Friday, April 30, 2010

Five swings: Catch Up

The Sox travel to Camden Yards and need to continue the beatdown of the 'have-nots' of the AL East.

1. Bird brain. The Sox have put themselves in a hole early, and have the reality that only two playoff spots can (forever) come out of the AL East. My 'fear the Rays' mantra from the preseason has come to fruition with a 16-5 start. It's still early but the Sox need to keep winning series while they figure out how to get more offensive output.

2. A Win in April. The Sox have had a winning record in April almost without failure.  John Lackey has a chance to continue that 'tradition' leading off the rotation in Baltimore. Lackey will try to extend the quality start string of Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester. Buchholz is tenth in the AL in ERA at 2.19.

3. Catcher in the Wry. Rumors fly about the Sox seeking catching help, but the reality is that Victor Martinez's bat will stay in the lineup. Another (non-Varitek) bat displaces both David Ortiz and Mike Lowell, so that seems unlikely. Longer-term, sure, the Sox have issues with the end of the road coming for Beltre, Varitek and Martinez, Ortiz, and Lowell. That also takes something like 47 million off the books, enough to pay Adrian Gonzalez and another bat.

4. Batman. The search for bats will be an arduous one for Theo Epstein who clearly won't be putting Casey Kelly on the block when he's viewed as a potential ace to complement the existing quartet of Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, and Lackey. From my jaundiced perspective, I see Buchholz as having the best 'pure stuff' among the starters, with the question his long-term temperament, unproven on the "bulldog" scale.

5. Crew's control. The bullpen crew stabilized because of the innings eaten by Buchholz and Lester, and a day off. Manny Delcarmen seems to have pitched his way out of the dog house, and Daniel Bard has five holds as a setup man for Jonathan Papelbon. After that, it's 'catch as catch can' with Okajima struggling, Wakefield in waiting (for his starting job?), and the lefthanders Embree and Schoeneweis capable of fogging a mirror. I wouldn't bet against Kelly being in middle relief in the latter third of the season.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Five Swings: Jay Walkover

Good news travels far...and the Sox have made some progress with a three-game sweep over the Jays.

1. Fortune .500. After a miserable 4-9 start, the Sox have regained the .500 mark (Dirt Dogs' making a fortune and playing .500) with a 7-2 recovery, playing better baseball to boot. The Sox leapfrog Toronto and stand three games behind the Yankees. As I said before the season, fear the Rays.

2. Form fitting. Jon Lester notched his first win of the season with seven innings of one-hit baseball. Sure he wasn't exactly economical with pitches (110 in 6 innings, 119 overall), but he got the job done and shutout the Jays for seven innings. Also, as he did so often down the stretch last year, he had double digit strikeouts.

3. Cleanup crew. For the third consecutive night, the Sox got a clean save from the bullpen...with a Ramon Ramirez save sandwiched between a pair of Jonathan Papelbon saves. More than anything else, we need to wait for a bigger sample to see exactly what identity this team will have.

4. Rebirth of a Nation. Last year, after the arrival of Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek didn't hit his weight or Mario Mendoza's. But in a smaller role this season, he has gotten off to a fast start hitting over .300 with four homers. In fact, among the quasi-regulars, only Varitek and Adrian Beltre are hitting over .300. And the Sox out-stole the Jays 1-0 with a Lester pickoff.

5. Darn it. From the number nine spot, Darnell McDonald continues to produce, .333/.407/.667 with a run scored and an RBI tonight. Enjoy the ride while it continues, with Mike Cameron improving and Jacoby Ellsbury resuming some baseball activities.

Monday, April 26, 2010

5 Swings: Rotation, Rotation, Rotation

Trouble in River City, as the Sox go on the road.

1. Fab Four. It's a long season, and the Sox will need contributions from Varitek, Ortiz, Wakefield, and Lowell (VOWLs). After all, you can't spell victory, success, or championship without vowels. So far, Varitek has to get the Ponce de Leon Award, although the sustainability remains unclear.

2. Tick, tick.  David Ortiz's slow start, in the CONTEXT of a Red Sox sub .500 start, has earned him platoon status. It's hard to impossible not to see it that way. Unfortunately for Ortiz, it will be harder for him to regain his stroke from the bench.

3. Rotation. Josh Beckett may be the 'ace' but it was more paste than ace tonight as the Sox lead 13-9 in the sixth and Beckett is long gone. Wakefield steams while only John Lackey has produced anything approaches consistency and quality starts are rarer than hen's teeth.

4. Turnaround Tuesday? The Sox now have a couple of hitters over .300 with Pedroia and Youkilis crawling over the line with multihit efforts north of the border.

5. Cuban invasion? Major League Baseball has benefited from so many Latino stars, ranging from H of F'er Juan Marichal, to the Sox' Luis Tiant, and the Sox have a pair of Cubans in the minors now, 20 year-old shortstop Jose Iglesias and now catcher Adalberto Ibarra. Ibarra ads to the Sox minor league debate, from Mark Wagner, to Luis Exposito, Ryan Lavarnaway, and Tim Federowicz.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Five Swings: Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

The Red Sox continued their homestand with the relief that the Orioles have provided recently.

1. The Hub of the Universe.. With the NFL Draft, the Celtics and Bruins in playoff tilts, and the Sox at Fenway, fans had to fight off "clicker finger". Suddenly everyone's a Bruins fan and once again people can name half a dozen B's, even if they can't spell the names. The Patriots added some big, tough athletes, and Paul Pierce drained a jumper at the buzzer to send Miami home on the short end. But the Sox pushed across a run in the eight courtesy of Orioles' wildness and Jonathan Papelbon had a shaky save leaving a pair of runners aboard.

2. What you didn't see. Sometimes a baseball game has an obvious highlight play, odd occurrence (e.g. a balk), or controversial umpiring call. But tonight the Sox went through a complete game without having a strikeout inflicted by the Birds. About the only other 'abnormal' sight was the Orioles' alternate cap, the 0's logo, instead of the anatomically correct Oriole.

3. Been there, done that. The Orioles' former park, Memorial Stadium holds a couple of special memories for me. I took my son, Conor, to his first baseball game there, which was pretty much a disaster against the Bo Jackson led Royals, with a lengthy rain delay and a return home with a youngster at 2 AM. Second, on the day of a classmate's bar mitzvah, Tom Phoebus no-hit the Sox, 6-0, on April 27, 1968. Tragically, my friend died on a Tahitian vacation. The Orioles were once the model of excellence, with a balanced club with superior pitching and the Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger defense, and the power of Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. The Sox of the past decade bore some resemblance to the Oriole excellence.

4. Hall Aflame. Bill Hall made the game saving play in the ninth with one out, as Nick Markakis scorched one off the scoreboard. Hall field the carom perfectly with the bare hand, and rifled a one-hop strike to Pedroia who easily tagged out the Oriole right-fielder. It would have been an excellent play in the first inning, but the situation dictated a play, and Hall came up big.

5. O-R-T-I-Z. David Ortiz is a proud man who has enjoyed a wonderful Sox career. Questions have arisen as to whether the Sox' DH is done. But for one night, Ortiz heard the cheers and delivered a solo shot, his first homer of the season. Ortiz's shot launched the Sox scoring with a Monster Seat shot. Ortiz also had a key walk against a lefty in the eighth, prior to Beltre's game winning walk. One swallow doesn't make a summer, but seeing Ortiz drive one to the opposite field helps keep hope alive that he has not become mighty Casey at the bat.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Five Swings: Doctor My Eyes

The Red Sox, desperately seeking quality starts, send Clay Buchholz to the hill tonight.

1. Cycle repair? In Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he has an exhaustive treatise on the meaning of quality. Quality starts in baseball parlance have clear definition: six or more innings with three or fewer earned runs allowed. As I recall, only five percent of quality starts have that 'minimum' standard, and the composite E.R.A. of pitchers in quality starts is under two in those efforts.

How bad is it? Well, the Sox are a distant last in quality starts, with only half as many as the top trio of Oakland, Seattle, and Toronto.
2. Center cut. The Sox rely on leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury to ignite the offense. Well, with Ellsbury diagnosed today with fractured ribs, there's no telling when he can return. The above ARE NOT CT scan images of Ellsbury, but they could have been, with 3-dimensional reconstruction possible with complex computer algorithms.

3. Coming and going. With Daisuke Matsuzaka returning soon, the logical shuffling, based on year-to-date performance, would be Tim Wakefield to the bullpen and Scott Atchison the likely odd man out. There's always the chance of the Fenway Flu, but you never know.

4. Standing on your head? Sox fans would stand on their head for a win, not that it would guarantee anything. But you don't have to stand on your heads, because Wally (in this case All-Star Wally) will do it for you. Thanks to the late Vin Orlando for his generous contribution.

5. Laundry list. Why can't we get guys like that? Well, actually the Sox had David Murphy, who now plays in different laundry. Murphy hit seventeen homers last season in over 500 plate appearances, with over a hundred strikeouts and a .785 OPS. One of Murphy's 'similarity score' top tens is Matt Murton, another Sox farmhand, whose career started out well with the Cubs and then drifted down hill. I suppose that Murphy is good enough to be a backup for the Sox, and for comparison Mike Cameron's career OPS is .788, J.D. Drew's is .892, and Ellsbury's is .765. So now you know.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Screaming Bye?

The Red Sox look to build on their one game winning streak, tonight, and they'll have to go into extra frames to do so.

1. Screaming bye. Darnell McDonald prevented the Fenway fateful from going home screaming "bye" with an eighth inning homer and walk-off wall-scraper in the ninth to win it. Tonight, the Cincinnati Kid added another homer to double his career output (4) with a pair of Sox taters. Big Mac also threw out a runner at the plate earlier.

2. The Pitch is Back. Quit your pitching; son of a pitch, the Sox starting pitching continues to struggle with quality starts seen less often than peregrine falcons. An unlucky seven runs (six earned) in seven innings from Josh Beckett.

3. Overdrew. J.D. Drew tripled his season RBI total with a grand slam, and Jason Varitek, who came in hitting a ton, got mean reversion tonight with the Golden Sombrero (four strikeouts). Meanwhile, the Sox have curtailed the Rangers' running game (nine last night), holding the Texans to only three so far tonight. The Red Sox catchers last threw out a runner during the Bush administration. Which one?

4. Grand design. Every time we seem to watch, it seems as though there are more signs and banners at Fenway. Somehow I expect a pregame television tour of the signs and a discussion of where we can go from here. Let's see:

  • Mowed into the outfield: "Scott's"
  • In the second base dirt: "Bounty"...the quicker picker up.
  • The "Trojans" pitching rubber.
  • The "" left field wall
  • The "Goldman Sachs" BULL pen
5. Hitless Wonders...Sell Your Soul to the Devil?  How often do you see, in a 7-7 game, that in the past five innings, the teams have combined for one hit? Mike Lowell replaced David Ortiz against the left-hander Matt Harrison, and responded with a home run and later with an RBI single. The Sox break up that spell (eighteen in a row retired by Ranger relievers) with a Scutaro single. A strange game only gets strangers. But it's a Cray Cray sports night, with Satan bailing out the Bruins in double OT. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Five Swings: Farm Land

The Sox face the Texas Rangers at quasi-full strength. The Rangers historically have enjoyed a lot of power but haven't had much pitching. 

1. Chronicles of Reddick. With Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron hurting, the Sox disable both and call up journeyman Darnell McDonald and Josh Reddick. They do have something in common, as both have a total of two career major league home runs. Reddick had his moments including a home run against the Yankees and he hit an 'athletic' .169 last season. Let's hope that a change energizes the Sox.**

2. Speed Demons. Last season the Rangers showed some athleticism of their own, running wild against the Sox at times. At in the knuckleball factor, and we have to hope Wakefield can keep Texas off the bases. Early on Wakefield's ball has a lot of movement, and the Sox need a new attitude.

3. Frank-epstein's monster. The Sox haven't played well, but they have shown a lot of accountability this season, the nature of the makeup of the roster. Today, it was GM Theo Epstein who displayed my favorite keen sense of the obvious, stating how poorly the Sox have played"We haven't played well, there are no excuses for how we've played. We haven't played smart baseball; we haven't really played aggressive baseball." 

I try to avoid (incompletely) the 'we', as I don't play, and I certainly don't work for the Red Sox. The temptation comes too easily to say "we're playing well" when winning ensues and "we stink" when everything falls apart. 

4. First name, last name. I have this really silly superstition that players with first and last names that are reversible are bad luck. It certainly didn't apply to Earl Wilson, Frank Thomas, or especially George Ruth and Henry Aaron. But I'll hope that Colby Lewis gets the affliction tonight...or is it Lewis Colby. The Cameron Michael story applies though.

5. Hope is a four-letter word. Seeing and hearing the word hope too often? At least Epstein didn't use the 'H' word in his Globe interview. If try is a word of failure, then hope is a word of hopelessness. 

The Sox would do well to remember the advice of Yoda, "Do or do not, there is no try."

**McDonald went yard in the eighth tonight to take the lead in the McDonald/Reddick home run battle. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Five Swings: Limit Down

Let's not insult anybody's intelligence, but falling six games behind in two weeks and playing poorly surprises most Red Sox fans. There's talk of pushing the panic button, releasing veterans, and bringing up 'suspects'. Let's get real in macroeconomic sense.

1. Maas Appeal. There's always the 'catch lightning in a bottle' dream, but where's that dream coming from...Darnell McDonald? In 1990 Kevin Maas burst upon the scene in New York, hitting 21 homers in 300 at bats, surely the next Roger Maris. He was runner up for Rookie of the Year. The next season he hit 23, with an OPS of .723 with 128. Do you really believe that Josh Reddick is the next Kevin Maas. That is helpful exactly how?

