Reality Check

Every so often, you'll read some jackass who has gone through Baseball-Reference, snarkily disproving an old-timer's fond remembrance of an event that probably didn't happen the way he told it. I love those guys.

Now it's my turn! Except the old-timer in question is Takashi Saito, who is old only in baseball terms. Still, one wonders if he truly thinks this is what happened:

Saito has no illusions of being the closer in Boston, and he knows one of his biggest challenges is adapting to a setup role he's not had before. When he came back from elbow issues last September, the Dodgers used him to close, but then he became a mop-up man.

"Just before the playoffs, and even after we clinched, I came in to close a few games," he said. "I think there were some difficulties in communication, but I had prepared to be a closer but I'd be brought into games and situations where it was 10-0 and I wouldn't perform really well. At the time, I don't know if I felt disappointed . . . but I moved beyond that, and if the team had advanced to the World Series I would have been ready to come back in."

Nobody had ever mentioned this possibility before — just that he had struggled after returning from the injury — so I made a quick run to Saito's 2008 gamelog. And it's not true. Not even close.

Saito pitched six times after returning Sept. 15, and true enough he wasn't sharp: A 4.76 ERA in 5.2 innings, striking out seven, walking four and allowing runs in three games while taking a loss and a blown save. But only once was her brought in with the game not within a run — his first game back, with the Dodgers up eight, and he pitched a scoreless inning.

On Sept. 18, he blew a save by giving up the game-tying run in the sixth of an eventual Dodger win; on Sept. 20, he pitched a scoreless seventh inning in a tie game and got the win; on Sept. 21, he gave up the game-winning run in the 11th and took the loss; on Sept. 25, he gave up a run in the eighth after the Dodgers were already down one; and on Sept. 27, he pitched a scoreless ninth in a one-run game to earn the save. Granted, the usage is different from what he was used to — he had never appeared in a game before the ninth inning until Sept. 15, but the leverage index for his final five games was very high — over 1.0 in each game. "Mop up" doesn't really describe it.

The only time all season in which Saito came in with his team ahead by 10 was on April 12, when he hadn't appeared in six days. He pitched a scoreless ninth. In fact, his ERA over the six games in which Saito appeared in a mop-up role (ahead by five or more)? 0.00. So I would guess there were other reasons for Saito's poor performance — unless he simply cannot pitch earlier than the ninth inning, in which case he won't last long on the Red Sox. 

If it's not the injury (and that's the most likely explanation), maybe it was just bad luck combined with some rustiness. Take a five-game stretch from any elite closer, and you'll find some less than stellar lines. From May 28 to June 20, Saito had an ERA of 4.50 because he gave up runs in four out of nine games, losing two and blowing a save. During a five-game stretch from July 4-13, Jonathan Papelbon posted a 5.79 ERA and lost a game. Even Mariano Rivera from July 1-19 gave up runs in three out of five games (surrounding the All-Star break) and took a loss. It happens.

It's not a big deal if Saito doesn't remember correctly the events of a few months ago (I know I don't!), or interpreted pitching earlier than the ninth as mop-up duty even if it really wasn't. But it seems strange that a reporter would just let that stand, however, when it's so easy to check and so easy to see that it's simply untrue.

8 comments… add one

  • paul, this is one of those rare moments for you and me…i’m going to defend you…i don’t see anything snarky about using facts to help clear up someone’s memory…we do it here all the time, mostly without the snarkiness…but, i’m confused…you ended by concluding that it’s no big deal to not remember something exactly as it happened, and that it was strange for a reporter not to call him on his fuzzy memory…if that’s all there is to it, why devote time to such a detailed post about the incident…seriously, i’m not being a wiseguy, but is there more lying under the surface that i just don’t see?…for me, i find the 10 run lead exaggeration his way of saying that he doesn’t have the same respect for the importance of the 8th inning role vs. being the closer… he’s confusing “setup” with “mopup”

    dc February 23, 2009, 10:45 am
  • why devote time to such a detailed post about the incident
    No self control.

    Paul SF February 23, 2009, 11:27 am
  • Baseballreference > fake memories

    Atheose - SF February 23, 2009, 4:28 pm
  • Please, God, please … Takashi Saito > Eric Gagne.
    In fact, we want Saito >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Gagne.
    Because if Saito = Gagne, or God forbid, Saito < Gagne … oh, boy. Talk about sucklicity.

    I'mBillMcNeal February 23, 2009, 9:18 pm
  • I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
    Sarah
    http://www.craigslistdecoded.info

    Sara February 24, 2009, 6:22 am
  • Damnit Bill, don’t you know that saying Gagne’s name three times summons him?

    Atheose - SF February 24, 2009, 6:49 am
  • Somehow I think Sara(h) should know how to spell her own name. Copy/paste across the blogosphere is one amateur way to try to game Google.

    Rob February 24, 2009, 7:42 am
  • I have great hope for Takashi Saito. I do not think he wil be another Gagne. Remember Gagne had the success he did because of his use of PEDs. Upon arriving in Boston, he no longer took his PEDs and his performance was sub par.
    Saito seems to have consistency as his hallmark. I am looking forward to seeing him this season greatly helping the Red Sox with his outstanding pitching.

    SoxRtheBest February 24, 2009, 9:53 am

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