Thursday, May 03, 2007

Thin Line Between Madness and Genius

With the Sox off to an electrifying 17-9 start, few fans look to criticize Terry Francona. And yet a baseball team wins and loses based on subtleties...a game of inches.

The Sox lost Tuesday night (ancient history in baseball time), 5-4, with a rare bullpen collapse. Or did less obvious contributions, or lack thereof, cost a victory? First, our baseball fanaticism compels us to microanalyze each victory and defeat...the football mentality of 'what if?'. How was last night's game different. J.D. Drew returned to the lineup? Drew has struggled lately, but added an RBI. But Alex Cora returned to second base and had two RBI, and continued his steady, heady, winning play.

Player A .172 .294 .224 .518 (AVE/OBP/SLG/OPS)
Player B .345 .406 .724 1.130

Cora hasn't had many at bats (29), but has scored one more run than Pedroia (player A) and has nine RBI compared with Pedroia's two.

The Sox embody 'Moneyball', so we know that Terry Francona comes to the ballpark with his laptop, and gets greeted by reams of data to sift through looking for fungible realities sortable into runs created and defensed. We also know how Francona appreciates the unvarnished, unassuming contribution of Cora. "He's a baseball player."

At this point, Pedroia remains a 'suspect' as much as 'prospect', a free swinger whose contact credentials in the minors haven't translated into victories, yet. Yes, he snagged a Josh Phelps liner to help preserve a win against the Yankees, but the other Pedroia highlights would fit into a fifteen-second campaign spot.

The Sox need to carry a backup middle infielder, and the question hanging over Theo and company is 'should Pedroia be the guy' or should the Sox afford Pedroia the chance for a makeover?

Meanwhile, the Sox have their own rival for Philip Hughes as Clay Buchholz rampages through AA getting stronger every outing. The 22 year-old righthander threw six perfect innings in his last start, has a chilling 9-1 K/BB ratio (best ERA predictor), and has allowed just 12 hits in 22 innings thus far. With Lester, Buchholz, and others on the horizon, the Sox may have the alchemy of baseball past and future in their cupboard.

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