Well, We Can Beat College Kids

Whether they’re from BC or Northeastern.

So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.

Be better than the Boston media, however, and forget the scores. Professionals beating amateurs isn’t a story, top or otherwise.

Even looking at the performances isn’t going to tell you much. Which is the difficulty with these games, of course. If you beat them like a rented mule, well, you’re supposed to. If you get roughed up, though, you’re not only going to take shit from your teammates, you’re going to look bad and you might even begin to doubt a bit.

Unless, of course, it’s Manny, because the odds of him actually knowing who he’s playing at any given time are slim.

Not that there was any failure today. BC was one hit, Northeastern added two, while our offense scored a couple of dozen runs. Even Belichick would have a tough time going negative on this one. Or positive, for that matter.

Stars of the game?

  • Best Hitting Performance: Take your pick between Bubba Bell (AA starting outfielder) who walked three times or Brandon Moss (AAA starting outfielder or trade bait) who had three hits and a sac fly.
  • Best Pitching Performance: Beckett – no hits, no walks, 4 K’s in 2 IP.

The one general trend I was pleased with was the command. Sure, they’re pitching to college hitters. Yes, the pitchers are ahead of the hitters at this point in the spring. But you still have to throw strikes.

Which we did. The number of walks on the day? 2. With both arriving in the 9th 7th inning of the second game.

We’ll see how they do against their fellow pros, of course, and I’m reading approximately nothing into the game, as mentioned. But as season openers against college teams go, I’ve got no complaints.

Your Wait is Almost Over

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2007-01-75339-06A, originally uploaded by el swifterino.

Sure, the regulars will get one AB, two tops. And the pitchers will be all be of the minor league variety and will be featured for an inning or a pitch count, whatever comes first.

But tell me you’re not excited by the prospect of baseball, broadcast live, from City of Palms park tomorrow afternoon. According to Kevin Thomas, tomorrow’s 6:05 game between the Good Guys and Northeastern is to be broadcast live on WEEI.

I know I’ll be listening.

Courtesy of Thomas, the Sox lineup looks as follows:

  1. Crisp, cf
  2. Cora, 2b
  3. Drew, rf
  4. Ramirez, dh
  5. Casey, 1b
  6. Carter, lf
  7. Mirabelli, c
  8. Lowrie, ss
  9. Ginter, 3b

The pitchers scheduled to throw are: Justin Masterson, Craig Hansen, Michael Bowden, Craig Breslow, Hunter Jones, and Kyle Jackson.

Let’s play some freaking ball.

Bullpen Watch: Daniel Bard

When Daniel Bard was drafted out of North Carolina in the first round of the 2006 draft, the Red Sox almost certainly had visions of him as a starting pitcher. At least that’s what the $1.55M signing bonus he received would indicate to me.

As of last week, however, that plan appears to have been scrapped in favor of a relief role. Recognizing that the lack of a second pitch – Baseball America’s scouter: “he’s never has had a reliable breaking ball…his changeup is less dependable than his breaking ball” – the front office has decided to move Bard into the bullpen, according to Rob Bradford.

Keith Law, for one, would seem to argue in favor of the idea. We’ve already mentioned his feelings on Bard generally, but regarding the prospect of Bard in the bullpen specifically he’s said:

Paul (San Francisco): Will Craig Hansen or Daniel Bard ever make this list?

SportsNation Keith Law: Bard is much more likely. I’ve almost given up hope on Hansen. Bard in the pen could move quickly.

And given the requirements for success as a starting pitcher versus that of a relief arm, it’s difficult to argue with that assessment.

But just how quickly can Bard be expected to move? Bradford mentions his success as a reliever in the Hawaiian Winter League, saying:

Bard threw 16 innings over 16 winter league games, allowing four runs on eight hits while striking out 15.

Further, he quotes Bard as crediting the bullpen stint with a perceived improvement in his performance:

“Hawaii was the first time I have thrown out of the bullpen,” he said. “It’s a different mentality, but I threw pretty well out there. I was throwing one- or two-inning outings, just coming in and blowing it out and letting my stuff take over. To be honest, my command and stuff all jumped up when I was out there, whether it was a confidence thing or being more aggressive facing hitters. It’s something that was a lot more effective.”

All of which sounds great. The problem is that if Hawaii represented a “jump” in his command, it’s not a positive indicator for the future.

