Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You

    - Simon and Garfunkel, Mrs. Robinson

The Red Sox went quietly into the night. A team that led the majors in runs scored and OPS didn't hit. Seven runs and an OPS of .655 doesn't cut it. The team that was fourth in the AL in ERA (4.00) during the regular season clocked in at 5.04 in the playoffs. 

You can't argue about sample size. That's the playoffs, short series that you have to win. 

All that being said, I see no tears, feel little angst, and hear almost no discussion about collapse and failure. Why? 

The Patriots are 4-1 and Tom Brady is back at the controls. The Bruins will make the playoffs. Jeremy Jacobs promised. The Celtics have Brad Stevens, Al Horford, IT4 and a plethora of small ball ingredients that are in the 'top three' of the Eastern Conference. Is that the answer? 

After enduring the eighty-six year drought, the Sox won three championships in a decade. Sox fans got accustomed to if not spoiled by titles. The sense of urgency disappeared. "It's now or never" and "there's no tomorrow" morphed into "been there and done that." 

Yes, "Do it for David" would have been 'nice'. Nice does not win the World Series. A nice player seldom grabs the brass ring. A nice team doesn't ever win titles. 

Now it's the postseason and Dave Dombrowski has to retool. Where do you start? The 'first decision' was the fate of John Farrell. Major League managerial decisions for fans are much like the stock market - the market doesn't care what you think. A nonscientific poll of fans would likely yield a split decision. Supporters argue "they won the AL East" and opponents argue about in-game judgement. The alternative is Torey Lovullo who presumably ends up managing elsewhere. The Jessica Moran scandal produces bad optics but probably doesn't rise to the level of impeachment. Where is the chorus of Sox players' voices saying "it's great Skip is back?" First, the employees don't get to choose the boss. Second, maybe they're not so excited about having his back especially ones who early in their career didn't see him having theirs. 

Next up is Clay Buchholz and his option. 

Buchholz wasn't great. He was okay and better down the stretch. The Red Sox will probably be blinded by "recency bias" and pick up his option. "It's what you do." The high price of mediocrity tag firmly sits on Buchholz's shoulders. He may not be "Mr. Unreliable" but he's the next best thing. Ask Dave D. and he'd probably say, "is Henry Owens better?" 

They return the killer P's (Price, Porcello, Pomerantz) and Eduardo Rodriguez. The hope might be that Brian Johnson is physically and mentally ready. In the words of Joaquin Andujar, "they have a word for it in English 'youneverknow.' 

There's more ground to cover for another time. 

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Mistakes by the Lake?

Let the second guessing begin. The Red Sox haven't even heard "Play Ball" and the controversy has already been teed up. 

The Sox have overcome instability in the rotation and the bullpen and to a lesser degree the hole at the Hot Corner. Pablo Sandoval gave way to Travis Shaw (post All-Star break .194/.259/.360/.619), who is now supplanted by Brock Holt (post All-Star break .253/.318/.367/.685).  Any talk of the Panda Postseason was premature speculation at its most disheartening. 

Sox skipper John Farrell has slotted Holt in the two spot in the order while dropping Xander Bogaerts (post All-Star break .253/.317/.412/.729) to sixth. Oh, the horror! 

Who's going to win? Legendary hoop coach Don Meyer would answer, "It's not who you play, it's how you play." 

Baseball isn't a sport where elevating your intensity level translates to improved performance. Getting over 'jacked' won't translate to more 'jacks'. 

The speculation is that ultra-focused Terry Francona will outmanage Farrell. That's probably going to happen, but it won't matter if the Sox have their hitting shoes on. The Tribe has a great home record confronted by the Sox American League best road record. We can wonder whether Rick Porcello can carry his success into the playoffs or whether Craig Kimbrel can rebound. 

But the wondering is about to end. Play ball. Sox in four. "Positive dog."

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Radio Doctors: Felger and Massarotti

Physicians spend a lifetime training to diagnose and treat illness and injury. After obtaining a college degree with cut-throat premeds, physicians spend four years in medical school, and often five to eight additional years in specialty and subspecialty training. Then they have to pass certifying and recertifying exams to demonstrate some standard of competence. It's hard to get it right even when you have the opportunity to examine the patient directly and access medical testing. 

Evidently, it's a waste of time. The Radio Doctors can skip that final decade of training and experience and jump directly into practice. "What do you mean?" 

When Mike Napoli injured his fourth finger on his left hand in May 2014, Tony Massarotti proclaimed something to the effect of "pop it in and play". How did that work out? Napoli had his least productive season in years. Why? 

Although all of our fingers are important, grip strength is largely a function of the outer fingers. Try grasping a bat with just your thumb and inner two fingers...not too successful. Sprains and dislocations of the outer fingers are very limiting for a baseball player. 

