Wednesday, October 31, 2007

By the Numbers - Post-Season

Numbers don't tell everything...but Scott Boras has made his clients (and himself) a fortune by creating statbooks that celebrate their excellence. So let's distill some post-season numbers, past and present.

AB  R   H  2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG   OPS

147 21  41  9  0  7  17  17  38  .279  .361  .483  .844  A. RODRIGUEZ
495 85 153 22  3 17  49  51  96  .309  .377  .469  .846  JETER
322 41  76 19  0  9  31  57  77  .236  .352  .379  .731  POSADA
97  16  27  8  0  4  20  11  12  .278  .348  .485  .833  LOWELL
353 55  95 14  0 24  64  59  81  .269  .376  .513  .889  RAMIREZ
189 35  60 16  1 11  42  32  47  .317  .418  .587  1.005 ORTIZ
65  15  24  3  0  4  11   9   3  .369  .447  .600  1.047 YASTRZEMSKI
113 11  27  7  1  4  19  15  20  .239  .333  .425  .758  DWIGHT EVANS
105 16  33  7  1  7  23  11  16  .314  .378  .600  .978  GARCIAPARRA
60  12  17  6  0  2  10   6   7  .283  .348  .483  .821  PEDROIA
51  16  19  4  1  4  10   9   9  .373  .459  .725  1.183 YOUKILIS

First, statistics don't tell the whole story, about great individual defense,
or even great individual plays. Sample size counts, too. Kevin Youkilis' 1.183 OPS
with 51 at bats doesn't mean as much as Ortiz 189 at bats. Same goes for even great
performances by Yaz and Garciaparra, with a fraction of the at bats of a Derek
Jeter. But we can see that A-Rod's 7 homers and 17 RBI in 147 at bats pro-rates to
mediocre numbers over a whole season. Most players won't perform up to normal
against superior competition, but some, like David Ortiz have. A-Rod gives you Hall
of Fame regular season numbers, but has mostly been a no-show in the playoffs...
and I'm guessing that will be hard to find, even in the footnotes of Scott Boras'
sales pitch.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Of Coronations and Other Things

Most Sox fans are in more of a state of exhaustion than exhilaration, only because of the lateness of the hour. And whining about much of anything smacks of just plain negativity. We CAN enjoy the moment. Here are a few thoughts, I hope mostly positive.

  • Can Terry Francona get enough credit for what he has done?
  • Will people get off of Theo's back?
  • The most exciting aspect for those of us old enough to remember is player development...the exciting young players, from Ellsbury, to Youkilis and Pedroia
  • I'm happy for Lugo, who looked like he needed suicide watch earlier in the year, and turns out celebrating hitting over .300 in the Series, and playing pretty good defense overall
  • A weight came off J.D. Drew's shoulders
  • Papelbon...nerves of steel, or just none at all
  • Great moment for Jon Lester
  • Will Lowell 'settle' for something like three and 36?
  • Okajima needs the rest
  • How excited is Japan?
  • Would adding another Japanese pitcher help the whole comfort thing?
  • Kudos to Varitek. The dirtiest dirt dog.
  • DeMarlo Hale went unnoticed.
  • I'm not jealous of the hair, Manny, but can you fix the running thing?
  • Does Matsuzaka's translator get a full share, a half share, or caddy fees?
  • Does the whole Boras attempt to upstage the Red Sox/Rockies series merit a fine from MLB?

Enjoy the parade.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"America is depending on you"

For years the Red Sox organization, players and coaching staff, and fans played the role of the guy at the beach who gets sand kicked in his face. He doesn't get the girl, gets seagull droppings deposited on him, a sunburn, and every imaginable form of insult that Mother Nature and human nature can deliver. That was then, this is now.

I'm not expecting a piano to fall out of the sky and hit me. I'm not concerned about sunspot activity, bad weather, black cats, or triskaidekaphobia. Okay, so I haven't abandoned some pet superstitions, but I have a limit, you know?

From baseball to 'taco stand and deliver" the Red Sox have simply gotten it done, so far. No superhero has emerged to carry the locals back to baseball's promised land, rather an assortment of character guys, from Jason Varitek, the bruised warrior, to foreign imports Lowell, Ortiz, Matsuzaka, Lugo, and Okajima, to the "Blew Bayou" guy in Jonathan Papelbon, and the rookies.

