Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Houston, We Have A Problem

For one, you appear to be stealing our #1 starter for the rest of the season. But that's not really what I mean. Today was an absolutely horrific day for the Boston Red Sox franchise, at nearly every level.

The Red Sox themselves, as everyone must know by now, were brutalized by the Jays, proving once again that they cannot hit purely mediocre lefty Gustavo Chacin. As it turns out, they really just can't hit lefties period, as the team's season average against them was at .253 going into the game, and no doubt got worse.

Vernon Wells on the other hand proved once again that if he could hit against the Sox every day of the week he would be the greatest hitter of all time bar none, and people would be saying "Barry Who?". Vern connected for 3 HRs on three awful pitches, and now has 8 dingers against the Sox for the season. He has 7 against everyone else.

If I were still paying for cellular phone time by the minute and somebody asked me what happened in this game, I'd say "Beckett couldn't hit his spots, the Sox couldn't hit Chacin, and Vernon Wells couldn't NOT hit a dinger". That pretty much sums it up. Right now, Toronto is simply a better team than the Sox.

The loss, painful as it is to a division rival, was made even more painful by the fact that Todd Jones coughed up an extra-inning loss to the MFYs by throwing DJ Juicy G a hanging curveball that he spasmed into the right-field stands. Not good, not good on any count.

So, after suffering the agony of defeat I tried to ease my pain by seeing how our young proteges in the minors had fared. This was not as soothing as I had hoped, although there were certainly more positives to take away than there were from the big-league club.

Pawtucket lost 3-2 but got three strong pitching performances from Jimmy Serrano (has yet to mention Jobu), Barry Hertzler who took the loss on an unearned run, and LH reliever Craig Breslow. Serrano's season ERA dipped down to 3.05, and while he doesn't miss a lot of bats he might have some value to someone. Hertzler was recently promoted from Portland (AA) where he had a 1.05 ERA, and seems to have transitioned well in his first two games. Breslow struck out the side, and has been getting a lot of Ks in recent outings. I'm thinking he is probably the next logical relief call-up if the 'pen continues to crumble.

Obviously in a 3-2 game the bats weren't exactly lively, Stern the biggest offender with an 0-5 collar. He is not hitting, which makes me sad since I am high on him. However, recently promoted David Murphy had two hits including a double and also walked, and Pedroia also had two hits.

In Portland things get a little depressing. Phil Seibel provides the happy place, pitching 5 one-hit innings. Phil has been pretty damn good. In 50 A and AA innings coming into tonight his ERA is well under two, and he has struck out 46 while only walking nine. Phil doesn't get a lot of press but so far I am liking his style. So the Seadogs headed into the 9th up 5-1 and all hell broke loose. Big Edgar Martinez, a hard-throwing converted catcher who appears to be in the midst of his first confidence crisis gave up 5 runs without getting a single guy out. The Sea Dogs end up losing in crushing fashion 7-5.

Way down in Greenville, the story sounds familiar with rookie starter Clay Bucholz doing fair job keeping them in the gme before embattled reliever JT Zink came in and got shellacked, giving up 6 runs in one and third. Amazingly, Matt Hancock came in and gave up another three in the same timeframe, walking SIX. They ended up losing 12-9.

Wilmington provides the sole win in the organization today, defeating Kinston 9-2 behing a solid Luis Mendoza start. Mendoza has looked pretty good. Taylor Sturge finished the game off an lowered his season ERA to 1.52 with Wilmington. CF speedster Jacoby Ellsbury had two hits and a stolen base, and continues to make the case for promotion.

By the way, Minor League Baseball's web site is pretty comprehensive, and also lists the games that are internet broadcast for audio in case you're bored one afternoon at work. Try it sometime, it's good times. If the Sox keep playing like they have the past couple games it could be the best part of the baseball season.

White-knuckle flight

Well, what were we expecting, I mean really? After all is said and done, these are still the Boston Red Sox. Bizarre downturns are to be expected. Head-scratching losses are to be expected. Abysmal, coronary-inducing relief performances are to be expected. Ladies and gentleman, we are about to enter what I like to call The Dark Times.

Every year it happens, although this year could be pretty damn terrible. The Sox start losing a few games they should win, confidence gets a little shaky, then somebody or 4 people hit the DL, and it's time for the team to gut it out for a few weeks until they can right the ship. Let's see what we're up against at this point.