2. Patriot Games. The Sox offense, producing a pair of runs on a Jeremy Hermida homer today, and the team is now producing less than four runs per game. Suddenly, we've become the Kansas City Red Sox. But, no, the Royals scored 686 runs last year, so even they had a more potent offense than the locals these day.

3. Boston Massacre. The original Boston Massacre occurred in August (as I recall) 1978, as Bobby Sprowl and the Pretenders got wiped out in a four game sweep by the Yankees, the accelerator to the 14 1/2 game collapse that sent Sox fans from Red Sox Nation to Prozac Nation. The version 2010 Sox didn't get outscored with the same vigor, but the results felt the same as Tampa now officially "owns" the Bosox, as in "who's your Daddy?" I'd like to think we could take something positive away from the beatdown, but I'm not seeing it.

4. Sliver Lining. Oh, maybe Terry Francona learned something in his cut down bullpen tryout camp, with the revolving door bottom of the udder of Scott Schoeneweis, Scott Atchison, and Ramon Ramirez battle it out while Daisuke Matsuzaka waits in the Paw-wings. Well, security does check for torches and pitchforks, right?

5. Mendozing. The "Mendoza Line" refers to the .200 batting line that distinguishes that which must never be known. For what it's worth, Mendoza "bench me or trade me" actually hit .215 in a nine-year professional carerr. As I recall, Mendoza perfected the art of 'bench sitting', and one of his top ten "similarity scores" is with former Sox shortstop Luis Alvarado. If you remember Alvarado, then you, too, likely 1) watched too much baseball as a youth and 2) are an old fart.

If we apply the 'real' Mendoza Line of .215, then the Sox have four members of the 'sub club', Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, and Bill Hall, and two hitters, Kevin Youkilis (.217) and Jeremy Hermida (.219) are within sniffing distance. As they like to say, "it doesn't get any worse than this."

In the futures industry, you'd have to call the Sox performance to date, "limit down".

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Five Things: Sample Sighs

Although we all recognize that the baseball season is a marathon, we might wonder how far back you can fall in a marathon and still recover. We have the dismal memories of the '64 Phillies, the '78 Red Sox, and the multiple recent collapses of the Mets. But at the same time, how many of us can even contemplate a collapse of biblical proportions by the 2010 Yankees?

So, eleven games into the season, the Sox trail a pair of division leaders by four games, victims of self-destruction as much as anything else.
1. Hard knocks. The Sox offense, averaging 5 runs a game after seven games, has fallen to just 4.1 after eleven. Among regulars, only Dustin Pedroia is hitting over .300, and J.D. Drew and David Ortiz both are well below the Mendoza Line.

2. Ray Ban. Jon Lester goes to work for the Sox today, trying to break out of his early season doldrums. Lester struck out the side in the first. Naturally, it started pouring in the home half. Would even the most critical Red Sox fan suggest the Sox take Lester out of the rotation? Well, probably. Lester has worked on his change up, to complement the fastball, cutter, and curveball.

3. Misplayers. The strength up the middle concept has been something short of success, with Mike Cameron misplaying a Pena liner last night and chasing a Longoria double today as though it were radioactive. Marco Scutaro hasn't even been making routine plays, and the catching struggles are well-documented. Scutaro's fielding percentage coming in was .939 and one error helped lose a game. Of the newcomers, only Adrian Beltre looks like the real deal.

4. Sample size. Last night I wrote that data from ten games on winning can be extrapolated to the season with a reasonable approximation. As for individual statistics, that's problematic. Somehow, I'm thinking forty games sounds about right from the 'gestalt' methodology. Mark Teixeira is a well-documented slow starter. Fantasy baseball types compile lists of slow starters. It's not as though you can bench a guy for April and get 'warmed up' performance in May.

5. Pitch zone and Joe West $itch Zone. If held to the standard of the 'pitch zone' on NESN, umpires look as though they're not even 90 percent accurate. The 'pitch zone' seems less forgiving on the corners in particular. The impact of "uncalled" strikes is a magnifying effect on pitch counts, as a strikeout not initially obtained (e.g. Zobrist in the first inning today) can turn into a walk or hit, which also causes particularly lengthy games.

Other than the Sox game yesterday, the AL games lasted 3:05, 2:41, 2:37, 2:48, 2:24, and 2:35. So maybe it's just the Sox, who played the longest game (3:19) in the AL yesterday.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Five Swings: Total Disaster

The Red Sox face divisional rival Tampa and come away on the short end of the stick. 

1. Fan-tastic. The fans attending Friday's game caught a break because they didn't have to watch the nightmarish end of the front end of the completed game Saturday, extended because of a rain-forced end. So, if you went Friday, you get a zero, not a loss. 

2. Bogar that joint. Third base coach Tim Bogar tried to score Kevin Youkilis from first on an extra-base hit WITH NONE OUT. How'd that work out? Not...well, if never make the first out or the last out at third base is a baseball truism, then making the first out at home doesn't sit really well with Sox fans either. Do we have another Dale Sveum in the making. 

3. Drought in April. The Sox loaded the bases with nobody out in the 11th, only to have David Ortiz ground into a force out at the plate and Adrian Beltre grounded into a double play to snuff the aborted rally. The Sox offense seems to have hit the wall or the cold. Lucky the Rays didn't have to play in the cold....

4. Ten four. The Sox managed to play ten, win four so far. Somewhere, sometime I read that teams that play sub .500 ball in the first ten games, seldom have strong seasons. Of course, I can't find it, so never mind. Oh, but the Sox have played the Twins, the Yankees, and the Rays. Nobody that they have to beat in October...

Correction, here it is
For example, of the 218 teams to start the season 4-6 since 1951, only 38.1% of them managed to avoid a losing record, while 63.3% of the 226 teams starting out 6-4 finished up at .500 or better.

Actually, the Diamond Mind researchers found the first three games have predictive value. 

Teams W-L Record in Games 135-137 1951-96

                   Cumul Finish     Ended Season
          # of    ==============    ============
   Record  Tms     Record     Pct    .500+   Pct
    0- 3   143  10556-12246  .463      48   33.6%
    1- 2   344  26666-28265  .485     145   42.2%
    2- 1   354  28918-27679  .511     214   60.5%
    3- 0   143  12450-10400  .545     114   79.7%

5. Worst to first. If the first game weren't painful enough for the Sox and fans, then consider Game 2, first inning. A Cameron error and three Buchholz walks gave the Rays four runs, and a bases-clearing double by Pat Burrell, the Rays' first game hero did the big damage. The simple answer so far has been too much bad baseball. The Sox don't need better players; they need to play better. 

Is there any silver lining here? Maybe the belief that the Sox heralded pitching staff, over the long pull, can prevent long streaks of bad hope. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Five Things: Home Cooking?

