It has been said many times but it deserves to be stated once again: Tim Wakefield has done it all for the Boston Red Sox. On his way to 200 wins, Wake has filled every role you can ask a pitcher to fill. In 1995 he was the staff ace, in 1999 he became the closer, in 2000 he was relegated to mop-up duties and for much of the time he has spent in Boston he has played the swing man, starting when needed then helping to sure up the bullpen when needed. On
In fact since 1945, Tim Wakefield is 10th in wins among pitchers who have pitched in relief at least 25% of the time. He is 5th in saves among pitchers who started 75% of the time. In an age of extreme specialization, Wake is a throwback to the days of old, when men were men, handlebar mustaches were not ironic and relief pitchers were starters. His flexibility has allowed the Red Sox to rest their bullpen arms when needed, bring young starters along at the right pace and to replace injured pitchers without trading away valuable pieces.
Tim Wakefield the starter has been a remarkably consistent pitcher in his season to season statistics. His career ERA+ of 106 reflects that. When looking at large samples, Tim Wakefield has a virtual lock to be close to or slightly above the league average. On a game to game basis though, he is wildly unpredictable; if the knuckler is floating well, he might throw a no hitter, if it is flattening out, things can get ugly.
In his best regular season games with the Red Sox Wake has been unhittable. On
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always float. On
Tim Wakefield’s performance as a starter has been extremely valuable to the Red Sox, giving them a quality back-of-the-rotation arm capable of resting their bullpen when needed and keeping the team in the game. However, during Wake’s time in
For his career, Wake has a better ERA (3.73 to 4.48), WHIP (1.25 to 1.36) and a better K/BB ratio (2.25 to 1.74) as a reliever. Typically, we expect starters to get a bump in these numbers as they transition to the pen, but that is because they can throw fewer pitch types and with greater velocity. Those things don’t apply to Wake, who throws just the one 65mph knuckle ball more than ninety percent of the time. It may be that hitters have a hard time adjusting to the change of seeing 95 mph heat to waiting on a 65 mph knuckler, but regardless of the reason, Wake provides value late in games much in the same way that he does as a starter, with durability and a willingness to take the ball.
That willingness got its greatest test in 1999 when Tom Gordon injured his shoulder and the Sox were without a closer. Rather than using a young Derek Lowe to close out games, manager Jimy Williams gave the job to
He was not justly rewarded for his selflessness however. In 2000, Wake made seventeen starts and while he did finish thirteen games, he received just one save opportunity that season as he was primarily relegated to mop up duty. Of his thirty games in relief, only eight of them saw him entering in a high leverage situation. After starting for three straight seasons and transitioning to closer, the move was a slap in the face and waste of resources. In what should have been his prime, Wake was not eating innings or pitching in the clutch.
When the current ownership took over, the team quickly stopped wasting Wake’s talents in garbage time. From 2003 to 2010 Wake was a permanent part of the rotation when healthy, starting thirty games in five of the six seasons from 2003 to 2009. When last season began, the forty three year old pitcher was the odd man in a rotation that featured three high priced veterans and two emerging young stars and once again he was moved to the bottom of the bullpen calling list.
The circumstances were very different then back in 2000, however.
This season Wake has once again accepted the starter-in-waiting role and once again he has been needed. And how! Thanks to injuries to Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka and Andrew Miller's general ineffectiveness, Wakefield has once again reclaimed his spot in the rotation, ranking fourth in starters for the beleaguered Boston staff. With Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Erik Bedard also getting bit by the ravenous injury bug, Wake will no doubt start for the remainder of the season. As we finally celebrate his 200th win, every Red Sox fan should reflect on the selflessness with which he has accepted whatever role he has been asked to take. Throughout his career, Wake has taken the ball anytime he has been needed. He has gotten a career of nineteen years and counting and 200 wins as a result. The
Congrats Wake! Go Red Sox!