Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Big Picture

It's beyond argument now that the 2006 Red Sox season is over, in baseball terms.  But Sox fans need to root harder than ever now.  Now, we're simply rooting for the health of two of our most beloved players, heart and soul of the team David Ortiz and young gun Jon Lester.

Ortiz was re-admitted to the hospital with more heart arrhythmia, and thankfully appears to be well, but put quite a scare into the Fenway Faithful.  As we've learned in the past, these things are tricky, and we should all keep Big Papi in our thoughts, if only to thank him for the truly amazing performances he's given over the past few years.  There is no other player like him.

Lester was suffering back pain and swollen lymph nodes, and the Herald (perhaps irresponsibly) reported that he will be tested for cancer.  This story made us all catch our collective breath, I'm sure.  The kid is only 22 years old, in the prime of life with a starry career ahead of him.  We all need him to be okay, to let us continue to believe that at it's heart, baseball is a healing game, a game of life and living in all it's nuanced, small breaths, motions, and pauses.   Lymph nodes are used in fighting infection, and it's likely the swelling was due to infection: that is what I am keeping in my mind.  Rebound, Jon.

Obviously this blog features none of my usual snarking, for which I apologize (to some degree).  It is easy, especially doing this, to forget these guys are just people, just guys living their lives. In the end, I consider myself lucky to have this team, this fan family, and they and we deserve a few minutes of appreciation and hope.

Coming Soon: The trade of Fatty!  Where will he be eating next?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sox Worst in MLB In August

We're all familiar with the old saying "missing the forest for the trees".  Those of us in the habit of breaking the game down into it's myriad components certainly seem to be guilty of this right about now.   We all know there are a lot of problems with this club, and the injuries are killing the Sox too, but they are the worst team in all of baseball this month, at 8-17. 

The worst team in all of baseball for the month of August. I mean, I don't care what happens to you, you cannot be the worst team in baseball for an entire month at $120 Million a year.  Okay, to be fair, they could possibly win the next few days and climb out, but this is truly a debacle. And it gets worse, because en route to accomplishing this feat they were swept by two of the other teams way down on the shit list in Seattle and KC. 

I really think we're talked out for 2006.  This is a likeable team, player to player, they really are.  They're just not good enough.  So I'll just ask this on behalf of these players, because if they had thought of it, or cared, they would have: Sox fans, just go out and root for these guys to play hard for pride, and let that be enough for 2006.  Maybe this year is punishment for our hubris, I don't know.  I'm going with a new fan motto for the rest of the year: Simplify.  I'm going to try to appreciate the little things that make baseball great for the rest of the season, and enjoy the game for itself.

This should last about a day since I'm going to the game tomorrow night at the Coliseum to see Kason Gabbard pitch.  Since he's really a prospect, I will use that loophole to overanalyze his performance while a well-built A's team continues to steamroll towards the playoffs.

If you want something to feel good about, the Sox' rookie club won the GCL championship.  Story [url=] here [/url].  These players are light-years away, but this is great for the franchise.


Lars Anderson, the sweet swinging, power hitting kid oddly named Lars, has signed.  He was really supposed to be a tough sign, but the Sox got it done.  If they come to terms with Bard, which looks likely according to reports, the 2006 Draft will be the biggest success of the season for the organization.  In terms of actual Red Sox team MLB performance this means nothing, but it's fun to root for "upside", isn't it?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Red Sox Nation: Panic Sets In

Here we are in mid-August, and the Sox are 4.5 back from their best chance at the playoffs (WC), 6.5 back of the Yankees in the East after getting gang-raped at home, and the bandwagon's wheel-less chassis is being dragged Lasndowne Street by four lame and most likely drunk Clydesdales.  If you predicted this situation then you're either a fantastic baseball prognosticator, or you've already killed yourself.