What Bradford declined to mention amidst the good news of his 1.08 ERA and 8 hits in 16+ IP in Hawaii was that in addition to the 15Ks came 15 BBs. And five hit batsman. That’s 20 guys on base in ~17 innings. Before hits.

As Project Prospect puts it, for all that Bard has a potentially dominant major league fastball, “he can’t reasonably hope to continue holding opposing hitters to the .140 BABIP he did in Hawaii, particularly if he’s walking over 8 batters per game and hitting over 2.5.”

It may well be that a shift to the bullpen allows Bard to focus more on the command of his fastball rather than the evolution of a starter’s repertoire, and it’s unquestionably true that his arm gives him the potential to impact the major league bullpen should his control prove even adequate.

But what I haven’t see yet are any indications that the control will evolve as quickly as some seem to think. Here’s hoping he proves me wrong, because I’d love nothing more than to see him and his electric arm breaking bats for the good guys sooner rather than later.

What's Colon Got Left? A Q&A

Look, if Sean Casey got his own Q&A, I can’t very well not produce one for a pitcher that won the Cy Young three seasons ago, can I? Even if it’s a non-guaranteed, minor league deal?

Exactly.

Q: So what’s the deal with Colon?
A: ESPN is reporting that the deal is minor league in nature, including no guaranteed money. Fire Brand of the American League puts the potential cash outlay should Colon make the major league roster at around a million.

Q: What kind of pitcher is Colon now?
A: Colon came up essentially a fireballing workhorse. Though my 2004 Scouting Notebook lists him at 5 foot 11, it also lists his weight – conservatively – at 240. Earlier in his career, he essentially was a one pitch pitcher, pumping in high 90’s fastballs with good and occasionally exceptional control. For show, he’d also feature a changeup and a hard breaking ball, but Colon was a fastball pitcher most nights.

In recent years, however, all of the innings – he averaged 215 per for 8 seasons beginning in 1998 (a year in which he went from 98 IP to 204, interestingly) – appear to have caught up with the big righthander. Heading into last season, he was rehabbing a partially torn rotator cuff, and the results of that rehab were not promising. A 6.34 ERA in 99.1 IP for the Angels, during which he coughed up 15 HRs and 29 BBs, while striking out 76. The strikeout numbers aren’t terrible, and may indicate that he’s got something left. The problem is the batting numbers against, which are terrifying. Opposing hitters put up a .320/.366/.490 against him in 412 ABs. Essentially, every hitter in the lineup was Kevin Youkilis. Not good.

Also not good were the scouting reports from winter ball: Rotoworld reported that he was working mainly in the 88-91 range when giving up 2 runs in 4.1 IP against Venezuela. If you’re Pedro, you can make that work, but, well, you know where I’m going.

Q: How about the projections?
A: They’re actually not as bad as you might predict. PECOTA sees him putting up a 4.77 ERA in 92.3 IP, striking out 62 and walking 26. Bill James calls for a 4.24 ERA in 20 fewer IP, predicting 51 Ks and 22 BBs in 70.0 innings even.

For what it’s worth, however, PECOTA was significantly optimistic last year. It forecast a 4.77 ERA in 121 IP. The actuals, again, were 6.34 in 99.1 IP.

Prediction is a tough science.

Q: So you’re against the trade?
A: Not at all. Frankly, for a fifth starter, I’d be fine with even the PECOTA projection to slightly worse. And frankly, we could use 90+ innings of credible major league pitching.

Besides, with no guaranteed money on the table, it’s essentially a zero risk move for the club. So I’m positive on it.

Q: Why make the move?
A: It’s a hedge against the Schilling injury, obviously. As Theo and company have said multiple times, no one was counting on Schilling for a 200+ inning season this year, but neither were they forecasting zero which appears to be a distinct possibility at this point.

While everyone expects both Buchholz and Lester to pitch and pitch effectively on the major league roster this year – and certainly I’d expect both to give us superior innings relative to Colon – the fact is that neither should be expected to give us a full starters workload. Buchholz and Lester both were around ~150 IP last year – 146.6 and 153.2 IP, respectively – and expecting them to take that to 200 is a stretch. Not to mention that it might compromise their playoff availability, should we be lucky enough to make it that far.

So in short, we need innings. The higher quality those innings the better, obviously, but we’re going to need innings.

