Sunday, March 30, 2008

King James

Click tables to ENLARGE.

Bill James' interview starts soon on '60 Minutes'. We don't know exactly what James does, he is the Red Sox equivalent of the Patriots' Ernie Adams.

What we know is the lanky Kansan's ability to sort baseball's wheat from its chaff among the myriad baseball statistics we cherish. The Red Sox adopted not only the Moneyball strategy, but employ its chief architect.

We know that the Red Sox have been among the leaders in OPS (on base percentage plus slugging) that translates into run production and know that strikeout to walk ratios predict future E.R.A. better than E.R.A. itself.

Bill James' innovative creations (e.g. Win Shares) has produced results and championships for the Sox. In a bottom line business, James could easily, dollar for dollar be one of the Red Sox best investments.

With threshold for 'All-Star' type seasons at 20 and MVP at 30, the Red Sox statistics translate into victories.
Red Sox 2007 win shares (from can see 5 players with at least 10 win shares, and 15 with at least 10. Pedroia win shares came at a cost of about 20,000 dollars apiece.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------By comparison, the Yankess had only ten members with at least ten win shares. Clemens had 5...for an astonishing 3.6 million dollars per win share, over a 100 times as expensive as Pedroia's.
The disastrous 2006 season had only ten Sox with at least ten win shares.
______________________________________________________The 2004 Championship season showed 12 Sox with double-digit win shares and five gretaer than twenty.
I believe that the Red Sox like to use the statistics as adjuncts to 'trend' performance. You can see how they've dropped off for certain players.
Pedro Martinez earned only 25 over the past three seasons for the Mets, with injury limiting his effectiveness. Those win shares come at over a million bucks apiece.
Kevin Millar on the other hand, has averaged 13 a year for four years. He is what he is.
____________________________________________________Will Jason Varitek's Win Shares help determine his future with the Sox?
____________________________________________________We like Mike? The Red Sox had to find Lowell's trending compelling.
So we await the CBS spin on the James contribution to the team of the 21st Century. Well, so far anyway. I expect James to be fairly self-effacing, emphasizing that statistics tell just a part of the story, and that variation and even luck plays a role as well. We'll soon see.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Who Got Hurt

We know that the Red Sox didn't take much of a hit in the Mitchell report, for whatever reason. NONE of us believe that the Sox avoided the scandal, and Eric Gagne and Brendan Donnelly both got passing mention.

Some argue that aside from baseball's fascination with numbers, nobody got hurt. Is that really the case?

I'm not addressing the health issues involved with anabolic steroids or growth hormone, but rather the competitive ones. We know about the massive contracts and muscles of Bonds and Giambi, but what we don't see are the wounds of those that never made the show.

I spoke with a family of one player, a non-drafted free agent who had some success in the minor leagues, but ultimately retired gracefully to the business world when injuries caught up with him. They said he wasn't so much bitter as frustrated by his experience. Frustrated by an inability to compete on a level playing field with others who took performance enhancing substances.

Why didn't he become a user? He opted to stay clean simply for health reasons, concerns about the development of cancer in particular.

So for every star who advantaged the system, others lost out, And you know too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cardinal Rules

Former Orioles pitching coach used to say, "throw strikes, change speeds, and work fast."

Well, after two games, Red Sox pitching could use a little refresher course, as Daisuke and Jon Lester took more than a little walk on the wild side, either wild outside the zone (bases on balls) or inside (homeruns). Just got to stop.

Of course, it's only two games into the March season, so let's not get crazy. In Marathon City, we've only left the starting gate.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


WYSIWIG...what you see is what you get.

Daisuke Matsuzaka struggled with command early, but somehow got through five innings. The so-called 'power nibbler' style got him in trouble with five walks, and Mark Ellis (homer) looks to be a Red Sox killer in the tradition of Gates Brown and Amos Otis.

The Sox got saved by the most unlikely hero, with rookie Brandon (don't call me Brandy) Moss delivering a ninth inning tater to tie the game with just two outs remaining. Oakland closer Huston (we have a problem) Street got tagged with not just the blown save but the loss.

Manny Ramirez forgot to run out a "milk" double in the tenth that delivered the winning runs. Manny, it's not the Bad News Bears, just run it out. On the other hand better to have something to run out than not.

Rookie Jacoby Ellsbury made a highlight reel catch in the eighth off a smash against Bryan Corey.

All in all, excepting the early morning offering (Breakfast Baseball in Beantown) a very satisfying win.