  1. $9 Million per year #4 starter Matt Clement has gone batshit. Opposing hitters are going up there with this strategy: "stand there until he walks you - it should only take 4 pitches - but if he gives you that meatball down the gut, kill it". There is no easy solution here, even via trade. Either Clement figures it out or we are going to be seeing some pretty creative rotation managing.
  2. Morbidly obese #5 starter Fatty McFatFat is also hurt after getting nailed by a line drive off the leg, hit by AAAA player Nick Green (just to add insult to injury). The downside here is that he was pitching very effectively at the time, and we don't know the extent of the injury yet. He could be out for some time. The upside is that the shock of his corpulent mass hitting the earth didn't shake down the new construction at Fenway. Best case scenario, and one that this season relies pretty heavily on, is that he medicates himself with beer and comes back strong.
  3. The Jeep, Risky Dave and the Anti-Christ are all over the place. They need to figure out if they suck or are decent, and be that. The inconsistency is making Tito's job very difficult and is causing me to engage in homicidal thoughts that frighten my wife. (note: for new readers - hahaha! right - Taverez is The Jeep, Seanez is the Anti-Christ, and you can probably figure out the last guy)
  4. Ditto Keith Foulke, except he's not supposed to be decent, he's supposed to be money. His ability to completely shit the bed is one of the biggest issues we have going on right now. On top of that, he's a dick. But whatever; he can be a dick if he doesn't pitch like Rolando Arrojo.
  5. Mike Timlin is injured, although it doesn't appear to be serious. Still, Mike is 62 years old, and probably won't heal as fast as he used to. Also, if he is unwise and convinces Tito to let him go hunting while he rehabs, there is an excellent chance he could be shot in the face by a member of the White House cabinet.
  6. Wily Mo Pena Super Genius is injured. While Manny is healthy this is more of an entertainment concern than anything else, but still, that counts - it's just fun to watch Wily Mo strike out and look puzzled in one at-bat, then single on a fluke grounder that gets stuck in the catcher's eyeball in the next at-bat and act like it's a perfectly normal occurrence .
  7. We apparently managed to rejuvenate POS Randy Johnson in ESPN's Sucky Game of the Week last week. I guess the Sox just like the Yanks to feel good about themselves. That is the kind of warm fuzzy thinking that is great at the coffee shop and in traffic, but which pretty much blows in a pennant race. While the Sox are playing above their Pythag expected win percentage the Yanks are well below. The expected correction puts the Sox into second place by a fair bit.
  8. Toronto is still pretty damn good. If we had to go into a three-way playoff with the MFYs and Toronto right now, I'd have to put even money on Toronto given their health.
Now, from looking at this list you might be thinking "Holy Crap! All is lost!!" and there is a good chance you could be right. But this is a good baseball team. Let's look at what the Sox have going for them:

  1. Manny and Papi. Still the best 3-4 combination in baseball, and a delight to watch at the plate. Manny has been bothered by some dings, but he will need to step up now.
  2. Mike Lowell's Lazarus impression. Who'd have thunk it? Of course his BABIP is well over .400 and that is pretty much impossible to maintain but still he has been a shining star. His glove at third has been impeccable also.
  3. Coco Crisp is back. Like Wil Smith, Coco is a guy who can energize teammates, except apparently relief pitchers. I am predicting that once Coco hits his stride he is going to start winning games by himself, sometimes by rapping in center field.
  4. Beckett and Schilling are winning games. Both pitchers are going out there with the mindset that they will win, and are not deviating from this focus. While they continue to control games the team will stay in the race.
  5. Papelbon continues to be a revelation at closer. It's been said before but a good closer makes things easier on the rest of the staff. Correlatively, an Anti-Christ makes things harder on the rest of the staff - this is intuitive.
  6. Youks and Loretta are really hitting well. The numbers are there, for sure, but they are each taking great at-bats, making pitchers work, and doing good things with mistake pitches. Clinical, professional hitters - fun to watch.
  7. Defense! The Sox infield is great, and the team defense overall is the best in the bigs, at least in terms of error rates. It could be overrated, it could be underrated, but it's definitely a plus.
  8. Everyone has to worry about injuries. Troy Glaus could shatter at any moment. Burnett might never make it back. The Unit is always one foaming tirade away from the DL. Sheffield might have an "accident" while in County Jail. It's all about staying in the race.
So. Basically, we're right back where we were on Opening Day. Lots of questions, lots of good things on the table, lots of baseball to be played. I don't know why I waste so much time looking at it, but I do. These are the Boston Red Sox, and they just sort of worm their way in there. Let's hope they do the same for the ALCS.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Teh Suck.

Horrific, just a horrific couple of nights. Reminds you of old times doesn't it? A game that the Olde Towne Team should have easily won - a quick 2-0 lead against a creaky piece of shit, a hobbled Yankee lineup, home field advantage - goes inexplicably awry, almost as if the team is WILLING itself to lose, fueled by the almost impossible negativity and incompetence of Matt Clement. Ortiz's terrible 0-9 performance over the past two games has not helped, but let's talk about Clement here.

Let me be the first person to say I was wrong about Clement. I had hoped that the White Sox ALCS shellacking would be a watershed moment for Matt, that it would give him catharsis and he could start anew in 2006. I was wrong, oh, how I was wrong. Clement is a guy who is apparently cursed by what Poe described in the "Imp of the Perverse", a subconscious desire to make things worse for himself and those around him - to do wrong for wrong's sake. When he gets a bad call, he'll get wilder in ensuing pitches. If a guy gets a lucky hit on a good pitch, Clement will groove fastballs into the wheelhouse, as if giving Fate the finger (for reference see the at-bats of Williams and Long in the 4th tonight). In short, when Clement goes bad, he goes awful.

The question of course, is why the hell did Tito leave him in there? Once he starts to slide you pull him, if you care to win the game, and there are no games you can give to the Yankees, certainly not after you gift-wrapped them a game the very night before. That is exactly how teams start to slide, and it will be the true test of this team over the course of the next week. We'll see how they rebound from two embarrassing losses, where nothing went right.

If you're like me, and I pity you if this is the case, the thing that is bothering you about this game is the fact that once Clement collapsed you could feel that the Sox were not coming back. Bases-loaded, Papi at the plate, I never thought for a moment they would win this game.

