Why are the Angels starting Saunders in Game 2?

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Unlike the Yankees, the Angels will change up their postseason rotation order for the ALCS. As we learned yesterday, the Angels will start Joe Saunders in Game 2 in place of Jered Weaver, who started Game 2 against Boston in the ALDS. Manager Mike Scioscia’s reasoning is that he wants a lefty to pitch in Yankee Stadium to somewhat neutralize the Yankees power threat to right field. That’s a fine tactic, but why would Saunders get the nod over Scott Kazmir?

Scioscia didn’t elaborate on the decision, noting only that Saunders “has the tools to succeed in that stadium.” This is quite the vote of confidence from the Angels’ skipper, considering Saunders has yet to pitch in the new Yankee Stadium. Even in the old park, Saunders started just one game, allowing two runs over six innings. So why would Scioscia say that he has the tools to succeed in a place he has almost no experience pitching?

Before hitting the DL in early August, Saunders was having a terrible year. Through 136.2 innings he had allowed 81 earned runs for a 5.33 ERA. Even more pathetic was his 72:51 K/BB ratio. The DL stint seemed to help, though, as Saunders finished the season strong, allowing just 14 earned runs over 49.1 innings and improving his K/BB to 29:13. The knock is that just two of those starts were against playoff teams. Saunders got hit pretty hard by the Red Sox on September 16, though he did pitch well against the Yankees in his next start, allowing two runs in 8.1 innings.

The problem with evaluating Saunders based on his late-season run is that it’s exactly that: a late-season run. Teams call up their minor leaguers in September, which creates a different environment than we see from April through August. Bench players get more playing time, especially on non-contenting teams. And, lo and behold, five of the eight teams Saunders faced since his return from the DL had no shot at the playoffs. That makes it difficult to evaluate his performance post-DL. For all we know he could be the same pitcher as in the first half who happen to get lucky down the stretch.

(Remember, there’s a reason that more no-hitters are thrown in September than any other month.)

If we assume that the DL stint fixed whatever was wrong with Saunders, perhaps the decision makes a bit more sense. In his breakout 2008 season, Saunders pitched much better on the road, a 2.55 ERA and .643 OPS against, while pitching to a 4.27 ERA and .736 OPS against at home. The difference was mostly in home runs: he allowed 13 at home and only eight at home (in an equal sample of 99 innings each). Both his strikeout rate and walk rate were better at home, though.

Mike Scioscia surely knows his pitchers better than I do, but given the performance evidence it seems like a questionable decision to let Saunders pitch Game 2. It assumes that his 2008 breakout season is a true indicator of his ability, and that his late-season surge is a better indicator than his early season struggles. It’s tough to make a case for either claim. Saunders, a lefty with fringy stuff, doesn’t appear to be a guy who can sustain a 3.41 ERA. Even in 2008, his FIP was 4.36 and his tRA was 4.49.

It makes sense that Scioscia doesn’t want Weaver to pitch at Yankee Stadium. He pitched there twice this season and surrendered nine runs over 13.1 innings. In 16 career innings at the old Stadium, Weaver wasn’t much better. He allowed 10 runs in that span, including six home runs. As Dave Allen notes, Weaver’s extreme fly ball tendencies make him a liability at Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees mash fly balls over the wall. (Though, in good news for the Yankees, his extreme fly ball tendencies, at whichever park, help negate the Angels infield defense.)

If Weaver is scheduled to pitch Game 3 in Anaheim, why not flip-flip him with the ALDS Game 3 stater, Scott Kazmir? Despite his early-season struggles, he pitched well against the Yankees this year. Over 19.2 innings he allowed just seven runs, striking out 14 to just four walks. He’s been a Yankee killer for the most part, allowing just 26 runs over 87.2 career innings, with 86 strikeouts and 39 walks — but more importantly, just five home runs. The only knock is that he performed poorly at the old Yankee Stadium, allowing 14 runs over 25 innings. So perhaps that’s why Scioscia chose Saunders.

Keeping Jered Weaver away from Yankee Stadium is a good tactic for the Angels. However, in choosing his Game 2 starter, it appears Scioscia got a little too cute. Instead of going with his No. 3 starter, he’ll go into battle with a guy who didn’t start in the ALDS. More importantly, he’s starting a pitcher who was terrible most of the year, and only made a run when most teams were out of contention. This is good news for the Yankees, though. Instead of facing Kazmir, a perpetual nuisance, they’ll face Saunders, whom they should hit a bit easier. The decision also means that they’ll face Kazmir just once, in Game 4.

