Tim Kurkjian Can’t Think For Himself

It seems appropriate that for my inaugural post, I am going to pick on the Red Sox. Even though I’m really picking on Tim Kurkjian for some pretty hazy analysis. The only thing keeping me from unleashing a blitzkrieg-style onslaught is that the purpose of the article is fuzzy. I’m not sure whether or not he’s picking the five most intriguing rotations, or the five best. If it is the latter, then God have mercy on Mr. Kurkjian’s soul. But the section at the bottom entitled “The Rest of the Best Five Rotations” makes me pessimistic.

Anyway, Kurkjian seems to think the Red Sox have the best rotation in MLB. Let’s hear it:

 The team we’ve chosen has as many questions — six — as it has starting pitchers: a rookie from Japan, a guy with a 5.01 ERA last year, a 40-year-old who only recently decided that 2007 won’t be his last season, a closer turned starter, a lefty with cancer in remission and a 40-year-old knuckleballer.

Ok, this is a bad start. Tim has, in record time, pretty much shredded his own argument before he even began. However…

 …if everything falls right, the Red Sox could have the best rotation in baseball with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, and Tim Wakefield.

This is stupid. I’m going to ignore the “if everything falls right” thing, because I don’t want to have a stroke at age 20. There are also about a hundred “if”s, “even though”s, “can”s and “could”s in this article. If you’re picking the best rotation – as it seems is Tim’s intent – it’s usually a good idea to pick one with some stable track record of aptitude, or some statistical indicators of impending aptitude. The Red Sox rotation, as a whole, fails on both these counts. Consider the 2006 Red Sox rotation:

  • Curt Schilling: 204  IP, 183 K, 28 BB, 28 HR, 3.97 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 116 ERA+
  • Josh Beckett: 204 IP, 158 K, 73 BB, 36 HR, 5.01 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 92 ERA+
  • Tim Wakefield: 140 IP, 90 K, 51 BB, 19 HR, 4.63 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 100 ERA+
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka: never pitched before in MLB
  • Jon Lester: 81 IP, 60 K, 43 BB, 7 HR, 4.76 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 97 ERA+ before cancer
  • Jonathan Papelbon: closer last year, 68 IP, 75 K, 13 BB, 0.92 ERA, 0.78 WHIP

Here’s what I take from the facts before us:

  • Schilling is still moving along as an above-average pitcher, but he is 40 years old. He probably isn’t getting any better. He is still a good pitcher.
  • Beckett was an abomination last year, giving up the second most HR in the league and allowing the fifth most walks. And also, he was lucky, with opposing hitters’ BABIP only .265 –  below the .290 average. Someone please explain to me why we are fawning over him.
  • Wakefield is the operational definition of an average pitcher. 100 ERA+ = average. He’s 40 years old, although who knows if age is as much of a factor with knuckleballers. He also throws like a fairy.
  • Matsuzaka has never thrown a pitch in MLB, although I believe he will be very good and probably the best pitcher on this staff.
  • Lester’s WHIP makes my eyes bleed. Strikes are your friend, Jon.
  • Papelbon was the best relief pitcher in baseball last year before shoulder trouble shut him down. Now, the Red Sox are moving him into the rotation to give him more regular work, thus strengthening his shoulder. I’m still not sure how 200 IP is better for a bad shoulder than 68 IP, but I’ll leave that aside. It’s tough to predict how he’ll do, but PECOTA has him at a 4.07 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP, which is good.

Let’s summarize. The Red Sox have the best starting rotation if, as Kurkjian said, “everything falls right”. What is “everything”?:

(1) Schilling remains good at age 40, (2) Wakefield remains average at age 40, Beckett stops giving up (3) dingers and walks and remains lucky, (4) Matsuzaka meets the lofty expectations placed on him, (5) Lester realizes there’s a plate over which he must throw the ball to get strikes, and (6) Papelbon makes a smooth transition from 68 IP to 200 IP without hurting his problematic shoulder.

As you can see, the intersection of six separate, independent events must occur for the Red Sox to have the best rotation in baseball. This is incredibly unlikely. This is like saying “if everything doesn’t suck, everything will be fine”. That’s not good enough for best rotation. At all. Shame on you, Tim Kurkjian.


One Response to Tim Kurkjian Can’t Think For Himself

  1. Derek Neal says:

    I realize that the great success of the Red Sox rotation this year does not mean that you were wrong ex ante to challenge Kurkjian’s article. However, have you thought of creating a page on your website that keeps score? You could have columns like: “Number of times that I have been both arrogant and dead wrong, at least ex post.” I added that last part because your writing style reveals that you likely think you never have been wrong in terms of analysis about anything ex ante regardless of how things turned out ex post.

    Maybe Kurkjian got lucky. Or, maybe he spent a great deal of time in spring training seeing and hearing things that you did not see.

    I am also sure that you have some way to explain how the Angels managed to be one of the best offensive teams in the AL this year (especially if you adjust for parks) while not hitting home runs, not walking, not working counts, stealing bases, and violating every other rule that you would offer for how to manage a team.

    I actually agree with you on most of these rules, but I am also a little more open to the possibility that I do not completely understand what happens to be a beautiful and complex game.

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