Thursday, March 30, 2006

Busy Time

How can the sports addict keep up with the news? Bronson Arroyo stifles the Sox in Florida today. Was it 'Be Nice to Bronson' day? Maybe it wasn't exactly the Red Sox 'A' lineup in there either.

Julian (WWE) Tavarez gets a ten day suspension. It must have been pro-rated for weight. Imagine if Wily Mo had landed one on Joey Gathright. Joey would have been 'Joey Gath'LightsOut' forever.

And the NFL bans celebrations? What's excessive? A hard spike, or an overly exuberant booty shake. The NFL (No Fun League) is currently working on a new penalty 'signal' combining the Touchdown signal, with the fist pump, and throat slash, meaning 'excessive celebration' 15 yards. Why not just give the guy a 5000 buck fine and let him buy his own celebration?

And then there's the NHL. Nothing to celebrate there.

The Celtics have been looking for a hard-driving guard for years. Now we've got Orien Greene, and we're complaining. Well, you meant driving on the court, not on the highway? Danny Ainge has fined Orien 10,000 pushups, 5,000 Stadia (stairs), and 15 bucks. He'll be too tired to spend any of the money anyway.

Does it seem like baseball season is just around the corner? Have you signed up for a Rotisserie League? Remember how everybody, all the pundits, hated ROTO because it took away from the purity of the game? That was of course, pre-Moneyball, and pre-money in it for all the people running Roto leagues, magazines, and so on.

Who haven't we heard enough about this spring? Dustin Pedroia went from almost ready for callup to The Invisible Man. Somehow I hope that Alex Cora gets a good amount of playing time this season. Cora just seems to know how to play the game (okay, I'm seeing with my eyes and not the stats).

My favorite player? It's already Jon Papelbon. Last season he was tipping his pitches (I'll never tell how), but the message got through and that went away.

Oh and there's the Duke University Lacrosse (and Criminal Acts) team. A patient came well-connected with BC, who said that he had spoken with a former administrator at Duke about the cleanliness of the Duke programs. The administrator said that in the few instances where conflicts arose over academics and athletics, athletics ALWAYS won out. So it's not the sanctimonious Dukies attitude that rankles me, it's the hypocrisy attached to it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Intense or Irascible

Baseball requires unique skills that unfettered passion may not enhance. In other words, punching a guy's lights out because you're a hothead doesn't make you a better player. Julian Tavarez comes with plenty of baggage, without loading up the train against, of all people, Tampa Bay.

We know that occasionally brawls make a difference. Bill Lee's injury sustained in Yankee Stadium certainly was a setback. Jason Varitek's 'glove tap' to A-Rod launched the Sox toward a championship in 2004. But most of the time, there's a lot of shoving and not much accomplished.

It doesn't have to be this way. I'll call him the 25th man. Each team would employ an 'enforcer', whose job would be to spar with the other club's enforcer when 'appropriate'. If a brushback or worse happens, the fans would give the traditional 'thumbs up' sign, and the enforcers would meet at the pitcher's mound to do baseball battle. By definition, the enforcers are not premium players, and they would get a maximum of 30 seconds to 'get it on', before the 'riot police' would come in and restore order. Here's the tricky part. For the 'fight' to happen, both managers would have to authorize it, which would mean an automatic one game suspension for each manager, and of course, ejection for the 'enforcer'. So, is retribution good enough, or does the manager eat the suspension, too?

The logical Bosox candidate out of the box is Wily Mo Pena. So we've got 'Mohammed Wily', or 'Wily Mo Punches', or 'Mo Pena for you' as monikers. The fact that Pena is about as big as a house and probably hits as hard as an anvil means that the Yankees would have to send out at best one of their drug-enhanced long-ball brothers. Of course, maybe Steinbrenner would put Brian Cashman on the roster to take some physical abuse with all the mental abuse he's absorbed.

But what if the managers won't send out their Bad Boy? Well, then the stakes go up. The next beanball tossing manager gets an automatic three-game suspension and his pitcher an automatic six game suspension. Sometimes you've got to take your medicine.

