Saturday, March 31, 2007

Crystal Balls

Often contributor, Yankee fan, and stat head (yeah, he’s 1 for 3), my buddy Mike has used his fortune telling ability to make some predictions of the up coming year. Yeah, I was going to do this, but I figured that I should get a SEMI un-biased opinion (even if I think he is showing obvious Yankee favoritism). These are his opinions and picks… all comments and hate should be directed to him.

God I love passing the buck.

NL East
NY Mets

“The Mets rotation is weak. They don’t have the starters or the bullpen to keep up with Atlanta. Pitching wins.”

NL Central
St. Louis
Chicago Cubs


“Cinci is going to be better than people think. They have two solid starters. But until someone proves they can beat the Cardinals, I’m gonna stick with them.”

NL West
LA Dodgers
San Diego
SF Giants

“Dodgers have a good all around team. Quality pitching staff top to bottom. The D-Backs are a year away from being really good. Their position players need more maturity.”

NL WC- Mets
“The offence still will carry them. They are going to win a lot of games with scores like 9-7.”

NL CY- Roy Oswalt
“He added the change up to his arsenal. He’s going to be amazing.”

NL MVP- Albert Pujols
“Every year Pujols is healthy, he should be defaulted the MVP. He’s that much better than everyone else.”

NL ROY- Kevin Kouzmanoff
“This kid is a career .320 hitter in the minors and doesn’t strike out. He’s gonna be really good for the Padres.”

AL East
NY Yankees
Tampa Bay

“Yankees offense and bullpen is better than the Sox, but the Red Sox have the starting staff. Yankees win with 2 out of 3.”

AL Central
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City

“Detroit is due for a let down after the WS run. The Twins are knocked down by injuries, the Indians aren’t there yet… White Sox are the least flawed pick.”

AL West
LA Angels

“Oakland cannot replace Zito’s numbers, won’t happen. Angeles are the best team in the West top to bottom. Seattle is close but is missing one or two starters.”

AL WC- Red Sox
“Offensively they are near the second best team in baseball, their staff is near the best. They are in the wrong division. Yanks and Sox are the best two teams in the AL.”

AL CY- Felix Hernandez
“Older, wiser, he’s in really good shape, won’t coast his way through this year and I didn’t want to go with the obvious choice in Santana.”

AL MVP- Vlad Guerrero
“Ortiz is out because of the DH thing. A-Rod is too disliked, but is the Yanks best player stats wise. Vlad has the stats and he should carry his team enough offensively to put him over the top.”

AL ROY- Alex Gordon
“He is a 5 tool player who is going to be fantastic. Superstar make up.”


Atlanta over St Louis
LA Dodgers over NY Mets
“In a short series the pitching is the answer for both these wins. Bullpen and starters in a short series will be the deciding factor and Atlanta and the Dodgers win in those categories.”

NY Yankees over Chicago White Sox
LA Angels over Boston
“This is a battle of bullpens. Angels and Yankees win because of the superior mid relief.”

NLCS Atlanta over the Dodgers- “Pitching again. When in doubt, go with the better staff.”

ALCS Angels over Yankees- “Yanks never do well against the Angels.”

WS Angels over Atlanta- “AL is MUCH better than the NL again this year. Safest bet is the AL team despite the Cards victory last year.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bodies Everywhere

After Robin's post yesterday on the bullpen aftermath, I was curious as to how well the Red Scare really did this spring, so I pulled some numbers from the list of Spring Training stats MLB had hidden on its team sites like a rare and precious jewel and did some comparisons. My hypothesis going into the project was that the Red Scare is more a collection of available bodies meant to get between the starter and the end of the game/Jonathan Papelbon than something fierce, like Scot Shields or the bringers of death they have in Minnesota. And yes, I know most bullpens are just collections of inferior arms, but with the signings in the off-season and the number of young pitchers still in camp until this week, I'm seeing a bullpen that comes closer to emulating Zapp Branigan's military strategy than acting as a fearsome stopping force.

To make my list, I took everyone who pitched an inning at the major league level for the Sox this spring, took out anyone who had started a game (except Papelbon) as a starter or potential starter, added Tavarez as starter number five and removed Papelbon because he's not a middle reliever. A couple of interesting data points jumped out at me:
  • The twelve relievers at the major league camp converted three out of eleven save chances this spring. Saves may be the most arbitrary statistic in baseball, but it does mean most of these guys couldn't bring the goods in a close-and-late situation. Thank God for Paps.
  • I averaged the numbers from all twelve pitchers to get a sense of the average Red Sox bullpen pitcher this spring. This composite pitcher, in 8.3 innings, had a WHIP of 1.44 (yes, that's right: almost a base runner and half for every inning out on the mound). Of those 12 or so base runners, he allowed 4.3 to make it around the bases to score, including lucky guy with a round trip ticket.
Conclusion: even though we have the cream of this crop pitching at the major league level come Opening Day, the Red Scare's most impressive feature is its size: a whole of lot depth to step in if the first guys up can't get the job done. I think we may be looking at an Oakland A's-style job, where the team fields enough players to get through the first half of the season with some respectability, then drops the dead weight at the Trade Deadline and brings up fresh arms for a drive to the playoffs. I see a lot of close contests in our future...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Making the List

