Friday, January 8, 2010

"Clutch pitching" bailed out defense last year

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein has made clear both through words and actions that he was dissatisfied with the way his team played defense a year ago. The Red Sox actually allowed fewer runs than all but two teams in the American League last season, but several other metrics make it clear upgrades had to be made.

(For more on that side of things, click here.)

Why didn't the team allow more runs?

Part of it was luck, Epstein told a group of reporters after a press conference introducing Adrian Beltre on Friday. Part of it was pitching.

"In looking at last year’s club, we had a real problem with our defense," he said. "We were lucky it didn’t become a more obvious problem, didn’t manifest as much as much as it could have – or would have had we brought back the exact same team this year.

"We were really good at quote-unquote 'clutch pitching' last year. We pitched our way out of a lot of jams, so our pitching performance ended up being a little better than it might have been otherwise if things had turned out a little differently. Our defense really did our pitching staff no favors last year."

A closer look at the numbers:
* With runners on base last season, Red Sox pitchers had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.03) in the American League. Toronto (1.97), Oakland (1.94), Tampa Bay (1.92) and New York (1.92) were close.
* With runners in scoring position last season, Red Sox pitchers had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.94) in the American League. Only Toronto (1.87) was close.

In tough spots last season, in other words, Red Sox pitchers took it upon themselves more often than did pitchers on any other American League team.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon, his ALDS meltdown notwithstanding, might be the best example: His strikeout-to-walk ratio last season jumped from 2.36 with the bases empty to 3.85 with men on base-- and he struck out 10 of the 15 hitters he faced with the bases loaded.

That's not something Red Sox pitchers can be expected to do again this year -- and that's why Epstein felt such urgency to improve the way his team fields the ball.

No comments: