Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chain of Command

Most people answer to somebody. Evidently, if rumors are to be believed, that doesn't apply to certain professional baseball players.

The Red Sox will announce hiring Bobby Valentine tomorrow, and the ink isn't even dry on his contract, and ostensibly some 'stars' already have their nose out of joint. Did Bobby Valentine say that Joe Blosox wasn't the greatest hitter/pitcher/baserunner?

Even the best ballplayer (or any other profession) makes mistakes. Hitting .300 (failing seven times out of ten) can still make you an elite ballplayer. Perhaps the question is what standard a professional ballplayer should be held to.


  • Play hard
  • Play smart (situational baseball)
  • Show up on time
  • Prepare yourself to be successful (rest, conditioning, etc.)
  • Respect the game
  • Respect the organization
  • Respect the manager
  • Be a good teammate
If you can't adhere to these basic requirements, then let the front office know, so they can try to move you to an organization where neither winning, effort, or professionalism matter. Good luck with that. 

We get it. Guys strike out, make errors, get injured, have slumps. But the 2011 version of the Sox wasn't ready to play all too often, specifically coming into the season and in crunch time. That doesn't include everyone, but the task-oriented era is coming to town. You brought it on yourselves.

If you can't give respect, then you can't expect it. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Called Out

The Red Sox haven't called (formally) to eliminate me from their managerial search. Okay, so I have no experience playing Major League Baseball. From a medical standpoint, I might be considered underqualified, too, because I am not a Pediatrician, and the childish narcissism in the clubhouse needs constant attention.


Alright, then, my continued monitoring of copper probably hasn't really gone over well with John Henry. The commodities magnate undoubtedly has his own take on copper (which hasn't performed all that well lately), although coffee could be at an inflection point. And no matter what your individual taste says, "America Runs on Dunkin'". See how I fit that plug in perfectly.

Conversely, the most disaffected man in the clubhouse, needs a cribbage partner. I guarantee that I can bring on the challenge to Dustin Pedroia at least at the level of Terry Francona. There's no way I'll be getting any "19" hands against the Sox' spiritual leader and second baseman. I'll work at reasonable rates, and I absolutely promise not to call out any of the players in the media, no matter how much the whiny, overpaid, and sometimes underachievers screw up. Try to go steal third or go from first to third on a single with two outs and get thrown out by ten feet? Good hustle, 'atta boy', tough luck, son. Throw an 0-2 fastball down the middle that gets taken yard? My bad. Should've called for a breaking pitch. Caught out late with the new sideline reporter? See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Whaddya mean, disloyal? I've been watching since Eddie Bressoud, Felix Mantilla, and Darrell Brandon. Jim Willoughby is a household name. Okay, so I don't remember Pumpsie Green, but I was only six during the "prime" of his Bosox career. Can't get along with Larry Lucchino? That might be a legit grievance, but how's that make me different from anyone in the 99 percent?

Maybe the problem is simply that the Red Sox have set the bar too high in the managing expectations category. The fans simply came to believe that they'd get maximum effort from the entire organization, for the premium price, overhyped free agents, in the 25 player, 25 limousine era. I'll go with the Ben Stiller approach.

How's that working for you, Mr. Cherington?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hearts on Fire



The Red Sox hire a new manager, but behind the scenes, the battle rages. We have Rocky Lucchino training hard with Scrabble, Brain Trainer, and free weights. In the other corner, Ivan (Ben) Cherington trains with caffeine, an iPad, and Carmine in his corner. Rocky knows that he has the upper hand, while the "GM in Name Only" Cherington, sharpens his knives pencils to do battle for his candidate.

The Sox are defining themselves by this GM search, as a methodical but indecisive, assiduous but plodding cabal of dissidents in the affront office. The glitzy candidate, Bobby Valentine, gets dissed because he MIGHT actually criticize the players. God forbid that guys who miss cutoffs, run the bases at times like the Bad News Bears, and sometimes showed all the professionalism of a chimpanzee dance troupe take heat from...anyone.

Do you think Patriot players try to undermine Bill Belichick if they don't like the play calling or defensive strategies? Do you think Ross Ventrone wants to curse the coach or pick his brain on how to keep his career alive?

I'm not anti-Gene Lamont. It's not as though Bobby Valentine is a Corvette and Lamont is a Yugo. We're all going to be watching the Sox next season whether Bobby Valentine or Bobby Vinton is in the dugout.

But let's not get carried away. It's not rocket science; it's not Rocky IV. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Free Falling



If there's anything worse than bad publicity in professional sports, it's no publicity. The NBA will be coming online, the Patriots challenge for the top spot in local hearts and minds, and the Bruins have won 10 of 11. Meanwhile the Red Sox continue to baste in the hangover of "the Collapse".

But the Sox have a chance to turn it around next week, with a triple play of news, naming Bobby Valentine the next manager, signing David Ortiz (also relieving the right field offensive problem to a degree), and finding a new queen of what is known as "honey shots".

First, I digress. How are the 1 percent doing lately? 1356 to 1158 in about four months. Put that Dom Perignon back on the shelf, Honey.
__________________________________________
As for Valentine's Day coming in November, consider it done. What's the Buzz Meter do with a Gene Lamont signing? The best seismograph at MIT won't even twitch. A Bobby V signing at least wakes the dead, which represents the majority of the Nation.  The Red Sox might have an infatuation with NASCAR and the other Football, but tone deaf to the local indifference?

As for Ortiz, from everything we hear, there's mutual desire for the 36 year-old (is that in US or Dominican years?) DH to return, and he's got the arbitration offer to prove it. According to BaseballReference.com Ortiz has at least an outside chance at Hall of Fame status using their Hall of Fame monitor criteria. And last year, he was the DH Silver Slugger, finished 6th in the AL in batting and 4th in OPS. In other words, his offensive contribution proved sizable.

Finally, who will win the Sideline Reporter sweepstakes, which cannot be called the "Heidi Bowl" as that's been taken? We don't really know what the criteria are. WEEI has offered up their candidates. How about a long shot? Maybe a local politician's daughter who would have access to all sorts of critical financial information and be insulated from prosecution (the Stocks and Jocks guys review this in their first hour with Peter Schweizer of Stanford). You can fill in your own blank for the name.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Masters of Disguise

Never confuse misdirection with lack of direction. The Red Sox have a plan, in fact a "master plan" with many key elements. They could tell us what it is, but they'd have to kill us, which won't do, especially with overpriced tickets and concessions.

First, what you see is NOT what really is. Anyone with half a brain (or less if you've been drinking), knows that Ben Cherington is Larry Lucchino's SOCK PUPPET. Cherington speaks the words, but they're coming from Lucky's mouth. Lucchino knew that he couldn't trust that last backstabber, Theo Epstein, so he's moved on. Only Lucchino needs only to get credit as a father of victory, and has no responsibility when the Sox implode. "How did that chicken get in the clubhouse?" That, as we all know, belongs on the shoulders of Epstein and the Departed One.

The Sox are demonstrating the requisite DELIBERATE approach to managerial selection. With all due respect to the remaining candidates, Bobby Valentine, Torey Luvullo, and Gene Lamont, the Sox haven't really considered the really dynamic candidates.

First, here's a vote for Stephen King. Who could strike more fear into both players and opposition than the master of epic horror? King has an in-depth, almost maniacal knowledge of the Red Sox, and he'd probably work cheap as he doesn't need the money. Second, what about considering Jon Corzine, late of MF Global. Corzine's got a lot of political connections, is unemployed, and he hates even the thought of pinstripes. He might be a little busy with Congressional hearings, but that's nothing new for baseball.

Next, the Sox must resolve the thorny compensation issue of Theo Epstein's departure. Theo must be giggling at what he's put over on the Sox thus far. The locals haven't even gotten a deep-dish pizza for losing their GM. You can't call it an Epic Fail, yet, but offering us Kyle Orton on a waiver claim doesn't exactly make it. Hey, we knew that he'd never clear waivers and get to Chicago, right? Ben Cherington may have threatened to hold his breath until we get satisfaction, but probably realized what he was feeling were the cold hands of Larry Lucchino around his neck.

But the key issue, as everyone knows, is free agent loss. We understand that some free agents or others not offered arbitration may have caused  testosterone-laden brawls, in the dog-eat-dog world of professional baseball. But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can't replace your losses. What is the Nation to do?


Sunday, October 30, 2011

On the Apotheosis of Larry Lucchino

The Red Sox have remade Fenway Park and won a pair of championships in the past eight years. And as they say, "victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan." Today, Dan Shaughnessy wrote about CEO Larry Lucchino "Controversial, brilliant, combative, and ever-lawyerly, Lucchino represents the past, present, and future of the 21st century Red Sox."

I'd look at it another way, more along the lines of Michael Lewis, "If he's such a good hitter, then why doesn't he hit better." Do Shaughnessy and Lucchino live in a parallel universe where credit is assigned for success and blame referred elsewhere? Everyone associated with the Red Sox got stained by both The Collapse and The Purge that followed.

Somehow, Lucchino stands as the Red Sox blend between The Godfather and the consigliere.  He'd probably take that as a compliment; maybe it is. I don't think that anyone would accuse him of being thin-skinned, self-effacing, or overburdened with humility. But I also doubt that a sit-down for lunch with him would be boring either.