We haven't heard any disparaging words from guys disappointed on not getting enough face time, or contract talks (smart guys know they'll get paid), or put downs on the opposition. The Celtics motto is UBUNTU, from the Bantu, emphasizing the importance of collectivism over individualism. Daisuke Matsuzaka spoke of doryoku (unflagging effort) earlier in the season, and the team seems to get it, combining talent, effort, and character for the greater good.

The underachievers from the regular season have come through in the playoffs in the big moments, and the baseball operations/scouting organization has translated theory into practice. Studying tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses doesn't get much attention, but when athletes match up so closely, sweating the small stuff counts. Terry Francona, John Farrell, Jason Varitek et al have sweated the small stuff.

Tonight the Red Sox send cancer survivor Jon Lester to the mound for the second biggest challenge of his young life. Tim Wakefield discussed his injury in terms of possible destiny for Lester, as unselfish an outlook as one might get in one of sports' most individual pursuits. And Red Sox nation turns its lonely eyes to him.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Destiny's Child?

Boston fans awake to a World Series berth, a 7-0 professional football team, the number two ranked team in the BCS (Boston College) and at least hope with the Celtics with the second generation of the Green Trio. Pinch me?

Sports provide a vicarious means for ordinary Joes to feel important, as though we have become part of something bigger. Our issues like job security, paying the mortgage, filling the tank with three dollar gas become tolerable. Our heroes performance lends gentle amnesia to our pained consciousness.

I couldn't have been more wrong about Dustin Pedroia, the raging mite with the oversized swing. Manager Terry Francona agreed that it was the microcosm of the regular season, with adjustments creating success.

"And a child shall lead them." Rookies Pedroia and Ellsbury came up big, and MLB rookies but Japanese League vets Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima carried their weight as well.

The much-maligned Theo Epstein got a chance to get champagne soaked, and Terry Francona, the permanent butt of Red Sox doubters' wrath, got the last laugh, excepting a 20,000 lost bet to Larry Lucchino over chewing tobacco cessation.

Downers? Well, you hope that John Madden's warning about not doing anything great if you can't handle the celebration counts, and scuba goggles after the game evoked that warning. Sox fans' calls for a sweep after Game One might infuse a little humility...Jonathan's Papelbon's Riverdancing scares me just a little bit. And most of all, are the Sox ready for the Rocktober surprise, Destiny's Child, the biggest momentum in the sports universe excepting errant asteroids?

Yes, Boston might like her heroes bald and sweaty (Kevin Youkilis) but the chief architects last night were a 'despondent' emigre' who had met the big stage before and an undersized infielder swinging from his heels.

Baseball's ultimate contests will almost certainly see snow at some point, with a possible November conclusion, global warming notwithstanding. Yes, Manny was right, it wasn't the end of the world, but it might feel like it with at least some baseball headed for subfreezing temperatures.

Musical Tributes

Just enjoy the music...

Rookie magic at work...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Omen? You Heard It HERE (1144 PM EST)

Props to Curt Schilling for his Old Man River performance in picking up another post-season win. And to J.D. Drew, an unexpected hero with a grand slam and five RBI.

With Daisuke (DICE-K) Matsuzaka pitching Game 7 after the Sox win tonight, have the Sox received an omen with a 12-2 win?

The only dice combination that give a unique 12-2 score are a pair of sixes and a pair of ones. So there you have it.

Passion Saturday

It's not even noon yet, and football is in the air, but New Englanders today have locked in on the Sawx. As I drove up Route 1 North today, an electronic sign in front of a car dealer said it all, "START ELLSBURY". Shortly thereafter, pulling out of the Barnes & Nobles parking lot, the car in front of me had the license plate "SOX GAL". It's almost enough for me to start violating my superstition, no Sox garb to be worn on game day, no hats, jackets, T-shirts, or whatever. But not enough.

Much of the Nation flipped out when Manny Ramirez suggested that life could go on if the Sox lost. The old saying goes "baseball isn't a matter of life or death, it's more important than that."