The Red Sox returned home looking to chill the Tampa Bay Rays, who come in at 6-3, two games ahead of the Sox. Josh Beckett looks to ice the potent visitor lineup, with help from the ambient conditions.

1. The Deep. Back in the day, Jacqueline Bissett was known for her 'chilling' performance in the deep. With Jacoby Ellsbury out with a chest contusion and Mike Cameron sidelined by nephrolithiasis (kidney stones), I feel right at home reporting on the Sox. This gives Sox reserves Jeremy Hermida, a.k.a. Designated Hermida (by Boston Dirt Dogs) and Bill Hall some face time.

2. Wading In. Boston faces more than its share of Wades this weekend, with Ray hurler Wade Davis and Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade. So far, the former has looked pretty sharp with a 96 mph heater in tow. In addition to their 1-2 of James Shields and Matt Garza, the Rays will rely on mature performances from youngsters Davis and Jeff Niemann.

3.Chill factor. I don't have as many rules as NCIS' Jethro Gibbs, but I have some baseball rules, including "never go to baseball games in April." Needless to say, with 552 consecutive sellouts, the Sox haven't exactly been missing me.

The Sox went 14-8 as of April 30, 2009, 17-12 in 2008, 16-8 in 2007, 14-11 in 2006, and 12-11 in other words, the April cold weather hasn't hurt them much.

4. Running scared. The Rays have already swiped a trio of bases early in the game. Crawford reaching first base has become an automatic double for the Rays left fielder against the Sox. One knock on the Sox is Victor Martinez' inability to throw out runners. Jason Varitek is catching tonight, and he's got an o-fer so far. Can the Rays equal their production (eight in one game) against the Sox? Yes, we know that stolen bases occur for a variety of reasons, holding runners on, release time to home plate, catcher's throwing ability, runners' lead, jump, and speed, et cetera. All that being said, are the Sox the worst team in the majors in allowing stolen bases? Based on these statistics, that's hard to say.

5. You never see that. Baseball seems to present a play or sequence of plays nightly that you virtually never see. If David Ortiz laid a bunt down the third base line, that would be an example. My all time worst was seeing a grounds' crew member drop (heart attack?) when I was attending a game when I was nine years old. Tonight, Adrian Beltre clearly lost a ground ball in the lights, leading to a run on an infield hit. I can't truly call that a defensive misplay or error (DME), but the results are the same. If the Red Sox throw out a Ray stealing tonight, that might go in the "NST" (never see that) column.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Five Swings: Goose Egg

The Red Sox closed out a 3-3 road trip with an 8-0 whitewash by the Twins. The Bostons (4-5) return home for a series with the Rays, with Josh Beckett up next. Tim Wakefield was cuffed around for five runs and ten hits in five and a third innings.

1. No, no. The Sox produced no runs and no defense, allowing three errors. Scott Schoeneweis, another contender in the "Joe Nelson is Better" and Daisuke Matsuzaka Redemption Tour saw his ERA balloon to 7.36.

2. Plus minus. The Red Sox come home in second to last place (sounds better than fourth).
Looking inside the numbers, we can see the Orioles Kiddie Korps pitching staff is getting spanked, and the Red Sox "best starting pitching in baseball" hasn't exactly gotten its sea legs, with the Sox underwater in the plus-minus ratings.

The run differential column usually doesn't lie, with the most balanced teams having the big advantages. The best team so far? San Francisco? Huh!

3. Selection show? Were the Sox in a hurry to get out of Minnesota? They faced only 126 pitches today in a game played in 2:38 (mirabile dictu). None of the Sox saw 20 pitches today, and Jacoby Ellsbury got another day off to recover.

4. Step up to the Mike. Mike Lowell filled in at DH against the LHP Liriano and has a hit in four tries. As long as the Red Sox are willing to eat the vast majority of Lowell's salary, they will find a suitor.

5. Good News. At least the Sox aren't Ben Roethlisberger. Pros and Cons, the Sequel?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Five Swings: Eight Bawl...Not

The Red Sox played their eighth game of the season and came away the victors with John Lackey's first Red Sox win.

1. Quality time. One of the more underrated statistics in baseball is the quality start. Research has shown that quality starts result in victory almost seventy percent of the time. If that holds true, then we'd expect the victory leaders and 'best' pitchers in baseball to produce quality starts. The top five QS leaders in the AL from 2009 included Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke, the always tough Roy Halladay, King Felix Hernandez, and the Sox' Jon Lester. Lester started slowly last year as well.

2. Batman Returns. Dustin Pedroia smashed his fourth homer of the season, which according to NESN, took him 81 games last season, and 331 at bats versus 31 this season. Pedroia, Cal Ripken, and Ryan Howard have something in common...all won Rookie of the Year and were MVPs the next season. After 8 games, Pedroia has 10 RBI and is slugging 1.228. Eight games...yeah, we got that.

3. Left out. After a few years called "underachievement", Jeremy Hermida has been making a statement off the bench, and filling in for injured Jacoby Ellsbury. Yes, he looks a little stiff in left, but today he had a big bases clearing double to put the game away. In just fourteen at bats, Hermida has six RBI, and realistically will be the primary competitor for the DH spot. In 2007, he had 18 homers and an .870 OPS, so it's not as though he hasn't shown flashes. Of course, AL pitchers haven't had a chance to find 'holes' yet.

4. Super Saver? Jonathan Papelbon picked up his third save, with another nail-biter in the ninth. Papelbon had a pair of walks in a 20 pitch 'platter' save (three run lead, one inning. Surprisingly, the Sox and Twins combined to allow 13 walks, an unusually high total for the combination of starters Lackey and Slowey. The Twins have a potent offense with Denard Span always on base, the 3-4 punch of former MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, and more power with Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. So maybe Paps deserves a free pass, like the ones he seems to be issuing more often.

5. Leader of the pack. Marco Scutaro hasn't made me forget Mark Belanger at shortstop, but he's come as advertised offensively. Scutaro filled in for injured Ellsbury and had a pair of hits, a run, an RBI, and his OBP stands at .417. The Sox saw 181 pitches today, with the first six hitters in the lineup seeing at least 20, except for Scutaro at 19. Scutaro leads Sox regulars in OBP, just ahead of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.
All statistics may not be updated as of the time of publication.

The Sox play the rubber game at Target Field tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More Smiles Would Be a Very Good Thing...

David Ortiz, still Big Papi.

Five Swings: Chemistry Lesson

The Sox take the day off, as Minnesota recovers from their opening day frolic in the warm sunshine of victory, instead of the sterility of the Metrodome.

1. Offensive action. Although the Sox 'new way' revolves around pitching and defense, the offense hasn't been too shabby.
The Sox have been averaging five runs a game in the first seven games of the season, and second in OPS, behind the Yankees.

