Tag Archives: Koji Uehara

Game 3: Sox top O’s 4-3

The Sox took two of three from the O’s to open the season. Birthday boy, Koji, needed just seven pitches to close out the game and earn his first save.  Can he keep this ridiculous pitching up?

This will be a quick post.  I am off to Opening Day and the Ring Ceremony. Yes!

Peavy takes the mound against Marco Estrada of the Brewers. Why do is there inter league play so early in the season. I find that annoying.  There should be a set period for inter league play. MLB, in all its wisdom, decided to just toss the inter league games all over the schedule.  Arrrggghhh.

It’s been nearly six years since Peavy faced the Brewers. Back in the day, he owned them. In 31 innings he struck out 37 with an ERA of 1.99.  But, that was a different Peavy ago. Peavy had a decen spring, so if he’s healthy and staying away from fishing knives, he should be a solid starter for the Sox this year.  Those days of being a number one guy are gone, but he’s a nice fourth starter – reliable and savy. Estrada is an average pitcher. He turns 30 this year and did not make much of an impact in the majors until 2011. He walks about two guys per game and strikes out between 8 and 9. We’ll see if he can withstand the rigors of the Red Sox lineup and grinding at bats. I expect he’ll be gone by the sixth and we’ll see what the Milwaukee bullpen can do.

Game MVP? Xander Bogaerts.

 

The World Series Trophy on Tour

Koji and Junichi took the World Series Trophy to Japan and met with the new US Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy. Here they are looking super-psyched:

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What I found most interesting though were the other people who showed up for the event but that many US papers did not include in their coverage. Beside Wally the Green Monster, others present were Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese player to play in the US (he played for the Yankees), Hideki Matsui, 2009 World Series MVP and former Yankee, and Seiji Ozawa, conductor and former music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Koji and Junichi also met with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who got a signed Red Sox jersey.

The Red Sox have done a pretty good job pressing their team image into the minds of Japanese fans. The Sox just started up a Japanese Twitter page called RedSox_JP, signed numerous Japanese ball players in the past decade, and have established a Red Sox – Japan Youth Baseball Exchange. This past summer some young Japanese ball players visited Boston and stayed for ten days with families in Boston; it is sponsored by Funai Electric and the Red Sox Foundation.  My connection is tenuous but still something. The exchange program is coupled with the Little League baseball league my son played in and I coached – Hill House Boston. We moved on from Little League just as it was starting up but it certainly seems like a fun way to get to visit and learn about Japan.

The timing of this trophy trip made me wonder if the Sox might actually have more then a cursory interest in Masahiro Tanaka. That thought lasted about three seconds. Then the newswire erupted. ESPN reported that the Yankees signed Tanaka to a seven year, $155 million dollar deal.  Wow! I guess all that talk about the Yankees trying to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold was a bunch of hooey.

The Yankees just got markedly better with this signing as Tanaka compares favorably with Yu Darvish, another NPB import. Here are the stats for the two pitchers for their last three years in Japan:

  1. Yu Darvish, 616 IP, 45-19, 1.64 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 665 Ks
  2. Masahiro Tanaka, 611 1/3 IP, 53-9, 1.44 ERA , 0.94 WHIP, 593 Ks

This looks pretty similar to me. I would not be surprised to see Tanaka excel like Darvish has with the Rangers the last two years. Here is a quick reminder of Darvish’s first two seasons in the majors, at about the same age Tanaka will be:

Year Age Tm W L ERA GS CG IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP
2012 25 TEX 16 9 3.90 29 0 191.1 156 89 83 14 89 221 112 1.280
2013 26 TEX 13 9 2.83 32 0 209.2 145 68 66 26 80 277 145 1.073
2 Yrs 29 18 3.34 61 0 401.0 301 157 149 40 169 498 127 1.172
162 Game Avg. 16 10 3.34 34 0 224 168 88 83 22 94 278 127 1.172
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2014.

