Saturday, December 08, 2007

No Santana, No Worries - For Now

The Red Sox and the Twins conspired together throughout the days and long nights of baseball's winter meetings. They conspired not, apparently, to make a blockbuster trade involving Johan Santana and several of Boston's bluechip prospects, but rather to waste countless hours of productivity in their respective markets. Fans around the country (and in the Sox's case at least, globe) checked media outlets with breathless regularity, waiting to learn the outcome of the "wag the dog" production that was the Trade That Never Was.

In most circles, even the rarified fanbase air that are the Sox Prospects and Sons of Sam Horn messageboards, the failure of the teams to pull the trigger on a trade has been met with a soft relief from many posters. The cost of acquisition for most of the packages being thrown around was too much for Boston fans; and for the Twins, the thought of prematurely losing the face of the franchise was too agonizing.

Given the situation, this probably means that a fair trade was in place. The Red Sox should have to suck it up if they want to acquire the best left-hander in the business, and the Twins need to understand that Santana is leaving them, and they need to get some value back.

Twins GM Smith is walking a fine line right now. It would be hugely irresponsible for him to fail to get an excellent package for Santana, and the fact is that with other top-tier starters like Haren, Bedard, and Lincecum being shopped - all of whom are younger and will cost significantly less - he could end up without a chair when the music stops. That would be an unmitigated disaster: even if Liriano returns to health, the Twins will not compete next year. They just won't. And the midseason return on Santana will be far less than what's being offered now.

Still, Smith wouldn't pull the trigger, thinking he can get one of NYY or Boston to panic down the road and meet his demands (they are realistically the only two teams at the table). So the meetings came and went, and here we are with no Santana. And if you're a fan of a "homegrown" Sox team; if you're a fan of keeping the young players you've watched rise through the minors - not so much for Winning reasons, but for baseball reasons - you're okay right now. The emotional price was pretty high, and after everything was said and done, the family's still together.

Now, this deal could still go through, and everyone will understand if it does, and even celebrate. Nobody in their right mind could complain if the Sox sign Santana; especially if he only costs one of Lester or Ellsbury. He's too good, and it makes the Sox too good, and no matter the cost, those points are inarguable. But to many of us who wanted to watch a team of "our guys" go out there and compete, the cost will have been steep.

Moreover, the acquisition will just seem a little too "Yankee". And that might just be the highest price to pay of all.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chasing Santana

No doubt everyone is closely following the quest for Johan Santana, the Holy Grail of lefthanded pitching. The prevailing wisdom is that the trade market for the Twins has been narrowed down to three teams; the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox. The Dodgers seem to be a distant third however, so it's basically Yanks versus Sox, again.

Before I get into who might be changing hands, let's look at the dynamics for a minute.

Santana becomes an FA after next year, and it's already been made clear that the Twins cannot afford him. They could try to keep him and take a flyer on running the table next year with he and Liriano as a solid one-two punch, but it's unlikely. If that doesn't fly and they try to deal him mid-season but this would lessen the return for him. So there is some incentive to deal him now, for sure.

The Twins, however, do not utterly control the terms of this deal. Santana is the best pitcher to come available in a long, long time, but there are the dual constraints of his ongoing cost, and the fact that Bedard, Haren, and Willis are hanging out there as well. Moreover, it is still a case of teams betting against each other. The Twins can demand player X all they want, but if the price is too steep, it's too steep. Both teams know they (the Twins) are not going let themselves end up with just the compensatory draft picks, and this mutual ceiling is to the benefit of the Sox.

The ceiling I'm referring to is the "untouchables". For the Sox, it's probably Buchholz and Ellsbury, and for the Yanks it's Joba and Hughes. The benefit to the Sox is that if that ceiling stays the same for both teams, the Sox proposed package of Lester, Crisp, Lowrie and Masterson/Bowden wins. And let me tell you, if that package brings back Santana (and there is no reason it shouldn't, working in a vacuum; Bill Smith is getting a lot of major-league ready talent there), we should just rejoice, plain and simple.

If it doesn't, because NYY dealt Hughes (Joba I think probably is untouchable), then it sticks in the craw, but it's not a total disaster. The package would likely be Hughes, Cabrera, Jackson and Tabata or Hughes, Jackson and Cano. That would mean that they dealt two or three of their top prospects/young players to get Santana, and that helps the Sox out to some degree in the long run.

The reason it's not a total disaster is because the Sox will have kept Ellsbury, arguably the most exciting homegrown position player to put on a Sox uniform since Yaz, and Buchholz, a pitcher who is simply a mind-boggling talent.

If the Sox have to give up Ellsbury, and Santana stays healthy for the duration of his contract (this aspect has been largely ignored in all the discussion I've read - Santana has a lot of wear and tear on the arm and stumbled badly in the last couple months of 2007), it's a palatable trade. However, if they give up Buchholz, I don't like the deal. Buchholz is pretty well past the prospect stage now, and has every indication of being the next Santana himself - Keith Law recently stated that right now CBuck has the best change-up in baseball. It should be noted that this pitch is how Santana makes his money, working off a fastball that he commands better than Buchholz does his, but with a curveball that is far inferior to CBuck's.

Giving up the talent currently on the table, possibly with Ellsbury over Crisp in the deal, plus paying the $20-25M per year to extend Santana, makes some sense, because a rotation with Beckett, Santana, Buchholz, and DiceK in it for the next 5 years is simply insane. But when you factor in that you are trading what is likely to be equivalent talent in the one arm (Buchholz), plus three other players, plus the cost/risk of the extension - then the Sox are getting screwed. I say hell no. Hell no.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Give Thanks, Red Sox Nation!

The national day of thanks has come and gone, and it was a banner one for Boston sports fans in 2007, especially here at Bosoxwest HQ.

Our firstborn son Miller arrived in the very, very, silly early AM on October 19th (taking me out of the blogosphere for the ALCS and World Series thereafter, obviously). His mom did the Nation proud. He is a healthy and happy baby boy, and remarkably, he has never witnessed a Red Sox (or Patriots) loss. Beckett stopped Cleveland while he was making his way into the world, and as we know the Sox got hot and ran the table from there. We give thanks for him every day.

I've been explaining to him that past performance may not be indicative of future returns, but for now, we're enjoying it. A huge, heartfelt thanks to the Twenty-Five for bringing home the hardware in 2007. This team was incredibly easy and fun to root for.

Ah. Boston Red Sox, World Series Champions. It has a nice ring, doesn't it? No pun intended.

The organization wasn't done there though: this is a process. The front office has publicly stated that they try to manage the personnel of the team with the goal of winning 95-96 games. Get to the dance, and try to get hot in the postseason. Obviously, this year proved that this recipe can bring success, but it also acknowledges that in baseball anything can happen. We should take a minute to give thanks to the Yankees who proved beyond argument that you can't simply buy a championship. That axiom frames the Sox F.O.'s strategy and makes it palatable to the rabid fan base here in the Nation.

Given the success of the current group of guys, the F.O. had a fairly simple offseason mandate - sign Mike Lowell. We were all tempted by the shiny bauble that is A-Rod but that was a path fraught with peril. A Boras bidding war can destroy an offseason in it's entirety - they could have ended up with neither player, and Plan C really looked like shit (Joe Crede, anyone?). Then, assuming they "won" the A-Rod sweepstakes, the signing itself is a risky proposition. One, you've got 20% of your payroll tied up in a position player who's 32, and this goes on for 10 years (although the percentage maybe shrinks, the cost for production doesn't). Two, if he gets hurt you are screwed, because that contract is pretty much uninsurable after three years. And three, there are the character questions. It's hard to argue A-Rod makes any team worse in the short-term, but the equation did not include a short-term component.

So fan and clubhouse favorite Mikey Lowell returns, and on the terms the F.O. wanted, a three-year deal. Nearly every predictive analysis has Mike's production dropping off going forward, and I'm of the opinion he had a career year in 2007, but I think he's a very smart ballplayer who made some adjustments in his approach to the game this year. The home run power will almost certainly slide, as it has, but if he can continue to control the strike zone and improve in hitting to all fields, he'll still put up good offensive numbers. The second piece is the key: Lowell is an historic pull hitter who doesn't drive the ball the other way well, although he worked on that this year. He'll need to protect the outside half of the plate in order to get pitches he can put his power swing on. But he still has a short, compact swing, and I think he'll adjust okay. People are also forgetting that Drew should offer better protection next year, making Lowell's job easier.