Wily Mo Pena was so winded from the experience he was scared to take home plate after Farnsworth attempted to decapitate Loretta - probably thinking "this is going to bounce straight to Stinnet". AndI can't blame him. Psychologically it has got to be nearly impossible to get the equilibrium and focus you need to keep fighting back after watching a guy just go to pieces on the mound - again. If a guy has crappy stuff (hi Lenny) that night you just have to gut it out, but watching Clement mentally implode must take it out of everyone on the field. Their at-bats against the crappy Yankee relievers were just pathetic. The shots of the bench didn't look too hot either. Clement sucked the heart right out of that team.

Long story somewhat less long, Sybill has to go. He has good enough stuff to get you 10-12 wins against sub-.500 teams, and will throw the occasional surprise gem, but he cannot be a part of a playoff team. Like our beloved Nomah before him, his insanity casts a pall over every game he is in once things start to go wrong. The stat heads like to argue against "intangibles", and we all know there is a limit, but a baseball team needs to believe cohesively it can win any game, every game to go the distance. That's what I believe, and that's what every guy on the 2004 team will tell you.

I don't know if we can get anything for him, but I know this much - his time is short. If Wells come back strong and either Lester matures (a lot) or Clemens signs, I would expect to see a very one-sided deal made to be rid of his sorry, sorry ass. And I for one will be pleased. This team is good enough to go deep into the playoffs, but not with him in the rotation.

p.s. Please lord let me be wrong about him again. I promise I'll admit it even more quickly.

Some Minor League notes:

Every once in a while I will try to update "everyone" on various of our bright shining stars in the lower levels. There are some fun young guys to follow...

Jacoby Ellsbury: My favorite name in the minors, Ellsbury projects to be a Podsednik-style leadoff hitter/CF with speed to burn. Despite missing several games to injury Ellsbury is having a good season, hitting .329 with an OPS of .414, and 9 steals in 19 games. Today in his first at-bat Ellsbury singled, stole second, stole third and scored on the bad throw. He's a guy that can make things happen.

Dustin Pedroia: Everyone is waiting with bated breath for Pedroia to be ready for the bigs, and to prove he can play baseball. This is largely because Alex Gonzalez is a boil on the ass of the Red Sox offense, but also Pedroia is a dirt dog kind of player that will be loved in Boston. A bizarre shoulder injury caused him to miss all but the last few weeks, and he had a slow start afterwards, but he has been coming around as of late. A 3-for-3 day yesterday raised his average to .261 (down to .254 after 0-3 tonight), and he is still getting on base at a .356 clip. There are a lot of questions about DP's ceiling due to physical limitations, but most Sox fans would be happy to have him if he can approximate what he's done in the minors thus far.

John Lester: Everyone knows about the young left-hander. He struggled early in AAA this season but his last couple outings have been solid, and overall he's striking out a hitter per inning with decent control. My question about Lester pertains to his attitude - we know Paps has the killer instinct, but will John?

Chris Smith: Portland starter who is coming baclk from a labrum injury is throwing the ball very well, with a 2.01 ERA, 28 Ks and just 7 walks, although due to poor run support his record is just 3-3. He doesn't have a blazing fastball, but shows great control and has a repertoire of junk to pitch with. Abe Alvarez with better stuf.

David Murphy: Described by Sox Prospects as a "sweet swinging outfielder", Murphy thus far appears to be a streaky hitter who when he puts it together just catches fire. He started slow this year (again) but has done well lately. Showed what he can do in the Arizona fall League last year, but the question remains - does he become Trot Nixon, or Darren Bragg?

Tommy Hottovy: In Wilmington, Hottovy is duplicating Chris Smith's season, compiling a 4-3 record despite having a 2.17 ERA and a WHIP of just 1.00. Hottovy spent last season retooling his mechanics to throw more smoothly and preserve his arm, and while he struggled at that time, he seems to have found a rhythm now.

Jeff Natale: Another Shea favorite, the kid from Trinity just won't stop hitting. Sure, his fielding is suspect to some degree, but his batting stats thus far in 2006? An average of .336, an OBP of .475, and the kid is slugging .572 for an OPS of .1047. He's Ked 19 times and walked 34. I don't know how long they keep him down in Greenville (low-A) but I can't imagine it's long.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

For the love of god.

This is the boxscore from tonight's game - read it if you can. The LOB column is particularly disconcerting. This will go down as one of the great ignoble losses of the 2006 season, made particularly loathsome due to the unpalatable HR Bad Timmeh gave up to uber-douche Arod and, correspondingly bad, Big Papi's 0-4 collar.

This was just one of those games where everything went wrong. It happens. It hurts that it happened against a Yankee team that is pretty beat up and against a Yankee starter that no longer has any business being in the bigs, but there you have it. Tomorrow's another day, and we'll be looking at a nailbiter with Matt "Sybill" Clement facing off against the brittle, psychotic, disfigured hick Randy Johnson. That will be one I just might have to sneak out early to watch.

7 Little, 8 Little, 9 Little Bats That Suck...

For tonight's "must-win" (in that in my mind all games against the Spanks are must-win) game against NY, the Sox trotted out Alex Cora, Doug Mirabelli, and Willie Harris to bat 7-8-9. I don't need to put a single stat down here for you to understand, thoroughly and completely, that you generally will not beat a quality team with those three albatrosses around your neck in the bottom third of the order. In fact, I bet you're thinking right now - if you haven't already turned on the game and said it out loud -"Sweet Jesus, is that all we have?!"

