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October 13, 2003

Game Four: James Van Der Beek Has A Massive Forehead
by Larry Mahnken

And then, it rained. Bah! I took off from work 45 minutes early to see this?

So, rather than getting to see another crucial, and likely tense game between the Yankees and Sox, we got Varsity Freaking Blues, as the rain in Boston cancelled Game Four. Boston needs to get rid of that characterless pit they call a ballpark and replace it with a dome. With artificial turf. And a white roof. (Who's stupid idea was that?)

Everything gets put off another day--except Games 6 and 7, if necessary (and let's hope not!). Instead of Wells vs. Burkett, we get the scheduled Game 5 matchup, Moose vs. Wakefield. Mussina didn't pitch particularly well in Game 1, and the long rest might have had something to do with it, so keeping him on normal rest is probably a good idea. If the Yankees pull out the series...well, do the counting. His next turn in the rotation would be conveniently timed... </looking ahead way too far>

So, who does the rainout benefit more? Well, the original rotation was:
Wells vs. Burkett
Mussina vs. Wakefield
Pettitte vs. Lowe
Clemens vs. Martinez
Now, it's:
Mussina vs. Wakefield
Pettitte vs. Lowe
Wells vs. Burkett
Clemens vs. Pedro
I'm assuming that

A) Pettitte will start Game Five, and
B) Pedro will start Game Seven

Because Tuesday is Pettitte's normal turn in the rotation, and an extra day of rest for Wells probably won't hurt--and might help. Since Games 6 and 7 are not being moved, a game 6 start would still mean short rest for Pedro. If it goes to Game 6, the Red Sox are facing one of two scenarios:

1) They're facing elimination
2) They have a chance to eliminate the Yankees

In the first scenario, you might think that you'd want Pedro on the mound--after all, you always want your best pitcher in the must-win game. But then, even if they do win, they're facing another elimination game the next night, facing Roger Clemens with...John Burkett? Tim Wakefield on short rest (like THAT matters)? And you'd have a less than 100% Pedro in the game, too. The point is to win the series, not get to Game 7, and saving Pedro until Game 7 gives Boston the best chance to win the series.

In the second scenario, you might want to throw Pedro out there to finish the Yankees off quickly, but then, if you should lose, you're facing elimination with...once again, your third and fourth best starters as the option. And the Yankees would have come off of beating your best starter. AND, if you win Game Six, you don't get to use Pedro until Game Two of the World Series--and MAYBE even Game Three. It would be stupid to use him on short rest there.

So, I think the second assumption is a pretty safe one, and the first is probably the case, especially if you want to look too far ahead and do the counting of days off...

So, in this scenario, which I think is how it will shake out, all the rainout does is shuffle the days that the same matchups happen, which appears to have no impact on the chances of either team winning.

Does it?

Well, first there's the psychological factor. Boston has to win 3 of the next four games, which is eminently doable. But had Boston lost to Wells last night, they'd have to win three straight against Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, which is probably a near impossible task. Pettitte, Wells and Rocket is more doable, though still tough. On the other hand, if the Red Sox win tonight, they have to win two of three against Andy, Boomer and Clemens, rather than the tougher combo. A Game 4 victory behind Boomer would have been more important to the Yankees and a loss less devastating than a loss by Mussina. Does this have a big impact? Ehh. Maybe a little, but probably not. I guess that is a bit advantageous to the Sox.

The other factor is that Derek Lowe is starting at home instead of on the road. And we all know that Derek Lowe is great at home and crappy on the road. Look at the numbers! He has a 3.21 ERA at home this season, and a 6.11 ERA away from Fenway. For his career, the split is less insane, but still clear: 3.12 at home, 4.04 on the road. So, huge advantage swing for Boston, right? It's what everyone is saying, so it must be true!

Not so fast...

When writing up his preview of this series, fellow blogger Aaron Gleeman took a quick look at this issue, and concluded that Derek Lowe's road problems are almost entirely due to playing games on artificial turf.

