Thursday, December 31, 2009

I'm John Lackey!

Happy New Year. This Fitzy episode is from months ago, but it occurs to me that it's even funnier after the Lackey signing:

Monday, December 28, 2009

Who Would You Rather Have: Bay or Hermida?

Because it's starting to look like we're going to have both. Bay's request for more time and loot than Boston's 4 year, $60 million offer has met with no takers except the Mets (4 years, $65 million), and Bay either doesn't like his potential numbers in Citi Field or he'd rather not sign with a team that's made spectacular season blowups a regular habit, because his agent is trying to resurrect interest from the Sox front office. Meanwhile, Nick Cafardo has some thoughts on how Jeremy Hermida will never develop the big bat he's reputed to sport - Cafardo makes some Ortiz comparisons - if he's playing fourth or fifth outfield with Cameron/Bay/Ellsbury/Drew/whomever. With the team in the process of assembling a group that seems better suited to win today than tomorrow relying on Hermida's offensive development doesn't seem like a good strategy, but the more I think about it, the more I think what Cafardo is saying makes sense: if this guy really is a slugger in the making, let's see what he's got and take advantage while he's in Boston.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wacky for Lackey

So...despite my vitriolic assertions to the contrary, I guess The Boof wasn't Boston's only off-season move for the pitching staff, what with the John Lackey signing and all. In fact, I might even be willing to say that I completely acknowledge the error of my ways and resolve - once again - to never criticize the methods behind the madness that is the front office, because - despite all of the odd experiments - the Sox keep making these deals that make so much sense. With Lackey, they now have:
  • A superior starting pitching staff that's on the verge of becoming 2007-like godly if Matsuzaka carries his form from the last four starts of 2009 into 2010. We thought the '09 staff had an excellent chance of dominating the field in Spring Training, but the success of even that illustrious group required a blessing of the stars; besides the Dice-K question, all the 2010 Sox need ask of their starters is for health and consistency with their already established numbers.
  • A trade piece in odd man out Clay Buchholz, who'll have the chance to become the "maybe he'll make it" ornament of some other team's staff. Buchholz becomes trade bait for the bat the Sox will need to replace Bay, now that they've elected to...
  • ...sign Mike Cameron and choose defense over offense in left field. The deal has everyone saying farewell to the likable-but-expensive Jason Bay and those Gay for Bay t-shirts Robin planned to market, but frees up money for one of those expensive contracts the Sox will likely acquire with Bay's offensive replacement.
Of course, we can't celebrate a successful hot stove season just yet: someone has to agree to make the trade that makes the Cameron acquisition worthwhile at a price that doesn't make us cry for a mortgaged future or (even worse) a missed opportunity. Anyone got a player with .896 (or better) OPS they can spare?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

They Get Granderson, We Get...The Boof

Dan Shaughnessy has a column in the Globe this morning about how the Sox are selling us a bill of goods by talking about a "bridge period" in the team's development instead of pushing to sign the players that'll make the team competitive against the Yankees next year. I had intended to write the whole thing off as the usual crank trash that Shaughnessy likes to write, but then two things happened: first, I read Joe Posnanski's post on how much of a steal the Granderson deal was for the Yankees and the full impact of that trade finally hit me after several days of denial. Then, I went to to look for the Shaughnessy column again so I could blog about it and the Lowell trade speculation and saw this on the home page (I've added a red underline to underscore the point):

I almost choked on my breakfast when I saw that. The Boof?!? A 28-year-old pitcher with an injury history as long as his surgically repaired arm, 96 appearances in four seasons, and a career 5.12 ERA? I get the timing is coincidental, but damn: the Yankees boost their already formidable lineup with a righty whose swing seems tailor-made for the Stadium and the Sox get a pitcher with a ridiculous nickname on his last shot for major league success. To say things seem inequitable with a poor chance of improvement is an understatement.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

When Playing Hurt is Rational and Irrational All at Once

I would like to call Manny Delcarmen an idiot. I really would: because he pitched secretly hurt for half the season, he looked like he had completely lost his edge, and made us question whether or not he belonged on the team. After all, a healthy Manny Delcarmen may not make the difference between a first-round exit and a World Series victory, but he's still a piece of that all-so-important functioning bullpen and therefore responsible for an additional win or two.

So I would love to blame him, but I can't: if an athlete in 2009 feels like they have to hide their injury, it's a symptom of a larger social problem, where players are so worried about looking they have the competitive spirit that they sacrifice health for the game and make themselves less effective in the process. It's an irrational stance to take, which is why it bothers me: in a perfect world (in my head, anyway), players would not play when they were hurt and people would not judge them for lacking the competitive spirit. Alas, this perfect world does not exist, so we have the next flawed thing: a player has to make the decision about whether or not it's more important to be judged by their competitive ability or their health and some - like Delcarmen - choose competitive ability over health as a rational decision and end up losing both.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Amazing, Flexible Pedroia

Now it all makes sense: letting the market empty of potential shortstops was part of the front office's plan all along! While we were all zigging and trying to talk ourselves into settling for a Marco Scutaro/Jed Lowrie combo package, the Sox were zagging and talking to Pedroia about switching from second to short in 2010.

Well, that's the rumor, anyway. It's not a confirmed thing and - given the quotes Pedroia gave to the Herald when quizzed about the possible move - something that may be more in his head than anywhere else. In fact, for all of the move's logic - because after all, it's a lot easier to find a decent second baseman than it is to find a decent shortstop - it's giving me some deja vu. After all, it was a little over three years ago when Alex Gonzalez last left Boston and we were asking the same questions then that we are now, even if the circumstances are a little different.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Playing Marco Polo in the Dwindling Shortstop Pool

Well, I'm glad the Sox settled the shortstop question quickly and easily, providing some sort of continuity at a position that's had steady of stream of different warm bodies for far too long. Wait, just kidding.

Now that Gonzalez is definitely out of the picture for 2010, removing another possibility from a market both weak in options and rapidly tightening as the month has progressed, we've got a run at Marco Scutaro to look forward to. As Fire Brand of the American League points out in a slightly convoluted metaphor, Scutaro might have finally hit whatever summit he's going to have in his baseball career - his splits for 2009 were .282/.379/.409, far above his career totals of .265/.337/.384 - but that'll make him far too popular for those teams in need. In other words, expect Boston to overpay, quite possibly with a contract that'll keep Scutaro around for a year or two too long, because they don't have the leverage.

I'd be really happy if this deal works out to Boston's advantage, but I suspect we're in for something closer to the Renteria deal, with a bit higher of an upside: Scutaro hits well enough for a year, but tails off in 2011 (when he turns 35) and turns into dead-weight trade bait that the Sox dump for minor leaguers who never make a big contribution. Jed Lowrie, meanwhile, remains haunted by the after-effects of his broken wrist and never blossoms into the player we've stopped expecting him to become.

Monday, November 09, 2009

A Little Hot Stove Housekeeping

The Sox did some housekeeping today: they declined Gonzalez's ($6 million) and Varitek ($5 million)'s options, picked up Martinez's $7.7 million option, and changed Wakefield's perpetual club option into a two-year, $4 million deal. The business with catchers isn't surprising, but I'm a little baffled by the Gonzo choice. Presumably Boston is hedging its bets, slipping in the possibility of picking up a draft pick if Gonzalez declines to prolong his tenure and ends up somewhere else, but are things really that sure at shortstop next year that they can afford to make this bet? It's not like the shortstop free agent market is aces this off season and Jed Lowrie...well, we all know he's nothing like a sure thing, either. I guess we'll see what the Sox have planned.

As for Wakefield: does the new deal mean that Wake has a retirement date in mind? The perpetual option was fun because, quite frankly, it allowed us (or me, anyway) to live out a fantasy where Wakefield entered some sort of relativistic universe where age meant nothing and he could keep pitching forever, but clearly the injuries of this past season dealt that particular hope a crushing blow. If Wake's feeling his age enough to sign a time-limited deal - or the Sox are worried enough about his health to send him down that road - the true end can't be that far behind.

Monday, October 12, 2009

ALDS Game 3: Seconds

ALDS Game 3: Boston Red Sox 6, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 7

It takes seconds to say good bye to the end of a season...about the time it takes for the ball to leave Pedroia's bat and fall into Aybar's glove, or Chone Figgins to walk to first base at the start of a rally that wouldn't end until it was just too late. Afterward, we can debate the hows and whys until we're blue in the face: maybe the Angels were too good, or the Red Sox were not hungry enough, or the magic that we've come to rely on to spark those magnificent come-from-behind victories is sparking another team's fire this year; but it doesn't really matter: we started with promise in the Spring, and ended with cold defeat in the waning of the year.

