Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bash in the Bronx

Does the Law of Averages mean anything after the Sox scored in double digits four consecutive games and the Bombers got whitewashed 16-0 by the Tigers last night? Let's hope not.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, victim of lack of run support recently, faces Red Sox nemesis Andy Pettitte. Among pitchers with at least 120 innings pitched, Matsuzaka (13-10) is 22nd in run support at 5.19 runs/game. The leaders are Verlander, Wang, Beckett, and Pettitte, all with at least 6 3/4 runs per game, with Verlander at a whopping 7.6.

On-base slugging percentage .831 Dustin Pedroia. At .821, Derek Jeter.

Three year splits for Jorge Posada against the Red Sox? .303/.410/.576/.986. That would qualify him as a Sox killer in my book.

Jon Lester pitched well for the Sea Dogs, allowing one run in six innings. If only he could cut down on the bases on balls.

With the off-season acquisition of Julio Lugo, everyone worried about the Red Sox defense. The Sox check in at third in fielding percentage in the AL, with quality work in particular from Coco Crisp and Kevin Youkilis. Is it my imagination or is Crisp throwing better lately. He reached third base from CF the other day.

Win shares aren't updated since the 23rd, but here they are.

Terry Francona doesn't get much credit for the Sox success. Is that fair?

Howard Bryant has a profile on the Sox sensitive and charming slugger, David Ortiz.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Cigar but not Close?

The old saying, "you're never as good as you look when you win, and never as bad when you lose," comes to mind after the first three games of the White Sox series have gone 35-6, Boston.

The inconsistent Sox offense pounds out double digit runs three games running, and shows a very good argument why Mark Buehrle didn't belong on their radar screen. The White Sox have injuries and their pitching hasn't performed up to expectations, which is why they are a last place team.

As for the Sox, what are they, a World Series favorite, a top five team, or an enigma unfolding before us? First, despite the sense concerning offensive vulnerability, they have three guys in the top 10 hitting (Pedroia, Lowell, and Ortiz), three guys with 85 or more RBI (Lowell, Manny, Ortiz), two of the top ten in OPS (Ortiz, Lowell), three of the top 20 and five of the top twenty-seven in Runs Created (Pedroia, the revelation at 27).

As of the 23rd, the Sox have eight players with at least thirteen Win Shares, with Youkilis, despite his struggles after the break third on the team, and Pedroia fourth. Pedroia has a legitimate shot at Rookie of the Year, and Lowell may have been the Red Sox MVP so far (an arguable point).

So what's the problem? Is there a problem? It always comes down to pitching, with Beckett and Matsuzaka a legitimate one-two, and Wakefield tied for the post-All-Star break wins at seven. Beckett and Wakefield are tied for the league lead in wins at sixteen.

Among pitchers with at least forty innings pitched this season, Okajima and Papelbon are one and five in ERA, and Mike Timlin (whom I wrote off, literally) is twenty-one. Among pitchers with 100 innings pitched (ERA qualifiers as it were)...Beckett is six, Matsuzaka sixteen and Wakefield twenty-seven. An oddity, according to ESPN, of the top 30 ERA leaders, only one has not yielded an unearned run, Matsuzaka.

Worries? You have to feel better that Youkilis and Varitek seem to be coming out of their doldrums. Manny not being Manny is one issue. The other issues of course are Gagne (as in gag me with a spoon) and Curt Schilling. Schilling got great results with location and no velocity the other night. Many of his fastballs were in the mid 80s, and at least while I was flipping between the Pats and the Sox, he seldom touched 88. Maybe it was a slow gun in Chicago. And he was getting them out.

The tendency becomes to focus on the Yankees, but the issue today is one more contest in Chicago. Let's hope the team has the short-term focus lasered in.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Tenth Player Award

Maybe the time has arrived to start contemplating the Tenth Player Award. I'd call it the 'Outperformed Expectations' award. You could probably divided the team into exceeded, met, and underperformed expectations. That doesn't mean that a player in a 'lower' category didn't produce more than one in a higher category. It's the expectations game.

Hideki Okajima
Dustin Pedroia
Tim Wakefield
Mike Lowell
Manny Delcarmen

Jason Varitek
Doug Mirabelli
Josh Beckett
Jonathan Papelbon
Jon Lester
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Kyle Snyder
Mike Timlin
Julian Tavarez
Eric Hinske
Alex Cora
Kevin Youkilis (first half exceeded, second half underperformed)
Coco Crisp

Brendan Donnelly
Curt Schilling
Eric Gagne
Julio Lugo (has met expectations recently)
J.D. Drew
Manny Ramirez (held to a high standard)
David Ortiz (held to a high standard)

If you project Win Shares of 30 as MVP type seasons and 20 as All-Star seasons, what do you see?
  • Only one Red Sox player is in the top 50 (Ortiz)
  • Varitek is 8th among catchers (11)
  • Youkilis is 9th among first basemen (16)
  • Pedroia is 7th among second basemen (15)
  • Lowell is 8th among third basemen (16)
  • Lugo is 20th among shortstops (10)
  • Ramirez is 38th among outfielders (13)
  • Crisp is 46th among outfielders (12)
  • Drew is not in the top 50 among outfielders (8)
  • Ortiz is first among DHs (17)
  • Beckett is 10th among starters (15)
  • Matsuzaka is 19th among starters (13)
  • Okajima is tied for 5th among relievers (10)
  • Papelbon is tied for 19th among relievers (8)
The top two contenders for the Red Sox split between Okajima and Pedroia in my opinion. I'd throw down for Okajima at this point, but it's a horse race.

