Don't Mess With (The Kid From) Texas: Buchholz' Delivery

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claybuchholz5 crop, originally uploaded by firebrandal.

This season, seven Red Sox pitchers have started more than five games. Six of them have ERAs below 4.20. The seventh, Clay Buchholz, pitched a no-hitter last season and currently has a 2.45 ERA in five starts since returning to Triple-A Pawtucket. Buchholz is 23, and going through the sort of thing that 23-year-old pitchers often go through.” – Rob Neyer

Precisely.

What Neyer is talking about: in 8 starts this year, everyone’s favorite 23 year old righthander that dates Victoria’s Secret models and Penthouse Pets had surrendered 49 hits and 3 homers over 42.1 IP. For those bad at math, that’s a 10.42 H/9. Not strong. Also not strong were the 20 BBs in those 42 and change innings. Not what was expected of the quote unquote best pitching prospect in the minor leagues.

Clearly, some adjustments were in order. As Neyer puts it, the kind of adjustments that most 23 year old pitchers have to make.

And to his credit, the pitcher understood this. In some candid comments following a Pawtucket start, Buchholz had the following to say about the areas on his report card marked Needs Improvement:

“The number of fastballs I was throwing was really low because I fell in love with off-speed stuff because I had success with it early,” he said. “But big league hitters catch on to it. They have video just like I have video. It’s easy to see what kind of routine somebody gets into regardless of if it’s hitting or pitching.”

Personally, I’m fine with all of the above. Particularly because, as mentioned before, the Red Sox know far better what’s good for the kid than yours truly. If they think he needs better fastball command, then he probably needs better fastball command.

But I’m worried. Not because of his performance: most young pitchers go through this, as discussed above. But because there’s nothing in his minor league history to indicate a problem with command, fastball or otherwise.

In 301.2 minor league innings, Buchholz has walked 87 guys – roughly 2.6 per 9. That’s a good number. More impressive, he’s struck out 370 guys in those 300+ innings – 11.06 per 9. That’s a really good number. Freakishly good, in fact.

Certainly it’s possible – even likely – that Buchholz didn’t need his fastball as much in the minors given the quality of his offspeed stuff. It’s just as likely that he will, in fact, need it in the majors. What worked for his no hitter was never a guarantee to work indefinitely. Still, there’s nothing to indicate numbers-wise (I don’t have PitchF/X data for him), that command was the issue.

The additional minor league seasoning I can live with, here’s my real concern: the Red Sox are reportedly tinkering with his delivery. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Sox “want Buchholz to move his arm slot away from his head, an adjustment they believe will increase the movement on his fastball.”

Again, I’m fully aware of both my lack of credentials and the Sox’ track record when it comes to managing the development of their young pitchers. Number of pitchers successfully developed by me? Zero. Number of pitchers successfully developed by the Sox? Papelbon, Lester, Masterson and if we’re being charitable, Hansen and MDC.

But still: altering his delivery? The kid has a career 11.06 K/9 and 2.60 BB/9 in 300+ minor league innings. And the Driveline Mechanics guys, in particular, love his delivery (though they do admit to preferring a high 3/4 slot). Whatever happened to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Isn’t this the kid what tossed a no-hitter?

Frankly, however, these concerns may be academic. Whatever changes they’ve made, they appear to be working: Buchholz has given up a total of 2 runs in his last four starts. His last outing? 5 IP, 1 H, 6 Ks.

So while I’ll trust that the Sox know best (pipe down back there, Meredith), I hope they don’t screw with this kid too much. Whatever he’s been doing to date has worked well; well enough that the numbers say he can star in the majors, delivery changes or no.

A Gentlemanly Response: Dave O'Brien

Kudos to Quincy’s own Dave O’Brien for his courteous and respectful response to my criticism some days back. Rather than popping off as a national scribe did at one point in response to something written by me, online, O’Brien’s response was measured and considered. I still do not agree with him, but I do understand now where he’s coming from.