Although I passed by Home Depot today, I didn't load up on tar and feathers to prepare to vilify Terry Francona or Theo Epstein. As unrealistic as I can be, baseball remains a game played by people, who struggle with stress, biorhythms and cyclicality, injury and illness, performance anxiety, and the same problems we all face. Players' Herculean pay doesn't logically allow me to criticize 'an off day' or a slump.

As a veteran (read: old) observer of the baseball condition, I wonder whether the Old Man (Schilling) can summon the wherewithal to win another big game, or whether the Young Buck (Carmona) will have youth and power on his side. Will a household name carry the day, or a relative unknown (e.g. Ellsbury) emerge from obscurity to play the leading man? Will weather play a role? Will a close call or an umpiring mistake prove crucial?

That's why we watch...Passion Saturday.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hand Grenades and Horseshoes

Thoughts on a Friday morning as the Sox stave off an elimi-nation (hat tip to Boston Dirt Dogs) game.

  • If you have a typewriter without A, E, and I, you can't write much. That would be Big Papi, Manny, and Mike Lowell. If you don't have Q, X, and Z (Julio Lugo, Coco Crisp, and JD Drew) then you still can write something. But you can also use some different letters.
  • My, but doesn't Terry Francona have the horseshoe in the right place.
  • Hanley Ramirez is a great player. But you can't get top of the rotation pitching for nothing.
  • Josh Beckett again simply magnificent. Six hits, eleven strikeouts.
  • Kevin Youkilis has certainly stepped up in the post-season.
  • Where's Jeff Maier when you need him, Manny?
  • A great day for Yankee fans, as the team they love to hate, lives to be hated longer.
  • Do you think Kenny Lofton really wants a piece of Josh Beckett? That's an early TKO.
  • Is Chief Knock-A-Homa still around?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Game 4: In Game Blog

Probably the most frustrating part of watching major league hitters against Paul Byrd is the feeling that says, "you can't hit THAT?" Byrd, the right-handed Jamie Moyer, throws rotten grapefruit up to the plate. Worse yet is the double pump delivery that he occasionally uses.

Intellectually, I wanted Terry Francona to shake up the lineup, because a number of players aren't doing anything, not for lack of effort, just baseball. Inserting Ellsbury and Cora for Drew and Lugo might have been harsh on management ego, but you've also got Mirabelli's diminished offense in the lineup with Wakefield pitching.

They've just shown some fairly unorthodox grips from Byrd, but what would surprise you now?

A keen sense of the obvious says this is what Sox fans feared most, offensive doldrums in the postseason. Nobody would confuse Westbrook and Byrd with top of the rotation pitching, but timing counts. Even bottom of the rotation pitchers have quality starts, occasionally...been there and done that at lower levels.

Does Fox care who goes to the World Series? Somehow, a Cleveland-Colorado Classic doesn't contain anyone to root AGAINST. At least New Yorkers could watch to hope to see the Sox fold on the big stage.

I wrote to the object of 'The Curse' today, the postseason malady imposed upon the Yankees in 2001 by a fired employee that has resulted in a 7 year 'pitch' for the Bombers. No reply yet.

Casey Blake (why did I think he reminded me of Aaron Boone) just deposited a Wakefield offering over the leftfield wall. Tant pis! Now add a hit and a hit batsman, and it's time for bullpen action, and some stall ball.

Pitching or not, the Sox have to generate some offense...or it won't matter.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Now You See It

As I've mentioned before, one aspect of baseball that astonishes me is watching low probability events happen on an everyday basis. For example, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz reached base ten consecutive appearance last night. If you view each at bat as a random event (may or may not be), and have an expectation of reaching base at 40 percent (.04), then you're looking at about a one in 10,000 chance of two players getting on ten consecutive times. You'd have to watch about sixty consecutive seasons of Red Sox games to see that.

Last night's announcers mentioned that Javier Lopez has a higher success rate against right-handed batters than left-handed ones. I wouldn't have guessed that...of course, Casey Blake then promptly deposited his second two-bagger into the left field corner.

I saw some fans who showed up wearing windbreakers. Maybe they had neoprene wet suits underneath, but it looked pretty cold out there last night.