Naturally when things go to shit like they have, people start wanting to blame someone, usually someone else.  In the old days everyone would go right after the manager, because their decisions occur during games we lose, and oftentimes can be second-guessed pretty easily.  The Yankees have changed all that though, by using their fabulous wealth to solve all baseball problems.  Nowadays, if your team starts losing and doesn't fix it, the reason is because your GM didn't buy you better players over the trading window.   Affixing blame to the front office also gets folks out from under the weight of having to understand the game, since that is an important component of criticizing the manager.  Good times.
Our front office appears to have made some mistakes in their actions and non-actions this year, judging from the standings and heretofore performance of star acquisitions Beckett, Crisp and Mirabelli.  Nevertheless, they are adhering to a preset program, which is to put the team in a position to win 90-95 games a year and go from there. 

Now, to me, there are two heads to the FO's philosophy that they will build a club to win 90-95 wins every year and see what happens.  One is that by not putting all their eggs into one (projected)100+ win super-team filled with expensive free-agents, they will have the flexibility to perhaps make a couple of upgrades come the trade deadline and offseason. The other is plain old luck. In the AL East 90-95 wins does not guarantee a playoff spot - 95 doesn't guarantee a playoff spot.  So they're basically admitting that each year the cookie could crumble.  Certainly this year the cookie has crumbled, due to a spate of injuries, some underperforming pieces, and a couple tough breaks in a few games here and there.

So, does this philosophy make sense, and is this acceptable? I mean, is that just The Game, playing out over the course of the season? Personally, in spite of some of the more dubious decisions on their part, I can't get that worked up about the F.O. right now. I always felt that this was a team that was built well IF things went our way - maybe to a dangerously high degree, but I attributed that to this being a semi-rebuilding year. Obviously things haven't and the results are painful, but if I'm honest, we're not far deviated from what I saw to be the mean outcome looking at this roster on paper back in the spring.  Lotta old guys, lotta young guys - turns out that means a lotta "ifs".

Still, people are enraged that the FO didn't do anything at the deadline, in spite of a farily believable claim that asking prices were too high.  People are still complaining that we let Pedro and Damon walk.  I understand the sentiment, but the logic behind the belief.  Is the consensus that with $120 Million to spend luck should be more or less taken out of the equation? Or perhaps taken out just now, while we have the core players in place? I'm trying to figure out how I'll be happier. Contending every year but with an acknowledged reliance on getting good breaks? Or trying to ride the years where we're primed to take the true "win now" approach. That may mean we have really lean years where I despise watching them, but we would be really IN it for the good years.  Or that's the theory.  If the Sox have proved anything, it's that bad luck can bite you regardless of what approach you take (for reference, see Dent, Bucky).

I believe the current and future baseball environment will make it much harder simply to use $$$ to precipitate a ton of real "win now" years. The Yankees were able to help themselves to Abreu because he was a product of the free agent insanity that revenus sharing has curbed.  So I guess by default I am coming down on the more balanced and luck-reliant approach in the abstract, and the concrete question I'm really asking is - would I be okay with the team utterly sucking when Schilling, Papi and Manny are gone if we really went for it now? Are we as Red Sox fans trying to have our cake and eat it too? Are we just ignoring the fact that if we blow through our prospects we will have some shit years down the road, most likely, or are we stating that we don't care if we have shit years if we win another Championship in the near term.

It seems like this year, at least, we care if we have shit years. We're pretty pissed off, actually.  Is that because we think we should have won it all again with the core guys, or is it just because we cannot accept that a Red Sox team sucks while the Yankees are dominant? I know the second part is very hard for me, because my hatred of the Wanks is truly pathological.  Or maybe, is it because we had a strong first half, and then collapsed, engendering a Pavlovian response in those of us who remember the collapse years from days gone by. Perhaps we thought 2004 had exorcised them, and were wrong.

The fact that so many of my sentences have ended in question marks tells me one thing: the situation is pretty complex.  If I can't come down in a firm position after looking at just some of the angles, I guess it just makes me feel more foolish for attempting to judge Theo and Co. These guys have to deal with the myriad variables of a changing league, all the other shysty GMs, a semi-retarded manager and a clubhouse full of guys who oftentimes don't do what they're supposed to.