History Lesson

So many times through Red Sox history, critical points went against the locals. HBO is playing 'Reversing the Curse' with the highlights and the lowlights of the Red Sox experience.

1967 and 1975, the Red Sox were heavy underdogs and lost to the better team. 1978 and the monumental collapse (but incredible rally to get to the playoff), and 1986...what were you doing during Game 6 of 1986? I was in the Intensive Care Unit of Bethesda Naval Hospital, outside of ICU Bay 3, watching it go down.

"The most stunning comeback in baseball history..." how we remember those words from 2004. Eighty-six years of unrequited love and cataclysmic frustration, evaporated in eight games of magic. "It was Edgar Renteria who made the last out of the World Series. He was wearing number 3, the same number as the Babe."

How do the Red Sox affect your life? What are you wearing right now? I've got my Boston Dirt Dogs t-shirt on. On any given practice for the young Melrose girls basketball team, there will always be at least one wearing a Red Sox shirt. If you go into Dunkin' Donuts on any morning, you see Red Sox shirts and caps and jackets. My sister gave me a Red Sox jacket (the red one) for my fiftieth birthday. Can you imagine a better present?

As a child, every summer the Wakefield playgrounds would have a Red Sox day, where you boarded sweltering buses and went in to see an afternoon game in August. We probably paid a buck to sit in the bleachers, and another fifty cents for the bus. Damn it was hot, but nobody complained, we were going to see the Sox.

The game hasn't changed, just the players, more international, with better conditioning and technological improvements like computerized scouting and video monitoring. Pitch counts add 'precision' that the trained eye denies, the pitcher taking more time between pitches (Eric Gagne the other night) or fastballs left up in the zone as the follow-through departs through fatigues implied cowardice.

But it still comes down to who wins that individual battle, the solitary challenge between the craftsman on the hill and the blacksmith's son in the batter's box. That never changes.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


2004 changed everything, taking away the edge, the aura of inevitability. Is it lack of concern about being overtaken by the New Yorkers, confidence in the Red Sox pitching staff, or just fatigue induced by contemporary sports scandals?

I am sorry to see Wily Mo Pena go, as somehow, I view him to be a future productive player. Who knows, maybe he'll come this way again. After the break, his OPS is .749, not very good.

My pitching obituary for Mike Timlin obviously came prematurely.

Clay Buchholz reminds me of another tall, right-handed pitcher who threw over the top. Of course, this boyhood idol has just a little bit longer track record.

Last year Kevin Youkilis seemed to wear down from the long season and a lot of hit by pitches. This season, Youk has just tailed off after the All-Star break. The bad news is that Wily Mo had an OPS 61 points higher than the Sox first baseman since the break.

OPS after the break:
Crisp 0.778
Pedroia 0.831
Ortiz 0.936
Ramirez 0.956
Lowell 0.837
Youkilis 0.668
Drew 0.773
Varitek 0.669
Lugo 0.831

The surprise? Lugo and Lowell have almost the same OPS, as does Youk and Varitek.

Heck, it's always the pitching in the end anyway.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Road Worriers

August has left the Sox lead dwindling, an unpleasant melange of New York competence and Red Sox giveaway sales, led by the chief bullpen artists, the formerly stout bullpen.

Let's start with the bright side, the Sox do have some potential longer-term players in Pawtucket, with Buchholz winning tonight with another nine strikeouts, and Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie both looking productive offensively...you can't tell from box scores how hard they are hitting the ball, only that they are finding some holes.

Curt Schilling pitched well enough today...and Beckett and Matsuzaka have remained formidable throughout this summer siesta.

'Theo's Folly', the acquisitions of Lugo and Drew haven't looked so bad lately, and I wonder how many outfields had all starters recently with four-letter names (Pena, Drew, Moss).

Dustin Pedroia remains a revelation, both offensively and defensively (an error today), and I owe a thousand 'my bads' to a player who could be a substantial upgrade from even the 'good' like Marty Barrett.

Now the bad news. Eric Gagne has the fatal, invert Steve Blass disease, wild in the strike zone, with too many mistake pitches. Hideki Okajima may not have been exposed to Kryptonite, but one wonders about his workload. The center of the order hasn't been as consistent as needed to carry the rest of the lineup, and is Kevin Youkilis getting worn down again as in last season?

