Monday, December 30, 2013

On Experience

Historically, the Red Sox have not rushed prospects to the bigs. Sure, there was Carl Yastrzemski at 21 in 1961, Tony Conigliaro at age 19 in 1964, Ken Brett at age 18 in 1967.

Jim Rice (21) and Fred Lynn (22) made their appearances in 1974, and were rookie stalwarts on the 1975 World Series team. Jacoby Ellsbury had an 1.188 OPS in the 2007 World Series at age 23.

Obviously, these 'exceptions' don't establish that Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Xander Bogaerts will light the baseball world afire in 2014. But it doesn't preclude the possibility that they can impact the Sox lineup as previous young players have.

A multitude of fortunes must break your way to win championships. Do Red Sox fans expect that a team that hit a collective .227 in the postseason would get enough pitching to capture its third title in a decade? Do they recognize that without other-worldly performance by Koji Uehara this was impossible? Did they anticipate that Jon Lester would go 4-1 in October with a 1.56 ERA? Do we anticipate in our insanest dreams that these outliers will return in 2014?

Mean reversion is a part of baseball. Position by position, are the Red Sox likely to be the same, stronger, or weaker offensively and defensively next season?

C - offensively and defensively similar
1B - offensively and defensively similar
2B - a healthy Pedroia may have more power and similar defense
SS - offensively possibly stronger, defensively probably weaker
3B - offensively and defensively stronger (if Middlebrooks improves...a big if)
LF - offensively and defensively similar
CF - offensively weaker, defensively stronger (Bradley Jr. can throw)
RF - offensively weaker (OPS outlier for Victorino), defensively similar
DH - offensively slightly weaker

Admittedly, this projection makes huge assumptions about the performance of Bradley, Jr., Bogaerts, and Middlebrooks. I won't argue that a projected Drew-Bogaerts combination would produce less than Bogaerts and Middlebrooks. But nothing is certain in sports - performance, health, consistency.

Experience counts when it wins. When it loses, they call it washed up. Could the Red Sox expect a fold from the next Tigers first baseman or another clutch failure from the Cardinals or next NL champion? We discuss projections and premortems as though they're gospel, but we never know until the season's done. Don't plan your parade too early, regardless of your sport or team. That's experience you can take to the bank.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


Years ago I penned the piano falling from the sky and flattening Red Sox fans. 1967 wasn't so bad, the Sox prohibitive underdogs to the Cardinals of Gibson and Brock. No expectations. 1975 brought a miraculous series, squashed by the Big Red Machine. Ed Armbrister, where are you now? 1986 continued the misery, a thousand paper cuts in a vinegar plant, combining servitude in the ICU at Bethesda Naval Hospital with the apocalyptic collapse against the Mets.

I'll ignore the 1972 'bad trip' around third base of Luis Aparicio leading to a half-game pennant loss, the 1978 Torrezian playoff game drilling by the Bucky Dentist, or "why does my wife ask me to call her Pedro?"..."Because I never take her out (2003)". The former meant little in the big picture, and WS I erased the Yankee defeats better than any tranquilizer. The worst demons hit the fan.

Maybe young Sox fans envy grizzled Sox addicts the suffering. How many Sox fans can remember 1946 with the controversy about Pesky holding the ball? Most of those will suffer amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles sparing them memories both good and bad. Exorcising your demons via Alzheimer's should never be a primary choice.

How many championships is a fan entitled to during a lifetime? Never enough. Find the right place at the right time. We lived in Washington during the Redskins' golden age as they captured a trio of Super Bowl titles. Red Sox fans would have to have a collective meth addiction and the age of Methuselah to approach the 'Skins' fans disillusionment.

But Boston fans need a calculator. The Bruins had their pair of titles in the '70s and Celtics fans had perennial celebrations during the "11 for 13" Russell era. As a UCLA Bruins fan during the 60's and 70's, I savored a 9 for 10 run. Okay, so they're the OTHER Bruins, but it still counts...for me.

The Patriots could never equal the four for four frustration of the Buffalo Bills, the Vikings' long Super Bowl drought, or the Cubs' wandering around baseball's desert since 1908. Dan Marino, Ernie Banks, Charles Barkley, Carl Yastrzemski and others never earned a title. Who exorcises their demons?

Friday, December 27, 2013

What Does the Sox Say?

For the two of you who haven't seen this.

While you may take a few things to the bank, the Yankees' internal pledge to stay below the salary cap isn't one of them. Their salacious pursuit of Masahiro could easily blow their pitching budget into the stratosphere. The posting fee for the Japanese import is twenty million and the right-hander is angling for a 17 million dollar per year contract. "If you want economy, then you have to pay for it."

Meanwhile, the Sox have a surfeit of pitching (a dangerous concept indeed with the fragility of pitchers), but the odds favor them relocating one for cap space and maneuvering room to sign either Stephen Drew or more outfield help. Drew must be kicking himself (better yet uber-agent Scott Boras) for declining fourteen million dollars. First round draft pick compensation weighs on Drew like Roseann Barr singing the National Anthem.

