Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Three Month Observations

As we approach the All-Star break, maybe we can analyze the good, the bad, and the ugly about the 2009 Red Sox.

The Good.
  • Locking up Lester, Pedroia, and Lester was a key move by the Sox
  • The Sox seem to have the key ingredient (pitching) to deal with the tectonic shift away from performance-enhancing drugs toward more speed and defense
  • Jason Bay has proven himself to be an elite player, capable of beating up on the dogs and cats and the lions and tigers.
  • The Red Sox bullpen is the best in their modern era.
  • The front three of Beckett, Lester, and Penny give the Sox a chance to win 70 percent of their games...or more.
  • Nick Green has far outperformed expectations.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury continues to mature as a player, and is on pace to set a Red Sox stolen base record
  • Jason Varitek has maintained his defensive skills and had a mean reversion to offensive productivity, although June wasn't his best
  • Tim Wakefield, may he make the All-Star team, but maybe getting voted on by the fans would be best.
  • J.D. Drew is 21st in the AL in OPS. He's above Ian Kinsler, Adam Jones, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, and Carl Crawford to name just a few.
  • Terry Francona continues to be the Sox' version of Walter Alston.
  • Has ANYBODY caught Tim Wakefield better than George Kottaras?
The Bad.

  • Injuries are still out there. Mike Lowell has plenty of heart, but not enough hip. All of this makes the versatility of Kevin Youkilis even more critical.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka's non-excellent WBC adventure has been the skunk at a garden party.
  • David Ortiz's first two months were beyond forgettable.
  • The Amica pitch zone shows that the umpiring isn't too special.
  • Julio Lugo's range suffered early, but to his credit, he hasn't been a distraction.
The Ugly.

  • Dustin Pedroia's haircut
  • John Henry and Mark Teixeira won't be bosom buddies.
  • The weather in June. Boston fans get three months of decent weather, except June fell off the map this year.
Second half musings.

  • Will the Sox be able to get another bat?
  • Clay Buchholz.
  • Where does Jed Lowrie fit into the picture? Is he better than Green now?
  • Can Big Papi return to a 20 HR, 90 RBI, .250 season?
  • If John Smoltz pitches like tonight, he will be a factor.
  • Tampa still makes me a little nervous.
  • Who will be next user outed?
  • My dream World Series? The Red Sox and the Giants. The Giants fans deserve it, and they've got the pitching.
And in the category of "you never see that", half the team runs off the field with only two outs in the bottom of the sixth. Well, almost three outs. It didn't take "Bull from Night Court" Masterson to get the final out.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Opportunity Knocks; Are We Ready?

Baseball and life. Sometimes the season doesn't turn out the way you thought it would. As we approach the halfway point in the season, the Red Sox have the second best record in baseball. How the hell is that possible?

David Ortiz has only recently begun to hit, while the offensive core of the team, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia has fallen off a bit lately. The only players who have outperformed expectations offensively are Jason Bay and Nick Green. Jason Varitek had a great start, and now the jury has gone out offensively.

Among starting pitching, Tim Wakefield and Brad Penny have overachieved, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have resumed their expected trajectory, and Daisuke Matsuzaka has suffered through any player's worst nightmare.

The obvious answer becomes the excellence of the bullpen. They have held leads, closed victories, and allowed the team to stay close in others. Recently, with short starts, the bullpen has shown a little fraying around the edges.

Management's overarching direction remains drafting and developing pitching, with bargain/risk oriented acquisitions like Penny and John Smoltz. The Sox have top-flight pitching prospects in Clay Buchholz and Casey Kelly, and Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden are not far behind.

Unfortunately, the acquisition and training of the next generation of power hitters hasn't proven as consistent, making some nameless signings and/or power trade essential.

But we ask, the 2009 Sox, how good are they? In the post-steroid era, we're seeing a falloff in the overall speed and power throughout the game. Maybe the games haven't been quite as volatile, but I'm ready for a return to pitching and small ball, supplemented by an occasional three-run homer.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Keeping Faith

The manager's job never gets any easier, arbitrating among egos, streaks, the vicissitudes of baseball, and personal problems that we will never know. What affects a player, illness or injury, frustration, depression, or personal problems?

