Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Yankees Grab Teixeira; We Concede Nothing

The New York Yankees, desperate to make the playoffs, completed their "deal with the devil" agreeing to an eight year, 180 million dollar contract with Mark Teixeira. GM Brian Cashman surely will announce, "it's not about the money, but rather returning a championship caliber team to our fans who deserve one (for the outlandish money they'll be paying for tickets)."

The Yankees seem to have cornered the market on the high-priced spread, with Alex Rodriguez, Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, and Derek Jeter all getting paid at least 17 million dollars annually, and recent free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett a mere piker at 16 plus extra large annually. The Yankees weren't content to pay only twenty-three million dollars in luxury tax, as they'll try to top that.Fans across America are adopting the "Yankee Hater" culture, this one from Seattle.

Will Boston fans concede the season after the Yankees have gone Over the Hot Stove Top in acquiring the best two pitchers on the free agent market and the best offensive player?

We concede NOTHING. The Red Sox continue to develop outstanding pitching from within, with Justin Masterson, Michael Bowden, and Daniel Bard all within spitting distance of major contributions, and Lars Anderson the "Justin Morneau in-waiting first baseman" working his way rapidly through the system.

We concede NOTHING.

When asked whether the Yankees were simply trying to buy a championship, the Yankee GM simply replied: there are four signs of Alzheimer's Disease:
  • First, you start repeating yourself.
  • Second, you forget things.
  • Third, you start repeating yourself.
  • Fourth,...well, I'll think of it later...
We concede NOTHING.

Monday, December 22, 2008

On Your Mark

Player A  152  552   99  159  29  4  37  103   5  1  70  81  .288  .368  .556

Player B 162 644 112 194 41 3 43 144 4 0 72 124 .301 .379 .575

The measure of greatness. Player A's lines were arguably the WORST of his career up
to age 35. He was an OPS +149 then. In fact, the stat line for Player A occurred when
he was 35, during the downside of his career. At age 25 player A also had 40 stolen
bases as well as .296/.369/.557 and OPS +146 relative to the rest of the league.

Player B's stat line is the BEST of his career, at age 25, with an OPS + 144.

Player B is Mark Teixeira, looking for over 22 million dollars a year. Player A,
Willie Mays.

Moral of the story? Nobody would have enough money to pay Willie Mays today.





Saturday, December 20, 2008

More Teixeira Ratings from The Hardball Times

Click chart to ENLARGE.

The Hardball Times has a rating system to project player performance. Where exactly does Mark Teixeira fit on the non-Borassian ratings scale?Using their scale, he's in the vicinity of the top 10 offensive players. No doubt that will translate into "mucho dinero" as 4 of the top 5 players are 'Latin' ballplayers.

I wonder how much Barry Bonds would cost...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Reductio Ad Absurdum

Mark Teixeira will be an excellent player, regardless of whether he finds a home in Boston or not. Just where does Teixeira fit in the hierarchy of MLB?

He's in the top ten in OPS in MLB.
_____________________________________________
For this stage in his career, he's in very good company.
____________________________________________"A man has to feed his family." Nobody could say he's not been a good provider.
____________________________________________
"You can judge a man by the company he keeps."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fantasy Lineup

...and visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.

What will the Red Sox lineup look like in 2009? The Red Sox are said to be in final negotiations with uber-agent Scott Boras for Mark Teixeira. You never know.

CF - Jacoby Ellsbury
2B - Dustin Pedroia
DH - David Ortiz
1B - Mark Teixeira
3B - Kevin Youkilis
RF - J.D. Drew
LF - Jason Bay
SS - Jed Lowrie
C - Jason Varitek

TEIXEIRA?

We'll never get him. It breaks the rule!

"I before 'E' except after 'C', or when sounded like 'A' as in neighbor and weigh (edited should be hit over the head with a Strunk and White)."

Or the exceptions:
"neither foreign financier seized either species of weird leisure." Or Teixeira.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Nitwits and Cowards

Tony Mazz has a new blog entry up, including the following:

"Somewhere along the line, someone needs to devise a system in which people who post comments on the internet are required to provide their real names and, perhaps, places of employment. This would help eliminate the legions of nitwits and cowards who shred anything and everything in their path while hiding in their mothers’ basements."

Columns center around opinions, and opinions sometimes derive from facts, but often from false beliefs that fail to distinguish causation from correlation. In 1968, Ken Harrelson had a 1.000 fielding percentage in right field for the Red Sox. Few observers thought that Harrelson was a Gold Glove outfielder.

The imprimatur of a major newspaper now qualifies a sportswriter as being infallible based on experience, access, and judgment. Other opinions based on statistics, close observation of professional sports for over forty-five years, and spectacularly unsuccessful college and amateur baseball careers count for nothing in a town where the scribes see all and know all.

Sportswriters have total objectivity. Baseball executives don't influence them, nor does their relationship with players and their families. They simply call it as they see it, oblivious to the impact on the team or the players, or even their access and careers. Or do they have a more nuanced view, colored by the realities of their position?

One former local writer told me he witnessed a player doing something ignoble prior to a game and the player simply told him that he would never talk to him again. "Sports doesn't build character; sports reveals character," was how John Wooden put it. The writer didn't write the story. The story just wasn't worth telling in the context of his relationship and his employer's relative to the big picture.

We have a passion for sports, the teams, and the competition. Writers measurably add to our enjoyment of the game. But their unique access doesn't always make them correct, immune from criticism, or invalidate their critics. After all, columnists are about opinions, not just facts. That's what they tell us.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fishing and Catching

As the General Manager of a professional sports franchise (or any business) what properties do you value? Should the Red Sox be any different?

Putting together a list, I'd certainly include the following.

  • A history of 'winning', that is, the capability of contributing to an organizational culture of winning. How important is winning to the player? The Jose' Canseco 'what's the big deal about winning all the time' attitude simply disqualifies the player.
  • The ability to make the players around you better. Baseball being the consummate team sport marked by individual achievement, that's less of a factor than for example, basketball.
  • The capability to dominate the game via your presence, preferably on a regular basis.
  • Versatility. Is the player a 'one-trick pony' or an all-around achiever?
  • How is the player's performance trending?
  • Consistency
  • Durability (will also incorporate age and health status)
  • What is the player's locker room presence? The Good Guy metric.
  • Is the player a good person, reflecting organizational values? Peter Gammons wrote a piece recently including a player's comments, "the greater the player, the greater the insecurities."
  • What are the player's compensation demands?
  • Applying a multifactorial decision-analysis approach, what is the relative value to price?
The mantle of greatness gets thrown around pretty easily these days. Back in the day, a mentor said it differently, "you fellas fish those waters pretty hard." Not much has changed.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tony Mazz Goes Belly Up After the Varitek Column

Tony Mazz with a big apology to readers for his overly ardent defense of Jason Varitek. It's not easy to acknowledge having erred.

As a physician, I have a regular seat at the humility table and as an ardent stock trader, it's simply daily dining.

The Law of Averages and Aging Pitchers

The Yankees sign A.J. Burnett to a 5 year contract for 82.5 million dollars. What exactly is that likely to mean?Here is a table of the five year records of some major league pitchers, in fact some of the best in recent history. Many pitched during the four-man rotation era, and many are or will end up in the Hall of Fame. Nobody would say A.J. Burnett is the equal of ANY of them.

Greg Maddux averaged nearly eighteen wins, Curt Schilling sixteen, Roger Clemens fifteen, Nolan Ryan fourteen, and Pedro Martinez ten during this age frame. Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale were done, and Juan Marichal on the downside.
Here are A.J. Burnett's similarity scores from Baseball Reference. All of these pitchers are pretty good but how many would you want to pony up over sixteen million a year for, for FIVE years? As they say, "a fool and his money are soon parted."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Today Tony Massarotti has a piece about Jason Varitek in the Globe online. There are two possibilities:
  • Massarotti has lost all perspective about Jason Varitek
  • Massarotti has simply lost his mind in the context of baseball and modern America
We are in the midst of the biggest financial crisis in the past seventy-nine years. Unemployment has surged, Americans are struggling as many have not in our lifetime, and the American standard of living is falling.

Meanwhile, Massarotti worries about how the Red Sox might be hurting the feelings of an aging star with declining skills whose principal worry is where his next twelve to twenty million dollars comes from.

Nobody questions Varitek's work ethic. We willingly grant him credit for his role in shepherding the Red Sox pitching staff through recent success, achievement earned through a greater focus on run prevention. Varitek has sacrificed his body for the Red Sox, from daily ice immersions to recovery from serious injury. But we also recognize that payment accrues for real and anticipated production, not solely for past accomplishments.

It really doesn't matter that many Bay Staters work far more hours than Varitek, for causes often more noble, teachers, nurses, public safety officials, and others simply just trying to feed their families, heat their homes, and educate their children. Virtually all of these residents didn't each earn forty million bucks the past four years.

Athletes and entertainers simply get paid on a different scale, as their performance is scalable, as their product attracts more paying customers.