Doctor Felger loves to comment about basketball players. When Marcus Smart suffered a severe ankle sprain, "he went down like he was shot", Doctor Mike lambasted the player for a lack of toughness. Hall of Fame coach Pete Newell had a saying about playing the game with your feet. Footwork, balance, and maneuvering speed were Newell's triad that the sport demanded. The injury was a major setback for the developing guard, but to Felger, M.D. he was just another soft NBA player. 

The latest episode of the Radio Doctors has Jimmy Garoppolo sitting out with nothing broken. Surely, it's part of the dreaded Eastern Illinois Syndrome, first highlighted by Tony Romo. 

Once again, Doctor Felger calls out a player for a lack of toughness with his AC joint separation. He insinuated that Tom Brady would be out there playing with the same injury. 

Here's an illustration of what Garoppolo's MRI probably looks like. 

Of course, the Radio Doctors have sustained injuries, too. You don't see them miss shows because of a paper cut, hangnail, a cold, or bruised egos. They're in the A-hole and B-hole chairs every day, dealing not with J.J. Watt but the ultimate tough guy, Carlton from Norwell. 

It's not about anatomy, physiology, or empathy. It's about ratings. And, to their credit, the Radio Doctors have delivered. Maybe they should be in Obstetrical Radio, where it's all about delivering? 

Seriously, we shouldn't confuse entertainment with facts or the individual differences in response and healing to injury and illness. Pro sports are among the greatest reality shows on television. But everyone knows that you can play 'hurt' but you can't perform injured. I'm no Orthopaedic genius but if you want truly uninformed sports medicine commentary, tune in to the Radio Doctors. And to paraphrase the great Mickey Mantle, who told Roger Maris being hounded by reporters during his pursuit of 61, "hit 'em with your wallet." 

Sunday, September 18, 2016


As of this morning, the Red Sox have eighty-four wins. That was my preseason projection. Sometimes, you take your medicine and move on. 

What went well? The Red Sox have gotten MVP caliber seasons from Mookie Betts and David Ortiz and a possible Cy Young performance from Rick Porcello. Sign him to a long-term extension? Done, by the vilified Ben Cherington, now of the Toronto Blue Jays. 

How good has Betts been? Jacoby Ellsbury's magnificent 2011 season carried an 8.1 WAR. With two weeks left in the regular season, Betts is at 8.5. Willie Mays in 1954, at age 23, had a WAR of 10.6. Certainly, that's not saying Betts will be Willie Mays; it's just a reference point. 

I think of a WAR of 5 as all-star caliber play. Anything over 8 puts you at a possible MVP-type season. 10 is god-like. Babe Ruth had nine WAR seasons over 10. Willie Mays had six. Mickey Mantle had three. Carl Yastrzemski's 1967 campaign was 10.2. His next highest season was 8.2. 

Since returning from knee surgery, Craig Kimbrel has been lights out with 14 1/3 innings of one-run ball and twenty-seven strikeouts. David Price hasn't been lights out, but he's been excellent down the stretch, discounting yesterday's so-so day. 

Hanley Ramirez has twenty-six homers, 102 RBI, and has been steady at first base. We expected that? Dustin Pedroia is competing for a batting title, has a WAR of 5.5, and has his career average is back over .300. Xander Bogaerts had seven homers in 2015 and hit his 20th yesterday. 

The naysayers will say, "none of this matters; the season isn't over." The 1964 Phillies proved that chicken-counting can go bad. But I...was...wrong. 

Saturday, September 03, 2016


The Yoan Moncada countdown is on. You won't convince me that Travis Shaw (three extra base hits, five RBI last night) isn't feeling it. I won't suggest that Shaw has rested on his laurels; maybe competition will help him focus. 

Supposedly, Moncada's English has advanced very well. I don't know whether that's an advantage. Were I sharing media advice with him, I'd suggest some shoulder shrugging and a big dose of "I don't know."

Expecting a lot from a kid isn't realistic. But with John Farrell seeing his managerial mortality dwindling, he has an entirely new attitude toward young players. His perceived mistreatment of a younger Bogaerts and Bradley is unquestionable. But a drowning man who refuses a life preserver is not simple; he is a fool. Of course, a drowning man wearing a bullpen anchor needs more than a life preserver. 

In a way, I feel a little bad for Farrell. A little. He has 'mean reversion' going for him on David Price, but against him on Steven Wright and Rick Porcello. But nobody thinks his game management, especially his use of the bullpen, passes muster. When you use up Junichi Tazawa like a box of tissues, you need a new box, not used tissues. 

