In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

(Image courtesy of the Boston Globe)

Yes, I’m a couple of days late with this, but did you really want me to post something on Sunday? Trust me, you did not. Besides, I’ve been a little busy preparing for a cross-country move.

Anyway, In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events, we lost five in a row then won an absolute gem tonight. So we’ve got that going for us.

Also, we’re tied for first and we were swept first by the bubonic plague and then by a rash of injuries. Not good times.

But now it’s time for this week’s ICYHBKUWCE…

The Crisp

The complexion of these rumors has likely changed dramatically in the wake of Kielty’s broken hand and my Navajo brother’s gimpy groin, but I still think Crisp is going sooner or later. The Great Gammons’ money appears to be on the Cubs:

With the Orioles strong, hustling start, there is an increased belief that Peter Angelos won’t allow Brian Roberts to be traded, hence the [I think he meant Cubs] renewed discussions with the Red Sox concerning Coco Crisp. Boston is still interested in Cubs right-handed pitcher Sean Gallagher and a Class A prospect in return for Crisp.

Gallagher, for the record, is the Cubs 5th best prospect according to BP, with a 90-94 MPH fastball, 11-5 curveball and a change. Ceiling appears to be #3 starter.

Still, Gammons’ acknowledges that Beane is still lurking:

Billy Beane called Theo Epstein again Friday, trying to talk him into dealing Coco Crisp.

Olney, on the other hand, suggests that we explore a deal with M’s for the now blocked catcher Clement:

The Mariners locked up Kenji Johjima to a long-term deal…What follows is pure speculation; to repeat, pure speculation. With the Mariners now committed to Johjima for the next few years, it might make sense for Seattle to offer catching prospect Jeff Clement to the Red Sox in return for outfielder Coco Crisp, with other players also involved in the deal; the Red Sox would have to include some pitching.

That would be an interesting deal, frankly. I’m not sure how we’d integrate him into this year’s roster, given that Wake needs a catcher with stellar hands and that from all reports is not Clement, but it would potentially address our future catching situation. Clement does not project to offer the same defense that Tek does, but his bat should be top notch for the position.

What Olney doesn’t state, however, is that a Clement acquisition would likely spell the end of Tek’s tenure. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

The Debut

Prior to his emergency start this past week, the Baseball Prospectus guys were discussing Justin Masterson and mentioned that their analyst Kevin Goldstein had called Masterson’s sinker “arguably the best in all of the minor leagues.” Normally these kinds of enthusiastic endorsements spell doom for the pitcher.

Not so, fortunately, though Lopez and MDC (Oki gets a free pass b/c, seriously, bases loaded no one out?) didn’t just blow the game they torched it. Molotov Cocktails and everything.

The numbers for the big sinkerballer? 95 pitches over 6 innings, 2 hits, 1 run (nicked for a dinger by Napoli). 11 of his 18 outs were groundballs, and he walked four against four K’s.

The two questions for me following his outing? First, will he be down in Portland long enough for me to see him throw? Second, if his changeup has improved enough to use it effectively in his very first major league start, does he still profile as a reliever?

This season, that’s certainly how he’ll contribute. But longer term, I’m beginning wondering if there are 3/4 starter innings in his future.

The Homer

The Iwamura homer was a crushing blow, without a doubt. Buchholz was dominant, as was Jackson for that matter, and piling another one into the losing column in such a fashion was a kick in the teeth. But I’m in full agreement with Chad Finn when he said the following, and not just because he’s a Bath, ME native:

Call me a Tito Apologist if you must, but I don’t blame him at all for leaving Clay Buchholz in during the eighth inning Saturday night, when his spectacular performance was spoiled by Akinori Iwamura’s two-run homer. Seems to me the same people who were charbroiling Francona for leaving Buchholz in are the same ones who would be yowling if he pulled him and either Hideki Okajima or Jonathan Papelbon had coughed up the game. The kid was cruising, and he was beaten when a good hitter hit a good pitch. Sometimes that happens.

Sometimes that happens, indeed. I won’t resort to the “tip your cap” cliche, but I’m tempted. Sorely.

The Return

One other pitcher on the roster merry go round we’ve had the past few weeks was none other than one time future closer, turned potential bust, turned, well, listen to his catcher:

“I thought he threw the ball excellent,” said Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash. “From seeing him in Pawtucket last year, a little bit in spring training, that was definitely a bright spot. I look forward to seeing him out there again. His slider has improved drastically. He showed pretty good fastball command other than that one pitch.”

Call me crazy, but I think we’re going to need Hansen before all is said and done. Here’s hoping he keeps it up down in Pawtucket. His first appearance after his recall, he was excellent: 3K in 2 IP, to go with no hits and no walks. Tonight? Not so much. 2 hits, a walk, a K and 3 runs in 1.1 IP.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

One Day At Fenway – Letus Extreme Film – Time Lapse – HDTV from Tom Guilmette on Vimeo.

We’ve come back in a couple of games. While we’d all prefer to not to have to come back, count me among those that does believe that doing it successfully does confer an intangible confidence to the club. What’s that worth, statistically speaking?