Maybe we'd be able to ask him where he stands on the key issues of the day, like who's the closer for next year...or we can add our own 'lawyerly' answers.

Q. Who will be the closer for the Red Sox next year?

A.  Jonathan Papelbon has done an excellent job for our team and has earned the right to experience the free agent market. There are numerous high quality closers on the market this season, and we're confident that Red Sox will have solid back-end of the game pitching in 2012, whether it's Jonathan or another closer.

Q. What are your thoughts on Carl Crawford?

A. Carl has performed well in the American League for most of his career. We think that last season was more of an aberration than a fundamental change in the player's ability. We expect that Carl and the team as a whole will perform at a higher level next season.

Q. What will your role be in the selection of the next Red Sox manager?

A. We intend to have a very thorough and thoughtful process, just as we did when Tito was selected. Our new General Manager Ben Cherington will lead the process in consultation with other members of both baseball operations and ownership. We have every confidence that the next manager will be the right man to lead the Red Sox going forward.

In summary, a lawyer's job is to argue effectively for their client. If the Sox didn't feel that he were, they'd have someone else in his job.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Let's Go to Work, The Theme for 2012

Soon the Red Sox will have a new manager, a new face tasked with infusing leadership and a change of organizational culture. What will he say to the team during the transition? Let's face it, this isn't the Gettysburg Address.

"Welcome to the 2012 Boston Red Sox. Some of you were here last season and others are new faces. Some of you have played on World Series winners and others have never played a game in the majors. Some of you have been all-stars and others are fighting to keep a job. 


But all of us must recognize that we are here to win baseball games, a task that requires not only ability, but sustained concentration, dedication, and sacrifice. I'm not going to pretend that last year never happened, but as far as the 2012 standings go, what happened in 2011 is history. We are responsible for what we do here and now, and you all start with a clean slate. 


As I look around this room, I see a lot of talented players. But every manager in every clubhouse sees talent. What separates the champions from the others?


Playing good baseball over a long season isn't automatic. You need your head on straight; you know what I'm talking about. You have to be prepared physically and you have to be ready mentally to be on the field 162 games, playing against other guys who want to beat your brains in. We're not asking you to play baseball or think baseball twenty-four hours a day. But I'm telling you, when you come to the park, you're coming to work, to refine your craft and excel at the skills that got you here. 


The coaching staff and front office isn't here to be cheerleaders and rah-rah guys. We're here to provide an environment where winning baseball games and caring about winning baseball games matters. We're not going to win 162 games, but we have to play hard every day and support each other with a common goal, to become champions again. 


The twenty-five guys in uniform really matter. But if you think the 38,000 people in the stands don't, then you're wrong. You want respect? The best way to earn respect is to show respect, respect for playing the game the right way, the way you learned how to play from the time you picked up a glove, and a ball, and a bat...and haven't forgotten. 


We're here to play baseball, not to make excuses for not running out ground balls, for missing signs, running into outs, for overthrowing cutoff men, or throwing to the wrong base. Physical mistakes are part of the game, but we're going to minimize mental mistakes by paying attention to fundamentals and thinking the game. Let's go to work."


After thinking about it, that's the theme for 2012 "LET'S GO TO WORK." It's a no-nonsense statement implying direction and purpose. If the players can embrace that and 'get their heads on straight', the fans can move on.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Public Enemy Number One

We're making progress, with 'wink-wink' management transition to the Ben Cherington Era (let's hope it's anything approaching the Epstein reign). Sad to say, the Sox scuffle and the official title "The Collapse" have equal play with a highly competitive World Series.

Meanwhile, the Sox have yet to go into PR mode to repair the damages to the Good Ship Fenway. Suffice it to say, Sox loyalists (especially older ones) don't want to hear the words Narragansett or Mabel, Black Label. Damage control thus far gets limited to weak apologies and info that Jason Giambi and Roger Clemens used to share quality time in the Bomber dugout with a brewski.

With many citizens working to find a job, the Red Sox work to get compensation for Chicago's New Man About Town. Pipe dreams like Starlin Castro or the exile of John Lackey to the Windy City have been replaced by the hopes that we'll get a pinch-running prospect from the Cubs. Theo negotiating his own compensation does have a pretty incestuous feel to it.

Give us Barabbas. If we erected a stage on the Common, and asked the fandom which would be more damaging, the return of Whitey Bulger or John Lackey, no doubt the masses would cry, "Give us, Bulger." For a guy allegedly a 'great teammate' Lackey will leave with a reputation perhaps even lower than the Forgiven One, Bill Buckner. Public character assassination leaves a rotten taste in the mouth, but admittedly much of He Who Must No Longer Be Named's wounds were self-inflicted.

Safe bets. Don't expect the Red Sox to raise ticket prices. Even for the Sox that would be the "Audacity of Dope". We know that Curt Young slinking out of town wasn't greeted with any thunderstorm of tears, but we must wonder who is leaking all the goodies to the media.

Who's the boss? After an initial flood of speculation about the new managerial candidates, the wires have gone silent. And how does the first meeting between the manager and the players go?  Where's Dick Williams when you need him?

The manager can't go in with all guns blazing and turn off the audience, but he has to develop a new team culture, which is tough when it's changed from 25 players, 25 cabs to 25 limos. You could appeal to their manhood and professionalism, no, that didn't work with the last administration any more. You could go Phil Jackson with a "basketball is sharing" spinoff, but that seems unlikely.

Probably something between the Mutiny on the Bounty flogging scene and James Bond about to be lasered in two in Goldfinger would be about right. Part of the issue is to eliminate the old guard that has too many connections to The Collapse, including Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, and maybe even David Ortiz. Can anyone see this happening to the Twins (Tom Kelly anyone?) or even the Orioles with the Showalter Way.

Someone's still got a lot of explaining to do, Lucchino. How do you treat multi-millionaire spoiled brats with kid gloves and get anywhere?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Thank Goodness

My faith in the Red Sox is restored. All is forgiven. Let bygones be bygones. Bury the hatchet. Kiss and makeup. No harm, no foul. It's all good. Boys will be boys. No problemo.

Why the change of heart? The Red Sox adamantly deny that they were drinking during the game, in the dugout!

Enough said. Mother Teresa would be proud. Pour me a double.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Prodigal Sox

What do the Red Sox 'owe' the fans...and themselves? There's not a fine line between reasonable and unreasonable. Fans expect maximum effort, physically and mentally, from THEIR team. Every member of the organization has to ask himself or herself, did I give it up or just give up?

I doubt you could find five people (of sound mind) who would question Dustin Pedroia's commitment and effort. David Ortiz said it himself, that he had never seen anyone who cared as much about baseball as the Sox second baseman. Fans will forgive, the moment that the organization and the players acknowledge that the letdown didn't "just happen".

By way of comparison, consider the most dreaded of times, 1986. No rational soul thought Bill Buckner didn't give the effort. People watched him painfully move around the diamond. Fans hated the outcome, and some hated the man, but for the wrong reason. Fast forward, to a team, not twenty-five guys in twenty-five cabs, but twenty-five limos. We perceive that players see fans as inconsequential whiners, shoeshine boys to their magnificant selves. That doesn't make it true, but perception becomes reality.

The Sox have a greater task winning back people's hearts than winning baseball games. Talent, with an appropriate dose of effort, wins a lot of athletic contests. Fans aren't bemoaning a lack of talent, we see something far worse, 'false hustle' and questionable integrity.

Owner John Henry was asked yesterday, "what could you have done differently?" He had a solid answer, "I don't know." In the long pull, perhaps what happened will reap positive rewards as the organizational culture changes into one with hungrier players. The fans come expecting not only winning baseball but PASSIONATE baseball. We feel betrayed and a half-hearted apologia will not soothe the collective animus of the nation.

I'm sure the marketing crew is working overtime to develop a campaign for absolution. What shibboleths get tossed around in times like these:
  • We owe you one.
  • Our fans make a difference.
  • Never again.
  • We know we blew it.
  • We will earn your trust.
  • We understand how you feel.
  • We'll show that we care as much as you do.
  • Something to prove.
  • More than a game...a way of life.
  • Family forgives.
  • We care.
I'm leaning to 'we will earn your trust'. But it's going to take a lot more than a slogan.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Focus on Goodwill: It's a Matter of Trust



Goodwill is a surplus of value that an organization or company holds above purchased value. Goodwill is "franchise value". We have to remember that as John Wooden said, "character is what you really are and reputation is what people say you are."

The Red Sox, currently of questionable character, despite all the good things that they've done for the community, have to rebuild their goodwill and convince people that the Sox deserve their loyalty AND their money.

Once again, management has taken the brunt of the criticism for behavior that ostensibly rests at the feet of players. Nobody says that players can't eat or drink alcohol. Maybe some players, like Mickey Mantle, functioned at a 'good' level even when intoxicated. But as Billy Joel would say, "it's a matter of trust", and the Sox need to come out and 1) accept responsibility, 2) promise organizational culture change, and 3) follow-through on it.

Nothing But the Truth: Clubhouse Drinking, Back to the Future

Drinking before or during a game isn't against the law for adults, but is it conducive to optimal performance? We know that alcohol impairs higher order brain function, and one would think that would apply to doing "the hardest thing in sports, hitting a round ball with a round bat."

