Monday, July 31, 2006

No Noose is Good News

Young River: People don't like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don't run, don't walk. We're in their homes and in their heads and we haven't the right. We're meddlesome. - from Serenity, the movie.

"What have you done for me lately?," is an age-old refrain familiar to sports fans. The Red Sox did not mortgage the future to pick up someone else's albatross, showing unusual patience.

Maybe we give baseball executives too much credit. Did the Red Sox exercise patience or were the demands of their prospective trading partners so outlandish (Andruw Jones for Hansen, Crisp, and Lester) not to merit mention? We'll never know. Oh to be a fly on the cellular tower.

So the Sox go into the dog days with Schilling, Beckett, Lester, Wells, and the Mystery Date. Of course, Tim Wakefield could heal quickly and regain his form, but then again that is the cost of increasing age. Wells has stunk up the joint tonight. Let's call it what it is.

I don't see the starting pitching quite good enough to win the whole enchilada at this point. Craig Hansen has pitched well in inning one (1.10 ERA) and blown up in the second frame. Sounds like a closer potential. The Sox could certainly bring back Kason Gabbard, or go with the Kyle Snyders of the world. Stretching out Papelbon to get him into the rotation isn't realistic, and you rob Peter to pay Paul.

On the positive side, Wily Mo Pena has shown the tease that brought him to the Sox. Pena ripped a triple into the triangle and then crushed one towards the Pike for his fifth homer of the season. With Trot Nixon out for an extended time, we'll see what Pena brings to the table.

Meanwhile, Pawtucket has no Adam Stern in the lineup, so he may be Boston bound, and Jacoby Ellsbury continues to hit over .340 at Portland, while picking up his eighth steal the other night.

I'm on board with holding the talented, low-salary pitching crew that offers salary flexibility going forward. As mentioned last night, VALUE is more than talent, and developing the young pitching offers a chance to compete EVERY year, not just this year. Sox fans have heard 'wait 'til next year' for so many years, that we're actually capable of doing just that.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Markets and MLB

Markets and MLB aren't so different. Sure, we'd like to fantasize some pastoral anachronism about loyalty, teamwork, and fair play, but we're far too sophisticated to believe. Players correctly recognize they are fungible, fans are tools of ownership, and ownerships run businesses, not toys.

Fan-centric ownerships could indeed try to cultivate 'mutual participation', but could that succeed in an industry run by lawyers and led by a used car dealer? Also, what kind of industry would set up franchises where the richest would have payrolls ten times the smallest, with all competing for the same prize?

Which brings us to the trading deadline? You are untradeable if you have a no trade clause (which you wouldn't waive for the right price), or in certain instances because you have extreme value. For example, Jonathan Papelbon is having a historical season, at a bargain basement price. From a market perspective, you would say he's the ultimate growth stock, which you have options on for cheap.

Players become irritated because their name comes up in trade talks. Why not? You move your family around, get settled, and perhaps try to become a member of a community, yet you can be uprooted because you have 'value'. There is some irony to your value creating instability. In most areas in life, we associate value and stability. You wouldn't expect to see the Mona Lisa relocated from the Louvre, but you almost expect Roger Clemens to don a new cap periodically.

Value in MLB reflects not only your actual performance, but your trade value, your recent performance (all of a sudden Cory Lidle is Juan Marichal?), and your salary, both immediate and future price tag. If you take the salaries of the Abreus and Liebers, then you can exchange suspects instead of prospects, and Philly management can use the fig leaf to promise the fans some new free agents, right?

And your value also depends on the fundamental principles of supply and demand. If the Cardinals want Mark Loretta, they might be willing to take on Julian Tavarez, and the Red Sox also have a blue chipper in Dustin Pedroia, as well as a capable back up in Alex Cora. Maybe that gets you Josh Hancock and a prospect, and you flip Hancock to the Rockies for Ryan Shealy.

As a GM, you want to improve your team, without destroying the all-too-fragile chemistry that generally exists. If you're the Red Sox, why risk a Bagwellian adventure for an overpaid veteran? Because you're afraid that your competition will one-up you?

If the Bombers want to 'buy' the available talent, then they can. If the Steinbrenners of the world lack enough security to try to win with the biggest payroll in baseball, can you change that? Buffett reminds us that when the investment tide departs, it reveals who wears no trunks. Maybe some GMs need to keep that in mind, lest it also reveal who's carrying the smallest bats.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Silly Season

As the trade deadline approaches, it's the same old story - silly season is here. GMs everywhere want your young, low-salaried talent in exchange for their aging, expensive, 'battle-tested' veterans. So we'll endure the talk of Jon Lieber (puh-lease) for Jon Lester and more.

Two words for the Red Sox management. JEFF BAGWELL. The Sox exchanged a possible Hall-of-Famer for Larry Andersen. Larry Freaking Andersen.

The Sox have assembled a young and talented pitching corps (Beckett, Papelbon, Lester, Hansen, Delcarmen) to supplement Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield. What they can get from Foulke, Clement, and Wells is frankly unknowable. But the Sox have the best chance to win, year in and year out by NOT DEALING away young talent for losing teams disposable players. Yes, disposable. JEFF BAGWELL.

Oh, but what if Toronto or the White Sox gets Jon Lieber? Richard Thal wrote about it in The Winners' Curse. Invariably, bidding wars result in overpaying for mediocrity. We can only hope that Theo Epstein and the front office are reading their behavioral finance, such as Lifson and Geist's Psychology of Investing. JEFF BAGWELL.

Similarly, Sox fans proposing trading Alex Cora and Julian Tavarez for Travis Hafner had better take their medicine. What the trading deadline teaches us every year is that it's difficult to make MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL trades. JEFF BAGWELL.

If what we saw last weekend was the real Kason Gabbard, I'd take him over most of the millionaire retreads that Desperately Seeking Kason GMs want to dump on the Sox. When you're tempted to get silly, just try to remember those two little words, JEFF BAGWELL. Just think BAG JOB or SANDBAGGED, where we don't want to be.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Why I Hate West Coast Road Trips

You're a Red Sox fan. Or you hate them. It's easy to understand the emotions associated with trips to the left coast. Here's why I can't stand the coast trips.