2. "It takes a village." The old African proverb says it takes a village to raise a child, but that one child can destroy the village.  The early struggles of David Ortiz create a major headache for skipper Terry Francona and the Sox management. An unhappy, unproductive player can bring down the village. Mike Lowell has shown remarkable dignity and put on a tolerant public face so far; in the uber-competitive AL East, the Red Sox can't afford to get off to a start like last year's Rays. The Sox have several alternative DH candidates including Lowell, Jeremy Hermida, and Bill Hall. Will the Sox need a chemistry lesson?

3. Imbalancing act. Among the thirty-five Red Sox runs scored, three players, Kevin Youkilis (7), Dustin Pedroia (6), and Jacoby Ellsbury (6) have scored almost 60 percent. They also have fifty-one of the team's 116 total bases (44 percent). So, although the sample size is small, we still have to look to see more guys involved in the offensive production.

4. Revolving door. Within the struggling Sox bullpen, the guy the Sox probably worried about most, Manny Delcarmen, has found some success. The end of the bullpen (after Papelbon, Okajima, Bard, Ramirez, and Delcarmen) falls on the Scotts, Atchison and Schoeneweis. The clock ticks down on Alan Embree, looking to get back to the Show. So far, Embree has pitched 2 1/3 innings, allowing a combination of seven hits and walks, and has an ERA in the stratosphere (11.57). While the Sox await the return of Daisuke Matsuzaka, will Embree get the April 15th call or will Dustin Richardson be the lottery winner.

5. Control freak. The Sox have a plan for Casey Kelly, whom they hope will become "The Man". Kelly's working on a strict pitch count, which makes all the sense in the world. The Sox will limit his total number of innings, and based on what we've seen from the bullpen this season, would anyone be surprised to see Kelly up by August?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Five Swings: Twin Killing

The Red Sox did the charitable thing and offered up little resistance as the Twins opened up their new ballpark with a victory.

1. Who let the dogs out? I must have been hallucinating, but it sure looked like a Spanky and Our Gang looking dog in a box seat behind home plate.
Maybe I wasn't hallucinating.
2. Swing batter, batter. David Ortiz had an RBI double today, as he continues to head up the "short list" on the DH watch. Ortiz halved his strikeout total today, going down twice. The bad news is that Big Papi has fanned in fifty percent of his official at bats. The good news is that he hasn't done anything like Ben Roethlisberger who is an embarrassment to the NFL and the Steelers.

3. Great Scott. Scott Atchison had a wonderful story this spring training, as he made the Sox out of camp, and looks to contribute mightily to the Sox pen. Unfortunately, Mister Atchison hasn't been exactly Dennis Eckersley out of the bullpen thus far, coming in today and allowing the first homer ever hit in Target Field. With Alan Embree looming in Pawtucket, Atchison has to be looking over his shoulder, whether that's fair or not.

4. RIOs? Running into outfielders. The Sox' defensive strategy left a bit to be desired yesterday, with Bill Hall nearly colliding with Jacoby Ellsbury while making a routine fly ball into a disaster, and Adrian Beltre and Ellsbury having the real thing, leaving Ellsbury out of the lineup for a few days. It's not that easy, especially running full speed with a noisy road crowd...of course, neither Hall nor Ellsbury were approaching full speed on the pop fly.

5. Walkabout. As I mentioned the other day, the Twins seldom beat themselves, playing good defense and avoiding allowing an excessive number of walks. Today, the Sox received only one base on balls, and the 292 pitch game (162 by Sox pitchers) clocked in at 2:59. The centerfield camera shot from Target Field is magnificent, with a great view of the corners. You didn't need an Amica Pitch Zone to decide whether a strike  was indeed a strike. Of course, QuesTec has been out, and Zone Evaluation System is in to assess pitch location and umpire performance. Is the ball-strike evaluation better, worse, or the same?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Five Swings: Game of Inches

The Red Sox mistreated Royals' Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke last night, but escaped with far more than a victory.

1. Game of Inches. I used to play in an adult baseball league, but one reason I walked away was the danger to a pitcher from aluminum bats. Last night, Josh Beckett narrowly avoided serious injury when a line drive ticked off his occiput. We've seen the worst of head injuries (Bryce Florie) and recall others like Mike Mussina taking one point blank.

2. OPS Makes News. Sox fans have lamented the lack of power from the offense, but last night's oversized effort (five homers) corrects the statistical imbalance. Jason Varitek had a pair of taters from the left side, and Youkilis, Pedroia, and Hermida also went yard. Obviously, the sample size is going to be small, so too much emphasis on the stats this early gets reduced.
At the end of the day, it's not the offense or the defense, but the win-loss record that gets the headlines. The Wall Street equivalent is "price makes news."

3. Hurt locker. Could there be an advantage to a lineup laden with experienced (old) players? Well, sometimes the aches and pains catch up to you. J.D. Drew is no stranger to the DL, but comes up with a stiff neck today, meaning that Jeremy Hermida gets the start in right field. Hermida got his first Red Sox homer last night, and at twenty-six, the former first round draft choice should be coming into his prime. Time will tell where he fits.

4. Welcome to the neighborhood. Javier Vasquez had a great season for the Braves last year, but the Yankees number four starter got a rude welcome back to the American League the other day, as the Tampa Bays dismayed JV with a 12.71 ERA. According to Nick Cafardo, the Orioles are in the hunt for Adrian Gonzalez, thinking they're in the hunt. That makes no sense to me, because they're the hunt. However, one team that nobody thought would be hanging around, the Toronto Blue Jays, lead the AL East at's only the first week of the season.

5. Target practice. The Red Sox help open up Target Field this week, with a rather mediocre but not average 17-15 record against the Twins the past five seasons.

I don't think the Red Sox are going to miss the Homer Dome ceiling or the baggy. Do you have any 'favorite' Homer Dome Sox memories? I can't think of many off the top of my head. Good riddance.

The Twins always play good fundamental baseball and as a pitching staff they tend not to put many men on base via the base on balls. They made a heroic run to get into the playoffs last season, and are 5-1 out of the chute this season, even with the Joe Nathan elbow injury.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Five Swings: What's Wrong with This Picture?

One of Richard Pryor's famous lines goes, "who are you going to believe...your lying eyes or your beloved husband. And that's how Red Sox performance over the first six days of the baseball season confronts Red Sox Nation. We received the promise of pitching and defense, and so far the reality hasn't come anywhere close to the hype.

1. Welcome back. The Red Sox can't call tonight a "must" win, because they run into Zack Greinke. Calling the fifth game of any baseball season the be all, end all, makes as much sense as viewing the next 300 yards of a marathon the determining factor between victory and defeat. Mike Lowell (the retiring guy), Jason Varitek, and Jeremy Hermida find their way into the lineup, and I'm guessing that Adrian Beltre doesn't feel that bad about missing Greinke.

2. Farm stand. Daisuke Matsuzaka threw five scoreless innings today for the PawSox. Speculation has it that the Japanese legend has another couple of starts before a recall. I'm certainly a believer that these things take care of themselves, and the Bosox certainly need some repairs to the bullpen, which has been abominable since the opening day win.