Okay, so I haven't got all the bases covered. What if a new round begins after the first combatants have been tossed? Easy, then you've got seconds. And if a third round is necessary, just ask Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

Monday, March 27, 2006

"The Last Nine Innings"

How much do you love baseball? I've read a lot of baseball books and sports literature, from Bouton's classic Ball Four, to the business tale Lords of the Realm to Will's Men at Work and biographies from Koufax to Mantle. Charles Euchner's The Last Nine Innings (Sourcebooks) chronicles Game 7 of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and the Diamondbacks. Innings made me hungry for the beginning of the baseball season, and more.

Euchner examines the game within the game. The cover proclaims 'get inside the game of baseball like never before'. Truer words were never spoken. Innings doesn't replicate any of the previous baseball books I've read, although by way of comparison, it resembles Men at Work most closely.

The author peers into not only at what each player and position does, but also studies their preparation, from offseason physical training by Steve Finley, to the art of pitch framing, to the vagaries of the strike zone. Euchner brings Game 7 to life, inning by inning through interviews with key players (both prominent and less so), managers, and even the umpiring crew.

Not only is Innings well-conceived, it presents a tapestry weaving together history, both of the Diamondbacks but the mighty Yankees, and how each team achieved. Euchner doesn't lack the courage to take on controversy, either, noting the impact of steroids on human performance, and explaining the dichotomy concerning Derek Jeter's fielding performance. He allows the Jeter water carriers air to explain how he makes terrific decisions and memorable plays, but uses the quantititative yardsticks from fielding percentage, to zone ratings, and defensive win shares to help understand why some consider Jeter in the bottom quintile of defensive shortstops.

The Last Nine Innings is far more than another book about baseball players or on baseball. Euchner tells a love story, about how much we care about baseball and why. But moreover, Euchner brings the pursuit of baseball perfection into the reader's consciousness. If you enjoyed Jerry Remy's Watching Baseball, which personalized your baseball experience, then The Last Nine Innings will captivate you, and maybe even 'juice' your personal search for excellence.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Good grief. How could I leave out Papi?

a quick redo

Position players: (14)

C Varitek, Bard
1B Youkilis, Snow
2B Loretta, Cora (utility)
SS Gonzalez
3B Lowell
DH Ortiz
OF Ramirez, Crisp, Nixon, Stern, Pena

Pitchers (11)
SP Schilling, Beckett, Wakefield, Clement, Wells
RP Timlin, Seanez, Tavarez, Papelbon, Foulke, Dinardo

(does that mean Riske goes down?)...Papelbon belongs in the rotation, but nobody except Wakefield is suitable for bullpen duty. I haven't seen too many at bats so far this spring, but Lowell hasn't impressed. It's no accident that Choi's in the wings, with Youkilis' natural position at third.

Dollars, Sense, and Time

Realistically, it looks as though there will be five outfield spots, with four belonging to Ramirez, Crisp, Nixon, and Stern (Rule V continuation). I'm not sure that Stern isn't the most deserving fourth outfielder right now. Which leaves us with the Wily (Coyote) Mo Pena versus Dustin Mohr issue. Pena just arrived for Arroyo, has no options, and isn't going anywhere. Mohr is a major leaguer, and like Tony Graffanino is in baseball limbo. Would Stern be better off playing every day once his Rule V roster time is up? Probably.

Another guy who's the odd man out right now is Craig Hansen. He seemed to be throwing the ball better than some of the 'guaranteed' guys- like Seanez, Riske, and Foulke. If Hansen had the 6 million dollar contract and Foulke a million, I don't think that Hansen would soon be discovering the best pizza places in Pawtucket or North Attleboro. Oh well, there's always the Hellenic Flu or the Red Sox equivalent, as someone's bound to come up lame.

Are there any ANAGRAM candidates on the team? Josh Bard = Job's Hard, catching the knuckler, that is.

Josh Beckett looked 'into' the game today, as tempers flared against the Phillies. First, Jimmy Rollins was getting his goat, and then he got into a shouting match.

