Monday, January 25, 2010

Would You Want to be Called an Injury in Waiting?

The first part of Nick Cafardo's notes column from yesterday discusses the odd circumstances of Jason Bay's departure, tying his decision to leave to Boston's insistence on a contract with protection clauses against injury. Cafardo points out that Lackey and Drew both agreed to take pay cuts or lose options if they become injured, suspects that Boston will require the same stipulations of Beckett and Papelbon, and noted that Dr. Thomas Gill, the team physician who questioned the strength of Bay's shoulder, made the prescient call on the future of Pedro. As you might expect, all of these points lead up to coup de grace indictment of Bay's decision:
What’s puzzling is that if he felt so confident about his physical condition, and understood how good Fenway and Boston were to him, why wouldn’t he go along with the medical provisions, just as some prominent teammates had? If the Sox - according to Bay’s version - were willing to go three guaranteed years and a fourth year with medical protection at $15 million per year, what was so offensive about that?
I expect the answer is little simpler than Cafardo expects: even though four years at Fenway would likely make Bay's numbers far more attractive than four years at Citi Field, choosing to accept a medical provision brands Bay as a player with suspect boy body parts, even if he makes it all four years without injury. At the end of his contract, Bay would be in his mid-30s, already looking at less money as his career declines, and wouldn't want to carry the value-lowering label of potential injury in the bargain. He may be screwed either way: by declining a medical provision while insisting he's healthy, he gives power to the argument that he's an injury waiting to happen, but I can understand why he might have chosen the contract with the Mets as the lesser of two evils.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Theo Epstein Cares Not For Your Arbitration

I was going to look over the news of the Papelbon signing without comment, until it occurred to me that the Sox just rewarded a decline in performance with the largest contract ever given to a fourth-year closer. The Globe puts the numbers pretty well:
His ERA was down from 2008 (2.34), but perhaps the more notable change was his WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), which increased to a career-high 1.15. His WHIP was 0.95 in 2008 and 0.77 in 2007. His strikeout-to-walk ratio also sank to a career low (for any of his full seasons in the majors) of 3.17-1. He put up a mark of 9.63-1 in 2008 and 5.60-1 in 2007. He set a career high in walks with 24.
The new deal comes after the expiration of a deal that made him the highest paid first-year arbitration-eligible closer, and two years after the deal that broke the record for highest salary to a non-arbitration-eligible closer...and four months after the blown save that ended the season in a sweep. I'm not saying that Papelbon is washed up or shouldn't be paid as an elite closer, but even if the Sox are keeping the money on a short leash because they think they'll replace Papelbon with Bard in a year or two, why pay an arbitration-eligible player that much more just to keep things from moving to the arbiter? My theory: it's Theo's arbitration-free streak that make Boston willing to pay more, even if the numbers suggest they're taking a risk. After all, it seems logical that keeping younger players from having to go to a third party to make the money they think is fair would give the Sox a reputation as a place where young players would want to sign, making signing draft picks and motivating minor league talent a little easier.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Big Surprise: Dice-K Hid an Injury Last Year

And he hurt himself while training for the World Baseball Classic, so despite what Ichiro might say, we've got another injury to lay at the feet of the WBC. And he hid it from the Red Sox all year, but that's no surprise: players have to walk the line between developing a reputation as a wimp who hurts his team by resting every injury and playing so hurt they're under-performing, and they're going to make a decision here and there that looks terrible in retrospect. What's troubling about the story is that once again it was a Japanese media outlet that broke the story. Maybe Dice-K feels more comfortable talking to journalists when he doesn't need a translator - that seems to be the implication, anyway, because he keeps breaking these stories to journalists in Japan - but if he's going to make an announcement like this one, why not have a press conference and spread the word at large? It feels like he's either thinking word won't get back to the English language press, which is clearly ridiculous, because it keeps happening, or this particular admission - and every one he's made thus far - was something he admittedly only after some probing questioning, which suggests he didn't intend to tell the public in the first place.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Boston Braves!

Because they're so focused on pitching and defense this year, you see. With the Lackey signing, Hermida getting his chance after all, and the acquisition of Beltre and his enormous bat of unimpressiveness, we're excited about the pitching staff, downplaying the holes in the lineup, and talking defense. Like geeky defense, the kind where the papers start talking about how many runs a third baseman like Beltre will save over Lowell:
The move is in line with the Sox’ stated desire to improve their run prevention. Beltre is an above average fielder, earning a 14.3 ultimate zone rating according to Contrast that with Lowell’s minus 10.4 UZR (or just ask a scout), and it’s clear the Sox have dramatically upgraded their defense at the position for 2010 and possibly beyond.
All well and good: if you can reduce the performance of players to an equation and determine that Beltre's stronger glove and weaker bat will generate more runs than Lowell's weaker glove and stronger bat, and balance in the cost of choosing Beltre over Youkilis when the only alternate is Casey Kotchman, the decision makes some sort of sense. Everything comes down to runs eventually, so if your defense-heavy team saves more runs than it gives up by being light in the offense department, you win ball games and don't look like an idiot for not trying to compete with the Yankees.

Except there's one problem: the Yankees were already pretty good in one category (pitching) and even better in another (offense) last year and they won the World Series. This year they might actually be a bit better - I'm thinking about the Granderson acquisition here in particular - and Boston's response is to jettison offense and hope the results come out in the wash. It might work, but I think as interesting as this Boston team seems for the new decade, we've got another summer of second place running to look forward to.