However, despite the dismal result, I'm grateful for two things:
  1. The offense finally woke up. Even a blowout isn't as frustrating as watching opportunities to score slip away like the hours of a Sunday afternoon and for two games, slippage was all we had to look forward to. As painful as the ending was to watch, it would have been worse to end the day with no hope at all.

  2. That we made it this far. I'm not going to turn into a fan for whom nothing but World Series victory is acceptable. Especially after the absolutely depressing end of the 2006 season when the wheels fell off the train long before the end of September, I'd rather face a sweep in the first round of the playoffs than nothing at all.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

ALDS Game 2: Living Bad Dreams

ALDS Game 2: Boston Red Sox 1, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 4

When I woke up yesterday morning, I had really hoped the complete and total lack of hitting was just a one-time failure; a product of really good pitching and a really bad night. This morning, I'm starting to wonder if we're in some sort of terrible dream, where those at-bats that do turn into base runners are few and far between; where rallies are devoured by a ravenous beast wearing a big, haloed A.

So the offense is in one of the worst-timed slumps possible and it seems for the moment that they won't be scoring a lot of runs in their traditional high-explosive style. In fact, looking back to September 21, when the Red Scare lost that game against Kansas City and the slide that landed the Sox firmly in the 2009 Wild Card slot really started, it doesn't seem like they've hit that well against above average pitching. Maybe this slump is a long time coming; maybe now that they're once again up against the wall they'll start to click again and we'll all be laughing about these first two steps down the road to a champagne-less ending to October.

However, regardless of what happens when the series resumes in Boston mid-day Sunday, I think these first two games have proven that Tito needs a faster hook on his starters. Elite veterans though Lester and Beckett may be, the lack of run support demands perfection from the starting pitcher, which becomes a smaller and smaller possibility as the game goes on. It's true that the bullpen isn't always perfect either, but changing things up before tight situations get really tight - when the starter gives up three or four runs - may be the only way to win right now.

Friday, October 09, 2009

ALDS Game 1: Mood for Trouble

ALDS Game 1: Boston Red Sox 0, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 5

Dedicated to Robin, who knows why.

Last night was all about trouble. Take the sterling effort by the defense, for example. Normally you'd write it off as first-time playoff jitters, except that every man, infield and outfield, behind the plate and on the mound, had been to the post-season before. Yet somehow, these experienced fielders who'd played together for half a season couldn't execute three times, chalking up three errors over the course of the game...

Oh wait. At least one of those "errors" was the fault of this guy. Poor execution doesn't help keep the pitch count low, but neither does blindness by the officiating. Maybe tonight they'll relegate Bucknor to one of the outfield positions where he won't do as much damage. So the defense was trouble, but the umpires were trouble, too.

The offense generally looked like the hacks they were taking, but that's to be expected: Lester might have pitched decently, but Lackey was generally on fire and with the exception of one jam that the Sox managed to waste by looking like Bucknor flailing in the wind, was pretty much unhittable. I distinctly remember one pitch to Ortiz where the bottom fell out of the ball right as he swung and while it broke my heart, it really was a beautiful pitch to see. You'll notice the pattern continues: the offense was trouble. Lester was trouble, because he gave up four walks.

There was trouble from all sides then in Game 1. Tonight they'll come back out and try things again and just maybe they'll look like they belong in the post-season. Because otherwise, we're in trouble.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

I Think We All Know What Needs to be Done...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Kevin Youkilis, A Man Afire

Jackie MacMullen's profile on Youkilis - or maybe more on Youkilis's intensity - is a great read, but is anyone surprised at all that:
  • Boston fans love Youkilis for being the guy who made good by working hard and beating the odds. I'd say that's probably going to be the case no matter where Youkilis played, because it's a part of the American national myth: we love self-reliance and work ethic and we love the underdog. Put them together and you get some sort of living legend with an awesome beard.

  • Pedroia doesn't think Youkilis should change a thing. If you took Kevin Youkilis, shrunk him down a few inches, and gave him a complex from people either underestimating him for his height or seeing him like the second coming of David Eckstein, you'd have Dustin Pedroia. On a side note: how lucky are we to have a left side of the infield that's so committed they don't understand why people think they're a little crazy and really good at their jobs?

  • Some of the other players find Youkilis a bit much. I can understand that: his intensity is a lot of fun to watch and makes me love him as a player, but I'm trying to imagine a co-worker who blew up at himself in public every time he missed a minor deadline and I can imagine it would make things pretty uncomfortable.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Nervous About the Playoffs

I suspect many of you are asking yourselves right now: 'Has there ever been a 95-win team that seemed more of a long shot coming into the playoffs?' Maybe it's some combination of finishing second to a 103 game-winning Yankee team, the severely lackadaisical turn the team seemed to take after losing those first two games to the Royals, and how many of Boston's positions seemed to be filled by a combination of tape, glue, and odd luck, but going into this ALDS - whenever it starts - I'm more nervous about Boston's chances against Anaheim than I've been in the past - and that's not just because the Angels have so much to prove. I mean, if you'd told me in April that Boston's solid group of options in the field and on the mound would be rife with injuries and missing major pieces by mid-season, or that Francona would be juggling a combination of Lowell, Youkilis, Varitek, and Martinez across three positions by August to keep Lowell and Varitek in playing shape for October, I would have been quite surprised.

Actually, I suppose I wouldn't have been surprised about either Lowell or Varitek: they're a combined age of 10,000 years old and have one good hip between the two of them. But the rest was a surprise.

Adding to my feelings of uncertainty is a little fun with small sample sizes: for whatever reason, it's taken 95 or more wins to get to the playoffs this decade. Boston has six 95+ win teams since the 2000 season. Two of those teams won it all; three teams met the agony of defeat, including two edge-of-the-seat ALCS losses; and one team is still in the process of writing its own history. Here's where it gets a little odd: the teams that won it all had more than 95 wins. The teams that did not had 95 wins.

See how I've already psyched myself out? I'm drawing patterns from meaningless data. I may not feel better until the Sox have exacted another sweep from the Angels.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Does a Tougher Schedule Mean No October Baseball?

Regardless of how this game turns out, it's seems fairly safe to say that as sure as at least one person behind home plate will be waving like an idiot at the camera while talking on their cell phone, the Yankees will end up winning the AL East. I've come to terms with this idea, while blessing the idea of the Wild Card and its power to salvage the season. We still have a shot at the final glory, you see, so it's easier to wave goodbye, however wistfully, to one of the prizes to be obtained along the way.

While contemplating this state of affairs, I wondered if anyone had ever done a statistical study about the effect of the difficulty of the schedule on the likelihood of making the post-season. For example, if the Red Sox have a schedule where tough items like a road trip against New York followed by a swing out West are the norm, are they less likely to win the AL East crown or the Wild Card? Or, because each team plays every other team in their league a certain number of times, are the tough moments games by the easier ones?

Were I to do such a study, I'd probably use each team's Pythagorean for the year: after all, the idea is to determine how "tough" each team is to face, and a measurement of their predicted winning percentage as determined by runs allowed and scored seems like a good measurement. After that, I'd take all of the available data and start looking for patterns to see whether or not I could determine what the minimum winning percentage would be to define a "tough" team. From there, I could make some judgments about the layout of a tougher schedule and see where each team finished.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ode to the Worst Week in Red Sox Baseball in a Long Time

So many Red Sox thoughts right now, I'm overwhelmed with strange feelings.

It started with Lester's 8 innings in Tampa last week when it looked like it was a lock for a win. And then the pen collapsed. I knew then that there was something strange and eerie going on--like it was 2008 all over again and the Rays have magical powers at the Trop.

Some thoughts go to the past... Was Manny a Zenmaster in disguise, relaxing the middle of the lineup with his que-sera-sera, stoner outlook?

I despise Manny now for what he did to get traded, but I understand his value in the middle of that lineup. For all his bad traits, the guy rarely pressed. He was the equivalent of having, gulp, Mark Teixiera (say what you want about him being on the Yankees--the guy is a freaking stud).

Manny relaxed Ortiz. This is not news, it's just a fact. As Eric said to me today, "Manny is a lingering presence. Like overripe fish."