I hope that Jason Varitek returns to the Red Sox next season. His contribution to the organization deserves recognition, and his charity minigolf fundraising deserves recognition, too. But let's be realistic about the distinction between price and value. An overinflated price is what the Red Sox will pay. Declining value is what the Red Sox are likely to get.

We also realize the role of limited supply and demand for strength "up the middle."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hot Stove Still on Cool

Not much to talk about these days in MLB. So, we'll have to go with some randoms...and a non-Sox memorable video.

D-Lowe making the rounds in the Globe today, courtesy of Nick Cafardo. The current Sox rotation is obviously up in the air, pending health concerns and trades. The choices for now?
  • Josh Beckett
  • Jon Lester
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka
  • Justin Masterson
  • Tim Wakefield
  • Michael Bowden
  • Clay Buchholz
If Masterson pitched similar to his level of 2007 (starting), I think it would be reasonable to think he could win twelve games or more. What is the incremental win total for Derek Lowe likely to be for the extra tens of millions? Probably three to five tops.

The Manny Watch. The Boston Globe suggests that Boras might want Teixeira on the Sox, Sabathia and Manny to the Angels, and Lowe to the Yankees to maximize salaries. Apropos of nothing...Did Manny really take the radio out of his expensive car BEFORE he sold it? Well, the guy can really hit.

At least nobody's thinking DP's on the juice.
____________________________________________________________
Peter Gammons wrote about the drive to be great in February 2007 in his ESPN Blog:

He sees the fire that's driven Daisuke Matsuzaka since he was in high school. He sees it in Josh Beckett, embarrassed by a 5.01 ERA as he works on his changeup to move hitters' feet and his two-seamer to alter eye level. Farrell sees it in Jonathan Papelbon, and believes Jon Lester may have the greatest drive of them all.

Nothing great ever gets achieved without enthusiasm.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Free Agency"

The economic backdrop has resulted in a glacial start to the free agent market...unless one considers Damaso Marte and Jeremy Affeldt as an avalanche. Ryan Dempster obviously is the exception, and nobody doubts that the premium class of Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, and Manny Ramirez will get paid.

But how many major corporations, lining up at the public trough in Bailout Nation will be plunking down megabucks for luxury boxes and blocks of season tickets. And if they do, should we, socialist sponsors of their profligacy, scream bloody murder. Should the employees of AIG whose annuities evaporated watch the fat cats sit in luxury boxes and get 'retention payments'?

First, let's understand that major league baseball owners are extraordinarily wealthy, competitive people who want to win but live by the rules of Warren Buffett:
  • Rule one. Don't lose money.
  • Rule two. Never forget rule one.
Most likely hold a diversified investment portfolio. Here is a list of some asset classes sorted by year-to-date results. At the top, Japanese Yen, in the middle the SP500 down 40 percent, and at the bottom the India Fund, down 73 percent. Hard not to lose money under those circumstances.
However, some hedge funds, like John Henry Investments have performed spectacularly in a difficult environment.

But I digress. Who among us will not feel the slightest schadenfreude if some free agents get the Jody Reed treatment? As I recall, the Sox offered Reed ten million over three years, and when the smoke cleared, the offer disappeared and Reed never came close to that again.

Of course, he made more money than most of us could ever dream of making, so he gets the last laugh anyway.

Let's examine the case of Derek Lowe, who 'desperately' wants to come back to Boston. Lowe has won in double digits for the past seven seasons, but is not far over .500 for his career, but has had a good WHIP in the National League. Lowe turns 36 next season.

Lowe has a reputation as, to be kind, having a minimally high character. Now this might not separate him from the majority of the descendants of "Ball Four", somehow I want to believe that his presence amidst Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, Justin Masterson, Michael Bowden et al. sends the wrong message. Didn't John Henry want Lowe exiled after his previous Red Sox tenure? I could be losing my mind.

Frankly, I'd just tell Derek "we want you, not so much" and move on. I'm gonna put my eggs in the Bowden basket. There is nothing more important to achieving greatness than wanting it and working toward it.

Here's an excerpt from "On Bowden" referenced above...“If all the players we had were Michael Bowdens, we wouldn’t need coaches,” Beyeler said. “That’s the kind of kid he is. He is so driven. He’s the first guy here, he’s the last guy out every day. He’s here to get better, every day he’s here. You ask him to do this, he does that, every bit and more. You never know he’s around, to the good point. He takes care of his own business. He’s the guy, every time you turn around, oh, Michael’s working. Oh, Michael’s doing something to get better. Oh, he’s doing this. He’s doing pick-off drills, towel drills. He’s constantly doing something that benefits where he’s trying to go."

I remember reading Peter Gammons about another Sox prospect who needed to be great...Jon Lester.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Grant's Tome" ...Pedroia MVP but Nada from Grant

Dustin Pedroia capped a stellar season by receiving 16 of 28 votes to capture the American League Most Valuable Player award. Pedroia became the de facto team leader during the season with bot a spectacular offensive and defensive season.

Remarkably one scribe, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News omitted Pedroia from any of the ten choices available on his ballot. On WEEI, Grant said he relied on statistical data concerning run production.

Here are the raw data on Pedroia.
  • Silver Slugger, 2b
  • All-Star selection
  • Gold Glove
  • Batting - 2nd
  • Hits - 1st
  • Total bases - 4th
  • Runs created - 3rd
  • Doubles - 1st
  • At bats per strikeout - 2nd
  • Power-speed number - 8th
  • Hall of Fame Monitor - 49 (including MVP points) (likely Hall of Famer > 100)
You can easily argue whether Pedroia deserved to be the top choice among others with outstanding seasons. These include Youkilis, Quentin, Hamilton, Morneau, K-Rod, Longoria, Sizemore, and so forth. But to have the obligation and responsibility to vote for the MVP (not exactly finger on the nuclear codes, but something) and totally omit Pedroia is laughable.

The writer clearly doesn't understand the statistics or had a personal vendetta against Pedroia. Did he have Ian Kinsler's back or did Pedroia fail to grant him an interview on a bad day?

Clearly, we are forced to view Grant as having temporary amnesia, or wonder if he really knows baseball. Many Rangers fans ask the same questions.

For example:

Evan, how the heck do you explain this?

Less than a week ago Pedroia was fourth on your ballot. Why was he left off now? I'm really sincerely curious how you could be so think. Please explain to all of us.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Fired Up. Ready to Go.

Well, maybe not so much.

Hey, Theo! Need a fig leaf. Scott '6 percent' Boras informs us that Jason Varitek's asking price is 52 million dollars. Are we talking Zimbabwe dollars or something less evanescent?

The Red Sox have needs (like all teams), and what they don't need is thirty million (three by ten) reasons not to start on a more permanent solution to the catching position.

If Varitek walks, they can turn the draft impact into more young pitching if they need to trade a young pitcher.

As for the Teixeira sweepstakes, I'm willing to wait for Lars Anderson who is coming fast...but of course, the Sox should drive up the price for the Yankees or the Angels, although they tend to be a take it or leave it negotiator. Certainly, the addition of Teixeira would be a great addition, and the Sox have some money coming off the table (Manny, Varitek(?), Schilling), Timlin, Lugo(?)).
As for the return of Derek Lowe, don't hold your breath. Consider the quote from Coyote Ugly, "Because, the average male is walking around with a toddler inside his pants, a two year old right there inside his dockers..."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Varitechnicality

Everybody in baseball wants to get paid. Some want to be paid for what they have done and others wish to be paid for what they are likely to do. Uberagent Scott Boras wants to get paid, too, and will paint as rosy a picture as possible for Jason Varitek. Teammates naturally support each other's desire to get paid as well.

First, the "why you must resign ' The Captain' " for megabucks

  • All-Star catcher
  • Red Sox .597 winning percentage with him catching this season
  • Key cog in 2004 and 2007 championship run
  • Caught four no-hitters
  • Game winning homer in ALCS Game 6
  • Legendary preparation
  • Leadership
  • Experience
  • Intangibles
  • Limited alternatives within the Red Sox current control
  • Young pitchers in developmental stage (Masterson, Bowden, Buchholz)
Next, why the Red Sox have to think very, very hard about the extent (money) and duration (years) of contract

  • 1273 career games catching*
  • Zero batting win shares this season
  • Declining win shares trend
  • .220 batting, .672 OPS this season, 100 points lower than career
  • Four for thirty four in postseason this year (.118)
  • Striking out with increasing frequency (the "lying eyes" factor...pitchers with good fastballs can simply throw it by him at this point)
  • Throwing out runners at a declining percentage
  • Winning percentage data reflects differential between Wakefield and other starters
  • Bottom quintile in OPS among catchers with 400 at bats.
  • How big is the market for aging catchers with declining production and high salary?
*Catchers' offensive performance statistically declines after 1200 games caught.