Years ago, a Red Sox writer (not employed by Red Sox) spotted a Red Sox player drinking hard liquor before a game. The story was never written, never published. The player told the writer, "I am never going to talk with you again." Life went on, and the Red Sox and the player continued to have success.

More than anything else, education is about affecting change in behavior. I don't believe that players succeed or fail because they're not trying hard enough. You can't pitch better by gripping the ball tighter or hit better by holding the bat tighter. To succeed in baseball you need the right combination of God-given talents and inspiration-driven practice...and some luck.

Red Sox fans simply must ask whether management and players have done everything possible to allow the team and players to succeed. Have they looked in the mirror and said my prior is having the best quality process to yield the best outcome. If they haven't, then they must ask themselves, am I prepared to do make that commitment. If not, then those individuals must go, move on.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

TPTB

They've taken your money. They've stolen your soul. They don't care about you. Your interest has gone to almost nothing. They have no principle? No, it's not Wall Street and the American banking community. It's the disorganization of the Boston Red Sox...the collective Sergeant Schultz of MLB.

Occupy Fenway...or maybe it should mean a grand shunning?

Will the Sox top brass (TPTB) look to be the Puppet Masters with their selection of in-house candidate Ben Cherington and GOK for manager? Hey, it's their money.

Can the attitude of the Whiny Little Pitchers be adjusted?

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Occupy Fenway



A movement spreads across the United States, without leadership, without remorse, and without specific demands. Ordinary Americans protest the squandering of our future by "The Powers That Be".

What could be more fitting than the epicenter at Fenway Park? The Henry, Dean Werner, and Lucchino money printers have globalized away Red Sox Nation with NASCAR and the other football, and now promise to get their collective eye back on the ball, importing conditioning to the Red Sox Way Weigh.

From champs twice in four years to epic collapse chumps, with the Red Sox fiscal policy of money for Lugo, Lackey, Crawford, and Drew looking as sound as Greek bailouts. The General Manager dons the gorilla suit for new reasons now, as rumor has it that he'll slink out of the Hub and become a Cub.

You can't really blame the players for drinking before, during, and after games. It really did get that bad. Now we hear that players don't want to take infield practice. That's kid stuff. Why play ball like Japanese professionals, who spend endless hours on fundamentals? What chance would they have in a World Baseball tournament against American professionals?

But enough with the misdirection already. Occupy Fenway. But who would notice, with the yachts, the soccer, auto racing, and of course, the Stanley Cup Champions back at the Garden...and on NESN? Still, it might be worth a try. But trying hasn't been big at Fenway lately.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Cliches, Mean Reversion, and a New Sheriff in Town

Nobody reading this column is in the Red Sox clubhouse. We don't know what really goes on amid the 'sanctity' of the locker room, where stale beer and frayed nerves are all that remains from the 2011 season.

Every season begets outliers, overachievement and underperformance. For every Jacoby Ellsbury leading the league in total bases, there's a sad story of injury (J.D. Drew) or unrequited glove (Carl Crawford). Mark Belanger hit .287 in 1969 for the Orioles who went to the World Series. His career average was .228. George Scott hit .303 in the Impossible Dream season of 1967 with 19 homers, and .171 with 3 homers the following season. Statistical aberration happens all too often on the diamond.

Ellsbury is more likely to be mortal next season and Crawford probable to revert to All-Star form. What will the triad of Beckett, Buchholz, and Lester do? We can't know, but we should probably worry about starters 4-7 more than one through three.

Ask yourself about your job. Do your supervisors countenance drinking in your workplace? Do the senior workers routinely take advantage of their position whenever possible? I hope that's not a bad example.

We can't know who are the heroes and who are the zeros.  Do the greybeards add stability or headaches? Jason Varitek's attention to pregame detail was once legendary. Does that fire still burn and has that work ethic translated to the younger players? David Ortiz is one 'face of the Red Sox'. Is he the gentle giant who keeps things loose or a disgruntled soldier ROAD (retired on active duty)? Tim Wakefield took a long time to win his 200th game this season. Did sending him out there act as a net positive or a net negative in the wins and losses column?

Few baseball players will succeed absent 'good' statistics. I don't recall instances where players should have moved the runner along and failed because of personal agendas. Occasionally, players advanced runners with bunts that seemed out of place. Certainly nobody had sacrifice hit clauses.  There was talk of players placing personal goals ahead of team goals. Was that about Wakefield or someone else? Certainly Ortiz would have liked to have had 100 RBI, and that didn't happen. Was that an underlying theme in the clubhouse?

Just because we don't know the facts doesn't mean they don't exist. What is the Red Sox way? Is it more like the Red Sox Weigh? Which GM selects the new sheriff to clean up the town? Is there an unwritten timetable around the World Series?

The only question that should be on the plate of ownership, the GM, and the new manager should be "what must be done to return the team to contending form"?  This year turned into pretending. If some players have acted as spoiled children, then adult leadership needs to apply the discipline required. If the Sox clubhouse became Pleasure Island, then no wonder they all looked like jackasses in the end.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

How Moneyball Ruined Baseball

The wanting comes from not having. Red Sox fans suffered almost a century without a championship, and then got two within four seasons. They had some luck and pluck, and of course, the 'run prevention' before it became a design, with outstanding pitching from Schilling, Martinez, Lowe, and Lester, and more.

Baseball started to retreat into oblivion in America with the LaRussan Gambit, the left-right, four pitchers in an inning tedium that helped the Oakland A's become a power. But it's reached its nadir in interest (and watchability) not because of steroids or science (instructional and game video), but because of mathematics.

Who are the best pitchers on your team, generally? The starters, with not only power, but an assortment of pitches, and of course, pitching skill. If were all about stuff, then Andrew Miller would be a premium starter. So just as in Michael Lewis' "Blind Side", the left tackle position became critical to defeat the blind side rushers like Lawrence Taylor, baseball's stat geeks (like the Red Sox' own Bill James) developed a COUNTER for premium starting pitching.

Baseball no longer sought only sluggers, but players who could 'work the count', have quality at bats, and wear down the opponent's starters, fighting a war of attrition, away from the best pitchers into the soft underbelly of the enemy bullpen. If you're not happy with the Matt Albers and Franklin Morales of the Sox pen, then similarly most teams feel likewise about their pen pals.

Granted, the hitters who can foul off innumerable pitches or show 'plate discipline' are in limited supply. We can recall the Rod Carew or Wade Boggs or Johnny Damon who could have those 6, 8, 10 pitch at bats, but now 'taking pitches' has become an art form. The Sox have a plethora of hitters who can drive pitch counts to astronomical heights, the Yankees have the Jeter, Swisher, Teixeira types in their lineup who do the same.

And what you get is boredom, disinterest, and games that routinely go past four hours. Has the national pastime seen it's time pass?

Baseball has the potential for plenty of exciting plays, with steals, hit-and-runs, electric double plays, and home run robbing catches. But watching guys take an ever-increasing number of pitches?  Tony LaRussa and Billy Beane, pioneers of modern baseball, or its destroyers?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Big Shot

Jackie McMullen did a great job of laying out the warts on the 2011 Red Sox. Can you really die from a thousand paper cuts?

The Red Sox fired Terry Francona (don't reinvent history) because the players tuned him out. Replacing one man is easier than twenty-five. And understanding the complex personalities in twenty-first century baseball won't be solved by a whiz kid.

If you believe that leadership matters, then you'll need a strong manager, and that may depend on what direction ownership goes with the GM. In other words, there's a trickle-down leadership theory. If you get an uber-strong manager, you won't get an inflexible, power-crazed GM, probably something more of a puppet for you know whom.

The team needs to decide what the new 'core' is.

Dustin Pedroia should be named Captain, and the Sox need to get 'hungrier', however you do that. The question is whether they have to clean house or just sanitize a sunshine-free clubhouse.

Can you rehabilitate the clubhouse without getting rid of the greybeards and disaffected? I don't think so, and that means not resigning Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek. Loyalty is a two-way street, and there's no $ in loyalty.

1B - Gonzalez...does he really need attitude adjustment or just more happiness?
2B - Pedroia...the heart and soul of the team
SS -  Will a Lowrie/Iglesias platoon allow a decision to come down?
3B - Youkilis. A terrific player wearing down from injury and a questionable influence (per the MSM).
LF - Crawford will be better. He can't be more mediocre.
CF - Ellsbury. The Anointed One. Will he even think of staying if there's a rift with unspecified players and him?
RF - Open competition between Kalish and Reddick. Are the Sox too left-handed? Doubt the Sox will want to spend here with pitching needs.
C -  Saltalamacchia and Lavarnway - can Lavarnway fit in the DH picture?
DH - Maybe the hardest question of all. Ortiz has remained productive and a face of the franchise...and with a big salary for a DH.
Utility - Aviles played well. He seems like a keeper.

SP - Beckett, Lester, Buchholz
SP4 - Lackey - bad contract, bad attitude, bad guy or misunderstood? If the Sox could trade his bad contract for somebody else's bad contract, then everyone might be less miserable
SP4a - This will probably be a TOP priority of free agency
SP5 - Can Weiland, Doubront, or Alex Wilson step up?
SP6 - Sox clearly have to know that they need far more pitching depth.

