Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Cause for Optimism

NESN just had a replay of an early April 2004 game against Toronto, Curt Schilling's first home start. The Sox won in extra innings. So what?

The Sox infield had Bill Mueller at third, Felipe Crespo at short, Mark Bellhorn at second, and David McCarty at first. Gabe Kapler was in center, and the last two Sox pitchers were Bobby Jones (the walk ace) and Mark (rhymes with Alaska) Malaska. The Sox won on a David Ortiz walkoff homer in extra innings.

If the Sox could win with that lineup, then anything is possible.

Nothing new on the J.D. Drew watch, although we can imagine that his shoulder MRI isn't normal...

Injuries can occur from narrowing of the space between the rotator cuff elements and the bone (impingement), rotator cuff tendon degeneration, or injury secondary to trauma. A brief but informative review of the shoulder stabilizing system is referenced here. You too can talk about shoulder pathology, and know the labrum from a hole in the ground.


The bullpen battle should shape up to be one of the most competitive on the team, with three categories of players.

The Young and Unproven

  • Manny Delcarmen
  • Craig Hansen
  • Devern Hansack


  • Mike Timlin
  • Brendan Donnelly
  • Hideki Okajima
  • J.C. Romero

Desperately Seeking Situational Outs

  • Craig Breslow
  • Javier Lopez
  • Kyle Snyder

I've got to give the early lead to the greybeards and Delcarmen (and his curveball), who had more good moments than Hansen, who seems to have yet to figure out which is his 'out pitch'. Peter Gammons seems to think that the Sox are high on Hansack, but Kyle Snyder showed enough (for the first four innings most games at least) to wonder where he fits.


The rotation possibilities include Schilling, Matsuzaka, Beckett, Papelbon, Lester, and Wakefield, whose versatility adds value, presuming that his back/ribs have recovered. In the 'can't count on him at all' category is Matt Clement, a nice guy by all reports who hasn't gotten much done in two years. The most important guy in this equation is Jason Varitek, who must shepherd Matsuzaka through the transition, help the other young guys, and remind Beckett that throwing harder won't get guys out in the AL.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Signature Moments

With a lot of time on our hands, and not much news, let's think back to 'signature' moments in current (and recent) Sox players' careers.

Jason Varitek provides reliable if often unspectacular play behind the plate. In the 2003 playoff series against Oakland, Varitek blocked the plate and ultimately tagged out Eric Byrnes. Sure, Varitek has had some walkoff homer action and a game-tying homer against Seattle (if I recall correctly), but I'll always remember his defense first.

Kevin Youkilis had the ninth inning two runner homer against Detroit last season to help the Sox win. I'm hoping that we don't hear too much of Youkilis behaving badly (surly) off the field to diminish his potential contributions on it.

Manny Ramirez has had a lot of moments, but I think his first inning homer off Jeff Suppan in Game 3 of the 2004 series was his greatest moment. Suppan just pulled down 42 million for 4 years, making Manny's contract look cheap.

Coco Crisp played hurt, but had the spectacular diving catch to left center in Fenway against David Wright. Let's hope that Coco returns to good health and a .300 average this season.

Trot Nixon may be gone, but his ninth inning two run blast off Roger Clemens in the epic Sunday Night Duel between Clemens and Pedro has to be Trot's signature moment for the Sox. We won't forget his three-run double in St. Louis in the series, but...

Curt Schilling has the bloody sock, Game Six performance at The Stadium. Need we say more?

Tim Wakefield's most memorable moment may be the 2003 homer to Aaron Boone, but he was never tainted in Red Sox Nation because he always contributed above and beyond the call of duty.

Well, that's a start as we all try to keep the Hot Stove burning.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Pure boru

With Matsuzaka and Okajima aboard, and who knows about the future, maybe it's time to start some Japanese-English baseball 'talk'. I'm going to import directly from a number of sites, especially here.

banto: bunt
batta: batter
besuboru: baseball
boru: ball
chenji appu: change-up pitch
daburu pure: double play
era: error
foa boru: four ball; a walk
foku boru: fork ball
furu besu: full bases; bases loaded
gattsu pozu: guts pose; hot-dogging Japanese-style. After hitting a home run, a batter may punch the air with his fist, thereby striking the gattsu pozu
homuran: home run
kyatcha: catcher (also called hoshu)
manrui homa: grand slam home run
maundo: pitchers mound
manrui homa: grand slam home run
maundo: pitchers mound
pure boru: "Play ball!"
sanshin: strikeout
sayonara homuran: a game-winning home run
sebu: a save
shuto: a variation on the screwball that is popular among Japanese pitchers
suitchi hitta: switch hitter
sutoraiku: a strike
sutoreto: straight ball; also fastball

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Gammons on the Sox

At ESPN Insider, Peter Gammons talks about the support system available to Matsuzaka, as well as the "mean-spirited" Boston fans and a media which hopes for the latest Japanese import to fail. He also points out that the Red Sox are likely to sign Chan Ho Park (as possible closer), and that Manny Ramirez WILL be the Sox leftfielder this season.

As for the worst signing of the winter, "the Commissioner" notes the Royals signing of Gil Meche. He also does a post-mortem on the Mets' Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano deal, on the presumption that "little guys can't play."

The Sox acquire Brendan Donnelly from the Angels. Of note is Donnelly's number one comp on the "similarity scores" hit list, Scott Linebrink, for whom the Sox seemed to have lusted. For whatever reason, Phil Seibel didn't seem to be in favor, so he'll get a fresh start on the left coast.

For those who are wringing their hands about the absence of a closer, I'd remind them of one item - it's December 16th. Yes, we all remember the closer by committee theme, but the Sox still have months before opening day.


(Tavarez) - pitched well down the stretch
(Clement) - bullpen stuff?



I'm fond of the issue of player accountability, in other words, do you need better players or your players to play better.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dice Water in Their Veins

It appears that the deal for Daisuke Matsuzaka is done. Time for the Berlitz courses to begin and the translation sites will prosper.

But at Reality Check, we are also about 'giving back'. So here's some key hints for the Dice guy as he heads to Boston.

  • Hire a driver. Why let the one way streets and rotaries make you crazy when you can easily afford quality transportation?
  • Don't bother to learn much English. Whatever you do, DO NOT read Dan Shaughnessy or Gerry Callahan.
  • Don't listen to sports radio.
  • Listen to Jason Varitek. He's an honorable catcher. What about Mirabelli? Don't worry, you won't pitch to him much.
  • Don't carry a lot of cash. Let the riff-raff (everybody but you) pick up the tab.
  • Think about investing your 401-K with guys like Henry. He really does know something about money.
  • Do not spend too much time with "Baseball Annies." Ask around Fenway about a guy named Derek.
  • Don't forget about your Japanese baseball experience. In the American League, they can hit the stuffing out of the high hard one, and sneaky fast isn't as important as sneaky.
  • You probably should learn the two most important words in the English language first, "Dunkin' Donuts."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sox News?

The news highlight since the predetermined signings of J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo was Jason Varitek's appearance at a Celtics' game last week. And with the ticket prices in Boston these days, one wonders whether you have to be a multimillionaire to attend a game.

Meanwhile, back at the non-negotiation table, the rumor is that Scott Boras, Daisuke Matsuzaka's agent, has never made a counter-offer to the Sox' original lowball offer, whatever that was (greater than the GDP of Haiti). Or as the joke goes, "what's the difference between Scott Boras and a terrorist?" You can negotiate with terrorists.

If Matsuzaka's currently pulling in about 2.5 million (whatever that may be in yen), then not negotiating for a sum twenty times higher over about four years wouldn't make most players confuse Boras with Einstein, or even Steven Hawking. In fact, that might make Jody Reed's agent look less absurd (you may recall that Reed turned down a king's ransom only to get something more than a famous Cardiologist might earn).

Now for the good news. Sox fans will not have to learn Japanese, worship the ground beneath another ungrateful athlete, or vilify Theo Epstein or John Henry for spending a hundred million dollars on a player who will always be a frayed labrum or loose ulnar collateral ligament away from the dungheap of baseball.

Yes, Matilda, the Sox have become the mirror image of the Evil Empire, spending like drunken sailors while showing doglike affection to carnival barker agents. It almost makes you want to cheer for the Twins, Tigers, or baseball's bottom feeders, the Royals. Almost.

Of course, we can't really know what subterfuge and intrigue actually happens in the Fenway boardroom. Yes, we can speculate on the horse trading going on between Master Theo and Darth Boras, but we can't know. We can wonder whether John Henry shares his latest trend following algorithms with Mr. Big, whether Boras now knows whether copper futures will turn around or when orange juice has peaked. "Sell, Mortimer, sell."

Having never strapped on the leather in the big leagues, become lost in the Tiger Stadium infield, or been spiked making the pivot at second, we lack the qualifications, experience, and savoir faire to render hardball judgments. We can't know that Edgar Renteria was soft as a cottonball or that Cla Meredith just needed more seasoning. Bam!

Worse still, we the lowly fans, the great unwashed, dare to question the mighty Wizards behind the curtain. You get the point. We just wallow in dumacity* while the brass, replete with servers, spreadsheets, and unique formulae bring us title after title.

*dumacity = the act or condition of being a dumba$$

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Apocalypse Now?

Signs that the end of the world is at hand -

  • Jason Schmidt gets 47M/3 and writers say "bargain"
  • Ted Lilly gets 40M/4
  • Rangers will pay Zito "whatever it takes"
  • New Orleans Saints lineman banned for asthma medicine (?)
  • Julio Lugo gets 36M/4
  • ROY Hanley Ramirez gets the minimum
  • Carlos Lee can tell Warren Buffett he's a piker
  • Mariners try to dump Beltre and Sexson on Sox for Manny
  • Theo doesn't fall for it
  • Another Boras client pitching to Sox (is that Gag-me or Gagne?)

Well, at least the games won't be lost because of terrible offense very often.

Shaping Up

Hey, it's not your money.

