Five Things I Don't Quite Get

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Brian Giles headed to third, originally uploaded by SD Dirk.

If there are five things that Peter Gammons doesn’t quite get, I figure it’s ok for there to be five things I don’t quite get. Because I know Peter Gammons (no, I don’t), and I know that I am no Peter Gammons.

  1. Why we claimed Brian Giles:
    Gammons explains it thus:

    The Red Sox did want Brian Giles. With Jacoby Ellsbury struggling, Giles could have led off and played some right feld, with J.D. Drew moving [to] center. And Giles could have been DH insurance should David Ortiz experience further problems with his troublesome left wrist.

    Still, I’m unconvinced. Unless they think Ells is struggling, like Bucky, enough that he’d have to go down. Granted, Giles’ .296/.389/.440 line puts Ells’ .269/.331/.373 to shame. And his numbers against certain AL rivals are less than awful: Angels (.394/.512/.758), New York (.275/.333/.488), Tampa (.261/.320/.565). And the last three years 05-07 he’s been a better hitter in the second half than he was in the first (.820 to .817 OPS). And…actually, never mind. I get this now.

  2. Why we didn’t claim for Chad Bradford:
    This one is more perplexing. As Neyer says:
    Speaking of waiver claims, the Rays made a nice one yesterday, picking up Chad Bradford, and I’m surprised that 11 teams — including the Red Sox, the Yankees, the White Sox and the Twins — passed on him. Bradford’s got a 2.45 ERA this season, despite a strikeout rate, 2.9 per nine innings, that’s well below what’s needed to pitch effectively in the majors. In his prime — his first three seasons with the A’s — Bradford struck out 7.2 per nine innings, which is excellent, especially for a guy who never broke 90 with his “fastball.” Bradford’s strikeout rate has plummeted since then, bottoming out this year. So how has he survived? He’s become exceptionally stingy with the long ball, giving up only five homers in his last 190 innings. In contrast, last year Brad Penny had the lowest home run ratio among ERA title qualifiers, and Penny gave up nine homers in 208 innings.

    With the Sox in 05, Bradford wasn’t stellar. He gave up 29 hits and 4 walks in 23 and change innings. And there’s the aformentioned strikeout rate problem.

    But the fact is that he’s been good this year, giving up a run more in 40 plus innings for Baltimore than he did in the 23+ he threw for us. He might not have fit into last year’s pen, but this year’s edition? Hell, who wouldn’t?

  3. Why we’ve underperformed our run differential so badly:
    Aside from the Cubs who are at +139, the Sox have the best run differential in the majors at +108. That’s compared to Tampa at +65, the Yankees at +41, the White Sox at +65, the Twins at +37, and the Angels at +62. Our Pythagorean record stands at 70-48 versus the actual 67-51. By contrast, Tampa’s expected record at 65-52 is seriously outperformed by their actual 71-46. Doubtless there’s no single explanation, but if we don’t revert to the mean – and soon – we’re going to have a serious problem.
  4. Why MLB would bother investigating Manny:
    Rumor has it – and yes that’s all I’ll call it, originating as it did with the Shank – that MLB is investigating both Boras and Manny for the events that preceded the latter’s departure. Is it possible that Boras and Manny conspired together in an effort to ensure that the options were dropped? Sure, it’s possible. But I don’t know how you’d prove it without a smoking gun email. His July line of .347/.473/.587 was the best he’d put up all season. Maybe he tanked, maybe he didn’t, but investigating is a waste of time without proof.
  5. Why it’s 2008 and the owners are only just poised to discuss the absurd, byzantine blackout restrictions:
    Seriously, this is just mind boggling. Or would be, if MLB’s business side wasn’t so glacially slow and backward.

Am I For Lowrie, Or Against Lugo?

Jed Lowrie, SS, Hitting Third

I admit it. The primary reason I root for Jed Lowrie is my assumption (read: hope) that if he plays well enough, I won’t have to watch Lugo anymore. That’s not the only reason, of course. By all accounts, Lowrie is a good, respectful kid and I generally enjoy seeing products of our farm system perform well. Also, he wears a Red Sox uni.

But my affection for the player is as much a function of my disaffection for the player he’s effectively replacing as anything else. Sad, but true. I’ll root for Lugo, because he plays in Boston, but there’s not much about him as a player that I appreciate.

Which begs the question: how is the kid doing?

The answer? Not too bad. Not too bad at all.