Maybe nothing. But maybe something. And either way, chalk us up for a couple more wins and a tie for the major league lead in wins. It’s early, so I’d make little or nothing out of that – no more than I would when we were several games back – but I am going to say I Told You So when I claimed the sky wasn’t falling.

Anyway, on to this week’s roundup.

The Bullpen Hopefuls

I waited so long to report on this that the Globe actually caught me up, but a couple of the potential late season bullpen contributors have been throwing well. In order of their proximity to the majors:

  1. Hansen:
    The one time future closer turned potential bust is quietly getting people out at a nice clip. In 11 IP, Hansen’s surrendered 1 unearned run and 2 hits, while K’ing 11, and perhaps most importantly, walking only 3. It’s too early to be excited, but it’s not impossible to imagine him to make a leap similar to the one Delcarmen executed last season.
  2. Masterson:
    Is straight lighting it up. Through an admittedly small sample size of 4 starts, the sinkerballer has a .95 ERA in 19 IP, to go along with 23 K’s and only 5 BB’s. He’s not long for Portland, sadly, as I doubt that I’ll get back to Maine in time to see another start from him there.
  3. Richardson:
    Ignored by the Globe, possibly because he’s more of a one pitch pitcher (fastball), the lefty Dutin Richardson is also throwing well for our AA club. In 3 starts covering 17 IP, he’s coughed up 4 ER while’s striking out 20 against 6 free passes. Not bad numbers, particularly given the fact that he’s a lefty.
  4. Bard:
    You might recall that I’ve been skeptical of Bard’s near term viability due to his complete inability to throw strikes. Well, given the fact that he throws near 100, count me among those that would be happy to be proven wrong. Which he may yet do, if his start is any indication. Law’s been hearing good things, saying “I’ve been hearing that Bard has been out of sight since Hawaii. His velo is back, and he’s pounding the lower half of the zone. And of course he’s throwing strikes,” and the numbers back him up. In 11.2 IP at Greenville, Bard’s K’d 16 against a mere 2 walks and 5 hits. For someone who spent last season walking better than a batter an inning, this is a positive development, small sample size or no.

The Catching Hopefuls

Beyond some of the nice pitching, there’s some decent news on the catching front. And with Kevin Cash as our primary backup, all I can say is thank Jebus. The rundown, in order of proximity to the majors:

  1. Kottaras:
    Not doing much other than leading a relatively strong Pawtucket offense in OPS with a .276/.354/621 line. The major obstacle to his ascension this season is his defensive liability; he’s not Tek, and while he’s presumably catching the knuckleballer Charlie Zink, I haven’t heard that he’s a candidate for Cash’s spot.
  2. Brown:
    Brown’s tailed off a bit since an early hot start, but .762 OPS (.244/.340/.422) at Pawtucket is at least respectable given his reputation as a solid defensive catcher.
  3. Wagner:
    Like Brown, Wagner’s tailed off a bit since the start of the season, but in his first season at AA, he’s putting up a .250/.318/.350 line. Far from setting the world on fire, but the 23 year old is keeping his head above water which is nice to see.

The Good and Bad Mechanics

Like Rob Neyer, these photos of Lopez and Oki mid-delivery make me vaguely nauseous. But I’m gratified that Driveline Mechanics has little but positive feedback on Buchholz’ mechanics.

The Kids

Kevin Thomas just covered this, but let me reinforce his contention that the kids are playing well. Ellsbury’s speed – particularly in the Yankees series – proved to be gamebreaking as advertised. And Lowrie? Well, he’s merely putting up a .429/.375/.571 line since his call up.

Yes, the kids will take their lumps as all rookies do. Some will flame out spectacularly. But for now they’re doing well plugging holes and making other assets (Crisp, Lugo) expendable in the event that we can find a good trading partner.

(thanks to Tim Daloisio for the link to the video)

Defending Farnsworth? Seriously?

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manny at bat, originally uploaded by eürodäna.

Since the incident, there’s been substantial discussion of Farnsworth vs Manny. The Great Gammons sneered at the move, calling Farnsworth a AAA pitcher. Manny, always unpredictable, actually sided with the pitcher that threw at him. MLB, for its part, did not, suspending the pitcher for three games. And then there are the Yankee fans.

One of general sports blogs I read and enjoy, The Big Lead, posted the following commentary from their so-called “Baseball Friend,” a friend who follows baseball and is sadly an avid Yankee fan. Given the absurdity of the comment, I feel no shame about giving it the FJM treatment.

First of all, let’s call Manny what he is. He is one of the 10 greatest right-handed hitters of all time. Possibly top five.

I’m glad we can agree on something, but something tells me this is a setup.

That being said, he is also a no-class, show-boating, homer-watching embarrassment to the game and he is universally-loathed throughout the sport for the way he carries himself on the field. Please spare me the “Manny being Manny,” shit, ok? You’re a grown-up. Respect the game. Just because you’re also an idiot savant doesn’t give you the right to act that way on the field.

This is an awesome point. Truly awesome.

Or it would be if it was remotely true.