My knock on him, as you might recall, centered around his willingness to “jinx” in process events. His pushback included the following:

But more to the point, my job is to tell you what I see, not to worry about what you may hold as a baseball superstition. Let’s say you leave the restraunt, get in the car and turn on the radio, just in time to hear the 3rd out in the top of the 7th … Lester is 6 outs away from a no-hitter … But the play by play guy isn’t TELLING you that, because … he doesn’t want to jinx it for the pitcher? Well, if you are not listening closely, you may not pick up on those preferred “code” phrases, designed to avoid calling it what it is. Now we’ve got a problem. You may not return to the game at all. You may go home and turn on HBO, and then get to read about “John Lester’s No-Hitter” in the Boston Globe the next morning, or catch it on the 8:00 am “SportsCenter.” How would you feel then about the announcer’s reporting skills?

A fair point, and an important consideration for a broadcaster, I’m sure.

I tend to believe that Red Sox fans are, as a rule, clued in enough to pick up the “code phrases” and continue listening to that game, but perhaps that’s an unrealistic expectation on the whole. Even so, I think O’Brien is assuming responsibilities that rightly belong to the listener. I’ve had the good fortune to watch (on TV, not in person) or listen to all four of the recent Red Sox no hitters (Nomo, Lowe, Buchholz and Lester), and I considered it my job to listen to the full game. If I broke off simply because I didn’t hear the magic words of “no hitter,” then I’d consider that my responsibility and my error. Not the broadcast team’s.

But reasonable minds may disagree on that subject, of course.

What I still have a problem with, however, is the lack of usage of conditionals for less-than-exceptional circumstances. Consider an example from today’s broadcast, where after Griffey’s second at bat, O’Brien announced that Griffey hadn’t hurt us at all during the series.

Which was, of course, the case. And didn’t end up costing us. But as a (heavily) superstitious fan, I would prefer not to tempt fate. If, as a broadcaster, you feel obligated to draw fans’ attention to that point, do so with a conditional, or a modifier. Something such as “Griffey hasn’t managed to hurt us yet during this season, but the 600 home run hitter is always dangerous” would have been just fine.

To be clear, I’m not attempting to imply that O’Brien is wrong in his reporting. Nor that he literally has the ability to affect the outcome of the game. I’m not even attempting to defend my own sanity on the subject. Merely to make the point that it would be nice if O’Brien showed some patience with and consideration for the fan base. Even if he is admirably immune from the admitted irrationality of superstition, Red Sox fans by and large are not. And then some.

In any event, however, I do appreciate Dave’s willingness to stop by and explain his position and his tone in doing so.

Cheers.

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

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where I want to be, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Pap blew a save and we won, Oki imploded and we didn’t, and I single-handedly led us to victory on Wednesday. While I’m still mildly concerned about Beckett’s refusal to be Beckett, the starters performed well this week. The bullpen? Not so much, and of course the offense on the road has once again been tough to come by.

I’d have a scouter for you, but our seats to Wednesday’s Colon vs Olson start were in the bleachers, several hundred feet away and my eyesight’s good only for about ten feet. I can report, however, that John Henry and co dropped in new seats out there. Which was nice.

I’ll get to see some of the closer seats firsthand, fortunately, next Sunday as my brother and I will be at Fenway to celebrate his 30th. The weekly update may be late, but it’ll have that authentic, first hand feel. Kick ass.

Draft

The good news? We signed nine of our picks. The bad news? These were 12th round picks or later, and none of the tough signs.

But still, good to see, and I look forward to seeing how these kids perform at Lowell, the GCL and so on.

Drew

Ortiz was injured on May 31st, placed on the DL on the 3rd. His line at that the time he went down was .252/.354/.486, which is credible but decidedly un-Ortiz-like. Potentially replaceable, in fact.

But the statistics, in this case, lied. They obscured the fact that after the worst month he’s had in a Red Sox uniform, Papi went back to being Papi in May. And then some. So while his season line might be made up through roster manipulations, his more typical May numbers (.318/.409/.617) clearly could not be.

And sure enough, we’re on a 144 run pace for the month, off our 154 run May.

While some credit for the fact that we haven’t fallen off the table is due the pitching staff, which since Papi’s been out is pitching at a 3.41 clip over May’s 3.66, much should go to the Pariah of Philly, one JD Drew.

Despite my inherent bias against the player that took Nixon’s roster spot and then his number, the fact is that Drew has been straight lighting it up since our DH was felled. And while we certainly can’t expect him to keep up the .444/.544/1.067 (seriously, a 1.611 OPS) numbers he’s put up to date in June, every little bit he can do helps.

Particularly with a 1.026 OPS on the shelf. So cheers, JD.

Duncan

Perhaps you remember when one a certain Boston beat reporter said the following:

“I know Jason Giambi makes $21 million this year, but I’d play Shelley Duncan at first. What energy.”

And I questioned it. How’d that one turn out, you ask?

Giambi’s putting up a .259/.394/.562 line, while the Red Sox covering scribe’s chosen first baseman was just DFA‘d – for the second time – after hitting a buck seventy-five.

I won’t say it. But I’m definitely thinking it.

Okajima

I can’t speak for you, but personally, I had no expectation that Okajima would be what he was last year. He was too good, and the second time around’s always a bitch.

Just ask the little second baseman on our roster.

I’ve argued previously that many of his well publicized inherited runner failures were at least partially the product of some impossible spots: bases loaded, no one out, and so forth. Which was true, I think.

But these days, he can’t get through even a clean inning, as demonstrated by Francona’s 1 out quick hook during last night’s game against the Reds. In 4 June games, Oki’s given up 7 hits and 3 walks in 3 IP, allowed a .467 BAA, all of which have lead to 7 earned. Not good.

Nor is there any simple explanation; the splits don’t tell us much. He’s not getting especially tagged by hitters on one side of the plate – .618 OPS to lefties, .623 to right. Home vs road doesn’t make that much of a difference – 3.09 at Fenway to 2.76 away.

The one interesting tidbit? He’s only given up earned runs (which obscures the inherited runners problem, I realize) to two teams all season. The Angels, who’ve gotten to him for a run in 2.2 IP. And then there are the O’s who are beating him like a drum. 8 earned in 5.1 IP, off 9 hits and 3 walks.

So short of any other reasonable suggestions for turning him around, I’d start with this one: don’t throw Oki against the O’s.

Sabathia

Am I the only one that think that rumors of a potential swap for Sabathia are the inevitable media speculation that follows the appearance of Indians’ scouts at Sox contests? Rather than, you know, anything with actual substance? While our starting pitching is hardly the second coming of Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine, it’s hardly the problem.

The sizable lefty has settled down, certainly, after a rough start that saw him surrender 9 earned in consecutive starts for what has to be the first time in his career, posting a 2.44 ERA in May and a 2.40 through two June starts.

But he’s a free agent at the end of the year, and he doesn’t address our most pressing problem – the bullpen. Unless they get very creative and bump one of the current starters into the pen. Which, I’d contend, based on their reluctance to do so with Buchholz, is unlikely.

So why give up anything of consequence to secure him? Last year, of course, we went out and strengthened an area – the bullpen – that didn’t particularly need it. But that was done as a hedge against injuries and fatigue; circumstances that did come to pass, even if the hedge blew up in our faces in the person of Gagne. But this year, starting pitching candidates are not in short supply. In Beckett, Matsuzaka, Lester, Wakefield, Colon, Buchholz, Schilling, and Masterson we’ve got seven more or less viable candidates for innings.

Sabathia, to me, seems like a luxury. One that we can ill afford during these economically tight times.

Predicting Pedro: The Bad News, The Good News, and The No News

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pedroia, originally uploaded by eürodäna.

It’s the request hour here at wicked clevah, so by all means, let’s chat about Dustin Pedroia.

He’s slumping, but you all knew that. Players get rested for lots of reasons, but in his case the explanation wasn’t all that complicated: he can’t buy a hit (or worse, a walk) at the moment.

For not the first time, of course. Last season famously saw Pedroia stumble out of the gate to a .182/.308/.236 line in April. By his own admission, something had to change. And fortunately for everyone, the little guy included, it did. His lowest OBP by month after April was September, at .330. His lowest average a .299 showing in July.

In spite of the highly forgettable April, his first half showing was .318/.400/.450, slightly better than his second half of .317/.362/.435.

That was then, this (.260/.311/.365) is now.

After a very Pedroia-like April of .306/.352/.423, he slumped though May (.260/.295/.374). And June? Well, words don’t really convey the depth of the problem so I’ll just leave you with his performance thus far: .097/.256/.129. That’s right: if he doesn’t turn things around shortly, June will be a worse month – a significantly worse month – than April of ’07.