As it turns out, no. In spite of the fact that combined, they are not hitting over the Mendoza line, it could be worse. Alex Gonzalez could be hitting tonight, and then Cora's .242 wouldn't be there to lift the other guys up. I have always felt OK about having Cora in the lineup, but that was when I assumed he would be the worst bat in it! Mirabelli is done, he just can't hit anymore, but Willie Harris could never hit. Ever.

I joke about the Yankees having to trot Bernie out there in CF and Melky Cabrera out in RF but seriously, given a choice between Melky and Willie, I'm pretty damn sure I'd take Melky. Shit, Melky's hitting .306 and getting on base 1/3 of his at-bats. Willie is being diminutive. That's all he brings to the table, the fact that he lets me use the term "diminutive". That's it.

Meanwhile, it's the third inning and Bad Tim has knocked Good Tim unconscious and taken the reigns. The Sox are already down 3-0, Bad Tim is walking guys left and right and getting peppered by the GQ brothers Johnny and Jetes. Everything about the game is sucking, and I still have to look at Willie Harris's name on the lineup sheet. Wily Mo, heal thyself.

Now, nothing is over. If your team loses to Jaret Wright, they cannot call themselves a championship team, so there is still hope. Granted, they're playing crippled, but still, I have faith in Little Paper-Arm's ability to blow up. All I know for sure is that he won't do it in the bottom third of the order.

Note: I am lying my ass off in that last paragraph. There is no way this or any team can come back from three down with Dougie and Willie getting at-bats and Bad Timmeh on the mound. This check's been cashed. Turn on the Simpsons, pronto.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Sox far Sox good. Well, pretty good.

I am thinking now is as good a time as any to take a moment and reflect on where we are in the American League. Nothing else is happening, that's for goddamn sure (when I started this beast the Sox had been rained out twice). On the plus side here in sunny California I can just read "PPD" on Yahoo! from my desk rather than hearing it on WEEI while I'm stuck in traffic with my windshield wipers firing back and forth across my road-rage filled car. Good times. (Before anyone starts bitching about the rain let me point out that it rained 19 days in a row here in March - that's right, 19)


The only statistic that counts shows the Sox in first place with a game on the malicious Yankees, at 23-14, for a .622 winning percentage. This is nothing to scoff at, as the AL East is a pretty tough decision to win in when you are playing the Yanks and Blue Jays every week. At present the Sox are 17-9 against their division rivals, which bodes well. Loretta is hitting very well again, and Gonzalez has raised his average 40 points in the last three weeks, so those are bright signs (although I am in no way implying that Seabass will not suck all year long). Offensively Varitek continues to struggle with a .717 OPS, and one has to wonder if the WBC was a great idea for an aging catcher, but I doubt very much that he's done. The Globe thinks perhaps he has begun rebounding.

Currently the most pressing issue the team faces offensively is deciding what to do with Crisp upon his return. With Youks sporting a .423 OBP (seriously, can we take a moment for Youks? He's getting on base 42% of his at-bats, it's unbelievable) it will be tough for Tito to make the decision to move him down in the lineup. Crisp's speed gives you some more options out there but he doesn't get on like Youks does, and while Loretta hits behind runners well, it's oftentimes just as good to have a guy sitting out there anywhere at all with Ortiz and Manny coming up. Francona's comments indicate that Crisp will bat leadoff though, so we'll see. The other head in this equation is Wily Mo Pena Super Genius who just might actually be a Super Genius. You hate to see WMP losing at-bats because he just does great things when he gets to play. He's getting nothing to hit, and is still striking out almost a third of the time, but is averaging better than an RBI every 5 at-bats, which puts him in Big Papi territory. Wily Mo is results-oriented.

Pitching continues to be solid with the exception of International Man of Annoying Mystery Matt Clement. It's possible that my prediction that Matt would have a career season jinxed him, but it's probably more likely that he's just crazy as a shithouse rat. This is a guy with absolutely no faith in his stuff. He is currently the single last person on earth you want on the mound in a must-win big game, and that, generally, is not what you're looking for in a $10Mil a year starter. Dinardo, despite a couple tough-looking scorelines, is pitching pretty well, and is absolutely a serviceable 5th starter at under $400k a year. I think Lenny has a good make-up and I think he's going to get better. So, if he now begins to suck, we can attribute it and Clement's suck to my jinx. Then we can call it the Shea Suck Jinx, and I can sell it on TV for people to use on their enemies.

Overall, the Sox look like what they are - a pretty well-built team with a core of solid veterans who know how to win ballgames. Their actual winning percentage is .622, but their Pythagorean predicted winning percentage (more or less Runs Scored squared over Runs Scored squared plus Runs Allowed squared) is a mere .569. There are a couple reasons for this. One is they are 6-3 in one-run games. The other is that they are not blowing teams out, so there is no padding in the run differential overall. So, really, I guess there is one reason for this - they're not winning by a lot. (Note: since writing this they annihilated Baltimore, when I began their pythag WP was .542 and actual was .600) We should feel good that they are capable of doing so - the White Sox were 35-19 in one-run games last season. Good teams win close ballgames.