At this point in the spring (nearly a week away from opening day) pretty much every position player (barring injury or some Florida related trauma) has their position locked up. Thanks to Paps return to the closer role, the rotation is changed slightly, but it too is now cast in bronze. All that remained was the list of names that would pitch the majority of the 7th and 8th innings this year (hopefully nothing earlier). A list of the cast and crew of the bullpen. A list of the jobbers, the band-aids, the setup specialists, and the rejects.

So excuse me as channel Joe McCarthy and stand on my blogging soap-box and yell:

“I hold in my hand a list of names!”

Unfortunately this is an incomplete list. It’s just the guys who made it and some notable absentees. Just like in little league, if you have a (*) next to your name you made the team. Good luck guys.

*Mike Timlin: Starting the season on the DL is always bad. Reports are that if he was younger he could push it and be ready for opening day, but come on… wasn’t he too old last year?

Bryan Corey: A young arm that isn’t yet ready for the big show. He may be a September call up or a long shot to make it if one of the other guys goes down.

Manny Delcarmen: Juuuust missed the cut. MDC had a very mediocre spring and is going to AAA for his troubles. If someone doesn’t work out as planned, he’ll be back up quick. Otherwise, see you in September.

*Brendan Donnelly: Another vet. This guy looked like a great pick up, but he too looks long in the tooth. One of the first to drop out of the closer lottery.

Kason Gabbard: Gabbo had a really good spring training, but not good enough apparently. He is going to be a starter in Pawtucket and I wouldn’t be surprised if he made a few spot starts in the big leagues out of the 5th spot.

Craig Hansen: Bottom line… he pitched himself out of a roster spot. The once dubbed “Closer of the Future” has been AWFUL since the middle of last year. Another happy Boras client.

Jon Lester: The ace of the AAA crew? Once he gets checked out and looks 100% I think Lester is bound for the bigs. Probably the first called up if the injury bug bites.

*Javier Lopez: “Death to Lefties!” is his rallying cry. Is he a true LOOGY? I dunno, but at least he is another left handed arm for the pen. He should be better this year now that he’s the only Javy Lopez on the team.

*Hideki Okajima: This is the lefty reliever we got from Japan, not Dice-K’s translator. Yeah I was confused too. He will stick with the big club so Matsuzaka has someone to carry his equipment.

David Pauley: One of the injury replacements for the decimated pitching staff last year. Although he held his own, let’s just say I am not too saddened he didn’t make the club. Maybe in September.

*J.C. Romero: Wasn’t this the guy who we tried to get from the Twins last year, but then it turned out he was on steroids? Now he’s in the pen?!?! Oh wait, he’s another lefty. That’s like a reliever’s “Get out of jail free” card.

*Joel Pineiro: Won’t be starting, won’t be closing, and isn’t named Rudy Seanez. Yeah, I can deal with him as the set up guy.

*Kyle Snyder: Just call him the anti-Craig Hansen. He performed quite well this spring and earned himself a long relief role.

Pretty much cut and dry. Biggest shocks were Kyle Snyder making it and Hansen blowing it. This is a deeper pen than last year and even though it isn’t AWE inspiring, it isn’t vomit inspiring either. Still, to keep with political metaphor, I think "The Red Scare" could be a good nickname for this crew.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Simple Pleasures

Welcome to the third and final part of the series of special reports done by DC on his trip down to the sunny land of Spring Training. This time around: simple pleasures watching a hand sign a paper, or a ball leave a bat. We hope you enjoy.

Since I was only in Florida for a weekend, there was only one Red Sox game that I could attend. Luckily, it was the coveted Saint Patty’s Day game. We got there early and hung out watching batting practice, which (excluding the Josh Beckett incident) was a lot of fun. One of the coolest experiences from Spring Training is Johnny Pesky coming out for 45 minutes, sitting in a folding chair and signing autographs, cracking jokes and telling stories. The guy has this down to a science! Johnny has a guy who stands by him and retrieves the memorabilia from the crowd, hands it to Johnny and then returns it to the correct fan. This guy is responsible for carrying three things: Johnny’s folding chair, a blue ballpoint pen and a sharpie. Why two pens, you ask? Johnny says that blue pen is best for signing baseballs and sharpies work the best on memorabilia.

Watch for that person who has that special item: a picture of Johnny when he was playing, a program from the 1946 World Series, anything of that sort. Then, right before your eyes, this simple autograph session becomes magical. You can almost see the memories pouring into Johnny’s mind as he smiles and starts to tell you a story. Just like that, he sucks you in: you forget where you are and you’re no longer worried about your impending sunburn; none of that matters. All you can think about is how lucky you are to be there at that very moment and how much you love baseball. Honestly, watching Johnny Pesky do his thing was almost as good as the game.