Farrell got his reputation for being a tough guy, "John Wayne" Farrell. Get in people's faces, especially after the 'chicken and beer' era. That dog don't hunt. 

In a large sample size, Farrell is a .500 manager, managing in a city where .500 reminds fans of Dan Shaughnessy's "Loserville" mantra. 

It is only fitting that Farrell's future probably hinges on a final Armageddon weekend against his former team. 

All of us should root for Farrell to succeed improbably rather than fail conventionally. Boston's destiny links inextricably to Farrell's. The 2013 horseshoe supported by overachievement by an unlikely cast created high expectations. Two years of abject failure disheartened even the most optimistic fans. 

After the West Coast swing, the Red Sox finish the entire month with 23 games against AL East rivals. John Wooden's father would remind them, "Don't whine. Don't complain. Don't make excuses." Put up or shut up. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Anti-Dave: NESN and the Propaganda Arm of the Red Sox

Home on the Range

Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

NESN is not an independent voice, nor should it be. NESN is the broadcasting and propaganda arm of the Red Sox. And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Dave O'Brien, the Sox play-by-play announcer, is the Minister of Propaganda. He is the Anti-Dave (above). And the skies are not cloudy all day.

The sky is not falling; nor is the hyperbole. Yes, the Red Sox have enjoyed some outstanding performances this season - the timeless David Ortiz, the rebirth of Dustin Pedroia, the youthful exuberance of Mookie Betts, and the Comeback player of the century, Rick Porcello. 

My 84 win projection will fall far short of the Sox 2016 totals. But all is not well on Yawkey Way. Frankly, as Evan Longoria's homer sailed majestically out of Fenway last night, I practically expected Minister O'Brien to remark, "And Buchholz has just participated in an engineering spectacle!"

Some broadcasters might have cautioned, "Evan Longoria is the one guy in the Rays' lineup that you can't allow to beat you." I'm sure that if Bill Belichick were watching something other than Arizona Cardinals game film that he would say that.

Maybe it's nitpicking to criticize hyperbole and Homeric platitudes from broadcasters. But we're regularly reminded about the sophistication of baseball fans of Ye Olde Towne Team. Fans hear about Sandy Leon ready to become the next Yogi Berra and throwing out over forty percent of baserunners. We know that David Price is in the E.R.A. Top Ten since July first.

But we're also plagued by, in Richard Pryor's words, "lying eyes." We see JBJ and Travis Shaw baffled by hard stuff upstairs and offspeed pitches downstairs. We watch Xander Bogaerts flail at outside sliders reminiscent of Will Middlebrooks. We're baffled by John Farrell's use of the Sword of Damocles bullpen.

It's perfectly fine to remember what Mom told you, "if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all." Maybe I'm going too much Shaughnessy, "I'm a columnist, not a reporter." But when you can't unsee reality, lying eyes aren't going to heal Red Sox Nation.

Looking for the Easy Button

What, me worry? 

There is no Easy Button for the 2016 Boston Red Sox. The lowly Rays come into town and unlike a recent victory sparked by Clay Buchholz pitching and David Ortiz' running, last night authorities rounded up 'the usual suspects' with Buchholz surrendering a game winning homer to Evan Longoria. 

Championship delusions? These are pitching statistics from the 7th inning on. Dave Dombrowski's reputation was the inability to build a bullpen. To be fair, the breakdown lane of Carson Smith (bad delivery), Koji Uehara (age), and Junichi Tazawa (overuse) only partly belong to the Sox GM. 

Last night it was the solar eclipse of Luke Maile's second career home run that set the stage for Longoria's dagger. 

Championship teams are made of sterner stuff. But no worries. The Sox are working diligently on a new slogan, "hey, we're not last!" 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Spoiled Rotten

Red Sox fans endured a drought of epic proportions from 1918 to 2004. Occasionally, the baseball gods would, like Lucy to Charlie Brown, pull the football at the last moment to assure maximal frustration. 

But Sox fans were rewarded with three titles in a decade before getting the twin killing of last place finishes of 2014 and 2015. Sox fans endured a pair of unwatchable, painful, pitiful seasons. 

But the Red Sox franchise, while not always champions, always champions marketing. They're never going to go the way of the Pale Hose. 

At least we don't suffer the indignity of a new stadium logo pointing south. And we don't have to go to Raytheon Stadium or Fidelity Field...not that I doubt for a moment that the Sox wouldn't consider it. 

But what really matters is the product on the field. I haven't heard it but maybe the organization has proclaimed that anything less than a playoff appearance creates a failure of biblical proportion. They certainly haven't scrimped on payroll or making moves including obtaining Abad, Hill, and Ziegler. Meatloaf isn't going to rewrite that as "1 out of 3 ain't bad." 