Statistics aside, I'm a believer in "chemistry", or basically attitude, and I think it benefits the team to have a guy like Mike on the field and in the clubhouse who keeps guys focused on staying in the moment. It has to be incredibly difficult to stay focused on the task at hand in the Boston madhouse, and the team needs lodestones in order to succeed. Mikey is such a player.

So thanks to Mikey Lowell. As if it weren't enough he led us to a World Series victory, he took less money and fewer years to stay with the Nation. Regardless of what he does between now and 2010, he deserves a place in the pantheon.

The Hunt For Red Santana

The saga of the offseason will center around Johan Santana. The Yankess obviously cannot allow the Sox to acquire him, but the Sox, while they would hate for the Yankees to do so, would probably more easily see the silver lining in the price they paid. Having Crisp as a "surplus" trading piece makes the deal more palatable f or Boston - the MFYs would probably need to deal two of Joba/Hughes/Kennedy, plus a Tabata.

That said, I am on the fence. Santana has a lot of miles on him, will command a ridiculous salary, and we'd be letting go our best young arm (I cannot imagine any way they accept Lester over Buchholz, really). There are no guarantees in this game, so Buchholz may not be the ace we think he is, but also, as they say, TINSTAAPP.

There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect.

What that means is that by and large, pitchers are born not made. It is normally used to refute assertions that Player A will acquire pitching skills as he matures. Once a pitcher reaches a certain level, what you see is what you are getting. There is of course upside due to growth (and with CBuck this is the truly scary part), but you know if he's a pitcher or not. And we know Buchholz is a pitcher. There has never been any doubt of that. He may not be Santana, but he's much younger, cost-controlled, and doesn't cost other players.

I really am ambivalent. It would be pretty hard to complain about watching Santana in a Sox uniform. And yeah, it would suck pretty hard to see Johan in a MFY uni, but it would be pretty freaking cool to watch Buchholz take the majors by storm. Depending on how you look at it, I guess they call this a win-win.

I'll say thanks for that, too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sox Drop Game 3 To Indians, Gorman, God.

If you're like me, you ended Saturday night saying to yourself "That was the worst fucking game I have watched since the talentless Aaron Boone ended the 2003 season". But then along comes Game 3, and it just blows Game 2 out of the water. In the future when mankind's brains and technology are developed enough that you can compress several hours of information into a single impression, this game will be in the dictionary next to "Murphy's Law".

Let's start with the basic, unassailable premise, which is this: in an Indians-Red Sox game where the starters are Jake Westbrook and DiceK, the Red Sox should win 9 of 10 matchups. This is unarguable, because while DiceK is a little shaky at times, Jake Westbrook absolutely sucks. No, really - he sucks.

So what went wrong?


Well, pretty much everything went wrong, but let's start with the approach at the plate. As an organization the Red Sox stress taking a lot of pitches and getting starters pitch counts up. This has the dual benefits of tiring the starter so they can get to him, get him out, and feast on the generally weaker middle relief. It worked well against CC and Carmona because they are both guys who throw hard with excellent stuff but shitty command. As we all know, the end result was disastrous on Saturday but the approach was correct.

Against a guy like Westbrook who has good command but crappy stuff, it's not the best idea to take a ton of pitches, because he NEEDS to pitch ahead in the count to be successful. If you give him strike one every at-bat, you're playing right into his hands. But that's exactly what the Sox did. Moreover, against Cleveland whose bullpen is fantastic, there is no advantage to getting to them early because Lewis and Betancourt will just shut down your weak-ass bats. The Sox should have been pounding a few first pitch strikes to make Westbrook nibble a bit and get behind in a few counts, but they didn't.

Adding the this mess was the execution. Westbrook, Lewis and Betancourt all threw quite a few mistakes that guys missed, although given the stuff the latter two have it's more forgivable. No matter what you're approach is, when you get your pitch, you need to hit it. And when you load the bases with nobody out against a guy as bad as Westbrook, that should be it - game over.

Home Plate Umpire Brian Gorman

And....speaking of bases loaded situations...the Sox would have had another bases loaded situation but for the simply unbelievable incompetence (or is it Tim Donaghy Redux?) of home plate umpire Brian Gorman, who called strike one on a ball four pitch to Manny that was so far off the plate that the Fox strike zone imaging software could barely register it in the graphic. He later screwed Coco Crisp on ball four on a pitch that was very nearly as bad. Both incidents resulted in rally-killing at-bats that can be laid squarely at the feet of an umpire who called one of the worst and most one-sided ball/strike games in recorded history. On the flip side, DiceK struck out Casey Blake in the fifth but Gorman called it ball three, and Blake went on to single on the next pitch, and then score what proved to be the winning run. With the exception of a terrible first strike call on Pronk, every bad call went against the Sox. Conspiracy theorists, get our your pens.

Let's go to the visual aid!

Here is the strike one pitch to Manny, which if called correctly, puts Manny on first to load the bases with one out and Mike Lowell, the team's best RBI man, stepping to the plate. As I call it, "Gorman's Coup de Grace":

Here is strike two (see #5) to Coco in the seventh, which if called correctly would have put him on first with one out (in front of a Lugo single although that can't be assumed once the Coco play has changed). Having the fastest player on the team on base with one out and the second fastest player at the plate might have changed the context of that inning, you think?

And, here is ball three to Blake (see #5 and note it's vertical match to strike one), which, had Gorman correctly rung him up, probably keeps the score tied at two. I'm thinking that's a significant missed call, especially in light of it being ball three, meaning Blake got to look strike-zone-only on the next pitch.

And, for those of you who might be wondering if the knees was too low to be considered within Gorman's strike zone, here is a strike call from two batters later:

Obviously, I am pissed that Gorman fucked over my team. That said, the Sox should have beaten the crap out of Jake Westbrook. Last night's loss is firmly on the offense. But how is it possible that in one of the most important games of the year, we have to put up with this shit? I mean, these are not tough calls, in most cases they are painfully obvious. The pitch to Manny was so far inside you'd think that Gorman would have to have an astigmatism or be on crack to call it a strike. It makes no sense that MLB can't remedy this situation because it detracts from the game and leaves everyone feeling cheated.

God, Karma, Elementary Particles - Whatever

Lastly, in our Perfect Storm of Suck, we have the current that runs through baseball like water, and the reason we have the term "small sample size" in discussing the game. Luck. A lot of people will be bitching about DiceK's inability to get out of the 5th again, and it is certainly true that he should never, ever, give up a dinger to the scrawny girlish corpse of Kenny Lofton, but as per usual DiceK died by the seeing-eye groundball.

The hit by Cabrera (which scored the should-have-been-sitting-in-the-dugout Casey Blake), by rights, should have been a routine out, but Pedroia wasn't positioned up the middle, which he should have been with Cabrera hitting with two strikes and Tek set up outside. That is on the first base coach Luis Alicea who as a former middle infielder should know better. The hit by Garko that put him on base for Lofton was a weak piece of shit that barely made it to the outfield. These are the breaks, and DiceK, for whatever reason, rarely gets them.

On the other hand, when Papi hits a screamer right on the screws, it goes directly into the face of the Indians' right fielder. That's baseball. At this level, you need some luck, and the Sox aren't getting it.

Final Analysis: DiceK

All things being said, and this is an ongoing source of frustration to everyone in Red Sox Nation, DiceK remains a mystery. He has never dominated like he should have this season. To some degree this is caused by the incredible hazing he has received from the umps all year. Nobody on the staff gets squeezed as harshly as DiceK does. To a greater extent, this is caused by the fact that the Sox have forced him to pitch off his fastball all year - his weakest pitch. It was good to see some at-bats last night where DiceK led off with a secondary pitch for a strike. When he does this it puts hitters at a real disadvantage. Overall, I didn't consider it a bad start at all. He made one mistake to Lofton, who correctly noted that Tek had started every hitter in the game off with a fastball, and he gave up a couple bleeders that put the game out of reach after Gorman squeezed him. If he gets one break we are not discussing him at all today.

Overall though, DiceK hasn't shown the ability to dominate hitters when he needs to. The expectations, which were unreasonably high, granted, were that when DiceK got in trouble he would simply confound batters so much that they would screw themselves into the ground striking out. That hasn't happened, clearly. I am in the camp that DiceK and Tek will reach a unified plan of attack for next season and we will see some great pitching by the young ace, but it would have been nice to see that last night.

