Having swept the Rays, the Boston Red Sox (8-4, leading the AL East by 1.5 games) travel to the southern shore of Lake Erie to take on the Cleveland Indians (5-6, third place in the AL Central, 1.5 games back) in a three-game series. This will be the first time this season that the Red Sox will face former manager Terry Francona as an opponent. The media may mention this fact once or twice.
Ubaldo Jimenez (against Felix Doubront in Tuesday night’s opener) doesn’t seem to be an American League pitcher but is that true? In Jimenez’s best seasons, he put up numbers of 3.47 ERA/3.36 FIP/3.59 xFIP (in 2009) and 2.88 ERA/3.10 FIP/3.60 xFIP (in 2010). But when he was traded from the Rockies to the Indians his numbers rose to 5.40 ERA/5.06 FIP/4.98 xFIP in 2012. Jimenez’s walk rate rose to an ugly 4.82 per nine innings in 2012 from the mid to high threes in 2009-10. But I’m not sure that merely facing designated hitters was the reason. First of all, a mid-three walk rate isn’t something to really brag about anyway. But there are two things to notice. First, Jimenez’s BABIP as a National League pitcher was .280 in 2009 and .271 in 2010, but rose to .312 in 2011 before the Rockies traded him, and was .318 for the Indians in 2011 and .309 in 2012. Secondly, there seems to be three Jimenezs – the first one was a power fireballer who threw a 96 mph four-seamer 62.8% of the time before 2010, the second one who threw 96 mph two-seamers 37.9% of the time and 96 mph four-seamers 22.2% of the time, and the third, after he developed a thumb infection and altered his mechanics, a 93-94 mph thrower who tried to rely on a two-seamer that wouldn’t go where he wanted it to. If Jimenez can recover his mechanics/confidence, he could find his success again.
Justin Masterson (versus Alfredo Aceves) had found success with his sinker, but this season he has suceeded with a combination of sinkers and sliders. In 2011, Masterson’s best season to date, he threw a four seamer 44.8% of the time and a sinker 40.3% of the time, leading to a line of 3.21 ERA/3.28 FIP/3.64 xFIP. In 2012, Masterson increased his sinker rate to 58.2% but decreased his four-seamer rate to 19.8%. This, along with a rise in his walk rate to 3.84 from 2.71, led to a line of 4.93 ERA/4.16 FIP/4.15 xFIP. In 2013, Masterson seems to have rediscovered his slider, and one could come to the conclusion that Terry Francona had something to do with it. In 2008 with the Red Sox, Masterson threw a slider 30.5% of the time. So far in 2013, Masterson has used his slider 26.2% of the time (and his sinker 57.8% of the time, with only 15.7% of his pitches being four-seamers). This has led to a line of 0.41 ERA/2.44 FIP/3.26 xFIP so far in 2013. Masterson could regain his ace appellation with such performances.
Zach McAllister (facing Jon Lester in the finale) had two quality starts in 2013, giving up only three earned runs in 12.1 innings pitched, striking out nine and walking nary a batter. In McAllister’s first full season in the majors he was a slightly below average pitcher, putting up a line of 4.24 ERA/4.24 FIP/4.11 xFIP and a minus line of 107 ERA-/106 FIP-/99 xFIP-. Again, Francona could have had an effect on McAllister’s success. McAllister is relying less on his two-seam fast ball this season and more on his two-seamer and curveball.
WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT
As for those Indians expected to play in this series, Carlos Santana (.500/.581/.885, .609 wOBA, 303 wRC) is red hot, Mark Reynolds (.263/.293/.711, .413 wOBA, 169 wRC, five homers) has been merely a two-true-outcome player, but Nick Swisher (.270/.426/.405, .379 wOBA, 145 wRC) is making up for Reynolds’s lack of walks. On the down side, Lonnie Chisenhall (.188/.212/.344, .241 wOBA, 50 wRC), Asdrubal Cabrera (.119/.213/.286, .227 wOBA, 40 wRC), Drew Stubbs (.200/.222/.257, .213 wOBA, 31 wRC) and Jason Kipnis (.125/.171/.219, .158 wOBA, -7 wRC) are dreaming of warmer weather.
In the Indians’ bullpen, Joe Smith (0.00 ERA/1.03 FIP/2.42 xFIP, .200 BABIP) is off to an excellent start, Bryan Shaw (1.93 ERA/3.67 FIP/2.97 xFIP, .200 BABIP) has also pitched well, and Vinnie Pestano (2.25 ERA/5.28 FIP/3.42 xFIP, .222 BABIP) has not let his high walk rate get in the way of good performances. However, Cody Allen (6.75 ERA/7.78 FIP/6.96 xFIP, .333 BABIP) and old friend Rich Hill (10.80 ERA/5.43 FIP/7.93 xFIP, .333 BABIP) aren’t getting the job done so far.
RHP Frank Herrmann (recovery from March 2013 Tommy John surgery, placed on 15-day DL on March 31, transferred to 60-day DL on April 3), LHP Scott Kazmir (right rib cage strain, placed on 15-day DL on April 5, retroactive to April 2), C Lou Marson (cervical neck strain, placed o 15-day DL on April 9), RHP Josh Tomlin (recovery from August 2012 Tommy John surgery, placed on 60-day DL on February 15) and RHP Blake Wood (recovery from May 2012 Tommy John surgery, placed on 60-day DL on March 11). Additionally, CF Michael Bourn (right hand laceration), 2B Jason Kipnis (right elbow soreness) and C Carlos Santana (left thumb contusion) are day-to-day, but Kipnis and Santana are expected to play in this series.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE RED SOX?
Daniel Nava (.360/.485/.760, .504 wOBA, 223 wRC) continued on his early-season hot streak, while Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.267/.371/.567, .402 wOBA, 153 wRC) and Dustin Pedroia (.311/.415/.356, .347 wOBA, 115 wRC) also sustained their stellar performances. However, Mike Napoli (.220/.235/.420, .281 wOBA, 70 wRC), Jonny Gomes (.158/.360/.211, .271 wOBA, 63 wRC) and Stephen Drew (.125/.263/.188, .223 wOBA, 30 wRC) surely wanted to get off to better starts with their new team. And finally, Jackie Bradley, Jr. (.097/.263/.129, .208 wOBA, 20 wRC) isn’t even getting on base via the walk anymore. Here’s hoping that he rediscovers his stroke upon his imminent trip to Pawtucket.
In the Red Sox bullpen, “Excitable Boy ” Koji Uehara (0.00 ERA/1.72 FIP/4.06 xFIP) and Alex Wilson (0.00 ERA/4.03 FIP/4.03 xFIP) retained the Blutarsky ERA Award (and, by the way, if you ever wondered why a statistics-driven analysis gives out an award for ERA, well it’s a pretty meaningless thing, as ERA often is, it’s just a bit of fun), while current closer Andrew Bailey (1.69 ERA/0.78 FIP/2.60), Junichi Tazawa (1.50 ERA/3.86 FIP/3.32 xFIP, be careful with those fly balls, Junichi), and Clayton Mortensen (3.18 ERA/3.21 FIP/2.14 xFIP) are also having success. However, 2013’s original closer Joel Hanrahan (11.57 ERA/12.89 FIP/7.51 xFIP) was put on the 15-day DL today, which seems to explain his ugly numbers. University of Hawai’i graduate Steven Wright will replace Hanrahan in the bullpen and is expected to pitch in long relief.
Can the Cleveland Indians perform well enough to justify the prediction of some idiot writer? If Jimenez can recover his mechanics, Masterson regain his ace form, and they hit just well enough, they just might. They just might.