Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday Randoms

When was the last time the Sox won ten in a row to move into second place? Maybe 1967. On that interesting note, let's try some random thoughts.

  • The NBA's gone to plus minus in assessing contribution. Maybe the newspapers could introduce that for starting pitchers and catchers. Too random?
  • A Yankee fan took umbrage to my comment that Kevin Youkilis might be the Sox version of Paul O'Neill. Evidently, he viewed O'Neill as the New York version of Mother Teresa. Did she beat up water coolers?
  • Ramon Ramirez has been pretty he just wild enough to be scary?
  • Cliff Lee looks like he's got the kryptonite so far tonight.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury is on a 90 steal pace. With Scott Boras as his agent, will we know him as the Ellsbury Dough Boy?
  • David Ortiz still isn't making great contact. Does Papi need an eye check, or a wrist check?
  • Julio Lugo is back. I'm kinda good with Nick Green for now. Don't rush it, eh?
  • Tim Wakefield's biggest liability is the running game.
  • The Rem Dawg is in fine form this year.
  • Jason Varitek is still only hitting .216, but it's a hard .216, with a slugging percent of .510.
  • I still hate that damned drum at the Jake.
  • Do knuckleballers need pitch counts?
  • Mike Lowell has been a revelation at the plate this season.
  • Jason Bay...has he found a home in left. Let's hope so.
  • Good article today on the fairly dramatic increase in Papelbon's pitches per inning this season...a sign of diminishing dominance or just a statistical aberration.
  • Jeff Bailey has been tracking a few fly balls tonight like they were radioactive.
  • Will Ellsbury have enough cachet to compete for a Gold Glove this year?
  • The median attendance in baseball this season is 28 thousand and change. Last season it was 31 thousand and change. Too bad the Bureau of Labor and Statistics doesn't incorporate it into their economic calculus.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

"Instant Classic" that Lasts Forever

First, I am a Red Sox fan, tracing my Sox roots back to the Yaz era that began in the early 60's. I've suffered though Mantle, Maris, and Ford, the dark days of Hector Lopez, The Stick, Roy White, and the resurrected Bombers of Reggie Jackson, BillyBall, and the Jeter era...and of course the Frustration of the New Millenium.

I remember Felix Mantilla, Jim Pagliaroni, and when Schilling was Chuck, not Curt. Culpability meant Ray Culp's location not two hundred million dollar payrolls.

So the Sox victory tonight brings their deficit to 64-68 over the past seven plus seasons. Still, watching these games brings plenty of time pain, as they almost never last less than four hours (4:21 tonight), as though swinging at a first pitch strike is a crime and you get paid time and a half for a full count.

Okay, so maybe extra innings gives some legitimacy to a four hour game tonight, but not by that much. If you love crisp baseball, you will find only annoyance in Sox-Yanks contests. John Lester and Joba Chamberlain must have combined for, oh, 800 pitches (actually 205) in their combined 11 1/3 innings. Pitch counting mercifully got both teams into the bullpens.

Mark Teixeira mostly got the silent treatment in his pinstripe debut. Before the game his press conference offered no raw meet and all the intensity of an episode of Mr. Rogers. Sox fans administered polite indifference more than rowdy rancor. Could respect actually be creeping into a rivalry more remembered for brawls than hat tips?

The Sox first run was a thing of booty, with Ellsbury singling, getting balked to second, and scoring on a steal of third/passed ball as Molina either got crossed up or butchered a curve, and Joba Chamberlain covered home plate as though he was approaching a mine field. Had he tagged Ellsbury with his glove instead of his backside, it might have been a close play. So before the two hitter had made an out, Ellsbury had turned a single into a run with his speed and Yankee charity.

Evidently Chamberlain must have gotten a love letter from Bob Watson, as he omitted his customary beanballs for Kevin Youkilis. Or he was again so wild that he was incapable of aiming the "purpose pitch". Is Chamberlain hurt? He doesn't look like the same guy as he throws mostly low 90s now.