Does Jason Varitek get enough credit for what he does? Last year Josh Beckett tried to overpower people, now he's trusting Varitek, willing to trick them, too. Props to him.

Travis Hafner scares me.

Tim McCarver and Joe Buck scare me, too. First, they mention that Beckett has thrown six consecutive curveballs to Gutierrez, the pitch immediately following an inside fastball. Then they mention that Tribe skipper Eric Wedge has visited 'Strike One' a batting cage a mile away from Fenway. Last time I checked, the Danvers 40,000 square foot multipurpose facility was a heckuva long walk from Fenway. The Truth Squad cries foul bawl on the Fox jock and sidekick.

Despite the criticism of the Fox broadcasters, I acknowledge that they are much easier to take without having the Yankees the opposition, with McCarver the Yankee shill that he is. I still always want to call Joe Buck, Jack, thinking back to his father, which really defines my age.

Mike Lowell looked pretty indispensable last night, with his key hit to the opposite field. And the baseball gods blessed Bobby Kielty and Terry Francona as Kielty's single knocked out C.C. Sabathia. What am I grateful for? That C.C. isn't playing defensive end for the Cowboys this Sunday. Wow, he's one large dude. Thank goodness the Indians' lefty got his glove up to snatch Dustin Pedroia's liner up the middle...

Next the announcing duo was hyping the A-Rod relocation possibilities to Fenway (cut to owner John Henry). I agree with them that only a few suitors can compete for 'The Winner's Curse' and here's rooting for A-Rod to wind up in Chicago, in the National League.

J.D. Drew made a pretty good play on a Grady Sizemore drive down by the Pesky Pole. Let's hope that he doesn't have a sore back for the next two weeks from hitting the wall.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dress Code?

Unlike the NFL, Major League Baseball seems to have some informality associated with it. Sure, they practically strip searched Terry Francona to see if he were wearing a uniform jersey, but what can you expect from a sport whose motto is, "so great that even idiotic management can't ruin it."

Baseball players have a thousand different kinds of shoes, wear socks of an infinite number of lengths, and some guys like Manny Ramirez wear their unis like pajamas. Others want the tailored look, as though chasing Baseball Annies was their primary job. Not to mention differing gloves, wristbands, body armor, and so on. Some players just look 'professional' like Mike Lowell every day, and others have caps (Timlin/Nixon) that look as though they've been trampled daily in the Ponderosa.

But that omits my own personal issues. As a loyal Red Sox fan, can you picture yourself wearing a Yankee cap or a Yankee jacket? Nausea? How about projectile vomiting? Yes, I do have a picture of Joe DiMaggio in my office, but a picture represents respect, not unvarnished loss of my mental faculties. I wouldn't even take a wager that might involve me wearing a Yankee cap, or even a Yankee wristwatch. Not happening. Cripes, I practically respond like Wally in the ESPN commercial with Papi wearing the Yankee cap.

I respect the Yankees, and Joe Torre, and even have empathy for The Boss and his family for the suffering that his health entails. Been there and done that. But I'm not clamoring for the Sox to sign any of the New York family to repopulate Fenway. Puh-lease.

No the Yankees, from the Bronx Zoo, to Sparky Lyle sitting on birthday cakes, to Elston Howard breaking up Billy Rohr's no-hitter, and Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth's record, get my attention and my respect, but wearing their gear? Nyet. Not happening. Never.

Enough. It's all about waxing the Tribe, starting now.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Tribal Council Friday

How does Red Sox Nation feel about the demise of the Bombers and the arrival of the Tribe? Maybe if the Nation understood the health issues of The Boss, they would have at least a modicum of empathy. Surely with a new stadium in the works, and loads of Yankee Bucks, New York isn't headed back to the early 70s.

