03 April 2008

One, Two, Three

Everything was looking up. Heading into the ninth, it looked like a carbon copy of Monday's opening 4-2 victory, and the Dbacks would be 2 and o. This time the lead was 5-3, when Brandon Lyon did his thing. Well, at least you cant say he wasnt 1-2-3. Three batters faced. Three runs. Game over, and the new, older looking Dbacks are 1-1, tied for third place.

It's funny how people complained about Valverde being erratic, and not having enough 1,2,3 innings. Even I agree he enjoyed some good luck, but witnessing Lyon set down the side in order Monday and then implode for the loss today serves to dispel some common myths about closers and underscores their true mission. We hear they have to be perfect. They cant let in any runs. They cant walk people. They cant let people get on base. When you close, there's no margin for error. And, frankly, all of that is false. You dont have to be perfect. You can walk people & allow baserunners. There is a margin of error, and sometimes it's quite wide. In most appearances, a closer can yield a run and still be effective.

The modern closer's job is very simply stated:

Record three outs before relinquishing the inherited lead.

It's not simple to acheive, but it's very straightforward to measure, and closers should be evaluated by how frequently they acheive the above goal - not by ERA or WHIP or K/9 or some watered down "average" of how unhittable they are. Each game presents a different situation to a closer: different lineup, different part of the same lineup the next day, park, weather, different lead to protect, is he fresh or pitching on short rest. The effective closer doesnt just blow everyone away. He works within the framework each game presents, dances around the differences, and stays within that margin of error. Sure, it helps if you can blow folks away or have great control, but a closer cant strike out the side one day and strike a blow to his own team the next. A closer's job is to close. Good ones do so more than 80% of the time and over 90% is outstanding. Lyon's career rate is 62% (it was 63% before last night).

Valverde gave us rollercoaster rides, but he acheived his objective with a high rate of success (86% career and 87% in 2007) . I'd rather see Valverde almost give up a pair of leads while recording two heartstopping saves, than have Lyon go 1,2,3, then kick a large lead and a game away. Give Lyon credit for facing the postgame media though, something Valverde never did after a blown save.

In other news, Chris Young looks great at the plate. Arroyo was kinda wild, but CY's patient approach is still night and day from last year. Getting ahead in the count, then not swinging at borderline strikes. Justin Upton should take a cue from Chris. CY looks much more in control, like he has a plan, looking for only certain pitches to attack, rather than just seeing the ball and trying to whack whatever is offered in his general vicinity. Three walks and a double smacked a foot short of the yellow line in left center. Even when he grounded to short, it was a great AB - six pitches and he made the right decision on all six. No just swinging at strikes and laying off balls, but also laying off "pitcher's" strikes when the count is 2 and 0. As a batter, it's amazing how many borderline calls you start to get if you establish that kind of discipline. Young drew 43 walks last year. Expect at least 75, which is a big deal the way he runs the bases. Oh, Chris also fronted a double steal with Byrnes yesterday.

Upton's more a work in progress. He had a pretty good at bat late, until he swung at a borderline 3-1 pitch that may've knocked in a run on a bases loaded walk. Instead, he swung and failed to knock in the run.

Perhaps the biggest contrast with Young right now is Eric Byrnes, who konked a homer opening day and has a history of strong April and Mays (pls do not confuse with Willie "Mays"). But he has such poor plate discipline. After he swung into a bases loaded out that, in retrospect, may've cost Arizona the game, Daron kindly observed that Eric swung at ball four. My son more accurately interjected "He swung at ball five."

Chris Burke put a couple good swings on the ball, earning a sac fly and a long liner to left. This after Conor Jackson left midgame for the hospital with what sounded like big flu symptoms, trouble breathing,etc.

Edwin Encarnacion drives all decent Americans crazy. We were making fun of him all game - all the mistakes he makes. The whining at the plate. The unbelievably bad throws. The missed bunt. He just looks like an immature, low percentage player with a bunch of negatives to me. Then he comes back and erases all of them with the GW blast. That's the way baseball is, and why it's so humbling. Just when things are looking up, everything turns upside down. One, two three.

(photos courtesy of Al Behrman/AP)

1 comment:

Michael Norton said...

Hey, the Nats are 3-0. "Just when things start looking up." It'll be a long slide down, I fear.

Michael Norton - Some Clubhouse