The other exciting thing that happened before the game had nothing to do with the Red Sox. It had everything to do with Cincinnati outfielder Adam Dunn. Adam Dunn taking batting practice was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Now I had seen big guys like Wily Mo and Papi hit some shots and I knew that Adam Dunn was a big man with an even bigger bat, but nothing could have prepared me to see him in person. The guy looks like Paul Bunyan in baseball pants. And as soon as he stepped into the cage and hit his first bomb, I just stopped looking around and watched. The guy hit bomb after bomb, just mythic, towering shots that never seemed to land. It was truly quite a sight.

One other off-the-field thing that warrants mention: Fergie Jenkins was there signing autographs for charity. For $10 you could get the Hall of Famer to sign a baseball and all the proceeds were going to Habitat for Humanity. He was an amazingly nice man and seemed to really be enjoying meeting the fans and doing the charity work. Maybe we can pay him to tutor young Joshua?

As far as the game went, there wasn’t really much that stood out, besides Hideki Okajima's funny, deceptive-looking throwing motion and Wonderboy getting hit in the hand with a pitch and leaving the game. Okajima looks pretty good, but I have to admit part of me didn’t care at all about Pedroia getting hurt. I swear the guy never hit the ball out of the infield during batting practice. Otherwise, the pitching kept things close and the Boston offense wasn't hitting, just like they haven't for most of the spring, leading to a 2 - 1 victory, a good game and a nice day at the ballpark. Oh and yeah, those green jerseys are sharp!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Opening Day

Fox 5 TV, NYC: "Should Carl Pavano start on Opening Day?"
Robin and I, simultaneously: [giggle with uncontrollable glee like little girls high on helium].

That is all.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Fox Among the Chickens

Remember Ego and Super Ego, the feature where Robin and I simulate the thought processes of a typical Red Sox fan in word form? Well, the announced return of the Papal-Bon to the role of closer snapped something inside both of us, so Ego and Super Ego is back. My comments in normal text, Robin's in italics. Enjoy...

It's official: Jonathan Papelbon will be the closer for 2007, ending weeks of speculation about the future owner of the job, the health of Papelbon's shoulder, the foolishness of the Sox for moving him out of the position, the need for a closer, etc., etc., etc. While I'm glad the wait is over, because I was getting really sick of every sportscaster feeling the need to add their opinion to the mix, that doesn't mean I don't have some mixed feelings about seeing Paps back in the pen. Being the logical, organized type, I've laid out the pros and cons of making this transition.

Being the pissed off psycho type, I am gonna break down his lame assumptions and tell you what the real deal is with this freaking travesty of a no-win, zero sum, awful choice this team just made. Honestly… I’m a little excited.

  • Proven track record: the seven runs over 70 innings, the 75 strikeouts and 13 walks, the sheer badassity of a closer who didn't give up his first run until halfway through 2006 all speak for themselves.

    Oh come on! Everyone knows Paps is the second coming. That’s the freaking point. He comes in = the game ends.

  • Stronger arm: after last year's shoulder scare, Papelbon has gone through a boatload of strengthening exercises and, according to his quote in the Herald, has talked to a "million doctors" who all seem to agree that his new exercise regimen will give him the arm strength he needs to keep a live arm all season. He now feels he can perform in either role, as the team needs him.

    Stronger than what? He looked fine until the end of last season when he collapsed like someone whose name rhymes “Crap Lament” last season. And what’s this magic strength training? Tai-Bo? Or has he been hitting the medicine balls so hard that anything larger than a cantaloupe gives him fits?

  • A much better option: was I worried about Julian Tavarez or Joel Pineiro coming in to shoot down the opposition Rivera-style in close contests? You bet your ass I was. We know Paps can get the job done and get it done well and that counts for a lot of peace of mind.

    No crap. Last time I checked everyone was getting rocked this spring. And you usually can’t get piece of mind from a guy who played Tony Montana in the Sox clubhouse version of Scarface.
  • Arm health: what if the doctors are wrong or the exercise regimen doesn't work and Papelbon's arm falls off, as I keep fearing it will? I admit my irrational fears don't go up very well against a "million doctors," but I won't feel any better if I'm right and Paps can't pitch anymore. Plus, Papelbon is a warrior: he'll probably keep pitching until his arm does fall off because he's so committed (although Curt Schilling seems to feel otherwise).

    Plus, this is idiotic. Severe arm damage is something you’d notice in his performance. If he ends up sucking cause he’s hurt, we are back at square screwed.

  • Pitching limitations: according to the quotes in the Herald, there are big limitations on how often and how long Papelbon can pitch - no multiple inning outings and no pitching four or five nights in a row. I trust Francona not to blow this restriction, but do I trust the rest of the bullpen to step up and keep the runs off the board on those nights when Papelbon can't pitch? It's a big risk.