Manny hasn't said two words this spring. Maybe he's too much into March Madness, or maybe there hasn't been a less memorable Spring Training. How about those guys from George Mason?

Saturday, March 25, 2006


With the season less than two weeks away, the Red Sox and Boston sports offer up fodder for commentary.

Bundle of Choi? Who are these guys? The revolver door (started with Theo Epstein in mind) yielded to the revolving door, not so much of a purge as a retooling from 2004. Long-time Celtics fans recall that the failure to rebuild (and the deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis) has left the franchise barren of championship dreams for two decades. The entire infield is rebuilt, with better defense, and (God let it be so) better offense. Will Hee Seop Choi be a better foreign import than Jin Ho Cho, Sonny Kim, and Seung Song?

Cereal killers? Sox fans await the swings of Manny, Ortiz, our new favorite Coco Crisp, Jason Varitek, and Trot Nixon. If the Sox were the Patriots, this would be Trot's curtain call, as his production hasn't matched his enthusiasm. There are great moments like the ninth inning homerun off Roger Clemens at the Stadium, and the bases loaded double in Game 4 at Busch, but all too often it's been a sore back, or chest muscle, or hamstring. His three year splits are .378/.514/.892 but only 998 AB, 47 homers and 177 RBI and .305/.327/.632 against LHP. If the Sox could legislate only RHP, Trot could be a perennial All-Star.

Right now an infield of Youkilis, Loretta, Gonzalez, and Lowell isn't exactly inspiring visions of pennant fever. The Greek God of Walks had three so far this spring, last time I checked. Oh, well, Sox fans are always from Missouri, demanding 'show me'.

C - Varitek, Bard
1 - Youkilis, Snow
2 - Loretta
SS- Gonzalez
3 - Lowell
U - Cora
O - Ramirez, Crisp, Nixon, Stern, Pena

SP - Schilling, Beckett, Clement, Wakefield, Wells
Pen - Foulke, Papelbon, Timlin, Seanez, Riske, DiNardo, Tavarez

Outside, looking in:
Pedroia, Choi, Hansen (1st man up?), Delcarmen, Lester, Meredith, Machado, Graffanino, VanBuren. Not a lot of sticks in the upper minors.

Elsewhere in the Hub

Are the Bruins still playing? The best hockey game I've seen all season came with Melrose's Joey Capuano lighting the lamp into an empty net with B.C. High defeating the local version of the Yankees, Catholic Memorial in the State Hockey final.

I enjoy basketball, high school to professional. March Madness showcases so many wonderful players that I haven't even heard of, like 'Big Baby' of LSU. Unfortunately, basketball officiating screws it up all too often, like last night when the annual B.C. bridesmaid appearance checked in. The zebras choked down the stretch, and the Eagles didn't help by failing to switch against the pick on the inbounds play with 3 seconds to go. Unforgiveable. Until next year. Will Craig Smith be able to rebound like that in the pros? I think so.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Then Went Bronson

The Red Sox trade rocker wannabe Bronson Arroyo for 24 year-old Cincinnati Reds Dominican slugger Wily Mo Pena. Arroyo had signed a three year deal for a bit over 11 million dollars, and developed a cult following for not only his pitching, but his singing. I'm sure my oldest daughter isn't liking this deal at all. Arroyo had a somewhat unconventional delivery, but a 90 mph fastball and a wide-breaking curve. Like the little girl with the curls, when he was good, he was very good, but...

I was surprised that Arroyo led the Sox in quality starts last year, but I guess I shouldn't have been. Quality starts correlate strongly with wins and he put up 14 last year. Some say he will be the Reds number one starter, which probably isn't a ringing endorsement for them.

From all reports, Arroyo loved pitching for the Red Sox, and cared a lot about living here and enjoyed his stay. With all the criticism we level at players, we've got to give Arroyo props for his attitude.