They are also a pretty lucky team. I've talked a little bit about WPA (Win Probability Added) in this space before, and the graph here tells a pretty interesting story - namely that in terms of WPA the second-best player on the Red Sox is the other teams' crappy fielding. It's pretty hard to imagine that trend continuing at this level, but every good team knows how to take advantage of a break, and the Sox are a good baseball team. It helps that we do not give runs away - the Sox have only 12 errors as a team in 2006, and the next fewest is 18.

New York obviously caught a tough break with my fantasy left-fielder Matsui (see a trend?) breaking his wrist, but age is starting to catch up with this team too. Sheffield is on the DL with a knock, Johnson is looking a little creaky on the mound, and Posada is slower than ever. Mussina, Jeter, and Giambi's performance-enhancing drugs are carrying that team right now, and when they start to regress it could get tough for Spankee fans. One thing is certain - if you have a nearly $200 Mil payroll and Bubba Crosby and Melky Cabrera are starting games, something has definitely gone wrong. Given their vast resources don't be surprised to see a trade happen at some point, where they eat another bloated contract in exchange for one of their quality low minors prospects (of which there are a few) and loads of cash. Torii Hunter must be looking real good right about now.

Toronto hangs in there at only 2.5 games behind, despite Josh Towers going 1-7 in his first 8 games - a record that is not indicative of his quality as a pitcher. If Towers returns to some semblance of form, and Toronto keeps scoring runs at their AL East-leading rate, that one game margin probably goes away. If and when Burnett comes off the DL, there is more to worry about. The Jays are built to score runs, and if their pitchers are all healthy and pitching just to projected averages, that team is going to be very, very tough to beat. The AL East could very well be decided by teams' #4 and #5 starters, and Toronto matches up well there. On the other hand, they are located in Toronto, and that has to hurt you in some way.

Baltimore is, well, Baltimore. The more things change, the more things stay the same. Leo Mazzone has not turned around a pitching staff that continues to find ways to lose. Generally their plan is to give up more runs that they score, which they have done to excess. Their 239 Runs Against leads the majors. They were hitting the ball well, but have faltered offensively a bit too. Now, I suppose there is always the chance that they are just working through adjustments, and that the Mazzone factor will kick in and they will go on a tear, but I wouldn't run to Vegas with that idea just yet. At this point in time Daniel Cabrera has 43 Ks and 39 BBs - not usually indicative of a breakout season (he has since gone on the DL). If Miggy didn't want to be traded in the offseason, I bet he does now. Maybe he'll go play LF for the Yankees (shhhh!).

Finally, Tampa Bay. Ahh, the sweet smell of a team that lives just to be the spoiler. They don't score runs, they don't prevent runs. All they do is make unreasonable trade demands. They've given up 219 runs to put them just behind Baltimore in the Majors for letting opposing players cross the plate - wonder if having two closers with ERAs well over 6 could have contributed? They've scored just 163, due to having 5 regular or semi-regular players batting under .200 for the season, watching Joey Gathright hover at .208, and dealing with Rocco Baldelli's injured Whole Body. Looking at the team stats is an exercise in depression. On the plus side, their sure-fire, can't-miss prospect Delmon Young has been suspended for 50 games because he threw a bat at an umpire. Genius.


The White Sox continue to tear it up, but Detroit, riding a maturing starting rotation and some power at the plate (tied for league-leading 56 HRs) , are only a half-game out in the Central.

The White Sox were a great team, and all they did was go add one the best sluggers in the game in Jim Thome. Now he is healthy, and he is killing the ball. Barring a spate of injuries, or the untimely decision to have Ozzie Guillen committed to an institution, this team goes the World Series again, end of story.

Detroit is an obvious surprise, in that they are doing so very well. It was clear that someday Bonderman and Robertson and Maroth would mature, but hard to say when. This year the Tigers team ERA is 3.27 and is the only Al team ERA under 4 - pretty impressive. Magglio Ordonez is on the field, which is a surprise unto itself, and he is on fire. Inge just keeps getting better, showing some pop this year to go with his increased plate discipline. And Curtis Granderson and Chris Shelton have emerged as future stars, at least in the early going. I think this team is for real, and they make the playoff picture all that much murkier. For my part, I am rooting for Detroit largely because they were Magnum PI's team of choice, and he was the greatest detective of this or any other era. Only Magnum got beat up every episode. That used to be the Tigers, but they're fighting back.

On the flip side of the coin is Cleveland. If you had told me that they would be under .500 and nearly 8 games out of first place at this point in the season I would have said you were crazy, and there would probably have been a swear in there. Yet that's what has happened, and this has occurred with Casey Blake having a career season that is now in Webster's next to "aberration". To some degree they don't deserve to be where they are - their Pythag winning percentage is .558, so they should be well above .500 strictly speaking in terms of run differential. But to another, more real degree, their starting pitching is just awful, and that's how you lose games. The Pythag is not a great predictor because teams like Cleveland can win games 15-1 and 15-3 with some regularity and it screws everything up. The thing is, if your team can score 15 runs in a game twice in a month, why can't they win more? These are tough questions.

Minnesota is another disappointment, just ask their beleaguered fans. How could it go so wrong? Their team ERA is 5.57. Santana is just 4-3. Radke is pitching batting practice out there, but both Lohse and Silva are worse with ERA's near 9. Their DH, acquired expressly to hit DH, is hitting .187 with an OPS of .420. FOUR-TWENTY!! There are enough good things happening, and enough good players on this team that we can't write them off completely, but the AL Central is a very difficult place to make a living these days, and their odds are not good. This is sad, because Twin Cities folk are good people and deserve better. Luckily, they have it, in the St. Paul Saints. Everybody wins at Saints games.

