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.