SS Lugo
1B Youkilis
DH Ortiz
LF Ramirez
RF Drew
3B Lowell
C Varitek
CF Crisp
2B Pedroia

Extra OF - Pena (among Manny, Crisp, Drew the fourth outfielder could play 100 games)

Next up for the Sox, a roll of the Daisuke?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The *&^% Hits the Fans

Fiscal irresponsibility has its price. Box seats in the Bronx go up a mere 40 bucks next year. Thank the baseball gods for the benevolent Sox, who never raise prices, while bringing us great VALUE every year. How does the saying go, "price is what you pay, value is what you get."

I'm sure that the Sox have some kind of trending value statistic, such as the projected win shares/dollar based on a three year moving average or some such statistical mumbo jumbo. We certainly don't believe that it's just reach into the free agent hat and pick a guy.

A few visitors come and project the starting lineup, or at least recommend what they feel 'should' be the starting lineup. There's no harm in being wrong, right?

C - Varitek (should rebound from last season's underproduction) 8 win shares last season was a disaster.
1B - Youkilis a dollars/win share bargain
2B - Pedroia - can the guy cut down on his swing and improve his defense going to the right...I'll go out on the limb and say there's a problem here...although I want to be wrong
SS - Lugo - it's not the player that's the problem, it's the price
LF - Crisp - Crisp was hurt last season. Accept it. I would like the opportunity to train for a week and see if my 52 year-old arm is better than Crisp's...or I could ask either of my 18 year-old twin girls to throw against him.
CF - Pena - CF was his best position. Why can't the Sox accept that? Give him the job...if he stays healthy I say he hits 30 homers and puts up 24 win shares...on the cheap
RF - Drew - is he destined to be the fans' whipping boy or will it be Theo?
DH - Ortiz - simply eye-popping numbers

P - Matsuzaka - the real deal
P - Schilling - can he do it one more time?
P - Papelbon - fire...
P - Beckett - here's hoping
P - Peavy - fatal attraction?
P - Wakefield - say again?

Is it enough? For once in this town, could we address player accountability, not just the ownership, GM, manager, or third base coach? Let's hope that health and performance mean reversion can be enough.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Name That Tune

Here's the direction that Theo Epstein travels with his relentless pursuit of J.D. Drew and efforts to dispatch Manny Ramirez.

Yes, ponying up ridiculous sums for a corner outfielder with a checkered health past has opportunities. Maybe Partners Healthcare will sponsor J.D. Drew as the Partners Red Sox outfielder. Sure, that's the ticket, another marketing opportunity.

J.D. Drew, when healthy, and motivated, has skilz. Availability? That of course, is another question. Some have speculated that Drew's signing somehow links to Matsuzaka's via the Boras connection. Doubtful. Boras isn't a guy who leaves a nickel on the table. Should we hate him because he does his job well? Don't answer that.

As for trading Manny for prospects or the likes of Scott Linebrink, was Linebrink a little off last year, or is he in a downtrend? Is a guy with an average win share rating of ten, your kind of guy?

Eerily, this has the feeling of A Christmas Carol, with Theo playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Certainly not parsimonious with the Red Sox Nation's dollars, but with the ghost of Christmas past (Johnny Damon) haunting him, he's now looking at the ghost of Christmas present (Manny), and very likely to confront the ghost of Christmas future (J.D. Drew).

I, for one, have regularly served as an apologist for Theo, based upon his early track record as Wunderkind. Sometimes I've felt like an apologist, not for his decision not to raid the farm last July, but for uncritically accepting his talent evaluation and organizational skills.

Aside from the bad hair, I'll never be confused with Einstein. But, if the scenario plays out where J.D. Drew's only familiarity with Eye of the Tiger is Rocky IV, and Manny remains Manny, then Theo won't become public enemy number one, just another quisling in the Nation.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

When Free Becomes Expensive: J.D. Drew

I haven't taken any position on the J.D. Drew free agent acquisition 'controversy', mostly because I haven't really studied it. Let's run the numbers first, and then come back to intangibles.

Bill James' analysis: WIN SHARES

2004: 34
2005: 13
2006: 21

Meatloaf says, "two out of three ain't bad," so I'll defer to him. Drew obviously played at an extraordinary level in 2004 and rebounded to 'All-Star' caliber play last year, ergo, the big payday.

The Big Picture: Baseball Reference -

  • Overall career stats: .286/.393/.512/.905
  • Scored 100 runs once, 100 RBI once.
  • Similarity scores: most similar player TROT NIXON
  • Similar batters through age 30: include Jim Edmonds, Larry Doby, Kirk Gibson, David Justice

Three year statistics:

  • .293/.415/.532/.947
  • Pre and post All-Star similar
  • .263/.387/.427/.815 versus LHP
  • very few appearances versus AL East rivals


Bill Belichick talks about the importance of both ABILITY and DURABILITY. The money has simply gotten out of control, but not just for J.D. Drew, but for almost any Type A player. Other teams set the market, and make baseball pretty unpalatable for the average Kansas City Royal fan. Drew is going to get his dough, no question. The question is whether his durability (going forward) will justify the investment.

Is the Drew pursuit part of a bigger plan to relocate Manny Ramirez (baseball Domino Theory)? We don't know. If it is, then that clearly makes the money a lot easier for the Sox to swallow. The Sox have made some good calls (Mo Vaughn, Pedro Martinez) in these situations and obviously rolled the dice and lost on Roger Clemens. The verdict is clearly out on Johnny Damon, although I'd guess that when all is said and done, they may wish they paid him.

Of course, the intangibles (Dodger teammates distaste for Drew, the 'Nancy Drew' label, and so on) are impossible to know. Fred Lynn sometimes got a bad rap for not playing hurt, but everyone knew that he was running into walls, not running into outfielders like certain unnamed Sox past outfielders.

You hope that Theo Epstein, John Henry, and Terry Francona got the chance to look into Drew's eyes, and tried to look into his soul.

Maybe we need the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit from Quantico in on this one. Does Drew really WANT to come into the lion's den and play with the Eye of the Tiger? Or is he just another mercenary playing for a paycheck? Sox fans willingly pledge our allegiance to these heroes. We just don't want management bringing in frauds. So what is it J.D.? Do you want to be great or just richer?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Rose by Any Other Name...

Many ballplayers deserve the title, "Red Sox killers", through the years, from the infamous (Bucky Dent) to the lesser known (Gates Brown). A free agent pitcher who seems to have dominated them through the years is Ted Lilly. Let's take a look at his recent career and try to get inside the Red Sox front office's collective psyche concerning Lilly.

First, the thirty-year old southpaw is a career .500 pitcher (59-58) with a 4.52 ERA. For the past three seasons, he is 37-34, with ERAs from 4.06 to 5.56 and an average WHIP ratio of 1.42 (not that great). He's been plagued by the gopher ball, surrendering an average of 26 homers/year during three years as well with a strikeout/walk ratio of 424/228.

From the Jamesian Win Shares perspective, he had 16, 4, and 12 from 2004 to 2006.

For three year splits, he has allowed opponents to hit .249 with .755 OPS against and had similar ERA at home and away. He's pitched about the same before and after the All-Star break but had better winning percentage before (not significant).

Against the Sox in three years he is 5-4 with a .227 average against and 3.27 ERA in 14 starts. Against the Yankees he is 2-6 in twelve starts with a .276 average against and 6.21 ERA.

The Yankees are rumored to be hot on the Lilly trail.

What exactly is Lilly? First, he's pitched in the AL, so it's not like he has to learn to pitch against the iron (Beckett?). Second, he's slightly better than .500 the past three years. Third, he doesn't seem to have much of a 'trajectory', he is what he is. Fourth, he has pitched well against Boston and Baltimore, but poorly against Tampa. Perhaps most important, for the Sox, he hasn't pitched well against the Yankees, and whether it's their lineup or the bright lights, that's pretty compelling stuff.

Verdict: pass on Lilly and hope that the Sox can turn it around against him, learning whatever the Bombers and Rays know.

Friday, November 24, 2006

What Are They Thinking About? Ohkay?

Oh to be a fly on the wall at the Fenway Park Baseball Operations suites. With the countdown on Daisy Matsuzaka in progress, the Sox have to consider the total experience for a Japanese import. And who better to know than someone with American League and Red Sox experience, Tomo Ohka.

Let's run the numbers. Ohka has had a WHIP ratio of 1.31 to 1.39 the past three years in the NL. The good news is that he had excellent control, averaging about three walks per nine innings. The bad news has been that his ERA has been rising, and his win shares haven't, 4 in 2004, 8 in 2005, and 5 in 2006.

He has pitched better on the road than at home the past few seasons, but hasn't pitched enough against AL teams to have a read on that.

Is he under consideration to add to his 10 million in career earnings? 10 million bucks and 48 career wins. What a country!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Who's On First?

Examining the first full season of Kevin Youkilis, I'm struck by the disparity between his Moneyball reputation and what actually transpired. At first base, Youkilis had question marks written all over him. Defensively, he proved to be more than adequate.

Offensively, at .279/.381/.429/.810 he proved to be, what? With 91 walks he finished seventh in the AL, and he was eighth in doubles, and tenth in times on base. With 100 runs scored, his thirteen homers and seventy-two RBI seemed adequate, as long as he was hitting leadoff or second.

Now for the issues. His home versus away OPS was .844 versus .774 and pre-All-Star game he was .874 and post .728. His leadoff OPS was .815 and his leadoff OBP was .385. Although he fanned 120 times, 68 came before the All-Star break.

He was tied for second in OBP as first baseball with Paul Konerko, behind Jason 'Juice Guy' Giambi, led 'qualified' AL first basemen in runs scored, but was eighth of eight first basemen in OPS.

The AL leader in Win Shares at first base was MVP Justin Morneau with 27, followed by Konerko at 23, and Youkilis at 22. With Bill James' threshold for 'All-Star' capability at 20, I'll bet the Sox were quietly pleased with Youkilis' overall production, second half notwithstanding. Was Youkilis worn down, injured, or both? Probably.

