19 September 2002

I have just lost all respect for Tim Kurkjian as a baseball analyst. Well, maybe not all respect. I used to really like him, because he often seemed insightful and passionate, and also because he kinda looks like a geek, which means I can relate to him (whereas Rob Dibble and Mike McFarlane look like the kinda guys who would have picked on me in middle school). But Monday, on the Tony Kornheiser Show, he was asked a question by Tony about why the Red Sox have as poor a record as they do despite the presences of Pedro, Derek Lowe, Manny Ramirez, Nomar, etc. And I thought, “Run differential, bad luck, Pythagorean Expected Record, and that sort of thing..." but nope, Tim must have been reading from the Joe Morgan Guide to Completely Misunderstanding Baseball Statistics, as he promptly explained to Tony that the Red Sox have a “terrible bullpen” [editor’s note:13-21, 4.36 ERA, 46/59 Saves], and a terrible record in one-run games that indicates to him that “they don’t quite know how to win just yet.” He then said something to the effect of “If you look, all great teams have a winning record in one-run games and all bad teams have a losing record in one-run games, but the Red Sox are the opposite…” or some such crap [Ed's note: 12-20]. This is blatantly untrue and patently ridiculous, and it’s unfortunate that Tony Kornheiser or whomever is the host of the particular show does not know/care enough to take someone to task for saying something so irresponsible.

Actually, their bullpen would be better defined as “mediocre” than terrible, as their ERA is 8th in the AL and their record is better than those of several teams. The problem is that their bullpen is not better than any of the contenders in the AL, all of whose bullpens have a lower ERA than Boston and a winning record. So the other contenders are not giving away games, and the Red Sox are. The Sawx seem to have "remembered how to win" more often than half of the teams in the AL, with 86 and counting, though they apparently had…..had…..um…..AMNESIA!... about 66 times and therefore lost. They have done well in spite of their bullpen, because their starters have been pretty good to great (3.55 ERA, 1st in AL), and they have hit well (803 runs, 3rd in AL).

Despite this, Pedro has not been healthy all year, and after Pedro, Lowe and sometimes Wakefield, they haven't gotten much out of their starters. Nomar has been pretty darn good all year, but not as fantastic as he was a few years ago, and so their failings are being partly blamed on him, despite his having played almost every game, hitting over .310, and driving in over 110 runs. Manny hasn't been healthy all year, and those who have have either been mediocre (Daubach, Nixon, Varitek all hitting about .260), terrible (Tony Clark) or inconsistent (Johnny Damon: .308, 22 SB Pre All-Star, .253, 7 SB since, Hillenbrand 13 HR Pre-All-Star, 4 HR since).

Yes, their mediocre bullpen has contributed to their poor record in one-run games. Yes, their poor record in one-run games has contributed to their overall record being insufficient to make the postseason. But no, this isn't an issue of "knowing how to win" or an issue of doing better in one-run games. Bill James recently did some research on the nature and effects of one-run game records, which I hope to read in its entirety soon. But in the article he gives several examples of lousy teams with great one-run records and vice-versa, thereby automatically disqualifying Kurkjian's comments, if they weren't already discredited by the fact that the Yankees are only 18-19 in one-run games this year, despite what is considered a pretty good bullpen.

Boston's bullpen has not been the only reason they are not winning more, but it's sure not helping. The lesson here is not "you must play well in one-run games to get into the playoffs" the lesson is "if your bullpen isn't going to be very good, you need to clobber the opponents with offense". That way there won't be as many close games for the bullpen to blow, and when there are, you have a chance to come back.

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