Derek Jeter is starting to look old...although no doubt still carries himself with the dignity of a first ballot Hall-of-Famer.

Fans got 'treated' to Javier Lopez getting out of a bases loaded no out jam, courtesy of his own wildness, of course. If you can breathe and throw lefthanded, you too can be a LOOGY (lefty out of the bullpen guy) and make 1.25 million dollars. Jesse Orosco, where are you?

I must have seen Mariano Rivera pitch fifty times against the Sox, and he wasn't the same guy either. He now has an even dozen blown saves against the Sox. The cutter is now 91-92, still well-located, except for the hanger that Jason Bay deposited in the Monster Seats for a two-out game tying ninth inning shot.

The Sox wore their Friday night softball red shirts tonight, after wearing their Earth Day greens Wednesday with green hats. MLB properties knows no shame.

Sox fans took umbrage at Paul O'Neill's antics like "water cooler abuse" after a strikeout, and Yankee fans have the same anti-hero in Kevin Youkilis, the Sox version of O'Neill. Youkilis was part of the game tying and game winning rallies, finishing with a walkoff homer.

And Randy Newman haters ("Short People") got their comeuppance as Dustin Pedroia had a monster defensive game for the Sox.

And the rambling, stream of consciousness, Thomas Wolfe style? Could anyone who watched this mind-numbing "instant classic" not write this way?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ancient Rivalry Renewed

The Red Sox ride a seven game win streak into a weekend series with the Yankees, who have played well since their 22-4 destruction by Cleveland.

The Sox showcase Lester, Beckett, and Masterson while the Yankees counter with Joba "the Hut" Chamberlain, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte.

The first game of the series pits teams with identical 9-6 records tied for second place behind Toronto. Chamberlain pitched brilliantly in one start against the Sox last season, and Lester shutout the Yankees at the Stadium. Chamberlain has a propensity for head-hunting, with Kevin Youkilis the object for his disaffection. Yankee lackey Bob Watson ought to consider dropping a dime to Chamberlain with some reminders of the impact of the "purpose" pitch, using Tony Conigliaro and Kirby Puckett as tragic examples of baseball meeting heads.

Mark Teixeira (double 'e' before 'i') makes his pinstripe debut at Fenway Park leaving disaffected Boston suitors for a steamer trunk full of Benjamins. Like Willie Sutton, Teixeira simply knew "that's where the money is."

The Sox and Yanks are tied for fourth in offense, with both having scored 84 points in 15 games. The Red Sox have a team ERA of 4.14 while the Yankees (largely secondary to that 22 run outing) check in tenth at 6.02. The Bombers are second in fielding percentage in the AL while the Red Sox are ninth.

Early season punch for the Sox has come from Youkilis, J.D. Drew, and Jason Bay, combining for 10 homers, 35 runs scored, and 30 RBI. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Nick Swisher have also produced 10 homers, 27 runs scored, and 34 RBI.

The Sox come in with starting shortstop Jed Lowrie on the DL, but otherwise reasonably good health, while the Yankees miss perennial All-star A-Rod on the DL following hip surgery.

Boston and New York split the season series last year, the Yankees led 10-8 in 2007, and 11-8 in 2006.

Sox fans should expect the usual playoff atmosphere when the Gothamites invade Fenway, although the Sox probably eagerly await their first trip to the new palatial Yankee Stadium.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Baseball 2009: Early Impressions

Maybe it's too soon to make overarching judgements about the 2009 baseball season, but we all have our early impressions. 