Wily (Coyote) Mo Pena has gargantuan power, runs well, and can play all three outfield positions. He's the kind of guy who has 30 plus homerun potential, but he's going to put up big strikeout numbers, too. As a young guy learning the game, he has the chance to develop with the tutelage of slugger David Ortiz, and we can only hope he doesn't get Manny-tized.

So, who gets the better end of the deal? WE CAN'T KNOW, yet. It takes years for these things to play out, with all the vagaries from injuries to personal issues that weigh on players involved. I'd rank it as potentially very beneficial for both teams, with the Reds pitching short, and the Sox getting insurance or more for Trot Nixon, a backup centerfielder, and a right-handed power bat lacking in the organization.

Let's hope it works out for everyone. Bronson, "fair winds and following seas; we barely knew 'ya.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Projection Booth

The pundits will be coming out with their predictions for 2006 soon, and we all wonder how the Red Sox will fare.

It's all about the pitching, and the Sox have ability and question marks. At the top of the rotation are Schilling and Beckett, with age and injury the respective questions. From my perspective, Jon Papelbon was the second best pitcher on the staff by the end of the season, and we have to hope that he's in the rotation not in the bullpen. Wakefield serves as a valuable changeup and innings eater, which leaves Arroyo, Clement, and Wells to battle for the final spot. Realistically, the Sox are better with two, because of the neverending likelihood of injury. Who's the odd man out. Well, among the latter three, Wells certainly ranks as the oddest, but not necessarily out.

So, taking 6 of the above, that leaves Foulke, Seanez, Timlin, Tavarez, and Riske as the likely pen pals, with DiNardo, Hansen, and DelCarmen as the callup prospects. Will Foulke start the season on the DL, and how effective will the National League relievers (Tavarez and Seanez) fare against AL sticks?

In addition to the injury issues, age concerns always crop up, and the Sox pitching staff must have one of the highest average ages in the league. Maybe we could get Rick Reuschel and Lee Guetterman to come out of retirement. And, as always, there's the lack of left-handed pitching, with DiNardo the closest in the pen and Jon Lester likely to benefit from AAA seasoning.

I'm waiting on the computer baseball simulations of the 2006 season. Tom Tippett's DIAMOND MIND BASEBALL has outperformed most over the years. Here's his post-season analysis of the AL East from last year.

AL East

Our forecast for the AL East was similar that of most people. Everyone thought it would be New York first and Boston second, or vice versa. Generally speaking, the analytically oriented folks, such as Diamond Mind and Baseball Prospectus, had a more optimistic view of the Red Sox chances than did the sportswriter community. We projected 97 wins for New York and 96 for Boston, and they wound up tied with 95 despite myriad pitching problems on both teams.

Most forecasters pegged the Orioles for third place, with a handful putting Toronto in that spot. But many were fooled by the Devil Rays, who finished 4th in 2004 but didn't really have the statistical underpinning to support the idea that they had passed the Blue Jays. Our simulations put Baltimore at 80 wins, Toronto at 73, and Tampa Bay at 66.

In fact, it was Toronto that hovered around .500 and Baltimore that was several games below, largely because we didn't anticipate that Baltimore would be a little worse on both sides of the ball. For the decline in offense, you can point the finger at Sammy Sosa, and Sidney Ponson and Jorge Julio deserve most of the blame for the extra runs they allowed.

Finally, if the Sox have the expectation of a reasonably potent lineup, with more production from Nixon in right and the potential for more from center (really!) and first base, then why do they need to mess with Juan Gone. Supposedly, the slugger of yore has signed a minor league contract, and hasn't done much (if you don't count disabled list time) in the past four years. His trends (OPS) haven't been great, and the most memorable Gonzalez moment in the past few years (if I'm right) was his playing Pokey Reese's Pesky Pole hit into an inside-the-park homer. I guess that the price is right, even if Gonzalez isn't likely to be.

Bottom line. I'll guess that the Sox get it straightened out, and with A.J. Burnett coming up with a sore arm, the Blue Jays chances have faded considerably. Let's dial in the Sox for 96 wins and a wild card spot.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Table Skills

The bases are full, two outs in the eighth, and the Sox lead 4-1. Curt Schilling has thrown a hundred pitches, and the hitter already has two hits off Schilling today. The bullpen in contradictory fashion is rested and warmed, and Terry Francona walks to the mound.