  • Time away from family. They have enough sense to go to bed. I often stay up.
  • Memories of exhausting my mom's radio batteries, falling asleep listening to those battles with Dean Chance et al.
  • That means 'Sox Lag', similar to jet lag
  • Also means fatigue hangover for the week.
  • More caloric intake. A minimum of some extra popcorn, if not peanuts or some other high calorie snacking.
  • The morning newspaper doesn't have either the score or the boxscore.
  • Communication gap with fellow workers. They've either watched little or all of the game. I'm usually somewhere in between.
  • The Oakland Mausoleum, one of the worst stadia around. At least since the demise of the Kingdome.
  • Is there both a state and city tax on baseball tickets in California?
  • Right field sun field in Oakland.
  • Ichiro. The Pest.
  • Memories of those late 80s, '90 teams, always getting stuffed by Dave Stewart, Eckersley and all.
  • BALCO boys.
  • Disneyland. It's not as good as Disney World. Not even close.

Do we need more reasons?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Why Not?

For many New Englanders, the Red Sox' March to October marathon becomes a focus, a raison d'etre. Our food tastes better when the Sox win, and from Bangor to Block Island, fans second guess lineups, strategy, and pitching changes. We have no life.

Which brings me to today's topic, speculation about the future of the roster and the Sox going forward. At this point in the season, with the Sox in first place by two and a half games, despite the injuries which all teams face, there isn't any point in projecting the comings and goings, trade deadline excepted.

First, concerning the trade deadline, every team in baseball wants more pitching and if available, somebody else's 'bat'. In the AL, only Baltimore, Tampa, Cleveland, and KC are 'out of it'. In the NL, aside from the Cubs and Pirates, everyone has at least an outside shot. That's not to say that the Nationals (unloading Soriano) and other teams won't try to rebuild on the cheap. Everyone's talking about Jon Lieber, Jake Peavy, and Greg Maddux. As for Maddux, we may as well see if Juan Marichal wants to make a comeback, as he's allowed 138 hits in 124 innings. Period. Lieber has a 5.55 ERA in Philly and makes 7.5 million. Philly will want young pitching, and the Sox shouldn't surrender that. Peavy has a 4:1 K/BB ratio with 128 K in 117 innings and is only going to go for top prospects. Do you want to trade your top prospects at this point? Didn't think so.

What wouldn't be disaster at this point is some more rotation of the available offense, with more at bats for Pena at the expense of both Nixon and Crisp. In their last 43 at bats, Crisp and Nixon have 9 hits, 3 doubles 2 runs scored and 2 RBI. Coco did a Geordi LaForge on Beltre's inside-the-park homerun yesterday, although I'm think LaForge might have had some infrared detector that would have put him within a couple of body lengths of the drive. I'm not saying that Crisp should have made the catch, just...aarrgghh. It happens.

As for the rotation, the Sox have to feel reasonably good about Schilling, Beckett, and Lester. Kason Gabbard pitched admirably on Saturday, with a passable fastball, backdoor curve, and changeup. He kept the ball down, and frankly looked like a major leaguer. Considering the first appearance jitters he had to have, he did very well. When was the last time the Sox had two southpaws in the rotation? When was the last time they even had one not named Casey Fossum or Matt Young?

Pete Schourek and Jeff Fassero both started in 2000. Really, did you want them on your fantasy team, let alone the big club. Steve Avery started in 1997. Jamie Moyer (we knew him well?) and Vaughn Eshelman were on the hill in 1996. Mostly it's been a Sisyphusian effort for the Sox to find serviceable lefthanded pitching.

I'd like to believe the longer-term cornerstone of the franchise is pitching, based upon the core of Beckett, Papelbon, and Lester in the rotation, with Delcarmen, Hansen, and a couple more youngsters on the staff. Ultimately, everyone wins with power arms, and the Sox have a (lower budget) corps worth keeping. In addition to having hard throwers, winners need AN OUT PITCH, which is what impressed me about Gabbard. I thought he was sneaky fast with his motion, and that his curve could also be an out pitch. The Sox have talked a good game about getting guys to pitch off the fastball, and it looks like it's finally starting to pay off.

As for the next generation of position players, we'll see from whence they're coming another day.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." And a flaming bag of dog poop would be as nasty...

Statistics gives us terms to describe performance outside of expected parameters. Using a Gaussian or 'normal' distribution, we would find two standard deviations encompass 95 percent of expected upside and downside performance. That would still leave about 8 games a season (four at either extreme) where 'it' happened. On the upside, that could be an Ortiz game-winner or a Loretta 'Monster Seat' shot, and on the downside, there was today.

Home cooking disagreed with Jon Lester to the extent of a five inning five run performance. Coco Crisp and Manny Ramirez misplayed the Beltre drive into an inside-the-park home run, Manny Delcarmen had his worst performance in weeks, and Mike Timlin surrendered the game-winning homerun to Richie Sexson. To be fair, we have to recognize that Seattle is not a bandbox, and the Beltre and Sexson shots were, just that, shots. They get overpaid to do exactly that.

Whether you're a baseball fan, a market analyst, a meteorologist, trash collector, or counterworker at a McJob, there will be days like today. Count on it. You can stamp your feet and hold your breath, but you'll end up with sore feet, turn blue, and then restart breathing. Players aren't perfect, and baseball games are aptly played on a diamond, as diamonds are usually imperfect gems formed through time and the crucible of pressure.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


"No progress occurs without change, but not all change is progress." - John Wooden

There are two advantages to aging, first a rather tenuous one that some people believe that through your experience, you may actually know something. Second, older folks have the advantage of having seen enough history and perspective to compare times directly, biased, but nonetheless reality-based.

Baseball, as a microcosm of society, has undergone massive changes. Player compensation escalated dramatically in the wake of the elimination of the Reserve Clause and initiation of Free Agency. This had tremendous benefits for all strata of player wages, with both the minimum and average salary spectacularly increased. As documented in the baseball history by Sean Lahman salaries had increased minimally from 1947 to 1965, and Marvin Miller's intervention led to Free Agency in 1975.

Although there have always been structural differences between franchise, this development significantly impaired the ability of 'small market teams' to compete on a more level playing field. It also caused dramatic increases in ticket prices that impaired the ability of the 'average' fan to afford attendance.

