Will The Real Jose Contreras Please Standup?
Of course, for those who watched last night's game, you also know that it was not nearly as good as the stats suggest. Contreras got a win, going six innings, giving up only one run on four hits and four walks, while also striking out four. Even the stats tell you the outing wasn't as good as it seems. He walked four guys, and allowed a lot of fly balls, which is a potential problem in homer happy US Comiscular.
But the biggest warning signs last night are the ones that don't show up in the box score. Jack McDowell, subbing for Ken Harrelson who was off being celebrated in Boston, pointed out two major red flags. As an aside, it was a delight listening to a game called by Blackjack instead of Hawk. Anyway, McDowell's first red flag was about Contreras's mindset. A lot of Contreras's trouble was self-induced when he walked guys with overly cautious 3-2 breaking balls. Contreras clearly doesn't trust his stuff right now. That was his downfall with the Yankees, and early in his Sox tenure, before Don Cooper straightened him out. It can be overcome, but the second red flag might impede that process, and is more concerning. Contreras's fast ball lacks the late tailing action right now that usually makes him effective. That late movement causes balls to miss the sweet spot of bats, and instead find the end or the handle. Doubles and home runs become pop ups and weak fly outs. Only Contreras and Coop know whether the loss of that tailing action can be fixed with a mechanical adjustment, or whether Contreras is just losing something on his stuff.
Whether Contreras can consistently get that movement will go a long way to determining what kind of season he has. Who knows how old he is -- he could be anywhere from 18 to 72 -- but on his word, Contreras turns 35 this year. A decline would not be unusual at that age. On the other hand, Contreras is not far removed from winning 17 straight decisions and he's had three straight seasons with better than league average PERAs (expected ERA based off of peripheral stats like hits, walks and strikeouts per nine innings) for the Sox.
My guess is that the Sox have a guy who will put up league average numbers this year, but do it in maddeningly inconsistent fashion. So maybe there is no "real" Jose Contreras.