  • Is the offense better around the league or the pitching worse?
  • Break up the Marlins?
  • Balls are flying out of Yankee Stadium.
  • The Red Sox pitching may not be nearly as good as we thought.
  • Fortunately, the Yankee pitching may not be as good either.
  • Maybe Zack Greinke (ERA 0.00 after three games) IS the real deal.
  • You knew Tim Lincecum wasn't going to keep getting lit up forever.
  • Lou Groza's five field goals and a Browns touchdown were too much for the Yankees.
  • Kansas City. First place. 
  • Does Gary Sheffield's 500th homer (25th guy to do it) get a steroid asterisk?
  • Some think Bob Watson still acts in the Yankees' interest.
  • The New Look Giants have a record like the 2008 Giants.
  • Manny continues to hit (and field) like Godzilla. 
  • Anybody wondering whether the balls are juiced?
  • Johan Santana sure looks good. Should that surprise us?
  • Are the Orioles trying to keep Matt Wieters from reaching free agency earlier by keeping him down on the farm?
  • Speaking of catchers...Joe Mauer...get well soon.
  • Ryan Ludwick is on a 180 plus RBI pace (yeah, it's early)
  • Is Tampa crazy for keeping David Price at Durham?
  • The best team in the AL East (by run differential) by a Toronto.
  • Think that Roy Haladay has anything to do with that?
  • The worst team by run differential? The Yankees. Okay, so an 18 run defeat yesterday caused that.
  • Major league attendance figures? Eyeballing 'em...they're down. The median 2008 attendance was 31K and change. So far, it's 29 and change. 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Glove Story

The Red Sox came back from an early nil-7 deficit to beat the Orioles last night. But was that the story?

Sure the Sox got some timely hitting, Dr. Longball from J Bay and J.D., and outstanding relief pitching. But wasn't the Woes defense the major contribution?

Jeremy Guthrie certainly could claim non-support, particularly with Aubrey Huff doing a Doctor Strangeglove imitation at first and Adam Jones not confusing anyone with Andruu Jones in center.

Certainly the Mothers' Day Miracle comes to mind in Sox comebacks for the nouveau Sox fan. For the slightly older, there was the playoff rally in the ill-fated 1986 playoffs against the Angels with the Hendu homer off Donnie Moore.

But for the long of tooth, in the Impossible Dream season of 1967, the Sox came back from an 8-0 deficit against the Los Angeles Angels, winning, if I recall, on a Jerry Adair homer. Adair would later have a key contribution (again with memory fading) in the sixth inning five-run rally against the Twins in the season finale. I believe he scored the tying run on a Yaz single.The point of all this being, that 'corporate memory' doesn't mean yesterday's news.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Musical Chairs

Most Sox fans are trying to avoid making too much of a start to the season marked by losing three consecutive series, to the Rays, Halos, and A's.

The strength of the team ostensibly is its starting pitching, which has largely betrayed them.

Josh Beckett contests a suspension, Jon Lester hasn't gotten it together, and Daisuke Matsuzaka goes on the DL, a casualty of the World Baseball Classic.

So what's logical?

  • Brad Penny goes Friday
  • Beckett is contesting suspension, and presumably would be available Saturday; then serve his suspension
  • Lester would go Sunday
  • Masterson would move into the rotation Monday against Baltimore
  • Wakefield would come back Tuesday.
  • Ideally the Sox use a spot starter callup Wednesday (Bowden or Tazawa)
  • Thursday would be an off day
  • Friday they bring back Penny
  • Saturday would mean Lester
  • Sunday night (having served his six game suspension) Beck against the Yankees.
Tim Wakefield was masterful today, sparing the bullpen, which now gets a travel day to recover.

The Sox need a day off to lick their wounds and recover some swagger. Winning a series might help...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ted Who?

Click photo to ENLARGE
Okay, it's a little early for that.

Livin' on a Prayer

Have the Sox ever opened on the road in California? Well, yes, after Japan last year, but on a glorious day (my daughter was there surely wearing a Sox tee-shirt), the Sox outlasted the Halos.

The Sox offense finally got going via Doctor Longball, with a two run homer by Mike Lowell and a pair of homers by Jason Bay. Bay's circus catch in left field was not reminiscent of anything Manny, and fielders seemed plagued by what they call in baseball a "high sky". Yeah, I know the sky is always high.

Jacoby Ellsbury definitely looks less helpless at the plate, although he got caught stealing after swiping his third bag.