It makes sense, Lowe is a crazy-insane ground ball pitcher, giving up 3.92 ground balls for every fly ball. He led the majors in G/F ratio this year...and last year--and neither time was it even close. What Derek Lowe does is makes you put the ball on the ground, and it's up to his defense to turn it into an out.

Much of Lowe's "decline" this year can be attributed to this style of pitching, as Todd Walker isn't nearly as good a defensive player as Rey Sanchez was (he's a much better hitter, of course, but we're talking about Lowe right now). A bad second baseman means more ground ball singles, means more baserunners, means more runs. Really, while his numbers merited Cy Young consideration last season, he was really never at that level as a pitcher. Good, and at times VERY good, but not elite.

So, what are the splits? Well, for this season, Lowe's splits were:
Grass: 3.86 ERA in 182.0 IP
Turf: 9.70 ERA in 21.1 IP
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Sample Size Alarm! Indeed, that is a very small sample size, but when you look at his career splits:
Grass: 3.14 ERA in 754.1 IP
Turf: 5.71 ERA in 153.0 IP
153.0 IP is a damn good sample size, and it's not just because of his insane split this season either: his turf ERA was 5.06 going into this season.

When you're a guy who doesn't strike people out and relies on the ball being put on the ground, turf is gonna kill you. His Average Against on Balls in Park is .279 on grass and .329 on turf. That's a HUGE swing.

So, what happens when you take the turf out? Well his splits then:
Fenway: 3.21 ERA in 115.0 IP
Road/Grass: 4.97 ERA in 67.0 IP

Fenway: 3.12 ERA in 461.1 IP
Road/Grass: 3.16 ERA in 293.0 IP
Obviously, there's a big split this season--probably one or two bad performances on the road, and great performances at home that had nothing to do with the park. The career split is almost the same, and in a far larger sample size, indicating that Lowe's problem really is the turf, and not the park itself. Of course, there is a slight improvement in his numbers at Fenway, and a .005 improvement in BABIP at him, so maybe the grass is a bit higher at home.

So wait, how does this effect the Yankees, other than showing that Lowe's Home/Road splits are overblown?

Well, here's his splits against the Yankees this season and in his career:
Fenway: 6.00 ERA in 12.0 IP
Yankee Stadium: 5.11 ERA in 12.2 IP

Fenway: 5.53 ERA in 40.2 IP
Yankee Stadium: 4.91 ERA in 40.1 IP
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Damn, gotta turn that thing off sometime. Well, sample size caveats apply, of course, but you can see that Lowe has pitched better against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium than he has in Fenway Park. The split goes that way this season, last season, and in 2000. Only in 2001 does it go the other way, and had it not been for the HRs by David Justice and Paul O'Neill at The Stadium that season (remember how pissed off at himself O'Neill was when he hit that homer!), the splits would go the same way.

Really, that's not the point. The number of IP is too small to say that Lowe is worse or better against the Yankees at Fenway, but it's not too small to say this: Derek Lowe, in the past, has sucked against the Yankees, no matter where they play. Sure, he was 2-0 against them this season, but one win was because David Wells got bombed, and the other was because Jose Contreras got bombed.

Okay, to be fair, Lowe has pitched some great games against the Yankees, especially last season, when he was great against everybody. He can beat the Yankees, but they've had great success against him before, they've had great success against him recently, and it doesn't make a damn bit of difference either way where he's pitching. They can beat him.

So who does this rainout benefit? Maybe the Red Sox a tiny little bit, but probably not enough to effect the outcome of the series.

* * *

For those that didn't see it, Don Zimmer made a statement before the...broadcast of Varsity Blues:
I'm embarrassed about what happened yesterday. I'm embarrassed for the Yankees, the Red Sox, the fans, the umpires, and my family. That's all I have to say. I'm sorry.
He then left the press room in tears (he was choking up during the entire statement). Was he prompted to make a statement by Steinbrenner? Who knows? But it was undoubtedly sincere.