How a player gets treated also depends on the alternatives? Consider the choices:
  • Jason Varitek versus George Kottaras
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka versus John Smoltz
  • Julio Lugo versus Nick Green
  • J.D. Drew versus Rocco Baldelli
Each pairing has a 'starter' paired against a challenger. Let's avoid Matsuzaka for last...

Jason Varitek handles the pitching staff and calling the game. His offense has exceeded last year's performance, but lately he too suffers from "the dwindles." His June numbers are .154/.298/.256/.554. Whatever he tried in April and May seems to have evaporated in June. His left-right statistical differential is huge. Nobody (as far as I know) screams, "sit the old man down". The alternative doesn't sound that attractive either.

Nick Green has simply supplanted Lugo at shortstop. Lugo played the role of Wally Pipp, except Green and DiMaggio's only commonality remains letter G in their last name. So far Lugo has played the good soldier, and even produced in light duty. Their potential replacement, Jed Lowrie, won't make anyone forget Cal Ripken either. In other words, the amplitude of the discussion stays low.

J.D. Drew has yet to emerge in his third Sox season. Season one brings memories of a grand slam against the Tribe in the postseason and a decent World Series. Last year, he excelled in June, but didn't make anybody forget Babe Ruth. Aside from the megabucks he earns, Drew doesn't incite passion among Sox fans. He hustles, keeps to himself, and again the alternative, either Rocco Baldelli or innumerable "not ready for prime time" minor leaguers doesn't solve the problem.

All of which brings us to Daisuke Matsuzaka. No monetary consideration comes into play. He has a no-trade clause, the only one on the team. Almost nobody can muster an argument for Matsuzaka, but I'd recommend they let him use his approach and let the chips fall. Viable alternatives enhance the 'difference' with Matsuzaka, because the Sox have choices:
  • Five man rotation with Beckett, Lester, Penny, Smoltz, and Wakefield
  • They have two additional starters that fans don't cringe at the possibility, Buchholz and Masterson, and another back burner possibility in Bowden.
  • The guy most likely not to have a month-to-month lease has become Brad Penny, who has quietly seen his value skyrocket in the past month. His ERA has fallen each month, his K/BB ratio looks good at 2, and his June ERA is 2.70.
We don't have to make excuses for Dice-K, who we know to be a tireless worker, whose biggest fault emerged as his loyalty to his company over The Nation. He could be injured or just mentally out of sorts. Let's not forget that he won 18 games last season amidst our "what have you done for me lately?" mantra.

Sox fans know that the "too much pitching" problem always works itself out via performance changes, injury, or other Acts of God. With that in mind, patience might sound corny, but the best answer.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Long but Exciting

Not many thirteen inning baseball games can hold your attention, but the Sox-Phils marathon did tonight. The game had a number of highlights, twists, and turns, and hair-raising moments for the Hose.

  • John Lester became the first Sox left-hander to have three consecutive ten strikeout games. We're including Babe Ruth here, Mel Parnell, Bruce Hurst, Bill Lee, and Rogelio Moret, too. Lester's brilliance got lost in the shuffle.
  • Six Sox pitchers gave up five hits in thirteen innings.
  • Dustin Pedroia went 0-7.
  • David Ortiz played first, but won't win any Gold Gloves.
  • Nick Green made a pretty 6-3 double play against the speedy Jimmy Rollins.
  • Ramon Ramirez moved down the pecking order surrendering a ninth inning titanic game-tying homer to Ryan Howard. It happens.
  • Dave Roberts noted (correctly) that the Sox had lost momentum and energy; the Sox promptly rallied.
  • Justin Masterson surrendered (almost) the game-winning three run homer in the 12th. It was foul...by a hair.
  • The Sox pushed across three runs in the thirteenth, courtesy of an Ellsbury single, a Nick Green sac fly, and mixed in, a single by (crickets) Julio Lugo. Good job.
  • Daniel Bard, he of the 99 mph fastball, struck out the side in the ninth, earning his first save, with a walk and hit batsman mixed in. Cripes, who wouldn't be afraid of hitting against a guy who has that kind of stuff, and variable idea where it's going.
The Sox have the second best record in the majors, after the Dodgers.*