ESPN Magazine came out with their NBA player and team ratings using a matrix of Players, Coaches, GMs, Statheads, and Fans and arguments why each have different perspectives. I am sure that concerning respect within the game, Jason Varitek comes out very high. The question remains however whether intangibles outweigh the inexorable burden of the physical toll that catching exerts, the alternatives, and the 'reasonableness' of his contract demands.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Red Sox Postmortem

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be. John Wooden

Is the glass half empty or half full? The Red Sox went deep into the postseason, but lacked the consistency or the staying power to get to the World Series for the third time in five years. The Tampa Bay Death Rays beat them at what had been their game, pitching and power, blending youth and enthusiasm to outlast the Sox.

What went right? What went wrong? What's next?

The positives. The Red Sox played superior defense throughout the post-season. Even without Gold Glover Mike Lowell at third and the move of Gold Glover Kevin Youkilis from first, the Sox showed why defense matters. Excepting Dustin Pedroia's relay throw up the line last night, for the most part the overall defensive execution excelled.

Much of the bullpen overachieved. Jonathan Papelbon showed why he is among the top postseason pitchers in history, remaining unscored upon. Hideki Okajima came up big repeatedly. Young Justin Masterson raised the stakes as to whether he is the next setup man, or whether his power sinker belongs in the rotation (I favor the latter).

The hitters showed flashes but overall underachieved. Youkilis, Jason Bay, and Pedroia did most of the damage, aside from the key Jason Varitek homerun.

The negatives. At times the Sox seemed overmatched by the hard-throwing youth of the Rays' pitching staff. Yes, Jason Varitek had a game winning homer, but it was one hit in the series, and he left an astonishing number of men on base. Varitek's bat speed seemed to slow down progressively over the season, and he is striking out at an astonishing rate. After striking out 122 times in 423 at bats during the season, he fanned at a forty percent clip against Tampa, and had only 4 hits in 34 at bats against LAA and the Rays. Varitek has an incredible amount of mileag on his tires. Short of a chemical rejuvenation not available to MLB players, he has to be viewed as a high-priced suspect. The Sox will have to ask whether his game management skills compensate for declining production. Do the Sox have a metric for a regular catcher with zero Win Shares offensively?

The Sox got inconsistent pitching from their normally reliable starters during the ALCS. Daisuke Matsuzaka had 1 of 2 quality starts, Jon Lester 1 of 2, and Josh Beckett (injured) and Tim Wakefield none. Quality starts result in wins about two-thirds of the time, and they represent a highly underrated stat. We have to presume that a healthy Beckett, Lester, and Matsuzaka remain a formidable trio. Can the Sox expect 'Meatloaf' (Two out of three ain't bad) from Masterson, Michael 'devoted to greatness' Bowden, and Clay Buchholz? If Buchholz can get the determination that Lester and Bowden have for greatness, then maybe he can be The Man. The benefits from growing your own are multifaceted but the economics are undeniable. One of them will likely have to go for catching help.

Jacoby Ellsbury gets an incomplete, as his ineffectiveness against the Angels got Coco Crisp another life. It might also get Crisp another team, as his value rose with his postseason. Ellsbury will work on keeping the ball down as he became just another popup during the ALDS. Jed Lowrie earned a shot at the starting shortstop job. What a full season of offense from him would be is unknown (.270/.330/.390/.720?).

What's next?

The Sox have to decide how to rebuild the bullpen, particularly if Masterson (whatever did become of Bull from Night Court?) is destined for the starting rotation. Papelbon shouldn't be going anywhere and should get a big raise, Okajima found himself, Delcarmen is still on the uptrend, and after that, who knows. Daniel Bard is a comer and will presumably get a look in the spring. There's always room for an effective LOOGY (situational lefty) and Javier Lopez had his moments.

The Sox owe debts of thanks to aging warriors, Mike Timlin, Paul Byrd, Sean Casey, Mark Kotsay, and maybe Alex Cora and Tim Wakefield. All of the latter will find jobs if they want them, but the Sox need more youth and athleticism.

Who haven't I mentioned? That's a pretty obvious omission....David Ortiz. Will the real David Ortiz stand up? I have to believe Ortiz is hurt. I don't want to believe that he lacked something extra. If he needs surgery, then he should get it sooner rather than later.

Mike Lowell. While Bo Jackson hit thirteen homers one season with an artificial hip, Lowell doesnt' need a prosthesis, but he's not Bo either.

The Sox have hard-charging Lars Anderson coming through the system, but we can't expect him to be ready for next season.

The challenge for management is to rebuild from within, to avoid public relations pitfalls, and put a lineup with more oomph on the field next season.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Pain Trade

Among stock traders, discussion exists about 'the pain trade', that is, the market doing what will cause the most people the most pain. Red Sox fans know a little bit about that.

Having grown up in the sixties, I knew the Days of Hopelessness, eclipsed forever by 1967 and 'The Impossible Dream', where competitiveness replaced failure. To paraphrase John Wooden, "failure is not fatal, but failure to change can be."

Sox fans accepted the Gibson-Brock defeat of 1967 and the Big Red Machine rollover in 1975 with equanimity. The Shea It Ain't So debacle of 1986 seemed the final straw, until 2003 and Gradygate.

Of course, a pair of World Series victories erases a lot of heartache.

All of which brings us to the 2008 ALCS playoffs. Last night we got a little pain early, with the TBS BS that shut down their transmission and landed Steve Harvey in our laps. Harvey's Wallbangers 'OK' and Steve Harvey reruns NOT. Could the Sox carry momentum from Game 5's collapse of the Death Rays, or did momentum last as long as the next day's starting pitcher?

The Rays got where they are despite a series of potentially crippling injuries to Crawford and Longoria, because of solid starting pitching, excellent defense that has betrayed them in the ALCS, and young talent. The Sox limp into the playoffs with Josh Beckett hurting, Mike Lowell awaiting surgery, and David Ortiz coping with a season-long wrist injury.

Lee Trevino used to say that pressure was playing a 5 dollar Nassau with 2 dollars in your pocket. The Sox have played with house money after Game 5s miracle comeback. For Jon Lester, a survivor of aggressive cancer, pressure means fighting off nausea, immune deficiency from chemotherapy, and suffering through what a lineup of oncologists can bring. Whatever the outcome tonight, pressure is not the cause. Lester knows more about the pain trade than most of us will ever know.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Agony and Ecstacy

  • "Wake" then Funeral...NOT
  • The Resurrection
  • "They have a word for it in English-Youneverknow"- Joaquin Andujar
I was on call last night and a patient called about 1 AM... I said "How 'bout them Sox?" He said, "they lost." When I told him about the rally he simply said, "You're %&$ing me." The Sox comeback may not have eclipsed "the steal" but clearly tops my previous other memory, an eight run deficit overcome in 1967 against the Angels...must have been the Los Angeles Angels in ten team baseball.

The two out magic, led by Dustin Pedroia in the seventh, continued with homers by Papi (61 consecutive homerless postseason at bats), Drew, and yet more magic by two out singles by Coco Crisp (8th) and J.D. Drew (9th) turned despair into revival.

As Sean Connery reminded us in "Finding Forrester", there was only one word for it, "remarkable".

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Not Even a Whimper

Thus far the Sox have yet to be able to generate anything vaguely resembling offense. I won't say Kazmir looks like Sandy Koufax, Ron Guidry, or even Frank Tanana in his prime. In fact, he's simply dominated the Sox with ordinary stuff.

Daisuke Matsuzaka didn't have it, and the Death Rays have pitch-slapped the Boston Brahmins with the long ball and superior pitching.

A number of Sox have simply pulled Houdinis (disappearing acts) during this series. The leadoff spot, David Ortiz, and Jason Varitek have just been AWOL. At least Mike Lowell had a legitimate excuse.

The Sox have the talent, but simply haven't played well. Starting pitching greatly underperformed and the bullpen was spotty.

Will Jason Varitek get a rousing departure ovation? Players can lose it offensively in dramatic fashion. Remember how quickly Jim Rice's career abruptly fell.

The disappointment isn't so much in defeat (if it ensues) but in the margin in which the Rays overwhelmed and outclassed the Sox.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Flame Out

What's with the Hot Stove League talk? Let it go. I don't want to talk about pitching roles, trades and free agency, or retirements during the ALCS. Is A-Rod dictating the discussion?

Last night's game certainly had both a dramatic and artistic success. Daisuke Matsuzaka carried a no-no into the 7th, out of trouble (first and third no out), and the bullpen got it done, with Okajima, Masterson, and Papelbon all perfect.

Kevin Youkilis' value has manifested itself with his post-season contribution at third base, and Mark Kotsay's success reflects well on the organization and Kotsay. Dustin Pedroia added a couple of appearances on base, made a brilliant defensive play out of the shift, and swiped a key bag leading to scoring the second run.

Once again, Terry Francona gets overlooked for his managerial decisions:
  • Optimizing rest with his rotation
  • Flawless bullpen execution, with the sinkerballer Masterson getting the DP
  • Getting the key basehit from Mark Kotsay in his role at first base. Kotsay's defense and speed argued for his inclusion.
Nonetheless, I haven't spoken to fans who dismiss the Rays. The playoff atmosphere bears little resemblance to the regular season between both the packed house and the idiotic cowbells.

