and he's been caught three times. Yes, stolen bases is something of a primitive way to measure speed, but it certainly counts for something.

When he hit a ground ball to second, then, it looked like a prime chance for the Red Sox to turn two and get out of the inning. Dustin Pedroia fielded the ball cleanly and threw it to Julio Lugo -- but Lugo somehow made the throw to first without any of his momentum moving forward. He was standing flat-footed at second base when he made the relay throw.

"I was trying to stay on the bag, you know, get the sure out," he said.

Reed beat it out. The inning continued.

Matsuzaka then allowed back-to-back run-scoring singles to Omir Santos and Ramon Martinez before getting Luis Castillo to ground to second to end the inning. The pitcher certainly bears some responsibility for the hits he allowed. But when he needed a double-play ball, he induced a double-play ball -- and he didn't get the double play.

Matsuzaka finished the night having allowed four runs in five innings pitched; his ERA now stands at 10.32, not far off the 12.79 with which he entered the game. That, on its face, doesn't look like a pitcher who has improved all that much during his month on the disabled list.

But if Lugo turns that double play, the inning ends right there -- and Matsuzaka allowed just two earned runs in five innings. If that happens, he leaves with an 8.91 ERA.

Oh, and the Red Sox maybe leave with a win.

"The moment the ball was hit, I thought it would be a double-play ball," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter. "But the double play didn't work, and that was just the flow of the game for us today. After that point, I couldn't hold the hitters and the runners, and that part is what I'm a little disappointed about."

That's been the flow of the game quite a bit for the Red Sox this year. Errors aren't the only way defenders can kill their pitcher.

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