Brad Penny didn't look like he could get loose early, but amped it up into the mid-90s as the game went along. He does have a bit of a Mickey Lolich look about him...but Lolich got guys out. Penny showed flashes of why he won 16 games two of the past three years. He reminds me of an upgrade on a Ray Culp, which isn't so bad. Think of a Ray Culp on steroids (note...I am NOT saying Penny takes steroids)...okay so Culp pitched forty years ago...I remember.

The pitcher who looked 'best' today, was Ramon Ramirez with a live fastball and avoidance of the heart of the plate.

All of which brings us to Jonathan Papelbon, who called upon for a four out save, pitched in the Bill Lee/Dice-K tradition surrendering both a homer and leaving the bases loaded in a one-run game.

All in all a comeback 'must' win on the road. Nothing wrong with that.

Friday, April 10, 2009

More than the Bases Were Loaded

Today sports fans mourn the loss of Nick Adenhart a promising young baseball pitcher, tragically killed in an automobile accident. Not long before, we learned of the death of an 'anonymous' person by Donte Stallworth. In April 2007, Cardinals' righthander Josh Hancock died in an car crash. The common theme? The tragedy that each involved a traffic fatality induced by alcohol.

Every year 25,000 people die in alcohol-related accidents, the equivalent of eight '911's every year. Supposedly, a person has a one in two chance of being involved in an alcohol-related accident in their lifetime. We parade athletes before Congress for use of anabolic steroids, yet seem all to willing to stand by and let history repeat itself, day after day after day.

Nobody demands that baseball be free of drunken fans, drunken players, or drunken managers. We celebrate the drunken exploits of "The Babe" or "The Mick". It's the misbehavior that we have no problem looking the other way.

It's not just famous athletes who die in alcohol-related accidents, it's mothers and grandparents, and children. Perhaps getting behind the wheel drunk stands as the ultimate narcissism, as the drunk driver has no regard for his fellow man. After ten at night, one in fourteen drivers is driving impaired; the number falls to about one in seven after one A.M. In other words, driving to or from work, chauffering your family and your neighbors, you take your life in your hands amidst a sea of drunks.

We can't do anything about Nick Adenhart, Josh Hancock or the departed thirteen year old sister (killed by a drunk driver) of a patient I saw today. Seventy other nameless 'Nicks' will die in alcohol-related accidents TODAY. We can work to change a culture where teenagers brag of 'getting wasted', adults show little leadership on the issue, and professional sports looks the other way, peddling seven dollar beers and showcasing distillers. It has to stop.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Zero to Sixty

There's a saying in baseball about you win 60, you lose 60 and what you do in the other 40 determines what kind of team you are. Well, today was one of those 'lose 60' efforts as the Sox went from zero losses to using up one of their 60 defined losses.

We didn't see Bigfoot out there tonight in the frozen tundra, but it probably felt that way. The Rays brought out the Kazmir sweater, and the largest strike zone since Eric Gregg destroyed a lot of hitters. The Ques-Tec police are going to be out there on this one, although the zone was consistent...consistently oversized.

Another weird play as Gabe Kapler (after a double) got thrown out at third on a blooper to center that Jacoby Ellsbury handled.

Terry Francona looked like he wanted to commit harikari after watching Javier Lopez play hide and seek with a 99 hopper to the mound, allowing a run to score.

It's premature to make any major judgments after a pair of games. Just one of those nights.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Stuff You Don't See

One of my favorite things about baseball is the everyday occurrence of something that you 'never' see.

No, I don't mean umpires reversing a safe or out call after an argument, or owners in the counting house, I mean real baseball oddities. And if you watch even casually, every game has something that you never see.

Sure, there are the easy "passed balls as a bunter distracted the catcher", and the Jeffrey Maier "armed robbery", not to mention the Sausage races. But I'm more interested in the 'subtle' not the profane.

For example, in the Sox game today, the "there you go again" play was Kevin Youkilis being forced out at third base on a line drive 'single' to left. With Youk on Second, Jason Bay ripped a liner that Carl Crawford trapped and surrounded and quickly nailed him at third. All of which is why Crawford is one of the best left fielders around.