Justin Masterson...his wife bakes cookies for Don and Jerry. That's good, innocent, everything right with the world. The shaved head and facial hair? Looks like the Major League he movie style, with the only accessory missing is the leather jacket. Call me a traditionalist, but I like the Cal Ripken look.

Friday, October 10, 2008

BS = Balfour S&^%

Don Drysdale used to take a shortcut to an intentional walk...hit the batter. Grant Balfour comes in to face J.D. Drew with men on second and third and nearly beans him.

Ron Darling says, "we know Balfour's not trying to hit him." I'm not saying he threw at his head, just that he wasn't particularly concerned about hitting Drew either.

Daisuke Matsuzaka has pitched brilliantly threw seven, but has been on the bench for 'ever' in the eighth, with pitching changes, wildness and high pitch counts.

The defense tonight has excelled with only Carl Crawford's inability to snag Kevin Youkilis' hooking line drive standing out as a 'catchable' moment.

What will Terry Francona do in the bottom of the eighth? Matsuzaka didn't look like he was headed for the showers. Whatever one thinks of Matsuzaka (33 wins in two years, including a Japanese pitcher record in the US), he's not afraid to take the ball. I'll guess that he leaves Matsuzaka in for one baserunner, but only the shadow knows.

Whatever the Sox do, they shouldn't even think about any kind of retaliation.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"There's No Crying in Baseball"


The Red Sox lost eight of nine to the Angels during the regular season. So what? When it has counted, the Sox have dominated the Halos winning twelve of thirteen postseason contests. What have you done for us lately? Just win, baby!

The Angels botched the squeeze play, had regular defensive lapses, and got outpitched and outplayed. The better team? By what standard? The Angels ace couldn't win once, and Jon Lester, almost traded for Johan Santana moves to the ALCS while the Mets work on their short game. Karma.

Complaining that you're the better team just doesn't get it done. The Patriots lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl, because the Giants outplayed them. The Sox won for the same reason.

The Sox also won with limited offense from Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, and a subpar performance from Josh Beckett. Mike Lowell finished the series on the DL and J.D. Drew spent much of the series in Ben Gay City.

And what of the Sox and the Rays? The Rays have solid pitching (Shields, Kazmir, Garza, and Sonnenstein) and star quality with Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, and Carl Crawford. They can run and they can defend. They won the regular season series from the Sox, and also tattoed closer Jonathan Papelbon in crunch time. The Sox won't underestimate them.

Terry Francona must have his horseshoe out. The bullpen shuffle worked for the most part, and the Mark Kotsay first base experiment resulted in a pair of superb running catches. The Jed Lowrie insertion at shortstop paid dividends including a walk off hit. The series unofficial MVP was Jason Bay, with an OPS over 1.300, solid defense, and a critical extra-base hit and series-winning run scored. He also got through the finale without expending the bullets in Jonathan Papelbon's right arm.

And that makes this all possible.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

No Sideshows, Just Baseball

The Sox returned home to "America's Most Beloved Ballpark" (or something like that) amidst a tidal wave of political advertisements on TBS. God forbid.

Josh Beckett had good stuff, but lacking command, yielded a pair of homers to the Angels' Mike Napoli. So the Angels have 100 percent of their runs via the home run. Somewhere during the playoffs we heard that the White Sox lead the majors with 47 percent via long distance.

Health problems probably didn't affect the Sox as much as their decision to stay away from Joe Saunders with J.D. Drew. Mike Lowell hasn't looked great either offensively or defensively so far.

As for the 'you never see this', Jacoby Ellsbury had a three run single that fell between the infield and Torii Hunter, who may not be moving as well after his 'hopping mad' close play at first in Game 2. The second play du jour was Delcarmen late on covering first on a grounder to Youkilis because another broken maple bat blocked his path.

Dustin Pedroia still seeks his first postseason hit of 2008, although he was leading the ESPN poll for AL MVP, not that it matters.

Ellsbury would have stolen second base in the 7th inning, if he didn't 'shape' the steal with a popup slide and overslide the base. Dammit.

Buck Martinez does an absolutely fantastic job predicting pitch selection and sequences. No wonder that former catchers are frequent managerial candidates.

As for ex-Red Sox around the playoffs, Manny moves into the NLCS, along with Nomar and D-Lowe, and Jamie (Social Security) Moyer. Moyer has only won 214 games since seasons he was 30 years old. He's won 20 games twice and is tied for 48th in pitching wins All-time at 246. Seven of those wins came with the Sox. Yet, he's never finished above 4th in Cy Young voting. He's won 82 games since being 40, including winning 20 games at age 40. By comparison Roger Clemens won 61 Vitamin B12-aided games and Randy Johnson 65 after age 40. Even Warren Spahn only won 75 after age 40. Phil Niekro won 121 after forty, and Nolan Ryan 71. So what Moyer has done is pretty remarkable.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Stepping Up

The last time the Sox faced the Angels, they were in the last throes of the Ramirez era, with Manny quitting on the team. Manny's migration improved two teams, illustrated today.

Jon Lester affirmed Terry Francona's faith with seven strong innings (one earned run), and superior eighth inning defense by Jacoby Ellsbury and Youkilis preserved a lead on a two-run Bay Blast. Ellsbury made a remarkable diving catch and Youk made a brilliant right field to third base throw on a blooper over his head to nail Vlad G trying to go first to third.

Lester's win runs his career W-L record to 29-8. Heady stuff, verily.

The Sox continued their postseason dominance over the Angels, and will that weigh on them?

Jonathan Papelbon closed out the Halos, striking out the side in the 9th.

Jacoby Ellsbury has clearly worked to seal the inside hole he had, and added a pair of stolen bases and four hits (one was erroneously called an error, but okay it's three) in solidifying his macro-pest standing in the leadoff spot.

One game doesn't win a series, but the Sox should feel that the regular season blues against the Angels are irrelevant, in Belechickian style.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Here and There

I saw a great pitching effort today. But it wasn't at Fenway.Tim Lincecum above (Cy Dwarf) won his eighteenth game, and had strikeouts for the first nine outs of the game, the first time that has been done since 1986. Amidst chants of "Beat LA" the Giants' ace fanned thirteen as the 24 year old showed why he is one of the top pitchers in the game. 39,167 fans showed up, and Manny sat out with many of the LA regulars.

AT&T Park is truly magnificent, with a great fan environment, terrific sightlines and as my son reminded, a great experience instead of a winnng team. The park footprint must be triple Fenway.

Conor also remarked the Giants were a team where AL players 'went to die'. The Giants' lineup included Rich Aurilia, Benji Molina and Omar Vizquel, and Randy Winn and Dave 'The Steal' Roberts came off the bench. I don't think anyone on the Giants except maybe Molina could start for the Sox. Vizquel's departure in the fifth was met with a terrific standing ovation, as he has played more games than ANY other shortstop.

The Giants fans also cheered the Mets' elimination. Dislike for the New York franchises is near universal.

The Sox played out the string, readying for the playoffs, with Dustin Pedroia likely coming up just a little short for the batting title. Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 18, and let's hope that Jonathan Papelbon got a tough outing out of his system. Moose Mussina got his 20th which might help his HOF candidacy.

The Sox have to beat the Angels one way or another, and does it really matter whether its the ALDS or ALCS?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Soxcapades

The Red Sox version 2008.1 are on the cusp of making the playoffs. When you have the kind of talent and payroll the Sox have, you're supposed to qualify. In fact, the Yankees have convenient excuses (Wang, Posada, Hughes) for their showing, but what has that got to do with the Melk-man not delivering and Robinson Cano dogging it?

None of us can know how the Lowell injury will impact him going forward. He's obviously a gamer, but it became painful to watch him play.

Kevin Youkilis is certainly an insurance policy, especially with Lars Anderson coming fast from the minors. Anderson is that tantalizing 'Justin Morneau' kind of first baseman that Sox fans can look forward to.

L'Affaire Ramirez just won't die. However, the New Guy, a.k.a. Jason Bay has hit almost .300 (.299) with eight homers, thirty-six runs, and thirty-four RBI in 41 games. Not too shabby. He actually looks like he's having fun, too.

Jon Lester has been terrific this season, but is Rogers Center his Waterloo?

Jed Lowrie has 229 at bats, with a .788 OPS, 30 runs scored and 44 RBI. Julio Lugo has 267 at bats, with 27 runs, 22 RBI and a .685 OPS. Any questions?

Alex Cora has played some terrifically creative infield this season. But today's creativity was just a bit overdone as he had zero chance to make the play at home.

Jacoby Ellsbury seems to have coped with the inside fastball, now with an eleven game streak. Unfortunately, Jed Lowrie looks as though he's going to get the same treatment.

