Monday, January 08, 2007

Bill James Influence Evident in Joel Piniero Signing

Stat guru Bill James' controversial theories -- according to former Phillies manager Larry Bowa --sometimes might best just be read and then immediately torn up and thrown away. But like him or not, James still continues to exert his influence with over the Red Sox with the team's surprisingly iconoclastic choice of free agent Joel Piniero as leading candidate to be Boston's new closer.

It was James -- Red Sox senior adviser for baseball operations -- who not so long ago put forward a theory that the team could get by with a four-headed closer by committee -- with disasterous results. Even more dubious was James' opinion that based on statistics, any successful pitcher -- regardless of skills type -- can be a closer.

With a high 90s fastball Piniero seems to meet some of the typical closer criteria. But though the 28-year-old former Mariner went 14-7 with a 3.24 ERA as a starter in 2002, and 16-11 with a 3.78 ERA as a starter in 2003, his career mark settled at a relatively mediocre 58-55 with a 4.48 ERA after his stats were dragged down by an 8-13 performance last year and an ERA of more than 6.00. The performance resulted in Piniero's demotion to the bullpen and his being heavily shopped in trade negotiations -- with no takers.

What has caught Boston's attention, however, is that Pineiro held opponents to a .213 batting average in his 15 relief appearances last season, perhaps benefitting from his letting loose with his high '90s fastball without having to worry about pacing himself for a six or seven inning outing. It was a small sample, so the question is, can he do it over the long haul?