While the Yankees lost Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson this off-season, the additions of McCann, Ellsbury and Tanaka will put the Yankees right back in the running. Well, that might be a bit overblown. They still have holes at second (Brian Roberts – a walking M*A*S*H Unit) and third (Kelly Johnson – a 31 year old with some pop but low OBP), and until Jeter proves he can manage short I find the Yankees suspect there as well. Their pitching is much better with this signing and it makes them much younger. They go from having the oldest pitching staff in the AL to probably somewhere in the middle and their league average ERA will most definitely improve. Their offense, though, has not improved enough, in my opinion, owing mostly to the loss of Cano. They were below the league average in runs per game (4.01 v. 4.33 league average v. 5.27 for the Red Sox), second to last in home runs and third to last in OPS+ while fielding the oldest team in the majors. I think McCann, Ellsbury and Beltran about equal out the loss of Cano and Granderson.

Quite honestly, I don’t see things getting a whole lot better for the Yankees without some serious input from Jeter and Teixeira. Those guys need to return to form. I find that unlikely with regards to Jeter (39) but possible for Teixeira (33). Perhaps the Yankees hope Teixeira will be like another switch hitting first baseman – Baltimore Oriole legend Eddie Murray. Murray, though, was a perennial work horse, never really missing any games for injury until he was 40. Teixeira can not really be compared to Murray.

After a little research, I found that Teixeira compares pretty favorably to Orlando Cepeda. This should be worrisome for Yankees fans, as Cepeda was a shell of himself after his year 32 season; he was a Hall of Fame player before then but knee injuries curtailed his career thereafter. Teixeira does not have knee issues, but I’ve always seen him as a balky back kinda guy who can end up on the DL one morning after a bad night’s sleep. No science to support me here, just gut instinct. I like Teixeira but I would be worried about him if I were a Yankee fan.

Yankees fans, though, are happy today; it’s like Christmas day all over again! They are back in the hunt with the signing of Tanaka. Yet, caution is warranted. The Yankees are far from out of the woods. I still don’t see them making the playoffs unless a lot of things go right on the health front. With an aging team that is not something I’d want to take with me on a trip to Vegas.

Baseball 101 – Some Pitching Numbers

Last blog post, we mainly discussed numbers used for batters. Here is some basic stuff that concerns pitchers that you will see me use and that will help us put pitchers from the same year and different eras in context.

We already touched on what makes a win and a loss. Many people, including me, don’t think wins and losses tell you much about a pitcher. But, in the past, wins and losses meant a lot and if a pitcher won 20 games in a season that was considered really good. Back in the early days of baseball, say before 1900, pitchers won over 30 or 40 games a season quite a few times. In fact, in the history of the game there have been 147 pitchers that won between 30 and 59 (!) games in a season. Of those 147, only 21 times did a pitcher after 1900 win more than 30 games. If you narrow that even further, to say – post 1930 – the list dwindles to three:

  1. Denny McLain, 31-6 in 1968
  2. Lefty Grove, 31-4 in 1931
  3. Dizzy Dean, 30-7 in 1934

Winning 30 games is just unheard of these days. I was only five when Denny McLain did it so I can’t say I remember that feat too well. I do, however, as a baseball fan know how great that was. Nobody wins 30 games. Since the onset of integration in baseball (think Jackie Robinson and 1947), which is in my view the modern era of baseball, only 21 pitchers have won more than even 25 games in a season and only three guys have done that since 1975:

  1. Bob Welch, 27-6 in 1990
  2. Steve Stone, 25-7 in 1980
  3. Ron Guidry, 25-3 in 1978

So, this gives you a sense of how much the game has changed over the past fifty years and how tough it is for a pitcher to win 20 games. For example, this year only one guy (1!) won 20 or more games – Max Schrezer of the Tigers went 21-3. How many in other years?