Speaking of Ellsbury, how many rookies have had 50 stolen base seasons (JE has 49)? Well, the rookie records are 66 (Kenny Lofton) and, gulp, 110 by Vince Coleman.
Paul Byrd-Tim Wakefield? Not exactly MaryAnn versus Ginger. Can anybody take Michael Bowden out of mothballs? Just kidding, just kidding.
___________________________________
I'm sick and tired of the Rays. Kazmir, Shields, Garza, Sonnenstein. Iwamura rubs all of us the wrong way (right, Coco?) and why can't we get guys like Carlos Pena? The $%&#ing Rays have become Jason Voorhees. Even when they look vulnerable, they keep finding chainsaw or chain or axe or chair leg or something menacing. Of course, the Angels just bring nuclear weapons.

The Bartolo Colon experiment looks over. Injuries or genetics didn't help. I think if I said it were Father Time, Cedric Maxwell might say it was Aunt Jemima. Anyway, Bartolo, we barely knew ye.
____________________________________
A Birthday present for Jason Bay? How about one of those Harmon Killebrew backspin flyball homerun to left field? Anybody old enough to remember 'the Brew' and Tony Oliva?

I didn't see all the tomato plants in the Sox bullpen.

My favorite athletes?I guess daughter Paula (right), part of the Dartmouth 2009 calendar, and her twin sister Karen would rank at the top. How 'bout them ups?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pleasantly Reprised

The Red Sox had a problem at Fenway Park. It wasn't managerial incompetence or a lack of talent on the field. The problem was Fenway Park and the ballpark experience.

Adding seats contributed revenue, as did more signage, and aggressive merchandising. But more than renovating the ballpark, they improved the experience.

On a previous visit to Fenway, I criticized fan behavior that frankly embarrassed me and my family, with drunken, disorderly, foul-mouthed fans ultimately removed in the eighth inning. The Sox provide a Help Number to address this before the game. I saw and heard no problems.

The concourses are much improved for negotiating the ballpark. Historically, the sound system wasn't great, but the musical selection was worse. The infield looked terrific and the ground crew repeatedly manicured it during the game.

No, every fan didn't get a visit from Sox VP of Merchandising Sam Kennedy, but he wasn't visiting me, rather my host from San Diego. My host was more than excited to have his first trip to Fenway, but another fan sitting in front of me (a firefighter from Phoenix) said he was practically in tears upon entering the park.

And the game didn't prove to be a sidelight. Jon Lester showed again why John Farrell predicted he could be a big winner, dominating the Blue Jays after yielding a first inning home run. Mike Lowell had an outstanding game at third, and the Sox got the benefit from several close calls on the bases. Jason Bay proved his value, and Jacoby Ellsbury was hell on wheels on both the bases and in the outfield.

Jonathan Papelbon's 38th save lacked some artistic qualities, as the Jays hit him hard as he couldn't find the strike zone with his splitter, but a close call on an Overbay wall ball double bailed him out.

Yes, the concession prices are about a standard deviation of excess beyond Disney, but hearing "Dirty Water" made up for that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Random Thoughts


I saw a fellow wearing a Red Sox "Ramirez 24" jersey the other day. Okay, we like the Sox and maybe even Manny, but if I had a Sox Ramirez jersey, would I wear it, or burn it in effigy? Burn, baby, burn.

Terry Francona has done a great job as Red Sox manager. I'll give him a pass on practically anything, but I'll argue that his decision to bring in an 'unrested' Jonathan Papelbon last night affected TWO games, last night's and tonight's, as now Cinco Ocho is unavailabe tonight. No problemo, Tito.

Jacoby Ellsbury makes another diving catch tonight. Does he time it just right to make these diving catches? We used to call those guys 'shapers' back in the day.

A US Olympic hockey player came over to my house tonight to visit my daughters, and even watch a little of the Sox game. Best news? She brought macadamia nut, white chocolate chip cookies.

If you could have a vanity plate with a Red Sox memory etched in just six characters, what would it be? Maybe SOXWIN.

Jason Bay has made himself a nice niche in left in a short time. Finding corner outfielders with some pop isn't so easy.

I'd like to see J.D. Drew back in right soon. Mark Kotsay's a good short term guy, but he's not Drew. Never thought we'd think that.

How's John Henry's commodity fund enterprise doing while commodities get rich-slapped?

Every day in baseball you see something you never see. Fan interference tonight, although not of the magnitude of Jeff Maier or Steve Bartman.

Sox Win Shares leader? Kevin Youkilis, with DP close second.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

MUST READ from The Globe

Michael Bowden. Can we get a transfusion for Buchholz?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Playoff Atmosphere

Ka-ching! The Red Sox established the MLB record for consecutive sellouts tonight, with the Sox leading 3-0 in the eighth inning. Jon Lester re-established himself as the co-ace of the starting staff with 7 2/3 innings of shutout baseball punctuated by 9 strikeouts. When the Rays threatened in the eighth with a pair of runners in scoring position, Jonathan Papelbon came in to blow away Rocco Baldelli (authoring a Golden Sombrero with four strikeouts) with 97 mph heat.

Who would have thought in April that a September series with Tampa would have so much meaning? My (nameless) Yankee fan friend finds this season 'boring'. Who would've thunk it?

The Red Sox have an astonishing impact on everyday conversation in the hospital. We're still debating the Mannygate departure. A nurse called me over to show me her notebook, with an 8 1/2 by 11 inch color photo of Mike Lowell. Another nurse, (I'll call her Melissa) waxed apologetic over 'Wake's' disaster Saturday. "Quality time with your hospital family."

The hospital has sponsored raffles for various Red Sox tickets, and trinkets, as well as a silent and open auction for sports merchandise. Yes, I picked up a framed print of 'The Greatest Comeback Ever'. For charity, you know.

Is there anything I don't like about Fenway? Well, all the signage behind home plate annoys me, but we never complain about the free agents they sign with that dough. The Amica "pitch zone' still looks just a tad small to me. I still like the straight down the barrel view behind the pitcher that eliminates the parallax that altered the 'true' strike zone.

The Sox have just begun a minimarathon of games with Tampa and Toronto, first at Fenway and then on the road. Playing good baseball in September causes carryover into October? I don't know, but at least it 'feels' better.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Answers I Wanna Know

Blind adherence to data, especially bad data, and you need a checkup from the neck up. Still...

The Red Sox, at least in the history I know, struggle with Texas. Why the difference in 2008? The Rangers still have a potent offense, but okay, their pitching lacks a certain savoir faire.

Where would the Sox be without Coco Crisp, who has well over 300 plate appearances, and has done yeoman work lately?

Is Jacoby Ellsbury finally starting to handle that inside stuff? Do you think he could run back kickoffs for the Patriots?

Jason Varitek looks like a new guy at the plate. Was it just a matter of mean reversion?

Does anybody seriously think the Sox would have played this well with Manny Ramirez on strike?

Will the real Manny Delcarmen please stand up? In his last ten games (prior to tonight) he pitched ten innings allowing 3 hits, 2 runs (both in one game), 7 walks and 11 strikeouts. He can overpower opponents and frustrate fans.

How important is having Josh Beckett back healthy?

So you think winning the division isn't a big deal? You want home advantage and the Central, or a road start in Anaheim?

If you think performance enhancing drugs are no big deal, then why do a lot of "old guys" (35 and up) look like old guys?

Does the various 'striping' of the grass at Fenway ever make you long for 'plain old green grass'?

Do you think DeMarlo Hale has the best 'waving average' of any third base coach in memory? Is their any comparison with Dale Sveum?

Has any player's wife (Justin Masterson's) ever ingratiated Don and Jerry more favorably with cookies?
Did Mike Nagy wear 15 with the same style and flair as Dustin Pedroia?

Does Mark Kotsay remind you of B.J. Surhoff with his energy, ability, and hustle?

How many guys have returned from the designer injury "oblique strain" with a home run in their first at bat?

Coming into tonight, Jason Bay has scored or driven in 189 runs, Manny Ramirez 185. Who would have thought that?

Where would the Sox have been without J.D. Drew's hitting when David Ortiz was out?

Would you believe the Sox are second in the AL in runs scored, behind Texas?

Do you know the Sox are fourth fewest in the AL in errors with 74? Where would they have been without Julio Lugo?

Doesn't Jacoby Ellsbury deserve a Gold Glove for exceptional defense at ALL THREE outfield positions?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saturday Stuff

Michael Bowden made his MLB debut tonight and didn't disappoint. He walked the leadoff hitter, but no more, and held the potent White Sox to two runs in five innings. Yes, he got away with some pitches, but he showed a willingness to pitch the right-handed hitters inside and had a nice change with some good movement down-and-in to the right hander. Obviously he still needs work on the breaking stuff but he had good poise and a live fastball.

Dustin Pedroia continues to drive the Pale Hose batty with his hitting, defense, and baserunning, with a brilliant slide to 'steal' a double. Oh yeah, and Dustin hit cleanup.

You ask why Mark Kotsay is hitting fifth against Buehrle, and Kotsay promptly delivers a pair of doubles. There's that stat prep thingy...

Stuff you never see: Terry Francona came out to argue a safe call (to the Sox benefit).

Oh, yeah! Lou Merloni correctly points out on the pre-game show that replay will become more controversial when its absence blows a critical call.