Manny is so universally loathed that Jeter and Posada told Orsillo and Remy just days ago how much they respected his work ethic and ability. And hell, if you’re looking for “universally loathed,” Farnsworth is the better candidate. At least Ramirez’ teammates like him.

More to the point, you’re not really going to argue that “show-boating” and “homer-watching” are adequate justification for having his career taken away from him, are you? Because if he backs into that high 90′s pitch, that’s what we’re talking about.

And for all of you Sox fans (I’m looking at YOU, Gammons, you unbelievable whiner who can’t even be professional enough to keep your blatant homerism to yourself for three seconds on camera,)

Sorry, sorry, sorry, I know it’s bad form to interrupt, but this is less than correct. Where less than correct means utterly wrong. Though every Yankees fan I know believes the opposite quite earnestly, likely because of Gammons history with the team and the Globe, the Hall of Fame reporter actually has a great deal of respect for the Yankees. Everyone from Cashman to Torre has had pleasant things said about him; his frequent gushing about Jeter, in fact, is faintly nauseating to this Sox fan.

I guess you could be right though; maybe it was a blatant Sox homer that wrote this borderline puff piece on Cap’n Jetes. You know how long that took me to find, BTW? One query on Google; turns out it’s the first return for a query of “Gammons Jeter.”

Also, Baseball friend = pot, Gammon = kettle, but I digress…

bitching and moaning this morning, let me say this about that:

1. See above

Sorry, you lost me. Which part? The Manny-is-classless bit, or the Gammons-hates-the-Yankees claim? I’m not sure what either has to do with your defense, here, but I’m sure we’re getting to that.

2. The game has been played like this for years. A guy gets a little too comfortable in the box…you make him uncomfortable.

It sure has. But you’re not really arguing that all brushbacks are created equal, are you? If he’d hit Manny in the face, that would certainly make him uncomfortable, but would that be right? I mean, c’mon.

If I was making this argument, I might allow for a more nuanced view. One that distinguished, for example, between the way Pedro brushed back Matsui in ’04 (AKA the right way) and the way he did it with Garcia in ’03 (not the right way).

But then I’m not one of those “my player right or wrong” folks.

I’m assuming, of course, that when Pedro did all of the above, you were fine with it, and attempted to quell the rage in your fellow Yankee fans by reminding them that “the game has been played like this for years.” And everyone agreed and sat down for tea and remarked upon what a nice gentleman that Martinez fellow was.

3. Even if Farnsworth DID hit him, that would still put the Yankees about 572 steps behind the Sox in terms of hitting the other team’s superstar. The way the Sox have used Derek Jeter for target practice over the past 10+ years has been disgraceful.

That, or the way that Jeter dives over the plate and keeps getting hit in the hands and wrist is disgraceful. One or the other.

Here’s a fun exercise. Remind me of the last time one of our guys threw a high 90′s ball inches behind Jeter’s head. It might be my booze addled memory, but I just can’t remember the last time that happened.

Hitting someone in the hands is not the same as throwing at their head. Trust me, it’s just not. We can probably arrange for a demonstration if you’re still skeptical.

Just know that these aren’t the placid, zipped up, professional-to-a-fault Joe Torre Yanks anymore, and quite frankly, I’m ecstatic. Everyone should know that they’re on notice. Viva Girardi!

Translation: Viva head hunting! Before we take off, one reminder: your guys have heads too. Also, Beckett throws hard. Real hard.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

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Lester in the Pen, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

Running late, as usual. Blame the Red Sox this time. What would you have me do: watch the Sox/Yankees or crank out the ICYHBKUWCE that I owe you?

Exactly.

In the meantime, I’m not going to say anything about our play of late so as not to jinx us. But given that there’s another tilt with the empire coming in a littler over an hour, I’m going to keep this short and sweet. This week’s edition of In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events is player focused.

Enjoy, or at least read it.

Cash

Heard anyone complaining about his defense, and/or the impact it’s having on Timmeh? Me neither. The Sox should, of course, be actively on the market for catching because one injury to Tek and we’re in serious trouble (Brown and Kottaras’ success notwithstanding – more on that in a follow up). We could, in fact, find ourselves in a similar position to the Empire.

Colon

It’s not exactly throwing heat, but Colon – sidelined by an oblique injury – is at least back to playing catch.

Cora

Cora, on the other hand, was DL’d with Thurston replacing him. If Lowell wasn’t already out, I’d be less concerned about this, as it would offer Lowrie an opportunity to get his feet wet in an uber-utility role.

Delcarmen

Yes, his inconsistency is driving me crazy too. This past weekend, he gets couple of big outs against the Yankees. Last night? 2 free passes in an inning, and one hit by pitch scoring the at-the-time tying run.

How a pitcher with his stuff gets into so many 3 ball counts is beyond me, but until his command is better he won’t be the relief ace that we want him to be. Anyone else think it was interesting to see him replaced by Aardsma last night – particularly given their similarity?

