Sunday, August 12, 2007

Maybe it's the pressure

I was surprised when I saw the Red Sox bring in Gagne for Okajima in the 8th inning today. Okajima had walked Patterson (bad), then got Markakis to hit into a fielder's choice. That brought up a righty, Miguel Tejada. Tejada isn't exactly what he used to be, with only 10 home runs on the season, and a .777 OPS, his lowest this millenium.

Okajima is a lefty and they went to the righty Gagne, but I was surprised for a number of reasons. Was Gagne really brought in to "play the percentages" with Okijima and righty/lefty matchups? Is it good for Okajima to warm up and come in when he only gets one out and just 8 pitches? Or is that sort of wasting him?

Only four times all season, before Gagne arrived did Okajima pitch less than 1 full inning in an appearance. And while I don't think he's as good as his numbers (quite frankly who is as good as Okajima's numbers), he does have a 1.11 ERA, and righties are only hitting .180 off of him.

Gagne has also always been a 1-inning guy. And he's been putrid since going to the Red Sox, so why take Okajima out for him? I thought the reason to get Gagne was so you can have a 7th, 8th, 9th of Okajima/Gagne/Papelbon. Splitting time with Okajima in the 8th, doesn't make the Red Sox any better than they were. Not only that, it's proving so far to make them worse.

One question Gagne's performance brings up, is maybe he just can't pitch under pressure. Sure he's been a closer for a long time, but LA is not the pressure of New York or Boston. When has he ever been in such a pressure situation? He went to the postseason only once in his career, 2004 with the Dodgers. He pitched just fine, throwig 3 innings, allowing 1 hit and 1 walk. However, while it was the playoffs, it wasn't exactly pressure baseball. His pitched in two games. His first outing came with the Dodgers down by 5 runs, and his second outing was with the Dodgers down by 4 runs. Not his fault he didn't pitch any pressurized innings, but he didn't.

Gagne has pitched in three all-star games. His first one was in 2002, he came in with the NL in the lead in the 5th inning, and he gave up a home run to Alfonso Soriano. He gave up another hit in the inning as well, but still left with the lead.

In the 2003 All-Star game, he pitched in more pressure. Having not given up a blown save all season, 31-for-31 at that point, he got to pitch later in the game. Hank Blalock still thanks Gagne for his All-Star Game MVP award. Gagne gave up three runs, including that home run, taking the Blown Save and the Loss. It was Gagne's only blown save of the season.

He got another chance in 2004 mid-summer classic, and this time pitched well. He allowed just a walk in his inning. However, unlike his other two appearances when the NL had the lead, by the time Gagne got into the game, the AL was already up by 5 runs, and the NL only had one Mariano Rivera inning to go.

It's also possible that it has nothing to do with pressure, but it could be that Gagne is a creature of habit, something you can be as a closer, but not in a setup role. Let's look back to 2003, the year he didn't blow a single save. He pitched 77 games that year, 55 in save situations, 22 in non-save situations. In the 55 games he came into to get the save, he went 0-0, with 55 saves, and a 0.30 ERA, allowing just 2 runs, and no home runs. In his 22 non-save situation games, he had a 3.33, allowing 10 runs (9 earned) and 2 home runs. While that's not horrible, it was 10 times the ERA he had in save situations.

Maybe it's pressure, maybe he's a creature of habit, it's hard to tell. What's not hard to tell is that there is something wrong with Eric Gagne in Boston.

1 comment:

Sully said...

I fear that it might just be that all the reports about his diminished velocity are true, and he just doesn't have the same stuff he used to. If that's true, good job by the Rangers to get something for him after his unlikely hot streak.

But it's clear that he should be the 7th inning guy going forward, for better or for worse. Okajima has started to hit a bit of a wall, but he's still the best option by far, to set up for Papelbon.