What I fail to understand is the bum's rush for Will Middlebrooks. Yes, I understand that he has a nasty habit of chasing sliders away. When dogs can be trained to sing (everyone has seen the howling puppy video), why can't a twenty-something year-old slugger be trained to "see" those sliders go by? So you want to hold him responsible for the obstruction call? Three-run homers compensate for excessive strikeouts. Post All-Star break he was .276/.329/.476/.805. You're saying what about October, he hit .160. Then you can't lust after Stephen Drew, who hit .111 in fifty-four October at bats. While consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, sabermetricians eat that 'stuff' up.

Decisions, decisions. What will the Sox ante up to start the Jon Lester Retirement Fund? I'm feeling that 100 million over five years would be reasonable for a guy who can take sure-fire financial security and run, or go sign with the Baltimore Orioles (or others) and get torpedoed by medicals.

What won't happen in 2014? Unless Dennis Eckersley has been cloned and stashed away somewhere, nobody is going to have a Uehara-like relief numbers. Short of putting gawd almighty himself on the mound, John Farrell simply can't expect a repeat. Including the post-season, 88 innings, 40 hits, 9 walks, 117 strikeouts. Post All-Star break, including the post-season, 45.2 innings, 16 hits, 1 walk, 57 strikeouts, and an E.R.A. of  0.39. Strikeout ratio of 57 to 1 after the All-Star break. Those aren't even Nintendo numbers.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Cars

Rany Jazayerli, he of baseball authorship, pens about the demise of the Yankees. First, I think it unseemly to dance on another's grave, especially so when they have previously danced upon your'n so regularly. Second, baseball, being a game of mean reversion, sometimes exorcises strange demons and no birthright or copyright guarantees the Red Sox either a division or world title in 2014.

In the world of baseball economics, the fantasy "wins/dollar", the Red Sox pummeled the Bombers, but both New York and Boston have a long way to go to catch Houston. Houston may have had only 51 wins, but spent 29.3 million dollars, .574 million dollars per win.

The WC Red Sox 177.2 million dollars for their 108 (including post-season) wins, 1.646 million per win. But the Yankees, they of the 237 million dollar payroll, spent 2.79 million dollars per win, almost five times as much as Houston. Texans celebrate your frugality amid plenty.

The beauty of being a big-market team is either in savoring the success of excess or the misery of bad judgment. Spending megabucks allows GMs to make a flurry of bad decisions without consequence. "Eat all you want, we'll make more." Matt Thornton at seven million for two years, no big deal. Ellsbury at 22 million a year? A bargain at twice the price. Plus you get the drama of A-Rod in "New York Legal", Mark Teixeira on "Comeback Mountain", and Derek Jeter, the Captain, working "True Grit" as he clings to shortstop like a six-year old with his favorite teddy bear. Win or lose, it won't be boring.

The Red Sox won't be boring either. New faces at catcher, shortstop, and center field will test the 'strength up the middle' adage, although front office insecurity could still return Stephen Drew or even put Matt Kemp in play. David Ortiz is angling for another extension (wouldn't the Qualifying Offer be tantamount to the same?) and the Contract Year guys should provide plenty of drama, too.

The Duck Boats are put away...and they'll be packing up the truck any day now.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Rotation, Rotation, Rotation

Sometimes "strength" is as much illusion as reality. Consider the Red Sox starting rotation.

The "strength" argument looks at Lester, Lackey, Buchholz, Peavey, Doubront, and Dempster...with contenders like Brandon Workman (serious) and Allen Webster (are you serious?).

Lester and Lackey are legit and I'm a Doubront fan, although his pitch efficiency (ability or willingness to pitch to contract) is an issue. Peavey is at least healthy, but Buchholz's 2013 can't be viewed (healthwise) as confidence inspiring and Dempster gives you more innings than high production.

Yes, you can win with an E.R.A. approaching 5, as long as you lead the league in both on base percentage and runs scored, which is not assured.

As for Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, and Henry Owens, you cannot expect to catch lightning in a bottle, no matter how tall the bottle. While all could pitch next season in Boston, we simply can't expect more than stopgap production.

The Sox overall ERA was in the upper half of the AL.

As starters, the Sox starters had a K/BB ratio in the bottom half of the league. As many of you may know, K/BB ratio predicts future ERA better than ERA itself.

The Red Sox principal advantage over (for example) the Yankees is pitching. The Yankee bullpen is in rebuild mode with the Rivera retirement, and their current starting rotation is Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Pineda (coming off injury), and presumably a (luxury tax eating) free agent. Manny Banuelos is coming off surgery and Dellin Betances has a live arm and low H/IP ratio speaking to his potential. Nova pitched only 139 innings last season but certainly has an upward trajectory.