Lester

Frustrating as MDC might be, however, it’s nothing compared to Lester. As Zach Hayes over at Fire Brand summarizes:

So far this season, Lester has thrown one outstanding start against weak hitting Oakland, one below average start against Detroit and two bad starts in Japan vs. the A’s and Monday at Cleveland. Lester isn’t being consistently pounded for home runs and hits (just two big ones- Emil Brown and Marcus Thames), but he’s constantly falling behind in the count, throwing all over the zone and putting too many free runners on base.

Remember when I asked whether his Oakland start was an adjustment or mere statistical variation? Well, we may not know the answer yet, but the initial data isn’t promising. It’s so unpromising, in fact, that Hayes asks whether or not it might be Lester rather than Buchholz that’s sent down when/if Colon arrives.

My own take is that Buchholz will be headed back down, unless Lester completely and utterly melts down, for the simple reason of innings. Buchholz’ professional innings totals? 22.2 IP Majors, 285.2 Minors. Lester? 144.1 IP Majors, 483.2 minors.

Lester’s far better positioned than Buchholz to handle a full season’s workload at this point, cancer or no cancer.

Lowell

Not much to relate here: the swelling’s down, but there’s been no further progress.

Lowrie

Congrats to the rookie for his first appearance, first major league hit, and first major league three RBI game. Particularly since the latter proved the difference in the ballgame. Oh, if you see him, wish him a happy birthday tomorrow.

Papi

I can’t say – apart from the hits collected – that I’ve seen much to convince me Papi’s back. But I have to say that the comment that Evan over at Fire Brand collected from Pizza Cutter was enlightening:

In general, Ortiz hits a lot of foul balls (including two strike fouls!) although he’s a power hitter and power hitters are generally high risk/high reward swingers, hence a lot of K’s and a lot of HR’s. Part of the reason that he’s so good is that his swing allows him to recover from a big swing midway and at least poke a ball foul to stay alive.

David Ortiz’s “slump” is nothing more than a run of bad luck. BABIP is generally within control of the hitter and Ortiz, a lifetime .310 BABIP hitter is hitting .114 this year…As much as I’d love it if he would politely hit like this for the next few months (or at least until the Red Sox get out of Cleveland tonight), I wouldn’t bet on that happening unless there’s some sort of (major) injury that we don’t know about. Patience is a virtue. Y’all waited 86 years. Ortiz will be fine.

Worth thinking about; I should have looked up his BABIP data myself.

Tek

Speaking of slumps, remember when everyone wrote him off after Japan/LA? I do.

Disgracing the Yankees



“It’s a bunch of bullshit.” – Hankenstein

That polished little utterance came, as you might guess, in response to a query of the significance of the once buried Ortiz jersey.

This assertion might have been slightly more credible had it not been for the fact that it was delivered after his club spent five hours cutting through two feet of concrete with jackhammers to extract it. But whatever.

The real question, asked here before, is whether even Yankee fans deserve a public face like Hankenstein. Is he not the least polished owner the game has seen? Or at least, the least polished since Marge Schott?

Before you answer, listen to what he had to say of Castignoli – the construction worker who planted the Jersey:

“I hope his coworkers kick the shit out of him.”

Seriously. Those words were delivered to a writer for a major daily by the son of a billionaire. It’s like he fell out of the uncouth tree and hit every branch on the way down.

If I was a Yankees fan, I would be ashamed to have this man representing my club. Which makes me glad that I’m not, and never will be.

(photo courtesy the New York Post)

Turn that Frown Upside Down, Papi

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Sobby Big Papi, originally uploaded by frigante.

Ok, I’m worried.

For the entirety of this young season, I’ve been cramming friends and family alike full of meaningless, reassuring pablum. Ortiz was fine, really. Too good of a hitter for this to last. Even the great ones go through it. And so on.

Rinse, lather, repeat.

Which of course I still believe. But I’ve progressed from stage 1 concern to stage 2 worry.

Not because of the slump. Great hitters do indeed go through similar slumps. Because of what it might be causing the slump. Just like Chad. It was only within the past few days thay I heard the word “limping.” When that applies to my own poor cracked and split feet, that’s an unfortunate word. When it’s used in conjunction with David Ortiz’ surgically repaired knee, well, it’s frankly terrifying.

Worse, the always unimpressive Buck/McCarver tandem related a troubling anecdote during Saturday’s telecast concerning Ortiz’ mental state. Apparently Tito had to pull Ortiz aside to tell the Smiling One that his lack of smiles was affecting the rest of the clubhouse. When was the last time anyone had to tell Ortiz to smile? Let alone to take a night off?

To be sure, I don’t believe, I know that Papi will come out of this. Probably soon.

But I am worried about the aftereffects of what I believed to be a fairly routine procedure on his knee. Not least because players of his type don’t tend to age well.

We need Papi to be Papi. And I’m sure that he will. But I am now on Alert Level Orange. Or is that Red?

Bullpen Now, Bullpen Later

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Called Strike, originally uploaded by sogrady.

As of yesterday, our bullpen was the not-so-proud owner of a collective 5.46 ERA. In 28 IP, we’d struck out 26, which is good, but walked 13, which is not so good. Fully half of those 26 K’s belonged to two pitchers: Paps (7), which you probably guessed, and Aardsma (6), which you may not have.

