Announcers usually call Okajima a “deceptive” pitcher, partially because of his oddball delivery—which, as you know if you’ve ever watched any nationally broadcast Red Sox games over the past year, involves a crazy head-dip that just sends Joe Morgan, Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, and Jon Miller into a veritable tizzy.
But there’s another deceptive aspect about him this season—his numbers.
Yesterday, I was watching the game at the gym when bench coach Brad Mills, acting in Terry Francona’s stead, brought Okajima in with the bases loaded and two out. I wondered at this, since Okajima has allowed so many inherited runners to score already this season. In fact, I more than wondered. I lamented. Out loud, right there on the elliptical machine, in front of everyone. And lo and behold, on the second pitch of his outing, Okie gave up a grand slam and, consequently, the lead.
Bizarrely, Boston has continued to use Okajima in these sorts of situations even though he has struggled in them pretty much all year. He comes in, lets everyone else’s runners score, and then promptly gets out of the inning. But of course, due to the wacky rules of earned runs, his 0.93 ERA does not reflect these struggles.
He’s had 14 inherited runners to deal with this season—already half as many as he dealt with in all of last season. Eleven of the 14 have scored. That’s the worst mark in the majors. (Last year, just 4 of the 28 inherited runners scored.) Yet his stats are all pretty much in line with last year’s performance—and in several cases, this year’s numbers actually look better. The one exception? He’s giving up more flyballs:
Disturbingly, that freakishly low BABIP suggests to me that the situation should, by rights, be even worse. [Shudder]
So have hitters finally figured him out? Is the deceptive delivery no longer deceiving anyone? I don’t think you can say that, based on his performance or on his numbers, though that is clearly the worry in the Hub today. The fact is that after Okajima lets those inherited runners score, he promptly goes back to being a badass. Guys don’t have WHIPs of 0.88 when they’ve been figured out. If Okajima’s secret had been discovered, why would his batting average skyrocket from .143 when he’s leading off the inning to .280 when there are runners on? Why would the first batter he faces reach—as has happened in 7 of 18 chances (hat tip to Nick Cafardo)—and the rest go down quietly? If opposing hitters had really figured him out, wouldn’t they be lighting him up across the board? It doesn’t make sense.
I’m not sure what’s wrong with Okajima and his okie dokie, or why the problem only seems to happen with runners on base. But until someone figures it out, I wish the Red Sox would go back to bringing Okajima at the start of the 8th instead of midway through the 7th. It would make this song a lot more fun to sing along to.