Let's not talk about Kansas City. Ok, a little bit. They are 2-18 on the road. If I were them I would seriously consider forfeiting all road games and just seeing if they could put all their money towards three great pitchers to win home games. I think their season would go better.


The West is looking pretty poor. To be honest, they look like shit.

Texas is in first place, and as we all know, Texas sucks. Case in point, just last night they blew a nine-run lead to the Yankees, and got beaten on a walk-off HR by no-talent Mr. Potato Head Jorge Posada. This game will serve two purposes. One, it will tell the Rangers and all the other teams in the division all they need to know about the Rangers. Two, and you would think there would be an inverse relationship between this and #1 but there isn't, it will add to the "Yankee mystique" that lets teams with no confidence choke away games to the Spankees and allow them to make the playoffs when they shouldn't. I'm talking to you, Oakland, Baltimore, Minnesota, Cleveland! Don't piss me off!

Short version, I don't expect Texas to be in first place for very long. Oakland's pitching is better than we have seen, although the Loioza signing was a mistake, and so is their offense. Dan Johnson is in a slump of truly apocalyptic proportions (dare I say Rondellian?) and Crosby isn't hitting yet, but they will. As they are a team that typically hits their stride in the summer, and they are a well-built team, I suspect we will see them atop the West in the next couple of weeks, now that they've gotten their roll-over for the Spanks out of the way. Moreover, As baseball television ads are the funniest ads on TV, so they get props for that.

The Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles are a bit of mystery, but it becomes slightly clearer when you realize they signed win-killing virus Jeff Weaver in the off-season. If he goes 3-4 instead of 1-6 they're just a couple games back. As it stands they're just a half-game in front of sad sacks Seattle, and their fans are wondering why in hell they're not parked on the freeway hating on each other instead. Of course those are the same fans who will claim to have been behind them the entire time when they're in the mix come August, because the team has too much talent to languish behind the goddamn Texas Rangers. In my mind, if you've got two decent starters and Vlad Guerrero, you can see the playoffs from anywhere in the AL West.

Also-rans Seattle are right on target to duplicate their .426 WP from last year. At least they're consistent. Young shortstop Yuniensky Betancourt is out-slugging both "Self-Nut-Punch Acquisition" Adrian Beltre and "Um, We Did It Again? Acquisition" Richie Sexson. Sexson by the way is below the Mendoza line. To be quite frank, neither of the two tools has an OPS over .600. Beltre has never seen a pitch he didn't like, and hasn't seen very many at all he can hit. At this point Mariners fans have only one reason to live, and that is to see King Felix reach his glorious potential, which we can assume he hasn't, sitting at 2-5 with a 5.71 ERA. For myself, I live to see Ichiro turn down a trade to the Yankees in about two weeks. But deep down I fear Shemp will convince him it's the right thing to do and then I will have to hate him. This makes me sad.

That's all for now - back to thanking Jesus that he invented the Baltimore Orioles and ruminating on what Wily Mo should call himself when he decides to become a superhero.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Here comes the yelling.

Tonight the Sox travel to the Toilet to take on Ichabod Crane and the Spankees in one of the more hyped-up games of the year. Sometimes-ace, sometimes-whippingboy Josh Beckett takes the mound for the Sox, so the Johnson-Beckett matchup has fans and media on both sides of the field salivating and taking their medication. As I posted at ArmchairGM, this game is going to be an even more savage hate-fest than usual.

It boils down to this, and I won't spend much time on it. Randy Johnson, whom I affectionately call Ichabod Crane, is a complete and utter douchebag. Everyone hates him, but Sox fans really hate him, because he wears the pinstripes. Josh Beckett is a punk, and is kind of annoying even to me. Yankees fans despise him due to a certain game 6 shutout in the 2003 World Series. Essentially, what we have here is the makings of the complete overthrow of civilization at Yankee Stadium tonight. Given that on any given night the citizenry of that hallowed ground are about as evolved as Lucan, this could be really frightening.

As far as the actual baseball is concerned, it's hard to predict how either of these power pitchers will perform. Both have had mixed results thus far this season, and both would probably care to forget their last start.

Beckett has had control issues all season, and is pretty steadily averaging a 60%-40% strike to ball ratio with his pitches. Overall his K/BB totals are 23/16 - not ace numbers. In back to back April games against Cleveland and Toronto he was bitten by the homerun bug and gave up 3 taters in each outing. After having three stellar starts in his first three games, this was troubling. His last effort against Toronto was plebeian (4 ER in 5 innings) but at least was devoid of the long ball. This will be a defining start for the young turk. The Sox paid too much to get him for him to wither in games such as these. His pedigree is the gem from the 2003 Series in this very stadium, so he should have the background to come up big, but we'll see. I'm starting to wonder if he isn't bothered by something physically.

Johnson has been more erratic than Beckett. He's basically had three solid outings followed by a shellacking followed by a gem followed by two poor games. it should be noted that two of the "gems" came against KC and Baltimore, so they should be taken with a grain of salt. Most recently Tampa Bay took him for 5 runs in 6 2/3 innings. Despite his Southern disfigurement and his ability to make small children cry RJ is still capable of beating any team on the planet, and has proven that over the course of too many years. Also, Loretta, Ramirez, Lowell, Varitek, and Pena are hitting a collective .213 versus LHP in 2006, with an aggregate OPS of .664. No bueno.