Does Francona owe it to Schilling to leave him in? "It's his game." Or has Francona noticed that Schilling's command is weakening, more pitches are up in the zone, that his time has come? Can you or I do a better job than Francona can in making that call? He brings in the closer, who surrenders a bases clearing double. Does that make the decision wrong, or just the outcome?

There are hundreds of subtle and overt decisions a manager makes during each game, from lineups, to pitch selection, small ball or big inning, defensive alignments, and decisions communicated to coaches who have studied other teams' defensive alignments, throwing power and accuracy, and so on. Are you as 'smart' as Francona? Me, neither.

The decisions played out in the paper now revolve around choosing the starting rotation, the role (if any) for David Wells, and whether will Matt Clement be wearing 'BOSTON' on his chest or some other city. Veterans like Wells have certain expectations (including monetary) and the manager has to cope with those, player fatigue or injury, whether your star can 'bring it' today, and issues discussed sub rosa like players' personal lives and problems.

No, it's not rocket science, but it matters to the performance of the team and to the players. But how much does it matter to the bottom line, the team's ultimate record? In an era where we want to measure everything, I'm not sure that we can say that a good manager wins you an extra five games, or a poor skipper loses you half a dozen.

As fans, we're focused on outcome. Bad outcome, bad manager. Good outcome, good manager. As a physician, I know that patient factors, physiologic changes, and treatment-patient interaction (as well as Divine Intervention) change outcome, often better or worse than I could predict. I've heard physicians tell patients or their families that 'I saved your life.' Spare me. Life and baseball remain subject to many alternatives that just aren't that predictable. Sometimes lightning strikes and sometimes it misses, and managers know it and fear it. Just like doctors.

So the next time you hear about what a great manager 'so and so' is, ask yourself based on what, and whether they just had good fortune and good players on their side more often than the other guy. Let's hope Terry Francona brings both skill and luck to the table.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Holy Cow!

It's just difficult. March Madness is just around the corner, and our Melrose Lady Raiders get knocked out at the Garden. Oh, the indignity of it.

Well, anyway. It's 'Toe-Main' poisoning for the Dominican Dandy Pedro Martinez, whose value, Rotisserie and otherwise, plummets, as his right big toe aches. Maybe he'll give back some of the 53 million to the Mets. Right. My, oh my, Minaya, will the Gotham fans be on your backside if Pay-dro can't go.

As for the WBC, and the US, if Venus is in the House of Mars or something, and Japan covers the spread in Hanshin, then the US goes home, or stays home. Mom, apple pie, and baseball. So maybe it's only Mom and apple pie. How do you like them 'apples?

The Sox haven't yet arrived in Fort Myers, and The Replacements continue to get knocked around until the regulars return from wherever the aliens kidnapped them. Bronson Arroyo is making a campaign for the batting practice pitcher, with an ERA that looks like a Wonderlic score.

Next year, they'll be facing Salem State and UMASS in the spring to try to help buff up the record. No problemo, the games mean nothing, unless of course you get off to a terrible start in April, in which case it's about 'carryover'.

Meanwhile, Terry Francona gets a new deal. Good for him. He'll always be remembered as the 'cursebreaker', so more power to him. Speaking of The Curse, I own several of 'Shank' Shaughnessy's books, because he's not a bad writer. Got 'em at a used bookstore...Seeing Red is really the best in my opinion.

So the Sox trade Mirabelli, and now they're looking to reacquire him. There must be some analogy in the sportsworld somewhere, the boomerang, or the undoing of the Kekich and Peterson families, or something.