Which we can all undoubtedly do without.

Supporters are likely to then jump to his defense by touting his, well, defense. Which makes sense, because I, like presumably most of you, am under the impression that he’s a top notch defender at second. Which he may well be. But not according to any of the rudimentary defensive metrics I have available to me. His best showing is in Zone Rating, where he places fourth amongst AL second basemen behind Ellis, Cano and Grudzielanek – all of whom enjoy reasonable reputations for their defense. In Range Factor, however, he’s 7th, along with 8th in Fielding Percentage. Just amongst the AL candidates, mind.

All of which ultimately proves nothing, but has to be considered, particularly in light of his reduced offensive value.

Zach Hayes over at Fire Brand posed the question a week ago: will Dustin Pedroia have a second-year downfall? He argues that so far the answer is yes, and I can’t really argue the point.

But that question is of far less importance, I think, then this one: what can we expect from Pedroia going forward in ’08? Is Pedroia destined to be the next Hinske, a one-time ROY exposed over time as a marginal major leaguer?

Obviously, I don’t have the foggiest: predictions are not my gig. I’m concerned, of course. Not because not because of the slump, precisely, but rather the lack of an adequate – or any, really – explanation for the slump. Yes, he’s been victimzed by the men in blue, who among other offenses robbed him of a home run (replay can’t get here fast enough). And a couple of stellar defensive efforts – Upton’s catch, in particular – haven’t helped. But neither of those conditions, nor the fact that he was the only regular not to get any time off until June, can be held responsible for his post-April line.

It is indeed possible that we’re seeing the beginning of a permanent decline in his performance, as one of the MVN commenters argued.

But I personally don’t buy that, for three reasons.

First: history’s on his side. His college and minor league track records predicted the success he had last season, just as they predicted to the front office the transition to the majors would be challenging. That history didn’t predict the current trend, that I’m aware of, but neither do they preclude it: we are talking, after all, about a relatively small sample size.

Second: I’ve heard nothing to suggest that pitchers have discovered and are actively exploiting a fatal flaw. No one would make the claim that his swing is optimal, particularly for a player of his size, but from the games I’ve seen he’s getting himself out as much as the pitchers are. Were he consistently going down to a particular pitch, pitch sequence, or pitch location, I’d be more pessismistic, but the data doesn’t demonstrate that. As nearly as I can determine, he’s getting himself out on pitches all over the strike zone. Which makes the problem harder to fix, but less likely to be an intrinsic limitation.

Third: None of the numbers guys saw this coming, and I mean none of them. The lowest OBP any of Bill James, CHONE, Marcel, MINER, PECOTA, or ZiPS predicted for ’08 was Miner at .355. Three of the five had him at .369 or better. The lowest average? ZiPS at .292. Three of the five were .299 or above. In its diagnostics, in fact, BP’s PECOTA assigned the following probabilities to potential outcomes:

  • Breakout Rate: 21%
  • Improve Rate: 58%
  • Collapse Rate: 11%
  • Attrition Rate: 7%

Obviously, predictions are as much art as science, but I don’t like the odds that all of the math geeks are wrong. A few of them, sure, but not all.

Last: There’s lady luck. You’ll recall that I more or less dimissed its importance when discussing, as an example, some of the defensive plays made against Pedroia above. I stand by that, because they’re not a sufficient explanation for his performance to date. But it is true that he’s been unlucky with his batting average on balls put in play thus far at .278 (.290 is average). Last season he clearly overachieved in that regard at .334, but .278 is definitely unlucky. Meaning that it should correct itself over the course of the year, manifesting itself as a small but potentially useful bump in his overall offensive output.

The Net:
If you came here looking for proof that we’re not in the midst of a season long sophomore slump, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But neither am I willing to write him off as a one year wonder; it’s not just what he did last year, it’s what his entire history says he should do. What the numbers confirm he should do.

We just have to hope that he starts doing that sooner rather than later.

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

Well, I don’t even know where to start. You’re screwed. You missed 1.) a sweep of Tampa, 2.) a brawl with Tampa, 3.) a brawl between Manny and Youk (not joking), 4.) an injury to Ellsbury, 5.) progress from Schill, 6.) held breath on Papi, 7.) two more good starts from Masterson and so on.