To quote Dave Studeman at The Hardball Times, "In May the Best Team Win, Andrew Zimbalist's fine book about baseball economics, the author found that the correlation between payroll and wins started to rise significantly around 1993. Before that time, the R-squared between payroll and wins floated between 0 and .3. Since then, it has floated between .2 and .6. In other words, the ability of teams to buy the pennant has really jumped during the last decade." In other words, despite Free Agency, competitive imbalance is a more recent product than simply a linear result of Free Agency.

In parallel with business and election scandal, neither of which were new, performance-enhancing drugs grew in popularity during the 1990s and beyond. The lure of unrestrained wealth is an easy-enough explanation for the corporate malfeasance of the nineties and into today (options redating and financial engineering) and MLB players' reliance on anabolic steroids, growth hormone, and other yet to be revealed technology. Obviously, overall player fitness increased through year-round training, weight training, and sport-specific conditioning as well.

The reliance of quantitative analysis (Sabermetrics) of baseball also has parallels in business, ranging from Six Sigma programs to quantitative measures of behavioral finance.

Despite the technological and pharmacodynamic applications, the overall quality of play hasn't necessarily improved. Scores and homeruns increased under the influences above, in conjunction with the live ball, smaller strike zones (somewhat reversed by uniform umpiring standards and Questec), smaller ballparks, the designated hitter (DH) in the AL, and generally declining pitching.

During the sixties and seventies, most teams used four-man pitching rotations. Using a five-man rotation automatically produces more games with marginal starting pitching. The addition of pitch counts (variably argued to affect performance and injury) also has produced more reliance on already overtaxed bullpens.

Charting player tendencies and optimizing defense and matchups has come to prominence over the past decade. Teams exhaustively scout and chart opposition.

Games became longer via more offense, the strategy of seeing more pitches, smaller strike zones, more pitching changes, and longer commercial times between innings.The advent of the DH altered AL teams' willingness and capacity to employ 'small ball', generally opting for the Weaverian three-run homer approach to offense.

Complete games became an aberration. No pitcher in either league has had double digit complete games in the 21st century. Fernando Valenzuela in 1986 was the last pitcher to have 20 complete games in a season. Up until 1980, the league leader in the NL almost invariably had a minimum of 20 complete games.

Pitchers' innings pitched gradually declined. The last 300 inning pitcher in the regular season was Steve Carlton in 1980. From 1951 to 1955 Robin Roberts pitched at least 300 innings for five consecutive seasons.

What hasn't changed is the use of technology to attempt to guarantee umpires making the correct call. About the furthest umpires use technology to make correct calls is to check a baseball to see whether there is shoe polish on a ball possibly hitting a player in the foot. Opportunities to use instant replay for incontrovertible evidence (subject to the limitations seen in the NFL) are: fair and foul hits (particularly concerning home runs), tag plays, running out of the baseline, close plays at first base, and 'catch or trap'.

All of which raises the question, is the game improved, worsened, or overall unchanged. I argue that the ballparks have improved the quality of the entertainment experience for the fans. Television broadcasts have far more sophisticated video, statistical, and graphical presentations. The prominence of international players contributions has improved the quality of the game.

However, ticket costs, strategy (incessant platooning) and technical changes that prolong games, late-night playoff and World Series games, and an overall decline in quality pitching have diminished the game. The game can benefit from circumscribed use of technology to improve umpiring, probably through a challenge system as in football.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What If

The stupidity, the abject absurdity of Grady Little's managing of the 2003 ALCS deciding game was not removing Pedro Martinez after the seventh. For those watching, Martinez was at 101 pitches, and had been hammered in the seventh inning. His fastball still was in the low 90s, but had totally straightened out.

Everyone also knows that at least Mike Timlin tended to pitch better coming in at the beginning of an inning than the end.

Trot Nixon looked a lot bigger (15 pounds) back in 2003. I wonder what that was about. I guess he got on Jenny Craig.

Tom Tippett's Diamond Mind Baseball is an excellent simulation product, although I haven't used the latest volumes. I do recommend the product, superior to APBA Games electronic simulation in my opinion. Diamond Mind had inning by inning and pitch by pitch simulation available, with a text rather than graphically intense product.

I haven't bought a baseball computer game in a long time. Maybe Earl Weaver Baseball was my favorite ever, with the little sprites and some great all-time teams. Front Page Sports Baseball never made it, and although Nintendo's baseball games were always fun, none of them simulated reality like Diamond Mind or APBA.

Well, we're at the 'Moment of Truth' for Grady Little, who literally drowns in the Rubicon. Somehow, I expect that the simulation will not contradict the previous results, unlike the Time Tunnel or Star Trek voyages through Time Warps. Statistically, computers aren't going to predict relief pitchers coming in to give up three run homers, or predict indefinite scoreless relief by Mariano Rivera.

We'll know soon enough.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Josh Beckett has a live arm, a World Series ring, and the potential to be far more than he is right now. Today's contract extension shows that the Red Sox believe that he, along with Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon will form the cornerstones for the Red Sox starters of the next few seasons.

Yes, Beckett has warts, and a history of blisters, and hasn't pitched 200 innings. His curveball isn't always consistent, and his changeup needs to lose at least 5 mph. He's been Denny McLain with the gopher ball. But he's still young, still learning his craft, and where better to learn for a passionate guy than where the passion rises to the heavens? Who's to say when Curt Schilling teaches him a devastating slider or he learns the Circle change, palm ball, or just learns how to choke the ball enough to make the changeup an out pitch?

Add in Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen out of the pen, and you have almost half of a pitching staff that can compete for the division title annually. The strongest organizations in professional sports build to compete for both now and the future, usually around defense and strength up the middle. The Beckett signing shows that commitment.

The Sox have made the same commitment in the past to Jason Varitek, who despite a subpar offensive season is the coach on the field.

