Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"It's like rain on your wedding day..."

A few years ago, Alanis Morrisette burst on to the pop music stage with a catchy tune entitled "Ironic." The lyrics purported to describe a series of events that displayed irony:

A traffic jam when you're already late
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
It's meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
Of course, as any 10th-grade English teacher will tell you, most of the examples in the song were not 'irony' -- defined as incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result -- as much examples of "a-kick-in-the-ass." (But of course, the lyrics would have been more difficult in such case.)

So what does Alanis Morrisette have to do with the present-day Red Sox?

In 2003, the Red Sox experimented (for a few short weeks at least) with the Bill-James-inspired idea of 'closer-by-committee,' which was a concept that was based on two main ideas: first, that a team's best relief pitcher (aka the 'closer') was often utilized in games that would be won anyways; and second, that almost anyone could close. The rational extension of James' philosophy was that a team's best reliever ('closer') should often be used in the 6th, 7th, or 8th inning, when the game hung in the balance; and that any relief pitcher could be used in almost any circumstance.

As chronicled in the Baseball Prospectus book, Mind Game, the plan might have worked. But with a bullpen that suffered through injuries and ineffectiveness, and a manager (Grady Little) who was not enamored with James-ian philosophy, then-rookie GM Theo Epstein pulled the plug on the experiment after two months, and traded for Byung-Hyum Kim, who led the Sox in 2003 with 16 saves.

Fast forward 4 years to the ALCS. The Indians (although it has not been widely reported) have clearly adopted some elements of James' philosophy: their 'closer' -- Joe Borowski -- is not their best relief pitcher (as evidenced by his 5.07 ERA, and 1.43 WHIP), although he did record 45 saves during the course of the season.

But in the three games the Indians have won so far, it has been the Indians' middle relief (especially in comparison to the Sox' ineptitude in Games Two (Gagne, Lopez, and Lester) and Four (Delcarmen)) that has been a large part of the difference. In particular, Rafael Betancourt has been very effective (Games Two and Four). (Zero production out of the #1, #6-9 spots in the Sox order has not helped.)

Borowski has pitched in three games for the Indians so far in the ALCS, but only once (in Game Three) in a save situation. The Sox closer (and second-best pitcher, after Josh Beckett), Jonathan Papelbon, has pitched only once (2 effective innings in Game 2.)

Losing the ALCS because you get nothing out of your major post-season acquisitions (Julio Lugo and JD Drew)? That's a kick-in-the-ass.

Losing the ALCS because Cleveland (and, presumably, its GM Mark Shapiro) does a better job applying James-ian analysis to a baseball situation than the very team that employs James? That, friends, is irony.

1 comment:

Matt Eastwick said...

Conceding the ALCS: Is that foreshadowing or litotes???