Final Analysis: Sox Offense

What to say here? Everything is wrong. The biggest issue of course is this: all the runs come from 2-5. While Pedro is slumping pitchers are looking at 6 consecutive weak bats. That is just devastating. In games where Manny, Papi and Lowell are contained this team has literally zero shot of winning.

The double-plays of course are killing us too. The Sox just broke a record for most DPs in the first three games of a playoff series. That's not one teams have been chasing, people. That's like breaking the record for most times having explosive diarrhea during a sales presentation. No bueno. Some of this is Tito's ultra-conservative approach, some of this is the umps being awful, but mostly it's just sucking.

Last night came down to this: when Sox batters got their pitch they missed it. When you're behind in the count, as they were often enough, it gets tougher to be aggressive, but especially with Westbrook on the mound, there isn't much excuse.


One of the problems with the Saturday game was that it was so long and physically exhausting, after a travel day. On average the Indians are a younger team than the Sox and probably bounced back quicker. But now the Sox are up against it. It's time to grind out a win.

I am in the minority that is OK with Wake starting tonight. Can he suck? Sure, we all know Bad Timmeh's dastardly resume. But Byrd's home ERA at the Jake is 5.68. If Wake sucks worse than that, if the offense doesn't come to life and score a bunch off a pretty bad starting pitcher, then this team doesn't deserve to advance. It's that simple people. Even if they threw Tavarez out there we should expect a win tonight. If they don't win, they are not good enough to win. End of story. And if they do win, it's pretty unlikely that Schill and DiceK would beat CC and Carmona. We'll need Beckett to take one of those games.

The bottom line is that the Sox are behind the eight-ball here. Cleveland is a well-constructed team who have taken advantage of a few breaks and a little help from the boys in blue. The Sox need to run uphill from here, but there will be no excuses if they don't get it done. There isn't a human being on earth that will feel badly to see a team paying J.D. Drew $14M a year go down to a spunky if less-heralded ballclub. That's the American dream. Time was, the Sox represented that, but now, love them though I might, they aren't any kind of underdogs any more.

Still, romance be damned: I expect these boys to go to work and get the job done.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

ALDS Game 1: The Bosoxwest Live GameBlog

6:05 That's all she wrote! Anderson drives one deep to center but Crisp is there to catch the flyball for the final out. Beckett with a dominant complete game shutout of the Angels to set the tone for the Sox. I disagree with the decision to send him back out there, but it worked out. Huge effort by the kid. If the bats come alive tomorrow we will be in good shape.

6:04 Vlad grounds one cleanly up the middle for a hit. Considering the location and flatness of the pitch, not a bad outcome.

6:04 OCab continues to help out with a first-pitch grounder to Lowell. Two down and the Beast approaching the plate.

6:02 Tito sends Beckett out for the 9th in an attempt to weaken him. He's good like that. Figgins again gets his pitch and lines it to left, but thankfully Ellsbury makes a diving catch to save the day. His cape is cool.

5:59 Santana hangs a curve to Manny and he pops it up. These guys have really cashed it in.

5:57 Ortiz rips two pitches foul to go 0-2, gets back to 3-2....and gets a good pitch to hit but pops up to center field. Huh? What just happened? Is Santa dead?

5:55 Youks does that slappy thing to fly weakly to right for the first out of the inning. The slappy thing doesn't work too often.

5:50 Kendry Morales pinch hits. You can tell by his gut that he has some power, and possibly some snacky cakes stored away in the uniform. This discombobulates Beckett to the point that he throws a wild pitch. Beckett crosses the 100-pitch mark for strike two, then backdoors him for his 8th strikeout of the night to close down the inning, and probably his night. Nasty stuff.

5:48 Beckett apparently hears the Announcer Corpse badmouthing the sharpness on his curveball and hits Admiral Aybar with a nasty one for strike one, then gets a quick strike two. The Admiral chops one to second and beats the DP throw for a tasty FC.

5:47 Kendrick battles to stay alive, then singles between a diving Lowell and a picking-his-glove-up-too-sooning Lugo. He really does it all.

5:45 Kotchman grounds to first, and the best First Baseman in baseball fields it cleanly and throws to Beckett for the first out. Youks.

5:41 Pedroia goes down on a nasty curveball, but has looked pretty bad tonight. He needs to get on track pronto. Heading into the eighth.

5:40 Watching Crisp and Lugo hit back to back is truly agonizing, isn't it? The difference is, at least with Lugo you could see how the mechanics could work; it's just that he doesn't understand hitting at all. Crisp's swing simply makes no physical sense. Anyway, Lugo shocks everyone by striking out. Two down.

5:37-9 My desire to light Dane Cook on fire reaches an almost irresistible fever pitch. Why? Why have they done this to us? TBS sucks. Ervin Santana, who was destroyed by being on two of my fantasy league teams this year, comes in. Crisp embarrasses the uniform again, popping to third. One down.

5:35 Beckett continues to shake off Tek (or appear to shake him off by design) and gets Izturis to ground into an FC by Pedroia on the cut fastball. Three down, and he's still under 90 pitches for the game.

5:33 Good-lookin'-out by Anderson who first-pitch pops up. Two down.

5:30 In a strange twist, Vlad appears to be swinging for the fences. Beckett stays away from him with repeated curveballs before trying to bust him inside, but Vlad uses his amazing powers of contact to stay alive before the umpire reverse fucks Beckett by not calling strike three on the same pitch that got Manny and Youks. Vlad singles on the next pitch, and Vegas Vice continues their investigation into home plate umpire Darling.

5:29 Beckett gets behind in the count to Cabrera 2-1 but gets him to ground to Lugo. One down. Amazingly, Lugo still alive.

The Sox appear to have taken a brief nap here, with the exception of Beckett. But I guess he's the one that counts. TBS does Lackey a favor by spending a few minutes in an horrifically unflattering camera portrait of him on the bench. John thanks you, guys.

5:25 After fouling off the hit'n'run pitch, Varitek looks nobly to the third base coach for a few minutes before hitting into another double-play. His beard was unavailable for comment.

5:21 Lowell breaks his bat on a grounder to O-Cab. Drew comes up in his most likely scenario to do well - a low pressure situation. He gets on with some help from Lackey. I so badly want him to play like he's able, but I guess that's his deal: not to.

5:20 Frank Thomas barely refrains from beating his co-anchor to death before Cal Ripken saves the day. When they cut back to the studio it's like watching The Office.

5:18 Figgins gets the one pitch he can hit (go figure how this happens again) but lines it to center field, where defensive genius Coco makes a sliding catch.

5:18 Beckett shakes off Tek a few times and gets Willits swinging on a nasty breaking pitch. Willitts vows revenge as he stalks off the field, then goes back to work on subject-verb agreement.

5:16 Napoli tries the "I Dare You To Throw It Where I'm Swinging" approach, and fails. One down.

5:11 Manny tries to pull an outside fastball and misses it. I get angry. Round two to Manny. Takes call three: count is full.....and ump fucks Manny on strike three. That is now three called strikes that were not really close, and it's time to start wondering if "Darling" is another word for "Donaghy".

5:10 Manny misses the best pitch he'll see to hit all playoffs. I get angry. Around we go.

5:09 Lackey dances around Ortiz, and eventually walks him to face Manny, who is, oddly, being Manny.

5:07 Youks gets fucked by the ump on strike two but works the count full. While battling Lackey during the AB he is also battling him for the crown of King Perspiration. He is later fucked by the ump on strike three; just a terrible, terrible call. Two down.

5:04 Pedroia still looking very uncomfortable at the plate, but gets a pitch he likes and puts good wood on it. Starting to come around, perhaps. One down for Youks.

5:01 After drilling a long strike into the RF seats, Kotchman non-drills a short strike into Tek's mitt to sit his ass back down. One pitch later Kendrick bounces out to Pedroia, and Beckett walks slowly back to the dugout after telling Lugo to fuck off (I assume).

4:58 As we listen to Corpse and Stone discussing the Beckett trade, the question really becomes: can Theo trade to get Ramirez back from Florida? Beckett gets Izturis to pop up for the first out, before TBS cuts over to their Announcing Sideline Puppet, with Moustache.

I, like the Angels, sit during the commercial break thinking that you couldn't draw up a better half inning to shift the momentum. I seriously hope Beckett is handing out nougies like candy in the dugout right now.