What do the Sox need from Youkilis? If they choose to hit him second, they'd like fewer strikeouts and a little more power. But his low salary and run scoring make him a valuable commodity at this point in the club's evolution. On the other hand, let's not forget who checks in at number seven in qualifying first sackers in OPS, Kevin Millar, at .811.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

If You Want Economy, You Have to Pay for It

The Red Sox continue to work under the radar to renovate last year's Poseidon Adventure. "There's no crying in baseball", so let's focus on what is, not what might be.

The Sox struggled mightily down the stretch, both OFFENSIVELY and defensively (pitching). Offensively, what changed? No Manny Ramirez, no production. The sanctimonious buzzards (polite words) of the press want somebody who busts his tail every time he grounds out to short, and puts up big numbers. He must also communicate as effectively as say, Mike Greenwell, a media darling who averaged 10 homers and 60 RBI his last SIX seasons in Boston, and played left field as though he needed a helmet.Let's recite the reasons Manny Must Go.
  • He doesn't run out every groundball (see Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski).
  • He's overpaid. Almost everyone in baseball is overpaid.
  • He doesn't produce enough. Compared to Hank Aaron or Willie Mays? Similar batters through age 34 at Baseball Reference include Griffey, Juan Gonzalez, Bagwell, Frank Robinson, Mays, Frank Thomas, Bonds, Mantle, Snider, and Thome. All except Gonzalez won't have to buy tickets to Cooperstown.
  • He's a bad interview. Wait, the scribes don't say that in their columns, or do they? I have it on direct information that Manny wouldn't grant interviews to at least one writer. I don't care if Manny becomes Steve Carlton.
  • Other players are unhappy that Manny receives special treatment. And I imagine that every player on every team gets treated equally.
  • They can't win with Manny. What about that World Series monkey off the Sox back?

The Sox needed to dump A-Gone and get more offense at shortstop (again the Lugo Lust), and at the same time replace one of the top run producers of this generation with GOK (God only knows).

You can't really whine about the Sox as currently constituted, because Terry Francona couldn't pencil in the starting lineup for April without a Ouija board and LSD. We can reasonably expect Jason Varitek to catch and David Ortiz to DH, but beyond that, it's pretty much a crap shoot.We know Gary Matthews, Jr. won't be in center, because the Angels gave him 50 million reasons to go west. That would seem to diminish the likelihood of the halos trading half their roster for Manny, although an outfield of Manny, Matthews, and Vlad would impress even the most diehard eastern baseball fan.

Other than uncertainty up the middle (other than Varitek), limited power at the corners, worse defense (any shortstop replacement means worse defense), no closer, and an unproven bullpen the Sox, OUR SOX are ready to compete for their second championship in four years.I'm not saying that the Red Sox should overspend for mediocrity.

They've proven willing to open up the checkbook in the Matsuzaka posting, and by even negotiating with Lugo, they've proven, er...something.

(Monthly Commodity Research Bureau price chart with 20 period average, from

But as John Henry knows, we've been in a commodity bull market, and baseball players are the ultimate sports commodities.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Just Desserts? Morneau AL MVP

The American League named Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau the AL MVP for 2006 today, beating out Derek Jeter and a distant third Sox DH David Ortiz.

Let's look at some numbers within the context of the recognition that shortstop is a much more valued defensive position than first base, although Morneau fielded well and had a solid range factor. Although Jeter won the Gold Glove, many observers would rate him defensively behind a number of AL shortstops defensively, including Alex Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, and arguably Miguel Tejada.

Jeter .343/.417/.483/.900 118 runs, 14 homers, 97 RBI
Morneau .321/.375/.559/.934 97 runs, 34 homers, 130 RBI
Ortiz .287/.413/.636/1.049 115 runs, 54 homers, 137 RBI

Jeter proponents may argue the 'lifetime achievement' award factor, that he deserves recognition for the entire body of work for his career. Because the award does not include the playoffs, no issue arises there. Morneau had a solid but unspectacular stretch run (.879 OPS August, .889 OPS September), so that can't be argued. If last year A-Rod got the nod as a position player and New York tailwind, maybe this year Morneau got selected on some anti-Yankee sentiment. Hard to imagine that in this day and age, right?

Some say, "statistics are for losers," but recognizing individual achievement has a place in professional sports. Frankly, I would have guessed that Jeter would have been a lock for the award, but perhaps voters felt that Morneau simply meant more to his team during a pennant race than Jeter did during the Yankees cakewalk over the remnants of the Sox.

I doubt we'll see any Faith Hill moments over Morneau's MVP...and we can only hope that Michael Richards doesn't feel compelled to comment on this one.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Today's Eyebrow Raiser

Frank Catalanotto has been a Red Sox killer, and apparently he has signed with the Texas Rangers for about thirteen million dollars for a three-year deal. He is a 'classic' Moneyball player, with good on-base-percentage (.297/.362/.454/.816), generally mediocre defense, and at this point in his career does not run.

His best season he hit .300, and had 83 runs scored, 13 homers, and 59 RBI. Do you want that for your corner outfield, DH, or first baseman? At second base his range factor (in limited appearances) is poor, 2.97 compared to a league average of 4.33.

His similarity scores include Shane Mack, Jay Payton, and Shea Hillenbrand.

Texas is rumored to be one of the teams inquiring about Manny Ramirez (a 10 and 5 man who must agree to any deals), whose value escalates in view of the Soriano deal at 17 million per for a mind-numbing eight years. My friends argue that Texas' chance of EVER winning are hurt by their grueling heat, which wears pitchers down, particularly during the dog days.

All this only goes to show that there aren't even six degrees of separation between anything in baseball and the Red Sox. Why? Because there is no separation between anything baseball and the Sox, the link being 'the Benjamins'.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

High Price of Mediocrity

Some wag once said the problem with free agency wasn't paying the stars but the high price of mediocrity. I'd say there's a bit of both. Alfonso Soriano apparently gets 'Derek Jeter money' and we've yet to hear whether Nomar Garciaparra, who spurned 15 extra large per year for four years will get anything close to that in Dodgerland.

Meanwhile, Alex Gonzalez parlayed his defensive excellence into almost five million dollars a year, which certainly makes signing Alex Cora at two million a year seem like chicken feed. Actually, the commercials are pretty short corn futures, so maybe chicken feed will come down. I'm sure that Mr. Henry would be able to give me a better answer on that.

And how will the Red Sox willingness to spend 51.1 mill to talk with the Japanese not spill over into the broader market? Why should a college or high school free agent be bound by the MLB draft rules as the Players' Association hasn't negotiated on their behalf? And why shouldn't American teams (e.g. the Royals) post their best players with trade negotiation rights going to the highest bidder?

You can be sure that in the end the losers will be THE FANS, paying even more for tickets, hot dogs, and water. That is the ultimate price of mediocrity.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Lugo Attraction

The Red Sox seem to have this fascination with Julio Lugo. Until today, I didn't even know he is only one of three Lugos to play in the majors, another being his brother Ruddy. Why the obsession with Lugo? Is he a terrific player, or does he just have pictures of the front office?

In the similarity scores at Baseball Reference, Lugos ten comps include Adam Kennedy, Rafael Furcal, David Eckstein, Eddie Bressoud, Pat Meares, Cristian Guzman, and Rafael Furcal. Not a whole lot of household names there, unless your household is Baseball Prospectus.

Last year in split duty with Tampa and the Dodgers, he had 12 homers, 24 stolen bases, and was .341/.421/.762. His batting numbers with the Dodgers were hideous, .278/.267/.548. His fielding percentage at shortstop was .957 (Alex Gonzalez was .985 I think), with an average range factor. In other words, he was a decent stick, but not so great with the leather. Ordinarily he had a higher fielding percentage and range factor, but the fielding percentage was mostly on turf, not the Fenway pressurized grass.

So why are the Sox pounding the pavement and opening the checkbook for Julio Lugo? Frankly, I don't know. I can't recall him hitting for the cycle or fielding like Ozzie Smith against the Red Sox. Maybe he did, I just can't remember. For a team that has profited from the Moneyball approach, the Sox seem to be playing Looneyball.

Lugo is on the wrong side of 30 now, has never had a season OPS over .780 and only once did his OPS exceed the league average.

There must be something more, somewhere. Let's check out Hardball Times. Aha. Lugo had 20 and 24 Win Shares in 2004 and 2005, both at putative All-Star levels, but then collapsed to 13 last season, with only 1 for the Dodgers. This has Bill James' laudable fingerprints all over it, BUT goes against the trend, so near and dear to John Henry.

Well there you have it, the case against, and maybe for Julio Lugo. He's a versatile player, with more of a bat than A-Gone, but who certainly can't carry Gonzalez glove. Maybe he's ready for a breakout in a big market, but he didn't prove it with LA, and it's not like somebody's paying us to take him, like the Sox did with Renteria. By the way, Hanley Ramirez had 25 win shares, Renteria 19, David Eckstein 12 last year, and A-Gone 9.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Scott Borat: International Dealmaker

Whoa! This Matsuzaka guy has it together, hiring Borat as his agent. Maybe Borat has some quotes for Boston American baseball fans.

Reality Check: Welcome to Boston, Borat. How does your client feel about coming to America?

Borat: My country send me to US to make hero worship and lots of American money.

Reality Check: What does Daisuke think of Boston?

Borat: You are stupid. Boston people worship Japanese baseball pitcher, welcome with open wallets.

Reality Check: Do you have a negotiating strategy with Theo Epstein?

Borat: I did not come to Bean City to negotiate. We come to get paid, in many American ways and maybe in Euros.

Reality Check: Have you met the Red Sox negotiating team?

Borat: Have you no sense of smell? I have met with many of theme. Can you not sniff that?

Reality Check: Does Mr. Matsuzaka look forward to playing with any of the current Red Sox?

Borat: Cultural exchange big part of baseball experience. Daisuke know of warmth of Sox penthouse where players stay.