It’s for that reason alone – in spite of their usage in yesterday’s game (Aardsma preceded Corey) – that I suspect that this commenter over on Fire Brand is correct. Corey, in my mind, will be the one to go.

It’s the move I would make, because all things being equal you favor the strikeout pitcher. And things are hardly equal here. While Aardsma’s control has been characteristically poor – 4 BB’s in 4.1 IP – he at least has the strikeouts and a WHIP below 2. Corey has only walked 1 in the same span, but have give up 9 hits to Aardsma’s 2, and 7 runs to Aardsma’s 2.

So – assuming that Lopez is still protected from on high by the powers of darkness (his numbers are worse than either of the other two) – Corey should be the one to go.

The question is whether or not this will represent a real improvement, as Orsillo asserted on tonight’s telecast.

Certainly Timlin can be expected to provide higher quality outings that Corey has in his 6 appearances to date, but neither should we be expecting a great deal from the 42 year old reliever. PECOTA sees him throwing only 45 innings, and putting up a 4.40 ERA in that time (vs 3.80 in ’07).

The bullpen savior, he is not likely to be.

Stabilizer, maybe. His spring numbers show the same old Timlin, just with more contact. He doesn’t walk many – 1 in 8 IP over 7 outings – but he’s pitching more to contact, with 9 bits to go along with that walk.

At the very least, he’ll be an arm we can throw out against the Yankees in the middle innings that will throw strikes, and that’s certainly worth something.

However Timlin pitches, it seems clear that we’re going to need contributions from elsewhere, lest we run Oki into the ground yet again. Even more because of Buchholz and Lester’s innings caps.

But with credible bullpen arms overvalued at the moment, short of a Crisp trade, where might they come from? The minors, in all likelihood.

Given the ‘pen’s performance of late, I’ve been keeping an eye on some of the likely candidates for bullpen innings and the news on that front – unlike with the big club arms – is mostly good.

I was actually visiting Pawtucket’s site just yesterday to check in on Hansen, and apparently Kevin Thomas was thinking along the same lines. With the obvious small sample size caveat, it’s worth noting that in 3 appearances covering 6 IP, Hansen’s K’d 8, walked 3, and allowed 1 hit. It’s 3 games, yes, but it’s the best 3 game stretch he’s had since the tail end of last season.

One level down, Justin Masterson is actually outperforming Hansen, as the BA guys note. In 2 starts and 9 innings, Masterson’s walked none and K’d 10 against 5 hits. In his second outing, Masterson went 5, striking out 7. All of the other outs? Groundballs. Of the 2 hits he allowed, one was a groundball single.

Does this mean, as some are beginning to argue, that we should dump not only Corey but Aardsma too, in favor of the young arms?

No. Barring injury, Hansen and Masterson will remain as options for our bullpen, while once Aardsma, Corey or even Lopez are gone, they’re gone for good as all are out of options. So rather than prematurely divest ourselves of potential assets, it makes more sense to wait and see what, if anything, Aardsma and the rest of the current relief staff can provide us, while gaining additional insight into the performances of the likes of Masterson and Hansen. As well as both of the latter two have pitched, they are both exceedingly young, and we’ve only a handful of games to judge them by.

In a month or two, I might change my tune, but for now I think we try to keep the ship afloat with the pieces we’ve got, while assessing the readiness of potential help down the line.

Update: Rob Bradford confirms that Corey was the roster casualty, DFA’d after the game to make room for Timlin.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up on Current Events

We just got our asses kicked, pal. As previously discussed.

But what profit is it to dwell on our sub.500 record after a mere seven games? Let’s be mature about the situation, and indulge rather in our usual Sunday habit of Sox related news and anecdotes and Cafardo bashing.

Blue Plate Special

We’re old, or so says Major League Baseball. Via the Globe’s Nick Cafardo comes the following:

The average age of 861 Major League players on 25-man active rosters, disabled lists, and restricted lists as of April 1 was recorded at 29.46 years old. The Boston Red Sox are the oldest club in the majors with an average age of 31.33, while the Houston Astros pace the National League at 31.09 years old. The Florida Marlins are the youngest team in baseball with an average age of 27.78, and the Oakland Athletics field the youngest squad in the American League at 28.20 years old.

It would have been nice of Cafardo to provide some context and note that some of the elder statesmen that skew those numbers – Schilling, Timlin, Wakefield – are question marks for next season’s roster, or that four of our current starters are 27 or younger, but maybe that’s too much to ask.

Catching Conundrums

Remember when we discussed our precarious catching situation? It persists. Here’s the latest from Olney:

Scouts and officials with other teams say the Red Sox have been actively making inquiries about catchers, which makes sense, because among AL contenders, their backup situation isn’t strong. For example: Toronto has Gregg Zaun and Rod Barajas, the Indians have Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach, the Yankees have Jorge Posada and Jose Molina.

I’d predict that we would be dealing for catching, but the position is at such a premium at the moment we’d be required to significantly overpay, which the front office generally prefers not to do. So we’ll have to wait and see.