4:51 Lugo continues operation "Let Them Back Into The Game" by swinging at the first pitch and eventually striking out looking embarrassed. He'll be gone next year.

4:50 Tek idiotically avoids taking a pitch off the arm to get on base, then badly misses a ball way out of the strike zone to K. Just a painful, painful AB to watch. One second later Crisp puts together the worst AB of the season.

4:47 Ouch. Anderson looked silly on a swinging strike three. At least he can play the pinkeye card. It's a useful one.

4:45 Vlady-dady, he likes to party, and ground to short. Lugo makes the play and there is a puzzled muttering from the Fenway faithful.

4:44 O-Cab over-matched, Ks on a hard inside FB. Not a chance.

4:42 Beckett back out with a four run lead. He is throwing gas.

4:40 Drew infuriates everyone again by taking a perfect first pitch then hitting into an easy DP on the second. How does he do it? His every move is calculated to achieve maximum fan rage.

4:38 Lowell at 3-2 now, Manny on second.........soft liner to center - MANNY SCORES! 4-0 Sox!

4:36 Lowell takes a fist pitch hack, unwisely. Lackey badly overthrowing his pitches now, and appears to be really overheating. Bizarrely Manny takes second on a wild pitch.

4:34 Manny goes 3-2 in the count, making it a successful AB.....follows it up with foul ball and finally works the walk. Another batter in the inning for Lackey, who is nearing a gaseous state.

4:31 PAPI GOES YARD!! Lackey hangs the curve and Papi just lights it up. 3-0 Sox.

4:31 Youks shows the speed as he doubles to left. Takes a quick break for some oxygen and a sandwich. Papi up with a RISP.

4:29 Pedroia does the exact opposite of what he is supposed to do. It looks like another early season slump for DP. Popup, one out.

4:25 Figgins misses strike three by juuuuussst a tad. Beckett with a quick inning; rushes back to the dugout to let Lugo and Crisp out of their lockers so they can un-wedgie themselves.

4:23 Willitts doing exactly what he does: being a minor nuisance that you would like to crush, like a small, tic-lipped gnat. Manny makes a casual play on his lazy fly ball, proving that you don't have to use the word "lazy" twice in a sentence if you don't want to.

4:21 Lowell shows Lugo how baseball is played with a great play on a tough Napoli shot to the corner. Lugo calls home to make sure those damn kids are off his lawn.

4:17 Lugo Assassination Guild sets a timetable for their assault after Lugo makes a lazy slide and turns a stolen base into an out. Emulating Varitek, Lugo begins playing with a red dot on his uniform chest.

4:15 Lugo says "Look, Ellsbury fanclub, even I can hit this guy!" Ellsbury fanclub sets a timetable for their assault.

4:14 Crisp, being strictly a fastball hitter, gets down two on junk pitches then swings at a ball to create a doubleplay. The Ellsbury fanclub starts loading their weapons.

4:12 Varitek steps to the plate featuring his recently created beard made of iron filings, and uses the extra power to line a single to right. El Capitan!!

4:09 Proving that cheaters never win and winners never cheat, except in American business, politics, religion, and sport, Kendrick flies out to Crisp in center.

4:07 Kendrick A-Rods one, and gets another chance to hit after some timely cheating. Nicely done Howie! The kids appreciate you!

4:07 Thank you. Appreciate it. A curveball gets Kotchman to ground to Pedroia, who robot-shovels it up.

4:06 After getting ahead 0-2 Beckett inexplicably throws a reachable fastball. Again. Is it too much to ask to see a goddamn secondary pitch?

4:04 Announcer jinx rolls both ways. I am still trying to determine if Robinson or Stone is the Undead.

Couple commercial break thoughts here. One Lackey is a sweater. Jesus. I hope they have a spare uniform for him. He looks like the douchebag senator from the X-Men movie after Magneto got ahold of him. Two, he is not throwing the junk for strikes and isn't commanding the fastball well at all. The Sox need to sit on him until he gives them one.

4:01 Drew dribbles a ball (that he should have beat out) softly to short. Great. Much better Lord, thanks a bunch.

4:00 Please, Lord, do not let me see a 2-out, bases loaded at-bat for Tek, I am begging you.

3:58 Announcer jinx is set to High, as the Studio Corpse gets Lowell to pop tamely out into foul territory. Seriously, who the fuck is this guy?

3:57 Manny tells me to Suck It, rips one down the left-field line. Good job Manny.

3:57 Manny goes out of the strike zone early and gets behind 0-2. Good job Manny.

3:55 Lackey having a little trouble with the zone. If Papi can get on and extend the inning this could be a long inning for the kid. He beat me to it! Single, Big Boy!

3:54 Robinson and Stone talk briefly about Manny's defensive expertise, then go on to document Martha Stewart's history of philanthropy.

3:52 YOOOOUUUUUKKKKKK!! I guess my kid's first dad-made book will be entitled "The Hairy Mensch That Could".

3:50 Pedroia injudiciously swings at the second pitch. Hey, it's his first playoff game in the Bigs. Now he's so pissed he'll be fine.

3:46 I realize I had confused Kendrick with Anderson vis-a-vis the pinkeye. This now makes the Scioscia decision to bat Kendrick 7th completely flummoxing. Looking at him I can only surmise Olive Loaf had something to do with it.

3:45 Chone Figgins proves the awkward postulate that he can beat the Sox by himself.

3:44 Angels pull the old "run and hit", with OCab helping his old team out by swinging at a ball after Figgins had already stolen second. Gracias mi amigo.

3:41 Prediction here is stolen base, with Lugo attempting to catch the throw with his "prehensile nipple". He talks about it a lot in the offseason.

3:40 Six straight fastballs to start the game, ending predictably in a hit. Testicles crawling up into abdomen early tonight.

3:35 Will I be able to do this every game? No. But tonight I will. I have a fresh beer, Beckett's already up in the strike zone, what could go wrong? Living the dream!

Sox Take On The Halos: ALDS 2007

After a truly agonizing 4 months our beloved / beloathed Red Sox held on both to clinch the AL East for the first time in 12 years and finish the season with the best record in the AL. This allowed them to set the tone for the playoffs by starting it up early, and Wednesday we begin the post-season agony in a familiar way: taking on the Angels.

While the Sox edged the Angels over the course of the year 6-4 in ten games (and correspondingly outscored them 64-42, largely on the basis of a few blowouts), the two teams are fairly well-matched, in spite of their opposing offensive philosophies. The Angels have very little power (less now that Matthews Jr. is out) and create runs by being extremely aggressive on the basepaths and playing a lot of small-ball. The Sox, obviously, do not. Both teams will put the theory that Championships are won with pitching and defense to the test - the Sox were #3 in the AL in Runs Scored and Anaheim (I refuse to call them Los Angeles due to the incredible douchiness of that move) is right behind them at #4.

Tonight's game will feature the aces of the respective staffs in Beckett and Lackey. Both pitchers will be looking to make amends; Lackey for his 0-2 record and 8.38 ERA in Fenway this year, and Beckett for the awful outing against Minnesota last week. The primary focus for Lackey will be overcoming the mental aspects of having taken such a beating in his last two starts at Fenway. Fortunately for him he doesn't seem too bright, so he can probably barely recall those outings. For Beckett, it's the same focus as every other outing: throw his secondary pitches for strikes to keep hitters honest on the fastball, and keep the fastball down. Oh, and not get so insanely filled with rage that all bets are off.

Anaheim will need Anderson to stay hot (September OPS .952) in order to protect Vlad and generate some quick offense, and they will need Izturis, slotted 5th in the order, to produce like a #5 hitter. At the bottom of the order they'll want Willitts to be the spark-plug he was earlier in the season. If he and Figgins can frustrate Beckett with long at-bats he may revert to overthrowing the fastball against the meat of the order, and Kotchman, Guerrero and Anderson will tee it up.

To me, the bizarre placement of Izturis in the 5-hole, with Kendrick batting 7th, is the X factor here. In spite of two pretty serious hand injuries Kendrick put up great numbers this year, and has been raking in August and September, but he has pinkeye. If this is affecting him to the extent that he has to move down in the order I guess I'm not sure why he's playing, but so be it. If he can see the ball, he can hit it, and he could do some damage. If not, we'll just be thankful we're not facing Morales.