Oh, and the draft was this week.

So good luck catching up on all of that. But I’ll tell you what, we’ll try for you anyway.

The Brawl

I’m with the SOSH folks on this one: I’m not sure I can defend Coco here. Maybe on the hard slide – that’s debatable, but not in charging the mound. Shields – to his credit – hit him in exactly the right way, not dialing it up and not shooting for the head. True, he was an idiot for doing it in the second inning, but he handled himself well, while Coco – in my view – did not.

Either way, I’ll take the sweep.

The Bullpen

One of the brighter spots in the past week to ten days has been – shockingly – Boston’s bullpen. Tito seems to be easing Hansen into a MDC-in-’07-like 7th inning role. The onetime bust out of St John’s is unscored upon in his last five apperances, and over 5.2 IP has K’d 5, walked 2 and given up just one hit. Speaking of MDC, you know who also has exactly the same numbers over his last five appearances? That’s right. MDC. Throw in the potential of Masterson down the stretch, and we may not have to do too much to reconstruct our once leaky pen.

One minor down note: Daniel Bard, he of the 100 MPH fastball, got lit up today against Akron. In 1.2 IP, he coughed up 4 hits – 2 of them homers – and 4 runs, striking out only one. On the plus side, he didn’t walk anybody.

The Draft

Lots of takes on the club’s haul in the draft, and obviously the signing process for these kids will be lengthy, but I’m encouraged not just by the reports but by the fact that it would appear that we’ll be ignoring the commissioner office’s slot recommendations once again. As we should.

Here’s Baseball America’s page (sub req’d, sorry), but, better, here‘s Keith Law’s take on our draft class:

Boston bet it all on red, taking one high-ceiling player after another. Apparently, they’re willing to worry about the signability of these players later on. Casey Kelly is a first-rounder as a pitcher or position player, but his bonus demands and commitment to play quarterback at Tennessee scared off potential suitors. Ryan Westmoreland’s bonus demands ($1.6 to $2.1 million) and commitment to Vanderbilt had him viewed as completely unsignable all spring, even though he was a top-40 talent and had performed well over the summer with a wood bat. Bryan Price was totally misused at Rice, and was one of the best reliever-to-starter conversion opportunities in the draft. Derrik Gibson and Pete Hissey are both athletic, projectable tools players with the chance to play in the middle of the field (Gibson as a shortstop/second baseman, Hissey as a center fielder); both also have commitments to strong college programs (North Carolina and Virginia, respectively). Even if the Red Sox don’t sign all four of those high school talents, signing Kelly and one of the others would be an impressive haul of talent — and we know the Sox have the resources to sign more than just two.

So the class is good. But good as in better than the Yankees? Law says yes:

Steve (Clemson, SC): Hey Keith, Sorry but I have to ask: Better 2008 draft, if they sign most of their picks, Red Sox or Yankees?

SportsNation Keith Law: Red Sox.

We can only hope.

The Fight

At the SeaDog brewpub down in Brunswick, they have HD. Which is good. They don’t have audio, which is bad. So I had no idea what the hell was happening when M-Ram and Yoooook had to be separated in our own dugout. Neither, I learned later, did anyone else, but still.

If the reports are accurate, and that this centered around the (potentially widely held) perception that Youk is putting his own concerns in front of the teams by tearing apart the dugout post an at bat in games where we’re up comfortably, then I’m glad this came out now. Better to let it out now, ugly as it appeared, then let it fester.

Besides, the guys are Surviving Grady are spot on, it was worth it just to hear Tito’s one line summary:

I think they were just exchanging some views on things.

The O’Brien Factor

I’ll acknowledge up front that this could just be me. I’ll also acknowledge that I don’t particularly care for Dave O’Brien (I’d prefer to have a Sox only play by play announcer), even while I’ll concede that he’s a well regarded national broadcaster. But there is one thing he’s doing that is making me insane: he’s ignoring, completely, generally accepted rules against jinxing games, performances or players.

