Purgatory Online

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Angels used good pitching, (mostly) sharp defense, timely hitting, perceptive managing, and a couple of White Sox miscues to steal Game 1 in Chicago last night, a game that was perhaps more important that the usual first game of a best-of-seven series. The Sox needed it to take control and pounce on the Angels' decimated pitching staff, while the Angels needed it as a hedge against what might happen if Kevin Gregg or Jarrod Washburn barfed up Game 2 (possibly literally, in the latter case).

Fortunately, the boys managed to pull it out, leaving them with one more to go before that much-needed off day. The Angels now have "home field advantage," but of course that means next to nothing without a win tonight, since the Sox could get it right back again by winning just one game in Anaheim. Going back to California up 2-0, on the other hand...well, that's a serious advantage, right there, and that should be all the motivation they need tonight. I seriously doubt anyone is thinking, even privately, that a split of the first two games puts them in charge of this series.

Tonight's game, like last night's, will hinge quite a bit on how much the Angels are able to extract from their starting pitcher, the still-wobbly Jarrod Washburn. Although Washburn's been eating solid food again for a couple of days now, anyone who's had strep throat (and that's pretty much everyone, right?) knows that recuperation takes a few days. Both Washburn's command and velocity will be under the microscope, and it shouldn't take too long to see what he's got.

With Scot Shields going two innings last night, Kelvim Escobar would seem to be the logical guy to turn to if Washburn makes it past the fifth and the score is close. I'd also not be surprised by a Brendan Donnelly sighting, even though I'm sure at this point that Scioscia and Black have little confidence in him, simply because there may be no alternative.

The White Sox, meanwhile, send up Mark Buehrle. Buehrle took something of a back seat to Contreras down the stretch, but for much of the season was Chicago's ace. The Angels have seen him three times this year already, with varying success - one earned run in nine innings on May 24, three earned runs in 8.1 innings on May 30, and five earned runs in six innings on September 9. Washburn came within one day of pitching for the Angels on all three of those occasions, facing the White Sox on May 25, May 30, and September 9. On the two occasions they matched up against each other they performed fairly similarly, with a slight advantage to Buehrle.

Buehrle's splits:
vLHB - .271/.290/.396, 215 PA, 0.70 BB9, 6.10 K9, 9.75 H9
vRHB - .260/.296/.375, 756 PA, 1.75 BB9, 5.55 K9, 8.95 H9

At first glance, Buehrle appears to be one of those lefties who actually fare worse against left-handed hitters, albeit only slightly. But, looking at those plate appearance numbers, it's clear something else is going on here. That's too many appearances for the numbers to be a sample size artifact - at least as a first explanation - but the huge difference between left-handed plate appearances and right-handed plate appearances does imply to me that selection bias is playing a big role in the numbers. In other words, managers are sending only their best lefties to the plate against him, so his numbers versus LHB are worse than they would be if he faced average hitters. Thus, there is no potential advantage to be gained by stocking the lineup with lefties tonight; that PA number tells us that the normal lineup versus left-handed pitchers should obtain. To wit:

Figgins - CF
Cabrera - SS
Guerrero - RF
Anderson - LF/DH
Molina - C
Erstad - 1B
Rivera - DH/LF
Quinlan - 3B
Kennedy - 2B

Rivera and Erstad could trade places, but the above is more or less how Scioscia sent them out there when the Angels faced Buehrle a month ago (Sorensen actually started at second in that game). It's also possible, I suppose, that Izturis could play third, since Washburn has evolved into a groundball pitcher and Izturis's defense is perceived as better than Quinlan's, but I doubt it.

As usual, the Angels will need to play excellent defense and execute well on offense to win this game. If they can fight off exhaustion for one more night, they'll have a shot.