Sox fans may lament bad luck of injury, fatigue, or mean reversion. Every team experiences injuries...we don't want excuses. But another area in need of solution is the bullpen. John Farrell's reliever use won't be a positive case study at MIT's Sloan Analytic conference. Nobody can say anyone other than Father Time caught up with Koji Uehara. But Papa John running out Junichi Tazawa over 200 times in three seasons looks to have burned out the righthander.

Tazawa's WHIP ratio is up and his K/BB ratio has dropped. 

But the biggest arguments about the manager surround late game matchups. Fans wonder about the lack of roles (aside from closer Craig Kimbrel), the individual battles, and the underachievement in close games. 

But I can't fault Farrell for the slumps or fatigue of Bogaerts, Bradley, and Shaw. Whether Fenway can alleviate if not cure batting woes remain to be seen. The bigger question is whether this is a championship team? Telling a lie doesn't make it so. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Last Dragon and Travis Shaw

Shaw Nuff. Travis Shaw delivered a three-run homer tonight in Atlanta (not included in statistics below).

Shaw isn't making any reservations for Cooperstown, but he's been solid in the early going (small sample size). Back in the day, I used a simple formula for production (R + RBI - HR)/Games. Coming into tonight Shaw was 15/19 and as of now its 18/20. Anything approaching unity (1) is spectacular.

For illustration, in 1967 Carl Yastrzemski had 112 runs, 44 homers, and 121 RBI in 161 games (189/161). Jim Rice's rookie year, he had 92 runs, 22 homers, 102 RBI in 144 games (172/144). Rico Petrocelli's best year (1969) he had 92 runs, 40 homers, and 97 RBI in 154 games (149/154).

Last season Shaw had 31 runs, 13 homers, and 36 RBI in 65 games (54/65). By comparison, Pablo Sandoval scored 43 runs, 10 homers, and 47 RBI in 126 games (80/126).

Add in that Shaw has been in the upper quintile of third basemen defensively and Shaw has made a compelling argument for himself, regardless of Sandoval's health. Shaw 'nuff...

A Tale of Two Catchers

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…" - Charles Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities."

It was a 20 million dollar mistake multiplied by four. The Red Sox acquired Rick Porcello and paid through the nose for him. 

The right-hander who seemed automatic to win double digits had a disastrous season for the Red Sox including fifteen losses, a negative ERA+, and a nickname not to be repeated from sports radio. 

His 2016 debut was unspectacular but still got him a win. 

But he began to turn it around on the Ides of April, which coincided with the return of Christian Vazquez. Since that time, he's gone 3-0 with three quality starts, and an ERA of 2.75 with 23 strikeouts and 4 walks.

The Red Sox are only 4-3 in Vazquez's starts but the staff is starting to look more in command. If only David Price can start pitching, then maybe the Sox can change hope into progress. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

What Exactly is Clay Buchholz?

Forget about the money. If we have 'fielding independent pitching', then maybe we need money independent pitching. Control what you can control (evaluation) as the contract is already in place. There's no judgment applied to chicken and beer or anything else. 

First, there are the raw numbers, tenth year in the majors, sub 4 ERA and good winning percentage (poor way to judge pitching). 2010 was Buchholz's best year with a spike in 2013 curtailed by injury...which is always his story. His adjusted ERA+ is just over 100, meaning he's been just slightly above average for his career. Discounting this season, Buchholz had 44 wins in the past five seasons...just under NINE per year (yeah, I just said don't judge wins). Including this season, however embryonic, Wade Miley has 45 wins and pitched at least 190 innings four times (straw man argument!). Steven Wright has a better chance to be an innings eater than Clay, who has never thrown 190 innings (second straw man). 

As far as the more advanced statistics, Buchholz (in the past five full seasons) has a WAR (wins above replacement) of 8.2 or 1.6 per year. 

The "eyeball test" says that Clay Buchholz has better than average stuff...a solid major league fastball, and better than average changeup and curveball. Sometimes, he seems reluctant to work the inside of the plate to right-handers, but I digress. But the numbers speak volumes. Whatever the cause, health (esophagitis issues ostensibly from medication), injury, lack of toughness, or unfavorable astrology, he's an average, non-durable pitcher who has had a couple of terrific seasons. Expecting much more from him, especially slotted as your number two, is unrealistic. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Tenth Player

"You are what your record says you are." - Bill Parcells

The Red Sox have completed a tenth of the season and voila' it's the Fortune 500 once again. They're making a fortune and playing .500. Why? 

The rubber-meets-the-road offensive statistic is runs scored. 

Adjusted for games played, the Sox lead the league in runs. The replacements at the corners, Hanley Ramirez and Travis Shaw haven't been an issue. 