As for the present, I rejoice in playing Cleveland, because of so many issues.
  • I'm worn out by the four and a half hour marathons that every Sox-Yankee games has become. How many times can we hear 'pitch count', 'full count', 'working the count', and 'quality at bat' during a game? I can go out and get gas and a coffee in the time a Kevin Youkilis at bat takes.
  • I don't have to listen to Yankee fans complain about insects.
  • I won't have to listen to Yankee fans complain about umpires.
  • We can focus on our young guys like Pedroia and Papelbon.
  • We can talk about some quality opposition pitching, Sabathia and Carmona.
  • We can reminisce about Eric Wedge, Trot Nixon, and Kelly Shoppach.
  • Manny can try to eclipse Bernie Williams' post-season home run record.
Things I really want to know.
  • Did one of Roger Clemens' delayed season openings ever represent a steroid suspension?
  • How good is Dustin Pedroia at ping pong? I'm guessing that he's really good.
  • Does he use the Western or the Eastern grip?
  • Will Sox fans think the Drew and Lugo acquisitions were good ones if they have more success in the playoffs?
  • What year will Grady Sizemore win the AL MVP?
  • Was Roger Clemens' pay this season the baseball equivalent of the Jon Koncak contract?
  • Did Papelbon drink any of that champagne, or just spill it?
  • How many current Red Sox players could end up becoming major league managers? Jason Varitek, Alex Cora, or Dustin Pedroia?
  • Will anyone give Terry Francona some credit for coping with the knucklehead players, media, front office, baseball operations computer statistics, and showing class since he's been here?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

"That's Why I Love This Game"

Let's See How Far We've Come...

The Red Sox eliminated the Angels (gawd, please change the LAA designation) as the Old Lion showed himself to be anything but toothless, with Curt Schilling proving his resilience once again. Schilling ran his post-season record to 9-2, lowering his post season ERA to under two, propelling the Sox to the the ALCS and further enhancing his chance of enshrinement at Cooperstown.

Great players elevate their game in the big moments, and the Sox witnessed back-to-back homers by David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, and tacked on a seven run eighth inning to send the Angels heavenward.

So the Red Sox move to the ALCS for the third time in the past five seasons. They boast the top AL pitching staff, the second ranked defense, and one of the most productive offenses in the American League. They seem to genuinely like each other, and have some serious baseball junkies on the team, from Captain Jason Varitek, to Alex Cora, and Dustin Pedroia.

What was the best moment of the game for me? In the bottom of the seventh, Schilling fanned Mike Napoli with a splitter down, and the camera showed Kevin Youkilis' excitement in the background. Grown men play a child's game with passion and excitement, creating infectious enthusiasm. That's what makes for a special experience.

As for the post season questions, here are a few that fans might think about.

Would you rather play the Yankees or the Indians?

From a baseball standpoint, does it make a difference? Both have talent, quality pitching, depth, and a winning attitude. From a quality of life standpoint, you know that every Red Sox-Yankee game is at least a four hour ordeal, with soaring pitch counts, and endless agonizing shots of celebrity fans.

Has Roger Clemens pitched his last game?

Can any of us believe that Roger will depart until he's collected the last nickel he can? The best pitcher of this generation can't say no, and frankly, if somebody would pay me eighteen extra, extra large to win six games, I'd haul this sorry specimen out to the rubber.

Will Joe Torre Be Fired?

For his sake, Joe can only hope that he doesn't have to put up with the Bronx Zoo any longer. In the dugout, he looks like somebody has bamboo shoots under his fingernails and that he slept on a bed of nails.

What's the Best Line of the post season?

George Steinbrenner just signed the Orkin Man to a fourteen day contract for five million dollars.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Masterpiece Theater

Josh Beckett pitched one of the most dominating performances I have ever seen in Fenway Park with a 4-0, four-hit, complete game shutout in Game One of the ALDS. Beckett fanned eight and walked none, using 108 pitches to dispatch the Angels.

He gave a clinic for other Red Sox pitchers and fans. How did he do it?
  • First pitch strikes
  • Overpowering heat (fastball regularly touching 96-98) with outstanding fastball command
  • Use of secondary pitches to complement the fastball
Beckett had tremendous repetition of his tight delivery, with outstanding leg drive, and his ball had tremendous movement, running down and in to right-handers and he seemed to use a cut fastball at times to the lefthanders.

The single most dominating game I've seen this year at Fenway was Buchholz's no-hitter, but Beckett reminded us of Jim Palmer with his ability to use both sides of the plate.

We can only hope that Daisuke Matsuzaka was taking notes.