The focus should remain on the 2006 season, although the Sox look concomitantly into the future. The shadow of Jeff Bagwell shouldn't hang over the franchise, and the Sox shouldn't take anything but Godfather offers for any of their centerpiece pitching. Young, live arms, especially at reasonable prices are not commodities, but proprietary values that shouldn't be surrendered. The Sox must, I emphasize MUST understand that it is a sellers market. Greg Maddux is a shell of his former self. Dontrelle Willis has a short contract that shouldn't be assumed in trade for low budget solutions for the Marlins. Ditto for Jason Schmidt.

The Sox have taken a page out of the Patriots' playbook, securing the center of the field (the Patriots have restocked the D-line and O-line) and adding parts as available and necessary to compete within budgetary constraints. Yes, they are the New Yorkers 'light', but an ancient ballpark and loyal Nation allow for a macro payroll.

John Wooden reminds us that "no progress occurs without change, but not all change is progress." Baseball trades and development are not so different from stock trades, in that most will be 'scratches', but your ultimate success is determined by the great successes amidst the mundane moves.

The Beckett signing represents a promise to the diehards among us that the Sox recognize that "the race is not always to the swiftest or the battle to the strongest, but it pays to bet that way."
It's a bet that Sox fans want to endorse, Nitwit Radio or not.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Who Are Those Guys?

Jim Rice said that Jon Lester reminded him of the young Frank Tanana. I don't think he has quite the fastball that Tanana had, and I'm trying to think of whom he recalls to me. Most southpaws flourish via control and craft rather than power. I think Lester has the chance to be a top of the rotation guy, although I think he reminds me of Bruce Hurst.

I still think Lester throws across his body just a little, that may help his deception but decrease his efficiency. It may only be the angle on television, but that just my impression.

Tonight Lester minimized the baserunners, allowing just one hit and four runs in the best pitching performance by a Sox lefthanded starter, since, well, I have no idea when. He also picked off another baserunner. In the process, he raised his record to 5-0 and lowered his ERA to a microscopic (for the A.L.) 2.38. Rookie of the Year? I don't think so, as Jonathan Papelbon has lapped the field with his 28th save and an ERA of 0.55.

What are they feeding those tomatoes in the bullpen? They look like something out of the Little Shop of Horrors.

Lost in the pitching was the work of Jason Varitek, calling a masterful game as he eclipsed Carleton Fisk for the most games caught by a Red Sox catcher.

The Sox optioned Lenny Harris to Pawtucket along with Javier Lopez as they recalled Wily 'Coyote' Mo Pena and Jermaine 'President' Van Buren.

In the minors, Dustin 'The Wind' Pedroia continues to hold his average over .300 while playing solid defense and David Murphy continues his unexpectedly solid hitting, with a .913 OPS coming into tonight at Pawtucket. At Portland, Jacoby Ellsbury has been en fuego, hitting over .400 with 4 stolen bases in early action. After a horrendous start, Brandon Moss is up to .271 and Chad Spann is hitting over .300. And at Sarasota, Felix Doubront pitched six shutout innings the other day, as the young southpaw looks to join the Sox rotation around 2009.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Grand Theft Oughtta

One of my baseball watching 'themes' is the unique event(s) seen at a ballpark on a given night. You could witness a magnificent catch, a bonehead baserunning play or other mental error, or anything in-between.

Tonight's contest against the Royals didn't disappoint from that standpoint. One of the Sox 'Ironmen', Tim Wakefield, had to leave with an injury. Doug Mirabelli had a game-tieing homerun, after the umpire missed an obvious ball four. David Ortiz stole a base. Willie Harris narrowly scored on a sac fly after Jerry Remy questioned the move, qualifying it with the potential difference on a short sacrifice fly. Julian Tavarez didn't pitch. Enough about that.

The Sox struggled offensively against a pitcher they hadn't seen before. At least I don't think they'd seen him before. The production has diminished at the top. Coming into tonight's game, Kevin Youkilis was seventh in the AL in walks, yet had only hit .118 in the last four games. Mark Loretta had hit only .214.

Tiring. Do we want to hear about how Doug (i before e) Mientkiewicz still feels slighted over a baseball? World War III or not, tsunamis in the Far East, the furor over a souvenir seems just a tad misplaced. So Doug was going to put his children through college with the ball. Crikey Doug, how many children you got? You aren't Melvin Mora. Coming into the season, Minky had made a paltry 8.3 million dollars in the past three seasons, with 305 hits, 28 homers, and 129 RBI. says that Minky is scraping by on $1.850,000 this season. They should make a new crime, Grand Theft Oughtta to cover that one. Maybe he should ask for his salary in yuan, to cover the currency depreciation.

The youngsters continue to progress out of the pen, with Delcarmen, Hansen, and Papelbon doing the job tonight, along with the venerable Mike Timlin who got the win. In his last ten appearances, Little Manny had lowered his ERA from 5.06 to 3.16, with 14 K and 2 walks. Hansen lowered his ERA from 7.36 to 4.50, with 2 walks and 9 strikeouts. And Papelbon continued to be Papelbon, with his 27th save and ERA from 'The Running Man', almost SUBZERO.

They say that you can lose a pennant in April. Well, you can also lose it in July, and losing to Kansas City tonight would have sent many of the Nation scurrying for their antacids.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Shakespeare and the A's

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks." - Shakespeare

Nature abhors order, yet admires design symmetry. The Code of Hammurabi, an ancient judicial standard, looked to proportional punishment. And so the law of the baseball jungle persists, except for the Oakland A's.

Friday night, after David 'Big Papi' Ortiz hammered a couple of Barry Zito offerings for outs, Zito came up and in, grazing Ortiz' hand. Craig Breslow, the molecular biophysics Yalie, sought physical retribution plunking Frank Thomas with an inside fastball.

Yesterday, after Danny Haren, empowered absent batting in the American League hit Jason Varitek with a fastball thrown BEHIND him. Trust me, as a former college pitcher, even a mediocre one, I know that righthanded pitchers don't throw behind lefthanded hitters by accident. Later, Curt Schilling went to the Darwinian well and hit Nick Swisher just above the hindquarters. Naturally, the umpire warned both benches, and life went on. Except for the A's.

Ken Macha stormed out of the dugout, thunderstruck by Schilling's 'protection', demanding justice. Milton Bradley ("consider the source" as Bouton would say) took umbrage with the fans, likely exchanging pleasantries and expletives. Nick Swisher took a wait and see attitude, as in wait until tomorrow, and see what happens.