Reality Check: You mean clubhouse?

Borat: Know little, reporter man? Baseball players stay in penthouse, not outhouse.

Reality Check: Why does Mr. Matsuzaka want to play baseball in the U.S.?

Borat: American baseball very ghoul. Fans love players. Players love be with fans, you know, like monkey drive bus. Way much better pay than Kazakh scat collector.

Reality Check: Any final thoughts?

Borat: To Red Sox fans: you not smell as bad as New York.

"The Winner's Curse"

Theo Epstein has some valuable assets working with him, and we can only hope that the GM has some Game Theory background. As a trader, I'd be shocked if John Henry didn't have some or perhaps read Richard Thal's book, The Winner's Curse.

Here's a little sample of Game Theory to ponder. How'd you like them applets?

David Marasco has more on The Winner's Curse.

I regularly discuss investing and the stock market at one of my other sites, and one of the most important principles in trading is similar, "buy 'em when you can, not when you have to." Most people tend to invest when the price is high, rather than when the price is low. We also tend to overvalue what is 'ours'.

A lot of free agent pitchers have turned out to be busts, for example Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, and Matt Clement. Of course, Curt Schilling helped bring the Sox to the Promised Land.

Epstein and the Sox braintrust have apparently made a bold move in bidding high for Matsuzaka. We can only hope that we have not succumbed to the winner's curse.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Daisy Chain?

Wow. I didn't know "daisy chain" had so many meanings. Maybe another will be the sequence of events leading the Red Sox to the front-runner position to negotiate for Japanese hurler Daisuke Matsuzaka. If the Sox do win his signing rights AND sign him, then the first order of business will be nicknames.

Matsuzaka certainly has quite a resume in Japanese baseball, and the Sox obviously wanted to atone for last season's atrocity with a big splash. Dealing with $cott Bora$ won't be easy under the best of circumstances. I'm sure that Boras has a coffee-table book already prepared explaining how Daisy already belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Let's look at some other Daisies.

Daisy Duck.

Those of us old enough to remember L'il Abner and Al Capp remember Daisy Mae.

And the Dukes of Hazzard give us Daisy Duke...

So what have we here? Daisy Mats? Daiszilla? Yeah, Daiszilla. Bring on Daiszilla.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Manny Matters

Here's the six-year tenure of Manny Ramirez. 110 homers the first three years, 113 the last. 336 RBI the first three years, 376 RBI the last. Batting average over .300 five times, and on base percentage and slugging percentage (right of chart) always around .400 and .600.

And, oh yes, there's the matter of protecting David Ortiz and the relative lack of protection that he gets.

Yes, Manny can get 'squirrelly' at times (flaky bad players simply get released), and defensively he's not Yaz, but I'd rather have him out there than Mike Greenwell any day. Does he run out every grounder like his pants are on fire? No. He must have really set a terrible example for Hanley Ramirez, as he really underachieved for Florida. No, maybe it was Anibal Sanchez then. Yeah, Sanchez only batted .114 for the Marlins.

Does Manny set a wonderful example for all of his teammates? Maybe not. I don't really care if underachieving, overpaid guys gripe because they aren't happy with what Manny does. If you can hit like Manny, you can gripe as much as you like. Manny isn't malicious (to his teammates anyway), and for those who don't know it, Manny ISN'T Mr. Popularity with some of the writers, with some of whom he maintained a Steve Carltonesque silence.

I could really care less about what sportswriters think of Manny. As Mickey Mantle told Roger Maris, "hit 'em with your wallet.' Guys like Steve Lyons and Mike Greenwell got a pass for YEARS, because they were good interviews, but no longer good players. Sportswriters can make or break players, and don't kid yourself that some don't have agendas. Ron Borges spends much of his time trying to become the focus of stories, bashing the Patriots and Bill Belichick. Nasty? Just his shtick? No matter.

The Red Sox by the end of the season had declined into the bottom quartile of major league baseball teams. Was Manny the principal cause for that? The Sox probably overachieved for the first two-thirds of the season, winning and dominating the National League, but finished the season with fewer runs scored than runs allowed (820-825). For the Sabermetricians out there, Manny and Ortiz accounted for 260 runs created, almost a third of the team's offense. And you want to get rid of their second most productive player and protection for Ortiz?

Manny matters. The Red Sox have plenty of retooling to do in the offseason, but the most important task they have with Manny is to get him healthy and happier.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Bill Haselman will not return as the Red Sox first base coach. Dave Magadan replaces 'Papa Jack' as Red Sox hitting coach. What does it all mean?

I doubt that even the most ardent fan could name five current major league first base coaches. Terrific coaches can help a team in many ways, from scouting, to honing fielding or baserunning skills, and probably some serve as liaisons between players and managers who are not on the same page. But what does that mean in terms of 'Win Shares' as it were?

If given the choice between great talent and great coaching at the major league level, I'd take the talent any day. The Cardinals' win this year rehabilitated Tony LaRussa's image. LaRussa has a career managerial winning percentage of .536. Is this good or bad? If you have the opportunity to manage the Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals, Dodgers, Braves, and so on, the (financial) royalty of major league baseball, shouldn't you be expected to deliver a high winning percentage? LaRussa has a .549 winning percentage in eleven years with the Cardinals.

Jim Leyland's magic ran out against the Cardinals. Was it LaRussa's genius or simply better pitching and offense at the time?
Even including this year's dismal performance, Terry Francona has a .574 percentage in three seasons at the Sox helm. Is it ever managerial genius that delivers pennants, or more likely the collective 'overperformance' of a roster, the statistical quirks that might even allow a small market team to win again someday?

All of us agree that having a superior manager (define superior) beats having a mindless boor in the dugout. But by how much? I doubt that Tom Tippett at Diamond Mind or the guys at Baseball Prospectus can give us an answer beyond rhetorical. Maybe Bill James has a handle on managerial win shares, but he's not telling. Success in life so often simply means getting the most from what you have.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Uncivil 'Diss-course'

The Internet provides a sense of anonymity, and a forum for many types on uncivil discourse. I value articulate opinions of why players rate where they rate.

Derek Jeter is one of the leading MVP candidates of the league, a proven winner, considered a 'clutch' player by many who believe the 'clutch' performer argument, and handsomely paid by his employer. Should he win the MVP, I would be the first to congratulate him on his merits.

As for declaring him the best defensive shortstop of either this season or his era, the facts simply do not support that argument. Is Jeter a better player than other possible choices, such as Alex Gonzalez? Certainly, he is. And will Jeter enjoy having the Rawlings Gold Glove on his mantle? Undoubtedly. But like Olympic judging, he has won the award this year on subjective not objective merit. However often his fans launch expletives and insults to this observer, I will defend their right to their opinion, and simply point out that "facts are stubborn things."

And, of course, few major leaguers in any sport would trade individual achievement for this season's championship, that no member of either the Red Sox nor the Yankees will enjoy.

Gold Gloves Don't Fit on Cinderella's Hands

WEEI reported that the Red Sox, despite leading the league in defense, have no Gold Glovers. And ESPN confirms that with Derek Jeter getting the hardware at shortstop and Eric Chavez at third base.

Let's examine whether this became a political hack job, using the yardsticks we have, range factor, fielding percentage, win shares, and so forth.


Derek Jeter has the Nomaresque talent of making the easy play look sensational, while Alex Gonzalez makes the exceptional play look easy. Jeter had 4.6 Win Shares (the Bill James rating system) compared with Gonzalez 5.9. Notable in that Gonzalez played fewer games. Jeter had a fielding percentage of .975 (compared with the league average of .970), a range factor of 3.97 (league average 4.02), and participated in 81 double plays, starting 149 games. Gonzalez had a fielding percentage of .985, a range factor of 4.22, and 68 double plays, starting 110 games. So Gonzalez had a better fielding percentage, range factor, and more double plays per game. Jeter played in New York. It's kind of like nepotism, not a big deal, as long as you keep it in the family.

Third Base

Eric Chavez played for the division champion A's and had 6.2 defensive win shares. Mike Lowell had 6.6 defensive win shares. Chavez had a .987 fielding percent (league average .960), range factor of 2.88 (league average 2.54) and participated in 42 double plays. Lowell had a .987 fielding percentage, range factor of 2.98, and participated in 39 twin killings. Simply they had the same fielding percentage, Lowell more range, a slightly higher number of win shares, and the double plays were even. Chavez got the nod, because he was 'defending' his title?

So it wasn't enough that the Red Sox had a disappointing second half and an abominable stretch. They also get jobbed for individual honors by the shortstop from Gotham and a third baseman who nobody even saw play because the games came on after we were fast asleep. That, my friends, is baseball, a game so great that not even the idiots who run it can kill it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Making Fenway Memories

What are your most vivid Fenway memories? I don't necessarily mean the best ones, just memories etched upon your consciousness...good or bad.

1. Much like Fever Pitch, that first walk up the ramp to see the resplendent verdant field, can never be forgotten.

2. "Loop towards shortstop. Petrocelli's back, he's got it, and the Red Sox win it! And there is pandemonium on the field...Listen!" -- Ned Martin's call of the final out of the 1967 Boston Red Sox "Impossible Dream" regular season (station was WHDH AM 850) I remember jumping around my parents' front yard deliriously after the Sox won. More than anything else, that season put the Red Sox on the map.

3. I attended a game against the Angels (I think) in the 60's, and during a rain delay, a groundskeeper keeled over (? heart attack) while running out the tarpaulin. "Baseball isn't a matter of life and death, it's a lot more important than that." Not that night.

4. Reggie Smith throwing out Dave McNally trying to score on a sac fly. Smith caught the ball just in front of the 379 mark in left center, and gunned out the Orioles pitcher. Wow. I saw Bo Jackson do something similar at Memorial Stadium in the first baseball game my son ever attended (a rain delayed affair).

5. The Sox being shut down 2-0 on a Jim Palmer two-hitter. Fisk had a double off the monster, but Palmer was totally dominating.