    This I really don’t understand. If we are risking this guy by making him the closer, then why not run him into the ground and get all the wins we can get out of him. What? If he’s gonna get hurt anyway, we might as well bleed him dry.

  • Replacement effectiveness: with Papelbon back in the 'pen, Julian Tavarez will take his spot in the rotation. He did well enough in the role at the end of last year to be a fifth starter and he definitely wants to be there, but we're talking about Julian Tavarez, the man most likely in 2006 to suffer a mound meltdown - after Rudy Seanez, of course - taking the reins in 2007 at the back of the rotation. Ignoring the loss in quality that lowers the rotation from godlike to pretty good, Tavarez is a scary unknown factor as a pitcher in general and a starter in particular.
    Lord, Tavarez again? Can you imagine every 5 days dealing with “Mask and Chainsaw” night at Fenway? Could somebody go check the white blood cell count on Jon Lester?
Basically, it's a tie - it's nice to know the man closing out games is as reliable as they come, but Papelbon's return to the pen opens up a whole new set of potential problems to worry about as the season opens. I'm excited, but more than a little freaked out about what could happen.

It’s brutal that a “tie” means that we take a potential 15-18 game winner and turn him into a 35+ save closer who has a chance to burnout in August. But there really aren’t any other good options are there.

It’s a CURSE I tell you!

I hoped everyone enjoyed the outing by our Japanese import this afternoon, because apparently that’s the last time we will see him without injury. Grab your lucky rabbit foot and juju token or Dice-K is going to get dismembered in some HORRIBLE thresher accident because of some curse that affects almost all flavor-of-the-month athletes.

No he’s not on the cover of Madden 2008. But close.

D-Mat is the cover-boy for this week's issue of Sports Illustrated. Run for the hills! Abandon all hope! Remember Nomar? Looking JACKED on the cover of SI… then boom! His wrist snaps like kindling. It must have been that cover shot. So for Matsuzaka it MUST be inevitable. For the sake of expedience, someone go and schedule the Tommy John surgery ahead of time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Time for the Minors

Part 2 of the series of reports from DC on his Spring Training trip takes our hero to the minor league fields, where he observed past and future legends in their natural habitat. Let's check in on the action...

On the first day of my Spring Training weekend I didn’t have tickets to any of the games, so I decided to go down to the Red Sox minor league facility to see what was going on. For those of you who have never been there, let me tell you: it's awesome. There are 4 fields set up with all of the backstops backed up against each other, allowing you to stand in the middle and have baseball happening on all sides of you. There are almost no bleachers and the dugouts are above ground - chain-linked fence encased benches giving the whole thing the feel of being at a kick ass Little League complex. A Little League complex that has former Major Leaguers sitting in golf carts or standing around talking, that is.

On this particular day I arrived to find two games occurring simultaneously. On one field: the AAA teams of the Red Sox playing the Twins. On the other field: the AA squads. Imagine, the future of the Sox playing mere feet away from me, and I’m literally leaning against the chain linked fence enjoying every moment. How could this be better? How about realizing that you recognize the guy warming up for the Sox AAA team: Jon Lester! Or how about standing two feet from Luis Tiant while he’s sitting in a golf cart signing autographs! Or shaking hands with Dewey Evans who looks like he could still gun down some poor fool trying to go first to third!

I couldn’t help it; I had to call Robin. It doesn’t matter that he was at work…in a blizzard. Here's how the conversation went:

Me: “Hey, so its 75 degrees with a nice breeze and I’m watching Jon Lester pitch a AAA game.”
Robin: “I hate you so much! I just came in from the ice storm from hell and I can’t feel my face.”
Me: “Oh and Luis Tiant and Dewey Evans are both here. El Tiante has a really nice signature on a baseball.”
Robin: “Seriously, I might kill you. Wait, did you say Lester? How’s he look?”
Me: “Oh hey, did I mention that I’m standing like 10 feet from Theo?”

At this point Robin became incoherent and amid promises of physical harm and ending our friendship I decided he’d had enough and hung up. Is there really anything better than being on vacation, watching the Red Sox in person and calling your friends at work to rub it in their faces?

Anyway, Lester looked G-R-E-A-T! His arm looked dynamic. His pitches looked alive. And on the way out he received a series of fist pounds, well wishes and applause - and as we walked through the crowd, we saw him signing autographs. Yeah, that’s right; he walked through the fans to the clubhouse. I had a very short conversation with Jon Lester. He’s feeling great by the way and he says “Hi” (ok, I made that second part up, he doesn’t know you). Other things that I saw: George Kottaras hit a nice dinger. Abe Alvarez just doesn’t look promising anymore. I smell a career long-reliever in the making. Theo seems really nice and personable. And yes girls, he is just dreamy in person.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Josh Beckett: Good Pitcher, Bad Guy

While those of us in the Northeast were wondering why exactly it had to snow in March, especially after a week of sunshine and balmy breezes, DC was in Florida taking in some Spring Training action. This week he's back with a few special reports to file. Here's the first one; enjoy.

