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Friday, September 18, 2009

No Stupid Umpiring This Time: Angels 4, Red Sox 3

What really annoyed the umpires about Wednesday's game, and why I suspect the league is threatening Scioscia and company with fines, was probably Brian Fuentes' accusation that the umpires were afraid to make the right call in Fenway:
Fuentes, who slammed his glove against the ground after the second questionable call on Green, not only said that plate umpire Rick Reed had missed the call but that umpires might be too afraid to make the right call if it went against the Red Sox.

"We're out there playing our hearts out," Fuentes said. "It's obviously emotional for both teams, and to have it taken away from you like that is discouraging.

"It's frustrating, especially here and in other places where they seem a little timid to make a call. It just seems like that's the way it is here, time and time again."

Fuentes, in his first year in the American League, said he has heard players on the Angels and other teams say that, in this oldest and coziest ballpark in the American League, the umpires too often favor the home team on a close call.

"It's either a mistake, or they're scared," he said. "It's one of the two."

It's clear from the subsequent war of words that this isn't going away any time soon.

Mercifully, yesterday's game had no such moments. Despite my misgivings about Wednesday's contest, David Pinto's takeaway is about right, i.e. both John Lackey, and last night's starter Ervin Santana, have enough to pitch well in the hostile confines of Fenway. The offense clicked, with Howie Kendrick ripping a solo homer in the third to give the Angels a short-lived 1-0 lead; Howie also provided the winning margin in the ninth by cashing in Terry Evans with an RBI single. In all, Howie went 3-for-4, one of his best recent performances.

But really, the most critical part of the game — and arguably one that won't show up in the Fangraphs WPA report — was the wild pitch which arguably could have been a passed ball, but bounced balls inevitably get called on the pitcher, not the catcher.

ESPN BoxAngels recap

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I think the reason the league is threatening fines is because they know the umpires screwed up, and they'll do pretty much anything to point the finger somewhere else. It would be wonderful if someday the league or the umps would take responsibility for their incompetence. Players get benched, coaches get fired, but crappy umpires just continue to work.

And I'd rather see Santana in the closer role in October. The other four starters are all qualified to pitch in the post-season, and Santana has the stuff that will most logically transfer to the bullpen. And I'd rather see someone with his stuff, demeanor, and experience in their over Fuentes or the rookies.
Totally agreed, Seitz, about the reasons for the threats; the umpires know they screwed up. Frankly, I'd just as soon see Questec call balls and strikes and leave that job off the umpires' resumes; the fact that a whole game can be thrown by one bad call (see Eddings, Doug) is pretty awful. On the other hand, I've heard it said that one consequence of robo-strike-calls is that strikes that clip the back, top part of the zone would get called strikes where they basically aren't anymore if they don't cross the front of the plate in the zone.

Santana as closer is an intriguing idea, but this is a guy who's pitched four whole games in his career out of the pen. I'm not sure it's a great idea from that perspective (think Washburn in the 2004 ALDS Game 3).
Then again, think Santana in Game 5 of the 2005 ALDS. Obviously, he wasn't serving as closer in that instance, but still. We know that Lackey is going to be in the postseason rotation. Weaver's having too good a season not to be there as well. And assuming the Angels are facing Boston, you've got to figure that both Kazmir and Saunders are going to be in the mix. Historically, those two have had the most success against the Red Sox.
In 2004 Washburn gave up a homer to a guy who had 41 that year, would hit 47 the next year, and 54 the year after that. Lots of guys gave up home runs to David Ortiz. I'm not sure that's really an argument against using Santana out of the pen. Santana also has much better reliever stuff than Washburn did. I think he'd be even more effective in a one or two inning situation where he didn't have to pace himself. Plus, he could actually give you a two inning save.

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