His season numbers are nothing to complain about: .289/.342/.423. For the sake of comparison, at the time of his injury Lugo was at .271/.355/.330. In other words, Lowrie is out-OPSing his competition by just short of a hundred points .765 to .685, and Lugo is also giving up almost twenty points of average.

So far so good.

Better is the fact that Lowrie’s numbers have only improved since the All Star break. With the requisite small sample size warning, over the 16 games he’s appeared in since, I have (meaning I did the math, so take it with a grain or three of salt) Lowrie at .296/.387/.426. An .813 OPS from a rookie shortstop? Yeah, I’ll take that. Provided that he can make at least the routine plays. And it is that question, frankly, that is most relevant, as defense is and always has been the wild card with respect to Lowrie. Most observers believed he’d hit, but opinions on whether he could handle short on an everyday basis have varied widely.

So can he? Hell if I know.

But the early returns look acceptable, in that he’s more than holding his own versus the incumbent Lugo in nearly every defensive metric available. Fielding percentage, we can throw out, because Lugo’s got dozens more chances and thus can’t be expected to match Lowrie’s perfect 1.0. More interestingly, their range factors are identical at 3.70. Zone Rating favors the kid heavily: .905 to .823. Baseball Prospectus favors him, if less obviously, giving Lowrie an even 0 in Fielding Runs Above Replacement (meaning he’s zero runs better than the lowest replacement available) against Lugo’s -2 (he’s not). Last, he have The Hardball Times telling us that by their Revised Zone Rating (RZR), Lowrie is…again…better: .829 to .786.

For those that skimmed all those numbers and weird terms above, the gist is this: Lowrie’s equal to or better than Lugo in every measurable category. Sometimes by sizable margins. Hell, while we’re here, why don’t we see how the kid measures up to Cap’n Jetes? Just for kicks.

BA OBP SLG RF ZR RZR FRAA
Jeter .281 .343 .393 4.18 .837 .865 -12
Lowrie .289 .342 .423 3.70 .905 .829 0

Lowrie wins a few and loses a few, but all around he doesn’t look bad next to the future Hall of Famer. True, the latter is having a very poor season offensively and on the downside of his career defensively; to the extent that the whispers of moving to first have already started (not surprising after his abysmal ’07 defensive showing). But still, Lowrie’s acquitting himself well, I think.

What does this tell us? Not a whole hell of a lot, at least definitively, given the state of today’s defensive metrics (and I’m far from up-to-date on the state of the art in that department). But it certainly suggests that while Lowrie may be perceived as a borderline candidate for the shortstop position, he mans it at least as well as the guy he’s subbing for. Setting the bar with Lugo is, of course, dangerous, but that’s where we’re at.

Meaning that, logically, he should keep his spot when Lugo returns from his injury. Whether or not things actually play out that way remains to be seen; it took Tito an awful long time to make the Ellsbury for Crisp swap last year, but that was more defensible given Crisp’s defensive value.

Beyond the the in-season implications, however, lurks the question of what to do next year. There are two fundamental questions to be answered: will Lugo be with this team? And if the answer to that is no, would they trust Lowrie with the position full time.

Again, I haven’t the faintest. But I must say that the news that our payroll come November could be down to $110 millon gives me hope. Hope that the Red Sox will recognize the (foolishly, IMO) sunk cost that is Lugo and send him on his merry way.

In the meantime, I’m rooting for Lowrie. For his own sake, yes, but also for mine.

Update: More from Peter Gammons – “One NL team’s defensive statistics, scouting and ratings have John McDonald of the Blue Jays as the best defensive shortstop in the majors. No surprise. They have Boston’s Jed Lowrie at No. 5 among the 62 ranked shortstops, even if his sample is small.”

Why I Have Issues With Nick Cafardo

NESN trade deadline special

When one of the other patrons of Byrnes’ Irish Pub caught me swearing at Nick Cafardo midway through his performance on NESN’s afternoon trading deadline special, an explanation was asked for. Those of you who’ve been around here for more than, oh, a few days will know that I don’t think much of Nick Cafardo’s work at the Globe.

Making Gordon Edes’ migration to a more national platform at Yahoo all the more problematic.

But anyway, for the new people, here’s the scoop: it’s not that I have any personal distaste for the man. I don’t know him from Adam, and he’s never kicked a dog of mine. That I know of. I simply don’t think he’s terribly good at his job. He’s not Murray Chass, nor – thank Jebus – Dan Shaughnessy, but I think he’s well beyond the “slowing-down portion of his career” as Scott’s Shots calls it.

