Friday, August 04, 2006

Lopez On Board; Stern Overboard

According to Sean McAdam in the Projo, Adam Stern will go to the Orioles via waivers in exchange for Javy Lopez. This is a classic overpay, although the consensus is that Stern probably didn't have a home on the Sox barring another injury (and those almost never happen!). I for one am sad to see Stern go; our outfield defense is nightmarish, and will be no better in 2007. I had hoped to see Stern on the bench next year, although perhaps Ellsbury is expected to be ready by the second half.

McAdam also covers the correlative drama around the transaction, which is that the Devil rays may claim Stern out of spite in retribution for the Sox speaking to Lugo's agent during the trading window. For the umpteenth time the same question arises - is the front office in Tampa actually just a bunch of crack-addicted strippers? Maybe. Do they need another outfielder? No.

The net effect of their claim would be that Baltimore would have to wait until next year to get Stern, so tampa Bay would in fact be revenging themselves against Baltimore, who apparently have insulted them by either a) trading with Boston or b) getting too frisky in the VIP room.

Gumptastic

There has been a lot of hand-wringing over Tito's mismanagement of last night's game against the Tribe. Essentially people are disturbed that:
  1. He left Beckett in to give up 7 consecutive hits, including two home runs.
  2. He did not pinch hit for Ken Huckaby, the batting equivalent of Ray Charles, with the bases loaded and nobody out shortly thereafter.
  3. He did not pinch hit for Mirabelli with a one-run deficit and two-out in the 9th.
Let me explain these decisions in such a fashion that no one is confused. It's important as fans that we understand how our manager's mind works so we can get on the same page. Tito's reasons are below, for each respesctive decision.
  1. He had called the bullpen after Hafner's homer, but no one answered the phone, so he assumed no one was there.
  2. He thought Huckaby was "due" so he consulted the Magic 8-Ball, and although he worded his question ambiguously he got a confirming response.
  3. He had bet Dougie ten bucks that Dougie would get a grooved fastball and miss it, and he wanted to win that bet.
As you can see, he had perfectly good reasons for his non-moves in each case. Do not doubt Tito. He has a 17-man roster and he is using it to near perfection.

The Bad News

Yesterday I alluded to the fact that the Sox are now underdogs. I wasn't necessarily referring to the fact that the Yankees are in first place and will likely remain there for the rest of the season. I was actually referring to the fact that BP's projections have the Sox with just a 59% chance of making the post-season. The PECOTA projection sim has them at 62% but the PECOTA numbers assumed a healthy Wakefield and Varitek. Let's round off and say sixty percent.

The question that I keep asking myself is, "is that okay"? I mean for most teams if you told them they had a 60% shot at the beginning of the season they'd be pretty psyched up, but of course, they wouldn't be spending the money the Sox are spending. If like me you think for $130 million or so bucks you should be looking at a figure closer to 80%, you have to wonder what went wrong. Why is this team struggling to make the postseason?

Let's see:

  1. Starters Clement, Fatty McFatfat, and Wake go down with injury. The team brings up Lester, who performs admirably, but Johson and Snyder don't get it done.
  2. Second "ace" Josh Beckett has an ERA of 5.00 and cannot keep the ball in the park. I've talked about this before, and maybe it's just me, but he has to throw inside or has to throw fewer fastballs. Every hitter is sitting dead-red on him, every at-bat. You can't blow it by them all.
  3. Julian Taverez and Rudy Seanez combine to hasten the apocalypse in nearly every appearance. Their combined WPA for the season? Negative 222. Only Andy Sisco and Elmer Dessens for the Royals can best (worst?) that number, and they had to combine for nine losses and eight blown saves to do so.
  4. Varitek's offense goes into the toilet. Did the WBC wear him down prematurely, or has he been battling the knee all along? Upon arriving in the septic tank Tek's offense says hello to Mirabelli's, which has been squatting there for some time.
  5. Crisp breaks his finger and misses a third of the season, and struggles to regain his form. It should be noted that for the Damon years it ws frequently noted that "As Johnny goes, so go the Red Sox" - Crisp was supposed to fill that void. Youks has done an impressive job but is not as disruptive as a healthy Crisp who could actually bat leadoff would be. I am reserving judgement on whether or not there is a leadoff hitter still living inside Coco's body, yearning to be free. However, I suspect not.
These are all pretty obvious, and are certainly contributors. The things is this. The Yankees lost Sheffield and Matsui nearly for the season and replaced them with Melky Cabrera, Bernie Williams, Bubba Crosby, and Aaron Guiel. Damon spent time on the DL, Posada spent time on the DL - they never slowed down. To some extent, this is due to the fact that weak teams roll over for them. But marginal players seem to play above themselves in the pinstripes (for reference see Small, Aaron; Chacon, Shawn) when the Spankees need help.

The Sox have not seen that happen, obviously. Doug Mirabelli has been Doug Mirabelli, only worse. Jason Johnson has been Jason Johnson, only worse. Kyle Snyder has been Kyle Snyder, but not really worse, so I guess I have no point with him. We're now to the stage in the season where for this team to seriously contend, one of these guys needs to step up and say "I'm better than this". I think Torre is good at getting guys to do that; I don't think Tito is.

The Good News

There is still a bright and shiny core driving this team. This is undeniable. Theo, for all the shit he's taking now for getting nothing done for the deadline, has done a pretty admirable job of getting professional ballplayers who are self-motivated and come to ballpark ready to win. This mitigates what in my mind is Tito's major weakness - he does not inspire (it should be noted that he also does not combust, and in Boston that is a plus). There is not a single member of the team assembled to start this season that doesn't know how to get the job done every day. Even Wells, in his own drunken, morbidly obese way, is a gamer.

That is why this team is still in the race despite the hurdles. They are not getting significant contributions from the fillers, but the core players are finding ways to win. Ortiz is performing at a simply heroic level right now. Manny is hitting for power with consistency. Lowell turned his career around and is a key performer for the Sox. Youks and Loretta have fought their way through slumps to continue to contribute in key situations. Gonzalez had adjusted to hitting in the AL and is outperforming his best projections. And Crisp, who has struggled at the plate and in the field, has stayed positive throughout, and might be breaking through, having raised his batting average 17 points in the past 10 days.

Of course, this leaves the pitching staff. If the bats are keeping the team afloat, the pitching is punching holes in the boat. Still, at 39 Schilling is having a fantastic season. Beckett for all his disappointing outings has shown flashes of brilliance. Lester appears to be the real deal although it is just his first time through the league. Papelbon has been a force of nature, and MDC and Hansen are getting better as they gain experience. Nevertheless, let's face facts: there are some shiny areas here, but it's going to be a white-knuckle flight coming in.

I'll say it again; it will all probably fall to Wake and Wells to get us to the postseason if we do indeed make it. I think Snyder has some real potential, but isn't there yet mentally. Johnson is a mystery, but doesn't appear to have the stuff right now, in spite of his improved recent start. And that's it - realistically, there are no other starters who can contribute this year.

So pick your horse, because at some point we're all going to be riding him in a big game, trying to get home. Maybe it will be Wake, and the knuckler will flutter and hitters will flail and all will be well. Maybe it will be Wells, and he'll gut his way through another game, one step ahead of the Big Inning. Or, maybe not. Maybe it will in fact be Snyder, or maybe Johnson. If so, just pray they step up, sack up, and Believe.

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