As to the game today, a few quick observations:
  • Josh Beckett was masterful, with no-hit kind of stuff
  • But Jason Varitek was 'man of the match' behind the plate and at the plate, with a pair of liners and a home run
  • It looks like Masterson comes out of the box as the premier setup guy
  • The Rays double steal on the first pitch from "Bull" Masterson was a thing of beauty
  • The defense on both sides was excellent
  • Kevin Youkilis ran well despite his foot problems
  • Evan Longoria is a beast
  • We won't see Carlos Pena putting on the Golden Sombrero (four Ks) too often
And as previously discussed, the Quality Start is a useful statistic with about a 70 percent win rate!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Opening Day Action

What can we say about rain delays? There must be some fantastic rain delay stories, although I'm not sure.

Was there a rain delay in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series? I'm feeling like there was, but that was a long time ago.

I attended a game at Fenway and when the grounds crew ran out, one of the members collapsed on the field. Had to be at least 45 years ago.

Rick Dempsey did his clown act on tarps during rain delay. That was before TARP became a four-letter word.

What is the relative concession sales ratio during rain delays? Could it be twice as productive as during a continuous game?

How many ballplayers have lined up dates with Baseball Annies during rain delays?

I think it was John Kennedy who said the toughest thing in baseball was deciding whether to take greenies (amphetamines) with rain interfering.

How often has playing on wet fields resulted in injuries?

The Yankees put their gazillion dollar man on the field today, and C.C. Sabathia got doubled up by the Mighty O's, 10-5. Why Not?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Globe on the Ropes: Will Blog Community Respond?

If you can't beat 'em, shut 'em down. That may be the motto of the Times, as The Boston Globe is on notice to shrink or die. If the Globe goes under, then who will assume the reporting and columnist mantle?

April baseball has different meanings to fans. Some see Opening Day as a reason to skip school, others see it as an annual renewal of the seasons, and many see it as the beginning leg of the journey that is a baseball season.

I have written that the Red Sox should be considered favorites to win their third title of the decade, but baseball's marathon has little tolerance for error. Three factors often determine the outcome over the long season, 1) injuries, 2) performance in one-run games, and 3) performance variation.

Every team has injuries. Last season the Sox lost Josh Beckett, David Ortiz, and Daisuke Matsuzaka for various periods. The Yankees were without Chien Min Wang and Philip Hughes for extended periods, and the Rays lost Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford.

Whether luck or pluck, the ability to win close games often determines champions from also-rans. Last season Tampa went 29-18 in one-run games, and the Sox were 22-23, a six game swing in a division the Rays captured by two games. The Rays also bested the Sox 10-8 head-to-head in the regular season, another reason why they came out on top and went into the postseason with home field advantage.

What do I mean by performance variation? Examples illustrate the incredible overachievement that can happen for a player. Mark Belanger won eight Gold Gloves for the Orioles, but hit only .228 over 18 seasons. Yet he hit .287 in 1969 for a team that went to the World Series. Dwight Evans had a predilection for higher production every other year early in his career. Like Belanger he also won eight Gold Gloves. George Scott, "the Boomer", hit .303 in the Sox American League pennant season of 1967, and followed it up with a .171 season in 1968. Ironically, Scott also won eight Gold Gloves. For a .268 career hitter to hit almost a hundred points under his average is remarkable, yet shows that anything can happen in baseball.

So, while we often talk as though we 'know' what will happen, actual events may be far less certain than we expect, with the prospect of injury or illness, and randomness contributing to wide variation accounting for erratic individual performance and winning percentage in close games.

Let the bloggers assume our opportunity to step in should the print media disappear locally. Play ball!

Recession Proof

Within baseball's best division, the Red Sox, working smarter not harder, capture their third World Championship of the millenium.