So I just returned from a whirlwind
three-day tour of Spring Training and for those of you who have never had the chance to go, let me tell you that you’ll never get a better chance to get to know the players’ respective personalities. I had intended to return and write about the games I saw and how a hand full of players are looking, but that will have to wait until tomorrow. Right now I have a much more pressing issue to share with you all. Now, let me start by saying that I am not here to debate the current salary structure of professional sports; I don’t care whether or not you think athletes deserve millions of dollars they get each year.

What I am interested in is sharing an experience that I had while in Florida that left me disappointed, disgusted, and a whole bunch of other dis-words that I don’t even know. On game days in Florida the ballpark opens up very early so that fans can line the fences, watch batting practice, and most importantly interact with the players and hopefully get a couple of autographs. On this particular day, Josh Beckett was not pitching, so he was just standing around in the field watching warms ups and basically hanging out. As he walked toward the dugout, a bunch of fans (including many little kids) started excitedly screaming his name and asking him to sign a couple of balls. His response: "Show the green. Show the green."

Now, I can only hope that he realized that it was Saint Patty’s day and he was encouraging people to purchase green jerseys from the gift shop. But somehow I doubt it. Let’s face it, the guy’s name isn’t Josh O’Beckett. More likely, is that this guy can’t seem to get by on $4.3 million a year. Look, if you don’t want to sign autographs that’s your prerogative, but if that’s the case then smile, wave and express your distaste for the fans in the solitude of the clubhouse. Let us all live the dream that you’re actually a nice guy. Especially since you couldn’t keep the ball in the ballpark last year! Honestly, if we’re going to have an egotistical, fan unfriendly pitcher, we might as well take that $4.3 mil and put it towards a private plane for Mr. Clemens. At least with him we get Hall of Fame statistics and privilege of watching/rooting for one of the best pitchers ever! I think that would make the ego sit a lot better than getting it from a punk kid who thinks he’s hot stuff even though he isn’t smart enough to throw something other than a fastball. Heck, even Clemens has been known to sign a ball here and there.

Now I’m not saying that Beckett isn’t a good pitcher. In fact, if the Sox do go deep into the playoffs this year, he'll have to have something to do with it. But somebody needs to give this kid a reality check. Someone needs to remind him that he makes millions of dollars to play a game and he makes that money because people love baseball. Young Joshua needs to look around and see the people who make more than him and play a whole lot better than him pay back the fans by signing a few autographs and waving at the fans. And if $4.3 million still isn’t enough, then here’s a dollar and a green sharpie - someone tell him to bend over and I’ll show him where to stick it.

Spot Starter

As I watched the Sox slowly break open a lead against the Storefront Indian and reliever Todd Williams yesterday, wasting enough offensive opportunities in the process to make the 2 - 1 final score seem closer than it should have been (by touchdowns), I was contemplating the continued presence of Kason Gabbard in this spring's starting rotation. First, some stats:

Over four starts this March, Gabbard's pitched ten innings, giving up five hits, three earned runs and four walks, while striking out seven. By way of comparison, he pitched twice as many innings as a starter in 2006, giving up more than four times as many hits, about twice as many earned runs, more than triple the number of walks but only striking out five more. Extrapolating his current performance to the same amount of time as he started last year, Gabbard's already doing better than last year in almost all of these categories - as a starter.

As we all know, though, the Sox have an embarrassment of starting pitchers right now, so I have a couple of theories as to why Gabbard continues to start games:
  1. Tito is using Spring Training to give Gabbard some major league experience when the games don't count before sending him back to Pawtucket for the year. Kason is 24, so keeping him in AAA for another year wouldn't seem to hurt his development at all. This theory seems like the most logical to me - Jon Lester would probably do the same thing right now if he wasn't rehabbing his arm - but it's also the least amount of pure speculative fun.
  2. The Sox are pitching Gabbard against major league hitters because they're looking to dangle him as trade bait for a closer if one of the off-season acquisitions/closer by committee doesn't work out. The closer debate continues to fascinate me, especially since DC pointed out that the Sox may be the only team in the past 6 years that won a World Series with their Opening Day closer. If this theory turns out to be more than just a conspiracy pipe dream, I don't see it coming true until the trading deadline.
  3. Gabbard is pitching some of Schilling's starts against AL East teams (like Baltimore) because of Schilling's policy of never tipping his hat in Spring Training. The MASN guys were all over Schilling for that idea, by the way, but I can see Schilling's point - if you've got a few pitches based on deception, why give your opposition any more face time than necessary?
Whatever the reason, I'd say that if we see Kason Gabbard in a Boston uniform this season, we're probably looking at a second coming of 2006.