Defensively, they had a failed eyeball test in Blake Swihart, but had enough insight to realign their catching priorities. They swapped out Swihart for Christian Vazquez, which helped but couldn't resolve the mole hill. 

Ace or no ace, the early returns have failed. 

K/BB ratios tend to be more predictive of future ERA than ERA itself, so maybe there's hope. But the roster of Price, Buchholz, Porcello, Wright, and TBA hasn't delivered. 

The starters' failure surprisingly lies first at the feet of David Price and the overall lack of innings (just over 5.25 per start) delivered. This isn't unique as as only one team (Chicago) is averaging at least six innings per start. 

Particularly vexing is Red Sox pitching from the 7th inning on. With the 'new look' Sox designed to have a power bullpen, we see anything but. The K/BB ratio is barely above 2, and the Sox lead the league in bases on balls in this category. The absence of Carson Smith, the relative ineffectiveness of Koji Uehara, and the general mediocrity of the pen have contributed. 

The starters' collective WHIP has been an unimpressive 1.43 (twelfth) but the bullpen WHIP has been comparatively disappointing. 
The pen's WHIP is high and its K/BB ratio is poor relative to the league's elite pens. 

It's unknown whether Vazquez has solved Rick Porcello's issues (note the WHIP) and time will tell whether the Gopher Ball will be his undoing. Craig Kimbrel is hard to hit but has been the victim of walks and a key homer (Chris Davis). The tail of the bullpen (Ramirez, Barnes, and Cuevas) aren't on a roll. 

As much as I am not a John Farrell fan (player use, treatment of young players), I think he's not on the gangplank currently. 

Leadership always needs to ask, "what does my team need now?" The simple answer is they need better performance from the pitching staff. Part of that may come from health (Eduardo Rodriquez, Carson Smith) and part may be time (David Price). My concerns about Koji Uehara's disappearing fastball (see remain unaddressed. I'll never get on the 2013 series hero, but he may need role reassignment. 

I picked the Sox to win 84 games and I don't see any reason to reassess. 

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Predictions: More Rubber or More Road?

In his landmark book Up the Organization, Robert Townsend discusses three important principles. 1) Be honest, 2) Presume the competition is listening, and 3) Don't forecast. 

The honesty principle jives with Jim Collins' "Brutal Reality", where one must examine a business as objectively as possible. First, we must make certain assumptions, ignoring factors like injury and extreme deviations from 'average'. Both assumptions suffer inaccuracy woefully. 

We can examine run generation, run prevention, and the combination. The upside bats (where the runs will come from) should include Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and David Ortiz. The 'steady' expectations can include Dustin Pedroia (at lower production), Blake Swihart, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. The GOK (God only knows) production belongs to third base, left field, and Hanley Ramirez. 

Last season the Red Sox scored 748 runs, fourth in the AL, but 143 runs less than the Blue Jays. The problem for the Red Sox was that they allowed 753 runs, second worst in the league, and entirely supportive of mediocrity. 

Part of that mediocrity related to ineffective pitching and part to the twelve slot in errors. Pablo Sandoval at third and Hanley Ramirez in left both served as embarrassments. The excellent to spectacular defense in the outfield and middle infield can be undone by first and third and uncertainty behind the plate. Swihart is not an accomplished receiver or thrower and the love of his potential offense may be fool's gold relative to better backstopping of Christian Vasquez when he becomes available. 

Having excellent outfield defense doesn't impact pitchers who cannot keep the ball in the ballpark (e.g. Rick Porcello). Clay Buchholz has averaged just over NINE wins per year for the past five seasons and time will reveal whether his health or pain tolerance improves in a contract year. Expecting much more than .500 baseball from some combination of Joe Kelly, Steven Wright, and Eduoardo Rodriguez lies somewhere between the height of vanity and ambitious. 

The 'hope trade' is extrapolating from the Royals and the Yankees to the already depleted combination of Junichi Tazawa, the injured Carson Smith, Koji Uehara, and Craig Kimbrel. Uehara's age and declining velocity are worrisome. The expectation is that 3-2 or 4-3 leads or even tie games in the sixth are 'more sure' things. I'm from Missouri. Show me. 

The Wild Card is the return of John Farrell. I wish Farrell abundant success. "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride." Whether Farrell can lead young players and not crush them with soulless loyalty to veterans is highly speculative. The rise to prominence of Bogaerts, Betts, Bradley, and Swihart all correlated with Farrell's departure. 

Add in these trends, uncertainties, aging veterans, and the potential toxicity of Sandoval and Ramirez and the Red Sox will need great, not good, fortune to develop a winning chemistry. Even without Dick Williams, I think the Red Sox will win more than they lose. But unlike the 1967 Sox, the 2016 version will win 84 games. 