Setup - Bard, far from a lost cause
Closer - High priority after managerial issue

PRIORITIES:

  • GM decision
  • Manager
  • DH
  • Closer
  • Starting pitching 
  • Right-field
  • Shortstop
Off-the books:
  • J.D. Drew  14 Million
  • Tim Wakefield  1.5 Million
  • Jason Varitek  2 Million
  • Marco Scutaro 6 Million
  • ? David Ortiz  12.5 million
Salary rising:
  • Gonzalez (a lot)
  • Pedroia (2.5 M)
  • Ellsbury (TBA)
  • Lester  (2 M)

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Arms Race

You hear a lot of talk about Tampa making the playoffs as though it were some incredible statistical aberration. The substantial part of the problem follows the in-house development of the Rays' rotation, compared to the outhouse performance of the Red Sox rotation. The Sox allowed 123 more runs than the Rays this year. We used to hear about run prevention, now the Sox lead the league in 'spin'.

The Rays can run out David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, and Matt Moore.

The Red Sox "Big Three" of Josh Beckett, John Lester, and Clay Buchholz either struggled or were MIA down the stretch, although Lester's final game quality start shouldn't be dismissed. Running a lackluster Lackey, an aged Wakefield, and unproven Weiland out there proved to be a mound of trouble. If being a great guy were qualifications, then we should see if the Dali Lama were available for the Sox rotation.

Nobody's saying Felix Doubront, Anthony Ranaudo, Weiland, or Alex Wilson are ready to step in at a level approaching the Tampa staff. That's the crux of the problem, the Sox are losing the arms race.

If you want to get somewhere, then you better have a plan on how to get there. Currently, the Sox have talent, but suffer organizational disarray and dysfunction. The Red Sox way? What is that? The Sox need to articulate a new plan, a new code, something beyond 'throw money at it'. Their charitable endeavors and media empire be praised, Sox fans want to see a better product on the field.

It's hard to stand tall, if there's nothing you stand for.

Maybe the Dali Lama put it simply, “Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values.” 







Friday, September 30, 2011

Fran-goner

I don't feel bad for Terry Francona. I feel relieved for him. Francona helped to deliver a pair of championships to Boston fans, and he treated athletes like men, like professionals, and got stabbed in the back by them. I'm happy that he can leave the asylum on the 'task oriented' (hard guys) and 'player-oriented' roller coaster.

This town has always been about accountability, of management. Players, "our boys", seldom get the scrutiny they might. In psychology they call it "ownership bias". They get love, respect, admiration, and (coloring our provincial view) lots of money. I don't have a problem with athletes saying they play for the money or choose where they sign for the money. That could be as honest as the day is long. But how many have become so 'big' that it's become about them, and not about the team or the organization?

What exactly did Francona "own"? Did he own bad attitudes, selfishness, underachievement, injuries, and distractions? What he owned was the accountability that players seem to avoid.

I have no problem with the Sox giving Francona the deep six. Management has the right to fire any employee contractually. But the problem never lays at the feet of the players, the ones who collectively lacked the intensity, the guts, the will, and the heart to play hard, play smart, and play together.

All too often, the Sox have tried to get by on talent alone, instead of making good fundamental baseball decisions. The players own the successes they've earned, but they own a large part of the epic collapse and underachievement of the 2011 Red Sox. They didn't let the city or the fans down. They sold professionalism and themselves short.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bear Market Action in Boston Baseball

The Red Sox might have been a championship team at some point during the season, but when it mattered most, they lacked the horses, the heart, and the smarts to get it done.

Their "playoffs" were a best of three at Camden Yards against the Woes. And when asked to rise to the challenge against the least of the east, the Sox couldn't execute well enough.

The Sox had some players who executed and never quit, Pedroia with a home run and at least four brilliant plays, two double play turns, a catch of an Aviles throw and a stop of a grounder. Jon Lester worked six strong innings allowing a pair of runs.

But that's far too simple. Baseball isn't a game where 'bearing down' necessarily makes the man. You can grind the bat into sawdust, but that won't help. Gripping the ball tighter decreases the flexibility in the wrist, inhibiting natural movement.

But we need a villain, someone to blame. It's Terry Francona for not being 'tough enough' in the never-ending cycle of 'task-oriented' versus 'people-oriented' managers. Or it's Theo Epstein who overspent and underproduced. Let's blame J.D. Drew (for being hurt) or fault the gods who allowed Kevin Youkilis and Clay Buchholz to be injured.

I do believe that the Sox abysmal start directly resulted from a lackadaisical spring training where the team believed their talent level would allow them to "turn it on" when the bright lights came on. That diminishes the credit that teams deserve who beat the Sox. The early season wipeout in Texas foretold the problems the Sox would have later.

The Sox have a plethora of decisions: GM, manager, shortstop, DH, and right-field are all areas that require attention. The pitching staff now lacks a closer with free agency, and they need how to rebuild the rotation after Beckett, Lester, and Buchholz. Can John Lackey get over his issues? Is Felix Doubront a viable option as a starter? Does Ryan Kalish need another year or can he compete for the right-field position bringing talent and intensity? Or are the Sox simply too left-handed?

Is Terry Francona the problem or have the players simply not collectively been able to be professionals, when given the chance? Player accountability has always surfaced as an issue. Not everybody loved Jim Rice, but he always took responsibility. Are there guys who just simply need to go because they can't play here?

Is the money the problem? Is underachievement a 'relative' term, based on perceived production per dollar? Carl Crawford had an "average" season for the final years of Mike Greenwell. But Greenwell was a media darling and Crawford comes off as surly at times. As fans we do see performance through the prism of pay. Whose fault is that?

Bottom line? The Sox didn't deserve to make the playoffs, and I won't mourn a team that won a handful of games in September. The denouement of the 2011 season really had a perfect ending, the end-of-game, end-of-month, end-of-season weakness seen in bear markets. If only we could have been short the Sox.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Why I Should Be the Next Red Sox Manager



I've pretty much heard it all lately, but I should add this to the ever-growing cacophony of calls for Terry Francona's head. "Why I should be the next Red Sox manager."

The Big Picture - Health. Trust me, I'm a doctor, not an Orthopedic surgeon, but better yet a multi-specialty trained physician. I deal with not only physical ailments, but mental health problems as well (critical when dealing with Sox players). A substantial part of the Sox problem has been health-related. I could fact check the medical staffs report directly, not having to run it through 'channels'. I've been in academic medicine and president of a medical staff, so I know the egomaniacs and political intrigue accompanying.

I've got the corporate memory, the Rogelio Moret breakdown, Trot Nixon's fractured transverse process (see Clay Buchholz), the Marty Barrett fiasco, Matt Young with Steve Blass disease, and an unnamed former Sox physician, who when told by a former player that it hurts to raise his arm, said, "then don't do that".

Experience. I played baseball into college where I had a 'terrible not mediocre' career. There's no reason for Red Sox front office personnel to worry about my never having been across the lines.

Great players seldom become great managers. See the managerial careers of Ted Williams and Frank Robinson for example. I've coached girls' basketball for years, and as one former Massachusetts Hall of Fame Basketball coach told me, "it's a soap opera every day." In other words, the Red Sox' job wouldn't be a big challenge, just different.

Moneyball. I've read the book, literally. I didn't HAVE to see the movie. I've got The New Bill James on my bookshelf, along with Rob Neyer's book on pitching, The Fielding Bible, and so forth. I literally stopped playing fantasy baseball (see Prodigy) because I won three out of four years. Pitch charts, pitch counts, and fielding sprays charts are part of my everyday lexicon. OPS, DME, UZR are just VIPs in the DMZ, FYI.

Media Friendly. I haven't stooped to lower levels (Bag Heads, for example) as cheap and dirty shots on the team. I have maintained radio silence during the Sox "rough patch", rather than pile on, like most media. I have my own sports television show on Cable TV, and haven't said a harsh word about Theo or The Trio.

Social Media. Although I have a Twitter and Facebook site, I've also been gentle with the Red Sox there.

Loyalty. Although I've lived out of the area, following the Orioles for ten years while in Maryland, I've never turned my back on the Bosox despite the lengthy championship drought to 2004. I never revealed the source of the "Curse of Dr. (Fill in the Blank)", whose firing by the Yankees led to the Bombers' championship drought.

Intangibles. Half Asian-American scores me points. Local kid, check. Distrust the local sports media? Daniel Shaughnessy. Is it an anagram, "Dan Lies As She Hugs NY?"

Want to talk with management? I can talk commodities, trends, price, pattern, and seasonality, sovereign debt, sovereignty and interest rate risk, margin calls and out calls.

 Let's face it, it's mine to lose. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Condiments


The Red Sox are a billion dollar business, an international media empire, and a franchise that parlays relationships into dollars. I have NO PROBLEM with that. Envy? Heck, I'm greener than the Incredible Hulk.

Signs on every centimeter of "America's Most Beloved Ballpark" won't bother me. Dunkin Donuts? Love 'em. VOLVO. Why not parent company GEELY, too? John Hancock? I wish I'd signed them up. Budweiser? For you, baby. There are so many more that I hate to leave them out.