The Sox are going to need to get to Lackey early while he's still thinking. This means Youkilis is going to have to ask someone in JP to sacrifice a fucking chicken or something to bring him back to life. He has struck out in nearly 30% of his at-bats since the beginning of August - not the mark of your typical #2. He historically has enjoyed hitting in the 2-hole but with his and Pedroia's total lack of speed at the top of the order, I could easily see myself ending the 2007 season by writing a kids book for my newborn son entitled "Everybody Poops... On His Team By Killing Innings With the DP". His performance will be a key to the series.

And why is that? That is because the 7-9 spots in the order can be devastatingly awful, like having three consecutive pitchers hitting. Only Crisp has shown any signs of life. Lugo and Varitek have combined since the ASB to put together the worst offense this team has seen from two players since the days of Buford and Lewis. The most amazing part? Lugo's September was worse than his April. I know I wasn't the only one hoping for him to blow a hammie on order to get Lowrie some September ABs and onto the 40-man. I've held out hope that he would figure it out for a long time, but I think it's time we accept Julio is a little too emotional for Fenway. On the plus side, much maligned iceman JD Drew definitely cometh, and not a month too soon.

So. At this point we've spent months watching a team that has been more frustrating than impressive in most cases. The blown 14.5 game lead, the LOB-fests, the bizarre management decisions - it's been a roller-coaster ride. But now it's a new season: the Post-Season. Manny's back, Schill's back, and despite a myriad of other question marks, you have to acknowledge that this team has a chance. I've moved from the ledge to a small portable camping chair a few feet away from the ledge, and I hope to stay there for a few days at least.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Faithless: The Final Chapter in the Saga of Roger Clemens

The news came in yesterday: Clemens heads back to the Toilet. I was a little surprised, but only in that I thought it would be a few weeks until he made his decision. One thing I can say with certainty: I knew he would not be pitching for the Boston Red Sox in 2007.

It was always between the Yankees and Houston, and what they could offer the game's greatest (or most mercenary) arm-for-hire. And when I say offer, do not cloud the issue with things like "history" or "Championships" or "fans" - this was a retail decision. The Yankees would outbid everyone, that was a mortal lock. But Houston is in Clemens' back yard, and there was a convenience factor there. Unfortunately, they could not pony up the cash, and they suck. In the end, Roger went for the cash, as always.

The Sox were never really in the bidding - we didn't need him enough to mortgage the farm like New York did, we are inconveniently located, Dan Shaughnessy works in Boston, and Clemens hates Boston like Bush hates education. Sure, Clemens' uttered a few trite sentimental phrases, but at this point one can almost believe that was just to get the more gullible fans' hopes up so he could shatter them. Is it possible he was still exacting revenge on the Hub, after so much time?

The question I would ask is: why wouldn't he? The key tenet in understanding the mind of a top-level professional athlete is this - they are the center of the universe. Some people, especially in Boston, seem to feel that since they buy the tickets, memorabilia, and overpriced vittles that pay the athlete, this engenders a synchronous relationship between the player and the fans. And sometimes, like in the case of a Trot Nixon or Tim Wakefield, the player has enough moral fiber to make this true.

In the case of a Roger Clemens, this is not true. The fan perspective, rather finely put by Bill Simmons on numerous occasions, just doesn't seem to resonate with Roger. To Red Sox Nation, Clemens essentially tanked his last few years in Boston, boozing and whoring (according to many anecdotal references) his way through the season before moving on to Toronto and suddenly working his ass off to win Cy Youngs, and then committing the ultimate betrayal by going to New York. It was inexcusable, a shockingly vengeant "fuck you" to the fans who brought him into this world as a young rookie in 1984 at the tender age of 21, and lavished love and support on the pitcher through his 13 years in the organization.

To be fair to Clemens, there is a third person in the equation - our beloved, departed Dan Duquette, who after badly misjudging Clemens in the negotiations that allowed him to move to Toronto said that he would not give out long contracts to players in "the twilight" of their career. The bad blood between Duquette and Clemens probably eased the latter's transition to the Evil Empire. After his move to Toronto Clemens said of Duquette "He wanted his team and he wanted some other guys he brought in for Mo [Vaughn] and everybody. It was an easy decision. It wasn't a hard decision at all for me."

We all know the Duke could be a dick, and in the best of times came across as a robot invented to destroy the earth. But Clemens' sentiment points out to the average fan that in Clemens' mind there were only two factors involved in his decision - money, and Duquette. The fans were not at all an issue - they are not even mentioned here. Even if he thought the fans were a distant, distant third in the equation, he could have said "in spite of the way the negotiations panned out, I do have some regret for the fans of Boston" or something. But no - nothing. This is what galls us, years later. And having been called on it, many times in fact, a competitive, me-first guy like Clemens would be sure to take an aggressive stance against Boston as a whole. Which he appears to have done.

Make no mistake, if Theo and John Henry had opened the purse wide enough, ol' Roger would have come back, and in his cagier old age would be saying all the right things. But it would have been a stunning outlay of money; one that the current pitching staff simply does not warrant. In any case, you can be certain of this: even if Clemens were to have come back and pitched his final game as a member of the Boston Red Sox, you and I, the trusting fan, would not have factored into the decision.

Ellsbury Quickens

Jacoby Ellsbury was promoted to Pawtucker last week, after just destroying AA ball. He hit .452, with a .518 OBP, and .644 SLG in 17 games. In 3 games in AAA he is hitting .333 with a .467 OBP due to collecting 3 walks in 15 PAs. This probably spells r-e-l-e-a-s-e for Alex Ochoa, and a move to a corner OF position for Murphy. Also, Coco Crisp may see a sign posted in his locker shortly that reads "Objects in rear view mirror are closer than they appear".

Moss Rolls

Nearly forgotten man Brandon Moss has apparently made the decision to stand up. Through just over 100 ABs Moss's bat has shone. His 1.034 OPS leads the team by more than 100 pts. His 7 HRs are 4 more than the next highest total. Better yet, his 19/25 BB/K rate is balanced and reflective of the organization's principles of approach. A hundred-twenty plate appearances is not a buttload of data, but it's significant enough to surmise that Moss might be maturing into a real asset. He turns 24 in September, and could see the bigs late next year if this continues. The question is: will it be with the Sox?

Buchholz Who?

When Clay Buchholz was promoted to Portland, his rotation partner Michael Bowden was left to move to a hitter's dream park as a Lancaster Jethawk. The average ERA of the Jethawks' pitchers, not including that of Michael Bowden, is 5.57. Michael Bowden's ERA is 1.62 (4th best in the league), with a WHIP of 1.05 (5th best). His 9.1 K/9 is tied for third among the league's starters.

But Bowden is at a serious disadvantage.

The term "park factor" is used to indicate how a particular ballpark affects certain activities, with a 1.0 being average. Lancaster's run factor is 1.25, it's HR factor is 1.56, and the K factor is .81. It jacks up runs scored and HRs (obviously this is causal to the Runs factor), while depressing Ks. To put this in perspective, the Jethawks have 5 players with an OPS above 1.000, and 7 with an OPS above .950.

I probably would not argue that Buchholz has a higher ceiling than Bowden, based on his build and athleticism, but I might argue that Bowden has been more impressive this year given his situation in Lancaster. He really seems to understand how to pitch. I think we'll be seeing him in Portland shortly, and probably in Bostong ere long.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Well, that was crap.

Is Daisuke Matsuzaka being hazed?
You could make the argument. Maybe he was too successful in his first start and his teammates decided to cut him down a notch. Let's see...

Against Seattle the Sox managed one hit versus the very talented - and morbidly obese - Felix Hernandez. Watching the game, one noted that King Felix was a very good pitcher, and one also noted that the Red Sox, as a team, were utterly incapable of doing anything with very hittable pitches, straight fastballs, on the inner half of the plate. This was easily explained away on Sportscenter by the pundits, who - using ESPN's cartoonishly juiced velocity gun (I mean, really people) - argued that his fastballs were consistently 99 MPH and his sliders consistently 93 and 94, and certainly unhittable. It should be noted that on various highlights the gun showed Hernandez's change-up to be clocked at 89-91 MPH. Credible? No. Nevertheless, one cannot argue that the kid has great stuff, and if his having the body and fortitude of a hippopotamus pinata doesn't cut his career short (say hello to your cousins, Colon and Sabathia!), he could really be one to reckon with. I'm betting he chunks out, though. He's only 21, and already one of the fattest non-comedians I have ever seen on live TV.