6. Mariano Rivera warming up in the enemy pen. The Sox trailed 3-0, and Rivera calmly delivered fastball (inside) or cutter (outside) on the corners with that familiar pop of the mitt that comes with 95 mph heat. I knew the game was over before Rivera ever left the pen. 1-2-3. Over.

7. B.J. Surhoff backing up third in a meaningless Game 162, in the eighth inning with the Orioles trailing 8-3 on a single to right with the runner going first to third. The game meant NOTHING, but Surhoff played like a pro up to the end.

8. Dwight Evans robbing Joe Morgan in extra innings in the 1975 World Series, turning a game-winning hit into a double play. Evans won't ever get into the Hall, but he was a helluva player.

9. Yaz delivering a single to center to tie Minnesota 2-2 in that final game of 1967. Yaz had the greatest season imaginable that year.

10. Yaz popping out to Nettles to end the 1978 season, as Gossage challenged him and got him with high heat. Some guy named Dent put a little hurt on the Sox that day, too.

These don't necessarily represent the most important events in Sox history, but just a few that meant something to me. How about your memories?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hearts and Minds

Question. If you 'run' the Red Sox as a business, what is your first off-season priority?

Answer. Restore credibility in the franchise, which didn't just underachieve, but embarrassed itself taking some lickings at the hands of Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and their ilk.

Question. How do you accomplish that?

Answer. The American League has become the league of both pitching and OFFENSE. Statistically, the Sox had two superior players (David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez) and one productive player (Youkilis), and the remainder of the lineup chipped in here and there, but no baseball afficionado would consider the rest of the lineup offensive dynamos.

Question. Where do you start?

Answer. Short of getting back Hanley Ramirez (not happening), the Sox need to rebuild the offense, starting with another power hitter, hoping that a healthy Coco Crisp can get the job done in center field. Is Carlos Lee or Alfonso Soriano a possibility? Where will Youkilis hit?. He strikes out a lot to be in the two slot, but on the other hand, the Sox aren't going to become a running team either.

Question? Do you want another quality starter or a closer?

Answer. That's like asking do you walk to school or take the bus? It doesn't matter how you get there, you need to get there. Presuming the current rotation is Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, and Jonathan Papelbon, with two aging veterans, if you're going to get pitching you can't get another Matt Clement. Yes, Jason Schmidt is available, but does he want the East Coast cauldron, or just the dollars?

Tomo Ohka is better than some appreciate and of course, Sox killer Ted Lilly would look good NOT pitching against the Sox.

Question. Who's your middle infield?

Answer. I could live with Alex Cora at shortstop (if you get what you need offensively elsewhere), but I've expressed my concerns about Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia hit better when he stopped overswinging, but his ability to 1) go to his right and 2) make plays off the BACKHAND really bothered me. If the Sox are paying attention, they saw Pedroia repeatedly come off the bag at second, often because he refused to play balls with his backhand.

When Papelbon first came up, he was tipping his pitches. I won't say what he was doing, but suffice it to say that he corrected it, and the rest is history. Only time and a full spring will tell whether Pedroia can make the adjustments. Adam Kennedy is available in Free Agency as is Julio Lugo, after whom the Sox inexplicably lust.

Everyone waits for everyone else to 'set' the market, but sometimes the best answer is to 'strike while the iron is hot'. Oh to be a fly on the wall at least Theo Epstein doesn't have to fetch coffee for the Business Side anymore.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Hot Stove League Begins

The Red Sox announced that about 81 percent of existing ticket prices would remain unchanged for the 2007 season. I'm sure that relieves many of our anxieties that tickets could actually get expensive.

"America's Most Beloved Ballpark" already had the highest price tag for a family outing of four, currently only requiring a second mortgage, a downgrade to regular from high test, turning the heat down to 60 at night, and buying only generic turkey hot dogs for weeks.

If I can find my Game 1 ticket stub from the bleachers in 1975, I think it will show $4.75 for attending a World Series opener. Now that's almost the price for a bottle of water. Well, water is the commodity of the 21st Century, and I'm sure that Mr. Henry will confirm that, although a lot of other commodities haven't treated him so well in the recent past.

Of course, that also means that 19 percent of ticket prices will rise. I guess I'd like to sit in the Monster Seats someday, and that'll probably only cost me about an arm and a leg as they say. As for sitting in the newer roof boxes or a luxury box, that would be great, but not at the cost of getting a chance to sit atop the 37 foot wall.

Now that the World Series is over (thank goodness), we can talk baseball again. The 1968 Series had more intriguing characters with Gibson, McLain, Lolich, and so on, and I don't remember it raining all the time. Of course, that was quite awhile ago, when they played World Series games during the day. Do the Sox try to get younger and more athletic (excepting Ortiz and Ramirez), or do they bring in overaged, overpaid, over-the-hill veterans looking to pay up to the luxury tax.

As currently constituted, we can't say the Sox can't compete for a championship, because we don't really know what team will be on the field next season. The Sox tried to go pitching and defense last year, and ended up with solid infield defense, bad pitching (stats don't lie), and anemic offense. Meatloaf never wrote a song "One out of Three Ain't Bad", because frankly, that doesn't work.

Schilling and Wakefield are old. Wily veterans or accidents about to happen? Beckett has to adjust to the Hitters' League, Papelbon (we hope) should be fine, and Sox fans everywhere wish Jon Lester well, but can't expect him to play next season. The Sox now have no reliable closer, unless Keith Foulke is habituating Golds' Gym or Lourdes, and as for Mike Timlin, see Schilling and Wakefield. Delcarmen, Hansen, Edgar Martinez, Breslow, and the rest could work out, or not. Jamie Moyer could get over 10 million dollars from Philly (as long as he doesn't belong to AARP), so any pitching won't come cheap.

Offensively, the Sox don't compete with the Yankees, Indians, White Sox, and some of the better AL offenses. Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis were barely adequate for corner infielders offensively. Coco Crisp gets a pass for playing hurt, and we don't know about Wily Mo. The Yankees have apparently signed Sheffield, so he's not the answer, and forget about Barry Bonds. Carlos Lee?

The Sox front office must have moved past its dysfunctional self from last winter, so we can anticipate a more coordinated approach. As they say, "money can't play", but the charge for the Baseball Ops side is to find guys who can, and money's just a tool.

Farewell to Trot Nixon, who played hard and sometimes hurt. The bases clearing double in the World Series will be his signature Red Sox moment.

This offseason determines the future direction for the Red Sox, who have to get better on both sides of the ball, get younger, and ultimately more productive from the farm. But don't cry for the business side, because they're raking it in.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Strategic Initiatives

Let's pretend that we're the 'collective' GM for the Boston Red Sox. How would we approach the retooling of the franchise for the upcoming season? Some issues for consideration including pitching, defense, offense, reorganization of the minor leagues (development versus free agency), budgeting, coaching staff changes, and the role of sabermetrics (quantitative player analysis).

I don't see any tectonic organizational shift away from 'Moneyball', particularly because 1) John Henry believes in trends and 2) it worked well enough prior to this season.

Coaching staff changes grab some headlines, but don't promise transcendental performance shifts. Ron Jackson and Dave Wallace departures don't translate into major win-loss shifts.

You can reorganize the minor leagues, but like commodity infrastructure (planning oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico) doesn't change the end product for years to come. The Sox minor leagues seem to underproduce major league players relative to the Clevelands and Minnesotas of the world, or at least it seems that way.

Will the Red Sox open up their checkbooks for free agents? Who's out there? What's the competition bidding? Do their needs mesh with the Red Sox? Obviously a lot depends on the Sox approach to Manny Ramirez. Do they end up paying Manny's salary fractionally for someone else, only to end up paying Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee? This doesn't sound that attractive to me.

From an offensive standpoint, the Sox didn't have an inferiority compley, they were inferior. If you accept the outfield of Ramirez, Coco Crisp (obviously played hurt), and Wily Mo Pena, then how do you fix the infield production? Kevin Youkilis nullifies the salary of Mike Lowell, and the pair produced more than the Sox could have expected, with Lowell making a solid comeback. If you picked up Soriano to play second, you sacrifice defense for offense, a trade most Sox fans would do. At best, the jury is out on Dustin Pedroia, who had holes both in the field and at the bat.

Defense might win championships in football, but arguably the best defense in the AL (statistics aren't perfect here) didn't come close for Boston. Jason Varitek's injury exposed the Sox lack of catching depth, and the Javy Lopez acquisition compounded it. Lopez lacked either the skills or the interest to get the job done.

Which brings us naturally back to pitching, with issues at both the front end (the age of Schilling and Wakefield, the health of Papelbon and Lester, the mental framework of Beckett), and the back end. With Papelbon into the rotation, the Sox have openings throughout the bullpen. Getting another premium starter might free Wakefield to assume a more versatile role, and where Timlin (free agent), Foulke, Breslow, Delcarmen, and Hansen fit in remains to be seen.

Although the Sox have a lot of talent at the 'A' level, I dount that they expect much immediate help from the higher minors.

Yahoo has a list of the best baseball free agents available, including some possible Sox targets, like Jason Schmidt, Ted Lilly, Soriano, Adam Eaton, or Frank Catalanotto. Lilly and Catalanotto are Sox killers, and addition by subtraction from other rosters. And as for Nomar at 3 years for 35 million, I'd consider that stealing, by Nomar, whose productivity will almost certainly be limited by age and injuries if not declining skill.

We know that Theo and the Baseball Bunch are probably at work now trying to rebuild the franchise. We can only hope they get some luck, which always trumps skill.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Theo Epstein: Stewardship or Sewership

You don't have to know rocket science or the Theory of Relativity to understand the depth of concern that Red Sox fans have for the organizational direction. Not since 1966 has the franchise appeared so mediocre but not average as the Sox did during the final two months of 2006.