Is the silver lining that our starting pitching is very good? Is Tito for real doing these Bigelow Green Tea ads online?

Whatever the case, I haven't seen the Red Sox offense press so much in a very long time.

Youkilis who had been hitting really well on the road, suddenly lost it again over the weekend. The Jason Bay hamstring pull couldn't have come at a worse time. I love getting V-Mart, but getting him in a slump of sorts is unfortunate.

Lester and Beckett are studs. Buchholz has some things to work out, namely, throwing that fastball for strikes (and maybe going back to the mysteriously missing curveball).

First place is pretty much a goner at this point in the season, unless the Yankees pull an about face or there is some major injury to Burnett or Carston Charles. The wild card is the spot to get, and with having to go on the road in Texas and Toronto, the Sox have a lot more work to do.

The point is that it's time to relax a little, and get back to basics. Shrug off the week, and get back to taking bad pitches, hitting strikes and being patient.

ps. The Red Sox schedule is so whacked this week.. Why the hell do they go home for 4 games, then are back on the road for 6 to Texas (again) and Toronto? And looking ahead, from August 18 to 30 the Red Sox do not have one day off.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

What Happened to Buchholz's Curve Ball?

Where the hell is that nasty 12 to 6 curve ball Clay Buchholz threw in 2007?

It was a knee-buckling, deer in the headlights pitch that seems to have disappeared from his repetoire.

I don't get it at all.

I've watched him try to throw it only two times in this game to the Yankees. Once, he came extremely close to hitting A-Rod in the back of the shoulder. The second time, it was very high and out of the zone.

Is he being told to throw a slider--a form of a breaking pitch with a tighter rotation--by Red Sox pitching coaches? Are they concerned about his elbow and shoulder for the long haul of his career?

There is no doubt that his change up is a great out pitch, and he can throw it on demand in any count. He is showing that as much in this game against Carston Charles in the Bronx (C.C. has a one hitter through 6 innings right now).

I seem to recall Buchholz's no hitter back in 2007 had the curve ball prominently featured (and in other games since then), but not in 2009. I also seem to recall a fastball that was closer to 97. I guess a lot can happen in two seasons.

I know he has good stuff, and he needs more major league experience, but it seems to me that some his confidence in the curve ball (and many pitches) is lost--and confidence is something this pitching staff needs desperately.

With that said, Buchholz has been able to use the changeup and the splitter well today against the Yankees. Having only given up 1 run over 5 innings, Buchholz has mixed up his pitches smartly.

I guess I am saying that when you see something like a 12-6 curveball that can jar hitters with such force, you have to keep it and throw it.

Luckily, Buch will be staying with the major league club for the remainder of the season and his experience will grow and benefit from being around the always-confident Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon.

Speaking of Beckett, what a great outing he had in Friday night's 15-inning, 2-0 loss to the Yankees. I want to see this guy in another playoff game as soon as possible, but given how lifeless the Sox bats are right now (and the injuries to Bay, Dice-K, Wakefield and Lowrie, again), it's difficult to know right now if this team has what it takes to get there.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Boston Red Sox Day Off

In honor of the late, great John Hughes: "Billy Traber, you're my hero." As much as yesterday was bad piled on terrible piled on really effing craptastic, at least we don't have to go into tonight with a devastated bullpen.

Of course, that may not matter so much, because winning the game of baseball requires scoring runs, and right now, that does not seem to be Boston's specialty. They can get men on base - Chamberlain gave up seven walks, for crying out loud, and didn't have a 1-2-3 inning all night - but scoring them seems to be another matter. To put it another way, the telling numbers for the Boston offense last night were not the eight hits, twelve walks (twelve!), or six runs, but the fifteen men left on base and the .143 (3 for 21) batting average with runners in scoring position. In the end, I had to turn the game off before it was over, because as it turns out, the only thing more frustrating than watching your team get shut down by superior pitching is to watch them squander scoring opportunities like a compulsive gambler burning through his kid's college fund.

As for Smoltz, I'm sympathetic to the pleas for his removal from the rotation, but who, exactly, is going to pitch in his place? The only non-used starter on the 40 man roster who seems remotely qualified is Michael Bowden, who's pitching well in Pawtucket, but isn't exactly tearing things up in a way that suggests he'd be an instant hit in the majors. Paul Byrd seems a more likely successor, but 38-year-old pitchers who haven't thrown all year can't just dive right into professional competition. By trading away Masterson and relying on Smoltz to pull through, the Sox have made their bed - let's just hope that if that bed is as full of broken glass as it seems, it doesn't cut us too much.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Pitching: It's a Problem, But it Could be Worse

Crap in a hat. A few years ago, I have run screaming for the hills - or the ridge in Prospect Park; I'm in Brooklyn, after all - at the idea of facing the Yankees in the Bronx down a key member of the line up. Now I'm just slightly nervous. Shocking the Yanks at home seems like a possibility - particularly after the embarrassments the Bombers have suffered at the hands of the Sox this year - and I'm sticking to my optimism unless something bad happens this evening. In the meantime, let's talk pitching.

There's a sense of panic in the press about the state of the back 3/5ths rotation, with quotes like "a 2-5 record and 7.74 ERA in its past three trips through the rotation" being bandied about like they're signs of the Apocalypse. If there's another Boston Massacre this weekend those fears could - could - be justified, but right now they're just short sighted, for a few reasons:
  1. The problem isn't Penny (or even Buchholz, who's had one terrible start, one shortened start, and two quality starts) so much as it is Smoltz. Penny's started 21 games this season; he's given up five runs or more four times, and he's had two starts where he's pitched less than five innings. Remembering that he's both an experiment on the cheap and a fourth or fifth starter, I can't see any reason to complain about what he's brought to the table this year. Last night was just a poorly-timed deviation from the pattern. Smoltz, on the other hand, has only given up less than five runs on two out of his seven starts, and those were against the AAAA teams in KC and Baltimore. Unlike Penny, he's also had almost no run support, so his bad days look that much worse.

  2. Experiments or no, imagine how bad things would be if the Sox hadn't signed Penny and Smoltz now that injuries have put us in our time of need: we'd been looking at 2006 all over again, with the corresponding overexposure of young talent unprepared for the big stage. I'd much rather have veterans like Penny and Smoltz out on the mound than watch the Sox bring up Bowden a year or two too early or try to convert Bard into a starter mid-year. These guys were hired to be insurance and they're providing it, much like Paul Byrd will be if his climb up from the minors proves successful.

  3. Wakefield and Matsuzaka might not be on the world's fastest healing schedules, but it's likely they'll be back before the season is over. It sucks that they're both out at such a critical time in the season, but I think - and yes, I'm about to concede the title to the East - that the Sox have the ability to hang on long enough to take the Wild Card. Time to step things up, boys. Let's start with taking down Cletus the Hutt tonight.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

No, The Players Union Can't Just Release The List

It's a bad thing - for my confidence in the team, not my standing as a fan - when I walk away from a tied game going into extra innings because I know they're going to lose, right? Maybe that "2 and 12 at the Trop over the past two seasons" thing that was lurking in the back on mind. In any case, I'm glad I didn't lose any sleep to see the result. Besides, something else has been on my mind recently:

A few days ago, Bob Ryan wrote a column demanding that the Players Association end the Steroid Era by releasing The List in its entirety. His motives - and the point of this post is not to question Ryan's motives, so I'll accept them at face value - were pure: that disembodied concept known as The Game will never recover from the scandal of PEDs if the names of those unfortunate enough to test positive keep leaking out in a slow drip for years to come, much as they've done since The List's compilation in 2003. To wit:

The union should be taking the lead, the idea being that the cleaner the public believes the game to be, the better life will be in every way for its members. The Players Association should be lending its support to any effort that would catch the cheaters. It is completely in its best interests.

All parties involved should be united in the desire to protect a precious asset - the game of baseball. Baseball has survived assorted crises in more than a century and a half and should be able to survive this one, too. But like many other good things in our society, its day-to-day greatness is sometimes overwhelmed by an aberrant negative occurrence.

Yesterday, Hank Aaron echoed Ryan's call for a release of names and his sentiments about the release being necessary in an interview with the AP and I started to wonder if anyone voicing these sentiments had really contemplated the logistics of such an action. After all, there are some pretty thorny issues at stake.