In the Seattle game, there was a weird dynamic on the Dice-K side. I only saw the innings 5-9, but I was absolutely shocked by the pitch selection I was seeing. When any pitcher gives up a hit to Adrian Beltre, it should be cause for concern. When someone of Dice-K's ability does, you know there is a specific reason (and you suspect Vegas is involved). And there was. Beltre sat on the very same pitch he had watched Dice-K throw as the last three consecutive offerings in the Ichiro at-bat. Change-up; low in the zone (Beltre's favorite). With Beltre on second, Jose "I Really, Really Prefer Fastballs" Vidro got a fastball up around the chest. To me, watching with the game on mute, this was plenty of information to have me indict Varitek, but I have since read that Matsuzaka was shaking him off. So the jury's out there.

Nevertheless, that game was just awful. Matsuzaka pitched well enough to win despite not having great stuff, and the bats were not there. Overmatched, maybe, but at that point there were doubts lingering from watching certain key at-bats. Was the offense overly concerned with going the other way? Why?

Cut to tonight. Matsuzaka again pitches more than well enought to win, but this time he's pitted against poorly respected shitbum Gustavo Chacin. So when he loses, and moreover, the Sox again appear to have a contagion the symptoms of which are attempting to take inside fastballs to right field - but instead miss them or pop them up - I become suspicious.

"Where have I seen this before?" I think. "Was it that episode of Kojak where he posed as a chubby bald lefty for a Canadian baseball team?" I queried. "No, that's not it, you idiot!" I then cruelly rejoindered, like a douche. But wait..."Of course!! They were missing fastballs middle inside last week too, as if they would be fined if they pulled a pitch down the left field line! especially that chubby bald righty, Youjak!"

Of course, I am being somewhat facetious, however, the fact remains - prior to the seventh inning, two balls were hit to left: a double by Crisp and a single by WMPK. Chacin operates in the low-90s at best, so I struggle to understand the desire to go the other way. All in all, the only logical conclusion I can come up with is that the guys are hazing Dice-K by losing him a couple of games they could have one. In the end, I think this will make a better guy, and will help him network for a sales job after baseball. So I guess I'm behind it, in a condescending sort of way. comes Hansack..

Sure, he looked great in Spring Training. Easy, repeatable delivery. Throws three pitches for strikes, apparently at will. No emotion to speak of. In short, he is the Anti-Tavarez. But what do a few spring training outings mean?

Well, at this point, Devern Hansack has pitched 10.2 innings in AAA. His strike to ball ratio is at nearly 70%. He has struck out 2o batters. He has allowed only one earned run. He is, in short, at this point ridiculous. Now, this is the smallest of sample sizes, possibly ever. But if like me you really like what the former Nicaraguan lobsterman looks like on the mound, buy your bandwagon seats now.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

2007 Red Sox Pitching Staff

A tardy closing to my look at the 25-man roster for 2007. It was helpful to have a few games I could watch to see the pitchers in game situations.


Curt Schilling: 2007 ZiPS Projection 15-7 W-L | 3.98 ERA

This is a pretty standard projection for Schill, matching his three-year (2004-2006) averages very closely. At this point I think we all know what we can expect from a healthy Curt Schilling. The wrinkles this year are his advancing age (again), his attempt to work in a new change-up, and of course any stress that might result from the 2008 contract situation.

Curt's first start was an inmitigated disaster. He couldn't locate the fastball, which is absolutely necessary, and the experimental change was tattooed. The rumor based on the announcers was that he was tipping the change, and certainly that makes some sense. He looked much better tonight, obviously, and in spite of the dinger by Red Sox killer Frank Catalanotto (Catalanotto must have his hookers wear Sox gear before coming to bed, I swear to you, his OPS against us is 1.2 and change). the change over the course of the game looked useful. Still, it's not vintage.

The short story is this - Curt needs to win 15 for this team to have a chance. Even Joe Morgan recognizes this, which means it's a very simple thing.

Josh Beckett: 2007 ZiPS Projection 14-10 W-L | 4.55 ERA

Well, it probably goes without saying that if we get two years like this from Beckett, he is not worth Ramirez and Sanchez. I think we're going to see better than this from Beckett this year. He has had a year to adjust, should be a little more mature, and I think new pitching coach Farrell will be a benefit to him.

Beckett looked very good in his first start, keeping his mid-90s fastball down in the zone and complementing it with a hook that was just nasty at times. Beckett doesn't need to be as much of a "pitcher" as Schilling is, but he has to locate the fastball. That will be the key for him this year. That, and Archie comics.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: 2007 ZiPS Projection 15-8 W-L | 3.44 ERA

At this point it's not surprising that Dice-K projects to have the best numbers on the team. He is the real deal. Sit back and enjoy the maestro.

Timmeh:2007 ZiPS Projection 11-12 W-L | 5.16 ERA

Are these crappy numbers? Hells yeah. Might this be just what Timmeh puts together this year? Yup. A healthy Wake should go about .500, mid-to-high 4s ERA. Knuckleballers shouldn't regress as other pitchers do as they age, and I suspect that regression is built into this projection, so I'm expecting a bit better. That being said, we are all familiar with Timmeh's Jekyll and Hyde act. It's a crapshoot.

Essentially you get a decent #4 at a good price with Timmeh, but of course you also get Doug Mirabelli, who is just awful in every way. I love Wake, and he is the consummate Boston guy, but if Snyder comes around, Lester comes back, and Hansack looks like he looks, it might be getting a little cramped for a pitcher who makes you waste a roster spot for his chubby binky.

Julian Tavarez: 2007 ZiPs...ahh, I'm not even gonna bother

Tavarez has no business being our #5 while Snyder and Hansack are available. He doesn't strike guys out, and just cannot consistently throw strikes. Unless the idea was to let him carry over his lucky streak from last year in order to trade him, I am insulted that he's in this position. Hansack throws three pitches for strikes regularly, has a smooth repeatable delivery, and looks pretty much unflappable. We should be watching him pitch every fifth day. Also, the guy was catching lobsters in Nicaragua like two years ago. "Yeah, hi, Disney?..."

(Note: I don't want people to think I'm anti-Tavarez. Sure, last year I referred to him as the Anti-Christ for several months, and repeatedly compare him to Popeye's dog-like creature The Jeep, but I can never turn my back on the man who punched a guy out at home plate just for scoring on him. Genius.)


Let's work back from the top...

Jon Papelbon: 2007 Shea Projection 30 S | 2.10 ERA

It would be truly remarkable for Paps to duplicate his rookie season, but I think he clearly gives us what we need in the back of the bullpen - a reliable, intimidating closer. I think we probably see him in fewer games, and I think the league adjusts to him, and that (plus beer) is what is generating the line above.

Joel Pineiro: 2007 Shea Projections 4 S | 3.97 ERA

I am pulling this out of my ass. Basically, I think Pineiro sees a few low-lev save opportunities to see if he can bump up his trade value, or provide a safety option if Paps' shoulder twinges. He is a complete mystery right now. he has had a couple good outings where his stuff looked pretty good, and then of course sucked so badly tonight that the temperature dropped 5 degrees in the stadium while he was on the mound. Jury still out, but... I'm leaning towards shitbum. So I guess, really, he's not so much a complete mystery.

Mike Timlin (currently rehabbing): 2007 ZiPS Projection 6-4 W-L | 4.55 ERA

Like many of you, I am disturbed by the image of Timlin standing on the mound, staring into Varitek's crotch to get the call, unaware that there is a bony seven-foot figure in a dark cowl holding a giant scythe standing directly behind him. At some point a guy who makes his living in the upper half of the strike zone will run out of time, and you have to wonder if age 41 might be Mike's last call. This would really suck for us, because one thing is certain - Tito will be the last to know.

Brendan Donnelly: 2007 ZiPS Projection 4-4 W-L | 4.34 ERA

Donnelly is a classic case of getting a guy on the downslope and hoping he plateaus for a year or two while he's still pretty good (yes, this happens enough for there to be classic cases). And Donnelly was pretty good last year, despite having most of his peripherals drop. When you look at his delivery, it's difficult to understand why he hasn't exploded at some point, but he's been pretty healthy for the last few years. If Tito isn't a complete imbecile, Donnelly gets most of the 8th inning opportunities. Righties hit him pretty good (.861 OPS) last year, so that will be something to watch, but you'd rather see him out there than Timlin at this point.