And can it suck enough to be an Oakland fan, constantly enduring the disposition of your best players for prospects. Jeremy Brown we barely knew ye.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Buchholz: Fuggedaboutit

Yes, Red Sox younger players have spoiled Sox fans over the past few years.
  • Papelbon, one of the top 3 closers in the AL (Putz, Papelbon, Rivera)
  • Pedroia, Rookie of the Year
  • Ellsbury, playoff and World Series catalyst
  • Lester, World Series clincher and inspirational health story
  • Youkilis, Gold Glove and productive Moneyball player
  • Matsuzaka (well he was an MLB rookie)
  • Okajima (ditto)
  • Hanley Ramirez, well he was our guy
So expectations for Clay Buchholz are high, particular as the duo of Buchholz and Lester inevitably will receive comparison to the Bombers Hughes, Chamberlain, and others. First, Buchholz isn't going to win 20 this season. Johan Santana might not either, even with 32 starts, and the handicap of being pinch hit for in the National League. Second, there will be rough spots for Buchholz, days where his fastball command suffers, or he can't get the 'feel' on that 12 to 6 curve, especially with the frigid Boston spring.

So we have choices.
  • Support him through the growing process, realizing the potential of a pitching prodigy with a pair of plus pitches (curve, changeup) and a very good fastball that can still pitch to contact.
  • Wring our hands every time he struggles, with command or poise, or major league hitters get the better of him (happens to everyone).
I'm for giving the kid plenty of leeway, with oversight from the coaches and mentoring from the veterans. We don't have to eat our young, this ain't Loserville, and the 'negativity' era may not have vanished, but it has lessened.

We may never see this again, but even some reasonably facsimiles would be enough.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Stand by Your Man

It's hard to get overly worked up about the Red Sox so far, with the biggest controversies being the Mirabelli firing and the players' support for coaches.

Mirabelli deserved credit for his handling of Tim Wakefield over the years. But his skills had atrophied, and the catching position remains an Achilles Heel should Varitek go down. Sentiment usually runs deep with vet cuts, yet Mirabelli never was Troy Brown.

As for the players' boycott threat, one finds it difficult to measure the risk that they took in order to get what they sought. Some people risk everything, and sacrifice much for others (e.g. military personnel and public safety workers). What the players did was thoughtful, but not remarkable. Coaches deserve credit and compensation, and I'm happy for them.

How much weight should be given to Spring Training performances? Not much.

Good-bye to Fort Myers? Rumors have that the Red Sox are disappointed in the community commitment to upgrading the neighborhood, and the Sox could be looking elsewhere...specifically the Cactus League. The Sox had a Scottsdale, AZ heritage, and in the words of Joaquin Andujar, "youneverknow."

Is Jon Lester going to have a breakout season? If he can stay healthy, he mght.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Win Some, Lose Some

As Spring Training winds down, we see a more competitive American League, with the usual suspects in the AL East, the power struggle between Cleveland, Detroit, and improving Chicago in the Central, and the Angels and the Mariners improved in the West.

The Red Sox concern currently reflects the Far East trip and the health of Josh Beckett's back, making the starting rotation shakier NOW. Let's presume that Daisuke Matsuzaka is good for at least another 15 wins, that Tim Wakefield can stay healthy (and .500), and we expect Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz to be very serviceable starters in the four and five (or three and five) spots.

To quote Billy Beane, "we're not selling jeans here." Bartolo Colon, when healthy, can throw strikes with something on them. He hasn't been consistent the past couple of seasons because of health, but he hasn't been thin for as long as I can remember. If he can't go, I believe Kyle Snyder has value for five innings as he has recovered from his health problems. He could be the sleeper of the staff.

The biggest part of the bullpen, Papelbon, Okajima, and Delcarmen all should remain productive. Mike Timlin has proven his worth, although seems better starting innings clean.

The lineup returns basically intact, with the presumption that Ellsbury will be solid if not spectacular. It won't be easy for Pedroia and Lowell to duplicate their seasons. It shouldn't be hard for Manny, Lugo, and Drew to exceed their prior production. Ortiz, Youkilis, and Varitek should be able to duplicate their output.

As for newcomers, who's left. Kevin Cash presumby is the number two catcher, which is a good argument for keeping Varitek healthy. Brandon Moss has the potential to be a valuable outfield backup, with or without Coco Crisp.

So who's on the Opening Day Roster:

Beckett (DL)
Lopez (first cut)

Kielty (safe or out?)
Moss (options?)
Crisp(? DL, ?trade)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Dealers choice

Jonathan Papelbon is underpaid. Well, the sun will come up in the morning, too.

MLB has a salary structure, grossly overweighted in favor of the players. I can argue that I am at the top of my game (debatable) and I will never come close to making the major league minimum as a doctor with 25 years experience.

But Papelbon has a choice. He can get paid now or wait. Let us say for convenience sake that he gets 750 grand, or has a choice to sign a three year deal for 12 million.

He can take a chance on injury or just performance variability, and if he tears a rotator cuff, then he does not get the big pay day. Or he can take the money and give up some negotiating freedom going forward.

I am not saying that he is greedy, only that he has options, far more than EVERY other reader of this column (EVER).

Sure, we are comparing apples to oranges. Who adds more value to the world, a terrific school teacher, the best ICU nurse around, Mother Teresa, or one of the best relief pitchers in baseball?

The day I am on my death bed, whom do I want there, my wife and family, or my favorite sports hero?