But can't we have more? Who's the official necktie maker of the Boston Red Sox? I mean, you do want to be prepared if Sox Version 2011 goes down the crapper...supported by F.W. Webb, naturally. If we have to run Theo Epstein out of town, will he be wearing New Balance sneakers? And if he's flying to Chicago to take the Cubs job, will he fly Jet Blue? Do the Cubs write their request for permission to talk to the Trio on stationery from W.B. Mason?

When Daniel Bard gets overworked, do we turn to Sullivan Tire?

Alright, so maybe the Sox haven't dipped to Dante-like depths to advertise monuments, marital aids, law firms (can that NOT be next?), mercenary companies, or firearms. Now I'm not implying that any of these American institutions lack merit. They're just not appropriate for the family-oriented sport that encourages stealing (looking for league leaders), retaliation (even when none is due) via headhunting (say it ain't so, Pedro), and relies on the human element to tolerate (mostly) bad umpiring. Even the wannabes in Williamsport have a limited form of instant replay indicating a trend toward modernism and technological advancement.

Really now, how do I apply to become the Official Blog of Red Sox Nation? Do you take checks?




Saturday, August 27, 2011

"It's Tough"



Peter Gammons appeared on NESN during a rain delay and declared "it's tough", concerning the issues surrounding rain delays and baseball. Gammons has Hall of Fame credentials and proved his toughness recovering from a stroke. All that being said, let's put this in perspective...realizing that the first game is in the hands of the umpires.

Yes, Sox management has not always done itself proud in the handling of rain and rainouts. Favoring play are the lateness in the season, schedule, Oakland alternative availability. Not so favorable are the possibility of player injury from poor field conditions and inconvenience to fans forced to sit through lengthy rain delays.

Did I add money? According to Forbes, the Red Sox have 171 million dollars in gate receipts...missing a home date almost equals Jacoby Ellsbury's 2011 salary. Last time I checked, nobody holds you hostage at Fenway Park, and as my son adds, "if you fill the park every game, then you're not charging enough."  Businesses work to create a feel good environment, where customers get fair treatment at a fair price. The Sox weigh getting the games in versus the fan angst that Mother Nature and Daddy Dollars create.

All that being said, "tough" is homelessness, a family struggling to pay the bills with underemployment, children who might not go to college because of economic turmoil, ordinary people with extraordinary circumstances of poor health, bad luck, or some bad choices.

Certainly, I'm not saying that the Red Sox (who do a lot of philanthropy through their Foundation and the Jimmy Fund) or Peter Gammons aren't good citizens. Maybe I'm just parsing words. I'd just try to reserve "tough" for truly deserving moments and count our blessings.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Surprise, Surprise



Certain parts of the baseball season truly do surprise us; others not so much. Naturally, we have both positive and negative surprises.

First, the positive.

Jonathan Papelbon. It wasn't as though Papelbon forgot how to pitch, but he had negative trends in both ERA and the underpinning, K/9 IP and K/BB ratio. At times he became a one-pitch pitcher; he knew it and they knew. In his contract year, he didn't reinvent himself, he just did whatever it took to regain effectiveness AND get paid.

Jacoby Ellsbury. After a lost season in 2010, Ellsbury returned to be one of the top players in the AL. Top 4 in hits, runs, and stolen bases, and top 10 in OPS and RBI, out of the leadoff spot. As for Yankee fans, I won't insult you in saying that he's been as good as Granderson, but spare me the Brett Gardner and Ellsbury are the same player talk.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The young veteran came in as a big question mark, but has been productive offensively and is 4th in runs created per 27 at bats. He's also thrown out 9 of the past 20 runners, and has the disadvantage of catching Tim Wakefield.

Dustin Pedroia. Well, can you expect too much from a previous MVP? After returning from season-ending injury and surgery, Pedroia has been perhaps better than ever defensively and at least as productive as during his MVP season. Although some hate the WAR (wins above replacement stat), Pedroia has excelled there, although falling to 16th in OPS. Pedroia is tenth in runs scored and sixth in the AL in the Sabermetric runs created.

Josh Beckett. Beckett had an injury and ineffectiveness-filled 2010. But in 2011, with the added burden of having Clay Buchholz out for much of the season, Beckett rebounded with power pitching, the fourth best ERA among AL starters and leads the team in innings pitched.

Now the lesser luminaries.

Carl Crawford. Fans and management expected a lot from a historically productive player, especially one with the hype and the big price tag. Yes, he's shown flashes, with some game winning hits and recent production, but nobody, including CC himself feels good about the production so far. There's a gap between production and caring, and one has to hope the left-fielder, who does care gets it in gear down the stretch.

J.D. Drew. Drew is the forgotten man, with an injury and low production during his contract year. There's simply not much to say about a guy who has never cultivated a following or sought adulation. It's fair to say that a collective "we" never knew Drew, and to his credit, he never sought to ingratiate himself via the media.

Surely there are others who outperformed expectations (Aceves, Albers , and Miller) and didn't (McDonald) but you usually win because the stars were stars, not because the understudy got the curtain call.

And although we have a panoply of stats to support our various arguments, usually your mind's eye sees the players about the same way as the statistics. There aren't a lot of Satch Sanders full-time contributors with few stats in baseball.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Harsh? I'm Not Sure

With less than a quarter of the regular season remaining, all of us have our observations. Not all will be right, but we should remember Richard Pryor's best, "who are you going to believe, your beloved husband or your lying eyes?"

The Red Sox have survived a terrible start, a series of important injuries, and the dog days to remain in solid contention for either the AL East title or the wild card. But everything isn't great, especially with the injury front. We have to presume that Jacoby Ellsbury will return effective, while it's hardly as clear with Kevin Youkilis (back), and David Ortiz (foot).

I have no insight into their medical situations, but Ortiz struggled after inter-league play, and there's no reason to think he will return to effectiveness straightaway. As for back problems (Youkilis), you never can tell. Just ask Clay Buchholz.

You don't have to be Einstein to know that Carl Crawford has disappointed his employers and himself. Relax, CC. I'm more concerned by an Abreu-like tendency for Carl to lose concentration near walls. I'm not saying that I'd be running into walls, either, but for a "Gold Glove" leftfielder, he hasn't been great defensively.

The Sox no longer lead the AL in runs scored. That shouldn't be too surprising with a trio of all-stars on the bench.

As for the "playoff starting rotation", I'm inclined to a Belichickian, "we aren't in the playoffs," with the "win today" mentality. Eric Bedard had the reputation as being 'soft', but from all reports, he's been pleasant and enjoying the pennant race atmosphere.

Major League umpiring leaves a lot to be desired. I don't believe that tradition is immutable in the face of technological advances. Probably nothing will replace mediocrity at calling balls and strikes, but homers/fair and foul/catch and no catch? Should I be using leeches for my patients because of medical tradition?

Albert Pujols got off to a horrendous start in his contract year. Check lately?
Through April and May he had nine homers. Now he's at 31.

Is there an advantage to being a game behind the Yankees? Absolutely, regarding blocking and claiming players on the waiver wire. We can only guess who the Bombers might want (relievers?).

A Tweeter asked how many Sox players have college degrees. Last time I checked, I don't think that's holding them back too much concerning their earning power. By the way, the respondent said Jed Lowrie (Stanford) and Ryan Lavarnway (Yale). Well, if you have to graduate from somewhere, those would be good choices.




Saturday, August 13, 2011

Observations

"If nothing goes wrong, is everything all right?"
The AL standards don't show that the Red Sox are 71-34 after a disastrous start (we'll just pretend that didn't happen), but they do show the Sox leading the AL and second in run differential. Among the playoff contenders, who creates the worst matchup? Detroit has the best pitcher in the league, Justin Verlander, who is a major weapon in a short series. Texas has better balance and the Red Sox are 6-16 against Texas in the past three seasons.

In other words, as well as the Red Sox have played this season, the road isn't as simple as many think it might be.

Objectively speaking.

Jon Lester. "What have you done for me lately?" Expecting Lester to be Sandy Koufax isn't reasonable. Lester remains one of the best pitchers in the AL, but he's not invincible. In the past five starts (30.2 innings), he's allowed ten earned runs, but his strikeout to walk ratio (30/13) has fallen off. Coincidentally, this relates to his prior injury. Only time will tell whether he's 100% or just having a spell of "more mortality".

Josh Reddick. The right-fielder has tailed off a little lately, despite his monster jack last night. He is nine for thirty-one in August with an .837 OPS. The answer for major league players is always about adjustments. Pitchers are working him with fastballs away and breaking stuff and off-speed pitches down. Last night Blake Beavan threw a fast ball down and in to Reddick and he lost it. The best pitchers make the fewest mistakes and the best players make adjustments. This was a simple case of a mistake being punished.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Since June, the Red Sox catcher is 40 for 139 (almost .290) with 27 runs scored and 23 RBI with seven homers. Aside from struggling with some Lackey pitches in the dirt last night, his defense and throwing have become very serviceable. It's unfair to compare his catching ERA with Varitek's, as he usually handles Lackey and Wakefield, the higher ERA pitchers.