I'm not defending headhunting, which by and large has decreased from the days of Gibson and Drysdale. Whether through fines and suspensions, administrative sanctions, or memories of the Conigliaros and Pucketts of the world, beanballs seem fewer. Maybe simply fewer muscleheads match the muscled up hitters of the 21st century.

But let's not forget who started the insanity last night, Barry Zito, seeking to defend his turf with some chin music to the Red Sox primary power threat. And let's also remember that last evening it was Danny Boy who elected to play hardball with the Red Sox captain and the Red Sox ace on the hill.

Rest assured that both managers and front offices have gotten the word already from the Major League Baseball offices to cool it. And be equally sure that this isn't the end of it, especially with young players and hot heads.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Kevin the Menace?

One of my colleagues (a Yankee fan) told me that Kevin Youkilis is one of the most hated players in baseball. He said that Youkilis is perceived as being arrogant and obnoxious.

Could it be that some resent Youkilis' attention in Moneyball, referred to as the Greek God of Walks? Coming into the season, you have something less than a household name in Kevin Youkilis.

First the stats. Coming into the season he had a .376 OBP, .411 SLG, and .787 OPS. Not bad for a young player, but not exactly anything to knock your socks off. One homer and nine RBI in 2005 doesn't exactly breed arrogance either. Recent slump aside, Youkilis is fourth among AL first basemen in OPS at .865, first in runs scored (60), seventh in RBI (44), and third in the Sabermetric tallies of runs created and runs created per 27 outs. Not too shabby for a guy not much above the minimum salary and in his first full season of everyday play.

From a fashion standpoint, I doubt Youkilis is getting high marks for either the shaved scalp or that patch of fur on his chin. I'd give him some style points for originality, but I don't think he's headed for a 'He Hate Me' moniker on his road uniform.

Well, a bit of Paul O'Neill lives in Youkilis, who seems unduly petulant after a called strike or an inning-ending pop out. Do you like your players to show some emotion, or do you want a whole team of Stepford Sox? I don't know if Youkilis has assassinated a water cooler yet, but unlike O'Neill, he prolly can't afford to. 6 for 41 in his last ten games with eight walks shouldn't be making Youkilis a happy camper, anyway.

Maybe Youkilis gave some sportswriter from the Bronx a Zidane-like head butt? Dunno, I think we would have heard about that.

There is an Internet reference to an incident where Youkilis is alleged to have refused some autographs after a game, using some inexcusable language. If true, it's hardly a character reference, yet also not grounds to rival Barry Bonds in the arrogance top 10. Who belongs there anyway?

For Youkilis' sake, I hope that he recovers his form, and learns to cope well with both success and failure, which is one of the Moneyball messages.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

All-Star Hangover

Tonight's Red Sox action suggests an All-Star break 'hangover'. as both teams look sluggish. The pace, despite some Red Sox scoring and homers from Mike Lowell and Nick "Moneyball" Swisher, can only be described as plodding.

Almost two hours into the game, nothing recalls the great post-season matchups the Sox-Athletics have had over the years. Does anybody remember the Sonny Siebert classics? No. Good for you, that means you're all far younger than I.

Every opponent brings back some memories, the A's with their abominable stadium, and juicing stars of the past Canseco and McGwire. Actually, if you find a Mark McGwire 'Rookie Card', you see a guy who looks a lot more like Twiggy than the Incredible Bulk.

You see Jason Kendall and wonder why he's not on the Pirates (or whether Jeremy Brown will replace him), and Jay Payton (yes, I still want to call him Gary), author of one of the most selfish stints in Red Sox history. Recall how Payton pulled a tantrum to get himself fired and out the door for Chad Bradford, wasn't it?

Of course, the mid-seventies version of the A's with Rudi, Jackson, Tenace, Fingers, Hunter and others were a powerful bunch. Manager Phil Garner was a player on the 1974 team for example.

Ah, back to the future. Jon Lester once again did his Bill Lee/Perils of Pauline act stranding a legion of A's with some key strikeouts and double plays. Aside from getting a stolen base tonight, Mark Loretta continues to excel with the quick turn of the DP at second.

Craig Hansen continues to progress, as the 95 mph heater has shown some forgiveness. Hansen, Delcarmen, Papelbon, and Lester give Sox diehards something that we have not had EVER, a staff with young, live arms.

Now, if the second half can allow the hot bats to remain at least warm, the slumbering (Crisp) to awaken, and the frozen (Varitek) to thaw, then maybe they've got something.

Minor Happenings. Dustin Pedroia continues his assault to reach .300, Wily Mo gets more at bats at Pawtucket, and Jacoby Ellsbury is in Portland, with a stolen base tonight as he climbs the minor league ladder.

As for those complaints about the Sox not having enough minor league All-Stars, please recognize that their stars are where they belong, on the parent club.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Grade Deflation

Are you Red Sox fans crazy? Fakakta? Looney Toons? The Boston Globe offers Sox fans (and Internet-accessed space aliens) the chance to grade their heroes, from top to bottom.

Not surprisingly, at the top were wunderkind Jonathan Papelbon, who achieved a 99.6% 'A' rating from Red Sox fans. As for the others, now we know who the 8 writers were who didn't vote Willie Mays into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot. David Ortiz wasn't far behind at 97.5%. Evidently, chicks do dig the long ball, and RBIs. On the other hand, Manny Ramirez only gets 68% 'A's. What's a guy got to do? Shave and a haircut, two bits.

Well, let's think about the whole process. Are you graded on what you've done or what you're expected to do? Trot Nixon and Craig Hansen both have a dominant 'B' rating. Hansen's pitched a handful of innings and Nixon's practically 'the one'. Of course, Trot gets 6 'extra large' for his trouble, and Hansen's only a millionaire. And Trot still struggles a bit against the southpaws, and maybe fans have the Nixon-Varitek 0 for 17 Sunday Matinee-Soiree game in their craw.