Colon Pitched Well – Not As Good as Reported – But Well

You may have read reports that Bartolo Colon was throwing in the mid 90′s during his Pawtucket start – I know I did. As I’d guessed, however, some of that was just an optimistic radar gun. From Soxprospects.com’s Clem21 (via Fire Brand of the American League):

Had excellent command tonight considering the conditions. His breaking pitches were pretty sharp and he was in control of the hitters for his outing. AB touched on his velocity in his post. He seemed to have pretty good velocity for innings 1-3, but it trailed off in innings 4-5. Generated a good amount of swings and misses from the AAA hitters in the beginning innings, but they started fouling off a lot of his pitches as the outing went on. I saw him hit 95 on the stadium gun as pointed out, but I checked in with a Cubs scout sitting next to me and he had him at 92 on his gun for the same pitch. He had Colon at 88-91 for the outing with him dipping down to 87-88 in the 5th inning before reaching back to 92 on his last pitch. Overall, it was a positive outing for Colon, but I don’t see the arm strength there as of yet and see it being another 2-3 outings before we see what he’s really got.

Some of you might read that as terrible news, but I find that scouter very encouraging. Sure, I’d prefer a Colon throwing gas, gas and more gas just like the old days. But I’m far more concerned about his command; that, you might remember, was his undoing in his spring training start against the Empire.

If he can throw low 90′s consistently and locate, I’d expect him to bump Buchholz back down to Pawtucket for both seasoning and innings limitation purposes one or two starts into the future.

Four Man Rotations, Pitch Counts, and More: Bill James

A terrific – particularly compared to 60 Minutes – Freakonomics interview with Bill James in the NY Times yielded this gem:

Q: Do you feel, given the right personnel, that some teams should try a four man rotation. If not, why not? If so, which team do you think is best suited and why?

A: I think it is plausible that that could happen and could succeed. I would explain my feelings about it this way: that between 1975 and 1990, two changes were made to reduce the workload of starting pitchers in an effort to reduce injuries. First, we switched from a four-man to a five-man rotation. Second, we imposed pitch-count limits on starting pitchers, starting at about 140 and then gradually reducing that to about 110.

I think it is clear that at least one of those changes was unnecessary, and accomplished nothing. It is possible that both of them were unnecessary and accomplished nothing, but the better evidence is on the side of the pitch limits. I think it is possible, based on what I know, that the starting rotations could go back to four pitchers with no negative consequences.

It’s possible that it’s solely because I’m a pitching geek, but I find this fascinating. Particularly because it comes from someone on our own staff.

Interviewing Cashman

A number of outlets have pointed to LoHud’s interview with Brian Cashman, and I’d agree that it’s informative, insightful, and all that good stuff. Worth a read, in other words. But one of the more interesting answers, from my perspective, was this:

Neil asked: What do you think is the most significant move you have made as GM of the Yankees? For good or bad?

Brian Cashman: “I don’t know if you can say one’s significant over another. This is how many years I have done this? Ten or 11? This is my 11th year. It varies. It depends on where the organization is. There are a number of moves we made to finish off championship runs. Like 2000, when we built that team on the run. In 2000, we changed over a big part of that roster in season to get our third championship in three years and then our fourth world championship appearance in five years. That was pretty special. But I think after 05, making the tough decision to take the steps back to rebuild the farm system and be patient and try to teach patience where patience doesn’t exist within the recent history of this franchise. I think that’s going to be a big turning point for this franchise for a long time.”

Unfortunately, I agree with him.

More Japan

Call me unsurprised: the players have nothing positive to say about the Japan trip. I sympathize, because I think the entire concept is asinine, not to mention hideously inconvenient to fans here in the US, but I’m tired of hearing about it.

Improved international relations aside, this trip has been officially classified as an absolute joke.

Believe me, Papelbon isn’t on an island with his opinion. Even before the final out was registered last night, the Sox’ well-worn description of the 19-day road trip as “a business trip” had morphed into downright disgust.

My prediction? The volume of Japan trip mentions – for the season – will be inversely proportional to our win total.

No More Red Sox are the New Yankees

From the Globe’s David Lefort comes the interesting – more on that in a moment – word that we’re no longer second in MLB payroll. Nor even third.

Figures obtained by the Associated Press indicated that the Red Sox opened the season with a payroll of $133,440,037 (click here for a player-by-player breakdown), which is down $10 million from their Opening Day payroll last season and ranks as the fourth-highest in the majors. Not surprisingly, the Yankees lead the way with just over $209 million.

Remember this the next time someone tries to persuade you that we’re “just like the Yankees.” We spend more than the majority of other clubs, it’s true, but the payroll delta this season comes to better than $75M according to my rudimentary math.

Why is this interesting? Because it may indicate that we’ll have some flexibility come the trading deadline. Never to early to begin speculating.

Stay Klassy, Cafardo

Paps and Oki aside, the bullpen has sucked to date, you’ll get no argument on that here. Still, I was personally offended on behalf of Aardsma/Corey/Snyder when Cafardo reacted to the bullpen implosion on the 5th with the following:

Looks like there’ll be plenty of candidates for Josh Beckett’s roster spot.