First, there's the comparatively minor legal problem. The List is, after all, under a court seal (however ineffective it may be) to stop the government from using it in its investigation. The Players Union could request the removal of the seal, but even the slightest hint of such a request would be the death knell for any union executive's career and quite possibly for the union itself, as angry players question whether the group that's supposed to represent them is acting in their best interest. Just as importantly, imagine the precedent that such a decision would set: not only would the union lose any ability to make requests of its constituents, but by releasing the names to the public, it would be destroying the players' expectation of privacy. Cleaning up the game is important - although Jonah Goldwater gives an excellent demonstration of how our feelings about steroids has its roots in a poorly-defined unease - but preserving the sanctity of The Game isn't such a noble concept when you talk about violating the right to privacy. List or no List, we'll can never know the full impact of PEDs on our beloved game. With any luck, the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the Players Union, and we can finally - finally - end this fruitless quest for knowledge we don't really need and move on.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Closer Look at Kotchman, LaRoche and V-Mart

On the surface, the Kotchman for LaRoche deal is pretty puzzling.
But upon a little investigation, it appears that there are a few key factors at play.

One appears to be that defense is a larger piece of the puzzle. The second reason is that LaRoche and Chris Duncan (who the Sox got in the Lugo deal from St. Louis) in my estimation--were down-the-stretch, left-handed offensive insurance in case the Red Sox did not land Adrian Gonzalez or V-Mart. The third reason is contract related.

The defensive numbers are explained really well in the Around the Majors blog:

According to Total Fielding Runs, LaRoche cost his teams 2.6 runs more than an average fielder per 1,250 innings over his career. Kotchman saved his team 6 runs per 1,250 innings.

According to Ultimate Zone Rating, Kotchman has been 5.8 runs better than an average first baseman in 2009 (best in baseball). LaRoche is 3.4 runs worse than the average first baseman.

Ok, cool. For the rest of 2009, he's a bench player. He can pinch hit against righties, becomes a defensive replacement when Youk is at third and Lowell is removed or sits and on days when V-Mart catches. Sox have a ton of corner flexibility and, in my estimation, are better set up for next year without Mike Lowell.

We all know Youk is going to be the third baseman of the future, and with Lowell's hip problems, having an additional first-baseman and another lefty bat can't hurt the Red Sox. Victor Martinez did have some injuries in 2008, notably the arthroscopic surgery on his elbow, so you never know when one loose Joba fastball could send him back to the DL.

Kothcman, Duncan and down-the-road, Lars Anderson, can back up for any of these scenarios.

LaRoche is about to be a free agent at the end of this season, while Kotchman is arbitration-eligible through 2011. The nice part of that is that it gives the Red Sox brass more contract flexibility for a guy who is most likely a bench player for the remainder of this year.

He's not a free agent until 2012, so I would expect that Kotchman gives the Red Sox more trade package options in the off season with Lowell likely to be moved. Being able to throw in a 26 year old with some major league experience in a trade package is a nice to thing to have in your back pocket.

Until then, it's nice to have the defense in your pocket if something were to happen to Youk or Martinez.

More on Victor Martinez
Did I mention that this was the deal I wanted?

If his first-half offensive numbers are any indication, Martinez is a great get, especially when you factor in his ability to relieve Varitek behind the plate, and hit in the middle of the lineup from both sides of the plate.

He's an RBI guy--something the team needs right now with Bay struggling-- and the psychological distractions Big Papi now faces with the recently revealed roid debacle.

Contract-wise, the Red Sox can pick up V-Mart's option for 2010 for $7.5 million. Given his offensive history, that is relative bargain for a middle of the lineup hitter who can also catch. You have to imagine that Tek is not going to be able to catch as many games the remainder of the season, or next year, given his age, and the wear and tear.

While Adrian Gonzalez is younger with a great opposite field lefty bat, I am very content with Victor Martinez who has a strong history in the AL and has seen a whole lot more AL pitching and AL East teams than Gonzo (though don't count out the Sox going for Gonzo in the off season as the Padres are in major rebuilding mode after letting Peavy go).

And ultimately, the Red Sox have shown that they can make the deals they want to make without giving up too much. While Masterson was a good long reliver and showed signs of being a solid starter, the three B's (Bard, Bowden and Bucholz) are well-protected future stars of the game.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Welcome to V-Mart... located in the confines of friendly Fenway Park. The addition of the 30-year-old catcher and first baseman provides some insurance that will let Lowell take more spells away from the field and provide a bat with a bit more pop than the light hitting Kottaras. It's a solid deal, but I'll be honest: I'm more excited because the Sox were able to get an upgrade over LaRoche (now heading to Atlanta for Casey Kotchman) without trading anyone more valuable than Justin Masterson. Buchholz, Bard, Bowden; they're all still around, with Buchholz now free to get his second shot at establishing himself as an integral part of the rotation.

Next question: what are the Sox going to do with Kotchman? If there's another swap in the offing, why trade for Kotchman first - aren't he and LaRoche basically interchangeable parts? I guess we'll find out shortly.

Thoughts on Ortiz, The Day After

I think it's pretty clear the Globe has ruled against David Ortiz, but that shouldn't surprise anyone. The Herald is a little more moderate; the Providence Journal remained neutral, choosing to publish the results of a informal poll they took of fans on the concourse after the news came out. None of the columnists commented on Ortiz's statement, or seemed inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt: to them, Big Papi is at best the latest heart breaker in the steroids crisis; at worse, a hypocrite worse than Rafael Palmeiro.

I can't claim any greater purity of motives than the commentators listed above, but I am willing to listen when Ortiz says he'll try and find out what happened and own up to any results. Maybe I'm motivated by the loyalty to his accomplishments, or won over by his general good guy demeanor, or maybe I'm just impressed that he was smart enough to go to the press the day it happened and promise to give us some real answers once he'd done some digging of his own, but I'd rather know something more of the truth before offering up my judgment - especially because it gives me some sort of hope for a bit longer.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Manny Ortez and the Revelations of the List

I'm not particularly in the mood to think about the consequences of this article, but one thing my suddenly flailing mind latched on to was about the mention of ongoing battle over the rights to the list:
The union has argued that the government illegally seized the 2003 test results, and judges at various levels of the federal court system have weighed whether the government can keep them. The government hopes to question every player on the list to determine where the drugs came from. An appeals court is deliberating the matter, and the losing side is likely to appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
Assume for a moment that the Supreme Court accepts the case. Now that Sotomayor's ascension to the country's highest court seems certain, she'll likely be on the bench when the case comes into the docket, giving her the opportunity to play a deciding role in baseball's two biggest legal battles in the last thirty years. I have no idea what sort of decision she'll make on the case - I just think the coincidence is pretty neat.

And yes, I'm looking for any distractions I can find. I'd like to keep from becoming completely cynical about baseball if at all possible.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Looking at the Heart of the Dice-K Training Controversy

Reading over some of the articles on the storm raging over Matsuzaka's comments to the Japanese media about his training regimen, I'm struck by two things:
  1. John Farrell really knows how to take off the gloves once the dirty fighting starts: "It’s one thing to say that, ‘OK, we’ll let you go 125 pitches,’ ’’ Farrell said. “But you know what? You’ve got to go out and be effective. We’re not just going to let someone sit on the mound and throw 125 pitches and be down, 10-0. There has to be some accountability and responsibility on the part of the player." No sugar-coating there, clearly.

  2. This disagreement seems to have its roots in how clubs - and their training staffs - use performance statistics, as verbalized by another Farrell quote: "That’s based on a number of pitchers that when they get into that area you’re predisposed to injury. So we’d like to think that we’re trying to do our best to put him in the best situation and yet this is where the two worlds, the two baseball worlds, somewhat collide."
My reading of Farrell's statement is that the Sox hold the belief that pitch counts reflect what one school of medical statistics says a pitcher's arm can handle every five days. When training, a pitcher should maintain the strength necessary to meet that pitch count without overtaxing the arm and shoulder, which could lead to injury. Matsuzaka and his trainers, on the other hand, seem to follow another school of thought, believing that the pitcher will avoid injury by doing the pitching equivalent of using a 50 pound weight to train for a situation where you'll be lifting 30 pounds - what my friend Fred calls the Nolan Ryan school of pitching. There's some question as to which style is more effective, with some anecdotal evidence that the focus on pitch counts has led to more arm and shoulder injuries, but regardless of the overall truth, the Sox look like they're in the right: Matsuzaka's shoulder isn't strong enough to throw effectively in games.