And why the lack of love for Terry Francona? Okay, so maybe I'm taking it personally as ridiculing the follicle-challenged guys among us. Well, you haven't read Tony Kornheiser's Bald As I Wanna Be. Francona didn't leave Pedro in during the fateful eighth, he stuck with Mark 'The Pole' Bellhorn, and said whatever was needed to get the most out of 'Idiots' like Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar. Sometimes those personalities do get old, and I'm sure Francona would attest to that.

Francona has done pretty well with no fourth starter, crafted a bullpen out of the Kiddie Corps, and gets guys to show up and play hard every day. Where does he fail? I'd give him an 'F' in self-promotion, the antithesis of the 'Hawk Harrelson' approach.

And the piece de resistance is the ultimate in parsimonious voting, as 56% of fans give the Sox A's and 43% 'B's. I mean, without Matt Clement, David Wells, Bronson Arroyo, and Keith Foulke, would you have picked the Sox to be in first by three games at the break? Don't lie, either.

So, how do I grade? It's on the Olympic figure-skating scale, first as on 'Technical Merit' (what you did, absolute scale) and second on 'Artistic Merit' (what it looked like to the fan - vis a vis expectations). I'll stick to the A to F scale, with no waffling with pluses and minuses. Guys who really didn't play much, like Willie Harris and J.T. Snow don't get grades.

Metric............ Technical Artistic
Jason Varitek C C
Doug Mirabelli C D
Kevin Youkilis A A
Mark Loretta A A
Alex Gonzalez A A
Mike Lowell A A
Alex Cora B A
Manny Ramirez A A
Coco Crisp C C
Trot Nixon A B
Gabe Kapler A A
Wily Mo Pena B C
David Ortiz A A

Curt Schilling A A
Josh Beckett A B
Tim Wakefield B B
Jon Lester B A
5th starters D F
Jonathan Papelbon A A
Mike Timlin A B
Manny Delcarmen B A
Craig Hansen B B
Javier Lopez B B
Rudy Seanez C D
Julian Tavarez C C

Terry Francona A A

Boston Red Sox '06 A A

Yes, I have some biases. I view shortstop and catcher as first defensive positions with offense desireable but not essential. Also, the expectation level for a bench player isn't the same as for a starter.

Grading is SUBJECTIVE. I accept that. But grading down guys like Jim Rice who dominated a league for a decade isn't acceptable. Knock yourself out, and enjoy the All-Star Game. As one wag said, "it's the most important game in Pittsburgh for the past two decades."

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Kid Stuff

One of the legitimate arguments with Red Sox management in the past was the failure to draft, develop, and incorporate young pitching into the major league scene. With the failure of higher priced acquisitions (Tavarez, Seanez), Terry Francona was forced to rely on young and unproven pitchers. The results have satisfied, particularly recently. Only Lopez is over 25.

Pitcher... IP...H...ER...BB...K...W...L...ERA
Papelbon. 44...22..2......8.....45...2....1....0.41
Lester.... 32.1..30...11.....20...30..4....0...3.06
Delcarmen 21..24..9.......7....19...1.....0...3.86
Hansen.... 10.2.11...6.......3....10...1.....0...5.06
Lopez..... 6.2....4.....3.......4....4....0.....0...4.05

Totals... 114.2...91.31.....42..108..8....1....2.43

WHIP ratio 1.16
K/BB...... 2.57

Admittedly, the sample size is small, but for Sox fans, the encouraging factors are recent improvements and overall quality of the body of work.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Rubber Game Meets the Road

Red Sox fans know that time away from Fenway isn't always happy time for the Sox. In game 85 today, the Sox (53-22) guaranteed at least a .500 road trip, defeating the World Champion White Sox 9-6, behind potent offense, and superior relief from the Kiddie Corps (today Lopez, Hansen, and Papelbon) to claim consecutive victories.

Josh Beckett (11-5), continued to struggle, but the pen bailed him out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the seventh to seal the win. Lopez came in to fan Jim Thome, and Hansen induced Paul Konerko to pop out to short right and Jermaine Dye, who had homered twice to line out weakly to short.

David Ortiz extended his Red Sox record of homers before the All-Star break, hitting his 31st, and his eighth in July. Alex Cora swiped a pair of bases and Coco Crisp one as the Sox did it on the bases, too.

The Sox have now won 53 times in 85 games, despite having played only 37 times at Fenway.

Despite the tamper at Tampa, the Sox are third in runs scored and third in OPS, and had scored about the same number of runs in the first half of the season as last year.

On the hill, they are eighth in ERA, ninth in OPS allowed but fourth in K/BB. From the pen, they are 2nd in WHIP and third in K/BB.

Their biggest obvious weakness is the fifth starter currently. As mentioned elsewhere, one has to wonder whether they consider moving Tavarez into the fifth spot, as he is pitching better, and has starting experience. As for the Wells, Clement, DiNardo, Foulke contingent, they're on the outside looking in. Injuries are part of baseball and major division competitors (Yankees-Matsui, Sheffield, Pavano, Toronto-Burnett) have been touched up as well.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Sox Pet Peeves

Even when the team is going well, we're going to have some 'issues' to deal with.

  • Inconsistency. It's really more of a problem of 'contagion', the condition of hitting or not hitting, which seems a team plague.
  • Unrealistic expectations. Jason Varitek is a better hitter than he's shown recently. Is he hurt?
  • Padding. People complain about armor-plated hitters, but more and more Sox are on the bandwagon.
  • One-handed popup and fly ball catching. I wish A-Gone would stop with the Pete Rose popup catches...
  • People complain about Manny in the outfield. He's pretty consistent, when he's not daydreaming, and that's at a minimum now.
  • Coco's arm. He may make Johnny Damon look like Dwight Evans. Fortunately, he can catch indoors.
  • Trust, lack of, in young players. Seems like Tito's getting over that, thanks to 'necessity'.

That's not much of a list. What about the revelations?

  • Youkilis and the 3-2 count. Patience is a virtue.
  • The 6-4-3 and 5-4-3 double play combos.
  • Lester. It's not pretty, but he's the modern Bill Lee in dealing with jams.
  • They talked about trading Manny?
  • Ortizzle sizzle. Unbelieveable.
  • Kapler's miraculous recovery.
  • JonBon Savi.
  • On base percentage.