Both pitchers are susceptible to poor first innings, so the key for the Sox will be forcing Johnson to throw strikes and make pitches early, and for guys to get on base an keep Ichabod out of his rhythm. Ditto for the Yanks though, as Beckett has shown a tendency to be wild out of the gate. As always in this series (or any other, really; but these are two teams who see a lot of pitches as a tactic), free passes can be the difference between a win and a loss. The guy who keeps the ball around the plate will be the last man standing.

The Sox do have one clear advantage and that is defensively. The Sox are superior at every infield position, and if rumors are true, the Yanks' centerfielder throws like a girl. If Beckett can keep the ball in the park, this will help him out. That's a pretty big if, granted, but still worth mentioning.

I think the Sox will struggle in this game, and I will frankly be surprised if Beckett gets out of this with fewer than 4 ER under his belt, but if Boston can get to NY's middle relief (I do not buy the Farnsworth hype) I think they have a chance. Either way, it will be a rager to watch. Have beer close by, and try to send the kids to their rooms. Better yet, go to a bar or someone's basement to watch this game. It's tailor made to engender behavior that will make your significant other question your relationship, and scar your children for life. By now we Sox fans don't care about silly things like "maturity" and "sportsmanship", but nobody wants to listen to the grief, do we?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The pain, the terrible pain.

A tale of two games.

Monday night's defeat of the Silver Spoons was a perfect example of how this team can win games - stay in it, take pitches, and get on base for Papi and Manny. Mirabelli showed why he is beloved by the fans by completing a cross-country odyssey in the nick of time to catch Timmeh, and do it well. The bottom of the lineup chipped in. Tito didn't do anything terribly stupid. When this team does what it should do, what it needs to do, it will beat anyone. On paper they are not overmatched.

Last night's debacle was the flip side of the coin, a failure of Homeric proportions. The Sox did everything wrong. Beckett (again) could not throw strikes. They let the bottom of the Jays order beat them. They sucked in some very creative and unbelievable ways. Tito made some bad decisions. And most importantly, Ortiz and Papelbon had a bad day. Watching the game, they kept battling back, but it almost seemed like they were trying to lose, that's how bad they were in key situations late in the game. It was painful.

There is a crucial difference between this team and the 2004 WC team. This team is not tough from 1-9 in the lineup. I am sticking with my assumption that Loretta is just slumping here, so really I'm talking about Gonzalez, who in the 9-hole is killing innings with regularity. The more generic issue offensively is that despite some decent skills and even some good numbers at face value, there is an inability for a lot of these guys to do good things in the right situations.

The new hot thing in baseball's statistical hemisphere is WPA or Win Probability Added. The short definition is that this statistic measures whether a player contributed to a win (positive WPA) or didn't (negative WPA). Each game has a net value of zero - the winning team gets +.5 and the losers get negative .5. There is a good layman's overview here at Hardball Times.

Fangraphs.com has been kind enough to graph the WPA values for every game, which is interesting. But the games also come with season totals, where some things really stand out. The Jays game and season stats (tabbed page) are here. The horrifying number that punches you in the nuts is Gonzalez's -89.4% total. That is simply astounding. To give you a benchmark, Kansas City, with only 5 wins all year, has two position playing starters in the -50s, and that's as low as they go. I haven't seen anywhere where WPA translates neatly into wins or even runs (although THT has AGon's Runs Created value at TWO for the season), but it is fair to say that he is offensively abysmal. On the plus side, he can't bunt either.

The other shocker (and it was worse before his key hit last night) is Lowell at -16.9%. On the face of it he's having a great season, and to be fair WPA doesn't account for all dependencies, but it is pretty obvious that Mike has been taking advantage of low-pressure situations to produce. Hopefully last night's success marks the beginning of a new age. Loretta is exactly the opposite at +35.1%. He sucks, we all know he sucks, but he has come up with some keys hits, including the walk-off shot against Seattle, and the big hit Monday against the Spanks, and they have bolstered his WPA for the season. When it boils right down to winning and losing, Loretta has found a way to mitigate his suckage. Does that prevent me from wanting to gouge his eyeballs out with a salad fork every time he hits into an inning-ending DP? No.

Just to keep things real, I should note that Gonzalez and Loretta currently have identical VORPs (Value Over Replacement Player) of -5.2. If you're not familiar with VORP, just stick with what you know of book-keeping: you don't want to be in the negative. The short story is neither of them wants to see Pedroia playing well in AAA.

One final note on WPA. Pitchers get a lot of credit for wins and losses, and rightly so, and WPA reflects this. The interesting thing to see in the Sox chart is that Timmeh, despite having a team-worst 1-4 record, looks better than Clement at 2-2. I point this out to show that how the team did is not ultimately reflected by WPA - it denotes what the player did to impact the odds that the team would win. This explains how the Sox can have a winning record in spite of AGon's -89.4%, and his sucking all light into his body at short.

So. Stats are fun, they're interesting, and they help to confirm or deny what we manage to see (or think we see) with our own eyes, but as a fan we have other considerations. For example, how do we FEEL about our team? At this point in the season it's hard to know. I know this much - currently this team is not as good as I thought they'd be. Yeah, it's early, but I don't have confidence that this team will win the games they need to. All teams have bad days, but when they need to win they find a way to do so, and thus far this team hasn't shown that, Monday's victory aside. So color me hopeful, but not confident.