Friday, March 16, 2007

All They Needed Was Some Rain...

DC IMed me on Wednesday, wondering whether or not we should be concerned that the Sox seemed to have lost the ability to score runs. He had a good point. Ever since the game on Monday where the Sox blew their load surmounting a five run Yankee lead, Boston scored 3 runs over three games, losing all three contests despite quality pitching from Beckett, Gabbard and Snyder. A mini-slump seemed to be rearing its ugly head as the weather up in the Northeast grew warmer and warmer...and then something weird happened: the wind shifted.

Temperatures dropped in the Northeast and right now it's sleeting something fierce here in New York City. Meanwhile, at the Dodgers/Sox game today in Florida, the skies opened up and poured rain on Holman Stadium. Eventually the weather postponed the game, but not before Wily Mo, Tek and Hinske all pounded in long home runs, scoring more runs (five) in two innings than they had all week. To top it off, Francona ordered Dice-K not to swing at any pitches today (probably with Mike Hampton well in mind) so when Matsuzaka came up he watched as
Dodgers starter Hong-Chih Kuo worked the count to 0 and 2 before walking him on four straight balls, thereby assuring Kuo an almost guaranteed spot as the Dodger's sixth starter.

Nice interview on Yanksfan vs Soxfan with journalist Rob Bradford, where Bradford discusses the problems inherent with being a journalist and a fan of the same team. Rob doesn't out-and-out say so, but it sounds like getting a pass to go beyond the lines that exist between fans (including most bloggers ) and players as a member of the press is a bit like biting the apple of the Tree of Knowledge: your priorities change and you can't really go back to the way you were. The interview also links to Rob's blog, Bradford on Baseball, which is an excellent read.

Relaunching the Store

After about a year of working with Cafe Press, their annoying restrictions on shirt selection and their asinine and arbitrary copyright restrictions (unless someone can prove to me otherwise, heavily modifying Jonathan Papelbon's face for a t-shirt is not a violation of anyone's copyright), we're cutting bait and swearing allegiance to a new vendor, Spreadshirt. We now have both the Papal-Bon and The House That Papi Rebuilt shirts available in a variety of styles (without any advertising on the back) for sale at our new store. Check 'em out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Madness Has Begun

Rivalries are funny things. Yesterday was March 12; the regular season doesn't begin for another half month and most of the men who took the field in Ft. Myers won't be donning a major league uniform when the games start to count. But Spring Training or not, the first game of the 2007 chapter of the Biggest Rivalry in Sports still had the power to turn a rehab start for Carl Pavano into a do-or-die contest of hitting wills, a meet-and-greet between three Japanese players into an international rivalry expansion and 1:05 radio-broadcast start into a 7:05 TV event with a sold-out crowd, as if we were watching a pivotal game in a pennant race instead of a warm-up for this year's contests. The madness has truly made its decent upon us all.

However, I'm not sure this level of excitement is such a bad thing, kept in the proper context. Spring Training games are irrelevant at their best and downright boring at their worst, as a steady stream of players (who we won't see again until the circus returns to Florida the following year) make their way across the playing field to keep the game going and the starters from getting hurt.
Even now, as the teams get smaller, the rosters tighten and players start to see more innings, the end-game can be, at best, a time to see how those draft picks are doing. When the game becomes important for itself, as a contest between two teams with a lot of competitive history, it makes the whole game more exciting to fans. It's like throwing the first punch in a boxing match: it probably won't have anything to do with who wins (unless you're fighting Glass Joe), but it sure feels good to strike first. In other words, it doesn't count in the long run, but guess what! We beat the Yankees last night! Rock on!

Speaking of madness: Dustin Pedroia has a lower batting average this spring than Bobby Scales, who's pulled time as his late-inning replacement. Maybe Wonderboy's hitting so far this Spring is like screwing up the dress rehearsal so you do well for the live audience? If not, that nine hole is going to look mighty empty this year...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Gild off the Lilly

I love the spring. Birds chirping, flowers blooming, Training in full swing. So it must also be time for the Red Sox to get under the skin of some team we have no business feuding with. Something about the Scarlet ‘B’ rubs other teams the wrong way and it happens every year. The Yankees may be the charter member, but the Sox can find a way to piss any team off. Devil Rays, Phillies, Marlins, Oakland… whoever… we manage to ruffle feathers.

This year it was with Detroit. Beckett, not having the greatest command on his curveball on Saturday (was wild as hell), managed to tag Sheffield and Magglio with some less than precise pitches. None of this was intentional (as far as I can tell) but it was a little ugly (he looked freaking awful).

The bean ball barrage did not go unnoticed and Jim “Nails” Leyland made sure that someone on the Sox team paid. Well he tried to make sure. J.D. Drew was the supposed target of Todd Jones… but Jones couldn’t hit him! Dodge, parry, dodge and finally the one that flew behind Drew was noticed by the umpire who unceremoniously tossed Jones and Leyland for orchestrating the whole thing. Well this caused ‘ol Jimmy to go a little B-A-N-A-N-A-S as he made his way on to the field. This is where it got rough.