Saturday, April 02, 2016

The Batman

When the Red Sox welcomed Pablo Sandoval to The Hub, they expected The Batman.

Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. 

The Batman's utility belt didn't fit anymore. 

Sox fans never demanded a Ferrari.

Many of us would have been entirely content with the 1966 Batmobile in running order.

We expected a capable sidekick. 
But, alas, we got Robbin', who hoodwinked us for $19,750,000 and had minus 1.3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). 

We wanted "kapow".

All we got was "kerplunk". 

We need The Batman. 

We need a hero not a WAR below zero. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Golden Main: Brock Holt

Brock Holt is a nice player. He fills in capably around the diamond, a scrappy, hustling ballplayer. Manager John Farrell announced that Holt will be the Red Sox' main left fielder. 

Last year he was the Sox lone selectee for baseball's "Summer Classic", the All-Star game. 

In the equivalent of two 'full' campaigns with the Red Sox he has six home runs and eighty-five RBI.

In the same vein, he averages about two WAR (if you divide three seasons into two). He was 49th in WAR last season, ahead of Jackie Bradley, Jr. (2.6 to 2.2) but with over 500 plate appearances, about double Bradley's. 

After the All-Star break, Holt was .265/.311/.341/.652. 

He's the guy that some will say, "I wish we had eight more of" on the field. Count me out on that one, unless someone is looking for the early 1960's Boston Red Sox. Hustle alone doesn't win ball games. Talent and hustle win ball games. 

Maybe the Red Sox and manager John Farrell will catch lightning in a bottle. Holt is a "bargain basement" player, barely above the MLB minimum (which of course any of us would love to make). At age 27, Holt is approaching the statistical zenith of his career. And he is a nice player. But "ambition should be made of sterner stuff." 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"Money Can't Play"

Leaders find solutions and there's no doubt about who's in charge of the Boston Red Sox. Ownership hired Dave Dombrowski to 'fix it' and the solution can't be fielding the "highest priced" players instead of the best players. 

Yes, "sample size" matters. Nobody is installing Travis Shaw in Cooperstown or forgetting that Brock Holt doesn't wear well over the course of the marathon that is the baseball season. But if the 'eye test' tells you that they give you the best chance to WIN TODAY, that's what matters. So, if Pablo Sandoval and Rusney Castillo sit, they sit...and get paid. 

Sports is a meritocracy, but embedded within are fragile egos and "that's not how we do it here" attitudes of "professionals". Veterans who see other veterans displaced can become petulant. "You don't lose your job to injury." But you do lose your job when your conditioning prevents you from fielding a ground ball or running the bases or when our judgment on your potential gets disproven. 

The Red Sox and manager John Farrell skate on thin ice. Baseball fans have short memories for success and longer ones for disappointment. 

Baseball players most often get paid for what they've accomplished in the past, but fans respond to what you're doing now. Should the fan who pays a king's ransom accept players who don't care about conditioning or performance once they've been paid. 

A high payroll guarantees nothing as we've seen the Kansas City Royal and even Houston prove last season. Players and management need to understand that winning might be optional for some teams but not the big market teams. And if winning isn't your priority or your emphasis, then you don't deserve OUR money. Money can't play. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dr. Cherington's Monster

"Spahn and Sain and pray for rain."

The Red Sox should be so lucky. "Price and pray..."

When the Red Sox acquired Rick Porcello on a trial basis (for Yoenis Cespedes), the heavens were unmoved. But the decision to grant a Godfather contract to the former Tiger proved the adage that 'the high cost of mediocrity' kills you.

I believe in redemption and that Spring Training performance doesn't define you, but the back end of the rotation (everything after Price) hasn't exactly boosted confidence in the staff.

Even though the Red Sox haven't lost every day, it feels that way. Maybe Rick Porcello was working on 'grooving pitches' but if he weren't then the trick's on the Red Sox as they pay down his future mansions.

At least Porcello takes the ball. After Price, Clay Buchholz has unreliable ability, Eduardo Rodriguez is unavailable, Porcello is reliably unreliable, and the best option at five might be an untested knuckleballer, Steven Wright with seven career wins. This is not exactly Palmer, McNally, Dobson, and Cuellar...or even Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

Does winning in Spring Training matter? There is some data...but it's small. Good teams tend to win regularly. We've seen the Red Sox struggle in March before and it hasn't been pretty in April. 

With so much money thrown at players these days, you wonder whether they're simply fat and happy and not so motivated. Ben Cherington is long gone; I hope they prove me wrong. 