It's very possible that the Red Sox F.O. is screwing the pooch, and come 2008 we are going to be really, really bitter.  But maybe their plan is the best one, and it just hasn't been fully realized.  I think this team still has some legs, and in spite of all my experience, I am going to keep hoping they can compete for the rest of the season and come in next year feeling like they've grown.  Maybe 2006 isn't the year, but I won't throw away 2007 yet.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Testing Email Blogging

Not sure if this will work...

Since Google and Blogger merged, they have fucked a large number of bloggers, myself included.  I have not been able to login to my blog in over a week, hence the lack of posts.  If this works I will continue to email posts to the blog from here on in.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sox Grab Two Left-Handed Bats

Yesterday the Sox made two moves to add some depth to the team, acquiring 1B Carlos Pena in a free-agent signing, and pulling off another waiver-wire deal for Eric Hinske. The Pena signing is interesting in a "why not" sort of way; it was just two years ago that the guy hit 27 HRs in 486 at-bats (while also striking out more than a quarter of the time) and his glovework at first is well-reputed. In light of the premature demise of Choi's career, this made some sense. Pena will report to Pawtucket.

Hinske will have an immediate impact. He can fill in at 1B, 3B and the OF, and with Mike Lowell determined to end his season by hitting balls off himself, Hinske can really help. His defense cannot sniff Lowell's defense's jock, but he is serviceable, and Mikey needs some rest. It may be that Hinske plays first and Shiny Kevin Youkilis moves back to third; who knows. Either way, Hinske's versatility will serve to give some guys a few much-needed rest days.

There is another added bonus to the Hinske signing also (two, depending on how you look at it). Hinske over the course of the past two seasons has only performing exceptionally well against two teams: Boston and the Yankees.

2006 vs. Sox: AVG .391| OBP .417| SLG .565| OPS .982
2006 vs. Yanks: AVG .368| OBP .429| SLG .737| OPS 1.165

2005 vs Sox: AVG .393| OBP .439| SLG .672| OPS 1.112
2005 vs. Yanks: AVG .314| OBP .356| SLG .510| OPS .866

Actually in 2005 he also killed KC, but I can't really count that as "performing exceptionally". The short story here is we have added a Yankee-killer to our team while simultaneously subtracting a Sox-killer from a division rival. Of course, these things sometimes have a way of not holding up over time, so right now the best way to view this is as entertainment, with a side of hope. That being said, it's nice that the deal was made right before the big Sox-Yanks series.

OBP Machines On The farm

There are currently four players in the Red Sox minor league organization with OBPs over .400. Granted, none of them is above A-Ball, but in some ways that is also encouraging.

Topping the list is Aaron Bates, who appears to be bored by the NYPL, with an OBP of .436, thanks in large part to a BA of .360. He only has 100 ABs under his belt, but he is eating up rookie-ball pitching for the Lowell Spinners.

Zach Daeges ist he true steel, with an OBP of .423 in 166 ABS, and a nearly 1:1 K:BB ratio. Daeges has nearly twice as many RBIs as the next closest player with 30 (to Still's 17), and really appears to have an advanced approach at the plate. Hard not to like this kid.

At Lowell, Zak Farkes also has an OBP above .400 at .409, but given his high-ish K rate (above 20%) and low-ish BB rate (around 8%) I don't see this continuing. He's hitting .329 right now. Still, you have to hope Farkes progresses enough to reach the majors just to give us the possibility of a Foulke-Farkes matchup during an ESPN telecast. Joe Morgan would crap himself.

Not surprisingly Jeff Natale is the only player with an OBP above .400 that isn't in rookie ball. His 1-1 with 3 BBs performance yesterday pushed him up to .406. His average and slugging are still depressed, at .256 and .333 respectively, but strike zone command is certainly not the issue. The Italian God of Walks must be bemusing Billy Beane right about now. Sadly, his defense is still an issue as he has 10 errors in just 68 games (although that is better than Renteria).