Matt Albers. Albers helped carry the bullpen...until August. It's not clear whether fewer opportunities have meant diminished performance or vice versa. His ERA is 5.79 and you get the feeling he's on a shorter leash.

"Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint." Observers have to tease out trending from random performance variation. All of the above performance reports could be simply statistical fluctuation rather than meaningful trends. But you can't spot trend changes without some measurements, and the Red Sox organization has a deep metric-based organization to assess their players.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sox Are Honey Badgers of MLB?

Yes, I want to believe that the Sox are untouchable. But I digress. Recently with Dustin Pedroia on first and two outs, Gonzalez blooped a single to right center. Pedroia, a great baserunner, advanced only to second and therefore didn't score on the next hit.

Meanwhile there was an uncomfortable silence from Don and Jerry. First, Jerry sees everything and Orsillo has been broadcaster of the year. So while we pat ourselves on the back as baseball aficionados, we can't handle the truth?

It turned out to be a moot point, because David Ortiz hit a grand slam.
Still, I came away dissatisfied with something less than journalistic integrity.

This isn't meant to be a condemnation of the Sox scrappy second baseman, having a great season or of NESN. We all err and we really can handle the truth.

Trot Nixon forgot how many outs there were and flipped a ball into the stands and recently Youkilis got thrown out at home with no outs iirc, again without commentary. We can love the Sox and yet get the broadcast truth. We've suffered the losses and realized the joy and we can handle the truth.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Salty No Dog

The Red Sox came into Spring Training with a few question marks, which got exaggerated during their abysmal 2-10 start. The expected "holes" were catcher and possibly shortstop.

This lists AL catchers with at least 125 plate appearances, ranked by OPS (click chart to enlarge). The Yankees' Russell Martin got off to a torrid start, but don't think that they're in a hurry to trade either Jesus Montero or Austin Romine.

Offensively, Saltalamacchia approaches Martin's numbers with far few plate appearances, and has almost the same amount of 'runs created' in Sabermetric parlance.

Salty doesn't have the same "catcher's ERA" as some others, but he also has caught a disproportionate share of John Lackey and Tim Wakefield, which can't be helping his stats.

Suffice it to say, I don't think most Sox fans see catcher as a need right now.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blunderbud

Commissioner Bud Selig, the highest member of baseball's hierarchy, hasn't exactly gone out of his way to support instant replay. In most fields of endeavor, politics and religion notwithstanding, "getting it right" becomes a priority not interference.

But not baseball. Baseball finds error romantic. Don Denkinger, author of the blown call at first base in the 1985 World Series doesn't like being remembered mostly for a series changing call. Jim Joyce's blown call cost Armando Galarraga a chance at baseball immortality by taking away his no-hitter last year. And last night the Pirates lost when Jerry Meals spit the bit on a scoring play in the 19th inning. Baseball acknowledged the blown call.

Baseball occasionally reverses itself. George Brett's home run in the 1983 "pine tar" game was protested and reinstated. And if replay can't be justified and human error adds pastoral value to the game, then why did baseball opt for replays for home runs?

Baseball will eventually follow the technological revolution further, to other boundary calls (e.g. fair/foul), and potentially have a smorgasbord of calls to review:

  • Boundary calls
  • Catch/trap
  • Safe/out on tags or "ball beats runner"
  • Foul tip into the dirt, strikeout or foul ball
  • Hit by pitch 
  • Running lane interference (to first base)
Ideally, baseball will introduce a limited challenge approach analogous to football, with the same "indisputable evidence" rules. Yes, I know that certain 'fixtures' in the game, like Peter Gammons will argue for the status quo. But at the end of the day, getting the call right has meaning. It meant something to the Cardinals in 1985, to Galarraga last season, and who knows when it will mean something to local baseball fans?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Not Mirrors

Theo Epstein has taken plenty of grief for the management moves that haven't worked out. Even with a pair of World Series championships, Boston might still be considered a "glass half empty" town. Maybe we haven't booed Santa Claus, but while I'm waiting patiently, I won't say that it couldn't happen.

Click to enlarge.

Here's the top ten OPS in the AL among qualifiers. You'll notice that the Red Sox have FIVE of the leaders, while no other team has more than two. You'll also recognize that three (Youkilis, Ellsbury, and Pedroia) all came through the Red Sox developmental system.

Player evaluation, just as everything else in Boston, is an inexact discipline. The Red Sox have been pioneers in using all the resources available to them (process) to optimize their performance. I'm sure that the general manager has had his share of 'agita' over the results at times, but he does deserve a lot of credit, even as a "big market" GM.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hall of Fame Restructuring? Sure, the Juice Bar

Bill James wrote the book Whatever Became of the Hall of Fame? Therein lies the lament of those who got in and didn't and sometimes why. Veterans Committee members helped elect friends, and marginal candidates got in because they did.

Do we need a Super Hall of Fame, the real pantheon of greatness, that contains only the best of the best...like Ruth, Matthewson, Williams, Cobb, Mays, Aaron, and so on? Or do we need the "Juice Bar" wing, where Bonds, McGwire, Palmeiro, A-Rod, and others can be recognized, with a flavorful asterisk?

It would be crazy to think that Red Sox players didn't participate in what we recognize as wide-spread cheating scandals. Certainly, we know Manny Ramirez did (failed drug tests), and one has to wonder about MANY others with either oversized muscle and physiques, or whether suddenly outsized performance. None of us can name names, but wink-wink, nod-nod, we all have an idea.

The separate but equal argument holds that both position players and pitchers cheated, ergo nullifying the advantage. That opinion also suggests that we can't know, so we can't judge. We can know who's on the list of 103, but we probably won't.

Did performance-enhancing drugs really make a difference? I wrote an article years ago comparing top sluggers of all time (pre-1980) first five full seasons average homers to their peak home run years. The same analysis showed dramatic and statistically signficant differences to "steroid era" performance. For example, during his first five years, Hank Aaron averaged 28 homers (peak 44)...and his best year he hit 47 in Atlanta in the "Launching Pad". As for Rafael Palmeiro, during his first FULL five years he hit 78 homers, average 15.6, peak 26, and during his best year he hit 47 (twice). Is it plausible that contemporary players, at advanced ages, improved that much relative to historical greats?


Looks like normal aging to me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Curious Case of J.D. Drew

As we approach the end of the J.D. Drew era, what can we conclude about the enigmatic right fielder? His Churchillian 'finest hour' came during the 2007 post-season, with a critical grand slam against Fausto Carmona. At other times, he was capable of carrying the team with mercurial, epic heights; occasionally, although playing hard he seemed indifferent.

We love guys who wear their heart on their sleeve. Kevin Youkilis disappoints. He punishes equipment and looks penitent and fretful. Dustin Pedroia strikes out and curses the day he was born. He even gets a base hit and spins around while running to scream at the umpire over perceived indignity. But Drew approaches the marathon with as even-temper as is humanly possible. He seems to be a machine, one that gets good jumps on balls hit his way, throws accurately and well, hits the cutoff man, and runs the bases with quiet efficiency.

Baseball is a game of failure. Three successes of ten at the plate make you an all-star. Four of ten hasn't occurred for seventy years. We have blown saves, caught stealing, missed signs and other transgressions. And to quote George Carlin, the game is played at the park, not War Memorial Stadium. Every player has a finite playing mortality and Drew's seems to have come prematurely.

Or not. I don't think for a minute Drew used performance-enhancing drugs. But Peter Gammons cautioned that after drug testing came on the scene, mid 30's guys would start playing like, well, older players. The immutable (unenhanced) laws of physiology and aging have returned to the game. Home runs are down, scoring is down.

We need shed no tears for J.D. Drew, and in fact, part of his problem emanates from our expectation of performance per year...PER DOLLAR. And most of us contend, with statistical support, that even at his best, Drew didn't match OUR expectations. We want to compare the contemporary player's salary to our heroes, reminiscing that Drew was no Yaz or Lynn or Dewey.

Did Drew give ever not give an honest effort, play hard, or shirk any of his duties? I think not. But maybe he never was one of "our guys"; as Shakespeare would remind, "the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves."

The Curious Case of J.D. Drew

As we approach the end of the J.D. Drew era, what can we conclude about the enigmatic right fielder? His Churchillian 'finest hour' came during the 2007 post-season, with a critical grand slam against Fausto Carmona. At other times, he was capable of carrying the team with mercurial, epic heights; occasionally, although playing hard he seemed indifferent.

We love guys who wear their heart on their sleeve. Kevin Youkilis disappoints. He punishes equipment and looks penitent and fretful. Dustin Pedroia strikes out and curses the day he was born. He even gets a base hit and spins around while running to scream at the umpire over perceived indignity. But Drew approaches the marathon with as even-temper as is humanly possible. He seems to be a machine, one that gets good jumps on balls hit his way, throws accurately and well, hits the cutoff man, and runs the bases with quiet efficiency.

Baseball is a game of failure. Three successes of ten at the plate make you an all-star. Four of ten hasn't occurred for seventy years. We have blown saves, caught stealing, missed signs and other transgressions. And to quote George Carlin, the game is played at the park, not War Memorial Stadium. Every player has a finite playing mortality and Drew's seems to have come prematurely.