When I go into that bar to watch the Sox play (as I am in SF and have no DirecTV) I want to order my first beer aggressively, not tentatively and like I'm Johnny Damon trying to hit the cutoff. Here, let me expound on how the Sox can impact that first transaction.

Scenario 1: Sox are winning more often that not. Papi and Manny are locked in, we're getting quality starts, and I know if it's close they have a good chance of drumming up some late inning heroics.

I enter the bar. I give my friends the Manny finger point, stride up to the bartender and say "I'll take a Sam Adams, and put the Sox game on that TV please. Nice shirt/haircut/cans."

Scenario 2: Sox are playing just under .500 ball. We're seeing a lot of long relief, and look to be trying to break our own single-season LOB record. Close games are an exercise in masochism, and I begin to wonder if Tito hasn't grown an extra chromosome.

I enter the bar. My friends all shake their heads - why do I do it to myself? I apologize to the bartender beforehand: "I'm gonna try it again. You can put the game on in the corner if you want. I'll take a Sam Adams please, and try to look over every so often - I might need you to turn the game off suddenly before I ram my head through the jukebox."

As you can see that is a pretty big difference. There are three big things that need to happen for the team to reach Scenario 1, and for me to appear normal in public.

First, Beckett has to be automatic. He can't be nibbling around the corners, walking guys and giving up run-scoring doubles to the #9 batter. When Schill and Beckett pitch, we should win, end of story. Clement can be a 50/50 guy if this happens, I'll just hate him.

Second, Loretta has to hit. This should be happening already, but it appears as if he may have gone crazy. Hopefully this is temporary. Maybe when Coco comes back he'll perk up again.

Third, Alex Gonzalez needs to adjust his batting stance so that the upper half of his body is horizontal across the plate. Our best chance to keep innings alive is for him to start getting pelted like an adulteress in the Old Testament.

Ok, I was kidding there. Number three of course is that everyone's favorite dynamo Coco Crisp makes his way back into the lineup. Like Damon before him, as Coco goes, so go the Sox. Of course then we have the problem of keeping WMPSG in the lineup. Wile E. is looking very good at the plate and needs to see more at-bats. Good problem to have I suppose.

There is still plenty of time for the Sox to turn this into a magical season. This team was built well. I am predicting that if the current struggles continue we will see Varitek step up and do some tough-love captaining. I look forward to that. Sometimes everyone needs a kick in the ass.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mirabelli Returns - The North End Rejoices.

Link to ESPN story here.

Well, as I mentioned yesterday, the problem needed to be solved. I am not sure it needed to be solved in such a lopsided fashion, but the Sox were dealing with a gun to their heads, and this is what happens.

Mirabelli is a guy who does one thing well at this point - he catches the knuckler. Now, given that he has been complaining of a bad back all season, he may not even be able to do that much longer, in which case this is an extreme screwing by SD. But as it stands, the Sox get a known quantity and they overpay for it.

San Diego will receive Josh Bard, a back-up catcher, to replace their back-up catcher. Bard is younger, does not have back problems, and still has some upside. Bard plus cash for Mirabelli is probably a fair trade from a value perspective. But San Diego will also receive Cla Meredith, the 22-year old side-armer who may actually have a major league career in front of him. Shit, in Petco Park I might have a major league career as a pitcher in front of me. That being said, Meredith has shown signs of brilliance, and at the very least he throws strikes and is tough on righties.

At the end of the day this is what a deal looks like when you are dealing from need and everyone knows it - there are not a lot of catchers out there with knuckleball experience. The Sox obviously needed to do this deal. To be honest, if Theo and Towers didn't have such a good relationship, this might have looked worse. Who can say?

So, welcome back Dougie. Dougie can't hit anymore, and he has a bad back, and he's just in awful, awful shape, but Timmeh loves to throw to him. And not to jinx anyone, but if Wells is done, we are short a fat guy on the team, and this team needs a fat guy.


Keith's latest attempt to get traded or killed by Sox fans is this quote from an article in the Courant...

>> "I think he's probably going to get a heavy booing," Keith Foulke said. "You go from Red Sox Nation to a big Yankee. I'm sure there will be a lot people who will cheer him, but I think you'll hear pretty loud boos. That's just how the fans are."

Damon turned down a four-year, $40 million offer from the Red Sox and got $52 million from the Yankees.

"No one ever leaves their job for a job that pays more money," Foulke said, his words dripping with sarcasm. "Why would [fans] understand? We're just overpaid, spoiled kids." <<

Seriously, how stupid is this man? I'm the first person to admit that many Red Sox fans are mean-spirited, asinine drunks, but how about a little dignity? You get paid millions of dollars to throw a ball for 15 minutes every other night. Would it kill you to recognize that you are not getting the shaft out there?

I really try to give these guys the benefit of the doubt, because it's gotta be tough to deal with the boo-birds, maybe blow a game, and then have to talk to hacks like Shaughnessy and Buckley. But Foulke is just a belligerent douche. At some point someone out there is going to need a closer and I would not be surprised to see him dealt. In fact, I would be almost pleased, despite his abilities. I want to like my players. I doubt I'm alone in that.