It occurs to me that if I still lived back east, I'd head to Lowell for a game while the guys we drafted this year are playing there. There will be some legitimate talent there the next couple of years (and hopefully beyond, but you know), and it's not that far from NH if you needed beer on a Sunday anyway. Why not?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Looking Ahead

I think it's becoming evident by now that the coin has landed on the "rebuilding" side. All in all, I think the FO did a decent job of putting together a 2006 team that could have been extremely competitive had they been extremely lucky health-wise, had some over-performers, and maybe caught lightning in a bottle. This team did not pan out that way; that's baseball. Technically they're still right there in the mix, but it's pretty clear given their current performance level that come September they will not be in the catbird seat.

Previously I focused on the offense's poor situational hitting, not really as a means of explaining the losing, but as a contributor to it due to their leaving a lot of runs on the table. I thought it was interesting in light of the fact that when you just look at run production the team still performs versus the rest, at #4 in the AL since the break. The issue is that they weren't performing to potential situationally. Still, you can't complain when your team averages more than five runs a game. The pitching, of course, is what is killing this team.

Since the All-Star Break here's how our pitching has fared against the rest of the AL:

Record: 15-16 (speaks for itself)
ERA: 4.99 (only TB, Balt. and KC are worse, and yes, we just went 4-6 against them)
R/ER: 175/154 = 22 Un-Earned runs (worst in AL)
WHIP: 1.50 = avg. of 13.5 baserunners per 9 (only Seattle, Balt, TB and KC are worse)
OBP Against: .352 (tied with Seattle and Balt. TB and KC are worse)
SLG Against: .451 (CWS, Balt, TB and KC are worse)
CS/SB: 23/4 (only CWS at 25/4 are worse)

I don't think there is anyone in RSN, myself included, who would have predicted this situation looking at the roster in the spring. Injuries and some unexpectedly poor performances have put us behind the eight-ball. We probably aren't going to get there this year, so let's look ahead.

The question of course, now that the free agent market has become a pit fight beyond anything we have previously known, is who from within the system will contribute in the near future? I like to follow the young guys because it's fun to do so - they're young, living the dream, having the occasional big night - but the reality is that most of these guys will not become big leaguers.

Here are some players, by league, that might contribute in the 2007-2008 seasons:

AAA: Pawtucket's much-heralded spark plug/fire hydrant Dustin Pedroia is the only player who looks like he's ready for the bigs. David Murphy has the draft pedigree, but hasn't performed well enough to be expected to contribute. There are no pitchers in AAA who will help the big-league club much.

AA: Ellsbury is the cream of the crop here, and probably in the system. He was recently named Eastern League Player of the Week. He is insanely fast, has a bit of gap power, and is plus defensively. It would be fantastic if he were ready for 2007 but it's likely we see him late 2007/for 2008. The fact that he has two last names guarantees us something.

There is some hope hard-throwing converted catcher Edgar Martinez might help out of the bullpen. He was an All-Star this year, and can bring the heat with a couple of balance pitches in his repertoire. Having Rich Garces as your MLB comparison kind of leaves one with mixed feelings though, doesn't it? (Note: I linked to Martinez's Sox Prospects page not to make you click-through to get his stats, but so you could see that he is chubby - like El Guapo.)

Brandon Moss is still languishing in AA but remains on Sox Prospect's top ten list at #10. This is hard to swallow, but if accurate doesn't bode well. I just can't see how it's accurate. He's nearly 23 and middling-to-good in AA. Chad Spann is his doppleganger, although has hit for more power in AA with a .472 SLG this year. Spann surprised people, so might still be on the upswing. If I had to put money on one horse it would be Spann, but it would be money I found on the ground in a public restroom and wasn't attached to.

Luis Jimenez is the x-factor. Knicknamed "Little Papi" due to his immense size and somewhat considerable power, Jimenez has hit 15 HRs in AA in just 329 ABs, but also managed to amass just a .465 SLG - lower than Spann's. Strikes out almost 20% of the time, but also walks a bit. He seems to get injured a lot recently, so the book is still out on LP.

Single-A: It's always a stretch to consider anyone from A-ball contributing at the major league level in two years. Hansen is sort of "contributing" now, but he was deemed nearly major-league ready right out of college (turns out that may have been a rose-tinted assessment).

In Wilmington, there are a few guys that could contribute in the short term. First is Bryce Cox, the fireballing reliever drafted after dominating for Rice in the CWS. His stuff is supposed to be electric, but then, so was Hansen's. Nevertheless, he has moved through the system quickly already.