We'll see how things turn out, but Matsuzaka's rather douchey decision to complain to the press aside, I don't really see this situation resolving itself until the Sox and Dice-K find some common ground on the best way to train.

Way To Make Up Some Ground, Guys

Not sure what's worse: that the Sox lost, or that the Yankees lost on the same night and the Sox missed a chance to gain some ground. I'm feeling a bit pessimistic at the moment, what with Wakefield and Matsuzaka on the DL and the consequent thrusting of the Smoltz experiment into the light, so I'm going to go with the blown chance as the greater of two evils.

On further thought, let me revise: the greatest of all evils was that Boston lost on a night when they had rallied to take a nice lead because the Red Scare had a uniformly terrible night and surrendered runs in dribs and drabs, ultimately coughing up the game in an extra inning loss (that most terrible of defeats) because the offense couldn't score a guy from third, all while the Yankees were losing to Tampa Bay, thereby squandering an opportunity to gain a game back in the standings.

I think that puts things about right.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Trade Deadline: Lugo's Imminent Adios; What Else Will Theo Do?

The Red Sox are seen by a number of seasoned journalists and analysts to not need a whole lot at the trade deadline, but they have too much fat on the roster bone, and are rumored to want to give Julio Lugo away for a cup of chowder and eat his salary.

Apparently, Lugo didn't show up to a mandatory meeting last night, but at this point, I think he knows it doesn't matter. He's owed $9 million for this year and $9 million next year whether he plays or not--or shows up to a meeting. Whatever.

While Nick Green has improved at short stop the more time he has had to play, I'm not as sold on Jed Lowrie as others seem to be. I guess the Red Sox feel somewhat the same way after their aggressive pursuit of defected Cuban short stop Jose Iglesias. While there is little chance the young Cuban stud will play this year (perhaps September call ups?), I think Lowrie's going to be a work in progress.

Glad to hear he's healthy, but the challenge is getting him up to major league pitching speed. But I understand that you have to throw him out there. I'm not overly confident that he will make an impact for some time. The wrist injury doesn't help.

Odds & Ends: Roy Halladay, Victor Martinez, AL East
My gut tells me that Roy Halladay will not be a part of the Red Sox team this year, and that they will try and get young pitching prospects or additional relief help for Lugo.

Also, if they can get the right deal, trade Brad Penny for a proven corner infield or outfield bat (Does Matt Holliday intrigue Theo? Would Orlando Cabrera make sense to come back?).

It's not clear if the Indians would deal Victor Martinez, and you'd imagine he is a great get for any team, but logically, the Red Sox could put him at first base and have him catch. With Jason Varitek on a one-year contract, Martinez's youth and offense pop is very attractive catching replacement for next year and beyond. Plus it would give the Red Sox another switch hitter, and additional lineup flexibility.

Victor Martinez is the deal I'd love to see.

With the knowledge that the Red Sox have pitching prospects to deal with some veteran offense, trading with the Indians--who have benefited from Kelly Shoppach from the Red Sox for one--it's good to know that Mark Shapiro and Theo Epstein have made deals with each other in the past.

As much as I love the play, leadership and clutch hitting of Mike Lowell, you have to wonder if the Red Sox would put him as part of a package with teams that need pitching. It's totally insane trying to figure out all the amalgamations of potential trade deals Theo and crew could do, but with Lowell's health as a liability, and the transition of Youkilis to third base, it will not surprise me if Lowell is part of any deal, if any, get made.

Honestly, there are a few deals that will surprise me with this team.

On a side not, here is a good piece from about the AL East at the trade deadline. Tampa Bay is seen as the team that needs to do the most. From that article, this is a nice little chart I borrowed:

Top 5 Run Differentials
Rank Team Scored Allowed Diff
1 Dodgers 443 338 +105
2 Red Sox 465 380 +85
3 Rays 476 400 +76
4 Yankees 495 435 +60
5 Phillies 460 412 +48

The Yankees run scoring ability is high. The big question for them is how well their pitching will do in the second half. I expect CC and Burnett to get better.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ichiro Should Be a Lawyer

Either this interview with Ichiro underwent some heavy cutting that cut all of the logic out of his argument, or he needs to work on his argument construction skills, because his reasoning for not blaming the WBC for Matsuzaka's arm woes doesn't make any sense:
“If you think that’s the reason he’s struggling right now, if people are blaming the WBC, that’s not very smart,” Suzuki said. “People who are saying that are using it for a reason just to have a reason. They’re not really thinking it through. I believe he thinks it’s not due to the WBC, too. People who say that are just grasping for a reason.”
So the real reason is...?
“I’m not his teammate. There’s no way I can know,” he said. “It’s especially hard because it’s not an injury. If there’s an injury, you accept it because there’s nothing you can do about it. The reason it’s such a struggle is because we don’t know what the reason is. It’s a struggle because the reason lies somewhere you can’t see. That’s why it’s so hard.”
Yeah, you sold me on that one, buddy. After reading a non-reason like that one, I'm totally going to stop blaming the WBC for Dice-K's injury this year, or Timlin and Varitek's injuries in 2006.

All-Star Thoughts

As usual, I missed the entirety of the All-Star Game, undoubtedly because I have not found a way to relate its meaningless spectacle to the numerous meaningful events that happen during a season. I did, however, check in on a few of the highlights. It's good to see that Papelbon continues to do his best to make his work look easy on paper - one inning, no runs, no hits, no walks, one strikeout, all in 10 pitches - while inducing heart attacks in real time. It's also good to see that Carl Crawford can still make great catches look easy, and that despite his years of calling basebal, Tim McCarver still isn't sure when someone gets robbed of a home run by a great catch. I know it's tough, Tim, but trust me: that ball was on its way out of the bounds of the playing field.

Also, while the National League continues to lose these games, whether they "count" or not, is it really fair to say there's a lack of parity between the two leagues anymore? To choose an arbitary starting point: since the Fenway-hosted game ten years ago, the AL has only beaten the NL by more than three runs once: the 9 to 4 blowout in Houston, when a post-Yankees Clemens and a pre-Yankees Pavano gave up the lion's share of the earned runs for the NL and bad fielding gave up the rest. The remaining nine games include five one-run victories and the one infamous tie; hardly a situation of dominance.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Will Josh Beckett Win 300 Games?

Beckett at the helm is a nice way to end the first half: three hits, no runs, no walks, seven strike outs, and a league-leading tie of 10 wins with teammate and fellow All-Star Tim Wakefield (himself the subject of a nice profile in today's Globe). Beckett's 2009 ERA+ is 140, 22 points higher than his career average; his WHIP is 1.149, well below his career average of 1.216, and overall he looks far more impressive than the 2 and 2 starter with the 7.50 ERA that started the year.

But yesterday's domination of the lowly Royals was more impressive than the piling up of some sweet statistics that pulled Boston to three games above New York in the AL East standings: after eight years at the major league level, Josh Beckett has amassed his 100th win. Such milestones lead to speculation, for even as we recognize that the win is a flawed statistic for measuring the value of a pitcher, we wonder - especially these days, when conventional wisdom suggests that we'll never see such winners again - whether or not Beckett will win 200 more and achieve the milestone that has helped 20 pitchers find their way into the Hall. So, will he?

First, a few assumptions:
  • I'm using Beckett's winning percentage in Boston (.656) because it seems likely that he'll continue to pitch for teams of Boston's caliber (providing the support necessary for amassing a large body of wins) for the productive portion of the rest of his career.
  • To be consistent, I'm using his 27 starts per year average from his four years in Boston, which is roughly consistent with what an adjusted starts per year average would be over his career.
  • Because Beckett is a power pitcher, I'm assuming "the productive portion of the rest of his career" means 10 years, when he's 39.
Now, the results:
  • 27 stars a year for 10 years is 270 starts.
  • With a .656 winning percentage, Beckett would need to make 305 more starts to win 200 games.
  • 305 is more than 270.
Not looking good, but there's some room for adjustment. For example, if you adjust the number of productive years to 12, you have 324 starts, which would be enough for more than 200 wins. If you upped the average number of starts a year to 31, you'd also have enough starts for 200 wins. If you changed the winning percentage to reflect the upcoming years of Beckett's prime, you might find enough 20 game-winning seasons to make a difference. It's a tough climb to a vaunted milestone, but Beckett might have the luck and the success to go the distance.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pedroia to Miss All-Star Game, Tend to Wife

Dustin Pedroia's wife Kelli went in to pre-mature labor last week and has been hospitalized, and so, last year's MVP decided that he will tend to her needs during this 4 day break coming up. He is going to miss the All Star game.