I prefer to take the view that the Sox have played into some bad luck, although that may of course be wishful thinking. Maybe some home cooking will help.

Somehow, my adrenaline level just isn't too worked up about it. My daughters simply said, "can't you smell it? It's football season in the air."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

We've Got Questions, You've Got Answers...Maybe

As the Red Sox move into the final fifty games or so of the regular season, Sox fans have questions, not only about this year, but the future.

Theo Epstein has locked in some tough contracts (Drew, Lugo), has some veterans on the free agent train (Curt Schilling, Mike Lowell), and some minor league pieces to rearrange. Epstein and company have to decide (eventually) what direction to take.

The two hottest minor league pitchers are Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson. Masterson fanned another ten in six innings today, and with an E.R.A. under 1.50 in six starts, and total domination, he's due for Pawtucket...soon. North Carolina product Andrew Miller is already in the Tigers' rotation. I'm not arguing for promotion of any of the Sox minor leaguers, but historically the Sox have been very conservative with young talent. What role do Buchholz and Masterson get this fall, if any?

Kevin Youkilis is the 'wild card' positionally, as he could go back to third base, if the Sox decide Mike Lowell is too expensive for their blood. Brandon Moss gets some PT at first base, as he could become a more versatile piece with infield and outfield exposure. With two homers today for the Pawsox and a .326 average, Jed Lowrie is making believers out of some. Does Lowrie have a future with the Sox, and if so, where?

Speaking of prospects, Jacoby Ellsbury must be feeling better, as he had three hits and a stolen base today, coming off the DL. Where does Ellsbury fit in the puzzle?

In the 'can you believe it?' category, the Red Sox Daisuke Matsuzaka is the only right-handed pitcher among the top five in strikeouts. Erik Bedard of the O's leads the pack.

Hard to imagine, but the Sox are second in the AL in fielding percentage. With Crisp, Youkilis, and Pedroia all playing solid defense, that helps.

The Red Sox also lead the A.L. in ERA at 3.75. These aren't your father's Red Sox, and we are thankful for that.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

"Stuff" of Champions

Eric Gagne checked into the Red Sox bullpen last night, but got time to adjust to his new circumstances. Meanwhile, Jonathan Papelbon looked the best he's looked in some time, hitting his spots on the 'natural corner' and touching 97 on the gun. Pap smeared the O's controlling both corners and got away with a splitter up on the leadoff hitter, and finished off the uber-talent Brian Roberts with splitters down.

For those who say that Papelbon should be a starter, he'd really benefit from a third pitch if that were the case, and I doubt that he trusts his slider enough to use it regularly. Developing a cutter to righthanders or another offspeed pitch to lefthanders (e.g. Circle change) would be a must. Maybe having Gagne around will help in that regard.

Meanwhile, for AAA Pawtucket, Clay Buchholz pitched over six innings of two run ball, fanning nine and walking none. Buchholz, in three AAA starts has an E.R.A. of 3.93, with 30 strikeouts and 6 walks. When you consider the prospect of Buchholz moving into the rotation next year with his Blylevenesque deuce (or maybe Camilo Pascual), it must bring smiles to the development team's collective faces. Anybody checked out Justin Masterson's stats, he who some have compared to Kevin Brown.

Last night Carleton Fisk got kudos for his presence in the 'Legends' box at Fenway. What earns you Legends status? Obviously, Cooperstown entries get a free pass, but what about the guys who haven't got their ticket punched, and may never?

Front Row: (includes active players not on the Sox)
Yaz, Fisk, Pesky, Doerr, Eckersley, Boggs, Clemens

Gotta Be There:
Tiant, Rice, Lynn, Reggie Smith, Evans (one of the best rightfielders never to make it to Cooperstown), Lonborg, Hurst, Remy (as broadcaster), Petrocelli, Bill Lee

Sentimental Favorites:
George (The Boomer) Scott, Bob Stanley

Looking in the Keyhole:

Red Sox killers. Who are some of the great and not so great players to torment the Red Sox through the years. Off the top of my head, the current antagonist du jour is Frank Catalanotto. Scott Kazmir is getting there. Who are your 'least' favorites? I can think of Tom Tresh (Yankees), Gates Brown (Detroit), Jim Palmer (Orioles), Boog Powell (Orioles), Harmon Killebrew (Twins), Mickey Rivers (Yankees), Dave Stieb (Blue Jays), and so on. I'm hoping that I don't have to add J.D. Drew to the list...

Journalists. The current crop of Sox writers has really gotten it done. Gordon Edes is always dialed in, and Nick Cafardo lends valuable perspective, although if he writes "if I was" (instead of if I were) another time, I may have to ship him a copy of Strunk and White. Dan Shaughnessy lends his curmudgeonly pen to the scene now and then, but the Rookie of the Year is Amalie Benjamin.

You'll find some misspellings here, and surely some split infinitives (not many I hope), but I'm an Internet hack, not a paid journalist.