Daisuke Matsuzaka's 16th victory tied Hideo Nomo for the most wins by a Japanese pitcher. Nomo won 16 three times. Hideki Irabu won 13 once for the Bombers.

A-Rod has one RBI in the ninth inning this season, so they say.

Jeff Bailey hit his first major league homer tonight.

Jermaine Dye made a web gem last night up against the fence in right to rob a homer. Tonight, he looked like he was wearing roller skates going after a Jason Bay double.

For all the Bay doubters, he has 29 RBI in 26 games so far with the Red Sox. Look out Hack Wilson?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dustin The Winner

Dustin Pedroia has had a phenomenal season for the Red Sox. As terrific as he has been this season, far exceeding many observers expectations, how does his season rank within the best players in the American League?

Win Shares model overall contribution to a team's winning, and serve as excellent comparisons between players and also allow for trending. Bill James created the multifactorial model, and the data is regularly updated on The Hardball Times.

As a reference, a season total of 20 equates to "All-Star" performance and 30 or more represents MVP type seasons.

The Rangers slugging second baseman Ian Kinsler leads the AL with 28, followed closely by Justin Morneau of Minnesota and Grady Sizemore of Cleveland. Kevin Youkilis leads the Red Sox with 24, tied for fifth in the AL, and Pedroia is tied for 18th, heady stuff for a guy who really struggled early as a rookie. Pedroia also leads AL second basemen in fielding Win Shares.

Not too shabby.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dog Days, Dog Eared?

As the Red Sox turn into the home stretch of their playoff run, what do we see? In head-to-head matches in the division, where would you rank the Sox? This is not ranking the Sox versus the rest of the league, just in divisional play.

Off the top it feels like:
  • Tampa
  • Toronto
  • New York
  • Boston
  • Baltimore
The reality of intra-divisional play?
  • Tampa 28-19
  • Toronto 24-22
  • New York 26-24
  • Boston 24-25
  • Baltimore 20-32
So, mirabile dictu, the 'feel' matches the fit. Unfortunately.

A theme for the season has been "play better". And so it is. The Sox have overachieved at several positions, particularly Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. Since the All-Star break the Red Sox are seven in OPS and ninth in runs/game in the AL. Jacoby Ellsbury and Coco Crisp together in the outfield haven't produced a lot of pop, which means Coco now delivers a home run.

Yes, injuries do matter (Lowell, Drew) but other teams have injuries as well, most notably the Rays without Crawford and Longoria.

As currently constructed, the Sox have the talent to compete perennially for the postseason. Whether they have what it takes (a long stretch of great baseball) to win the whole enchilada again remains questionable unless something changes, be it health, performance, or consistency.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Passing the Buch-holz

Few professions expect the youngest members to be at the peak of their craft. Is baseball so different?

Clay Buchholz achieved baseball immortality with a no-hitter in his second start, but Great Expectations haven't achieved fulfillment in year two. Yet the day after Clay gets relocated for more seasoning at Portland, the United States mens' and womens' 400 meter sprint relay teams BOTH drop the baton in the semifinal heats. Move over, Clay.

Roger Kahn's "The Head Game" reviews some of the great pitchers through time, and the title is no accident. A great career requires unusual health, superior ability (the stuff the make people miss), and consistent attack of not only the strike zone but hitters' weaknesses.

Left-handed hitters often have a 'blind spot' down and in (note Jacoby Ellsbury), as they become accustomed to seeing right-handed pitchers whose 'natural corner' is down and AWAY. Right handed hitters often struggle with hard stuff up and in, and breaking stuff down and AWAY. If a hitter is up on the plate, he is confident he can handle the inside stuff (remember Carl Everett?), and batters who stand far away from the plate always seem to be handle the outside pitches as they usually DIVE INTO the pitch. In generally, lefthanded hitters prefer the ball down, relative to right-handers, although there are exceptions, guys like Hafner and Thome who can drive the stuff upstairs.

The best pitchers can control BOTH SIDES of the plate. Jon Lester's success evolved not only through health, but with control of his cutter where he can attack right-handers down and in. With the southpaw's NATURAL movement down and away to right-handers, they have to respect the outside fastball, leaving them vulnerable to the hard stuff in. The Yankees' Ron Guidry had particular dominance down and in.

All of which brings us back to Buchholz. Everyone knows about his secondary stuff, the 12 to 6 curve and the terrific change. But Clay hasn't been able to control the strike zone with his fastball, and also has not maintained his composure in the midst of 'luck'. Last night Jay Payton hit a dribbler that Buchholz couldn't corral. That led to an Oriole uprising that was the beginning of the end. Previously, the White Sox had a couple of Texas Leaguers fall in, before titanic homeruns.

What we can all hope for is a mature and professional Buchholz, who realizes that his work ethic on the side, weights, running, and film study will bring him long-term success. Ability seldom suffices in competitive professions. Perspiration and desire can bring Buchholz back to prominence, if he wants it enough.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Posse



The current version of the Red Sox reminds me of the movie 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'. Unfortunately, the Sox aren't Butch or Sundance, but the relentless posse chasing them. "Who are those guys?"

Three quarters of the way through the season, we're trying to figure out who this team really is.
The heart of the team (David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek) has struggled with injury and offensive inconsistency. A pair of younger players (Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia) have become the soul of the team, with a dogged determination that makes every at-bat Armageddon. The corner outfielders are solid and at times have been spectacular. The other two kids, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie have been polar opposites. Ellsbury, cursed by unlimited potential, has not met the fans' expectations while Lowrie has overachieved from day one, supplanting the high-priced shortstop du jour, Julio Lugo.

The pitching staff likewise has turned inside out. Cy Young runnerup Josh Beckett struggles to stay over .500, the inscrutable Matsuzaka has an unorthodox approach (pitching away from contact) but keeps winning, and the Comeback Kid, Jon Lester has simply been special. Tim Wakefield has pitched better than his record, and nobody has claimed and held the fifth starter
job.

Similarly, the bullpen regularly puts out Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde performances. The closer, Jonathan Papelbon, remains near the top of his game, and after that, who does Terry Francona REALLY trust. If you had to get out of a jam in a close game in the seventh, do you go with Okajima who has come on, Masterson who can be nasty, or simply roll the dice with any of Delcarmen, Aardsma, or Lopez, who all pitch trick or treat? Does Mike Timlin have something left in the tank?

So parts of the team have the NFL conundrum, the clash of ability and durability, while others have the ability but not the consistency to carry the team.

If the Sox get 'hot' and healthy, it wouldn't be hard to imagine them running the table, especially if Beckett 2008 became Beckett 2007. But if the Road Worriers meet Mr. Injury Bug, then even the deepest Diehards wouldn't be surprised to see the Angels, Rays, Chisox, and Twins in the postseason. And you don't have the feeling that Mssrs. Epstein and Francona can do much to change that.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Bay Bombers Blast Baltimore

After a big weekend thrashing at the hands of the Jays, Sox fans enjoyed a plucking of the Orioles, highlighted by a pair of homers by Jason Bay, who had four RBI and a stolen base.

Jon Lester raised his record to 12-4 while lowering his eighth place ERA in the AL to 3.18 with seven innings of one-run ball. Manny Delcarmen helped bring the Orioles back with 8th inning inconsistency, with a pair of two out walks leading to an Orioles comeback to 4-3.

Sox fans are frustrated by the inconsistency day-to-day, with erratic pitching ranging from the bullpen, and recent struggles from the back end of the starting rotation.

The constants have been Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, the latter the Red Sox MVP this season so far, and the former largely a model of consistency for the past few months. David Ortiz seems to be gathering himself down the stretch, with his post-All-Star game splits showing improving OPS. And Jed Lowrie has shown himself to be a worthy replacement both offensively and defensively, ranking in the top 10 percent of all MLB shortstops defensively.

At the other end of the scale, Jason Varitek broke out of his slump with a long homerun tonight, as he works through the season-long struggle at the plate and personal issues going into his contract stretch drive. Jacoby Ellsbury continues to struggle with the hard stuff inside, and he'll need to keep trying to downsize that hole in his game.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Soul Survivor: Where Do We Stand?

Where is the soul of Red Sox Nation? Recent events encourage examination and questions about where we stand?

Above all, the Red Sox are a business, a very successful business, on the field and at the box office. A pair of championships in four years after a lifetime of almost mythical disappointments testifies to the success of baseball operations. Revenues and 'value' among ticket prices, seating capacity expansion, NESN, and other revenue generating operations (merchandising). MLB generated 6.08 billion dollars of revenue in 2007, with the Red Sox reporting 234 million dollars in gross revenue in 2006. The Red Sox approach an All-Time record for consecutive sellouts, which any economist would tell you means that ticket prices aren't maximizing revenue.

The team has increased seating capacity within the tiny footprint at Fenway, and worked to improve the venue as a site for concerts, fund-raising, and private events.