Jon Lester’s no hitter? He was discussing it freely in the fifth. We’re poised to take the third of three games against Tampa? He’s calling it a sweep before the game is ended. Masterson’s the pitcher of record in a game we’re winning by a run? O’Brien’s word choice is “will win.” Not the conditional “would,” but “will.”

I’m not saying that this is anything but trivial. I’m also not saying I’m sane. But listen to a game he broadcasts and see if you notice: he has no sense whatsoever with his tenses or conditionals. None.

And it’s driving me crazy.

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


(link courtesy of Dan Lamothe over at the Red Sox Monster)

Manny hit his 500th. In a Red Sox uniform. Which given that he was placed on unconditional waivers just a few years back, probably qualifies as mildly surprising. Kudos to Manny for this achievement, it’s a real benchmark.

One that, frankly, makes me appreciate just how absurd it is for A-Rod to have passed the mark last year, while four years younger than M-Ram. And consider that Junior – who is 2 years older than Manny and has missed somewhere around a billion games since leaving Seattle – is sitting just shy of 600. Incredible. All three of them.

Anyway, we also we lost a bunch of games on the road. Like, lots of them. Enough so that we find ourselves, once more, looking up at that Tampa club I specifically warned you people about. But I suppose it’s not your fault. What with your lack of any ability to change anything or do something about Tampa.

Anyway, on to this week’s ICYHBKUWCE:

Bard’s Resurgence

Much has been made in many venues – this one being no exception – of Daniel Bard‘s transformation from a freakishly hard throwing walk machine to potentially useful bullpen piece. ESPN’s Keith Law had this to say about the reliever in a chat this week:

Bard’s been 98-100 with life, and he’s throwing strikes. Great move skipping him past the scene of the crime in Lancaster, too. Haven’t heard anything on Cox, although I know last year his velo was down.

As for the mentioned Cox, that would be Bryce. While he hasn’t quite matched Bard’s numbers – let alone his fastball – Cox has put up an interesting 21 K/3 BB/1.59 ERA line in 22.2 IP. Which he needed to do, because last year was not a good one for him, despite the talk early in ’07 that he was a potential closer candidate down the line.

Clay vs Masterson

With Colon safely holding down Buchholz’ spot in the majors, there’s not much opportunity at the current time for either Buchholz or Masterson to start at the major league level: Matsuzaka DL’d or no. Everyone’s favorite Clay, of course, came off his rehab and remained at Pawtucket, ostensibly to work on his fastball and secondarily – one would assume – to keep his innings down.

Masterson, meanwhile, had his PawSox start bumped up to put him in line for a start in Matsuzaka’s slot in the event that he had to be placed on the DL. Which he was, obviously.

All of which is causing some to question whether or not Buchholz has been passed by Masterson on the depth chart. Some, like the Portland Press Herald’s Kevin Thomas, who said just that:

It will be interesting to see how Justin Masterson does Tuesday at Fenway. If he has a third sold start, does he move ahead of Buchholz on the depth chart?

To which I’d reply, with all due respect to Thomas: that’s insane.

Obviously, I hope that Masterson throws the shit out of the ball in his third appearance. Hell, I’d even take a no hitter. But the fact is that in terms of projection, it’s still no certainty that Masterson’s future role with this club is as a starting pitcher. He has one potentially dominant pitch: a sinking fastball. His changeup was essentially unusable in his second start, and his slider is relatively average by all accounts. One pitch pitchers typically don’t fare all that well multiple times through the order, let alone multiple times through the league.

Buchholz, on the other hand, has two 70 pitches: his curve and his change. If his fastball is even average, he’s a potentially dominant arm. As we saw last year against Baltimore.

So intending no disrespect to Masterson, who seems to be as good a kid as he is a pitcher, let’s not get carried away when projecting these kids. A couple of starts doesn’t alter the expectation that while both kids should end up being very good, useful pitchers, Buchholz could be an ace.

Cap’n Intangibles: Say it Ain’t So

From the non-Red Sox department comes an interesting little tidbit from Dan Graziano of the New Jersey Star Ledger. In a piece (via Buster Olney) discussing Jeter’s statistical improvement defensively this season comes the revelation that the sainted shortstop may have been a wee bit careless with respect to his defensive responsibilities:

According to two Yankees officials, who requested anonymity because they feared they were talking about things that might upset or embarrass Jeter, the Yankees approached their captain last offseason and told him they wanted him to work on his defense — specifically on balls hit up the middle to his left, where he has been particularly weak.