Or not. I don't think for a minute Drew used performance-enhancing drugs. But Peter Gammons cautioned that after drug testing came on the scene, mid 30's guys would start playing like, well, older players. The immutable (unenhanced) laws of physiology and aging have returned to the game. Home runs are down, scoring is down.

We need shed no tears for J.D. Drew, and in fact, part of his problem emanates from our expectation of performance per year...PER DOLLAR. And most of us contend, with statistical support, that even at his best, Drew didn't match OUR expectations. We want to compare the contemporary player's salary to our heroes, reminiscing that Drew was no Yaz or Lynn or Dewey.

Did Drew give an honest effort, play hard, or shirk any of his duties? I think not. But maybe he never was one of "our guys"; as Shakespeare would remind, "the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

We tend (believe it or not) to accept overachievement as the norm and underachievement as the exception. In reality, player and team performance regularly varies, sometimes dramatically. Even within a season, you have periods where players struggle (e.g. Dustin Pedroia), then catch fire. It all evens out...not really.

So as we prepare for the second half, including the trade deadline, what observations can we make?

Who's Hot, or Overachievers?

  • Jacoby Ellsbury
  • David Ortiz
  • Daniel Bard
  • Josh Beckett
  • Josh Reddick
  • Matt Albers
  • Adrian Gonzalez
  • Catching platoon
  • Tim Wakefield
  • Andrew Miller
  • Alfredo Aceves
Goldilocks performance, about right?
  • Jon Lester
  • Jonathan Papelbon
  • Clay Buchholz (pre-injury)
  • Dustin Pedroia
  • Kevin Youkilis
  • Jed Lowrie (averaged, including injury)
Who's Cold, or less than expected?
  • J.D. Drew
  • Carl Crawford
  • John Lackey
  • Marco Scutaro
  • Darnell McDonald
MVP: Adrian Gonzalez
Comeback player: Jacoby Ellsbury
Who might matter the most in the second half? Clay Buchholz

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Jeter Gets 3000th Hit with Home Run

Derek Jeter achieved a career milestone with a 5-for-5 day, and game winning hit, getting the 3000th with homerun.  The Yankee captain did so at home against division rival Tampa and Red Sox nation has to be happy for a long-time rival.

Jeter's career and five championship rings mark him as a first ballot Hall of Famer, and he's done nothing to tarnish his reputation off the field.

Nonetheless, the Red Sox go to bed in first place, a game ahead of the Yankees, with rookie Kyle Weiland facing the Birds tomorrow.

Success and OPS


It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see why the Red Sox are in first place in the AL East.

Click the chart to enlarge.

They have four players in the top 17 in OPS, and three among the top eight. Kevin Youkilis is underrated in this regard, even with some health struggles lately.

The Sox lead the league in runs (the final common denominator), on base percentage, slugging percentage, and on-base slugging percentage OPS.

Defensively, they have the third fewest errors with 44, just behind Tampa (42) and Chicago (43)...statistically, this isn't significantly different.

On the mound, they have moved up to eighth in ERA (3.94) after a horrendous start and despite the struggles of John Lackey. Of course, omitting Lackey would be like measuring inflation without including food and energy prices. Golly, we do that!

And I'm not wild about trading the restocked farm system for Andre' Ethier either. You think Ellsbury money is growing on trees? Ethier's OPS is .827, not much different from Pedroia's and FAR LOWER than Drew's three year (2008-2010) .874. That's the fact, Jack.

Who do you think has more "black ink" points (league leader) for their career, Derek Jeter or Dustin Pedroia?


  • Carl Yastrzemski 55
  • Wade Boggs 37
  • Jim Rice 33
  • Don Mattingly 23
  • Cal Ripken 19
  • Adrian Gonzalez 16
  • Dwight Evans 15
  • Fred Lynn 15
  • Dustin Pedroia 11
  • Jacoby Ellsbury 7
  • Derek Jeter 6
  • Bobby Murcer 3
  • Carlton Fisk 1

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Catch as Catch Can

Before the season, most observers wondered about the productivity the Red Sox would receive from the catching position. An aging Jason Varitek and an unproven Jarrod Saltalamacchia didn't inspire an abundance of confidence. But as we head into the All-Star break, a funny thing happened on the way to Arizona.

Among AL catchers with at least 100 plate appearances, the Red Sox duo rank 5-6, and combined would lead in runs scored, doubles, and be second in runs batted in. Of course, this doesn't include Saltalamacchia's tater tonight. Okay, they'd also lead in strikeouts, but you take the bitter with the sweet.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Doctor NO!

Growing up, we read about sports, the on-the-field, he (mostly he) did this or didn't do that. Sports nowadays gets intricately intertwined with societal malaise: medicine, lawyers, and money.

The lead story of the day is Roger Clemens trial. Was it injury, pride, greed, or something else that allegedly turned Clemens to seek professional help?

The other stories du jour about the Red Sox are Lester (lat strain), Youkilis (hit by pitch injury, foot injury, etc), Buchholz (back pain), the forgotten Jed Lowrie (shoulder), and so forth. The good news is that Jacoby Ellsbury goes to the All-Star game instead of to the doctor and that the Adrian Gonzalez to right field story didn't end up in the training room.

Meanwhile, the NFL and the NBA fight the perennial billionaires versus millionaires fight, and sports journalists need secondary law degrees to report on the story. Strike, lockout, work stoppage, National Labor Relations board, mediation, retirees file to join suit, blah-blah-blah.

Well, there are occasional sports stories to wonder about...Derek Jeter approaching 3,000 hits, but then there's Albert Pujols, with an injury story AND impending free agency.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Miller Time

We have the "official voices" saying, "don't get too excited about Andrew Miller, he hasn't been very good in the majors." Thanks for nothing.

If you haven't written for a major newspaper or have your own show, you know nothing. You can't remember Billy Rohr, Bobby Sprowl, Ken Brett, David Clyde, or Brien Taylor. You add nothing to the discussion, because the chosen ones say so.

Baseball, like most endeavors, is the sum of your individual experiences. Nobody writing blogs with a small following could ever express anything worthwhile. Actually, most of us should probably just crawl back into the sorry, dark holes from whence we came.

But some fans, believe it or not, have watched, studied, or maybe even played and had the chance to succeed occasionally and fail more often because of our love of the game. Yes, none of us are going into Cooperstown, but assuredly, most of "Boston's elite" aren't going in either.

Some of us enjoy watching the development of young, untested players. Maybe we see them somehow as closer to us, mere mortals searching for ephemeral greatness or more.

But what do the pundits have for us? "Go away, little ones. You cannot dare to speak, let alone sit at the table." Only they have the wit and wisdom to discern who will succeed, when and where, simply because. On the other hand, we suffer the forlorn childhood of a Jane Eyre, undeserving of the Rochesters of the fourth estate.

You know who you are. Give it a rest.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hall of Fame Material?

This week there's been an inordinate amount of Johnny Damon for the Hall of Fame talk. It reminds me of Bill James' book, "Whatever Became of the Hall of Fame?"

Both Player A and Player B had lengthy major league careers. Damon is Player A. Player B didn't have the stolen bases that Damon had, but had over 300 more RBI so far, and 160 more homers, AND won eight gold gloves. Very few writers talk about Player B as a Hall of Fame candidate, yet Bill James talked about him as one of the best outfielders NOT under serious consideration.

What do you think?

Player B is former Sox right fielder Dwight Evans. Not that anybody's giving me a vote, but I like the overall excellence of Evans, a superb defensive player over the more limited but speedy Damon.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

In addition to strong starting pitching, successful teams inevitably have a competent closer at the back end. Jonathan Papelbon struggled (IIRC) to a 3.80 ERA last year and had eight blown saves.

Papelbon has made no secret about his intentions, in the Assante Samuel mode of "get paid". Yet, what has the Sox closer been doing lately?

Coming into tonight, in his last ten appearances, he has worked 9.1 innings, and allowed 12 hits, 3 walks, 8 earned runs, and had 14 strikeouts, with 4 saves and a win.

Tonight he allowed a pair of hits to start the ninth, and has come back by mixing his pitches...it's a 3-2 count with two on and Damon on deck...

Strike three and the Red Sox win. Ugly, but a win nonetheless in the series rubber game.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Crying Game

Tim Wakefield has been with the Red Sox for what seems like a lifetime. He's the little girls with the curl, when he is good, he is very good...but...

Conversely, Andrew Miller lives at the other end of a baseball lifetime. Miller is that tall, lefthanded power pitcher out of Robert Redford's "The Natural", only Miller has struggled to find that elusive command and control that makes electric arms into Cy Young candidates. Miller has a clause that allows him essentially to become a free agent if he isn't on the major league roster by TOMORROW.

This folks, is a no-brainer. Miller has been lights out recently in the minors, harnessing that 97 mph heat and terrorizing International League hitters. Tonight in 5 1/3 innings, he allowed one run, one walk, and fanned ten.
Including tonight, in his last four starts, he has pitched 25 1/3 innings, yielded 17 hits, 5 earned runs, 3 walks and fanned 26.

There was talk that he should be a "nice guy" and wait a few weeks or a month until the Red Sox "need" him. That's not how it works for an ambitious, talented guy, who throws high nineties heat from the left side. If he got hurt tomorrow, would the Red Sox take care of him for life, when he might have a multi-million dollar payday somewhere else?

