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.

Adjustments? Or Random Statistical Variation?

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john lester & dice-k, originally uploaded by BostonTx.

I’ve received emails from a few of you regarding the past two games. Which is cool. But thus far, I haven’t seen anyone make my point for me: that the really interesting things about the past two games had nothing to do with Papi. Or Tek.

While I still think some of the projections for the Smiling One are optimistic – occasionally aggressively so – it was obvious to more or less the whole town that he wasn’t going to go ofer the season. Or even the week. And that the power would come. Likewise, He Who is Part Tree probably wasn’t going to be striking out better than 80% of the time for the season, old as he may be.

Just as obviously, Matsuzaka and Lester aren’t going to throw 2 and 3 hitters every time out. Two starts doesn’t even begin to describe the microscopic nature of the sample size.

But I’m curious, I’ll admit. Chuck the results; the A’s aren’t exactly this year’s version of this year’s Tigers lineup (Bannister’s impressive shutout notwithstanding).

What I’m more interested in was the approach of both starters. Both kids – I’m offically allowed to use that term as both are younger than me – followed the Red Sox mandate under Epstein, Farrell and co of pounding the strikezone. I haven’t run the numbers, because my connection here at the airport is moderately to heavily cranky, so take this with a shaker or two of salt, but it seemed that both pitchers threw a higher percentage of fastballs than in previous starts. Where higher reads as much higher.

Which is interesting, given that the conventional wisdom regarding both pitchers in the offseason – ratcheted up a notch after their respective season openers – was that each was unnecessarily tentative. Reluctant to trust their stuff and the defense behind them. That both, in other words, were not pitching up to their talent levels.

One start does not a season or career make, of course. Let alone one against a club not expected to contend in the weakest division in the big boy pants AL. But I’m still struggling to contain my hope – good thing, maybe the best of things it may be – that yesterday’s outings are harbingers of an important adjustment for these two.

Mostly because if they can but approximate the performances they gave yesterday, and Beckett is Beckett, we’re not in bad shape.