Baseball operations has strengthened productivity (work smarter, not harder) via the rational employment of Bill James and sabermetrics and enhanced the drafting and development of young players. In addition to a ripening crop of minor leaguers, the Sox have developed a new generation of young players and pitchers, Youkilis, Pedroia, Lowrie, Ellsbury, Lester, Papelbon, Buchholz, Masterson, and Delcarmen to name some. "Price is what you pay. Value is what you get." Low-salaried young talent has allowed big-market teams to 'overpay' for established stars.

The recently successful Jimmy Fund telethon helps show the important role of the Red Sox in community action. The two day event raised over four million dollars for research and treatment of cancer in children. The Red Sox boast a pair of cancer survivors in Mike Lowell and Jon Lester. The Red Sox foundation describes its mission: Our primary focus is in serving the health, education, recreation, and social service needs of children and families in need across New England.

But seldom does any business enjoy universal praise and problem-free operation.
Aging veterans have often departed amidst rancor, bitterness, and controversy. The 'entitlement mentality' becomes pervasive in the narcissistic world of entertainers. While some say "it's not about the money", Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and Mike Greenwell all left under something less than mutual satisfaction. Others will surely follow.

Ramirez' exile in particular deserves discussion. Absent the Sox' willingness to exercise his option, Manny wasn't Manny, he simply became either scarce or a rock in the shoe. We'll never know whether he went on strike against Mariano Rivera, but we all saw him sit out critical games, and perform with low intensity at times on the bases and in the field. An honest day's work for a king's salary simply became meaningless. He then had the unmitigated gall to criticize the organization, suggesting an organized smear campaign against him.

If you work in a business whose most productive employee simply chooses when, where, and how to work, morale and overall satisfaction necessarily declines. Jason Bay's arrival coinciding with the Sox' improvement represents addition by subtraction, regardless of the professional stature of the former leftfielder.

The Mitchell Report by and large gave the Red Sox if not a free pass, then a discount rate on their role of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. The front office acquired Eric Gagne amidst suspicion of substance use, and fans' indifference to Gagne related to underachievement not juicing. The Sox recently acquired Paul Byrd, whose acknowledged use of HGH "wasn't intended to cheat." If not, then what was it? While we vilify the Jason Giambis of the world for their juicing, we prepare to scream our lungs out for a new and fungible piece of the pitching puzzle.

We live in a society where "if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying." In the wake of Enron, Worldcom, and the Dot.com collapse, we have overleveraging, Bear Stearns, the auction rate security scandal, and hedonics. "Whatever it takes" means just that, win at any cost. Even in a sport whose hallmark is individual achievement, teamwork and chemistry matter.

Can fans 'demand' an ethical business, based on competitive practices, honesty, and competence? Whether we can, we probably won't. Warren Buffett has reminded us that the key elements to success are intelligence, energy, and integrity? He notes that without the latter, the former are dangerous. We cannot and must not embrace business practices of low ethical character. Do we win with character or characters? We can not accept winning without professionalism or tawdry ethics within the franchise. That's never a way to run the Nation.



Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Avert Your Eyes?

What can you say about last night's game? Ugly? Horrible? Spectacular?

The greatest deficit I remember the Sox overcoming was an 8-0 game in 1967, which I believe Jerry Adair capped off with a game winning homer. I definitely could be wrong about that, since it happened over 40 years ago.

The Red Sox have found new ways to frustrate us, even in the wake of a pair of World Championships. You can never have too much pitching. But the staff falls apart with season long injuries to Curt Schilling, mostly hurt Bartolo Colon, and what seems like a Clay Buchholz badly in need of a sports psychologist. The Byrd Man of Cleveland can bring even a semblance of sanity to the back end of the rotation (an ERA under 5), that would constitute an improvement.

And then there's the bullpen, which like the little girl with the curl, has been very bad when bad. Again, as I've repeated over and over and over, maybe better pitching means more than better players.

The centerfield camera (Direct Vision) has returned for tonight. Where did it go?

The serial injuries to Mike Lowell prove what? That players named after cities (Wakefield, Lowell) are injury prone? That signing older players increases risk? Are injuries random or does age contribute in a 'measurable' way. Joba Chamberlain is a kid, and he's on the Yankee DL.

Do we have a better vision of who the player Jason Bay is? Earlier I noted that his similarity score to J.D. Drew likely isn't accidental. After watching Bay for a couple of weeks, doesn't he remind you of a righthanded hitting Drew? He's a capable outfielder, runs fairly well, and has decent, but not outstanding power.

Where do we stand on the Varitek watch? With his average among the lowest of players with at least 300 at bats, can we view Varitek as unlucky, declining, indispensible, or problematic?
Varitek's strikeout percentage (26%) is the second highest on the team (after Cash) and his OPS is a paltry .650. The good news is that it hasn't gotten any worse since the All-Star break.

As for the shortstop job, if Jed Lowrie stays healthy, he has to be the shortstop. In fewer than half as many at bats as Julio Lugo, Lowrie has more RBI (26-22), an OPS almost 100 points higher, and in twenty-three games at shortstop he has not received an error (jinx!). Sometimes you can see a lot by just watching!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Miasma

Pitching seemed like the Red Sox strong point. And maybe it still is. But with Tim Wakefield headed to the DL and Clay Buchholz in FUBAR mode, the Sox have to retool.

What are the options? The top of the rotation with Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Lester isn't the problem. Where they go from there, anybody knows. Bartolo Colon isn't ready, and the best free agent available could be Freddy Garcia, who has a dozen teams looking at him.

Pawtucket has David Pauley (pitched Saturday), Devern Hansack (pitched the 7th), Charlie Zink (the knuckleballer, pitched the 8th) and Michael Bowden (last pitched August 5th), who has already thrown 126 innings this year. The question is whether the Sox will reassess the innings count with their prize prospect. Colon pitched three innings today.

Justin Masterson would need to be 'stretched out' if he were going back to the rotation, and we've seen how that worked out for Joba (the Hun) Chamberlain.

Here's guessing that they turn to Hansack for a spot start, and try to keep Bowden out of the majors. Let's hope they don't go into panic mode and trade Bowden for somebody ready to go on Social Security.

Statistically speaking, Double A Portland doesn't have anyone ready, with some really high WHIP ratios.

Farm League? Lars Anderson has a 1.021 OPS with 13 runs and 17 RBI in 21 games in AA. Anderson turns 21 in September.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Momentum

"Momentum lasts as long as the next day's starting pitcher." And so it was tonight as Daisuke Matsuzaka stopped the White Sox on one run through eight innings.

Of course, it's not only pitching that counts but timely hitting as well. David Ortiz led the fourteen hit parade with three hits and a three run double, and another key element was Jacoby Ellsbury with his seventh homer and three hits. Ellsbury's protracted slump seemed to coincide with what was the illusion of offensive stagnation.

But Ellsbury has now raised his average above .270 and has shown more pop with a pair of homers this week. Perhaps he's making adjustments, or pitchers aren't executing against his perceived weakness.

After last season's mediocrity, nobody knew what to expect from Matsuzaka, but he leads the team in wins (13-2) and E.R.A. (2.90) and has produced surprising consistency while going deeper in games lately. In his last six starts, he's averaged 6 2/3rd innings.

The Sox hold a 2 game lead (1 in the loss column) over the White Sox, and Jose Contrares returned only to rupture his Achilles tendon covering first base.

As for the extraordinary self-rendition of the former left fielder to LA, several ESPN Insider column suggest that as usual, the reaction from MLB will be nil, although M$nny the Malingerer got his way in the end.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Stuff You Never See, Karma.

Tonight's game has filled the inquisitive mind with trivial thoughts and pictures.

  • Jason Bay had a double off the centerfielder's glove that rolled about SIX FEET along the TOP of the KC wall before leftfielder Ross Gload kept it in the park.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury had TWO hits! And two stolen bases. As they say, you can't steal first base.
  • Mike Lowell just pains the consciousness limping around the bases.
Last night the Sox just couldn't make anything happen against Gil Meche after the first. Tonight the Sox got into the Royals bullpen and exacted a little payback.

Josh Beckett looks a little tired here in the seventh, with his front shoulder flying open, leaving his pitching arm trailing, and causing stuff to go up and away from lefthanders. Voila! Francona sees it, too, and Beckett is gone.

Joba Chamberlain has shoulder pain and needs an MRI and a visit to Dr. James Andrews in Alabama. I wrote to Andrews years ago and got a very comprehensive personal letter back. I was impressed. I'm a believer in karma, and if that's applicable, you have to wonder about the relationship between Chamberlain's inconvenient wildness in the vicinity of Kevin Youkilis' head. I wish him well, as well as professional maturity.

Obviously, I was never a major league pitcher (by miles), but pitched from Little League through Division I in college and in semipro and adult leagues and never came as close to hitting a righthanded batter in the head as Chamberlain has THREE times with Youkilis. And I doubt anyone thinks my control and command came anything close to Chamberlain's. There's NOTHING wrong with pitching inside. Headhunting deserves condemnation whether it's Red Sox or Yankee pitchers. Karma.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Stoppah!

Let's hope so.

Coming into tonight, Jon Lester has 48 career starts, with a remarkable 20-5 career record.