DeMarlo Hale vs Jim Leyland!!! It’s the battle of the old school shouters!

They jawed and got into it until the benches cleared and… well… nothing. That was it. It petered out without a punch or shove. Awww. Maybe next time you frisky Tigers.

The second awful showing came from our OTHER supposed ACE on Sunday vs the Orioles. This time the foreign wonder, the gyro dynamo, the tsunami mami, DICE-K… looked like Chan Ho-Park on a bad day. He got taken deep by Knott (1 run) and Dubois (3 run) and managed to throw away a double play ball into center field. Yeah… bad sushi.

On the bright side, Joel Pineiro did manage to have a good 2 innings and is slowly pitching his way back into the bullpen. But other than that… not a great weekend.

It’s still early in Spring Training so whatever happens, the good or the bad, has a big chance of changing before the season starts. But I hope these pitching problems can iron themselves out sooner rather than later… or it is going to be a long season.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Run, Run, Run...

While listening to today's split squad game against the Blue Jays (won by the Sox in dramatic fashion with ninth-inning walk off double), I was reflecting on how the conventional wisdom (especially coming from the mouths of radio announcers) puts the Sox, Jays and Yankees all in the same ballpark when it comes to line up strength for 2007. Curious to know how things stack up (and because the Blue Jays have started to freak me out and I want to know if my fears are justified), I took this year's PECOTA projections, whittled the lists down to those players listed on each team's active roster and averaged the VORP and WARP scores for each team. Why only VORP and WARP? Because they appear to be the best quick measurements of future performance and I wanted answers now, dammit. You can protest my methods in the comments section if you want.

Unfortunately the results put the Yankees on top, with Boston a close second and Toronto a more distant third:
  • New York: 15.6 (VORP), 3.9 (WARP)
  • Boston: 14.7 (VORP), 4.0 (WARP)
  • Toronto: 6.8 (VORP) (a lot of dead wood on that team), 3.0 (WARP)
Remember that WARP takes both offense and defense into account, while VORP is pure offense (in runs), so New York will score more runs than Boston, but Boston has players who do slightly better in the field preventing runs. Given how close the WARP scores are, I would hazard to guess that the award for pre-season predictions of offensive power does go to New York, just like many of us have heard, while the Jays look like they won't be competing at the same level with the bat. Even with everything being subject to chance, the increasing competition around the league (damn you, AL Central) means pitching will be even more important this year. In other words, since Boston can't win the AL East by driving in more runs than the other guys, they'll need to prevent runs instead.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Dice-K Versus the Fish People

Matsuzaka faced Grapefruit League batters for the first time today, drawing an over-capacity crowd of journalists, a representative from the offices of Major League Baseball to collect all of the bases for post-game auction, a lot of asinine commentary from Marlin broadcasters ("We talked to so-and-so and he says the gyroball doesn't exist." Really? You might want to tell that to the scientists who invented it.) and a surprising number of hits by Marlins players no one has heard of but who will probably end up putting up massive numbers for no money like, say, Hanley Ramirez in 2006. Living as I was at the mercy of the broadcasters and my imagination I didn't see the pitches in question, but it sounded like hanging offspeed pitches were to blame, resulting in a ticklish situation in the second where the Marlins turned a walk and a ground-rule double into runners on second and third with one out. In my mind, Matsuzaka looked around, laughed scornfully and then belched fire at the plate, turning Scott Seibol into a human torch. In the real world, however, a strikeout for Seibol and a bunted pop-up for Reed sufficed.

Pondering the Zen Master phenomenon as I do, I wonder about Dice-K's supposed command of six or seven pitchers and what that means for things like strikeout rate (which just caught my eye in the past few minutes, because he's struck out so many this Spring). So far, including the game against the Eagles, Matsuzaka has six strikeouts in five innings. Baseball Prospectus forecasts 162 total strikeouts for this year, putting Dice-K seventeenth behind The Mighty Santana, who will lead the pack with 218. The average of those 17, by the way, is 176; Johan is a bit of an outlier.

Assuming those projections are reliable, it sounds like being able to throw so many pitches doesn't help or hurt a pitcher's ability to get strikeouts. If it helped, Dice-K would be in the top 10 with Peavy, Bonderman, Sheets, etc.; if it hurt, he'd have a much lower projected total. However, today we had an example of why knowing so many pitches can help a pitcher: Matsuzaka's breaking balls weren't breaking, so the Marlins got two hits and a walk in three innings. However, because Dice-K also developed a gro
up of power pitches, he can still get the first pitch strike, still get the three strikeouts and still pitch his way out of jams like the one he faced today.


It’s what you build on. It’s what everything is based on. It’s where you strength should be. In this case, the foundation of your 2007 Red Sox baseball team is its starting pitching rotation and it looks really freaking strong.