Meanwhile, the biggest controversy is the legitimacy of Barry Bonds' records. Hey the guy could hit before 1999, he just hit 'em farther after that. So, we'll take the Palmeiro factor and multiply his career homers by 'X' a constant, and apply that to all sluggers post 1990. So if Raffy hit 550, we multiply by about .73 to give him about 400. And they say Jim Rice wasn't good enough to get into the Hall of Fame. And about that Viagra thing, don't steroid hurt the long ball?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sox and Sports Thoughts

- Does anybody believe that nobody on the Sox ever took steroids?

- Barry. At least they worked for him, for years. Not like certain Orioles outfielders.

- Will Krafty Bob be willing to pay for the tab? I've heard that he's a separate checks kind of guy...I'll never know.

- Papi! Si.

- Glad to see so much enthusiasm from Mike Timlin about the WBC. I hope he still has innings left.

- Wells. Mickey Lolich. Babe Ruth. Portly portsiders who could get it done.

- Is Dustin Pedroia the new Tim ('Whirlpool') Naehring?

- Who's next to retire?

- Manny could step out of a closet at midnight and just hit. You can't give away that kind of ability?

- No noose is good news? Right L-squared.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

March Meaning

March has always meant one thing: college basketball playoffs, and while Spring Training is a diversion, it's still hoops for now.

Meanwhile, ESPN2 and insomnia bring us the World Baseball Classic, a somewhat diluted showcase of baseball talent. Injuries, illness, and vagaries of ego and territoriality keep some of baseball's best home. Still, the classic affords us to see some quality baseball with international stars and teams actually caring about winning. It's a treat to see Sunny Kim throwing against the Japanese, and Ichiro's cannon from right field.

Gordon Edes has a compelling argument in favor of Buck O'Neil's induction into the Hall of Fame in today's Globe. I'd say that it's outrageous that he's not, but I was more surprised that he wasn't already in. I've read stories about his power, and the telling commentary that the ball simply sounded different coming off of his bat. Baseball has always been about an old boy's network, which explains how many famous baseball sons get the opportunity to fail, not because of genetics but politics.

For those of us baseball lifers, even watching the Sox and the Pirates on NESN is better than nothing, because we can wonder whether Franklin Nunez's stuff can get out Matsui in August, or whether David Murphy will ever fill out that slender frame of his. For those who watch ESPN Classic, it's noteworthy how many contemporary players bulked up relative to their 'ancestors'. Maybe it was protein shakes, but maybe Dr. Needle had something going there, too.

ESPN the magazine has an extensive fantasy baseball section this month. Once 'Roto' offended the sensibilities of baseball purists, who argued that baseball is more than a numbers game, but time, the popularity of Roto, and the realization that 'Moneyball' has meaning (not to mention some monetization of the game) have brought fantasy sports into the mainstream. It's also a passion of many professional money managers, who use other tools in their work, but think that they can outpick their peers here, too.

How many spots are open on the Sox? Let's begin with the 'locks' and see where the braintrust has to pick.

C Varitek
IF Youkilis, Snow, Loretta, Cora, Gonzalez, Lowell
DH Ortiz
OF Ramirez, Crisp, Nixon, Mohr

That leaves a backup catcher and maybe a utility guy, presuming that Tony Graffanino has the same chance as I do as playing this season in Boston. Adam Stern has something like 17 days of mandatory service time as a Rule V guy, so he's in for now.

SP - Schilling, Beckett, Papelbon, Wakefield, Arroyo, Clement
RP - Foulke, Timlin, Seanez, Tavarez, Riske

This presumes that Wells is traded (better team with him than without) and that leaves DelCarmen, Hansen, and DiNardo fighting for a phantom pitching spot, with Jon Lester to benefit from the AAA experience and the question of whether Jamie Vermilyea gets the Hellenic flu. Of course, Foulke could start the season on the DL, and pitching health being what it is, you never really know who could come up lame or infirm.

So all in all, watching the Murphys, Mosses, and Pressleys is intriguing, but only for those of us looking ahead to 2007 and beyond. My 'scouts' say that Minor League free agent Josh Pressley was ripping the cover off the ball in Fort Myers. So we'll see how he looks at Pawtucket? Pressley hit .311/.400/.518/.918 at Wichita last season.

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