It sucks for the AL, but he's got my support. Sometimes you forget these players have lives outside of baseball, and the lengthy season can get in the way of key moments in a person's life, like the birth of a child or an illness. In Pedroia's case, both are at play.

Luckily for the Red Sox, they have 2 days off after the All Star game which will give him extra days to be with his wife.

He put out this release:

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for the game of baseball and for the All-Star Game and am incredibly honored that the fans voted me this year’s starting second baseman for the American League. I am disappointed that I will not be able to enjoy the amazing experience with the other All-Stars, especially with my Red Sox teammates, but it is important that I put my family first at this time."

Joe Maddon picked up his first baseman Carlos Pena in Pedroia's place. Does that mean Aaron Hill and Ben Zobrist will split duties at second base for the entire game? Not sure why another second baseman wasn't chosen--doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but Maddon seems to be rewarding his own guys.

Smoltz Gets Win; Masterson Losing Steam

John Smoltz got his first win with the Red Sox last night against the Kansas City Royals, and did so by only giving up one run over 5 innings. He left in the fifth inning with an 8 run lead.

Though Smoltz was given generous calls on the outside corner at times, he did have his sick slider and split finger fastball working. As Eckersley loves to say, he was throwing cheese-- the kind of gouda that garnered him 7 Ks over 5 innings.

He may have the best slider I have ever seen. Smoltz's slider drops and disappears out of a hitter's zone like a well finessed drop shot in tennis. And he can place it inside or outside if need be. It's an amazing out pitch, but he throws in whenever he feels like it.

But the story today, and one that has brewing since Smoltz's start in Baltimore, is that the bullpen is starting to fade, struggle and give up runs.

Someone in that pen is, in my estimation, looking at a potential demotion to Triple-A if they don't get back to form--and it very well could be Justin Masterson. Perhaps the All Star break will negate all this speculation.

With Clay Bucholz sitting there waiting to face major league pitching again, he seems like a possible candidate to become a long reliever. Again, this is my best guess, but if I were a GM (HA!) he would be someone on my demotion list (though when Lowell comes back, there will obviously be moves taking place like Bates going back to Portland).

Masterson is not fooling hitters lately, and his supposed-to-be sinking pitches are up. He was charged for 5 runs in the Baltimore debacle and 5 runs last night with a 8 run lead (with 4 hits, one which was a HR). To be a tad more fair, Delcarmen and Okajima were brought in to clean up Masterson's mess, and couldn't do it.

Luckily, Daniel Bard was able to stop the bleeding and the offense continued to pounce on weak Kansas City relief pitching to get the win. But it was a totally whacked game.

Masterson's ERA is now at 4.98 with a whip of 1.43. Nahmally, I wouldn't sweat these numbers for a middle reliever, but since he's become more of long reliever and has appeared in 65 innings, those numbers are not good. If you think I'm being too hard on the kid, look at it this way: Masterson has been a factor in two blown games recently (KC Thursday night--2 runs, blows save; Baltimore on June 30--5 runs; and almost gave up the whole enchilada last night).

Consider this: Last year he pitched 88 innings and gave up 68 hits, 31 earned runs (ERA 3.16), 40 walks, with a BAA of only 2.16. Solid numbers.

This year, in 65 innings has already given up 36 earned runs, 23 walks and now has a BAA of .288.

Sorry, Son, but you ain't Masterin' much lately. I know scapegoating one guy isn't a great thing, but I won't lie: I don't trust the kid. Something about Tampa Bay and the playoffs last year might still be at play.

The guy who came in to keep the Royals quiet in the ninth? Saito. And he went one-two-three. Whew.

Disco Denni
One of the best parts of the night had nothing to do with baseball at all. It was a side by side image of Dennis Eckersley next to Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees on the NESN broadcast, with Eck calling himself 'Disco Denni' and talking about how Reggie Jackson got him and Mike Torres in to Studio 54 back in the day.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A Closer Look at Papelbon

Jonathan Papelbon is a stud closer, and there is no one you'd rather see at the end of game, especially a big game, saving it all and finishing off a win.

Papelbon's success is a significant reason the Red Sox have done so well since the 2004 season. And once again, he was chosen to represent the American League in this year's All Star game next week.

But what about some of the more innocuous statistics behind his role as a closer this season?

One thing that stands out in 2009 are the walks, hits and runs being allowed. In Papelbon's 38 innings pitched, the steely-eyed closer has walked 18 batters and given up 34 hits. He's also given up 4 home runs. His ERA is hovering just under 2 at 1.89.

These are kind of high numbers when you consider that he only walked 8 guys all of last year. In 2007, the year the Red Sox won another World Series title, Papelbon only gave up 15 walks for the year. The most home runs he's given up in a season for his career is 5.

I'm not exactly sure what to make of these stats, other than to say that he is allowing more people on base and getting knocked around at a rate that you would not necessarily expect given his past dominance. Some of this knocking around has been noticeable.

It's not uncommon to see numbers go up a little as teams get more and more comfortable with a pitcher. The AL East has some of the best hitters in the game, and adjusting to his pitches has to have become easier the more they have faced his pitching. But it's still head scratching to see Papelbon approaching career highs in walks this early in the season.

Luckily, he's not blowing saves in any significant way (only 2 so far), but with the way some of these numbers are trending, it will not be surprising to see an increase in blown saves.

The most important statistic for a closer is really only one: Saves. And at the half-way mark for the '09 season, Paps has 22 of those.

[Image by Paul Keleher via Flickr CC 2.0]

Exercise Caution When Dealing for Halladay

How's everyone feeling about the Roy Halladay trade possibility? I must admit I'm a little wary: not because I think Halladay will flop - unlike many of the hyped trades and signings of the past few years, Doc is worth the price, as Dave Cameron of FanGraphs demonstrates - but because the Blue Jays have two big advantages in negotiations:
  1. Halladay's contract expires in 2010. As one of the New England sports papers pointed out recently, Toronto has three opportunities to deal Halladay: now, at the end of the season, or before the trade deadline next year. The size of that window gives the Jays a nice piece of leverage: they don't have to deal Halladay now if they don't get an offer they really like, because they'll have two opportunities to do so again over the next year. As an added bonus, if Toronto doesn't get a great deal before the 2010 trading deadline, they'll either make a bid to resign or get two draft picks in compensation.

  2. The market demand for good pitching is enormous. Philly, Texas, St. Louis, and the Mets all have a desperate need for a pitcher of Halladay's caliber, increasing demand and allowing the Jays to charge a much higher price for his services. Combined with the time window that removes much of the pressure from Toronto to complete a deal, this increased demand for good pitching would doubtless require the Sox to part with two or three highly-touted prospects (Buchholz, Bowden, Bard) to make a deal.
I'm pretty sure I've said in the past (probably in reference to Beckett) that trading future value to obtain present value is always a good idea (although some Yankee fans might disagree), but I have to make a corollary in Halladay's case: right now, the market isn't in Boston's favor, particularly for a luxury the team would like to have, but doesn't really need. I'd hate to see the Jays become the dominant team in the AL East because the Sox gave them one too many good pieces in pursuit of a deal.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Congratulations, Tim Wakefield

I've been thinking for most of the day about what to write about Tim Wakefield's All-Star selection, trying to avoid a sappy listing of plaudits while still expressing my admiration for the man and his pitching. Eventually, I realized his selection came down to two very simple ideas.

First, the selection has an aura of added respectability, like the selection is one of those lifetime achievement awards that the Academy hands out at Oscar time, adding yet more luster to the career of the athlete who's carried the Pro torch on a marathon pace in Boston. Red Sox fans love Wakefield because he represents all that we think modern athletes don't have: the virtues of loyalty, team spirit, and lack of ego. He's a folk hero in Boston sports and we love to see our folk heroes recognized by the institutions that helped create them.

