Stick to the NBA, Sports Guy (Part XVILVLXXIIII)

>> Sunday

When I saw that Simmons answered an all-MLB mailbag this week, I just had to see what Bosto-centric lunacy this unearthed. It wasn't the gold mine I'd expected, but it did offer a few ignorant opinions that I had to address.

2. Manager Eric Wedge stuck to his guns, started Paul Byrd in Game 4 (I thought Wedge was crazy, like so many others did) and pitched his embattled closer in the ninth when he easily could have brought out a lights-out Rafael Betancourt for a second inning, announcing to everybody, "This is our team, this is what we did all year, I'm not changing now." And it paid off. They won. You have to hand it to him.

(Wedge didn't get enough credit for dusting off the Artist Formerly Known as Trot Nixon, then starting him in Game 3 for the simple reason that Trot has ALWAYS owned Roger Clemens. As soon as I saw Trot in the lineup, I thought to myself, "Wow, I don't care how washed-up Trot is, he's hitting a homer in this game." And it happened. Sure, Trot ended up blowing the game open with an outfield error a few innings later, but it happened. Let's make sure that Trot ends up in Clemens' nursing home 50 years from now. Assuming Clemens has retired by then.)

More on his first point following bullet-point 4.

But first, the Trot Nixon thing.

The hindsight provided by the Nixon error aside (managers can't anticipate such things), I'm not sure the hindsight of the homer entirely justifies the start.

Granted, Nixon's career line against Clemens is impressive: 16-40, 8 BB, 5 HR, 5 2B. But pitcher-batter matchups are funny things. 1) They rely on small sample sizes, obviously. 2) As players age, their games change and adapt to the loss of physical abilities, creating an entirely new head-to-head dynamic. I mean, would anyone say that Dwight Gooden vs. Rafael Palmero in 1987 meant anything in 1997? I think the same goes for Nixon-Clemens. Most of those matchups took place when both were in their primes. Both players have seen their skills diminish considerably.

Who does that favor? Hard to say. Consider that Tony Gwynn absolutely owned the greatest pitcher of all-time (no bias), Greg Maddux--39-94, (.415), 11 BB, .997 OPS. Against John Burkett, a decidely less talented pitcher, he went 9-39 (.231), 3 BB, 2 2B, .561 OPS; vs. Ken Hill: 14-52 (.269) .700 OPS.

So sometimes a player will hit much worse against a worse pitcher (in terms of overall numbers) than against a great pitcher. My point being, Clemens's dimishing skills could actually make him more effective against an individual hitter who has also aged, and who is--I don't know--55% as effective as he was in his prime.

4. Joe "Never a Doubt!" Borowski slammed the door on the Yanks with one of those classic Borowski saves -- he gave up one homer and another potential homer that curved foul before whiffing Posada to end the series. I never thought a baseball closer could match the "no, no, no ... yes!!!!" dynamic of Antoine Walker in his prime, but Borowski has to be the most compelling guy in the playoffs right now, a potential successor to Calvin Schiraldi, Mitch Williams, Jose Mesa and everyone else of that ilk. Can you win a World Series with a closer who makes the '96 John Wetteland look like Eric Gagne during his 84-save streak? If you remember, the 2001 World Series champs survived two Byung-Hyun Kim meltdowns in the same series. So it's definitely possible. It's just that Indians fans might be throwing up blood for the next two weeks.

I swear--I'm not out to trash Jo-Bo. As I've already mentioned, I loved him in '03. I admire his perseverence (not getting a real major league gig til he was 31). But he is not good. B.H. Kim has nothing to do with this argument.

Yes, Kim was a little kid in '01 and may have been spooked by postseason play. Or maybe he was just hurt by good hitters getting good wood on decent pitches. But revisionists who believe that Kim was not an effective reliever that year, or that his '01 WS appearance ruined his career are sadly mistaken. He had an excellent '01 season (98 IP, 58 H, 113 K, 1.04 WHIP) and followed that up with an '02 of 84 IP, 64 H, 92 K, 1.07 WHIP. All excellent.

Borowski has done nothing of the sort in his career. Will that mean he'll have a series like Kim had? Of course not. But does he slightly hurt the chances of the Indians winning this series? Undeniably. (Also, Schiraldi was awesome in '86--something Simmons's Buckno-centric mind forgets.)

Anyway, that was about it for refutable comments. Sports Guy spends the rest of the column sticking to the only thing he knows better than the NBA: non-sports topics.


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