J.C Romero: 2007 ZiPS Projection 4-3 W-L | 4.43 ERA

Romero is a reclamation project. Really, I guess he's a LOOGY, especially if you look at his 2006 splits (RHH went for a .1029 OPS against last year, so basically every righty was an all-star), although they were more severe than his historicals. Still, he is the absolute last guy you want pitching to a right-handed power hitter named Sammy Sosa. He was very good in 2004 and the Sox are hoping he figures out how to replicate that performance. With Lopez pitching as well as he has been, Romero is going to have to show improvement (caviat is that Lopez has a minor-league option left, but the Sox are still without a defensive OF which probably won't last).

Javier Lopez: 2007 ZiPS Projection 2-2 W-L | 4.82 ERA

Lopez was acquired as a LOOGY but has shown the ability to pitch to both sides of the plate with his underarm delivery. He doesn't get hit hard, but has command issues. If he can figure out how to throw strikes consistently he's a valuable bullpen piece with his pitch movement. Bottom line; he's another guy who is on the tightrope to stick. I tend to think unless Romero really collapses, Lopez will see one more stop in AAA.

Kyle Snyder: 2007 ZiPS Projection 7-6 W-L | 4.86 ERA

I believe this projection is for Snyder as a spot starter. Snyder is a compelling guy, a former first-rounder who has struggled with health issues for his career. As we saw in flashes last year, he can pitch, with a decent fastball and exceptional curve. He appears to struggle mentally at times, which working with Farrell and Tek can only help. I like Snyder but as the swing-man in the bullpen, if we see him coming in it means the game has gone sideways, in most cases. I find it an interesting side story to the season, watching his progression (or not).

Note: by all accounts new pitching coach John Farrell is doing a great job. I think we will look back at that decision with gratitude a few years from now. His methodologies are used throughout the organization, so when prospects get to the big league club they are already in synch. I really like the way he has gone about his business.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

2007 Red Sox Outfield

So we now know that the Sox have decided to go with another arm instead of a bench OF who can actually field a position. I think this is a temporary situation, and I think Alex Ochoa agrees with me. I expect the Sox will look to move either (or both) Romero or Pineiro at some point in the coming months, although to be honest I would expect Lopez to draw the most interest based on his contract and effectiveness. If Pineiro pitches lights-out in April, then, well, his contract looks pretty good too, and he might move. Ironically, if Putz's arm is gone, Seattle would be a team who needs a closer. Reitsma is not that guy, IMO.

So, what are we looking at?

J.D. Drew: 2007 ZiPS Projection BA .266 | OBP .383 | SLG .452

Here's where projections can be insane. Varitek projects to hit as well as Drew, and I think we all know that is about as likely as Varitek changing his haircut/goatee combo. I liked the Drew signing when we made it, and I really like it now. It goes without saying that he could blow his testicles out in a freak ferris wheel accident and be gone all season, but he is a true talent that is exactly what this ballclub needed. I personally think his line will look more like .290 | .390 | .510.

Coco Crisp: 2007 ZiPS Projection BA .299 | OBP .352 | SLG .456

So, naturally, when you look at Crisp's projection, you think "huh?" but this was the guy they signed (at a pretty reasonable rate I might add). I mean, we all loved the idea of Andy Marte hitting 84 dingers a year, but regardless of your feelings about the trade, it was never in question that Crisp was a young athletic kid who was trending the right way (also, Marte can't hit off-speed stuff yet, which can be a problem). I think his batting eye needs to improve for him to reach this level, but there is no reason a healthy Crisp doesn't have the above line by the end of 2007. Of course, the phrase "healthy Crisp" seems oxymoronic at this point doesn't it?

Still, I know we will all be rooting for Coco, if only to force piece of shit non-journalist Dan Shaughnessy to eat crow after his latest hatchet job, which was focused on Coco. What is the common thread of the Shaughnessy hatchet job? The player won't talk to him. What a ginger clam.

Manny Ramirez: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .299 | OBP .408 | SLG .600

Well, there are few players as easy to project as Manny. This is Manny with a more or less normalized BABIP, I suspect. The guy just hits. Defensively, the debate rages on - is Manny the worst fielder of all time, worth negative 20-plus runs over the course of a season? Is the Fenway Park left-field so twisted that all defensive metrics are crap with regard to playing it? Does it matter at all, as long as Manny shags extra flies during warmup and takes the occasional mid-game leak in the scoreboard? No.

Manny is Manny, and his flailing around the outfield allows Papi's knees to hold up as the DH, and this pretty much makes the whole thing work. Is he kind of nut-job? Sure, but he is a pretty lovable kook, and when his career is done, and CHB is putting the axe to someone ese, and some real journalist takes us back over Manny's career here, we will miss that crinkly-haired genius. If WMP (now known as WMPK) can't put it together, or we don't somehow acquire a Cabrera, an A-Rod, or a Pedro Alvarez in the draft, a Manny departure will be a crippler.

Wily Mo Pena: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .276 | OBP .331 | SLG .483

Well, the great debate rages on. I am in the camp that the Arroyo for Pena trade was a fair risk-reward deal. We have no power in the system right now, none, that has played a full year of ball (well, maybe Mike James). Arroyo is a fine NL pitcher, and can eat innings, but was a pretty damn craptacular AL East pitcher. Based on what the FO knew then, I think it made sense.

Whatever, it's done. As a quick glance at the names above will tell you, we have a very injury-prone outfield, still, so Wily Mo should get his cuts in. I think we're going to see a drop in his BA, simply because his .411 BABIP (41% of the balls he made contact with were hits!) is just unsustainable for his level of ability. That's Ruthian territory. If Wily Mo gets his 400 ABs, and makes some improvements - and that is the thing I like about the Super Genius, he truly seems to be able to make adjustments - we'll consider 2007 a success.

Good article on projecting Wily Mo here at Baseball Prospectus. It's never good to be compared to Pete Incaviglia, especially now, but still; interesting reading.

5th Outfielder TBD:

One wants to believe Murphy and Moss are in their plans for the near future, but I think Ochoa takes the spot until the late summer. Those two kids are guys that can still benefit from some AAA seasoning. They know there is no immediate spot for them on this roster, and that tearing it up in Pawtucket is their best chance to get a ticket to somewhere they can start (like Florida or Colorado). Ochoa is a good defensive outfielder with a cannon for an arm, and given the Ziegfeld-ian talents we have out there in WMP(K) and Manny, that will be much appreciated in some close games.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

2007 Red Sox Infield

I'll start with these guys since I'm predicting the least amount of flux in the infield throughout spring training, and I don't want to have to keep going back and forth with updates based on who's looking like the closer, or the 4th outfielder, or the Fat Elvis Presley, etc.

Arguably the most important defensive position on the field when one takes game-calling into the picture.

Varitek: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .266 | OBP .357 | SLG .456

The Captain's offensive productivity dropped off last year, possibly as a result of injury, but he has come back this year stating he feels better than he has in years. Still, he's 35 years old playing a position that often correlates with steep performance declines for players older than 30. Varitek is not a normal athlete though, in terms of training and preparation. Until proven otherwise there is no reason to believe he cannot have a bounce-back year offensively.

Defensively, he remains the benchmark for game preparation and pitch-calling in the major leagues. With Matsuzaka coming on board for his first year in MLB, there can be no other catcher you would rather have behind the plate.

Good Herald article/puff piece on Varitek here. As one would expect he doesn't use the injuries last year as an excuse for the offensive struggles, and as usual he sounds like the kind of guy you just have absolute faith in. And, as usual, he doesn't seem like the guy you'd want with you in Vegas at 2am, unless of course you had attracted the unwanted attention of the security crew.

My personal prediction is that 'Tek ends up around where ZiPS has him. The swing is a little long, and the high inside heat will burn him a little more, but he will get on base, and when it's all said and done he is the Captain, and as long as he plays this team has a chance.

Doug Mirabelli: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .214 | OBP .304 | SLG .377

Doug Mirabelli is the long-snapper of MLB. He does exactly one thing, catch the knuckleball, and apparently he does it well enough that he makes 3/4 of a million dollars to do only that while causing people to suffer cerebral edema just watching him hit. I personally find it hard to believe that catching the knuckler is so difficult that no other catcher can learn to do it (since Varitek did it just fine before Dougie came along), but evidently there is some "comfort" level that helps Timmeh here, so we get another year of Mr. Chubs. If we only get Dougie once every 5 or 6 days it's a manageable hit, but anything beyond that is just brutal.