From 2003 to 2005, the Red Sox finished second in the AL East three times, advanced each year t to the American League playoffs, and won the World Series in 2004. To an extent, long-suffering Sox fans give the organization a mulligan for 2006, including a disastrous series of illness and injuries and trades that (as always) require longer samples to judge fully. By what metric can we baseball outsiders judge the performance of the front office, most notably, Brookline's Theo Epstein.
The GM stated, “We were a strong club. We took on so many holes because of injuries. With those gaps we got to a certain performance level . . .”

Last offseason the Sox wallowed in confusion, the Gang of Four at the Winter Meetings, key Sox front office figures defecting to other organizations, and a rumored bitter power struggle extant between Larry Lucchino and Epstein. Epstein apparently won, although we cannot know the terms of Lucchino's surrender. The Sox at least head into this offseason with a stable staff, although we must determine how we will evaluate Epstein going forward.

Obviously, Baseball Operations require 'bottom line' evaluation. Did the Sox win (enough), and if not, was the failure tactical or strategic? A strategic goal would include minor league development, to allow the Sox to compete for a championship annually, with a manageable payroll? Another strategic goal (including the business side) requires revenue growth to service debt, and improve the finances for capital expenditures on players. A third strategic goal includes defining the core of the team and securing its presence. As a corollary, extending David Ortiz's contract satisfies part of that goal of attracting and retaining talent. A fourth strategic choice is the use of Sabermetric evaluation versus 'traditional' player evaluation.

Epstein seems to have the people skills and communications ability to succeed.

Tactical skills might include roster management (trades, free agency, player acquisition), talent evaluation, contract negotiation, and interaction with other franchises. A trade might pay immediate dividends (Pedro Martinez last year) but prove inadvisable later (Pedro Martinez' 2006 campaign and pending shoulder surgery).

Even the most compulsive fans (include many of us here) have problems evaluating both the strategic and tactical plan. Theo Epstein has said,
“It's not time enough for a really adequate sample size, but we have to be patient." I sense a number of solid pitching prospects at the lower levels (Doubront, Bard, Johnson, Masterson, etc), some progress in the middle (Buchholz, Hottovy, Dobies), and question marks concerning the upper levels (including the development of Hansen, Lester's health, and so on). The business strategies have likely remained on track (Lucchino's doing), and the core of the team has become old (Schilling, Wakefield), frayed (Varitek), or declining (Nixon). Pedroia will get the chance to have a full spring training to show what kind of player he can be, given time to make considerable adjustments.

We will likely assess Epstein's value over the offseason, as he faces a housecleaning challenge worthy of Hrecules and the Augean stables. While 2006's failures can be attributed to bad luck and performance dropoff beyond statistical norms, even the most 'patient' fans won't endure another season on the fringe with equanimity. To quote Theo Epstein,
“It's not fair to attribute my decision to any one factor or any one person... there were many factors that went into the decision. I'm sure that all Sox fans agree with Epstein's sentiment, “We want to win 95 games next year and get back into the postseason. We want to try to do that every year.”

They say that you shouldn't judge a cake before it's baked. Don't bet that Sox fans believe that too strongly. GMs have to adapt, just as players do. Fans won't adapt to losing.

This offseason will determine both the direction of the Sox and their GM. No matter what Epstein does, wins and losses will determine his legacy.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Schadenfreude: Tigers Win! Tigers Win!

The Red Sox and the Yankees share a cosmic connection, one often affirming the Universal Law of the Conservation of Happiness - boon for the Red Sox is anathema for the Yankees. And the Curse of He Who Must Never Be Named lives on.

I traveled to a conference in August and met a former Yankee employee at the most unlikely of places, the Lazy J Ranch not far from Vail. He explained how the Yankees would not win the World Series this year, just as they had failed the past five seasons. George Steinbrenner had fired him not long before the 2001 World Series. He didn't sulk, whine, or complain. His wife cursed the Yankees.

We all realize the futility in curse belief, especially in a game where dollars, not sense rules team composition. The Benjamins flow freely in their beloved Bronx, to the point that acquiring more than 20 million dollars in payroll in late July becomes not the norm but the expectation. The Connecticut Yankee Carl Pavano has turned out to be the biggest bust of the Tampa connection, and in the definition of irony, former Yankee Kenny Rogers did in the Bombers last night, and Jeremy Bonderman, another component in a Yankee trade finished the job tonight.

Yankee fans rightly ask, what joy do Red Sox fans derive from the Tigers victory tonight? Sox fans understand that our team not only underachieved but collapsed down the stretch, and had no claim on the brass ring. But many had proclaimed this the Yankees' year, one in which the stars aligned, and the 'greatest lineup of modern times' would carry the legendary franchise to Nirvana.

Yankee fans might argue that the best team didn't win. Baseball purists surely respond that the better lineup didn't win, but the superior team did. Jim Leyland's career sub .500 managerial record doesn't seem to matter much when it comes to slaying the Yankee dragon. History didn't matter, or the frustrations of a city that has endured economic travails from declining industry and an abysmal housing market. For one day at least, Detroit basks in the sweet sunshine of victory and wallowing in the darkness of defeat, the mighty Yankees have struck out.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Walking to the Finish Line

Baseball's annual marathon ends today for the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Last night only reinforced the contradictions of 2006, with the Sox squandering a lead in the ninth inning. Absent Jonathan Papelbon in the closer role, Mike Timlin couldn't finish off the Birds, and Kevin Millar laced a hit off the wall to provide the coup de gras.

Manny Ramirez made a cameo appearance at DH, and homered. Revisionists still call for Manny's ouster (amidst his annual trade requests), ignoring his productivity. Yes, he is a troubled employee, but a useful one.

The Red Sox West (San Diego) gets into the playoffs behind David Wells, and lets not forget Dave Roberts, Cla Meredith, Josh Bard, and others.

Sox fans say 'farewell' (maybe) to Trot Nixon today, and I hope they reward his service with a lengthy standing ovation. Nixon may not have been a great player, but played hard and often hurt. I've asked my wife (who's going to the game with a friend) to do her part in saluting Nixon.
The Boston Globe interviews Theo Epstein today, getting his perspective on what went wrong. Events conspired against the Sox this season, but the team clearly didn't have championship material this year.

Does he or doesn't he? Only his trainer knows. Ross Grimsley may have implicated Roger Clemens in the 'performance-enhancing' substance user group. Innocent until proven guilty, until Congress passes a law revising that...Roger, remember the two most important words in Washington, this and every year, "plausibile deniability."

Book Reports.
Don't forget to get your copy of Little League, Big Dreams, the latest tour de force from Charles Euchner, author of The Last Nine Innings. You'll never view Williamsport quite the same.

And for those with a broader dimension than baseball, Louise Richardson has written the definitive, scholarly introduction to understanding terrorism, What Terrorists Want -the three R's of revenge, renown, and reaction.

Friday, September 29, 2006


The Red Sox won't be going to the postseason, but they haven't mailed it in. Tonight they won their ninth consecutive home victory over the Orioles, holding off the Birds 4-3, with Julian Tavarez finishing the season at 5-4 and Mike Timlin picking up his ninth save.

Trot Nixon had an ofer but hit the ball hard several times as he plays out his season as the Sox member with the longest continuous service. Nixon, plagued by injuries, becomes a free agent at the conclusion of the season.

Mike Lowell had a pair of hits and closes in on 80 RBI to accompany 19 homers as he becomes a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. Lowell will also duel Eric Chavez for Gold Glove at third base, and turned in another gem tonight, making a leaping grab of a liner.

Dustin Pedroia played shortstop tonight and turned in a sharp DP with Mark Loretta on a shot up the middle. Pedroia has impressive college and minor league credentials and continues to get his feet wet as he tries to make the leap to the next level.

Trade Manny Ramirez? Sox fans got another vision of life without Manny as David Ortiz had another three walks and gets almost nothing to hit. Ortiz has 119 walks on the season, 10 in the last 10 games and 6 in the past 2. So as the Cosa Nostra might say, "you want protection, you gotta pay for it." Ortiz and Manny both need protection, and although Wily Mo Pena has promise, is he ready for prime time.

In the midst of 'Fan Appreciation Weekend', the Sox are airing spots with players thanking the fans for their support. While we may be disappointed at the outcome, I don't think we should disrespect the effort. To paraphrase Jim Bouton, "all your life you think you have a grip on the baseball, and you find out it's the other way around."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Red Sox Dysfunctional Family: Who's in Charge?

"Victory has a thousand fathers; defeat is an orphan."

John Henry remains the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox. Henry enjoyed remarkable success both in money management and professional baseball, as two of his teams have captured World Series Championships. Most Sox fans view Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino as the business operations side, and General Manager Theo Epstein as the head of Baseball Operations. We all have heard of the infighting between Lucchino and his proxies with GM Epstein over control of the baseball side of the house.

Where does the post-mortem begin on the 2006 edition of the Boston Red Sox? First, we can examine the Red Sox as a business, with Forbes reporting Red Sox total revenue as $171 million in 2002. We know that Larry Lucchino runs the business side of the house, and the Sox have continually poured money into upgrading both Fenway Park's amenities and its capacity. According to Nintendorks (via Forbes) the Sox increased their revenue to 201 million in 2005, and surely with additional seating capacity and ticket price increases probably increased it toward 220 million dollars in 2006.

Increasing your estimated business revenue almost 30 percent (and fifty million dollars) in four years deserves recognition. Kudos for the achievement and notoriety for gouging fans. But those same fans received playoff appearances from 2003 to 2005 and a World Series title in 2004. Of course, it's baseball, and we ask, "what have you done for me lately."

The 2006 Hot Stove season started poorly, with Epstein's departure in a gorilla suit, contentious negotiations with "the Man Who Would Be King" Larry Lucchino, and the return of the Prodigal Son amidst other defections in the organization. Josh Byrnes left to become Arizona GM, followed not long after by Peter Woodfork, another high ranking Baseball Operations professional.