Q: How do you expect him to be deployed?
A: It depends on how he’s throwing, of course, but ultimately I think Evan Brunnell over at Fire Brand said it best:

Colon should be a safey net. If Buchholz or Lester completely blows up in April, you bring Colon up. If Colon is still with the club after May 1 (I’m assuming he has the standard May 1 opt-out clause if he’s not in the major leagues) and injury strikes, you call him up. If the Red Sox want to send Buchholz down in July just to limit his innings and Schilling’s not back yet, you call Colon up.

I expect the Sox to get him in to see what they’ve got, then use him tactically to control and keep manageable our young starters’ workloads.

Q: What is the value of Colon relative to some of the other available options?
A: Significant. Unless you’re excited by the likes of Eric Milton, Jeff Weaver, Kyle Lohse, Rodrigo Lopez or Russ Ortiz – a few of whom might require not only guaranteed deals but multi-year ones at that – Colon is a good risk/reward play. The only other pitcher I would have been interested in from the list of rehabbing players would have been Freddy Garcia, who I think will make a contribution somewhere in the second half.

Should we expect much from Colon? Certainly not. But does he have some upside as a candidate for innings at the back end of the rotation? Sure.

Four More Years

I like Stephen King. He’s no Gabriel García Márquez, obviously, but then who is? King, in my view, takes his craft seriously and does have legitimate strengths as a writer (besides the obvious productivity) that his fellow Hudson News bestsellers lack. More even than his absurd commercial success, however, I have a great deal of respect for the way that King has never forgotten the economically challenged state he hails from. That kind of loyalty is as admirable as it is rare in this day and age.

But one area where I break with America’s bestselling author is on the subject of one Terry Tito Francona. As has been documented, King and his co-author Stewart O’Nan spent much of the very readable Faithful slagging the Red Sox manager, much as an average fan might be expected to do.

Today, however, with the benefit of a second world series under his belt, the man King and O’Nan came to call Francoma received a contract that values him as the upper echelon manager his record proclaims him to be. Where value equates to $12 million, guaranteed, over a three year period.

Not that I’ve been a fan of Francona’s from day one. While I can’t dig up the actual text – and certainly I wasn’t writing here at the time, my recollection of my reaction to the signing within an email to a few friends can be summarized in one word: skeptical. Much like all of the Patriots fans in the audience probably were after Robert Kraft brought on Bill Belichick who had been fired in Cleveland. As Francona had been fired in Philly.

Nor am I convinced that the one-time Philly outcast is the perfect manager. I have frequent issues with his bullpen usage, occasional questions about his loyalty to certain players, and infrequent problems with his in-game tactics.

But for all that, I’m aware that Francona has forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know, and has access to information – quantitative, injury, personality, morale and otherwise – that I lack. Which is important, and can – at times – trump the numbers.

Francona was hired in part because of his acceptance of the numbers – the data wrangled by the front office into meaningful, actionable information. The front office makes a point of employing both traditional scouting techniques and modern statistical analysis side by side, rather than excessively favoring one over the other. It’s clear that Tito, for his part, augments his decision making process with the information fed to him by the front office. Whom he clearly trusts, and has forged an excellent working relationship with. Tito listens.

Where Little before him was content to leave the reams of statistical data provided him by the front office collecting dust on his manager’s desk, Francona seems to honestly and genuinely appreciate the additional data. He seems to uniquely understand that more data is generally a good, rather than a threatening, thing.

Off the field, Francona also seems to have the singularly unique yet utterly necessary talent for putting Red Sox nation in its place – without offending.

The fans, media and wicked clevah alike jump to the conclusion that Crisp is out in favor of my Navajo brother? Francona tells us that while it’s ok if we forget, it’s his responsibility to remember what Crisp brings to the table (which is, not coincidentally, almost perfectly aligned with the GM’s view). The fanbase is bitter after a mere 101 wins? Francona has no problem calling us on it, but does it so deftly we don’t even remember to be offended.

No, I’m not prepared to make the argument that Francona is the perfect manager. But I could certainly build and defend the case that he’s the perfect manager for this town, and this team.

All of which is a long winded way of saying that I’m very pleased the front office and ownership saw things the same way.

Crisp: Going or Staying?

We’re not going to forget, as an organization, that he’s the incumbent.” – Terry Francona

Around 8:01 in the above video, Tito reminds us of Crisp’s value. A reminder that would seem to be well aimed, given the propensity of many – yours truly included – to regard the trade of the incumbent as something of a foregone conclusion.