3. Maple leaves or Maple lives? It's only a matter of time before shattering bats result in the business end becoming impaled in either a pitcher or a fan causing a fatality or a career-ending injury. You know it, I know and Major League Baseball knows it. But will it take a bat shard to cause irreparable damage for baseball to do something about it? Whether the bats need protective sleeves or just outright substitution remains a mystery, but the potential will become a sad reality and nobody will be saying "Black Swan" when it happens. "It's a concern for us..." Right.

4. Catch of the Day. Last night the Sox benefited from the Royals running into a pair of outs, abetted by a great relay from Mike Cameron to Dustin Pedroia to Victor Martinez. Will tonight bring us some outfield heroics that will call to mind as good a catch as you can see? Some say Al Luplow's catch off Dick Williams as he dove into the bullpen was the best ever in Fenway; as far as I know, there's no video. This is the greatest catch I've seen on video. 

5. Go young, West man. Should umpires comment about the game of baseball, or is their job solely to call it as they see it, between the lines? The Red Sox and Yankees strategically play a game of attrition, seeing a lot of pitches, to the point that pitches 'seen' has become a statistic showing up in the Box Scores. With most pitchers on pitch counts, that means earlier arrival of middle relief, which can mean an exposed Achilles Heel for most teams in MLB. Certainly the Red Sox' middle relief is suspect, as is the entire bullpen so far. You've seen the stats from the pen, and eight walks in twelve innings and a strikeout to walk ratio of exactly one isn't getting it done. The sample size is exceeding small, and we'll leave it at that.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Five Swings: Mercy!

Red Sox announcer Ned Martin's famous expletive was "mercy!"

1. Tonight the Kansas City Royals honored Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke with an over-the-top presentation...if we've ever seen one. Greinke had a reenactment of his trophy presentation, and separate presentations of Taylor-Made golf clubs, a Cy Young ring, a framed Kaufman Stadium home plate, framed uniform gear and a scoresheet, framed pitching rubber, and congratulations from everyone who ever did anything in Kansas City except Frank White. And he got a kiss from his trophy wife. Hey, congrats to a guy who had a hard road to success.

2. The Sox have their road "softball uniforms" on tonight with the blue uniform top and the old-fashioned red lettering. MLB is always about the marketing, with everything from the St. Patty's day green hats to the nouveau-fan styled pink hats. Let us not forget the caps with the paired stockings.

It might get never know what kind of personal Ben Wrightman kind of items could show up in circulation.

3. Pitch sequences. Pitching theory includes a lot of elements, ranging from changing the hitter's eye level (up and down), to varying speeds pitch to pitch, working hitters inside and outside, and combinations of the above. With the bases loaded and one out, Kyle Davies went back-to-back change-ups to Victor Martinez, got him to foul off a fastball up, and then went down and in to induce a 3-6-1 double play. An unorthodox pitch sequence worked out for the Royals.

4. So much has been made over the years about the difficulty of catching Tim Wakefield. Doug Mirabelli kept a specialty job by handling Wakefield, and Josh Bard practically got run out of town for his struggles. Jason Varitek never looked comfortable catching the knuckler, but so far Victor Martinez has looked very confident in handling the butterfly-ball.

5. "Regular" season. Over the past few years, it seems as though the Sox lineup has shown consistent inconsistency, with shuffling around the leadoff spot, Youkilis at first or third, alternate catchers, and so on. But is it possible that Terry Francona will maintain a fixed lineup, as long as neither injury nor fatigue sets in? So far, that looks like the game plan. The Sox have shown some good baserunning and productive outs tonight, although they've only pushed across one run (into the fourth inning).

Examine the "run matrix" to consider statistical outcomes in the 24 'states' of baseball...
In the fourth inning the Sox had runners on 2nd, 3rd with none out, predicting 2.006 runs. A Beltre ground out moved a runner to third with one out, predicting .969 runs. Fortunately, J.D. Drew made that moot with a two run 'jack' over everything in center.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Five Swings: Win Prevention?

Okay, so it's early, but as they say, "a win in April counts as much as a win in September." What's on tap for today's Soxaholics?

1. Win prevention. The opening series didn't exactly showcase the "run prevention" theme from the off-season. In the second game, the front and back end of an eighth inning grounder set up the winning run, walked in. Last night, the bullpen poured gasoline on the fire, turning a six-inning John Lackey shutout into a 3-1 defeat over the final four innings. Jonathan Papelbon took the loss with a hanging fastball to Curtis Granderson.

2. Ortizzle stick. Tough crowd. David Ortiz had the only Sox RBI last night, although generally the offense left a lot to be desired. Last April, Ortiz hit .230 with OPS .623, no homers and 12 RBI. That was then and this is now. Give a guy a break.

3. Reign delay. Once upon a time, a game could be played in less than two hours. The Red Sox and Yankees would be hard pressed to play a six-inning game in two hours. Even the umpires comment about it, with Joe West calling the state of affairs 'embarrassing'. Maybe if West called some strikes on the corners strikes, the game would go faster, too.

4. Watery Grave. Fear the Rays.
The Rays are off to a quick start with a pair of victories over the Orioles.

5. Road Worriers. As the Sox leave 'Friendly Fenway', they face the uncertainty of hitting the road. Last season the Sox went 39-42 away, and all too often limited range and WTP (warning track power) conspired to limit the locals. The Yankees also held and eight game advantage over the Sox against the AL West. The Sox acquiring John Lackey weakened the Angels and strengthened themselves. We'll see how that translates.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Five Swings: Drawing Board

It's still only into the third game of the season, and what's hot and what's not?

1. Run prevention. From the Red Sox perspective, the eighth inning collapse with a defensive lapse on both ends from short to first allowed the winning run to go to third base, ultimately scoring on a walk. Unless the Amica Pitch Zone has suddenly changed, it has morphed into the Amica "bitch zone" as home plate has become a pie plate, with no corners. The last thing the fans need is an ultra-tight strike zone with the Red Sox-Yankees staging their annual marathons. Last night's game went on forever about four hours.

Meanwhile Derek Jeter reinforced his reputation as great on popups and liners, and weak in other areas.

2. Expletives repeated. How much rope will the Sox give David Ortiz, he of the RBI single tonight? I'm not prepared to write off Big Papi based on two games...or two weeks. Maybe Papi had some bad words for the paparazzi media. Big @#$%ing deal.

3. Concerted effort. The Sox in conjunction with Steven Tyler (Aerosmith) and Peter Wolf (J. Geils Band) announced another Fenway concert extravaganza. The Sox have expanded and improved Fenwaysaurus, and you can have your preferred event at The Grand Old Ballpark. I still liked the idea of the Red Sox Commodity Trading Fund, with fans being allowed to invest with a portion of the (presumptive) profits going to fund free agents.