We won’t know how it will play out until the game happens, but from the ivory tower, it seems that Scioscia made the wrong call.

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  • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    We also thought Girardi made the wrong call starting Molina and it turned out to have exaclty 0 impact on the game.

    Just saying.

    • radnom

      I think the starting pitcher is going to have more effect on the game as a whole than the #9 hitter for 6 innings.

      Just saying.

      ;)

    • http://www.newyorkjets.com/image_assets/8997/052109_coach_rex_ryan_presser_320.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      I disagree. The Yanks won, so no harm, no foul, but the decision to start Molina over Posada certainly had an impact on the game.

      • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

        Yup- Molina coaxed a wild Burnett through six successful innings.

        That;s what you meant, right?

        • whozat

          All the pitcher can really control is walks, strikeouts, HBP, and MAYBE batted ball type.

          Burnett got lucky against a weak and not-very-patient offense. Giving up seven free baserunners and K’ing 6 is by no definition a good start.

          • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

            Sorta being facetious here. Burnett wasn’t too sharp, and we really can’t know how much Molina helped.

          • radnom

            All the pitcher can really control is walks, strikeouts, HBP, and MAYBE batted ball type.

            So, in other words, quite a fucking lot.

            Irrelevant to your point on Burnett, but I just can’t stand it when people act like any time the batter makes contact with the ball, the outcome is completely random. There is more to pitching evaluation than K/BB ratio.

            • whozat

              There’s actually no evidence that the pitcher can control his BABIP.

              He CAN try to increase his groundball percentage…but Burnett doesn’t do that. He’s a flyball/strikeout pitcher. Walking five guys and hitting two indicates he pitched like shit. He had no command and he stranded an ungodly amount of baserunners. Boo. He can do that with Posada behind the plate, and having Posada hitting 6th and Swisher hitting 8th is a way better lineup.

              • Bo

                how can you say Molina had zero impact? He let up one run in 6 innings. How is that no impact?

                • http://imgur.com/NMNVd.jpg Joba Powers (all I needs is a jheri curl mullet)

                  Who do you blame for the one run? The hitter is doing what he is supposed to do.

                • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

                  How do you know Molina is responsible for that impact?

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  For SalBoGrantLanny, correlation DOES equal causation.

        • http://www.newyorkjets.com/image_assets/8997/052109_coach_rex_ryan_presser_320.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          Just to clarify my original point, which I didn’t realize would spawn such a conversation… All I meant was that it’s ridiculous to say that starting one player over another ‘has no impact’ on a game just because the team that was expected to win, won. I didn’t mean that Molina was somehow responsible for the win. He caught Burnett – maybe he did a better job than Posada would have, maybe not. He hit – maybe Posada would have hit a homer if he hit instead of Molina and the game would have ended before extra-innings, maybe not.

          My point… Think of it this way… If Girardi sat Tex and started Molina at first, and the Yankees won the game anyway, I’d make the same point to someone who said that starting Molina “turned out to have exactly 0 impact on the game.” Of course it had an impact on the game, the fact that the Yankees won doesn’t negate that fact.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

    Thou shall not question the greatest manager who ever lived.

    • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime

      Casey Stengel? Joe McCarthy? Connie Mack?

      • Alan

        Wally Backman?

      • JGS

        Connie Mack and his .486 winning percentage

        I bet if I managed for 50 years, I would rack up a ton of wins too

        • SCT

          Buttermaker?

          • Mike Pop

            Heywood?

            • colin

              your mom?

    • Accent Shallow

      He looks so smug in the dugout. I hate him.

      (In other news, I agree with the penultimate paragraph: Scioscia has gotten a little too cute with his starters, and we can only hope it comes back to bite him. Saunders doesn’t impress me at all, so that of course means he’ll throw seven innings with one hit and two walks.)

      • Rey22

        Don’t forget the 12Ks

    • Rey22

      They gave him a RIDICULOUS extension. What was it, like ten years or something crazy like that?

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        It expires in 2018, though he could opt out after the 2015 season.

        • Rey22

          That’s insane. Why would you want to lock up a manager for that long?

        • Tom Zig

          I think my sarcasm meter is broken

  • vin

    I’ll be expecting Saunders to pitch well. Seems like every time the consensus deems that a guy will get knocked around in the postseason, he pitches well. Anyone remember Nick Blackburn? The power of the postseason really seems to motivate guys.

    Hopefully I’m wrong.