  • 2012 – 4 guys
  • 2011 – 3 guys
  • 2010 – 3 guys
  • 2009 – zero
  • 1974 – 11 guys
  • 1973 – 13 guys
  • 1972 – 10 guys
  • 1971 – 14 guys
  • 1970 – 11 guys
  • 1969 – 15 guys

You can see, I grew up when starting pitchers won more games. That is not to say they were better, they just stayed in games longer and relief pitchers were used differently. And, stats were just in their infancy, so we grew up with 20 wins as a magic number. Good pitchers were expected to win 20 games.

Why do fewer pitchers win 20 games now, you ask? Well, pitchers win fewer games partly because they pitch less often. Of the players since 1975 to win more than 25 games, most started about 40 games that season and threw between 20 and 30 complete games.* These pitchers also threw a lot of innings over the course of the season. They ranged from a low of 238 Innings Pitched (IP)** to a high of 376 IP for Mickey Lolich in 1968, with most in the 300-320 range.

To put this in perspective, the highest innings pitched total for the 2013 season was 228 2/3 in the American League and 241 2/3 in the National League. That is quite a bit less than those guys in the 1970s – about 8-10 fewer starts a season – about a month and half worth of starts. The last time an American League pitcher tossed more than 300 innings in a season was 1977 (Jim Palmer – 319 IP); and, in the National League – 1980 (Steve Carlton – 304 IP) – over thirty years ago. That’s so long ago I was in high school!

*A complete game, as it suggests, is when a pitcher throws the entire game – no one else helps out or “relieves” him – thus the term reliever. Most complete games are 9 inning jobs, but sometimes there can be extra inning complete games.

**I discussed an inning pitched in the last post (I told you about 1/3 and 2/3 innings pitched). If you throw 8 innings you have 8 IP.

There is a lot I could say about the change in pitcher usage over time, but I won’t bore you with that.

ERA (Earned Run Average):

To determine a pitchers ERA, you mulitply the number of earned runs the pitcher allowed in his outing by 9 and then divide that total by the total number of innings pitched by the pitcher. What complicates this a bit is that say a pitcher goes five innings and starts the sixth. He walks a batter and gives up a single and then the manager pulls him. The relief pitcher then gives up a home run. That is three runs allowed but the first two are charged to the starter because he was responsible for putting them on base; he still only pitched 5 innings despite starting the sixth but gets charged with those extra two runs.

Okay, here is an example from last year about ERA – Koji Uehara threw 74 1/3 IP last year and allowed 9 earned runs (he gave up 10 runs over the year but one was unearned, I’ll explain earned vs. unearned in a later post – it has to do with if a runner gets on base or scores because of an error). So the math is llike this:

(9 x 9) / 74.66 = 1.08

What the ERA tells you is how many runs the pitcher has given up for every 9 innings he pitched (you are pretending this is what he would do if he tossed a 9 inning complete game each time he went out). So, if Koji were a starter, from his ERA we’d expect that he’d only give up 1 run over 9 innings. We know Koji could not throw a 9 inning complete game – he is a reliever and not able to throw for that long. You can’t really compare a reliever’s ERA to a starter’s ERA. A reliever is only expected to pitch an inning, maybe two, each time he takes the mound, where a starter expects to go 6-8 IP each time out. You can sense that the starting pitcher has to pace himself, while the reliever does not – he just throws as hard as he can for an inning or so.

To win the ERA title, which tilts more toward starting pitchers, they have a formula. For a pitcher to qualify for the ERA title, he must pitch more than 1 inning per team game played – so most often 162 IP is the minimum required to qualify for the ERA title. This formula essentially eliminates relievers from the ERA title.

Baseball kinda does the same thing for the batting average title. You have to have 3.1 plate appearances per team game played (162 x 3.1 = 502 – so pinch hitters or just platoon players won’t qualify).