In the past, I’ve criticized him for:

  • Pondering the replacement of Manny Ramirez with Matt Holliday…without mentioning the latter’s troubling home/road splits.
  • Trivializing the implications of roster movements.
  • Ignoring the reality – or at least declining to provide some context and counter-analysis (start by explaining the cases of Prior, M, or Wood, K, why don’t you?) – that innings caps for young pitchers are a beneficial development.
  • Arguing that Shelley Duncan (DFA’d twice already this season) should play over Jason Giambi because of his “energy.”
  • And, of course, assigning CC Sabathia – the eventual winner – a truly inexplicable fourth place vote for the Cy.

And that’s just the last twelve months. Fire Joe Morgan has taken him apart in the past for a rather egregious error or two.

The errors, actually, I can live with. Those happen. I make them, you make them, and even Kevin Youkilis makes them. It’s more that he just doesn’t seem to understand today’s game, what with its newfangled “innings caps” and “statistics.”

Witness these two bits of pre-trading deadline speculation regarding Buchholz.

First, Nick Cafardo:

The Sox are still in on Colorado’s Brian Fuentes, Kansas City’s Ron Mahay, and Oakland’s Huston Street, and were interested in Marte…The Sox will likely not give up Clay Buchholz for Fuentes, but the Rockies may take less.

Next, Sean McAdam:

The Sox are one of many teams intrigued with Colorado lefty Brian Fuentes, but the Rockies have asked for Clay Buchholz in return — far too steep a price for a two-month rental. Fuentes can become a free agent at the end of the season.

To quote Mugatu, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. I know, McAdam knows, and hopefully you know that you don’t cough up elite pitching prospects for the two month rental of a middle reliever. However desperately your bullpen needs one.

But not Cafardo. They “likely” won’t give up Buchholz? “Likely?” To judge from their behavior thus far, it’s reasonable to conclude that there was a less than zero chance that our front office would move Buchholz in a deal for Fuentes. Considerably less than zero, in fact. Or maybe you think the player that was untouchable in the Santana deal would be moved for a reliever?

As nearly as I can determine, Cafardo’s player evaluations consist of “what have you done for me lately?” Sure, you threw a no-hitter last year, Bucky, and your minor league 10.91 K/9 rate is borderline inhuman…but Masterson’s reeled off five or six quality starts. So thanks, but we need someone in the pen for two months.

How else to explain his belief that Masterson had climbed above Buchholz on the depth chart, in spite of minor – and major league, actually – numbers that indicate that the latter will be a star and the former, in all probability, a reliever.

So anyway, let this post serve as both a written record of my issues with Cafardo and my fervent hope that he not get the job of competing with the new ‘EEI web outlet. The Boston Globe has been my home page on every browser I’ve had since the original Netscape Navigator, but if it’s going to compete going forward it needs more help than Cafardo can provide.

If the Globe folks are looking for someone to fill a web spot, they’d do better to get someone who’s new media savvy, comfortable with the statistics that drive much of modern baseball’s decision making, and knows how to relate to their target audience.

Someone like their very own Chad Finn. Or one of the guys at Fire Brand. Anyone but Cafardo. Please. I want to keep reading the Globe.

Chili Davis on Pedro's 17K Game

Late to the party with this one, as a bunch of folks have already linked to it, but in case you haven’t seen it, an interview with Chili Davis from the Baseball Prospectus guys. In which he discusses Pedro’s legendary 17K effort at Yankee Stadium.

Davis: And then, Paul O’Neill came up, and he came hard in on O’Neill, jammed him, Bernie Williams came up, he came hard in on Bernie, jammed him, got out of the inning. Well, the next inning, he’s warming up, and Tino Martinez and I are standing on the on-deck circle, and I remember walking over to Tino and saying, “Tino, he’s got a good heater today, and he knows it. He knows it, Tino, and he’s coming in.” Everybody that came up, he started them fastball, hard in. I said, “If I was you, Tino, I’d look in, and try to turn on something.” And Tino was in a slump at the time, and he looked at me, and he was like “You know, uh, you know uh, uh, I don’t know,” kind of hesitant to take the game plan up there. So he went up there, and I think Pedro jammed him up inside, broke his bat or something, and he went back to the dugout. And I stand on deck, and I go, “You know what, you [expletive]? You come in here. Yeah, I know I’m 40, or 39, or whatever years old, I know you think you can get it in. But I’m looking in here. You throw that first-pitch heater in here, and I’m gonna turn on it.” And I’d no sooner said it, he threw that heater inside, and I, I was looking for it, and boom! Turned on it, you know, yeah.

