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Soup of This Day #233: The Clown With The Frown

August 16, 2012

San Francisco bridges in fog
A couple of San Francisco’s bridges with a bit of fog thrown in. The closest bridge is the Golden Gate, whilst the further spans are of the Bay Bridge. To the south of the latter, past Candlestick Park and edging onto the waters of the bay, is San Francisco International Airport. As a general rule for landing there, concretey runway good, watery bay bad – Photo: Brocken Inaglory, 2009. Brocken Inaglory is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

It’s time for the Red Sox as a whole to adopt the Asoh Defence.

This legitimate technique for dealing with a crisis has its origins in a plane flight, Japan Airlines Flight 2, on November 22, 1968. That aircraft, a DC 8 with 96 passengers and 11 crew, was scheduled to fly from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to San Francisco International Airport.

Most of the flight went well.

Not all of it did though – What went wrong can best be described by what Longworth72’s swimming coaches could have said when he was 1st learning to dive in at the start of each race:

‘Nice take-off, shame about the landing.’

And from that experience I can personally confirm that when you don’t stick the landing almost nobody recalls the take-off – It’s the belly-flop into the water that lingers in the memory. And so it was for Flight 2…

In dense fog, Captain Kohei Asoh mistakenly and apparently exceptionally gently plonked his plane down 2.5 miles short of the runway and into the waters of San Francisco Bay. Fortuitously nobody and nothing was damaged by this unconventional approach to getting the plane to stop – Allegedly the 1st some passengers knew of the mishap was seeing a sailing boat pass close by. All of the passengers and crew were promptly rescued unharmed and within 6 months the plane was back in service.

There are some similarities there with the 2012 Boston Red Sox season. Their take-off was ok but they have descended back to Earth too soon and with a decent splash.

A splash that with the release of an article by Yahoo Sports has become a sort of aqueous mushroom cloud.

The explosive piece by Jeff Passan was published just 2 days ago, August 14, and it refers to a meeting held in late July (the 26th).

That get-together, depending on who you believe was either a result of: a. A natural and collective search for continuous improvement; or b. A group of players, with Adrian Gonzalez as spokesperson, texting management to tell them that they could no longer abide Bobby Valentine at the controls; or c. A totally, like random dudes, ABBA-inspired flash mob.

1 of those options is fairly unbelievable and it ain’t the ABBA 1.

According to the sources referenced in the article there were a couple of key incidents that prompted this near-mutiny. The most prominent of those seems to be that in a July 22nd start against the Bobby V left Jon Lester in for a 4 inning, 11 run, bloodbath that was adjudged by fellow players to have unnecessarily embarrassed the popular pitcher.

Yeah.

An ace starter on $6m a year and with a then 5 and 8 record going for 11 runs across 4 innings has the potential to look a little embarrassing.

Just a little mind.

As opposed to say, being pulled after 1 or 2 innings, which tends to leave said starter looking like a pillar of the pitching community.

Breaking down that game a little more and we can see that Lester went for 5 runs in the 1st. This is not a behaviour unique to Jon Lester among 2012 Red Sox starters, albeit at a slightly higher than average level. To this point of the season Boston has coughed up 0.79 runs per 1st inning, ranking them equal 28th out of 30 teams on this measure. The good news though is that after the 1st inning the defence tends to settle things down and so leaving Lester in for a 2nd inning was not an unreasonable call.

That 2nd inning went for 4 runs.

Which is not good and not normal for the 2012 Red Sox, who have allowed just 0.40 runs per 2nd inning. This ranks the Sox in 12th place and is a whopping 0.45 runs per 2nd inning better off than the worst team.

Which is Toronto, who were ironically the beneficiaries of Lester’s largesse back in that 22nd July outing.

So why didn’t Bobby V pull Lester before the magnitude of the run-chase went from doable to blowout?

We kind of need to look at the games before and after Lester’s humiliation to understand that. In the game prior (the 21st) 5 Sox relievers covered 2.2 innings. For the 20th, 3 Sox relievers handled 3 innings. On the 19th it was 1 closing out the last. On the 18th, 3 covered 3. On the 17th, Lester’s previous start, 2 other pitchers did 5 innings of relief work after the ace allowed 7 runs across 4 innings.

Now coming back the other way and looking ahead in the schedule there was a 3-game series with Texas, then a day off, then a 3-game series with the Yankees and then a 3-game stoush with Detroit. Bear in mind that the Sox were still a viable play-off shot at that point and the 3 afore-mentioned teams are all 1s likely to be contenders come October.

I could be wrong but my sense was that Bobby V left in Lester because he wanted to give a fragile pen some breathing time – Some space to set up for the weeks ahead.

So leaving him out there for the team was probably an ok call but would gaining that breathing room via Jon Lester have unnecessarily damaged his confidence?

Hope so. The man and some of his team-mates seem to have way too much confidence in themselves. So much so that they’ve kinda dealt with poor form by shrugging it off – Been good before, will come good again.

Yeeeeeeaaah, there’s having confidence and belief in yourself and then there is just plain old delusion. For instance it’s ok for me to be proud about my writing but believing that a Pulitzer is a few keystrokes away is less than constructive.

Jon Lester has a 6 and 10 record (It was 5 and 8 at that time) and an ERA of 5.20. More than that, he’s a clubhouse lead – The guy the other pitchers look to.

Fellow ace, Josh Beckett certainly seems to – His ERA is 5.19 and he has a 5 and 10 record. Meanwhile 36 yr old veteran righty Scott Atchison has hammered out 46 innings in relief and has an ERA of 1.76. Clayton Mortenson has come out of the pen for 28.1 innings and has an ERA of 1.59. Junichi Tazawa – 21.2 and 1.66. Even Andrew Miller, who saw his starter’s dreams take a hit in 2011, has thrown 30 innings at 3.00.

For them, Jon Lester should eat a couple of innings that taste like day-old garbage. Heaven knows, his supporting cast has been forced to dine on his poor starts for most of this season. In this context a little embarrassment is ok.

I’m not suggesting that Bobby V. should run on out and pull Lester’s pantaloons down to reveal his Elmo undies.

Something else to consider – Clay Buchholz had a horror start to the year. After 6 games he had an ERA of 9.09 and had given the opposition at least 5 runs in each of his starts and as much as 7. Throughout this, only once did Bobby V pull him out before he’d done 4 innings and that was after 3.2.

And he’s got better – Slowly but steadily. On his 8th start he kept it to just 2 runs across 5 innings. For his 10th start it was 2 runs in 7 innings. His 11th yielded 2 runs in 8 innings and his 12th was a complete game shutout in which he allowed just 4 hits.

Clay Buchholz now has an ERA of 4.24 and a 2012 record of 10 and 3. The man played himself into form and maybe part of that is Bobby V. giving him innings for that to happen. Given that the Sox are spiritually done for 2012 surely it’s not a stretch to think that Lester could benefit from the same approach.

Back to the Asoh Defence, which gets it’s name from what Captain Kohei Asoh said after he’d erroneously parked his plane in San Francisco Bay. When he was asked what had happened, what had gone wrong, he succinctly replied:

‘Asoh @#$% up.’

Yep, he did.

Over to you Jon Lester and Co.

The Clown With The Frown

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