Is it possible the RemDawg has cut down the 'pitch count'?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

House Devils Street Angels

My father used to have a saying (actually many), "house devils, street angels." That referred to children whom everyone thought (based on public persona) were perfect, only to be hellions at home. As for the Sox, they're tough at home, and have been pussycats in Tampa.

Tonight, another no name pitcher (at least he was a righthander) baffled the Sox, while Jason Johnson made no one forget Jason Voorhees, as the Rays stung the Sox 5-2 to capture the series with three wins with one remaining.

Lost in the drubbing were outstanding relief efforts from Jeopardy Category 'Ends with Z' guy Julian Tavarez who fired three scoreless, and Craig Hansen who mopped up with one.

My guy Alex Cora found a number of ways to reach base, but was the unfortunate 'Old Maid' making the last out.

Meanwhile, Cleveland Castoff Jason Johnson crumbled again, alternating batting practice with allowing Carl 'Beep Beep' Crawford to steal home. Jason Johnson doesn't look much better than David Pauley, but as Earl Weaver reminds us, "momentum lasts as long as the next day's starting pitcher."

It's pretty tough to find anything redeeming about tonight's game, other than the players can retire back to the hotel bar, which I've heard (in the past) was a destination for the Sox.

Even if every game carried a 60% chance (random) of a win, a twelve game winning streak has about a 0.2% probability. And a three game losing streak has a probability of about 6.4% under those conditions. I guess one would ask if the games truly have independent probability of victory. I guess Vegas would say a resounding NO, because of pitching matchups, home field, team versus team history, and so on. There, I feel better already.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Kazmir Sweats Sox

Every problem has a solution, although the Kazmir Problem seems to be growing like a fine wine ages. Tonight the Tampa portsider fired a 2-hit shutout as the Sox got an unwelcome return to the AL 3-0.

Kazmir already has earned the honorable 'Ted Lilly' Soxkiller award, normally reserved for the likes of Whitey Ford, Dave Stewart, and Jim Palmer.

So what are Sox fans to do? Other than calling the Revere Reeducation Center or Whitey Bulger, the Sox have only a few options, short of Wily Mo Pena returning to health. We could hope for a sudden case of progeria variant, and certainly nothing as awful as what happened to Dave Dravecky. We could ask Dave Cowens to see if he could talk Kazmir into driving a cab. And we could hope that as an impressionable young man, he might join a cult, but not one headed by Donald Fehr and Gene Orza.

Better yet, we should start the "Bring Scott K to Boston Foundation," with only 500,000 New Englanders required to chip in ten bucks apiece to put toward the Scott K annuity, assuring that when Scott leaves Tampa that he'll consider Fenway, not the Bronx his Final Destination. "The Early Bird Catches the Worm," and we're not talking about division rivals Toronto or Baltimore, either.

Start Me Up

---------- OBP SLG OPS RUNS

Player A .418 .497 .914 56

Player B .370 .468 .838 60

Scroll Down for answer

Salary :

Player A $354,600

Player B $13 Million

Who's the bargain?

Player A Kevin Youkilis
Player B Johnny Damon

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Objectively Speaking: All Star Vote

Realizing that certain All-Star positions are determined solely by 'distribution' of teams, we can at least look at where the Sox might fall on merit. It's hard to be as objective about defense, but we can look at Runs Created/27 at bats or OPS.


Joe Mauer
deserves it. RC27 9.81 (Varitek at 3.88). Posada is number 2.

First base

Giambi and Youkilis
are one-two at 9.72 and 8.04. Thome at 10.48, Ortiz is at 7.67 and has the intangibles. Travis Hafner is at 10.47 and deserves to go.

Second base

Brian Roberts (5.89)
and Loretta (5.39) are one-two. Loretta has a chance. Tadahito Iguchi is another potential, but other White Sox will go ahead of him.


Derek Jeter
is on top at 7.53, with Carlos Guillen and Orlando Cabrera not so far behind at 6.28 and 6.08. Cabrera may get the edge on distribution. Alex Gonzalez is 7th at 4.05. Tejada at 6.01.

Third base

and Glaus are tops at 6.60 and 6.24. Lowell is at 6.10 (fourth). Chavez a possibility on distribution.


Manny Ramirez 9.60
Vernon Wells 8.44
Jermaine Dye 8.37
Ichiro 8.20
Grady Sizemore 8.07
Trot Nixon 8.07
Alex Rios (injured) 7.82
Gary Matthews, Jr (really) 7.64

Twelve possible pitchers:
B.J. Ryan

8 starters, 12 or 13 pitchers, 10 reserves

Boston Schilling, Papelbon, Varitek (if voted), Loretta, Ramirez, Ortiz
New York Jeter, Giambi, Rodriguez, Rivera, Mussina
Toronto Wells, Halladay, Rios (injured), Ryan
Baltimore Tejada
Tampa Kazmir

Detroit Rogers, Verlander, Ordonez
Chicago Thome, Dye, Jenks, Buehrle
Minnesota Mauer, Santana
Cleveland Hafner, Sizemore
Kansas City Grudzielanek
(nobody on KC deserving)

Oakland Swisher
Texas Matthews, Jr.
Seattle Ichiro
LA Angels Cabrera

Obviously, there are always some 'bubble guys', like Jose Contreras, Nate Robertson, Barry Zito, John Lackey, Marcus Thames, Casey Blake, Jorge Posada and so on.

Definitions for Newcomers

Baseball uses a special lexicon that many newcomers may not know. As a public service, Reality Check provides you with accurate definitions for selected baseball terms.

Around the Horn: NESN strategy to use Disarcina, Eckersley, and Rice for commentary, dropping Sam Horn from the lineup

Aspirin: What NL managers require for Interleague Play

Back Through the Box: Where many fans want to go when listening to Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan commentary

Bad ball hitter: Pitches in the dirt, see also protective gear, Carlton Fisk

Base: (see battery)

Battery: part of what Wes Gardner was and Brett Myers is.

Beanball: Strategy employed by A's GM Billy Beane

Bleachers: Everything not a Box Seat at Fenway

Box Seat: everything not a bleacher seat, frequently previously a 'grandstand' or lower-priced seat.

