May 15, 2009

Facing The Unknown

Back in September 2004, I asked:
Do other teams' bats go ice-cold more often than they logically should and make bad/unknown pitchers like Gil Meche and Bobby Madritsch look like Cy Young Jr.?
A few days earlier, Madritsch, in only his 7th career start, had thrown eight shutout innings against Boston. (His career would last only five more games.)

On Wednesday night in Anaheim, 30-year-old rookie Matt Palmer overcame some initial trouble to methodically mow down the Red Sox, pitching a complete game and retiring 22 of his last 23 batters. It was his 7th major league appearance.

We haven't heard it much in recent years, but it used to be a fairly common refrain: Any time the Red Sox faced some unknown pitcher, their bats would go limp. It seemed like it always happened.

But did it?

Thanks to Baseball Reference's amazing Play Index, we can definitively answer that question.

I searched for every Red Sox game since 1995 in which the opposing pitcher had fewer than 15 career appearances (relief or starts), pitched at least seven innings against Boston and allowed two or fewer runs.

It has happened 27 times against Boston in those 15 years, and 11 times since 2000. There is a mix of the now well-known (Scott Kazmir, Cliff Lee, Tim Hudson), the never-becames (Jason Stanford, Delvin James, Madritsch) and some in between guys (Rolando Arrojo!). In one instance, it happened twice in the same series: Stanford and Lee in September 2003. But Boston won both games, each by a 2-0 score!

(This was an arbitrary benchmark -- after all, Palmer went nine and allowed four. In case you are wondering, here are two more lists: 6 IP/3 R outings (68 since 1995 and 32 since 2000; not really the kind of shutdown outing we used to shake our heads at) and 7 IP/3 R games (32 since 1995 and 13 since 2000).)

The perception that this annoying phenominon has abated in recent years is backed up by the evidence. In the last three full seasons (2006-08), it happened only once. But this April, it happened twice in a span of four games (Oakland's Brett Anderson and Baltimore's Koji Uehara)!

So the next question is: how often does this happen to other teams? I looked at the AL East and then picked some random teams:
         >15 GMS; 7 IP; 2 or Fewer RA
1995-09 2000-09

Red Sox 27 11
Yankees 19 11
Blue Jays 36 22
Orioles 32 21
(Devil) Rays 24 22

White Sox 32 20
Rangers 33 20
Angels 33 20
Cubs 39 21
Cardinals 33 20
Expos/Nationals 40 21
Astros 39 22
Rockies 31 20
Notes: The Devil Rays began play in 1998. ... It happened to the Yankees three times in a two-week stretch in 2006. The only Red Sox pitcher on New York's list? Brian Rose. ... The Expos/Nationals list has four pitchers appearing twice: A.J. Burnett, Anibal Sanchez, Horacio Ramirez and Sean Burnett.

So, despite the obvious frustration at being shut down by a pitcher you may never have heard of before, this clearly has not happened more often to the Red Sox. In fact, it happens far less.

Here is a list of pitchers (in their first 15 games) who started against the Red Sox and did not last more than three innings. That outcome is more common.


Jere said...

I love that it's happened to the Yanks so little, because their fans/announcers are also HUGE on complaining that it always happens to them. Nice work.

Hillel Greene said...

well, yeah. But it doesn't bother me when it happens to other teams.

Jere said...

You seem to have misunderstood me. Did I say it bothered me? I love it when it happens to the Yanks (or when they lose to any pitcher), but I just like that the research also debunked their complaining about it happening to them, not just our complaining that it happens to us.

Hillel Greene said...

oh, I was responding to the original post. I agree with your sentiments entirely.

Patrick said...

This is one of those posts that makes me love this blog. Thank you for the research.

allan said...

Thanks. I feel like I have done this before, but found nothing when I searched.

Two days after that September 2004 post, I did revisit the theme:
"Bedard to Madritsch to Kazmir. Not quite as poetic as those three Cub infielders, perhaps, but just as effective. The Devil Rays starter -- the youngest pitcher in the major leagues right now -- dispatched the Red Sox with relative ease last night in only his 5th career start. Boston is now 0-6 this season facing rookie pitchers for the first time."

That's another criteria. I don't see how to set the PI for rookies and/or a pitcher's first game against a certain team.