Last Word



"This is your team."

Job One: Back to Basics

Last night the Red Sox took a step in the right direction, playing good baseball. Pitch the ball, field the ball, hit the ball.

Not all of their efforts created runs, but the Sox executed better than they had in awhile. Jed Lowrie had a sacrifice fly and a sacrifice bunt. Jonathan Papelbon stranded a runner in scoring position in a critical situation. The oft-maligned bullpen held the A's down for the most part, including key efforts from Delcarmen in the seventh, Papelbon in the 9th and 10th, and Lopez and Timlin in the final two.

We shouldn't rush to declare Jason Bay an All-Star based on one night, but at least everyone had their oars in the water. The Sox have enough good pieces to go deep in the playoffs, although as currently constituted, the Angels have to be the AL favorite.

Terry Francona's genius has always been the focus on winning today. Let's hope he can keep everyone left behind on board.

Never Confuse Brains with a Bull Market?

On Wall Street, the saying goes, "never confuse brains with a bull market." Baseball doesn't have an equivalent, although maybe Charles Barkley approximated it, "I am not a role model."

Baseball players get paid to perform on the field, not to sign autographs, appease sports writers, or give good interviews. Realistically, "you catch more flies with honey than vinegar", so accommodating the media and fans does provide linkage between pay and performance. But many talented players haven't enjoyed much of a relationship with their environment, from Ty Cobb to Steve Carlton, to Barry Bonds.

"Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan." Maybe had the Sox been playing well, the whole tirade could have been dismissed, but the volatile mixture of underachievement and constant complaints produced the expected result, CHANGE.

"No progress occurs without change, but not all change is progress." - John Wooden
Apply the lessons of the Red Sox to your own workplace. If you had an extraordinarily talented coworker, would they be allowed to disrespect the boss, physically assault company members, and work at their pleasure? Probably not.

Fans celebrate effort, a blue-collar effort, and appreciate concurrent grace under pressure. When Julio Lugo went through his travails last season, Sox fans were upset, but less so than Lugo, who looked as though he was at the brink of despair. Yet he had earlier counseled Dustin Pedroia just to keep battling during the second basemen's slump. The fans see everything, recognizing the intensity that the vast majority of the team brings.

Yes, players get big heads, exaggerate their importance, and sometimes mistreat the 'little people'. So do politicians, doctors, lawyers, Registry employees, and sportswriters. Of course, nobody wants our autograph, or uniform, or even an approving glance. Such is the blessing and the curse of the professional athlete. So maybe it's "never confuse brains with celebrity."

Friday, August 01, 2008

Out in Left Field

Okay, it's time to release the hounds, a barrage of cliche's worthy of grade B movies.

The Bay Watch has begun, with Bay's press conference today. Bay is certain to get the biggest ovation of his career. Terry Francona looked like the weight of the world had come off his shoulders. Francona is rumored to have lost fifteen pounds during the Dead Manny Walking crisis. The Sox finally extricated the sole survivor of the Isle of Manny by doing everything (as Jason Varitek said) "to get him out of town."

Nobody should feel that Jason Bay will produce at the level of a Hall of Famer. But the Sox have presumably solved their left field problems through 2009 and done so with an opportunity to put twelve million dollars together to address other weaknesses.

Bay will surely misplay some balls off the wall, strikeout in key situations, and leave runners on base. He will fail at times and at others he will succeed spectacularly. That is baseball.

How good is Jason Bay? Sometimes one can approximate using similarity scores from Baseball Reference. Who shows up on Bay's similarity scores? Somebody asked me for a comparison, and I said think about a right-handed hitting J.D. Drew.
And sure enough, who is on his similarity list?

The Sox still have issues, specifically consistency out of the bullpen, with erratic performances from Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima, Mike Timlin showing his age, and Javier Lopez losing some left-handed luster recently.

Meanwhile, across the country, Joe Torre has already beaten cancer, so the addition of a new left fielder (Manny of LA Mancha) shouldn't faze him too much.

Go West, young Manny. Ramirez joins Fenway West, following Derek Lowe, Bill Mueller, and Nomar Garciaparra to points west. We should always remember the joy and frustration that was Manny Ramirez, from his opening day homer, 500th homer, critical post-season homers, and maddening brain farts and indifferent baserunning. Tonight begins the P.M. (post Manny) era.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

No Blood, No Sweat. No Tears


I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terrors - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.- Winston Churchill, 1940


The Red Sox traded current malcontent and future Hall of Famer Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers for Pittsburgh outfielder Jason Bay in a three way deal. Departing will be 7 million dollars, Brandon Moss, and Craig Hansen. The money goes to the Dodgers to pay Ramirez' salary, and Moss and Hansen go to Pittsburgh.

Manny held a figurative gun to the head of Sox ownership, which had seen the team implode on the field, and Manny assuming the role of Grand Pooh Bah while playing at his convenience on his terms. Ramirez' antics had reduced the Sox to a joke on the field this week against the Angels, and the Sox had to move him or face total meltdown.

Ramirez was less of an enigmatic figure than a petulant star, a man with a great work ethic in the cage and video room, but self-absorbed with both his value and respect.

For manager Terry Francona, Ramirez' departure means the perpetual rock in the shoe disappears, but only time will tell what Bay brings under the bright lights. Team leaders have to be relieved that the distraction vanishes, but they also have the responsibility to raise the team's level of play to playoff caliber.

I think Moss will be a twenty homer guy who can hit .280 and Hansen may develop faster without the spotlight of Boston. You never know whether a guy like Moss could reappear sometime in the future.

Was Ramirez a misunderstood hitting savant or sophomoric narcissist? Manny exemplifies the difference between baseball and football. Manny never matured into the kind of leader who understood that winning and the team meant more than his performance. I celebrate his contribution to the contemporary Sox' pair of World Championship. But I weep not for his departure, as his intransigence and selfishness forced the Red Sox to move him.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Was That?

The Red Sox are playing their worst baseball of the season tonight, for whatever reason. Totally lacking in crispness and execution, they look totally discombobulated, as we head into the trading deadline.

The Patriots would throw a marginal veteran over the side in response to such indifference, but the Red Sox have to weigh the 'panic' approach versus a realistic examination of their prospects.

Sometimes you need players to overachieve, and currently there are few certainties with this team, other than Manny being fanny. For a guy who has made a fortune and largely produced at a high level, he shows incredible bitterness and contempt for ownership. Who is he likely to hurt in the end? Guys like Terry Francona who has taken many a bullet for him, and in the end, himself. Only a handful of teams can hand out 15-20 million dollar a year deals, and most of them dogs frankly won't hunt. Maybe Scott Boras can sweet talk the Yankees into throwing Mad Money at Manny, but maybe not.

At least for now, moving Ramirez looks like addition by subtraction, as you've gotta feel the Sox would play with more heart with Brandon Moss in the lineup.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Run Out of Town

"Run out" has been an issue, as in running out ground balls, baserunning in general, but now it's Manny running himself out of town. Why I'd like Manny to find a new home? Manny's playing a child's game for princely money. Why not be happy? Manny's entitled to make as much money as he can with his next contract. The issue at hand is Manny playing out his contract with the effort and concentration 'expected'. Okay, so maybe expected for Manny is less than for some.

Why I'd like Manny to stay? First, he can hit, and second, he's not as bad defensively as you might think. He's probably as good as Jim Rice at playing the wall, and he usually catches what he can reach, unlike Gator Greenwell. But even more, I don't want to give Daniel (Dan lies as she hugs NY) Shaughnessy the satisfaction of saying HE forced Manny out of town. I don't like it when writers ("I'm a columnist not a writer") try to become the story instead of reporting the story.

The Angels look to be the class of the league after delivering the Sox another thumping. Of course, in a short series anything can happen. Their lineup with Kendrick and Kotchman hitting, and their small ball capabilities certainly warrant attention.

Joba (the Hun) Chamberlain. What is the matter with this Cro-Magnon? Major League Baseball needs to bring the righthander in for a trip to the woodshed and perhaps some psychiatric testing after yet another head-hunting adventure with Kevin Youkilis. I believe in 'karma' as in what goes around comes around. Are the powers that be oblivious to memories of Tony C and Kirby Puckett or are they just dragging their knuckles in deference to the Yankees? Higher powers have blessed Chamberlain with the stuff to be a big winner, but time will test him not only physically but mentally. Pitchers are entitled to work inside, but beanballs deserve sanctions before Chamberlain pitches himself out of active service.

Trade deadline approaching, will Sox stand pat? The Angels have just traded Casey Kotchman and a minor leaguer for Mark Teixeira. Although Kotchman is a future star, that certainly establishes the Angels as favorites in the AL. The biggest issue for the Sox is not necessarily acquiring more talent, but having the existing talent produce at a championship level.

The Sox certainly don't want to trade top prospects for suspects. They have plenty of players in demand (Buchholz, Bowden, Reddick, and others) but shouldn't settle for rentals if they are giving up potential stars, especially pitchers AND taking on salary.