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July 20, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Jose Contreras had simply horrific numbers on June 26th.  He had a winning record, at 4-3, but with the Yanks scoring 6.55 runs per game when he started, he'd have to be pretty bad to not have one.  He was pretty bad, with a 6.18 ERA, and a DIPS ERA that didn't look much better at 5.61.  His .874 OPS against would have been the fifth highest on the Yankees -- the best hitting team in baseball.  He had a .357 OBP against and a .517 SLG against.
He wasn't doing good.
But on June 27th, things may have turned around.  Indeed, they may have turned around a few days earlier, with the arrival of his family from Cuba, but on June 27th, we got the first glimpse of what Jose Contreras may have become.
Against the Mets, he pitched six scoreless innings, giving up only two hits, walking four, but striking out ten.  Was this the new, improved Big Enigma, or just a tease?  The next Saturday, the answer appeared to be "tease", as Contreras was terrible againt the same Mets, giving up seven runs in five innings, and giving up three home runs.
But with yesterday's win, Contreras has now reeled off three consecutive great starts, including an 8-inning performance against Detroit last weekend that may have been better than his win against the Mets.  Since June 27th, Contreras is 4-0, with a 2.76 ERA (3.71 DIPS), with a .552 OPS against.
Has he finally turned the corner, or is this just the result of some weak competition?  Well, the Tigers are a good hitting team, and the Mets are roughly average -- Tampa Bay is plain bad, though.
Well, his next start is against the Red Sox, so if you ever wanted a test, there it is right there.
I had a theory about Contreras, that perhaps his struggles were due to being caught by John Flaherty.  I don't know if Flaherty speaks Spanish, but Jorge Posada certainly does, and there's something to be said for being able to speak the same language as your pitcher.
The stats at first seemed to support this: 5-1, 4.23 ERA with Posada, 3-2, 5.54 ERA with Flaherty.  But if you take out the last five starts, you get completely different results: 2-1, 7.04 with Posada, 2-2, 5.46 with Flaherty.  The Yankees did, however, score 2.42 more runs per game when Posada started (more than the difference in ERAs), and 1.76 more when the last five starts are included.  Obviously, it's always better to have Posada instead of Flaherty, but I think in this case, it's especially true.  If Contreras is starting the day game after a night game, it might be a good idea to have Flaherty start the night game, to match Posada with Contreras.
But the numbers aren't that clear on this issue, so starting Flaherty in his normal pattern isn't that bad.
Hopefully Contreras is at the point -- or can get to the point -- where it doesn't matter who's catching, he can pitch a great game every time.  If that happens, who needs Randy Johnson?