Second and more importantly, there is a very "well, duh" feeling behind the choice. To be sure, Wakefield is not having the kind of career year he's been fortunate enough to have twice in his life - the kind that, were he able to reproduce with year-over-year consistency, would surely grant him a spot in the Hall - but as he's aged, he's become the anchor of the Boston pitching staff, the guy who fans can rely on to eat up innings, make thirty starts or so a year, and not land on the DL. His flashes of brilliance are the more precious for their unpredictability, making the guy look like a magician when the volatile mixture of elements that can make a knuckleball dance act in harmony. If Pedro in his prime was great to watch because he looked like a god come to Earth, Wakefield in his element is great to watch because he looks like an everyday working guy who happened to have caught a bolt of lightning for the day. Red Sox fans have known this idea for years. We're just glad the rest of the country will finally get a chance to see him in the same light.

Why Did Francona Leave Saito In After 3 Walks?

Sometimes, I don't understand managers, at all. If a game is on the line--especially late innings of a home game-- and you have a good bullpen, why would you not use them?

Such was the case on Saturday's 4th of July early afternoon game at Fenway Park against the Mariners.

Brad Penny pitched strongly, only giving up 2 runs over 6 innings.
Masterson and Okajimi pitched the seventh and eighth quite well, but Takashi Saito in the ninth was fairly lost out there. He walked Ken Griffey Jr., then gets an out, and proceeds to walk the next two guys for bases loaded.

Why is Saito still out there? Apparently, he is being treated like Papelbon's backup. Here's how puts it:

Manager Terry Francona gave Saito the ball because Jonathan Papelbon, having pitched in four straight games and six of the past eight days, required a day off. Saito, just two seasons ago, was an All-Star-caliber closer, accustomed to taking the ball almost every day. With the Red Sox, he understandably has
been used in a more sporadic manner.

That may be the case, but the game was tied. The Sox were not leading, so using Papelbon may or may not have been a factor at all. Yes, sometimes he is used when the game is tied at home in the ninth, but not always.

Saito hasn't been good lately, in fact, "in his previous three outings he had allowed three runs in 2 1/3 innings," said the same article.

I realize that Delcarmen, Papelbon and Ramirez had pitched the night before, and this was a day game, but there was at least a well-rested Bard sitting there, and Delcarmen only pitched one inning Friday night.

I don't recall if anyone was warm in that pen or not, but my gut tells me that was not the case. In my view, walking three guys to load the bases means a guy cannot find the strike zone. Time for him to get a smile from Big Papi on the bench, not work out of a jam that he can't seem to figure out.

Seems like after walk number two, this was the obvious situation. It can be good to let guys work things out on the mound, but not when the game is tied, in the ninth and you're facing a strong bullpen.

This is not a knee-jerk reaction to a meaningless loss. This is no WEEI post-game rant. It means the difference between consistently winning series, and not.

Saito told the Ian Browne of

"I'm not usually the type of pitcher to give up a lot of walks to begin with," Saito said. "I can't really recall another incident like today, really."

So how did it happen?

"In the beginning, I think I was overthinking things a little too much and trying to be a little too fine in spotting strikes, and those ended up being balls," Saito said. "From there on, I couldn't make the proper adjustments on the mound."

That same article makes the case that Saito doesn't have a predictable role in the pen, since he was used to closing for the Dodgers, but I don't buy it. He's the second closer, but he's not been good lately, so better have some back up ready to go.

Saito was off, and it was obvious. He doesn't walk guys. The manager needs to know that pretty quickly, especially in a tight game.

After two rings and lots of playoff appearances, second-guessing this Red Sox manager is admittedly an unpopular thing to do. But in some cases, it's warranted.

Saito's not your closer, Tito. So don't treat him like one.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Jason Bay Back to Fenway May Help Keep Slump at Bay

Jason Bay had a rough road trip in Baltimore, Atlanta and Washington. Stupid road trip with a bunch of young pitchers you've hardly seen in your career.

The low light was the 5 Ks in yesterday's come from behind win at Camden Yards, and went 0 for 15 in that Baltimore series, and 6 for 36 overall. It's pretty yucky, but given his talent, I doubt this slump lingers. He says his timing is off (as told to the Herald):

“I’m completely getting myself out now. Timing-wise, I’m kind of in between - I can’t hit the fastball, can’t hit the breaking ball. It’s just one of those situations where everything that could go wrong is going wrong. But we’re winning games, too, so it at least helps deflect it a little bit."

Seeing Bay in a slump isn't something we're used to watching, but going back to Fenway against Seattle can't hurt a guy who, up until now, has been doing really well in the American League.

The only legitimate gripe I can see is that he strikes out a whole lot--to the tune of 76 Ks for the year. Comparatively, however, Bay's K rate ranks him in the number 12 spot in baseball, with a lot of major power hitters ahead of him. Carlos Pena comes to mind, and he's ranked third in baseball with 101Ks for the year so far.

The strikeouts are not a huge deal.

While his average at Fenway is only .254, Bay takes his walks there, and so his OBP is .372 with an OPS of .904. Bay has 7 home runs and 35 RBIs at home. Against the Mariners, Bay has a career .724 slugging percentage and 1.136 OPS.

Good numbers.

The travel day today and the mood of the clubhouse after yesterday's comeback win--or as Eric calls the 'character win'--has me thinking good things for Bay at Fenway before the All-Star Break.

Now is not the time to get down on a key offensive talent that the Red Sox want to sign for the long haul (and may try over the All Star break), and who wants to become a U.S. citizen.

Remember, this is a guy who is third in RBIs (69) in all of baseball behind Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. He's also tied for third in the AL in homers (19).

A Character Win

For obvious reasons, 2004 was a good year to start this blog, but it's had one problematic side effect: every year, I look for the game of the year, the game that channels the spirit of The Fight Game and demonstrates that deep down, the Sox have what it takes to gel as a team when they need to most. I know full well it's a fatuous exercise: even in 2004, the trade that put together the final pieces didn't happen for another seven days and team went a mediocre 8 and 6 until their big run starting August 10, but the point is to find the games that look big in retrospect right after they happen. I bring all of this discussion up because, despite the vastly different circumstances, yesterday's win has that feel.

Beckett and Varitek are calling it a character win, which also seems appropriate, in the way that the turnaround win against the Indians in the ALCS in 2007 was a character win: the Sox buckled down, grabbed whatever it was that made them such a good team, and won. The 2009 Orioles might be a far weaker team than the 2007 Indians and the game a fairly meaningless regular season contest, but the desire to revenge the prior day's humiliation and reestablish what seems to be the dominant order in Baltimore proved an effective understudy for the 07's unnerving possibility of losing out of the playoffs. Beckett recovered sufficiently to keep his team in the game and his team did the rest - even if they had to go to the brink a few times to do so. If the character of the 2009 Red Sox is to win when winning really matters, I like our post-season chances better and better.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Orioles Historic Comeback; Red Sox Pen Has Awful Night on the Road

You can't argue with the rallying that the Baltimore Orioles did last night at Camden Yards, but from a Red Sox perspective, the bullpen was crap-tastic last night.

I keep hearing this repeatedly over and over in my head: Ten runs over 2 innings. Ten runs over 2 innings.

Was it the rain delay? The big lead in the 4th inning? Heads not in the game? Beat up on the O's so many times you think they suck? So many psychological factors at play that you have to wonder where these guys heads were. But then you have to remember that for most of this season, this pen has been one of the best the Red Sox have ever had.

Let it go? Yes. Watch it closely? Well, close enough--that's what we do here for fun. The 10 runs over the 7th and 8th innings were tough to swallow, but you could feel it slipping away with every hit the Orioles offense made (13 hits in 2 innings for 10 runs--Ouch!).

Right now, pre-All-Star break, the Sox bullpen has the best ERA in the league at 3.24. Leading the league in the bullpen and playing in the AL East is no joke.

Here's some additional perspective on the pen:
  • Red Sox rank 19th in innings pitched (with 228) [Thank you, starters]
  • Red Sox rank 20th in walks [They throw strikes, gets outs]
  • The Orioles rank first in innings pitched with 267.1 innings pitched
  • The Orioles have a BAA (Batting Average Against) of .272.

It's no wonder the Orioles are in last place and will continue to be there. But given the amount these teams see each other in a season, it's no wonder an offense can click and rally occasionally. Nice comeback for a consistently losing Orioles team.

But poor John Smoltz. He pitched well enough--1 earned run--to get a win in Baltimore, but that was erased after a hour plus rain delay in which he was removed from the game, and pitching was turned over to Justin Masterson--who started out quite nicely, then lost it.

But he wasn't alone.