Jed Lowrie has battled injuries, but comes with a pedigree. He has stalled this year in overcoming his setbacks, but there is the chance that he could come back strong and move quickly next year. He showed some surprising power in college, putting up an OPS over 1.100 his junior and senior year. He has to be considered a longshot, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Mark Wagner (picture link included for laughs) has just been promoted to Wilmington after tearing up low-A in Greenville. At this point he has to be considered the top Catcher prospect in the system, due to... well, there being no others to speak of. He shows good strike-zone command at the plate, and has hit for average and (some) power this year.

Another recent promotee is Clay Buchholz. He has a live arm, and apparently drew some interest over the trade deadline. It might be a stretch to see him make the bigs for the Sox, but if he's ready in 2008 the timing would be pretty sweet.

In Greenville still, Michael Bowden has put together some strong performances, and if he continues to perform at his current level he could move quickly could make the jump. He is big boy with a pitcher's body, and has got excellent peripherals thus far into his career.

That's pretty much it. Positionally, only Pedroia and Ellsbury look sure to help the team over the next couple of years. This year's draft was a good one but there is noone who will be close to ready by 2008, barring a miracle (okay, maybe Masterson). Cox and Martinez will probably end up in the bullpen, maybe as soon as later next year, and we can hope we see Buchholz and/or Bowden making some spot starts in 2008.

The short version is this: it's going to be another exciting off-season. Now, back to your regularly scheduling Red Sox supporting. As I like to say" 'Probability's got nothing to do with it".

Friday, August 11, 2006

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Comin' for to carry me home.

The Sox have just endured what is the worst road trip in recent memory, having just lost 5 of 6 to the two (arguably) worst franchises in the majors. The split against Cleveland, thanks to our old pal Fausto, netted the team a final record of 3-7 for the trip, and when they arrive at Fenway today they will be fortunate not to be pronounced DOA.

There is nothing left to say right now. The pitching is incredibly poor, and the offense is not producing runs unless one of the Big Three goes yard. Poor starts and execrable relief outings have engendered a vicious circle that is killing the team. In spite of the ultimate outcome last night, Schilling's (near)8-inning effort last night was the best thing to happen to these guys in a while.

I'm just repeating myself at this point, but it is what it is. We're at the point where the players play and the managers manage, and it's time for them to get to it. In Wily Mo's case this might be hard - he is batting seventh, protected in the lineup by sarcasm-inspiring white-hot bat javy Lopez. Oh, Tito, why?

On to brighter pastures...


Two high-upside high school prospects signed with the Sox, Ryan Kalish and Tyler Weeden. Both were considered longshots at the time of the draft, so this is good news, tempered by the fact that it could indicate the Sox are missing out on a couple other coveted draftees.

Ryan Kalish: 6' 1" 200lbs - L/L Kalish was a three sport athlete for Red Bank Catholic High School. The Virginia sports page had this to say:

"Kalish is ranked No. 76 by Baseball America. He's four-year starter for Red Bank Catholic having led the team in hitting the past three seasons. He owns a .466 career batting average having produced 100 hits in his first three seasons for the Red Bank Catholic. On the mound, Kalish has recorded 190 career strikeouts. He led the conference in stolen bases. Kalish has garnered all-parochial, all-conference and all-division team honors in baseball. He is a three-sport athlete (baseball, football, basketball) and has led Red Bank Catholic to its first division championship since 1989 as the starting quarterback. As a sophomore, he hit .507 and drove in 21 runs and posted a 6-1 record with a 1.60 ERA."

Moreover according to the Sox's Jason McLeod, Bosox scouts claim he didn't swing and miss at a pitch the entire season. That is pretty impressive. Kalish hasn't hit for HR power yet but had a .578 SLG in high school, and is pretty much the definition of "projectible" at this point. Comparisons are being made to Trot Nixon, and that's pretty good, although it would help if Kalish could hit lefties.

