Sunday, October 26, 2008


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.