That game marked the one and only time during my Manhattan tenure that New Yorkers, seeing my Red Sox hat, bought me beer. One of my fondest Red Sox memories, period.

Upon Further Review, Dan Graziano Should Review Further

Don’t like the Manny Ramirez trade? Fine. I’ve come to terms, myself, but I’m sure you have your reasons. And I’ll respect them. The only thing that I ask is that they be better than Dan Graziano’s. Seriously. His reaction to his reaction to the Manny Ramirez trade leaves much, in my opinion, to be desired. With a thousand apologies to the experts over at FJM, a quick reaction to his reaction to his reaction.

Upon further review…the Manny Ramirez trade still stinks


I didn’t expect to be so dramatically in the minority on this. I wrote this column in this morning’s Star-Ledger, and while I never expect everybody to agree with me, I kind of thought a few people would.

But the e-mails this morning, and even most of the other columns on this topic, are so dramatically opposed to my central point (that the Red Sox blew the 2008 season by trading Manny Ramirez) that I felt compelled to re-think it.

Here’s what I came up with:

They’re all wrong, and I’m right.

Raise your hand if you’re shocked that a columnist is convinced he’s right in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Right, so, some bad news: those of you raising your hands are idiots.

The most common defense I’ve seen is that this trade is similar to the 2004 deadline deal that shipped very popular shortstop Nomar Garciaparra out of town. But it’s not, and the differences are where Boston’s mistakes shine through:

I’m listening. Talk to me Goose.

1. The Nomar the Red Sox traded on July 31, 2004 was a diminished Nomar. Sure, he could still hit, but he couldn’t stay healthy (he’d played just 38 games for them over the first four months of that season), and his defense at a crucial position had tailed off dramatically enough that it was costing them runs on a regular basis. They didn’t like having him in the clubhouse anymore, but the good reasons for getting rid of him were on-field reasons, not off-field ones.

Manny Ramirez is not a diminished player. He’s still one of the very best hitters in the game.

Apparently my definition of what constitutes one of the “very best hitters in the game” differs from Graziano’s. Ever so slightly. Foolishly, I expect “very best” to equate to something like top five in the league. Maybe ten.

Manny’s rankings? Well, he’s 11 in OBP, which is good. Not quite making the cut for my personal “very best” rating, and behind his own teammate JD Drew, but still good. How about slugging percentage? Oh. Oh dear. 26th? Really? Well, how about average? Thirty-seventh? Are you sure? How is that possible? He’s one of the very best hitters in the league!

Or at least he was four years ago, when he was OPSing 1.009. But because he’s done that in the past, he must carry that definition indefinitely, apparently. The fact that Man-Ram is 36 years old surely isn’t relevant to this discussion.

Nor the fact Xavier Nady is OPSing .930 to Man-Ram’s .927.

And his defense, while horrible, is no worse than it’s ever been. So it’s not as if he’s costing them any more runs than he did in 2004 or 2007, when they were champions of the world. The only reason they got rid of Ramirez is because they didn’t want him around anymore,

If by “they,” you mean his teammates, then yes, that’s true. That is, principally, why we got rid of him.

and that’s not supposed to be good enough when you’re an organization that prides itself on impartial reason — the organization that ignored cries that J.D. Drew was soft and brought him in because of his on-base percentage.

I’m not sure how you assert that that Drew somehow being “soft” would be equivalent to Manny sitting out key games of the season, but hey, I’m not a columnist.

2. When they dealt Nomar and Matt Murton in 2004, they got Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz in return. Cabrera was a good, clutch hitter

Let’s assume, for a moment, that there is such a thing as a clutch hitter. Yes, most of the evidence contradicts this assumption, but the absence of proof doesn’t itself amount to it, and I’ve seen Big Papi win too many games to discount the notion entirely.

Instead, let’s examine the idea that Cabrera was a good clutch hitter. What would that mean? Driving runners in, presumably. O-Cab’s average in ’04 with a runner on 3B? .167. Bases loaded? .091. Guy on third, less than two out? .111. Runners in scoring position? .257. That’s not clutch, you say? Clutch is hitting with two out? Ok, how about runners in scoring position in that situation? .254.

If the evidence doesn’t prove that Cabrera wasn’t a quote unquote clutch hitter, it certainly doesn’t prove that he is.

and a stellar defensive shortstop, and Mientkiewicz was the very best defensive first baseman in the game. These additions allowed the Red Sox to claim that they were making an adjustment to their organizational philosophy — that they’d improved their team defense and roster flexibility and that the deal had a benefit beyond addition-by-subtraction. Cabrera and Mientkiewicz helped prevent runs, and there was value to this. And on the same day, they made a separate deal, acquiring Dave Roberts from the Dodgers for someone named Henri Stanley. Roberts would go on to steal a somewhat significant postseason base.