George Kottaras: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .241 | OBP .331 | SLG .374

Yes, the kid who's never been higher than AA is projected to hit better than Mirabelli. Shocking? No. My mom is projected to hit better than Dougie and she hasn't stepped into the batter's box since I bruised her ribs with an errant heater in 6th grade.

Kottaras is the heir-apparent to Varitek unless some odd things happen with Wagner, Weeden, Egan or Otness. That said, he does not project to approach Varitek's abilities defensively, at least at this point. The Sox obviously hope 'Tek can work with him to instill some of those traits, hence his invite to S.T. Kottaras is a cerebral hitter, though, and may be able to transform himself defensively through hard work and tutelage. It's something to watch this year. He'll play every day in Pawtucket. The interesting thing to note about Kottaras is that he does have some experience catching the knuckler (caught Steve Sparks for a bit in the minors) so if Dougie has an "incident" at the Pizzeria Regina, he might be able to caddy for Wake.

When all is said and done, we got Kottaras for a month of Fatty McFatfat. It's hard not to like that deal.

First Base
Typically an offensive position, the Sox do not have a typical solution in place.

Youks: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .276 | OBP .383 | SLG .428

Yes, Youks is not your prototpyical masher at first. His IsoP of .149 ranks 21st out of all MLB first basemen. But his Runs Created, which to some extent might be considered the "bottom line", is 12th in all MLB. Given what we're paying him, that is not a bad return. Nevertheless, the Sox are unusual for a big market club in that the two corner IF positions do not contribute a ton of slugging to the lineup. Ideally, we'd have Youks at 3rd and a Teixeira (or Papi, if his knees weren't the Caine Mutiny) at first. As discussed, however, it may be easier to upgrade at third.

Looking deeper on the bright side, Youks is a very mediocre defender according to the available metrics. So there's that. I'm kidding, of course, but I think it's important to recognize that while Youks is a very likeable, hard-working guy who maximized his talent, he is not a long-term solution at first for this club, in all likelihood. Still, I expect he puts up slightly improved numbers from last years', and is a solid all-around contributor to the 2007 effort.

Eric Hinske: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .256 | OBP .332 | SLG .406

Looking at the horrific mediocrity of these numbers, it is hard to understand why we would be paying Hinske $2.8M next year. The reason is that he hits right-handed pitching (OPS of .896 vs RHP last year), will take a lot of pitches, and can play 1B, 3B and OF (none particularly well, although the stats point to OF as his strongest). He is the uber-platoon player. Also, as previously mentioned in this space, he has a giant Rasputin head, and in tough times that can be used to instill fear into your opponent, or small children, as the situation dictates.

Second Base:
The red-headed stepchild of the infield. As Mark Loretta proved last year, you can get by with a gargoyle or lawn-gnome at second if they can turn the DP.

Dustin Pedroia 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .274 | OBP .347 | SLG .394

After being baptized by a 2005 that was characterized by injury and bad luck at the plate (his oft-harped upon - by me - .188 BABIP after his call-up), Pedroia dedicated himself to training in the offseason and revamped his body in preparation for his first year starting in the bigs. Frankly put, there are vastly differing opinions on what to expect out of Pedroia out there, but personally I think his glove is just fine for 2B, and I think he'll hit well. He's simply never not hit. Even when he struggled last year after the call-up he had the lowest K% on the entire team. The only real impact was that he became less selective and made poor contact on pitches he should have taken. I think he'll correct that this year, and hit a lot of line drives. This kid should be solid, and fun to root for.

Alex Cora 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .250 | OBP .333 | SLG .344

The most overpaid player on the team in terms of WARP-1 valuation is also the person most likely to become a solid coach in the organization (or worse, someone else's). This chat wrap excerpt from Gammons pretty much says it all:

Chris_2:This Alex Cora for Kaz Matsui rumor sounds bogus to me. Is there any truth and/or logic to this rumor?
PeterGammons:The Mets would love to do it but the Red Sox love Alex Cora, the manager agrees with Paul Lo Duca that he is the smartest player in the game. Matsui is a huge question mark. The Mets throw everything out there, so I'm sure they tried.

Cora is below average at two positions, but does the little things. He is a bench player and a good guy to have in the clubhouse. Not a problem.

The debate over defense vs. offense will rage on every time Lugo bobbles a ball, but no matter what side of the fence you're on SS is a lynchpin position.

Julio Lugo: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .292 | OBP .355 | SLG .407

Lugo is gonna be the guy to watch this year. His ZiPS projections are nice, nothing to write home about, but Eric Van over at SOSH (thread here) has put a lot more time into Lugo's projections and came up with .319 / .382 / .482 as his adjusted projection. That would obviously be a pleasant surprise to most of us, but there can be no question that Lugo is a gifted athlete who will fare better in Fenway (he always has) than at the Trop. If he stays healthy his production could well be the difference-maker for the team this season.

Lugo adds another dimension to the offense. He is a true lead-off hitter, having put up much better numbers in that role (career he's .291 / .352 / .434 leading off an inning and .271 / .335 / .391 otherwise), and even if he doesn't steal has the speed to make an impact on the basepaths. He also allows Crisp to move lower in the order, which may benefit the newly-fro'd one by allowing him to see more fastballs, and perhaps run more.

Cora is supposedly the back-up at SS but I can hardly credit that plan for any real length of time. I think it more likely Pedroia moves over and we deal for a Graffanino-type journeyman or may-have-missed prospect. At last glance our own Jed Lowrie was nowhere near ready for prime-time.

Third Base
The hot corner is another offensively minded position where the Sox are a little lacking with Lowell. However, Lowell's glove cannot be criticized.

Mike Lowell: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .277 | OBP .342 | SLG .465

Lowell is kind of a cottage speculation industry. Much about him is known: he's a great teammate, plays gold glove defense, is a hot 1st half-player, and sports an inexplicable John Waters moustache as part of his van dyke. However, ever since his mid-boggingly awful 2005, the vultures have been circling. He fell off a cliff in the second half of last year, as per usual, dropping 136 points in OPS after the All-Star break. Everyone is wondering - when will the slump become the norm (for reference see Millar, Kevin), or when will he figure out how to hit for a full season? Given his age, more of us are wondering the former.

Nevertheless, Lowell will be the third baseman until further notice, and frankly if he is not traded by the end of S.T. he probably won't be. You want him for the first part of the year, not the second. It's fun to conjecture that he might be better off with more days of rest earlier in the year, but what manager wants to sit a guy who's tearing it up? Ride the hot hand - that's the rule of thumb. Nevertheless, Hinske may see some action against LHPs to spell Youks and/or Lowell, and once again we will watch Mikey play with our fingers crossed, and play the conjecture game.

As an aside, there is no one in the minors who projects to be even close to matching Lowell's production. Top 3B prospect Chad Spann struck out in nearly 25% of his ABs in AA last year and was lackluster against AFL talent. Basically, root for Mikey.

Next....the outfield.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The 40-Man Roster

Spring training is upon us! We will wish Lenny Dinardo well out here in the Bay Area as he leaves to make room for JD Drew. We can now look at the finalized Red Sox 40-man roster for 2007. I've compiled a quick view of the 2007 roster in the spreadsheet below, listing each player with their 2007 salary and ZiPS projection. ZiPS is a publicly shared projection methodology created by Dan Szymborski of the Baseball Think Factory. You can get them for all teams here.

You can enlarge the image by clicking on it. Obviously, this is a projection system, and as such is based on historical statistics. Therefore some of the numbers will not reflect the new reality. For example, Pineiro doesn't have enough history as a reliever to generate projections for that role, so his projections are as a starter. Szymborski knew late last season that Papelbon would go into '07 as a starter, so his numbers are a hybrid. Et cetera, et cetera, blah, blah, blah, what I'm saying is take these numbers with a grain of salt.

I'll be covering the various groups of players (SP, RP, OF, INF, UTIL)in more detail in upcoming entries. I just wanted to baseline things here, and ease into the mayhem. This has been a hectic offseason, a lot of drama, but all in all you have to feel pretty good about this team as it's built right now (did I say this in 2006?... you bet your sweet ass). At the very least, with El Guapo just up the highway in Nashua, there will be ample opportunity for amusement.