Remember back to spring training last year? We had just traded Bronson Arroyo for Wily Mo because we had “too many starters”. God that looks freaking ridiculous now. We were saddled with Schilling, Beckett, Wells, Clement, Wake and maybe Papelbon. Yep… too much talent there. I still think the front office made the wrong move (young arm vs broken down veterans and head cases) but I am not gonna harp TOO much because I like Wily Mo. It’s hindsight, but after watching less than a full season from Wells, Clement and Wake combined, it was the wrong move.

Sometimes it’s SHOCKING to see people in sports management learn from their mistakes, but this time it looks like Theo and Co. pulled it off. Now we potentially have (from top to bottom) the strongest 5 man starting rotation in the major leagues. Schilling (fat but strong), Beckett (2nd time around and better adjusted), Dice-K (ace quality), Papelbon (still the beast from last season) and the venerable Wakefield (unsung hero and damage sponge). You look at those 5 guys, and if you are wearing the right rose colored specs, you can see a 13+ game winner in each one.

Of course there are a TON of “ifs”.

IF Dice-K can translate his stuff to the USA.
IF Schilling and Wake can stay healthy.
IF Beckett is better attuned to the AL.
IF Papelbon can make the transition back to starter.

So it isn’t 100%, but it’s better than the “ifs” from last year. Another good sign is the great spring starts this crew is having. Watching Beckett mow down LA today got me all excited for this staff. I see it as fielding 4 probable aces and an ageless veteran. I don’t even think that is too far of a reach.

And if anything unforeseen does happen, we now have Jon Lester waiting in the wings. Yeah, I like this foundation.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Dice Clay, Zen Master

I really, really wanted to start this post with, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Red Sox will win the 2007 World Series because of Daisuke Matsuzaka." But I can't. Dice K's first outing (against the college boys) while a nice showing of 25 pitches with 19 strikes, wasn't the massive dominance I might have hoped for before I opened up Gameday Audio. It was as good as anything Schilling or Beckett has put together this past week, but it didn't live up to the hype - he didn't make every batter cry just by looking at him. However, disappointment aside, I find myself intrigued by the intersection of Matsuzaka and the let's talk about that hype for a moment.

Ever since Matsuzaka joined the Sox, there's been a growing buzz about the pitcher, about his pitches, about his past successes, etc., etc. and, now in America as in Japan, there is a hype about him. I've seen the phrase "possibly the best pitcher ever" ever bandied around by people who, if they were serious, should probably know better. Even if that claim is overboard, it's par for the course in this sport; anyone who gets a massive contract from a team based in a city with a fan base whose love of baseball borders on rabid (paging Mr. Rodriguez) is going to get a lot of attention from everyone. But I'm not telling you anything new so far. What is interesting that Matsuzaka doesn't seem to give two craps about everything that's going on around him.

All throughout this process we've heard about Dice Clay working out, Dice Clay talking about how he's excited to pitch here and how Dice Clay is the only one not excited to pitch to start the season (by pitching to a group of college baseball players) - that he's spending the time focusing on hitting the strike zone, not on the thrill of starting the spring. But all of the news reports about these activities seem to suggest as a subtext that all expectations slide off of Dice Clay's back like water off a duck's ass. Baseball players say all the time that they're just out there to play, but I now feel like Matsuzaka really means it from the core of his being.

Overall, Daisuke Matsuzaka seems to be a man so used to living life as a celebrity that he flows through all of the attention, all of the hype, all of the expectations like they aren't there and just goes and does the job he gets paid for. It's not even like he's aware of the celebrity but thinks that he needs to be above it - he's like the frickin' Zen Master of celebrity, able to float serenely in the turbid waters like a fish (for some reason, celebrity just screams water similes to me). And, knowing that, maybe I really can say now: "
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Red Sox will win the 2007 World Series because of Daisuke Matsuzaka."

Total side note: Jacoby Ellsbury's speed translates very, very well over the radio. He just legged out a triple in what sounded like doubles territory. Awesome.

Gyro! An Exercise in Hype

Tonight our Asian import Dice-K San makes his big debut against the all powerful Boston College (GO EAGLES!) and the anticipation is palpable. No, really!

Dice-K may or may not have ace quality material right away. He may or may not be the savior of the Boston pitching staff. He may or may not have a magic pitch that defeats evil spirits with its aura rendering spells. He may or may not be a Pokeman.

I guess testing these unknown skills against an OVERMATCHED college team is as good a place to start as any. Those kids are going to get a kick out of the Japanese Media that are swarming the place. The last time a college team got this much international coverage they played lacrosse (allegedly).

So if you want to test the waters of MLB audio around 6 tonight (or NESN I assume), you might get to witness the greatest Japanese import since Pockey. Or you might be privy to an out of place foreign guy get lit up by a group of kids who were playing beer pong last night. Either way it should be a great show.