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.

20 Responses to “The Okajima Deception”

  1. Actually, the Marlins’ main complaint is that they do not receive any meaningful revenue from their current stadium (thanks to Wayne Huizenga hoarding most or all of the revenues).

  2. Sarah Green says:

    The Rays, on the other hand, are playing their home opener today and sold out the Trop. It’s a great time to be a Ray, eh?

  3. I don’t completely disagree with the post but, hey, there was also a pretty big college basketball game on the tube last night. Moreover, Kasten may be playing the part of presidential campaign advisor by deliberately downplaying expected attendance numbers later this week.

  4. Coley Ward says:

    JE, I think the basketball game may have hurt walk-up sales. But let’s be real. This game should have been sold out months in advance.

  5. I hear you, Coley, but the weather and the quality of the teams playing ought not be minimized either. (It was miserable in DC last night, trust me.) What are the attendance comparisons with other cold-weather teams such as the Brewers and Tigers when their parks were christened? Also, let’s check gate numbers when the Amazins come to town later this month for two weekday games before drawing conclusions.

  6. But, JE, this game should have sold out IN. ADVANCE.

  7. Sarah Green says:

    Okay, okay, DC is not a cold-weather city. Don’t you people have trees in bloom down there right now?

    It’s still in the 30s every night in Boston right now, and I’m still going to tomorrow’s game. Plus I had to kill a puppy and drink its blood just to get the tickets.

  8. Suz, I concede that point. However, I would still like to know how the Tigers and Brewers, two sub-.500, cold-weather teams did in their ballparks’ first time around the block. (By the way, feel free to read my recent National Review Online piece, “Cue the Boys of Summer,” where, among other things, I poke fun at DC’s level of interest in baseball.)

    Sarah, I was really shivering by the seventh inning of Opening Night. Tomorrow night promises to be a bit warmer, thankfully. Hopefully, there will be a (half) full house too!

  9. Sarah Green says:

    JE, you see, DC is such a warm weather city that people forget they need to bring hats and parkas to April baseball games. :)

    From Nexis:

    “To underscore the notion that Milwaukee is the biggest small town in America (pop. 610,700), most of the opening night sellout crowd of 42,000 hung around for about 20 minutes after the game.” [2001, when Miller Park opened]

    “The glitzy Tuesday launch of Comerica Park…erupted as a good party should. The hottest ticket in town seemed like the coldest place on Earth after awhile, since the temperature hovered around 5C. Sure, diehards watched their heroes beat the Seattle Mariners 5-2 in a sold-out game of 39,000-plus spectators. ” [2000, when Comerica opened]

    Now, the Tigers, according to Nexis, had a significant drop-off for their second game at the new stadium, much like the Nats. I couldn’t find anything on the Brew Crew’s second game at Miller, but two potential influencing factors: a) when it gets cold in Wisconsin, they just button their top button, and b) Miller Park does have a retractable roof if the weather gets really bad.

  10. Thanks for checking with Nexis, Sarah! Which client of yours got billed for the search? ;-)

  11. Sarah Green says:

    You know what is weird to me? Big media outlets like, say, The Economist buying the pay-per-search package on Nexis when really, it makes much more sense to get the flat rate. That’s all I will say!

  12. Checked out the box for those two games in doubt. At Miller Park’s second game (dome was closed) they drew 40,651. Comerica’s second game saw a crowd of 14,135 on a balmy Saturday afternoon. I love

  13. Sarah Green says:

    Is there anything Baseball Reference *can’t* do?

  14. Thanks, Danny O! We are expecting partly cloudy skies and mid 50s at tonight’s Nats game. I’ll go sans thermals, Sarah. ;-) Hopefully, the crowd will be large and the concessions near my seats won’t run out of the good beer (Stella, Bass) by the third inning this time….

  15. It was a comfortable evening at the Nats ballpark last night. Attendance was announced at only 23,000 and change and the Marlins won easily. On the other hand, there was good beer to be had throughout….

  16. Sarah Green says:

    In other news, the Blue Jays may be discontinuing their $2 ticket night after multiple violent incidents. I guess teams like the Jays and the Nats can choose between having no fans at all and having drunk, unruly fans!

    It was 70 degrees tonight in Boston and the Sox routed the Tigers. Why did I have tickets to last night’s game instead?

  17. Nick Kapur says:

    Yeah, that same thing happened with the Dodgers! Two years ago they introduced “Two-dollar Tuesdays” for a few sections of the park. But then there were some incidents with drunken unruly fans, and they restored tickets to their normal prices on Tuesdays. So basically these teams are saying they only want rich fans. It is totally unfair to the Average Joe that is not drunken and unruly, and just wants to be able to take his kids to the park for a reasonable price. Just because like .002% of the $2-paying fans are unruly. Ridiculous. Beef up security, or don’t sell beer in those sections, or whatever you have to do, but if some kids don’t end up becoming baseball fans just because a few people got drunk, that is a real tragedy. Especially in Canada where we need all the baseball fans we can get!

  18. Sarah Green says:

    The Jays have had two hundred fans booted in two games. That’s a lot of drunken unruliness.

  19. I don’t watch the Sox closely enough to know this, but does he alternate between the stretch and windup? Or might I suggest ‘intangibles’, the catch-all that stat-heads persistently deny?

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