The Red Sox sent four cooks to the Winter Meetings, and after most of the smoke had cleared, had dealt uber-prospect Hanley Ramirez and a promising AA pitcher Anibal Sanchez to the Marlins for Josh Beckett, ostensibly a top of the rotation pitcher and Mike Lowell, looking for resurrection after a forgettable 2005 season. The Marlins got young talent and eliminated salary. The Red Sox believed they enhanced their pitching and defense. Epstein was still incognito when the Beckett deal went down, and with Beckett ultimately signed to an extension, final judgement of that transaction will require years. Superficially, the Marlins have taken the early lead based on both Ramirez' and Sanchez' production and potential for Florida.

Later the Sox added Coco Crisp, trading Andy Marte, the prostpect they had received for moving Edgar Renteria, the unflappable shortstop, who flopped in Boston.

Epstein and management must have believed that with better defense, another starter, and a player ready to break out (Crisp), that they had overcome both the production and public relations losses of the Johnny Damon signing by archrival New York.

The Red Sox started fast, and despite extended absence by Crisp (injured hand), led the AL East for most of the first half. Following the All-Star break however, the team totally collapsed. On July 11th, the Red Sox were 53-33, leading the division by 3 games. By the trading deadline (July 31), the Sox had slipped to 63-41, still leading the Yankees by a game, but Jason Varitek was now injured.

Theo Epstein was vilified for 'not making the deal' to acquire fresh (and expensive) production, while the Yankees acted and got Bobby Abreu, with a high price tag attached. Since that time, the Sox are 20-33.

They enter tonight, 83-74, having gone 30-41 since Michael Young's All-Star base hit, playing .423 baseball. Kansas City, last at 31-56 at that time, is now 58-98, having played 27-42, two games worse than the Sox since the break. I take little comfort in knowing that Baltimore has won 27 games and Tampa has won only 21 games since the break.

I think inaction at the trading deadline was probably the smartest move the Sox front office made all season, as they obviously saw the handwriting on the wall. In addition to Varitek's injury, Tim Wakefield's absence, Jon Lester's cancer, Jonathan Papelbon's shoulder problems and the collapse of the surrounding bullpen cast doomed the season. "Pulling the trigger" at the trading deadline, unless Sandy Koufax and Frank Robinson circa 1966 were available, wouldn't have revived the Sox' season.

The current Sox, using the Parcellian metric of 'you are what you do', belong in the bottom third of Major League power rankings. The Sox are 1oth in runs scored (lower in runs/game) and 13th in OPS (.738) after the break. They are tied for 11th with Tampa in ERA (5.21) after the break.

But who stands accountable for this disaster? Terry Francona can't shoulder the blame with injuries and poor play leaving the Sox underwater concerning runs scored (798) to runs allowed (805). Pinning the blame on the manager, while traditional, would be misfounded. Scapegoating Manny Ramirez borders on the ridiculous, as Manny and David Ortiz are responsible for about 40 percent of the team's offense. Player accountability tends to be elusive, in an era of high salary and lower responsibility.

As we enter the final week of the season, with the ship still taking on water, we still don't know who's in charge. We can't know what the plan is to restructure and revitalize the 2007 edition of the Sox. We can plainly see that the 2006 Sox have silenced Lucchino's braggadocio and Epstein's hubris, while John Henry's trading woes have him licking his wounds.

The Sox have leaks everywhere except from the boardroom. Fans sense the Chinese wall between Lucchino and Epstein, although who really knows? Can both survive if Henry decides that a purge is needed? One senses that loyalty to the money man will keep Lucchino around. But can a new GM flourish in Lucchino's shadow? Until management gets its act together concerning Baseball Ops, fans wonder whether winning baseball will return to baseball's Athens.

Monday, September 25, 2006

"Making Adjustments"

We often hear about the importance of making adjustments to become a successful major league player. Opponents and high tech scouting will find and exploit weaknesses mercilessly. Are you tipping a pitch? Are you unable to hit the inside fastball? Are you a sucker for gas upstairs or the breaking stuff away? Players who want to have an extended career have to analyze and adapt to minimize their weaknesses while emphasizing their strengths.

Fans need to make adjustments, too. We don't have to carry water for players who can't produce, or blindly worship 'laundry'. On the other hand, if the Sox put the Vienna Boys' Choir on the field, they might be great guys, but they won't win anything. As a fan, I can live with Manny Ramirez, who may not be a 24/7 effort guy, but whose results far exceed the marginal player, high effort guys like Steve Lyons. Guys like Lyons might hang around the majors for a lengthy career, through pluck and versatility, but you can't win with too many of them, and not enough Mannys.

Everyone recognized Mickey Mantle was a Hall of Famer. And most everyone knew that he lived hard, which is to say, played hard and loose off the field as well, a celebrated disciple of Bacchus. Should it matter to me what a player does off the field, as long as he produces between the lines? Should I care if he drinks to excess or thinks breakfast is the last meal of the day instead of the first? Where is the line?

Is the measurement of a player VORP (value over replacement player), Win Shares, or the sum total of his contribution to the team's success? Hypothetically, let's presume that Player A, your centerfielder hits .250 with 16 homers and 70 RBI, fields his position at a high level, has flawless ethical standards, community contribution, and is a leader in the clubhouse. Player B, your first baseman, hits .330, with 40 homers and 130 RBI, but is a self-absorbed boorish jerk in the clubhouse, who also constantly flirts with other players' wives and girlfriends. Can your team accept the behavior of Player B because he produces? Can your team live with your outfielder's production even though he's a model citizen?

We've all heard that players use salary as a yardstick or hierarchical scoreboard. As fans, we don't have such a one-dimensional tool to decide our feelings about a player or coach. We want production, but we can't 'love' pariahs or thugs. The greatest community guy in the world can't be our favorite if he can't play. The ultimate media darling, moonlighting as a philandering lush who embodies mediocrity might get a pass, because the media's on his side. I want the team to be successful, and if I hear an incredibly negative, verifiable story about a player, I'm not going to torpedo him.

But are there limits? If a guy portrays himself as a Saint, and prowls the bars each night, who's the hypocrite, the player or the media telling the big lie? If the public image and the private truth conflict, does the writer simply acknowledge that 'you can't handle the truth?' And if the media becomes the problem with biased reporting, who speaks for the player?

We all make adjustments. Sometimes we call them ethics, other times discretion, and rarely indiscretion. We can only hope that players make adjustments off the field, too.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Playing Out the String Theory

You have to ask yourself why you're still turning on NESN (or to watch the Red Sox. David Ortiz has assured that Jimmy Foxx's record has left the building, and the battle for second place in the AL East has all the intensity of watching your lawn grow. So why tune in? Because you're part of the Matt Clement watch? Because you can't get enough Bobblehead and brown tee-shirt talk from Don and Jerry?

Play the kids the rest of the way. Can David Murphy generate enough to become a fourth outfielder? Would looking at Brandon Moss (Eastern League playoff MVP) be such a bad thing?

Playing out the season leads into the Hot Stove League, and the Red Sox have plenty of work to do. An author in the Red Sox newsgroup noted that the Red Sox have only three players with above average OPS, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Kevin Youkilis, with Wily Mo Pena qualifying with limited at bats. Conversely, the AL East Champion had seven. And all media people can talk about is jettisoning Ramirez. His disappearing act down the stretch has been a non-factor.

Sox fans have to ask a lot of questions, like was this just an off-year for Jason Varitek, or has the odometer (over 1000 games catching) turned over? In the hitting rich AL, was a defense rich team capable of competing? Will the Red Sox again try to move Manny, their protection for David Ortiz? Can Wily Mo Pena become protection for Manny, and be a thirty homer guy? Did Coco Crisp fail because of ability, pressure, injuries, or some combination? Can he do better? What caused Trot Nixon's play to fall off the cliff?

Will Jon Papelbon be healthy, and if so, does he go into the rotation? Which Josh Beckett will show up? Can the Sox find another closer, or is Keith Foulke the bargain solution? Can aging Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield pitch effectively as Father Time gains on them? Does Mike Timlin have anything left in the tank? Do Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen have the physical and mental makeup to succeed? Can Jon Lester overcome cancer and become a factor?
Can Dustin Pedroia play? The hyped second base prospect came up with an oversized swing, AND shows no ability to play with the backhand. He tries to play everything in front of him, which affects his ability to go to his right and turn the double play. Witness last night's fiasco when he tried to play the Lowell throw without backhanding it, forcing him off the base. They teach you that in Infield 101.

There's the old saw about 'money can't play' and 'on paper'. What is plain as the tip of your nose is that the Red Sox are old, mostly not very athletic, and as 'Moneyball' devotees, they've got to see the obvious. The Sox have question marks everywhere on the pitching staff, the infield, and the outfield. The talk of trading one of their two legitimate offensive stars without adequate replacement borders on insanity, unless Boston scribes want to write about a seventy-two and ninety team, and thinking that the Sox have to 'blow it up' because this year's team 'blew it' isn't crazy. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", but it's hurtin' for certain.

With Bill James among the Baseball Operations team, let's presume that James' creation, Win Shares, actually has meaning. The Hardball Times has a searchable Win Shares database. The two AL leaders in Win Shares are Derek Jeter (31) and Joe Mauer (29). For simplicity, 30 is usually the level of an MVP season, and 20 is about All-Star caliber. Manny Ramirez clocks in third at 28, Ortiz fourth at 27 (Ortiz gets no defensive Win Shares, Ramirez had 2), and Youkilis had 22. Papelbon had 16 before injury forced him to shut it down.

In addition to Jeter, the Bombers hold positions 14, 16, 17, and 21, courtesy of A-Rod, Damon, Giambi, and Posada. One would expect if Bobby Abreu played a full season for New York, that he'd be a top twenty guy, as would Matsui and Sheffield. The top pitcher is Johan Santana at number 9.

Maybe what's worse is that Freddy Sanchez (14) has 24 win shares for Pittsburgh, Hanely Ramirez (19) had 23 for Florida, Bronson Arroyo (35) had 19 for Cincy, Dave Roberts (36) has 19 for the Padres, and Edgar Renteria (19) has 18 for Atlanta. Heck, Nomar has 16 for the Dodgers, Derek Lowe 13, and even Cla Meredith has 8 for San Diego. I guess the good news is that Pedro has 7 win shares for 13 million dollars (still going to the playoffs) and Bill Mueller has 3 for the Dodgers.