Tyler Weeden: 6' 2" 200lbs - R/R Rumor had that Weeden was a no-sign some time ago, so this came as a surprise to me, albeit a pleasant one. Tyler was also a state-level quarterback in high school. On some level I guess this makes he and Kalish annoying, since they obviously got much more tail than I ever did in high school, but whatever. Moving on.

Baseball America had this to say about Ty:

"Though Ty can throw 90-92 mph off the mound, he won't follow in his brother's footsteps as a pitcher. Scouts still talk about the batting-practice show he put on at the Area Code Games last summer, displaying tremendous power to all fields. If scouts believed he could play catcher, he'd go in the first two rounds. But they're skeptical because he doesn't have the agility or receiving skills to match his arm strength. He's probably destined for first base, where much more offense is required, because he may lack the athleticism to handle an outfield corner. Nevertheless, his righthanded power is a valuable commodity, and he'll be a decent draft pick if he's considered signable away from Arkansas."

Weeden will not play this season due to his signing a 2007 contract, but as we are learning to our disgust now, having more power in the organization never hurts. Good signs, both.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Sure, the pitching sucks, but...

Since my quiet (yet enraged) acceptance that our pitching would suck nearly every appearance, I have spent my time watching games with the hope that the Sox would score ten runs every outing. They never do, and this puzzles me because they always seem to be threatening. The Sox are excellent threateners, but do not seem to follow up with action. It occurred to me that perhaps I was just catching them during off nights - I can't watch all the games - so I decided to look at how the team is performing on offense situationally.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that I was not pleased with what I found out. Let's take a quick look at the team OPS by team in the AL, for the season. I have broken them out by situation (double-click to open larger image):

A couple things jump right out, don't they? First off, the Sox are the only team to get progressively worse at the plate until they are in a 2-out RISP position. Now, they're starting pretty high with that .828 OPS with nobody on, but the pattern is not what you want to see. Cleveland is a good example of a team that succeeds regardless of the situation.

Next, the fact that the Sox absolutely suck ass with the bases loaded is pretty disappointing isn't it? They do lead the league in bases-juiced sac flys, which is nice. This might be due to their also league-leading .70 GB:FB ratio in that situation (this hasnt stopped them from being right up there in DPs, don't worry). Another strange factoid from the bases-loaded stats page - the Spanks lead the league in HBP with the bags full, at SIX. They are not afraid to lean into one.

The story is pretty clear, although there are no doubt several reasons for it. In spite of being second in the league in runs scored, the Sox are leaving a ton of runs on the table. It would appear they are averaging 8.38 men LOB per game (see the Triumphant Red Sox Fan Forum). That's really just not very good. I mean, it's good that their high-OBP mantra has paid off because with their total inability to consistently drive guys in (Papi and Manny excluded) that is how they're scoring runs - attrition. My point is that with more consistent situational production the awful, awful, just awful pitching might be more easily weathered.

As I mentioned earlier there are probably a lot of reasons for this situation. One of them, however, has to the be this: the Sox get the worst production out of the #5 spot in the lineup of any team in the AL. In all of MLB, only Florida's OPS is lower (.682 to Boston's .695). How is that possible? Here are some figures:

SLG: .354 (worst in MLB)
Total Bases: 149 (worst in MLB)
RBIs: 51 (tied for 3rd worst in MLB)
BBs: 68 (tied for 2nd to top in MLB)

The walks might be an indicator that the hitter isn't seeing a ton of good pitches to hit, but the #1 BB count at the five-spot belongs to the Yankees who are producing at a .966 OPS with a .549 SLG in the position. So it's hard to argue that with any conviction. Rather, it looks like the approach is the one I used in second grade: "a walk's as good as a hit - maybe better!"

I think at this point most of us would like to see Lowell or WMP in the five-hole, with Youks leading off and Crisp hitting down in the order. Youks doesn't have speed but is getting on base in front of the guys who consistently drive in runs. Crisp's speed would be best used in creating runs for the bottom of the order guys. Or so it seems to us in our armchairs. But, really, when all is said and done, we're just nitpicking. If it gets right down to it, we'd simply like to see a win and the lineup be damned.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Sox vs. D-rays: Diary of a Train Wreck

What is there to say? A loss to the Strip Club is never acceptable, but it's generally best even while losing, as a rule of thumb, not to be confused with a drunken softball team. And I'm not even singling Wells out here.