Which begs the question: should he be traded? Setting aside the clubhouse dynamics for just a moment, let’s look at a few projections. First, Crisp. PECOTA sees his ’08 line as .278/.338/.407, with Bill James projecting slightly lower in the latter two categories at .335 and .400 respectively. On the other side of the ring, PECOTA projects Ellsbury to put up a .287/.346/.395 line in ’08, with James’ numbers significantly more optimistic for OBP and SLG at .374/.436.

If we go strictly by PECOTA, then, we might give a slight offensive edge to Ellsbury as the slight disparity in power is offset by a greater on base percentage. But when James is thrown into the mix, Ellsbury becomes the far more dynamic offensive force. Even allowing for Crisp’s defensive superiority then – because I’m in agreement with Tito that Crisp played the position last year about as well as you can – you’d take my Navajo brother over the incumbent.

Not that the Red Sox should allow this to play out as anything other than a straight up competition, because to anoint Ellsbury as the starter would not only push Crisp towards a Payton-like disaffection but might significantly impact his trade value. All things considered, then, I’m regrettably in agreement with Buckley that it seems likely that the Red Sox would prefer that Ellsbury win the job outright. Short sample size of spring training or no.

Bill James, remember, works for the good guys in the Red Sox front office.

What pushes me over the edge in wanting Ellsbury to win the job isn’t Crisp’s cost – at $3.8M last year he’s actually quite affordable for a Gold Glove caliber centerfielder – but rather his redundancy. With Kielty on deck, Crisp becomes an interesting trading chip, either for an interesting bullpen arm or – packaged – for a starter candidate. Not that I’m contending that Kielty or even Ellsbury is Crisp’s equal in the field – neither will be this season – but that we have the pieces in place to replace him. And Ellsbury, with the little service time he has and the potentially greater offensive upside, is clearly the piece you’d like to keep around.

Is Crisp a bad guy to have around even should he fail to win the CF job? Obviously not. Not many teams can tout throw a glove like his onto the field from the bench. But I do think that given the noise he and his agent have made to date, it might be best if he moves on. Assuming he’s not the starter.

Obviously we shouldn’t give him away, but there are certainly teams – like the Braves – in need of a centerfielder. Where we have surplus, and may be able to extract some value.

Quick Links: Drunk Ortiz, Hansen Thoughts, Jeter Leader?

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the_scene, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Good news, everyone! I survived a weekend spent in an 8×6 shack on a frozen lake in sub-zero Minnesota temperatures with three other dudes. More or less in one piece.

Honestly, though, if there’s anything better than ice fishing for getting me ready for baseball, I’m not sure what it would be.

Age Surprises

Peter Gammons: Every so often I’m surprised by age comparisons. Sometimes I’m more impressed with a player because they’re younger than I believed, others I’m less impressed because they’re older. Either way, it’s always interesting.

Gammons mentioned one today:

Remember that Jon Garland is six months younger than Bedard and has 52 more career wins.

In the immortal words of Carsenio, “I did not know that.” But the one that really put things in perspective for me?

Clay Buchholz will be 23 to start the season, while Seattle’s Felix Hernandez – you remember the one hitter last year, don’t you? – will be 21.

In the only slightly less immortal words of Stephen Colbert, “Think about that. I haven’t.”

Battle Royale in Bullpen

Amalie Benjamin: According to everyone’s favorite Amalie, the Sox will open with 12 pitchers on the roster rather than 11. With Papelbon, Okajima, Delcarmen, Timlin, and Tavarez all but guaranteed of spots if they’re healthy – whether it’s for contract reasons, talent, or ideally both – that leaves two spots up to the likes of Aardsma, Hansen, Lopez, Snyder, and the non-roster invitees in Michael Bowden, Lee Gronkiewicz, Hunter Jones, Dan Kolb, Justin Masterson, Jon Switzer and Michael Tejera. Unless – and maybe even if – Bowden and Masterson allow no hits and no walks for all of spring training, they’re ticketed for the minors. Jones too. The rest of the folks on that list are real long shots.

Cashman Watch, Continued

Bill Madden: First we have this bit from Madden:

At the time [of Pettite’s return], there was elation all around, especially from Cashman, who used Pettitte’s “I shall return” proclamation as the incentive for walking away from a deal for the Twins’ Johan Santana – a deal he never wanted to make. With Pettitte taking up $16 million in payroll, the Yankees could no longer afford Santana, Cashman argued, and Hal Steinbrenner, Hank’s partner and the primary financial expert in the business, agreed.