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Private Matter

I'm not a huge John Farrell fan. I don't like the way he's handled young players, with an intransigent support of underachieving veterans. I don't believe that it's a coincidence that Betts, Bradley, Bogaerts, and Swihart flourished after Farrell's departure. Do I know there's cause and effect? No. It's just intelligent speculation. For a personnel guy and former pitching coach, Farrell has not overwhelmed there for the most part. 

But I form my opinion on what action between the lines reveals. The organizational decision to bring him back after successful struggles against cancer is totally understandable. 

But we should evaluate professional athletes and coaches on effort, personal performance, and their impact on the team. Just as we should evaluate scribes on their journalism, not on their lives. 

When family issues or personal matters arise off the field, they deserve privacy. There's no role for locker room talk, snickers, and sanctimonious argument. 

I hope that time away from the team and observation of their approach and results in his absence produces an epiphany. Most fans are rooting for Red Sox relevance in 2016. We all understand the "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" theme. 

But let's focus on rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Price and Performance: Of Lions and Asses

“An army of asses led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by an ass” - George Washington

The Red Sox must rely on their offensive leadership...but who exactly are they? The Sox are moving away from their recent Moneyball roots. But is the problem analytics or identifying and paying players most likely to produce? 

Establishing a cause and effect relation for statistics isn't easy. For example, we know that the most productive players invariably have productive statistics. But we can't a priori know that players who have had excellent statistics will continue to do so. 

Age, injury, illness, lack of motivation, personal problems (e.g. alcohol or substance abuse), or statistical variation can change productivity. 

Consider the complex decision-making surrounding free agent Jacoby Ellsbury. 

At the end of the 2013 season, the Red Sox had to decide their commitment to their free agent outfielder. In his "peak" (age 27) season, he was runnerup for MVP with a .928 OPS, 39 stolen bases and more than 100 runs scored and batted in. He had never done so previously and never duplicated those results again. 

His final three seasons with the Red Sox resulted in uneven production, with 14.8 WAR, but marked fluctuations. The Yankees backed up the truck to sign him, with more than ample love from certain Boston scribes, but his two New York season have been mostly a Bronx bummer, with a total of 5.2 WAR and declining runs, homers, RBI, stolen bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. And he's not even among the two highest paid Yankees. 

What was the difference in production between the two highest-paid players on each of the six last place division teams compared with the ten playoff teams? 

The highest paid player of the worst teams averaged 13.3 million dollars per win above replacement. The second highest was slightly less overpaid, averaging 10 million dollars per WAR, and the combination was about 11.7 million dollars per WAR. If we accept the fact that an All-Star player should be a five WAR player, then a '20 million dollar contract should yield about 4 million dollars/WAR. 

It's better but not spectacular for the ten playoff teams. Their top players cost 9.45 million per WAR, their second averages 6.38, and the combination 7.74 million per WAR. 

It shows that the playoff teams tended to spend slightly more efficiently than the cellar dwellars, but even they got underachievement. 

Shakespeare wrote, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” From an asset allocation standpoint, he had that partially right. Management owns overpaying for mediocrity, but the stars, excepting  Greinke, Kershaw, and Bautista have a lot of 'splaining to do on their own. Granted this is a small sample size and not assessed longitudinally. It certainly doesn't disprove the adage, "price is what you pay, and value is what you get." 

As for Jacoby Ellsbury, no matter how much love he got from the Boston media, he has plenty of company in the overpaid mediocrity class.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Dinner Out

           "Dinner Out is a go." Mookie Betts organized a team gathering at a Japanese restaurant. He prepared to pick up the tab for forty-five teammates, but Dustin Pedroia and other unnamed veterans spared him that cup. 

How important is team chemistry in baseball? Old-timers remember the "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates of 1979. But slightly older fans also remember the 1977 dugout confrontation between Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson. 

Martin had to be restrained from going after Jackson . 

A little over four months later, the Yankees captured yet another World Series. 

Dave Roberts has a pragmatic view of baseball chemistry"Winning definitely bands a team together. It's easy to have good chemistry when you're winning."

Sometimes chemistry occurs when players have a common enemy, like the manager or ownership. The fictional representation of that was Tom Berenger's "Major League". 

A baseball team is a 'cross-functional team' from an organizational standpoint. This Harvard Business Review illustrates that cross-functional teams are frequently dysfunctional. The author noted, Cross-functional teams often fail because the organization lacks a systemic approach. Teams are hurt by unclear governance, by a lack of accountability, by goals that lack specificity, and by organizations’ failure to prioritize the success of cross-functional projects.