In 2013, there were 41 guys with an ERA under 2.50 with a minimum of 50 IP. Of those 41, only 4 players started 15 or more games and 34 started no games at all. Those 34 were relievers. So, it is much easier to have a low ERA if you are a reliever. Those starters with an ERA under 2.50 last year include three of the best young pitchers in baseball. You should remember these names for discussion with your friends so you can appear on top of things:

  • Clayton Kershaw (25 years old), 1.83 ERA in 236 IP
  • Jose Fernandez (20 years old), 2.19 ERA in 172 2/3 IP
  • Matt Harvey (24 years old), 2.27 ERA in 178 1/3 IP

Of those three, Matt Harvey hurt his pitching elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery after the season ended. He will be out most if not all of 2014; it usually takes 18 months for a pitcher to come back from that kind of injury. Tommy John surgery happens pretty often these days, but it is a big setback for a pitcher and can often limit his career. The surgery first took place in 1974 and is named after the pitcher it was first performed on. I’ll talk more about Tommy John in the future. The surgery takes a tendon from somewhere else in the body and replaces the damaged elbow ligament with this harvested tendon. There is some concern that when you throw a lot of innings when young, you are a likely candidate for Tommy John surgery. There are some divergent opinions on that. Nonetheless, before Tommy John had his surgery, if you had an injury like this your career was over. The doctor who invented the surgery is famous – Dr. Frank Jobe. He should have taken a cut of each player’s future salary, rather than the cost of the operation; if he’d have done that he’d be a bazillionaire today. I’m sure he’s pretty well off as it is. His procedure saved and extended many a career. Heck, he might be one of the most influential non-baseball players of all-time.

Anyway, back to ERA. Koji’s ERA was pretty spectacular in 2013. While he did not qualify for the ERA title, we Sox fan know how important he was to the 2013 World Series run. It was probably one of the five best relief seasons of all-time. Another belongs to an ex-Red Sox pitcher who now does announcing stuff for the Sox and is in the Hall of Fame – Dennis Eckersley (aka “The Eck”). This is not to suggest that Koji is Cooperstown bound (Cooperstown is where the Hall of Fame is located); he most likely is not unless he repeats last year for another five or six years.

This seems like a good place for a tangent about a player I always liked – The Eck.

EckersleyDennis.preview

The Eck began his career as a starter but finished it as a closer (a specialized relief pitcher who finishes games). He began his career with the Indians at the age of 20 in 1975. He threw a no-hitter for the Indians in 1977 and was inexplicably, to some, traded to the Sox in 1978. There were some rumors that he was traded to the Sox because he was too much of a partier. Regardless, he promptly went out in 1978 and won 20 games for the Sox with a 2.99 ERA. He pitched well for the Sox as well in 1979 but fell off a bit and was traded to the Cubs during the 1984 season for Bill Buckner (we will talk about him later – he is, unfortunatley, most well known for an error he committed in the 1986 World Series against the Mets).

The Eck pitched well for the Cubs, who in 1984 traded for another good pitcher named Rick Sutcliffe. These two trades helped the Cubs win their division that year. The Eck went  10-8 with a 3.03 ERA for the Cubs. The Cubs later lost to the San Diego Padres in the NL Championship Series. You were not around for the Sox suffering; you’ve only know good times for the Sox. It wasn’t always that way. But, on the bright side, we were not Cubs fans. The Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908. Heck they haven’t even been in the World Series since 1945. Like us and the Curse of the Bambino (that is what Babe Ruth was called), the Cubs think they are cursed.  They call it “The Curse of the Billy Goat.” The story goes that a bar owner was asked to leave a Cubs World Series game in 1945 because his goat smelled and was offending other fans. He is said to have cursed the Cubs – “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more,” he said. Who knows if it is true, but it is a good story.

Theo Epstein, the Sox general manager during the 2004 and 2007 World Series seasons, is now the head of baseball operations for the Cubs. If he can get the Cubs a World Series title, he may go down as the greatest baseball general manager of all-time, having turned around both the Red Sox and the Cubs! Back to The Eck.

