Cheers and boos are a common practice at sporting events. But what is an uncommon practice, however, is the sound of boos for a player in their home stadium.
Dodgers relief pitcher Pedro Baez got his first taste of home boos when he took the mound in the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies last September.
Dodger fans quickly heard the wrath of manager Dave Roberts in the post-game conference.
“That’s something that really pissed me off tonight,” Roberts said, “This guy is grinding and trying to find his way through things and has done a lot of good things and has pitched big innings.”
Baez found himself joining the team in the NLDS after he finished the season with 29 walks, nine home runs given up, a 1.33 WHIP and an ERA of 2.95 in 64 innings pitched. He did not make the team roster for the NLCS or World Series.
The case of boos has followed Baez into the 2018 season. Fans have called for a trade or designation for assignment for the right-handed reliever. But does the 3.11 career-ERA reliever warrant the lack of support? The numbers say no.
Since debuting in May 2014, Baez’s season ERA has never topped 3.35. The same season Baez racked up his highest ERA, he was allowing 8.3 hits per nine innings pitched.
For three consecutive seasons, Baez’s main issue was taking nearly 30 seconds to throw a pitch, according to Jeff Sullivan in an article for Fangraphs about Baez’s timing habits. His timing reached a peak in 2016 when he was clocked averaging 30.2 seconds between pitches; the slowest in baseball.
Having Baez work faster didn’t solve his problems. It only made him more susceptible to the long ball. When Baez was rushing himself between pitches in 2016, it paved the way for hitters at the plate to the bleachers in the outfield. In that season, Baez gave up a career-high 11 home runs to opponents.
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The boo-filled 2017 season was a mixed bag. While Baez’s ERA was just under three, his number of walks neared 30. Baez’s WHIP was the highest of his career, at 1.33. It was his best and worst season.
So how can decent numbers warrant booing? Well, it’s a matter of when the numbers come into play.
Baez is often put into high-leverage situations: the lead is chipping away, runners in scoring position or the opposing team’s best hitter is at the plate.
Once Baez loses a batter, he loses the inning. It’s one thing to have strike three be called ball four by an umpire who changes the strike zone faster than a clock changes time, but it is often that Baez does not have control of the strike zone.
Just like Kenta Maeda, Baez needs to find his confidence, trust his pitches and attack the strike zone. Since moving to the bullpen for post-season appearances, Maeda has dominated opponents to strikeouts and shutouts. By gaining confidence in himself, Baez will need to shut out the boos, first.