About the only thing I didn't see tonight was (another) coyote in my backyard.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Saturday's All Right

Quick hits:

  • John Lester was magnificent in a 2-hitter, with a perfect game for 6 1/3 innings. He had better stuff than he no-hit the Royals with last year, with a couple of different styles of curveball, the hard cutter, a turnover sinker, and touched 98 on the gun. He lowered his ERA to 5.06 with the complete game. Would the Sox consider realigning the rotation to have him pitch Thursday on four days rest against the Yankees?
  • Jason Bay had a key 2-run RBI single after a lengthy at bat to break the game open in the fifth inning.
  • David Ortiz hit the Pesky Pole for his 2nd dinger of the season and hit the ball hard a couple of times. Francona grabbed the big guy and encouraged him to take a recognition of the "Curtain Call". I'm sure Ortiz isn't looking for extra face time right now.
  • Julio Lugo is frustrated with his playing time. Most Sox fans are equally frustrated by his playing time.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Free Range Chicken

Anybody watching the Red Sox tonight has to wonder how long the Red Sox can stick with this formula...

Julio Lugo gets no jump in either direction and clearly his inability to make plays at short hurts the team. Brad Penny wore the victim's hairshirt tonight and the frustration sits on his sleeve like a dank mist. Yes, Lugo sustained an injury, but if he can't get the job done, he must sit. Fielding aside, Lugo hasn't confused anyone with the 1983 Cal Ripken at the plate either. The Sox have contractual obligations to Lugo whether he rides the pine or wets the bed at short.

Nick Green holds no fascination for me. Getting an everyday shortstop who makes plays should occupy Theo Epstein's thoughts 24/7. This has become unwatchable, a slow motion train wreck with your best friends aboard.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Sox Milestones

Julio Lugo. (crickets)

Daisuke Matsuzaka tossed a vintage 'dental extraction' victory, throwing a million pitches in five innings for his first win.

A bullpen parade featuring Delcarmen, Okajima, Ramirez and Papelbon iced the victory, although the Papelbonian ninth sweated out Sox fans, as he loaded the bases with none out before fanning the side.


Pitcher A
24 0 2 0 0 0 8 23.1 14 6 2 9 24 9.26 0.0 0.99 2.31
Pitcher B
22 0 0 1 13 0 0 23.0 22 6 3 11 28 10.96 0.0 1.43 2.35

Obviously, pitcher B has a lot more saves, but Okajima (Pitcher A) has pretty good stats relative to Papelbon, who does it closing.

David Ortiz...had the hat trick tonight...he didn't look quite as disconsolate though. Gerry Callahan's axe required surgical removal from Ortiz before the game. The former Chelmsford gridiron legend did the ultimate hatchet job on Ortiz in the Herald today. If you removed the passive voice from Callahan's column, you could tweet it.

Jacoby Ellsbury continued his solid hitting with a pair of hits and an intentional walk.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Where's the Excitement?

"Chicks dig the long ball." Well, maybe it was just the synthetic testosterone.

The Sox have proved a bit frustrating because they simply have failed (at times) to play the best fundamental baseball. The Minnesota series proves the point. The Sox have far more talent (and payroll than the Twins), yet the Twins' execution and solid play earned them a split.

What's with all the hip labrum disease? Is this something newly found (Lowell, A-Rod, Delgado and more) or a new phenomenon?

Hooray for Jacoby Ellsbury's working to hit the ball on the ground/line drives instead of homerun swings for popups.

Can we find some superior fielding shortstop like A-Gonzo?

Maybe Lester and Beckett have found the answer. No substitute for a live arm, right Daniel Bard?

Remarkable how supportive Sox' fans are for David Ortiz. There's no way to plug a player into a meter and say "he's lost it."

Can you believe that Jason Varitek has a higher OPS than J.D. Drew? It's true.

I thought I saw a Red Sox catcher throw out a runner recently. Carl Crawford, be afraid, be very afraid. Justin Masterson held the runner on second by hitting him, unintentionally.

You can NEVER have too much pitching. If you had ten great starters, then you'd still find a way to have them injured, suspended, or otherwise unavailable.

Back to back carpet series. That, Martha, is not a very good thing.