From front to back, baseball's Athens has the stuff of champions.
  • Josh Beckett reemerges as the bluest of blue chips
  • Newly inked Jon Lester pays dividends as one of baseball's premier lefties
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka extends his record as the winningest Japanese import, ever
  • Brad Penny is worth every cent
  • Tim Wakefield keeps opponents off-balance
  • The Killer B's (Buchholz and Bowden) await their chance in AAA; Buchholz had a Spring ERA barely above the Mendoza Line
  • The Money Guy awaits, as John Smoltz rehabs, author of a 2.65 post-season ERA in 24 series
A revitalized bullpen return newly minted millionaire Jonathan Papelbon, unscored upon in 25 post-season innings. He holds court with the "lay down the law" firm of Saito, Delcarmen, Ramirez, Okajima, and Lopez. Justin "Bull from Night Court" Masterson can start, relieve, or bring cookies to Don and Jerry. And Daniel Bard's fastball brings visions of sugarplums to Red Sox Nation while Junichi Tazawa has an upside the size of Mount Fuji.

Defense wins championships. The Sox emphasize balance between scoring and run prevention, and return their best defense ever. Dr. Strangeglove in left is replaced by Jason Bay, J.D. Drew squishes the injury bug, and Jacoby Ellsbury adjusts to the hard stuff down and in, steals more than anyone from The Exchange, scores a hundred runs and runs down more flies than CSI.

With a lot to prove, Jason Varitek has a mean reversion season, while Kevin Cash exchanges his whites for pinstripes. Mike Lowell is healthy again, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis are two rich, productive happy campers, and Big Papi simply gets healthy.

Intangibles come into play more than ever, as the Yankees squabble over A-Rod's tarnish and the well-known A-Rod/Teixeira feud erupts into scenes that only Wes Craven can love. That's once A-Rod actually returns from hip surgery. Most New Yorkers know that what A-Rod needs is a checkup from the neck up. Sox fans wont have to needle A-Rod about his peccadilloes as he misses their first five meetings.

Few know of the immutable and arcane 'Curse' placed over the Yankees in September of 2001 (just before Arizona finished them) following the firing of a Tampa-based employee. The Curse of Mr. X remains as thick and relentless as New York smog. First learning of the curse at a 2006 conference in Vail, I could tell you about it, but then I'd have to kill you.

Hundreds of thousands of children in the Evil Empire State go to bed hungry for Boston Championships. Let's face it, the New Jersey Giants are just not that into you.

Tampa finds repeating as division champions a Herculean task. The stars aligned for the cowbelles in 2008, but the brass ring eluded them, just as it does in 2009.

Terry Francona's liberation from Mannyville restores his alchemy to Boston's Moneyball roster.
Boston's best manager seamlessly applies the statistical magic from Baseball Operations' geeks.
Their strategic knowledge of baseball's quantum mechanics gives the Sox a competitive edge over the division's knuckle draggers. After all the MENSA room isn't the loo at the New Bronx Zoo.

The Sox shopped at Walmart while the Yankees (it's no accident with a GM named Cash-man) spent like Michael Douglas in Wall Street. Boston has reserve funds for a rainy day, and the Yankees have a TARP 3.0 application with the Federal Reserve after unloading half a billion dollars on Mark T, a future WWE heavyweight champion, and a pitcher who belongs in the Peabody Museum glass flowers case.

Tampa thrived under the Butch Cassidy "who are those guys" mantra in 2008. The Rays are formidable, but aren't sneaking up on anyone this season, and picture perfect pitching health never occurs in consecutive seasons.

Karma rules. The Red Sox have John Henry and New York has Bernie Madoff. Boras raked the Yankees over the coals while Theo Epstein got the better of Great Scott. The New Yankee Stadium cost 1.6 billion dollars while our economy faces the biggest downturn in eighty years. that's worse than certain Yankees without Brian McNamee.

A Sox World Series sweep sends Jordan's Furniture owner Warren Buffett into free furniture catatonia. And consider his recent fortunes, it's as easy as ABC, Another Boston Championship in 2009.