In 1987, at the age of 32, the Eck was traded to the A’s. This might have been related to his drinking. He eventually admitted he was an alcoholic, checked into rehab, and has been sober ever since. Whatever led to the trade, it was a fortunate event for him. Why? Because the A’s turned him into a relief pitcher – and this change helped him make it to the Hall of Fame. He took over the A’s closer role about half way into the 1987 season and never really gave it up until he returned to Boston in 1998 for a last hurrah.

The Eck was a dominate closer from 1987 to 1992. Over that six year stretch he did this:

  • 1987 – 3.03 with 16 saves
  • 1988 – 2.35 with 45 saves
  • 1989 – 1.56 with 33 saves
  • 1990 – 0.61 with 48 saves
  • 1991 – 2.96 with 43 saves
  • 1992 – 1.91 with 51 saves

I want to talk a second about The Eck’s 1990 season. He made 63 relief appearances and in those appearances he threw 73 1/3 innings. He gave up 41 hits, walked only 5 batters all season (one was an intentional walk), and struck out 73. Think about that for a second. His WHIP (another stat to absorb – Walks + Hits per innings pitched) ratio was 0.61 – oddly the same as his ERA for the year; if a pitcher has a WHIP around 1.00 that is considered excellent. That 0.61 Whip was pretty amazing. And, he did it with this mean look on his face, a big legkick and a sidearm delivery. When he struck you out, he shook his fist at you! He was fierce. Here take a look.

Since integration, there have only been five relief pitchers to have thrown at least 70 innings and have a WHIP under 0.75 (which is a miniscule Whip).

  • Koji, 2013, 0.565 Whip, 1.09 ERA
  • The Eck, 1990, 0.614 Whip, 0.61 ERA
  • Mariano Rivera, 2008, 0.665 Whip, 1.40 ERA
  • Eric Gagne, 2003, 0.692 Whip, 1.20 ERA
  • JJ Putz, 2007, 0.698 Whip, 1.38 ERA

That puts in perspective how awesome Koji was last year. It also shows you that the game has changed and relief pitchers are used differently. Why do I say that? Because all these players, except for The Eck, had their amazing seasons after 2003.

Okay, one last stat.

ERA+:

Just like OPS+, ERA+ figures out what the league average ERA is (adjusting for the park in which each pitcher labored) and uses a 100 baseline for the average pitcher. The higher the ERA+, the better the pitcher. Koji last year had an ERA+ of 376. He was great, but you want to see how great The Eck was? His ERA+ was 603! Yeah, you read that right – 603. That is just mind boggling. Has anyone else been that good? Only one and not surprisingly, all the pitchers who threw more than 70 innings in a season and had an ERA+ north of 300 were all relief pitchers. The list is only fifteen names long.

Rk Player WHIP ERA+ ▾ IP Year
1 Fernando Rodney 0.777 641 74.2 2012
2 Dennis Eckersley 0.614 603 73.1 1990
3 Chris Hammond 1.105 441 76.0 2002
4 Eric O’Flaherty 1.086 393 73.2 2011
5 Koji Uehara 0.565 376 74.1 2013
6 Tim Burke 0.890 356 91.0 1987
7 Eric Gagne 0.692 337 82.1 2003
8 B.J. Ryan 0.857 335 72.1 2006
9 Rollie Fingers 0.872 333 78.0 1981
10 Bruce Sutter 0.857 328 107.1 1977
11 J.J. Putz 0.698 319 71.2 2007
12 Mariano Rivera 0.665 316 70.2 2008
13 Mariano Rivera 0.868 308 78.1 2005
14 Rafael Betancourt 0.756 307 79.1 2007
15 John Wetteland 1.008 305 85.1 1993
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/13/2014.

In some later post, I’ll probably talk about Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers, two of the three guys on this list from 1977 and 1981. Enough for today, though.