    • whozat

      Yeah, I’ve never seen the Yankees get stifled by a pitcher who pounds the zone before. It’s almost like their patient approach can sometimes backfire against a guy like that…

      nah, it’s probably postseason magic.

  • dkidd

    if friday is rained out , are we looking at gaudin vs kazmir in game 4?

    • radnom

      Ew.

  • Fred

    If they didn’t schedule the postseason games for so late in the year, we probably wouldn’t have to worry about rainouts.

    The 1958 World Series (at Yankee Stadium) started on October 1st. It’s already October 14, and we haven’t even started the league playoffs yet.

    Can you imagine what the rain picture will look like by the time the World Series starts?

    (One reason the networks should pray for a Freeway Series.)

    • whozat

      If you’d said snow, you might have had a point.

      • Bo

        Welcome to 2009 and tv.

    • andrew

      In 1958 there was no Division Series or LCS. So the playoffs were actually scheduled to start pretty much the same day as 50 years ago.

  • Bill

    Right now, weathermen are saying there’s a 70% chance of rain in NYC for both of the (first two) playoff games.

  • acb

    i was wondering why they wouldnt start kazmir but then i thought maybe its because he only goes six innings max and they dont want to expose their bullpen at yankee stadium.

    • Mike HC

      Exactly what I wrote below, albeit in far fewer words. That definitely may have been a factor.

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  • Rod

    The biggest thing that stuck out to me is that Saunders has a lower FB% than either Weaver or Kazmir by a wide margin.

    • Raf

      that probably played into the decision as well. try to minimize the HR possibility at the Stadium even though the Yankees are more than capable of hitting them on the road as well.

      he went against pretty close to the lineup he will face in game 2 in his last start against the Yankees (Molina catching but Posada in the DH spot). Arod and Matsui took him deep. Posada and Jeter were the only other players with hits against him.

    • toad

      That sounds right. Saunders’ GB/FB was .9 this year, Kazmir’s .38.

  • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ The Artist

    Joe, I agree completely. I was shocked when I saw this, knowing how tough Kazmir has been on the Yanks over his career. My first impression was that Kazmir must be hurt (esp after Sunday’s outing) but apparently he’s healthy enough to start Game 4. Someone posted over at TYU that Kazmir hasn’t been as good at Yankee stadium as he was at the Trop, but even with that I’d still start him over Saunders.

    • http://kyivpost.img.com.ua/img/forall/a/355/5.jpg Rose

      Kazmir hasn’t started at the New Yankee Stadium this year.

      And even including the gems he’s thrown against the Yankees this year at the Trop…his ERA was 6.89 in 62.2 IP there

  • JSquared

    Psshh, Tools? Come on, No One Can Stop An A-Bomb or a Tex Message !!

  • http://twitter.com/hopjake Jake H

    If Saunders throws a good game the media will call the move great. If he doesn’t I’m sure the media will just say that the Yanks are great at home. Mike S doesn’t seem to get any second guessing.

    • Russell NY

      It goes like this against any team, in any situation. Nothing new.

    • http://kyivpost.img.com.ua/img/forall/a/355/5.jpg Rose

      The Yankees are so big that their local newspapers are on their case every second of every day. They talked about it on MLB Network the other day…about when Scoscia called for the squeeze bunt in last years ALDS against the Red Sox and how it was only talked about for a day and then quickly was forgotten…they talked about how if that were the Yankees…it would have been talked about all year round during every game and Girardi would have been scolded beyond belief.

      It’s just the way it is. Baseball just isn’t that important in LA.

      • Mike HC

        Exactly. It all comes down to expectations. The Yankees are basically expected to win every game. Anything less, and something must of went horribly, inexcusably wrong. In LA, Mike S has won a WS and has the team in contention every year. That is good enough for them out there.

  • Russell NY

    Kazmir was not very good in Game 3 against the Sox a few days ago. Maybe they saw something?

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  • http://kyivpost.img.com.ua/img/forall/a/355/5.jpg Rose

    I think while Joe Saunders Home/Road splits are somewhat different…I feel it probably has to do more with Jered Weaver. Weaver’s Home/Road splits are FAR more apart.

    Home
    115 IP, 2.90 ERA, 1.061 WHIP

    Road
    96 IP, 4.78 ERA, 1.458 WHIP

    Weaver seems to be much more of a sure thing at home than Saunders is. And he can also do what he says he’s doing…he can somewhat neutralize the left handed power to right field.