“Take your choice, guys,” Hal reportedly told the group of Yankee higher-ups in a meeting on the Santana deal prior to Cashman’s departure for the winter meetings. “Pettitte or Santana?”

And then we have this bit from the great Gammons:

But if all the spotlight causes the respectful, quiet Pettitte to go into a shell and turn into a 35-year-old .500 pitcher, his grab for the $16 million that steered the Yankees away from Johan Santana may cost a few jobs. Which will not be fair.

Anyone care to give me odds that Cashman is one of those jobs?

Hansen, Hansen, Hansen – So Hot Right Now?

Speaking of Hansen, he’s received a lot of attention in the Globe. Granted, some of the coverage was for the novelty of the surgery he had to correct sleep apnea; in his own words, he used to snore like a 500 pound fat man. But he’s also being discussed almost daily by the beat writers as a legitimate candidate for one of the last spots in the pen.

Certainly, if he can throw strikes with a slider resembling the one he threw at St John’s, I’d bet on him for a spot. The kid throws hard, after all. Unfortunately, I’d put the odds of that precondition being met as long indeed. Keith Law is, if anything, even more convinced of this than I am. In fact, he’s gone as far as arguing that Daniel Bard is a better bet than Hansen, saying:

I saw Hansen again in the Fall League … it’s not there, at least not yet. I’d be more inclined to put money on Bard taking a step forward in ’08 than Hansen.

Given that Bard’s walked nearly 2 guys for every one he’s struck out as a pro (78BB/47K), and better than 1/IP (78BB/75IP), well, that can’t really be taken as a positive report on Hansen.

Good Times, Good Times

Steve Buckley: I don’t think this qualifies as throwing your teammate under the bus simply because it’s high comedy, but, well, you make the call:

“Last year after we won it,” [Papelbon] said yesterday, “I was in a hotel room partying, and Ortiz was there trying to show me how to do the breakdance. And he fell over, and he didn’t know what he was doing. Either that or he was just too drunk. I don’t know.”

The good folks over at Surviving Grady are absolutely right: Papelbon must be miced 24/7/365. That would be the first and only reality show I’d ever watch. Unless someone sticks a camera on Marissa Miller (sorry, Amalie).

Rest as a Trend

Rob Bradford: It’s clear from Rob’s latest and some of the other commentary leading up to and follow last year’s playoffs that enforced rest may become a prescribed part of the Red Sox pitching management strategy. As an aside, I was a bit surprised – and pleased – to see Beckett recognize the benefits of the approach, given that it is at odds with the Herschiser like ideal that starting pitchers are a horse to be ridden until they die.

What I’m curious about now is whether or not this strategy of enforced rest will be emulated more broadly within the league. Certain factors – the lack of starting pitching to support the approach, the lack of intelligence within some front offices, or incompatible pitching management philosophies – are likely to limit the spread of the tactic. But baseball front offices are smarter and more creative than they were even a few years ago, and even the conservative clubs are willing to try and emulate what’s been successful for Word Series winners.

Taking One for the Team?

John Mazor: Fortunately, I don’t need to take apart this crime against sports journalism, because the pros at Fire Joe Morgan have already done that for you. Nor do I have to explain why Jeter is not a pre-eminent or even average shortstop, because the Penn researchers Mazor is trying to slag have explained that in sufficient detail for all but the most ardent homers.

For an article that bases much of its argument on the fact that Jeter has won three Gold Gloves – in spite of the fact that that award means nothing (disagree? then explain how Palmeiro won it for 1B in ’99 while playing only 28 games at the position) – I find it surprising that Mazor fails to mention that the two Gold Gloves that Rodriguez wore came in his last two years as a shortstop. The years, put differently, before he moved to third base to accommodate the statistically and observably inferior shortstop. As one of the researchers put it, “The Yankees have one of the best defensive shortstops playing out of position in deference to one of the worst defensive shortstops.”

Is Jeter an excellent player? Indeed. But is he the leader, and the Cap’n Intangibles, that Yankee fans believe him to be? I’m not sure how you make that argument. To me, a real leader would have done what was best for the team: let the best shortstop man that position.

But frankly, as I used to tell my Yankee friends, I’m just as happy that that didn’t work out. Can you imagine a world in which the Pinstriped ones could throw A-Rod and Jeter at short and second, then find power bats for the corners? It’s too terrifying to even contemplate.