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Is it time to go, Tim?

In his start against the Yankees in Game 1 of Sunday’s doubleheader, Tim Wakefield allowed five runs in four innings of work. Part of this was due to the fact that he walked five batters and allowed a home run; part of it was because Jarrod Saltalamacchia forgot how to catch the knuckleball, resulting in two stolen bases, a passed ball and a run-scoring error. I was upset, both because it hurt the Red Sox’ chances to hold what was then a dwindling AL Wild Card lead, and because it was Wake’s last start, and he deserved to go out better than that.

Turns out it might not be his last start after all. Wakefield said in an interview that he wants to return in 2012, contradicting something he said at the end of last year. Wakefield, as he notes, is just seven wins away from the Red Sox’ all-time record; with another season in the rotation (even as a spot starter), he would almost certainly get there.

As much as I have loved watching Tim Wakefield pitch for the last seventeen years, I don’t know if I want to see him come back in 2012. He has been beaten around more often than not this season, and teams have shown no hesitance whatsoever to run on him and Saltalamacchia. He’s done an admirable job of limiting walks over the last number of seasons (just 2.7 per nine innings this year, which is actually up from 2010), but with that has come a spike in home runs allowed; he’s given up 25 bombs in just 154 innings this year, a rate that is the highest against him since 2000.

Knuckleball pitchers have always presented challenges for advanced pitching metrics. Personally, I tend not to place much value on FIP when evaluating them, because it ignores batted ball data completely. It should be noted, however, that Wake has a 4.99 FIP this season, his worst since 2004. The run environment was much different then, as well; by FIP- (a stat similar to ERA+ that places a pitcher’s FIP on a scale where 100 is average and high numbers are bad), 2011 is the worst season Wake has had since 1993.

There are other metrics that do include batted ball data, and they’re a little friendlier to Wakefield, though not much. Wakefield has a 4.46 SIERA this season (his best since 2005), placing him 136th out of the 145 pitchers to throw 100 or more innings this season. Kinder still is tERA; Wake’s 4.86 mark puts him 117th out of those 145.

If he’s healthy, and would be willing to accept a role similar to the one he was expected to have coming into this season, I think Tim Wakefield could probably help the Red Sox in 2012. He probably wouldn’t do it any better than Kyle Weiland or Scott Atchison or any other fringe talent, but he also provides a nicer story as he continues to try and get the Sox’ all-time wins record.

If this feels rambling and unguided, it’s because my thoughts on Wake are often rambling and unguided. When he’s on, he’s a joy to watch. When he’s not, he’s infuriating. Such is life when dealing with a knuckleballer.

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