Never underestimate the need for quality starting pitching, no matter what you think.

Money can't play.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Sox Don't Sleep on This Nap

Mike Napoli tweeted his return to Boston...and Sox fans couldn't be happier.

Napoli, in my opinion, was the most important of the cadre of free agents hanging in the dollarsphere, reportedly agreeing to a two year, 32 million dollar deal.

The Red Sox now have established right-handed power, with the power production of Will Middlebrooks at the other corner and Xander Bogaerts at shortstop to be determined.

As of now, the most likely lineup will look something like this:

RF Victorino
LF  Nava
2B  Pedroia
DH  Ortiz
1B  Napoli
SS  Bogaerts
C   Pierzynski
3B  Middlebrooks
CF Bradley, Jr.

Also, there's huge money potentially coming off the payroll at the end of the season (pending the disposition of Jon Lester and John Lackey). Roughly speaking Ortiz (11.5M), Dempster (13M), Peavey (14.5M), Ross (3M), Pierzynski (8.25M) yield over 50M dollars to be redeployed. Obviously, the Sox still have interest in Stephen Drew who still has a few other potential destinations...

The speculation re: the return of Drew also impacts the Sox potential interest in Matt Kemp (depending on how interested the Dodgers are in acquiring more pitching and a third baseman and in taking on some of Kemp's remaining contract).

Kemp's remaining money is simply Crawfordesque. Sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. (Table from

When healthy, Kemp had been a force.


With Jonathan Papelbon (13M) on the block, will the Yankees be interested or will David Robertson be The Man in the Bronx?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

More on Free Agency : Hot-blooded

The simple reality is that with more money floating around chasing fewer free agents (more promising talent being locked up early, like Evan Longoria), it creates a seller's market. Jacoby Ellsbury, Scott Kazmir, and Hunter Pence (among others) take advantage of that reality.

In Boston, we like our players to show emotion, outward manifestations that they care. That doesn't mean that we can't embrace a 'cold-blooded' performer doing his job, like Ellsbury, and good looks aside, his personality and affection for the audience (engagement) never matched his ability. One can legitimately ask, "is that a problem for you?"

If the Sox could field twenty-five baseball-playing, fire-breathing robots, cleverly manufactured in Bill James' baseball laboratory, and win the World Series every year, would that be enough for us? Conversely, how should we feel about media-friendly self-promoters, who underachieve yet develop a cult following.

The raw numbers look pretty good, but for the last SIX seasons in Boston, this popular player had an AVERAGE WAR (wins above replacement) of 1.3. The OPS looks pretty good, but are the numbers tainted by the era? We'll never know and nobody ever said Gator Greenwell looked like The Hulk.

Do I want robots or glad-handers on the field? Does a player need to be one or the other? With the media sophistication and media education available, there's no reason why a productive player can't also be at least media-responsive or 'trained up' to do so.

And if you're paying hundreds of millions of dollars to a guy, wouldn't you want him to establish a greater connection with your fans?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Buy Low, Sell High?

In the bright afterglow of another championship season, the competition has the audacity to raid the Sox pantry, shoplifting the Red Sox former centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury for the GDP of a small country. Of course, not everyone in New York is doing cartwheels. Daily New columnist Mike Lupica put it, the Yankees "don't just pay, they overpay."

Meanwhile the Red Sox lie low, waiting for the market to sort itself out, excepting the Boris Badanov Burke Badenhop era, and another Boston Bad Boy, A. J. Pierzynski, whom you'd think was less popular than Whitey Bulger. 

Now we're worrying about Jon Lester leaving, and probably soon starting to whine about signing Xander Bogaerts to a long-term deal. 

Yes, there is an imperative to value assets properly, to develop your high value pieces, young players under control with manageable salaries. Those 'values' allow you to sign higher priced (and often bigger gambles) free agents. 

First, more on Ellsbury, who authored a near MVP season in 2011, sandwiched among lengthy periods of injury. Does one philosophically believe that some players are injury prone? Some players seem more durable than others, or is it just random. Tim Naehring was the prototypical value player who couldn't stay healthy. Jed Lowrie was another talent who didn't seem capable of staying on the field. Is Ellsbury another 'injury prone' player, or a superstar just derailed at times by misfortune?

A separate issue is how much you assign Ellsbury's value. He's not the 2011 32-homer guy over a sustained period of time, but he has value above conventional OPS value because of the stolen bases. Also, the expectation of the back end of the contract (35 plus years old) isn't Barry Bonds-esque. 

I won't argue with the Sox' decision to pass on "The Winner's Curse" that was Jacoby Ellsbury. The reality is that you might strike it rich with an occasional 'bargain' like Jonny Gomes or David Ross, but expecting chicken salad from chicken feathers year after year is fools' gold. Talent wins and adding free agent championship pedigrees and number one draft choices will win out over the best junkyard dogs over the long pull.