Monday, July 13, 2009

Waking Up to Wakefield

Baseball's All-Star Game is Tuesday night and one of the mini-controversies around the game was the selection of Boston's Tim Wakefield to the American League roster, giving the 42-year-old pitcher his first ever All-Star appearance. Wakefield's 11 wins have him tied for the lead in the AL which, for many people throughout the years, would have made his selection perfectly acceptable. But as statistical analysis of the game has flourished, a larger percentage of people have come to the opinion that a pitcher's performance on things largely within his own control (strikeouts, walks, home runs allowed and, to a lesser extent, hits allowed) are better metrics to use when determining who the "best" pitchers are.

On these other metrics, Wakefield's 2009 season has been only pedestrian. His Earned Run Average is more than double that of league leader Zach Grienke. He's given up more than a hit per inning, alongside another three walks per nine innings. Never one to rack up huge strikeout numbers, he's nevertheless on pace for a full-season career low at only 5.1 K's per nine innings.

I confess... There was a time when I hated Tim Wakefield. When his young career hit a rough patch in 1993 and 1994, I expressed some schadenfreude at his troubles. A friend asked what I had against him, since he'd heard nothing but good things about Wakefield as a person. For me, it was simple. At that point in his career he was an absolute Atlanta Braves killer. Through quirks of scheduling and the fact that his Pirates faced Atlanta in the 1992 National League Championship Series, five of Wakefield's first 21 major league starts came against Atlanta. In those five games, he pitched 45 innings (three complete games, 10 innings in one start, eight in another) and went 4-1 with a 2.60 ERA. This was one guy I was really glad to see end up in the American League!

In baseball terms, though, that's all ancient history now. (Well, OK, I'm sure it doesn't hurt that Wakefield's 1995-2009 record against Atlanta is 2-3 with a 5.84 ERA and one save...) He's crafted a very solid career, shifting roles from starter, to closer, to general reliever, and back to starter. I'm glad to see that he'll be in the All-Star Game Tuesday night and I'll be rooting for him to get a chance to pitch. Just not against Brian McCann...

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