It's Miller time, and the Sox will find him a spot or they deserve to lose him.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Thoughts on a Strange Season

Sometimes the bloom is off the rose, or is it? Have the Red Sox simply become Yankees Light, outspending teams to win? If we examine the 'everyday' lineup, the Red Sox do have "developmental" players.

  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia may not be a Sox farmhand, but he's not a 'purchased' hire. After Ortiz, Gonzalez, Youkilis, and Ellsbury, Salty has the FIFTH highest OPS among "starter". 
  • Gonzalez. They had to lay out big bucks, but the FARM brought the player, with Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelley, and Rey Fuentes all legitimate prospects. 
  • Pedroia. Home grown. Problem is the 'under (sized) boy' is showing tread wear. 
  • Lowrie/Iglesias. Out of the system...although Iglesias out of the country.
  • Youkilis. System product. 
  • J.D. Drew. Mercenary. Didn't work out exactly as planned. 
  • Ellsbury. May not make the All-Star team but has a legit claim at this point. 
  • CC (Crawford). Horrendous start, another mercenary, call it what it is. 
After a start of biblical catastrophe, the Sox have recovered beyond our wildest dreams. 39-26, with 37-16 post misery. That's almost .700 baseball, which is just ridiculous in these times. 

After the Big Three (Lester, Beckett, Buchholz) with 24 quality starts, the drop off is still pretty astounding, though with Lackey at three. 

As for Unsung Hero candidates, the leaders in the clubhouse are Matt Albers, Alfredo Aceves, and Tim Wakefield. But the 10th player award is Ellsbury's to lose. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Long and the Short of It

Before the season, most fans would have "known" that catching would be the Achilles Heel for the Red Sox. The team opened with the aging Jason Varitek, and the unproven Jarod Saltalamacchia, the latter long a Sox target for potential.

And the season didn't start well for the pair, with both flirting with the Mendoza Line and neither reminding anyone of Johnny Bench behind the plate.

Where are we now?

...........................GP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS


Varitek                31 94 13 22 4 0 3 13 11 28 0 0 .234 .321 .372 .693
                           GP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS


Saltalamacchia      41 131 17 31 7 1 5 18 9 34 0 0 .237 .296 .420 .716

We can distill it down to 30 runs scored, 8 homers and 31 RBI in a combined 66 games.

The combination of Russell Martin (24 runs, 9 homers, 27 RBI) and Francisco Cervelli (6 runs, 1 HR, 10RBI) have combined for 30 runs, 10 homers, 37 RBI

That's not much of a difference, particularly when adjusted for cost, with the Sox catchers paid 2.75 million dollars and the Yankees (not counting DH Jorge Posada) 4.445 million dollars.

Call it a wash.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Who Deserves an All-Star Berth?

With the season almost forty percent over, which local players and AL players deserve election/selection to the All-Star team?

Recently, we read that SIX New York Yankees led in All-star voting. Well, that's why they call it VOTING, although perhaps ORDAINING would fit. Of course, there is also team distribution to consider...which I'm factoring in.

Catcher: Alex Avila (DET), Russell Martin (NY)
First base: Miguel Cabrera (ANA), Adrian Gonzalez (BOS), Mark Teixeira
Second base: Howie Kendrick, Robinson Cano (vote leader: Cano)
Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta, Asdrubel Cabrera CLE (vote leader: Derek Jeter)
Third base: Kevin Youkilis, A-Rod (A-Rod leads)
Outfield: Jose Bautista (TOR), Matt Joyce (TB), Curtis Granderson, Carlos Quentin (CHI), Mitch Moreland (TEX), Jeff Francoeur (KC)

DH: David Ortiz

BAL  Zach Britton
SEA  Michael Pineda
OAK Gio Gonzalez
MIN  Nick Blackburn
P  Josh Beckett
P  Mariano Rivera
P  Jered Weaver
P  Dan Haren
P  Jose Valverde
P  Kyle Farnsworth
P  CC Sabathia

On the bubble would be Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury, both suffering from team distribution requirements. It certainly looks as though an All-Yankee infield is a real possibility, although neither Jeter nor A-Rod are especially deserving. Jonathan Papelbon has pitched better this year, despite a high ERA, although I don't consider him deserving at this point, all things considered.

As for the MVP and Cy Young Award "leaders" at this point, I'd vote for Jose Bautista and Jered Weaver.

Friday, May 27, 2011

First, at Last

Fifty-one games into the season, the Red Sox have arrived, at least temporarily at the top of the AL East with an 18-7 May. Not that anyone is counting out the Yankees, who lead the AL in runs scored with 250 in 48 games.

In the past three games, the Sox have pounded opposing pitchers to the tunes of a .372 average with 34 runs. But the pitching has been as much of a story, with quality starts from Jon Lester, Alfredo Aceves, and Tim Wakefield. The Sox have moved into second in runs scored behind their outburst on the road.

It would be silly to claim that Jacoby Ellsbury is the best centerfielder in the AL, but not unreasonable to note that he's the second best behind Curtis Granderson, who should be the consensus All-Star centerfielder.

Is it too soon to wonder about Red Sox representatives to the All-Star game? You'd have to say that Adrian Gonzalez is a lock, but statistically, see the following:

David Ortiz has been having an excellent season, with fewer RBI, since A-Gon is clearing the bases before him. And Kevin Youkilis, after a slow start has assumed his customary status among the top ten in OPS and has been driving in runs consistently.

No salty dog here.
Jarod Saltalamacchia has enjoyed a productive May with an OPS of almost .900. Of course, we don't expect him to be a .900 OPS player, but he certainly is showing while the Sox brain trust pursued him like a dog on a bone for years.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Wondering

Watching the Red Sox amidst the mercurial season, I have a lot of questions.


  • Has David Ortiz lost a LOT of weight? He looks a lot thinner to me?
  • Is Lester just in a funk? He doesn't seem to have much command of his complementary pitches, especially the once-devastating cutter.
  • Carl Crawford takes a lot of heat, but he's won games with his legs and his bat, although his numbers aren't good. It's about productivity in the end. 
  • Can the Papelbon resurgence be maintained? Getting command of his splitter would be huge. 
  • How many BAD contracts will MLB be prepared to take?
  • Can a guy like Derek Jeter play his way out of a first ballot Hall of Fame vote if he has three bad seasons, or does an icon get a free pass no matter?
  • How does a mediocre player like Jose Bautista become Ted Williams, with a ridiculous OBP over .500 and SLG over .800?
  • I was just going to say Saltalamacchia has been going pretty good. Yard!
  • Marco Scutaro, we barely knew ya.
  • Is the Tribe for real, or is it just scenes from "Major League"?
  • Does any rivalry come close to the Cardinals-Reds now?
  • Is the Matsuzaka (elbow)-Okajima (ineffectiveness) era over?
  • Who would you compare Adrian Gonzalez to offensively? I don't remember anyone who hits as much to the opposite field. Roberto Clemente?
  • Who would have thought? Matt Albers. 
  • The "fog game" the other night reminded me of Oil Can Boyd in Cleveland. "They shouldn't build a ballpark next to the ocean."
  • Last night we had the 7-2 forceout. Don't expect to see that for awhile. Like for-ever.
  • It's good to see Jerry Remy in the booth, but I thought Zaun had a ton of potential. 

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Oversimplification

Everyone's an expert on the Red Sox. We all think we know as much as Terry Francona and Theo Epstein, and we have our eyes to prove it. If a guy is struggling, then we know his production going forward.

After about twenty percent of the season, what do we know? Do we know that Dustin Pedroia will hit .240 or that Carl Crawford .225, and Jason Varitek .150?

In my column about managed expectations I wrote:
Statistical randomness. This can work in either direction for the Red Sox and for their opposition. For example, Mark Belanger was a career .228 hitter, who hit .287 in 1969. Dwight Evans, a .272 career hitter, hit .242 or less three times during his career. Guys have bad years. Even Teddy Ballgame hit .254 in 1959, admittedly at age 40 with 331 at bats. Also, outcomes in close games can also make a huge difference. 


The sample size of the season is still limited, but the Red Sox statistically have looked much more like a middle of the road team than an excellent one.  That doesn't mean things can't change, and indeed after a 2-10 start, the Sox are now 14-8.  


The positives have been improved pitching, and unexpected good work from Matt Albers.  Within the everyday lineup, Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford have started a resurgence, Jacoby Ellsbury has a seventeen game hitting streak, and A-Gone has three homers in his last six games.  Conversely,  Jason Varitek looks more like Dean Chance at the plate than a major league hitter, J.D. Drew continues to have a lot of tough at bats, and Dustin Pedroia has scuffled mightily. 


None of this is rocket science.  The Sox could go on a ten game winning streak or a losing streak of biblical proportions.  It doesn't take Jeanne Dixon to know that either.  The bottom line is that the team hasn't reached any degree of consistency, having beaten some top pitchers like Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver, and Dan Haren, yet struggled against lesser luminaries.  I expect the Sox to do better against some of these young pitchers whom they haven't seen before.  But I do wonder if a slow start will end up compromising their division expectations. Such is the curse of unmanaged expectations.