4. The Umpire strikes back. The home plate umpire shows an utter lack of sophistication, giving both benches a warning after John Lackey hits Jeter on a 2-2 pitch leading off in the sixth in a 1-0 game. The "run states" analysis goes from .51 runs expected with none out none on to 0.9 runs with a leadoff baserunner. Neither team wants to diminish their chance of winning by macho tradition. Maybe MLB ought to give the men in blue a ringy-dingy after the heat of battle.

5. Sign of the times. The Red Sox merchandising effort with signage isn't subtle, and it's not supposed to be. We haven't seen "Chico's Bail Bonds" on the back of the Red Sox jerseys, "Trojans" stamped on the pitching rubber, or UPS on the back of the Sox caps, but you have to wonder when it happens.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Five Swings: Extension School

The Red Sox face the Yankees in Game 2 of the season and look for their first 'quality start' of the season.

1. Defensive misplays and errors (DME). Jacoby Ellsbury scored the first Sox run after reaching on a looper that was up forever (Marcus Thames?) and went to third on a stolen base and throwing error (Jorge Posada). In other words, he reached on questionable defense and advanced and scored on poor defense. Time will tell whether it impacts the outcome. Conversely, a three hopper almost to the hole gets turned into a DP by Scutaro, Pedroia, and Posada, who a catcher.

2. Beckett extension. Josh Beckett took a "hometown discount" on his extension? Beckett's a terrific talent and we're delighted the Sox extended his contract. But as for the 'discount', fuggedaboutit. Sure, we could have hyperinflation with the credit circus calliope playing 24/7, but with the uncertainty of pitchers' health, players should be kissing the mound they walk on to get lengthy deals.

3. Sign of the times. The Jordan's Furniture "hit the baseball" promo starting this summer looks like a pretty safe bet for the furniture mavens. How many homers do you see to the right of the 420 mark that clear the bullpen? Not a lot, and almost never from right-handed hitters. Victor Martinez just crushed one, and it wasn't even in the neighborhood.

4. Lowell Connector. Not that we've seen all that much of Adrian Beltre, but so far, he looks pretty good. The most important (and difficult) problem for Mike Lowell isn't swallowing his pride, but STAYING READY. Lowell can pick up at bats filling in at first, third, DH, and the occasional pinch hit.

5. To Victor go the spoils? With the pitchers taken care of, will Victor Martinez get some "spare change"? He's an offensive force, particular relative to MOST catchers, ostensibly a quality guy, and we're told that he wants to stay in Boston. Nobody is saying he's Joe Mauer, but he ain't chopped liver either. In nine seasons, according to, Martinez has 718 games behind the plate. Usually, by the time the backstops get to 1200, it's all downhill, but Martinez has first base and DH options on the table as well.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Serious? You Betcha

My broadcasting partner, Ralph Labella, and I have about a hundred years of experience playing, watching, coaching, and more recently broadcasting sports. Yeah, that makes us old.

We believe in preparation, knowing the game, and respecting the game. Just because somebody says something is 'SO', doesn't make it true. And dogma come from the Greek 'dok', to seem good, not to be good.

Photographic evidence that we really 'do' have our own local cable show...just above zero on the 'share'.

Observations on the Sox media:

  • Great to have "The Commissioner", Peter Gammons on the NESN team. Gammons gets fried nationally for being a homer, but I'm not sure that's fair. 
  • Jerry Remy looks good, but not as effervescent as in the days of pumping hot dogs, scoresheets, and his website. 
  • Jim Rice dominates in the clothing department.
  • Don Orsillo does a great job; I still miss Sean McDonough.
  • I'm as guilty as the next guy of using the overused, "run prevention". 

Five Swings: Game One and More

The Red Sox kicked off the season delivering a veritable "bleep you" from the mouth of a five-year Internet star. The victory is only part of the soap opera that the Red Sox may become.

1. Today the Red Sox announced signing an extension to opening night pitcher Josh Beckett. The right-hander  led the Red Sox in victories last season with seventeen. By signing Beckett, the Sox have locked up their "big three" (Beckett, Lester, Lackey) through 2014, giving them flexibility in both the development and the potential trading of additional pieces down the line.

2. "Make new friends, but keep the old." The newbies, Adrian Beltre (AB), Mike Cameron, and Marco Scutaro combined for 5 for 9 offensively, scoring a pair and driving in three. Beltre also closed out the game with a solid play going to his left to nip Curtis Granderson. How many people asked whether Mike Lowell could have reached that ball?

3. Speaking of Lowell, he clearly garnered the lion's share of applause during pre-game introductions. Look, the Red Sox didn't get AB to play third because they suddenly disliked the popular third baseman. They made an acquisition because they had concerns over Lowell's health, particularly his range. Above is FanGraph's analysis of Lowell, with an apocalyptic drop in UZR (ultimate zone rating) of over 20 points. Here's a review of the issues and alternatives for teams last winter.

4. More "Crime against humanity". Believe it or not, I do work, so I couldn't watch the entire game last night. In 2004, the average MLB game lasted 2 hours and forty-seven minutes. Last night's contest, a prototypical Sox-Yankees struggle, lasted 3 hours and forty-six minutes. Some blame Tony LaRussa for the prolongation of baseball games, with the promulgation of left-right switches and pitching changes. Whether that's fair or not, the Moneyball approach of taking pitches to try to wear out the opposition pitching has become ingrained among several of baseball's elite franchises. Around the turn of the century, the average number of pitches in a major league game was 285. Last night the Sox and Yankees combined for eleven pitchers and 326 pitches.

5. "I'm in favor of it." Tampa Bay Buc Coach John McKay was asked about his football team's execution and replied, "I'm in favor of it." Last night the Yankees executed the double steal with what had to be called a defensive misplay by the Red Sox. With Jeter on first and speedy Gardner on third, the Sox tried the 'cut' play with Marco Scutaro, and the throw from V-Mart would have given him no chance, even if on target. Often, you see the throw faked to second, and if not, ideally the pitcher 'fakes' a cutoff, to try to get the runner to stop. Sometimes the shortstop comes in directly toward the plate and receives the throw directly trying to catch the lead runner. Suffice it to say, the Yankee's execution topped the Sox' on that play.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Five Swings: Opening Night

Let's take our cuts and see what happens.

1. "You're never as good as you look when you win or as bad as you look when you lose." One game doesn't make a season, but you know that Sox fans will overreact to whatever happens tonight. The corollary has always remained, "momentum only lasts as long as the next day's starting pitcher." 

2. Sellouts are forever. Will there be empty seats (not unsold tickets) as ticket brokers have to unload tickets as face value? I believe I read that overall major league attendance fell off six percent last year during the recession that spread to professional sports. 

3. Victor Martinez hasn't had a full season with the Red Sox. The past three seasons in April, V-Mart has been .347/.410/.511/.921. Jason Varitek the past three Aprils has been .254/.332/.456/.788. How much will Varitek play and will it be mostly against LHP as his three years splits are .821 versus .687 for left and right-handed pitching. 

