Friday figures to be a long night for the Red Sox and Angels. For Boston, heading to Southern California on a plane after Thursday’s 8-2 win over the Padres, the game effectively starts at 10 p.m. given the schedule the team is on. But beyond games that feel like they stretch into the next day, the pace of the game figures to be a little slower than normal.
When you pit two pitchers with command issues against each other, that’s what’s bound to happen.
On Friday, Felix Doubront is set to take on the Angels of Anaheim’s C.J. Wilson in what is a very intriguing pitching matchup if only for the reason that the two starters share very similar problems. Heading into the Boston-Los Angeles series, Wilson ranks 11th in the American League in pitches per inning, while Doubront places fourth (among pitchers who have thrown at least 80 innings).
However, both pitchers’ specific mode of ineffectiveness goes beyond what stats can show. If you ask around in scouting departments, no one’s going to argue that Doubront and Wilson have some of the best pure stuff in baseball. Both pitchers base everything else they do off of the fastball — both the two-seam and four-seam varieties — both tend to use the changeup as their out-pitch and feature sliders, cutters and curveballs that are more to provide an extra look.
And both pitchers have a great deal of trouble not just locating pitches, but hitting the strike zone at all.
Likewise, because of their live arms and incredible movement, their production over the last two seasons has been frustrating. While Wilson has the better numbers (1.35 WHIP as compared with Doubront’s 1.46), they’ve both walked just under a batter every other inning during that time. Likewise, the high pitch totals have prevented both from working deep into games — Wilson has averaged 6.1 innings pitched per stare, while Doubront has averaged 5.6.
But again, going beyond the numbers, watching either pitcher start, the arc of their games just feels so similar. Both Wilson and Doubront tend to have stretches of consecutive batters where they look dominant. However, one thing will snowball into another, and they’ll already be nearing 100 pitches in the fifth inning.
While it’s true that the numbers of either party aren’t horrible, it’s kind of beside the point. Wilson is effectively paid like an ace, earning an average of $18 million for three years beginning next season on a backloaded contract. Doubront, meanwhile, is just a sophomore but has yet to show serious signs that he’s making inroads with his command issues.
The point is that both of these pitchers could have an enormous impact on their teams’ fortunes. With the Red Sox, Doubront could be a stabilizing force at the back end of the rotation (or the front end, if he develops), especially with Clay Buchholz‘s injury and Jon Lester and Ryan Dempter‘s up-and-down seasons. For Wilson, he could combine with Jered Weaver to form a formidable 1-2 duo at the top of the Angels rotation. Kind of a “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,” kind of deal. Instead, his inconsistency has been one of the factors keeping the Angels below .500.
The key word with both pitchers is “frustration.” Their talent level is well known, and they have the ability to be among the very best starters in baseball. However, for whatever reason (with Wilson it appears to be mechanical, with Doubront perhaps mental) their lack of command and ability to put the ball where they want undercuts that talent.
Friday night figures to be a long game, but the hope — as always — continues to be that maybe, just maybe Wilson or Doubront figure something out that gets them over the hump with their command issues. We’ll see.
C.J. Wilson photo via Flickr/Keith Allison