    • http://kyivpost.img.com.ua/img/forall/a/355/5.jpg Rose

      But yeah, as for not putting Kazmir as the Game 2 starter instead is confusing. While his Home/Road splits are split between Tampa and Anaheim…his Home numbers aren’t that good…while his road numbers are far better.

      Although in 19 innings at Anaheim he has a 2.84 ERA…

  • Bo

    It makes sense to go Saunders. Weaver has to pitch his first game at home. Saunders did throw a good game vs the Yankees recently and he had to go lefty starter at YS. kazmir made the decision easy for him when he bombed at Fenway.

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  • Mike HC

    I still think it has something to do with the bullpen. Saunders pounds the zone and keeps his pitch count low. Even if he gives up 3 or 4 runs, he can probably pitch deeper into the game than Kazmir would be able to. Kazmir throws a lot of pitches to get his outs. Even if he pitches a shutout, he may have to leave the game after 5 or 6, forcing the Angels to go with their crap middle relief.

    Kazmir would also be put to use out of the pen in games 6 an 7, if necessary, at least as a lefty specialist. Saunders would probably not be as effective in that role. While neither of these may have anything to do with it, it is just a thought

  • http://kyivpost.img.com.ua/img/forall/a/355/5.jpg Rose

    Tomorrow is supposed to be 90% precip during the day and 60% at night…and on Saturday it’s similar…70% precip during the day and the same 60% precip at night. I’m not a weather man so I’m not exactly sure what they each mean but common sense tells me anything over 30-40% isn’t anything to be happy about…lol

  • Tank Foster

    Nobody has Saunders’ numbers agaisnt the Yankees? I can only remember one game, earlier this season, and I thought he pitched pretty well against the Yankees. Maybe Kazmir is more banged up than Saunders….maybe Scioscia thinks Saunders is in a good groove now.

    All the pitcher can really control is walks, strikeouts, HBP, and MAYBE batted ball type.

    Umm, that’s, like, ALOT. Controlling whether the batter walks, or strikes out, and exerting some control over the type of batted ball is pretty much controlling hitting. Yes, there is randomness in where the ball goes, but anyone who has watched Mo induce thousands of weakly squibbed grounders and little flares has to know that the pitcher definitely has an effect on the way the ball is hit. It may not be easy to extract from available data, but it’s there to a degree.

    • Raf

      13.1 IP, 16 H, 7 ER, 3 HR, 6 SO, 2 BB
      one clunker early in July and one real good start at the end of the season. both at home for him.

    • whozat

      “Umm, that’s, like, ALOT. Controlling whether the batter walks, or strikes out, and exerting some control over the type of batted ball is pretty much controlling hitting.”

      Yes, this is my point. Burnett failed at controlling the things over which he has the most control: giving up free baserunners vs striking guys out.

      “Yes, there is randomness in where the ball goes, but anyone who has watched Mo induce thousands of weakly squibbed grounders and little flares has to know that the pitcher definitely has an effect on the way the ball is hit. It may not be easy to extract from available data, but it’s there to a degree.”

      Again, yes, I know the pitcher has some modicum of control over this…basically, whether the ball gets hit in the air or not and, perhaps, the field to which the ball is hit. And, the better your control, the more likely you can impact batted ball types and BABIP. And Burnett is a flyball pitcher with middling-to-poor control, which means that he’s not going to suppress scoring by suppressing SLG, and he’s not going to really be able to reliably impact where the ball gets hit. Which means he needs to strike guys out and avoid freebies as much as he can. And Molina didn’t help him do that _at all_ in his start in the ALDS, which shows there’s nothing magic about Molina.

      • toad

        Which means he needs to strike guys out and avoid freebies as much as he can. And Molina didn’t help him do that _at all_ in his start in the ALDS, which shows there’s nothing magic about Molina.

        Yet the big difference between Burnett/Molina and Burnett/Posada during the regular season stemmed from Burnett’s much higher K rate with Molina (26.7% of batters) than with Posada (18.2%). And this was over hundreds of PA’s in each case. The BB rates for the two catchers were almost equal.

        Explain the difference in K’s and I think you explain the difference in Burnett’s performance. I have no theory myself.

  • Tank Foster

    whozat–do you believe that pitchers have an effect on how hard/solidly the ball is hit?

    I’d have to invoke the sample size issue on your conclusion on Molina. Can we be sure Molina didn’t help him? I’m not saying I know…in fact, I don’t think we can really know, it’s too hard to figure out what, if anything, a catcher does for a pitcher.

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