You want to dog their performance, fine. But I draw the line at sarcasm when it comes to roster spots: these are people’s lives and careers we’re talking about. A little bit less angry fan would be appreciated from a theoretically objective reporter.

The Sky is Not Falling

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Fenway Park, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Today sucked, I get that. And yes, I’m just as unhappy as you are. I don’t enjoy residing – as we do after today’s 7-4 debacle – at the bottom of the division any more than you do, I promise. Less, probably.

But remember, people: it’s a marathon. We’re seven games in, and only two games back of the division leading, um, Orioles (seriously, look it up). Five days ago in Oakland we looked liked world beaters; that wasn’t realistic. But neither is it appropriate to write off this year’s club after three pedestrian outings in Toronto.

Particularly since the losses can largely be attributed to one single area of the club: the bullpen. Sure, the offense isn’t exactly lighting it up, after getting manhandled by the likes of Shaun Marcum. But realistically, it’s the bullpen that’s to blame. Or more specifically, the middle relief as Oki and Pap have been themselves.

Whether or not it’s true, as Remy asserted during today’s telecast, that the overexposure of the bullpen is directly attributable to the fact that our starters were one start short in spring training due to the Japan trip is, in my mind, academic. We are where we are, and whatever is to blame, we’ve got games to play. Games that count.

Part of the solution may arrive in the ongoing reconfiguration of the bullpen – Snyder’s already gone, and one of Aardsma/Corey will be exiting when Timlin comes off the DL this week – but honestly, I’m not sure what to expect. The non-setup/closer relief on virtually every club, contenders included, is suspect. They pitch low leverage innings for a reason, after all.

In all likelihood, we’ll be dealing for relief help in addition. Whether that’s a Crisp in the short term or kids in the longer term is unclear at this point. The direction we take will depend, obviously, on the performances of the current major league staff, but also potential contributors from the minors. Speaking of, Masterson allowed> 3 hits (2 infield singles) and no runs to go along with 7K’s and 0BB’s in 4 IP for Portland.

Besides the bad news, there are a great number of positives to take away. Drew looks good swinging the bat, Tek has recovered as expected, and the starters have generally been excellent to solid. Lester and Matsuzaka, as discussed, were both outstanding. Wake pitched very well, Buchholz tossed out an acceptable start, and Beckett – fresh off the DL – threw very well until the last inning when he was betrayed by Delcarmen.

As an aside on Delcarmen, count me among those who’s skeptical of the “relief ace” tag many have been applying to him this past offseason. He throws hard, without question, but his location is often poor and his fastball is pin-straight. I like him in the bullpen mix, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not sold on him becoming a Tier 1 setup man.

But back to our pitching in general; you may be unimpressed with our offense, which has managed a relatively pathetic .242/.308/.372 thus far, but our staff – the bullpen implosions aside – has held our opponents to the following .228/.320/.363.

If pitching and defense win games, then, we should be ok. Well, except for the defense, which thanks to Casey, Lugo and even Lowell has been less than stellar. But that’s transient, in my opinion.

But anyway, I’m not telling you not to be upset. I’m not even telling you not to be angry. But I am telling you not to panic. 3-4 is way to early for that. 3-5, maybe, but not 3-4.

Let’s see what the kids can do at home.

Schilling to Bradford to You

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Houston, We Have a Problem, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Once upon a time, the feed for Rob Bradford’s feed was full text. Alas, with Rob now employed by the Boston Herald, those days are seemingly behind us, as the Herald is intent on artificially inflating page views by serving only partial text via readers. But that’s about all I have to complain about; he is, otherwise, one of my favorites of the Sox beat writers.

Interviews like this two part series with Schilling are a great example of why. Yes, the questions come from the readers as opposed to Rob, but that’s part of his charm. Unlike most of the Boston writers, he’s actively embraced the idea that he probably doesn’t have all the answers. Or questions, as the case may be.

But anyhow, here are a couple of interesting question and answer exchanges that I found particularly interesting. They’re provided below, with my reaction following in italics.

Q: If this is it and you never pitch again, will this whole surgery/no surgery debacle taint your Red Sox experience or is it still pretty special?

CS: Whether I pitch again or not won’t change my feelings about what has happened over the past three to four months. But that is completely separate and apart from the experience I’ve had the honor of being part of on the field and in the clubhouse.

Perhaps there are other ways to read this remark, but my guess is that his feelings over what has transpired over the past three to four months are less than positive towards the club. Which may be perfectly justified, for all that I know of the situation. I do find it notable, however, as it seems at least possible that it will permanently color his relationship with the club going forward.

Q: What is your opinion on the increasing importance of pitch counts? There seems to be too much reliance on the 100 pitch threshold. It should all depend on how “easy” or “hard” the pitches have been through the game (i.e. constantly working out of jams or not). I’d love to hear your opinion on this subject.

CS: I guess my question has always been why 100? Why not 92 or 157? Why is it 100? Why is it 200 IP? I have no idea why that is the number but I absolutely agree with SOME number being paid attention to because I have watched the positive impact and also felt it as well.