A few successful projects didn’t have cross-functional oversight — but we found in those cases that they benefitted from support by a single high-level executive champion. Projects that had strong governance support — either by a higher-level cross-functional or by a single high-level executive champion — had a 76% success rate, according to our research. Those with moderate governance support had a 19% success rate.

Contrast the Red Sox with recent revolving door administration (Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington, Dave Dombrowski) and inconsistent organizational process with the Patriots with a "single high-level executive champion (Bill Belichick). The Red Sox accountability roller coaster most recently oversaw the departure of Larry Lucchino and Ben Cherington when most of the instruments of failure (the players) survived. The Patriots' architect of policy will oversee the departure of those failed instruments. 

In other words, Dinner Out is non-story propaganda pushed because we have no 'real news' to report. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Chemistry Lesson - Red Sox

"No progress occurs without change, but not all change is progress." - John Wooden

It's all good. Let's put on some smiley faces today and reexamine the Bosox 2016. David Price showed up over a week early, saying and doing all the right things. He and David Ortiz hugged it out, burying the hatchet. 

GM Dave Dombrowski praised 23-year-old outfielder Mookie Betts for organizing and sponsoring a team dinner. Maybe Dunkin Donuts should show Betts some love for being an exemplary teammate. 

Clay Buchholz threw batting practice and there were no injury qualifiers included in the discussion. 

MLB is modifying sliding rules, which should eliminate rolling blocks and just maybe keep the Sox dp combination of Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts healthy. As an aside, not only should the runner and batter be declared out, but the violating slider should be tossed. 

Henry Owens was all smiles as he battles to earn a spot at the back of the rotation.

The sample size on the young lefthander is far too small to be handing out starts or bus tickets. Suffice it to say, he's got a number of more established pitchers ahead of him but it would be shocking not to see him in the rotation at some point this season. 

While I may channel The Positive Dog (today), Peter Gammons stakes a more open-minded position at The positive spin is that Brock Holt, Travis Shaw, and Deven Marrero all have that Cassius "lean and hungry look". 

John Farrell is healthy. The Red Sox have an experienced replacement available. It doesn't get any better than this...or much shorter. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Farrell-y Brothers

The Red Sox have reconstructed broken parts of the club - the starting rotation and the bullpen. It's not as though a two-year hiatus without a championship has wrought tar and feathers to Fenway Park. 

Ownership has gotten solid reviews on their hire of Dave Dombrowsky and had no choice but to give cancer survivor John Farrell a chance to save his job. The question becomes, will the prior regime's coach killers, Ramirez and Sandoval be addition or addition by subtraction? Will the Sox need more than comic relief from the high-priced spread? 

Competing for a title is certainly one thing. Competing to avoid humiliation as the employers of 'don't care' and 'care even less' is another matter. But wait, is the quality of mercy and forgiveness not strained? 

In the language of Wall Street, the Red Sox and gazillionaire chief John Henry have suffered "style drift". Style drift means no consistent plan. Richard Dennis had his "Turtle Traders" and the Red Sox have simply turtled. 

What's the overarching organizational philosophy? We have no idea. It's been "run prevention", bargain-basement free agency team building, avoiding aging pitchers, buying overpriced free agents, farm system development, trade the overvalued prospects, no Ace needed, Open the Checkbook for the Ace, analytics from Bill James, and the Eyeball Test from Dombrowski. 

John Wooden remarked, "no progress occurs without change, but not all change is progress." Conversely, John Henry might borrow the words of John Maynard Keynes, When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?

That said, "Money can't play." You can't win the game on paper, in Vegas, or on a spreadsheet. The Red Sox have amply proven that. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Wait for It

The Red Sox want us to "Get Ready for It", the new and improved Bosox. We shouldn't be quick to judge a book by its cover, but Pablo Sandoval's gravity-challenged arrival smacks of arrogance and entitlement. 

Contrast the San Antonio Spurs' championship attitude with the Red Sox 'chicken and beer' legacy. 

The Red Sox third baseman showed up larger-than-life and you've got to believe the photographer waited to get this snap next to food service. 

A .245/.292/.366/.658 slash line doesn't equate with "nothing to prove" after a nothing year for Sandoval. It's reasonable to expect that either Travis Shaw, Brock Holt or both could do as well or better while (if you'll pardon the expression) "hungrier" to contribute to the team. 

FanGraphs describes his year. "Actually, he had the worst season of any major leaguer." 

Boston fans can actually be reasonable...but you don't get unconditional love. We appreciate "lunch pail" guys who show consistent effort and accountability. 

If Sandoval actually showed up in shape and a bit penitent, "I'm disappointed in my performance last season and determined to help the team be successful this year," at least some of us would buy low. 

As for now, Sandoval's on the Triple Pack Disposal Watch List with John Farrell and Hanley Ramirez.