The offense did more than it's share last night to seal what should have been a fairly easy win. But the pitching from Masterson and Okajima last night in particular was just plain bad. Masterson was getting knocked around, then left a hanging slider over the middle of the plate, and the game's momentum was in full swing mode.

Even Papelbon, who you knew Francona did not want to have to use, got knocked around a little. All it takes in only timely hit to lose a game, and the Orioles seized it. Papelbon put it this way after the game:

“The good thing is the group of guys we have down there in the bullpen all can take this pretty well,’’ Papelbon said. “And understand that, hey, this is going to happen, but it’s not going to happen very often - and move on. We’re all professionals down there. You won’t see anybody hanging their head tomorrow, that’s for sure.’’

Congrats, O's. Now go back to being in last place.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Ancient One

Mike Lowell is 35. He has a surgically repaired hip and is in Boston right now because he's been hobbling around on the field. He just had 15 CCs of fluid drained from his surgically repaired hip, causing his manager to quip, "that's going to really help." Or maybe he wasn't quipping. Maybe that was complete deadpan, because his starting third baseman has leg connectors like an old man and he's in his mid-thirties and would presumably have another forty years before having to worry about such things.

There are times I'm glad I'm not a professional athlete. Reading about Mike Lowell's hip is one of those times.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Smoltz First Start with Sox in DC, Then Home to Atlanta

Future Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz was home in Atlanta on Friday after a mediocre first big league start for a loss against the Nationals.

But let's be honest, his first start has to be considered a throw away.

Why? There are a whole host of reasons, but the major one to me is that its the first time facing major league hitting after not pitching for a long time and coming off major shoulder surgery for a guy who is 42.

Yes, the Nationals are the worst team in baseball, but that has more to do with a weak pitching starting rotation and pretty awful bullpen. Oh, and by the way, Jordan Zimmerman of the Nationals can deal. He has really good stuff.

Smoltz got knocked around in the first inning after hit a lefty batter on the shin after a wicked bending slider--a pitch to me that looked like it got a whole lot better the more he threw it, and one that will help him keep future batters off because they will never know when he will throw it. Overall, Smoltz improved as he went along by getting more in strike zone focused.

He ended up with 5 Ks in 5 innings with 5 earned runs. He lost, but he settled in and got his slider in more control--and got his fastball hitting the corners.

But most at play here was that thing you read about and hear sports broadcasters talk about so much: Adrenaline.

For the amount that term is used, you think it was a something you wear under your uniform or around your neck. Adrenaline is the biophysical, scientific way of saying an athlete is nervous, trying to be too perfect and is the complete opposite of relaxed.

Adrenaline build up is what you get when you are afraid of failing. Smoltz said as much after the game: "What I feared most was wanting to do so well," he [Smoltz] said later. "It felt different because so many people were rooting for me."

It's not the first time Smoltz has had to deal with nerves as a starter. Remember, this is the guy who went back and forth between a starter's role and closer and dominated in both. The man is a competitor in the best of ways, and something the Red Sox could very well need in a playoff situation.

On calming his nerves before his start, has this:

On Wednesday, he had spoken about a similar situation that made his nerves
flare. On April 4, 2005, Smoltz made his first start in four years after serving
as the Braves closer. He faced 13 batters. Seven of them scored. Smoltz allowed
six earned runs on six hits and two walks 1 2/3 innings.

Smoltz said he would draw on the experience to help calm his nerves for last
night. In the afternoon, he played cards with Manny Delcarmen and wore a smile
walking through the clubhouse, but jitters seemed to affect him in the first. He
hit the second batter he faced, Nick Johnson, in the shin.

With Matsuzaka on the DL, and looking pretty lost on the hill, having Smoltz able to eat up innings and keep the Red Sox in the game is going to be a great thing to watch going forward.

Is he going to give up runs? Absolutely. But I imagine he is going to keep them at bay better than many pitchers in the league.

Just look at his 21-year career numbers for evidence:

210 Wins, 3.27 ERA, 3016 Ks, 1.17 WHIP, 8 SO/9 innings, .235 BAA

He's going to be good.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Later He Cries Bitter Tears

Remember Julio Lugo? I know, I know: it's been a while (eight games, to be precise), and it's hard to remember he's standing on the sidelines when his replacement is a ninja who clearly spent that missing year of his career in training with Ra's al Ghul. But with Green's star well stuck in the firmament and Lowrie's return immanent, Lugo sees his future all too clearly and he's not shy about making his disappointment known. Sugar coating his feelings is just the way of disguising the knife, of course:
"I'm happy for [Green]," Lugo said. "I'm very happy he's playing well, but that doesn't take away from who I am. I haven't been a shortstop in the big leagues for 10 years because one day I woke up and got two hits. I've been here because I have a history of playing and playing well. That's why I've got 10 years in the big leagues. But I'm very happy for him."
Oh yeah, he's thrilled about riding the pine while someone else starts. Can't you tell?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nick Green, Glove Machine

At first I was going to say that part of the reason why Green's play looks so incredible is that the first part of it was so awkward, making the recovery that much more amazing. But then I watched it a few more times and I have come to disagree with my initial analysis: that whole move was flat out ninja, from the leap to avoid the sliding runner to the roll and spin to make the strong throw to first. Nick Green is having a career year and I'm very, very glad he's having it with the Red Sox.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Surprise, Surprise: Dice-K on the DL

A bit of gloating today, because a.) I'm pleased I called Dice-K's return trip to the DL and b.) that return trip makes this guy look like an even bigger idiot for demanding his burying in an unmarked grave somewhere in the bullpen. Two things of interest from the article announcing the confirmation of Matsuzaka's injury:
  1. The MRI results, which revealed that Matsuzaka's shoulder looks just as bad now as it did in April. That one surprises me, to be honest: I'm guessing that a lot of the decision making around whether or not to put a guy back on the roster revolves around he's reporting he feels, but I would still think that the team's medical staff would be giving out MRIs like candy if they thought it would tell them anything useful. From the article (which is admittedly short on detail), it sounds instead like Dice-K hasn't had an MRI since he first went on the DL and - concequently - the team could have avoided problems with a little more testing. Either way, if things haven't changed much since, I bet we don't see Matsuzaka again until late August.

  2. Francona going on the record blaming the World Baseball Classic for the loss of his pitcher. If he's saying it publically, the management and the ownership are saying it privately...and that might mean the end of Bud Selig's promotional party, or at least thelevel of pro participation the first two iterations of the Classic enjoyed. Personally, while I enjoy the concept that the WBC represents, having seen its negative effect on two different Red Sox teams, I'd be happy for a change in the way participation works.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Speculating on the Brad Penny Possibilities

For a baseball fan, there are few things finer than speculating on possibilities. The game's heavy focus on strategy makes it a natural generator of debate, particularly when possibilities are in play: when a team has options for different configurations that might help or hurt the team's fortunes, even the most casual fan has an option they favor. Thus with the Red Sox, who have a wealth of starting pitchers that would make Croesus's baseball equivalent jealous, and for once find themselves in position of strength in the mid-season trading market. The possibilities are two-fold:
  1. Brad Penny has proven himself to be a wildly successful gamble whose value increases with every start. Do the Sox trade him - and if so, to whom, and for what - or do they choose to ride his success to the post-season and possibly beyond?
  2. John Smoltz, Clay Buchholz, and Dice-K Matsuzaka are competing for a rotation spot. For now, the Sox are opting for a six man unit, but for the sake of their pitchers' rhythms, they'll have to make a decision one way or another before too much times goes by. Who should get the job?
What makes Boston's position even more enviable is that the Sox don't have to make a decision quite yet: they have the time to see Smoltz become a known quantity and if he doesn't work out, keep Penny for the rest of the season or trade him and fall back on Buchholz. If Smoltz proves himself up to his usual standards, they can trade Penny and pitch Buchholz, or keep Buchholz in the wings and hold on to Penny.

My thoughts: wait and see on Smoltz and trade Penny no matter what - but only after Smoltz has had time to establish himself. Unless Penny somehow goes off the deep end between now and the trading deadline, his value will remain high among contending teams desperate for good pitching and the Sox might be able to get a solid catching prospect in return. In addition, a trade will give Boston some value on an expiring contract for a pitcher who will command a lot more money on the market this winter. Waiting until Smoltz proves himself just increases the options in case of a worst case scenario. Either way, they should still DL Dice-K until he's really healthy before putting him back in the mix.