I’ll have more on the pitch count question shortly, but I’d argue that Schilling’s opinion regarding pitch counts is rather progressive for a pitcher of his era and type. While I think he’s focusing too much on the actual number – it’s not possible for it to be anything but arbitrary when it’s a general rule – I find it refreshing that he’s willing to recognize the benefits of rest. I hope that attitude is common on our staff.

Q: Do pitchers actually lose something on their fastball when they develop a pattern of throwing a lot of cutters, for example? I thought I read this theory about Andy Pettitte in the late 90’s.

CS: I’ve always felt that the change-up, the softer stuff are the pitches that start to erode velocity and only then if they are pitches you begin to rely heavily on. Due to the physical exertion and feel of the fastball, you begin to lose some of that when you lean heavily on pitches that don’t force the same delivery or effort level in my opinion.

This is an interesting assertion, one that I don’t know that I’ve ever heard before. It would be interesting to how well fastball/change pitchers held or did not their velocity over time versus, say, fastball/slider pitchers. The original questioner also brings up a good point, in that Pettite and similar pitchers – I believe they held Lester back from using his cutter in spring training – have been accused of over using their breaking balls or offspeed offerings.

Q: I’m always interested in hearing what pitchers are willing to say about throwing inside and brushback/knockdown pitches. Do they serve a pitcher well, a team well? Are they effective at all on the opposition? If not, why not? Are there times when a pitcher want to throw one but can’t, or doesn’t wan’t to, but has to? Is it solely up the pitcher to launch one? Does a pitcher take a little bit off a pitcher when he’s going to launch one? Does a pitcher feel personal about it, or does the hitter, or is it just part of the game? There’s this one pitcher I’ve watched, who I won’t name, but he seems nice enough, who generally puts one right ont he batter’s butt cheek to sort of get the job done without trying to hurt the guy. If you want to comment on this, we’ll assume it’s the hypothetical pitcher we’re talking about rather than anyone in particular.

CS: Whew, that’s a lot. Pitching inside is absolutely essential to being dominant in the major leagues, no question. You absolutely must pitch inside and I always look at that, the corners of the plate, and the “sweet spot” of the strike zone in similar fashion. Meaning if you throw 85 mph you have to pitch farther in. You have smaller corners and the hitters’ sweet spot in the strike zone is larger. As you move up the velocity scale all of those things get bigger and smaller. When I threw 95 I look at the corners as being 5-6 inches each. Pitching in was about inner-half to just off, and the hitters’ sweet spot in the zone was much smaller. As my velocity has decreased the corners get smaller, I have to pitch farther in, and there is a lot more room in the strike zone I need to stay out of. As far as hitting batters goes, the game has changed in epic fashion. Umpires can now throw pitchers out if the THINK the pitcher hit a batter intentionally and has resulted in some comical scenarios. I have talked with many umpires who detest the rule, because they just don’t know in many cases. The amount of money in the game has forced owners to do some things to the game that I don’t think are necessarily in the game’s best interest. However, I will add that at one point the players did such a poor job of playing the game right that we warranted oversight because we couldn’t manage it ourselves. It got to a point where every time a hitter was even thinking he was being thrown at he charged, and no one wins there.

A lot to parse there, clearly, but the pieces I found most insightful were the margin for error as it relates to velocity and the impact of the umpiring crews on the ability to throw inside. The latter, of course, is something that many of us have noticed over the past few years, particularly when it came to performances from those that, like Pedro, made a living throwing inside.

The former is likewise fairly unsurprising, but the specifics on inches and corner size I had not seen discussed previously.

Q: Sandy Koufax said, “Pitching is the art of instilling fear,” and “Show me a guy who can’t pitch inside and I’ll show you a loser.” And yet he hit only 18 batters in 2,324 innings. Don Drysdale on the other hand hit 154 batters in 3,432 innings and Pedro Martinez has (so far) hit 131 batters in 2,673 innings. You have only hit 52 batters in 3,261 innings. Has your control been so good that you can still pitch inside without hitting batters, or is it that your split is more likely to be in the dirt and that explains your low HBP number?

CS: I would say it’s been control more than anything. I would like to think I’ve conducted myself the right way on the mound. Of the 52 guys I have hit I would say roughly half were guys that deserved it and now it, and I never aimed high. When I hit someone on purpose the intent was to make sure they knew it, their teammates knew it, and the offending pitcher knew it as well. That and I wanted it to hurt after the game so I would always aim for the hip to the arm pit.

I think Schilling is entirely correct: it all does come down to control. Throwing inside, of course, is not by definition a euphemism for hitting batters. But the worse the pitcher’s control, the more likely that the conflation of those to terms will end up being entirely appropriate. Schilling’s refusal to elevate the ball when intentionally hitting batters speaks well of him, I’d say, and I generally do not condone head hunting because the risks are too great.

That said, anyone that saw Hideki Matsui’s at bats before and after Pedro threw one under right under his chin in the 2004 ALCS has to appreciate the art – and make no mistake, it is an art – of intimidation.