There’s nobody out there who can compare this trade:

Garciaparra/Murton/Stanley for Cabrera/Mientkiewicz/Roberts

to this trade:

Ramirez/Hansen/Moss/$7 million for Bay

and reasonably claim they’re similar.

Ok, I’ll buy that. But how about tackling a non-strawman argument, such as, oh, the one that says Ramirez’ teammates had spoken to the front office and requested that he be traded. And that the same front office, unconvinced that he would be in the lineup when he was needed, deemed it necessary to replace him? I mean, how valuable can “one of the very best hitters in the game” be if he’s, you know, not actually hitting?

The Red Sox got absolutely fleeced in Thursday’s deal.

Keith Law doesn’t think so. Joe Sheehan doesn’t think so. But then they were stuck dealing with those frustrating “facts,” rather than outdated, blanket assertions about players’ abilities.

The return they got on their end of the Ramirez trade is pitiful and insufficient.

Assume that Manny was not going to be back in ’09. Would you trade Hansen and Moss for Jason Bay? If you wouldn’t, please write a column on that. No one will destroy you for it. Promise.

It doesn’t even matter if Bay turns out to be an All-Star left fielder for them for the next eight years -

You know that Bay’s a free agent after next year, right?

- they’ll still have given up far too much to get him. And in terms of immediate impact, there’s no way Bay will upgrade their team defense as much as Cabrera and Mientkiewicz did in ’04. He plays left field, not shortstop. He’ll be better than Manny, of course, but not by so much that his defense will justify this deal.

Some numbers would be nice. No? Ok.

3. On July 31, 2004, the Red Sox were 56-45, 7.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and a half-game behind the Oakland A’s in the wild-card race. They needed to make some moves to get themselves into playoff position. They’d missed the World Series by an inning the year before, and the thought of missing the ’04 playoffs was incomprehensible to the Sox and their agonizing fan base, which was in its 86th straight year without a World Series title. They were treading water and had to do something to change things up.

On July 31, 2008, the Red Sox were 61-48, three games behind Tampa Bay in the AL East and a game up on the Yankees and the Twins in the wild-card race.
They were coming off a 2007 season in which they broke the Yankees’ nine-year run as division champions and won their second World Series in four years. They had no reason to believe they could not repeat as division or World Series champs with the team they had (maybe plus a reliever or two), and no need to break up the league’s best lineup (especially without a good baseball reason to do so).

On July 13th we were up a half game on Tampa and six on the Yankees. In 18 days we gave up three and a half games to the Rays and five to the Yankees. You don’t see a problem there?

The Red Sox did this trade out of anger and spite, because they decided they were sick of Manny’s antics and couldn’t stick it out for two more months after putting up with him for nearly eight full years.

You’re right. They should ignore the fact that he pushed down a 64 year old man, punched his first baseman in the dugout, declined to run out a ground ball in the midst of a game in which we were being no hit, and declined to take the field in games against a key divisional rival.

It’s all petty anger and spite in our front office. I hear the reason they signed Drew was to get back at the Dodgers front office for not returning their calls promptly enough at the Winter Meetings.

It may make them feel better that they don’t have to see him in their clubhouse anymore, but it doesn’t make them a better team in any tangible way. It makes them worse. And the Nomar deal in 2004 didn’t do that.

But I’ll bet you thought it made them worse, didn’t you?

Ch-ch-ch-changes

rain delay

So, the woefully infrequent posts, and what we’re going to do about it. Most bloggers would tell you that they were “busy,” and therefore I guess I will too. Weddings, business travel, and so on. You know, because I’m so important.

But the real problem has been from a format perspective. As you might have noticed, I’d fallen into a “Sunday Notes” style column format, colllecting reams of links and data to comment on for a weekly roundup. Which is excellent if you have several hours per Sunday to write it up. Which I frequently do not. Obviously. Hence the absence.

Instead, what we’re going to try is smaller, shorter format pieces with – sorry – a little less of my less my blather. This, in theory, will permit more frequent updates and more timely responses.

In cases where the situation calls for it, of course, I’ll still take the time to pump out thousands of words that no one will ever read. But let’s see how the new format works once I start (and I’ve got a bunch of things in the queue). Suggestions are welcome, even if I pay no attention to them.