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.

Shhhh...here 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.