Are we familiar with Casey Fossum? I think we are. Do we believe that Casey is a skilled major league starter? Umm, no; historically, no. We think Casey is a guy with a career 5.12 ERA, a .275 BAA, and in general, no staggering ability. We acknowledge that Casey's last start against Detroit was a gem, but also note that in his previous outing he gave up 5 ER and 7 R in 1.1 IP versus Anaheim.

In retrospect, I both have no idea who the aforementioned "we" are, and (and this is much more unfortunate) I guess I also don't know how Fossum differs from Beckett, outside of the price tag. That is a pretty sad admission. But look:



Fossum is a 27-year old left-hander making $2 million dollars a year. No one is expecting him to be an ace, and generally speaking, he isn't - except against the much-vaunted Red Sox lineup of course. But, at least so far in 2006, he's as much an ace as Josh Beckett. Maybe someone needs to explain to Joshie that strikeouts are fun, but keeping the goddamn ball in the park is maybe more fun. Other than this, I have no point.

Oh, wait, I have one point. Thus far, Javy Lopez is 0-for-9 with two pretty brutal double-plays and in general looks lost at the plate. It's early, but I'm thinking to myself, how much bounce-back did I have at 35? I mean, without the anti-aging properties of PBR. He really (no, really) needs to perform. It might be time for an inspirational speech from Wily Mo, along the lines of "if you don't start hitting, I will crush your puny head in my fist like a grape". In my mental clubhouse, that is how Wily Mo rolls. Yes, he is a Super Genius, but sometimes he doesn't need the big brain.

Tomorrow it appears we'll get another look at Jason Johnson, and I know we're all silently mulling over the possibility of using the term "re-invigorated". Or, for some of us, perhaps the term "less sucky" would be more appropriate. Either way, JJ needs to keep us in the game, and we need to score more than a single run against another Tampa Bay "ace".

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.


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.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Red Sox Now Underdogs: Will Guts Be Enough In 2006?

The fallout from the trading window has arrived, and it is radioactive. Ken Rosenthal is particularly harsh in his criticism, but then Ken's entire niche is reporting on trades, so I could imagine he's pretty pissed whenever any team a) doesn't do a deal and b) doesn't leak information. Nevertheless, he has a point. The FO did not improve the team for one reason or another, and it's going to be a long tough road home.

We can all agree that it's important to adhere to your long-term plan and keep your top prospects in the current MLB environment, which is starting to move towards parity. One wonders how long the window to win with the current stars is open though. Schilling may be gone next year, Manny will probably slow down a bit more, and it's nearly impossible to imagine Ortiz continuing to perform at this level. More problematically, there is nothing here to replace their production. Beckett will probably not be Schilling. The Super Genius, much as I love him, will never be Big Papi. And Coco will most certainly never be Manny.

2007 will be a watershed year for Theo Epstein and his team - if this is the "stand pat" year, next year has to be the "Series or Bust" year, or people may simply lose faith in their architecture of the team.

The acquisition of Javy Lopez via a waiver-wire trade for a PTBNL, if/when finalized, hopefully addresses the Varitek injury from the offensive side. Although Lopez is 35 and hasn't been playing regularly he's certainly capable of getting hot for a couple months while trying to earn a contract for 2007 somewhere. His defense is remarkably bad, literally; whenever he is mentioned, his poor defense is remarked upon. As we saw tonight though, it just won't do to have a $135 Million dollar payroll and a starting catcher hitting .180.

However, the Cleveland series had some high notes, and the Sox showed the same never-say-die character we loved about the 2004 team. Two walk-off wins in three days is huge, and shows that this team has some fight in it yet. The pitching simply has to improve, though; there is no way around it.

So say a prayer to Fausto Carmina - but for him we would have been swept by Cleveland. And while you're down there, you might want to take a minute to speak up on behalf of Fatty McFatFat. His back needs to start carrying some weight.