Bullpen: off field site for growing tomatoes

Can't Miss: see soft-tossing lefthanders, as in hitters 'can't miss' their pitches

Caught looking: ballplayers syping on attractive female fans; see baseball classic Ball Four by Jim Bouton

Choke Hitter: Yankee fan term of endearment for Alex Rodriguez

Closed stance: Frequent Sox management negotiating positions for overpaid stars (see Damon or Martinez)

Clubhouse lawyer: agent, as opposed to other parts of posse

Clutch: see Ortiz, David

Comebacker: witty retort to bench jockeying

Cripple: see Bonds, Barry

Cup of Coffee: leaded, see amphetamines or greenies

Double Steal: Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb

Fan: short for fanny, as in fannies in the seats

Fungo: road trip to gentleman's club or bar

Green light: undervalued contract

Gun: see NBA, as in "that player has a gun"

Hit-and-run: what the best players do, running after hitting

Hit for the Cycle: see Ben Rothlisberger

Hot corner: see Fungo

Journeyman: player who likes 'rock music' as opposed to hip hop, i.e. fan of Journey

Juice: performance enhancing drug

Leg hitter: see Battery

Magic Number: what player must receive in contract to be respected

Out Man: disabled list player

Payoff pitch: off-field employment, as in endorsements

Pitch count: the number of times the Remdawg hypes his website, upcoming television events, or All-Star game gala

Punchout: see Brett Myers

Rubber: see Fungo

Screwball: many lefthanded pitchers

Squeeze: attempt to lowball player on contract; see closed stance

Stopper: valuable adjunct for players who prefer hard liquor to beer

Stuff: see juice, as in 'on the stuff'

Whitewash: MLB and Players' Union approach to performance-enhancing drug use, see juice, see stuff

As a matter of taste, our editors have decided to omit some other popular baseball definitions...

Senior Ciruit Breaker?

No wonder they call it the Senior Circuit. Are they using Senior Citizens to play against the AL?

MLB designed interleague play to create additional fan interest. I suppose the true local rivalries (Yankees-Mets, Dodgers-Angels) do, but the Red Sox- Phillies, or Florida-Tampa Bay? Well, Brett Myers did create additional local interest. Guess that the old saw about 'there's no such thing as bad publicity' hit him in the face.

Aside from the false premise, we have the lopsided results and some really useless stats like "Derek Jeter has the most hits in the history of interleague play." Oh, and of course, Manny Ramirez has a higher salary than the Florida Marlins payroll. But don't worry, Florida is trying to fix that, looking to dump Dontrell Willis so most of the Yankee starters will have a higher salary than the Florida payroll. Ironically, Florida is one of only two teams with winning records (Colorado being the other) against the AL.

By division, the Al East is 53-32 against the NL East, the AL Central is 60-25 against the NL Central, and the AL West is 35-32 against the NL West. Overall, that's 148-89, a .624 winning percentage, better than the best winning percentage in the NL (the Mets at .600).

The mighty Cardinals, one of the best teams in the NL, is 4-10 against the AL Central, and Seattle has moved over .500 by pitch-slapping the NL West, going 14-3. The Cardinals would probably be the fourth best team in the AL Central, if they could get by the Tribe. Tony LaRussa must truly be a genius, to have gotten out of the AL.

Five AL teams, Boston (15), Minnesota (15), Seattle (14) - yeah, you read it right, Chicago(14), and Detroit (14) have won over 80 percent of their games against the NL, and collectively are 72-13 against the 'Senior Circuit'.

Kansas City, arguably the worst team in baseball is 10-7 against their National League brethren.

Is it the 'rich' franchises (New York, Boston, LA Angels of Anaheim, California, Milky Way Galaxy) are all in the AL? What about the Mets, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, and Braves? Or that the Moneyball teams (Boston, Toronto, Oakland) live there? Or are all the best watering holes and gentlemen's clubs in AL cities, leading the NLers astray? We have to know.

Or maybe it's the defense.

Sox fans thank the scheduling gods for this reprieve from AL hitters, allowing their young pitchers to get their feet wet against inferior competition.

Interleague play. It sure looks like this dog won't hunt.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

New Streaks

Bad news, good news. The bad was the disruption of the Sox 17 game errorless streak with a first inning Mirabelli throwing error. The good news was an 11-5 trouncing of the Marlins, with both David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez going yard twice. Ramirez drilled a three-run shot into the bleachers in the first, his 2000th major league hit.

Tim Wakefield moved to 6-8 with his 150th Red Sox win, as Wakefield is among the Red Sox career pitching leaders in most categories.

The big picture is that the Sox have dominated interleague play, going 15-2. ESPN ranks the Sox number three in their power rankings, behind Chicago and Detroit.

The Sox have just been overall solid recently, in almost all areas. The infield is sound, and they have middle infield depth at Pawtucket between Pedroia and Machado.

The outfield came together with the return of Coco Crisp and the recovery of Gabe Kapler, who has been a talisman since his return, in addition to playing well.

The starters with Schilling, Beckett, Wakefield, and Lester provide a chance to win every game, and Kyle Snyder picked up a win tonight for the Pawsox. We'll see how Clement's recovery goes and where Jason Johnson fits in.

The bullpen is led by Papelbon and Timlin in defined closer and setup roles. Manny Delcarmen's stuff is showing and Craig Hansen is also getting valuable work. I suspect that the 'Ends with Z' crowd, Tavarez and Seanez will pitch better in the second half, AND have less responsibility as more falls on Delcarmen.

Notice how Alex Cora tried to deke Hanley Ramirez into thinking he had caught Mirabelli's errant throw? Cora is probably the headiest ballplayer I have ever seen with his overall play.

ESPN reports that Pedro Martinez had a 6.23 E.R.A. in June. In his appearance against the Sox, I only recall one fastball (up) over 90 mph, and Martinez could be either wearing down or hurt, which is why the Red Sox were not willing to go long (four years) for Pedro, regardless of how great he has been in the past.

Should be a fascinating matchup tomorrow with Jon Lester (3-0) facing off against Josh Johnson, who has been the Marlins' best starter.

Although I think the Remdawg is terrific, I do get a little 'pitch fatigue' from Jerry Remy's frequent shilling for his events and website. Hey, good luck to him.