Still Awake

We're not exactly breaking news here in mentioning that Tim Wakefield's annual option year was picked up, ensuring him a 15th season as a member of the Red Sox. This inevitably invited a round of grousing from those who dislike the all-or-nothing nature of his game, the weak-hitting specialist he requires as a catcher, or the inevitable catastrophe that results when he's called upon in the postseason. I can sympathize with all three of these arguments. To the latter two, I'd ask two questions: 1. Is there such a thing as a good-hitting backup catcher? 2. Would Wakefield keep getting postseason starts if he were having terrible regular seasons? 

The answer to both questions, but especially the second, is, "Of course not." In fact, Wakefield — who hasn't been viewed as anything more than a fourth starter in years — provides a good deal more than his $4 million-per-year cost.

Since 2003, when Wakefield was made a full-time starter again, his worst seasonal ERA+ has been 100. He's started at least 30 games in each of those seasons except 2006. In those six years, he has a 106 ERA+. Here are some pitchers no more than two ERA+ points better than Wakefield since 2003 (and at least 900 innings pitched), and how much each made in 2008:
  • Ted Lilly, 107, $8 million
  • Dontrelle Willis, 107, $7 million 
  • Barry Zito 107, $14.5 million
  • Aaron Harang, 106, $6.75 million
  • Tim Wakefield, 106, $4 million 
  • Cliff Lee, 105, $4 million
  • Jon Garland, 105, $12 million
  • Tom Glavine, 104, $8 million
  • Greg Maddux, 104, $10 million
  • Jamie Moyer, 103, $6 million
  • Jeff Suppan, 103, $8.25 million
  • Gil Meche, 102, $11.4 million

A few other notes on Wakefield's 14-year career with Boston: He's thrown at least 140 innings every season — even the ones where he was used mostly as a reliever. Only Mike Mussina and Greg Maddux have matched that in the same time span. Only nine starting pitchers have even thrown at least 2,500 innings the same 14-year span as Wakefield. By necessity, to be given that many innings, they all have ERA+ over 100, and not a single one of them are (or have been) considered any less than valuable for their teams:

  1. Pedro Martinez, 156
  2. Randy Johnson, 150
  3. Greg Maddux, 133 
  4. Tom Glavine, 122 
  5. Mike Mussina, 119 
  6. Andy Pettitte, 116 
  7. Jamie Moyer, 110 
  8. Tim Wakefield, 110 
  9. Kenny Rogers, 108    

 This Sox fan, at least, welcomes Wakefield back for 2009. 

7 comments… add one
  • It’s not really Wake that bothers me (even though I’d rather mow the grass than watch him pitch), but rather the catcher argument.
    I think if a team has one catcher that is capable of getting out of his own way, or maybe approaches league average, they can carry a specialist. But, when the Red Sox have TWO guys who are offensively terrible, with terrible throwing arms, it’s hard to justify. Let me edit that, Cash has a good arm, but the runner is already at second by the time he gets the ball anyhow, so I can’t really hold that against him.
    I liken this back to the other thread which I did not comment on: If the Red Sox sign a catcher not named Jason Varitek, and actually get ANY KIND of production from that position, then I’m fine with Wake pitching, but if they go with the same terrible duo again next year, they’re probably going to fall short of what they did this year.
    The Red Sox MUST move parts to get a decent catcher. This old attage of “anything we get from our catcher is a bonus” no longer really applies in this league. They need to at least be average, especially on the Red Sox where guys know they can walk the bases loaded to get to Varitek – especially late in games.

    Brad November 3, 2008, 12:34 pm
  • But, when the Red Sox have TWO guys who are offensively terrible, with terrible throwing arms, it’s hard to justify.
    Hey, let’s focus on getting a league average STARTING catcher before we start worrying about whether our backup is any good. If we can get Teagarden or Salty then I’m totally fine with Cash as a backup. Backups aren’t supposed to be good anyways, and to expect that in this catcher-deficit market is definitely asking too much.

    Atheose November 3, 2008, 12:54 pm
  • That’s exactly what I was trying to say, Ath. I think it’s fine if you have one, but definitely not two, which led me to include the part about how the Sox CANNOT sign Varitek if they’ve already chosen to go with Wakefield again.

    Brad November 3, 2008, 1:08 pm
  • Brad, the only reason the Sox have TWO lousy catchers is because the starter is lousy. There is no such thing as a good backup (at least, not since Doug Mirabelli c. 2004). Kevin Cash is a backup, and any marginal improvement we’d find by getting a better-hitting backup would likely be wiped out by the inability to find another 4/5 starter who could post a 100-110 ERA+ in such a significant number of innings.

    Paul SF November 3, 2008, 3:45 pm
  • I understand some of the resistance to Wake, but I’d just like to say I’m glad he has a job in the majors and that I get to see him frequently, regardless of how the Yanks fare against him. I know their are purists (Brad) who can’t abide those who throw “junk,” but I’ve always been a fan of the kooky aesthetics of the knuckler, and any player who can use guile and skill and smarts, rather than raw power, to be successful. I’m glad there’s room in baseball for the Wakefields and the Duques and the Moyerses, to say nothing of the Mussinas and the Madduxes. And as Paul so effectively shows here, Wakefield, economically, is a steal for the price.

    YF November 3, 2008, 3:59 pm
  • ahem. “THERE are purists.” pardon i.

    YF November 3, 2008, 4:02 pm
  • oh how i miss the days of wake closing games. it was like the torture of 7 innings of wake condensed into 1 excruciating inning. somehow tek was able to catch him back then. so if we re-converted wake into the closer roll, tek could be his 9th inning guy with a catcher who could actually hit handling the first 8 innings. paps handles the 7th and 8th and we’re golden.

    sf rod November 3, 2008, 6:42 pm

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