4. Ground control to Major Tom. The Red Sox have taken a beating about the condition of the infield over the years. Here's a quote from Dustin Pedroia, “Yeah, it took a bad hop,” he said with blood gushing from his right knee from the dive. “Our infield [stinks]. It’s the worst in the game. I’m not lying about that. That is true. It took a bad hop and I just tried to put my body in front of it to get an out.”

I can't find any systematic rating of field conditions in baseball. Yes, we understand that the field conditions are the same for both teams. Anybody got that?

5. Whether report. The Sox and Yanks have a glorious day for baseball. Somewhere I saw the last time the Sox last played the Yankees in an opening day game that lasted 2:33. I'll take the over on that one (length of game) for tonight...

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Spring FLing: 5 Swings

Keywords: Red Sox Nation, Red Sox roster, American League East, Red Sox preview

The Florida portion of Spring Training rests comfortably in the rearview mirror, with LESS than the usual quota of the good, the too bad, and the ugly. Let's take our hacks.

1. The feel good story of the spring comes from Scott Atchison, from Japan with love. Atchison won a job and along the way, his two-year old daughter with a rare congenital disease gets specialty treatment. Let's hope that every child with an illness has the opportunity to get special treatment.

2. What percentage of baseball excellence does pitching and defense constitute? Well, Yogi Berra might tell us that ninety percent of baseball is half mental. Certainly, Sox fans expect somewhere around fifty wins from the Big Three of Beckett, Lester, and Lackey. Last year they combined (off the top of my head) for forty-three wins, and it doesn't get any easier in the uber-tough AL East.

3. Either the Red Sox or the Yankees will have to settle for the Wild Card, IF they play well enough. The AL East contenders could beat each other up enough to allow a team from the West (Seattle, California) or Central (Chicago, Detroit) to sneak in. If there's anything that's certain, the Yankees and the Red Sox are not both locks for the playoffs.

4. Some players who have outstanding Florida campaigns don't make the Show. Josh Reddick hit .404 with an 1.128 but opens the season in Pawtucket. He'll be back, and be better for it. Joe Nelson had over 10K per nine innings and a K/BB ratio of three but will join Reddick. Nelson got caught in the numbers game, with no opt-out until June. With his "Vulcan" change, let's hope his MLB career lives long and prospers.

5. You don't have to be happy to play good ball, and the word is that Mike Lowell feels disenfranchised. Did he get a fair shot to win 'his' job? To borrow the phrase from the NFL, "you can't make the club from the tub." Lowell's speed is glacial, his range is small, his recovery was delayed by thumb surgery, and then he hurt his knee. For gawd's sake, if you have to be angry (while making more money than Croesus), keep your head up, your angst to yourself, and wait for an opportunity.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Trendiness: The Defense Never Rests

Five Things.

1. The Red Sox didn't replace Jason Bay's offense in the off-season, but they did attempt to overhaul the team defensively. With all respect due John Dewan's Fielding Bible, reviews what the Red Sox attempted...a quantum leap in run prevention. Jeremy Lundblad breaks down the Sox attempt to scuttle the 2009 defensive breakdown.

2. Tim Kurkjian has his all-time Red Sox team.

C - Fisk
1B - Foxx
2B - Doerr (Pedroia has far too short a track record, impressive as it may be)
SS - Joe Cronin (Nomar not going to Cooperstown)
3B - Boggs
OF - Williams
OF - Speaker (16 finishes in the top ten in slugging and OPS)
OF - Yaz
P -  Cy Young, another era, but a three year span with 93 wins
P -  Clemens...warts and all
P -  Martinez...five year spell with incredible, unbelieveable adjusted ERA+ better than Koufax's five year spell

3. "Crime against humanity." I was picking up a few goodies at the grocery, when the manager stopped me and asked me how I felt about the baseball season. I replied, "don't underestimate the Rays." Another customer stopped and said, "Opening night was a 'crime against humanity', Easter and a night game. After all, you know that a Sox-Yankees game is a minimum 3:30 affair...

4. Terry Francona. Francona goes into his seventh season as Sox skipper, with a .581 winning percentage, a pair of pennants and World Series titles. Well, it's not .605 with 6 pennants and four World Series rings for Joe Torre, but it's not chopped liver either.

5. Catch up. How important is catching defense, throwing out runners and so forth? I'm not sure how to measure this, AND I do 'get it' that the Sox won a pair of WS titles with Varitek as the backstop. Lyford tried to get at this elusive data...and didn't come away with 'conclusive' information, but it wasn't boring. The Fielding Bible showed Jason Varitek's 2008 performance at handling pitchers to be in top ten and preventing stolen bases in the top twenty. A somewhat objective Posada versus Varitek analysis doesn't do Varitek any favors.
Maybe the simplest answer is that Jason Varitek has had a terrific career for the Red Sox, but has simply either worn down, or worn out. The three year trends for his Win Shares (from The Hardball Times) would read 15, 14, and 11 through 2007, pretty much spelling the end for JV. And if anybody knows anything about trends, it's John Henry, the commodity trader.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Faulty Intelligence

Most of us, boys and girls, play baseball as children, follow baseball, and think we have an 'understanding' of the game. We know when to take a pitch, when to think about the hit and run, when a pitcher is tiring, and of course, when to try to score the runner from second on a single.

So when the GM, manager, coach, fill in the blank 'screws up', we howl in protest. "Wow, they really botched the Lowell trade" or "how can they keep this guy"? Do we know what we don't know?

We're caught between "In Theo We Trust" and "I know what I see," and struggle to choose between believing and seeing. Baseball writers have incredible access, but not exclusivity when it comes to the power of observation. Old men labor under the prejudices of lengthy observation (if you watch baseball for fifty years, you think you've seen it all, from Mike Kekich to Albert Belle) and young writers suffer delusions of adequacy, not having the experience of the greybeards.

All of which brings us to the lengthening shadows of Spring Training, and the inevitable decisions of roster cutdowns, the veritable "life and death" career crossroads for the Alan Embrees, Tug Huletts, Joe Nelsons, and Scott Atchisons. Some will live on, others go into baseball purgatory, the minors, and others will see their livelihood simply evaporate. Others fall into another category, like Junichi Tazawa, betrayed by the frayed humanity of an ulnar ligament.

I know what it's like to live perilously "on the bubble" of a baseball roster, having treaded water on the banks of the Styx during a disagreeable college baseball career. Your food doesn't taste good, your sleep forsakes you, and a sunny spring day can afford all the joy of a wake, your own.

Who will 'win' the final and fungible roster spot? We know that it won't be Alan Embree, who was hit like a rented mule, and that Scott Schoeneweis, the specialist, apparently has won the job, as much because of timing as performance. Schoeneweis' three year splits have shown him effective against lefties with a limited track record against the Sox' nemesis the Yankees.

Who am I to dare to comment on the final sacred roster spot? Just another guy with no up close observation of the combatants with as much faulty intelligence as the next guy.