I guess I'm a Soxaholic, and I can't help myself from watching. But Fenway has become the House of Pain. What's your excuse?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Repeat Yourself

Every day belongs to history, but not every day feels 'historic'. Last night David Ortiz, a Twins' castoff, tied the Red Sox single season home run record (50) of Jimmy Foxx, against the Twins. Tonight Ortiz eclipsed Foxx, slugging his record-breaker against the best pitcher in the AL, Johann Santana. Ortiz shot reminded me of the blasts Harmon Killebrew hit, carrying almost endlessly courtesy of backspin, this one landing behind the Red Sox bullpen. Later, the Sox fan favorite clubbed his fifty-second homer to punctuate the achievement.

The 2006 season had become what might have been, instead of what we hoped it would become. An All-Star start turned into a second half nightmare. Inconsistency, injury and the serious illness of promising lefthander Jon Lester, made us pine for another time.

Those of us on the wrong side of fifty have seen great sluggers of Red Sox history grace Fenway Park. I'm not quite old enough to remember Ted Williams swing in person, but his 521 homers recall that sweet swing. In the sixties, Carl Yastrzemski and Rico Petrocelli did the long-ball damage, with too short a span for Tony C. Let's not totally forget Dick 'Dr. Strangeglove' Stuart. The seventies gave us the 'modern' expansion of Red Sox lore, with Rice and Lynn, Yaz, Fisk, Evans, Hobson and more, driving them from the ballyard. Without Bernie Carbo's blast, Fisk never gets a chance for heroics. The eighties was still a time for Evans, and Tony Armas, too. And recent times meant Manny and Ortiz.

Sox fans remember the great enemy sluggers, too. The Yankees brought Mantle and Maris, and Reg-gie, the Orioles had the Robinsons and Boog Powell, Detroit Kaline, Willie Horton, and Gates Brown. Canseco and McGwire stir memories, as do Larry Hisle, Frank Howard, Rocky Colavito, Travis Hafner, Fred McGriff, Albert Belle, and more.

Yet Ortiz rules the roost among the Red Sox greatest sluggers, not only for what he brings to the plate, but his presence in the clubhouse, and the community. While some Sox might revel in being idiots, Ortiz reigned with dignity, grace, and smiles.

As great as he has been, he has been underappreciated for his unique talent, to come in cold off the bench, drive in runners and send baseballs far into the night.

Thank you for your redemption of this disappointing and frustrating season. Your smile lights up the ballpark. And that is a very good deed.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Needing the Phoenix, Don't give the Sox the Bird

Has the Nation gone soft? Have our collective weakness atrophied that limbic enmity reserved for the Bronx Bombers? Is the theory that depression arises from anger turned inward become reality? The four game 'Armageddon' against the Yankees has become the equivalent of spring training, not even worthy of traditional 'salary drive' play.

The reality show called "MLB" has kicked the Red Sox off the island. Maybe they swallowed too much sea water, or sprained their collective ankles, or just didn't want it enough. Partitioning the blame hasn't become the sport du jour, as, mercifully, it's football season.

What went wrong? Maybe the season was doomed from the start, doomed by overconfidence in a "geriatric" pitching staff, overreliance on promising but inexperienced youth, and offensive holes that revealed themselves in a discouragingly narrow 'Pythagorean' equation, manifested as an inadequate run differential. Huh? The Red Sox won more than their share of close games, saved by Jonathan Papelbon, but often lost games that weren't close because the pitching simply wasn't good enough.

Three major events intersected to doom the 2006 Red Sox. The injury to Jason Varitek, exposing the soft underbelly of the staff, the loss of Tim Wakefield, who provides stability and innings on a regular basis, and a general offensive drop off.

Some blame the 'Sabremetricians', the 'Moneyball' crowd. Pre All-Star break, the Sox had an OPS of .823 and 486 runs scored, both 3rd in the AL. Post All-Star break, the Sox are 12th in OPS at .742 and 9th in runs scored (276) in 62 games, about 4.4 runs per game.

Pre All-Star break, the pitchers compiled a 4.52 ERA (8th), a 1.36 WHIP (6th), and a K/BB ratio of 2.26 (3rd). The latter predicted MORE successful second half results. Post break, the K/BB is 1.92 (9th), ERA 5.21 (11th), and WHIP 1.57 (12th). The aggregate pitching and offensive results easily explain how the Sox moved from the penthouse to the outhouse, amongst the Royals, Orioles, and D-Rays in AL futility.

In summary, no mystery exists concerning the Sox collapse. The collective personnel changes and performance, statistically or observationally, brought the Sox from contenders to pretenders. Affixing the responsibility of not making 'deadline deals' borders on the absurd, as the Sox lived not on the edge of contention but on the fringe of despair. Throwing good money after bad would have accomplished nothing short of appeasement of the unrealistic.

The Sox need to get younger and better in the pitching staff (perhaps Papelbon and Beckett, if both can maintain or regain health will help), and stabilize the lineup with quality leadoff hitting, and more production from the 5-6 spots in the lineup. The Sox cannot rely on an injured and declining Trot Nixon, a fatiguing Mike Lowell, and have to wonder what Jason Varitek's future offensive production will be. The upper minors do not appear to be overladen with position players who are on the cusp of stardom, and the lower minors' pitching depth presumably will require a couple of years of seasoning.

Theo Epstein and ownership face a tall order this off-season, as the 'transition year' became a 'disaster year' as the Sox slipped into the bottom quartile, yes bottom fourth of major league teams. Talent discrepancy, not effort, becomes the focus. Ownership's focus must be to restore the talent level to compete with other franchises on the rise.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Papel-Bon Voyage

Jon Papelbon and the Red Sox have elected to 'shut down' the Red Sox righthanded reliever and closer in a precautionary move as the Sox have fallen out of contention for the Wild Card spot. Papelbon, holder of the Red Sox rookie record for saves and a dominant closer for much of the season looks forward to coming back as a starter next season.

The Red Sox had many problems down the stretch, amidst poor pitching, injuries and illness, and a lack of offense, particularly with injuries to Manny Ramirez, inconsistency from the lead off spot, and aside from David Ortiz, almost no clutch hitting.

Can the Sea Dogs' quest for an Eastern League title against Akron hold your interest while the Sox go down like a lead anchor? No, I didn't think so.

Even the rivalry series with the Yankees has become something of a joke, with back to back day-night doubleheaders. I hope that all loyal Sox fans have laid in a heavy supply of caffeine to watch these games.

Perhaps as bad as the near total collapse of the team has been the struggles of promising young players down the stretch. Dustin Pedroia, the little man with a very big swing, has looked sharp in the field and anemic at the plate. David Murphy suffers from ROOTS (royal order of the splinter), and Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen have just struggled down the stretch. Growing pains indeed.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Friday Night Lightweights

The lightweight Kansas City Royals came into town, the same Royals who rarely win on the road, and mounted a ninth inning counter-offensive to defeat the Sox, 10-9. KC had a comfortable 8-3 lead entering the bottom of the ninth before Jason Varitek rifled his twefth roundtripper of the season into the pen, and David Ortiz stroked two out lightning into left to put the Sox up. An inspirational comeback victory, right?

Unfortunately, sans Jonathan Papelbon (yes, subluxed would be a good Scrabble word), the bullpen couldn't hold it. After Manny Delcarmen got touched for three runs by KC, Mike Timlin surrendered a pair of Royal pains in the ninth to give the cellar-dwellers the win. Adding insult to injury, former Sox hurler Joe Nelson got the save.

Last night's debacle provided a microcosm of the late season action. Inconsistent pitching, often inconsistent hitting, and a painful loss, rendered less important by the antecedent Sox collapse.

I don't think that the Sox should be waving the white flag from the dugout, but I'm all for seeing what some of the youngsters can do.

Meanwhile, in Portland, the Sea Dogs are up 2-1 in their best-of-five Eastern League semifinal. Jacoby Ellsbury and George Kattaras, he of the Wells trade, seem to be doing the heavy lifting. Let's hope that they aren't relearning the traditional September 'salary drive' that we suffered through for most of antiquity.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Darn Those Sox

The Red Sox entertain the Wild Card pursuing Chicago White Sox tonight at Fenway Park. The Chisox are locked in a struggle with the Minnesota Twins for the final AL playoff spot.

Along with the four dollar waters, the Sox must be handing out 'No-Doze' and Jolt Cola. But why? They could probably have paid for a new 'Sleep Laboratory' to help finance whatever the coming offseason seating addition will be.

Tonight's action generated so much excitement that they not only showed a concession contractor asleep in the runway, they had sideline announcer Tina Cervasio wake him up and interview him.
At least when Sean McDonough was the announcer, they had the courtesy or humility to flash an 'Inane Banter' bulletin.

Aside from the 'wicked' beating the White Sox have dished out, we've learned a lot. Jose Contreras has one of the best forkballs in baseball. If I had a nickel for every time they've told us, I could retire. Jerry Remy will be at the Red Sox Hall of Fame dinner along with Walt Hriniak, he of the helicopter swing, the hitting coach who helped Dwight Evans and wrecked Rich Gedman. Remy has 200 'guests' of Remdawg Nation in the bleachers. Remy is also sponsoring a contest for a cruise to Aruba on his website.

Did you know that Jerry Remy has a website, The Remy Report? If you've watched the Sox before, I've dubbed the Remy promos for his website and Hot Dog stand the Remy 'Pitch Count'. Tonight he's challenging the Sox staff.

Craig Hansen has a radio controlled 'monster truck', as do some of the other players, who hope to race them. They showed Hansen crashing his truck pregame, which wasn't so different than the Red Sox stretch drive.

Leigh Montville, formerly of the Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated will be the latest writer to guest luncheon at Fenway Park.

Excuse me, I need a nap.