They also asked Jeter if he would please be more attentive to advance scouting reports when positioning himself. This has been a particular peeve of the Yankees’ regarding Jeter in recent years — that he was stubborn about not wanting to move a step or two to his right or left to account for the hitter, the pitcher or the situation. If the scouting report tells them that Batter A hits 80 percent of his ground balls at or to the right of second base, it would make sense for a shortstop with poor range to his left to shade that way to compensate. Jeter, it is said, did not pay much attention to this.

Even in a vacuum, this would not reflect well on the player. But when the player in question refused to put the team first and allow a better defensive shortstop on the roster (that’d be A-Rod) to play the position – well, it’s particularly inexcusable.

But of course, because it’s Cap’n Intangibles, the press found ways in the offseason to praise the shortstop for finding ways to “train better” as he ages.

Ellsbury’s Defense

As everyone is no doubt aware, when both He-Who-Is-Named-After-a-Cereal and my Navajo Brother play the same outfield, the latter is shifted to either one of the corners in deference the former’s veteran status and sparkling defensive play in ’07. But perhaps that shouldn’t be the case.

According to the Great Gammons, the A’s resident genius, our onetime would-be GM, said that Ells is “without doubt the best defensive center fielder in the game today.”

Either way, it’s a good problem to have, because with those two and Drew in right it’s about as good a defensive outfield as you’re likely to see.

Free Trot

From the bittersweet files comes an update on one of my all time favorite Sox, one Christopher Trotman Nixon. As the Times is good enough to tell us, Trot is, at the age of 34, toiling away for AAA Tuscon in the Arizona system.

Tell me something couldn’t be worked out with Arizona. I mean, seriously? The club admits in the article that Arizona doesn’t have room for him. Even if there’s not a spot on the major league roster for him now, and there is not, I have to think he’d prefer to bide his time in Pawtucket over Tuscon.

Free Trot!

Minor League Gameday Audio

From Senor Hartzell comes a wonderful discovery for those of you that are as baseball as insane as I am: the minor league guys have gameday audio available as well. Enjoy, and thanks for the tip, Noel.

Road Struggles

We’re not good on the road. You’re shocked, I know. But some of the numbers are just bizarre. Our OPS at home, for example, is a 113 points higher (.857 to .744). You know what the equivalent delta is for the Rockies, the club with perhaps the most notorious home/away split? 93 (.773 to .680).

The pitching issues are no less mysterious. While we’re actually allowing a lower OPS away from Fenway, our ERA on the road is almost a full run higher (4.40 to 3.50). And, obviously, the winning percentage is a bit different: .808 at home to .406.

If it’s any consolation, according to Buster Olney this is not unique to the Sox, it’s a league wide issue. He quotes Steve Hirdt of Elias as saying the following:

In recent years, baseball’s home-team winning percentage has been very consistent: In each of the past 15 years, it was never lower than .516 and never as high as .550. The past four years were .535, .537, .546 and .542.

But this year, through games of May 29, home teams have a combined .577 winning percentage. The last major-league season in which the home-team winning percentage finished that high was 1931 (when it was .582). Since then, the HTWP has finished as high as .570 only once (.573 in 1978).

Bizarre. And neither the people he spoke with, nor those contacted by Cafardo, can explain it.

Nor can I, obviously. But the one thing I do know is that it needs to change, and fast. Winning 40 percent of 50 percent of our schedule is not going to get us to where we need to go. Not at all.

No Pen for Clay

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Fenway Park: Bullpen, originally uploaded by wallyg.

You might remember how I’ve speculated – as long as Colon remains effective – about the possibility of Buchholz coming out of the bullpen. The thinking being that a.) it allows the club greater flexibility in terms of controlling his innings with regard to his ’08 season caps, and b.) it might afford him the opportunity to continue his adjustments to major league hitters in less strategically significant innings.

Also, there’s the fact that our bullpen as currently constituted, well, is killing us.

Sure, Buchholz can continue progressing as a starter down in Pawtucket, but every inning he throws down there is one he doesn’t throw with the big club.

Which is great when he throws poorly, but decidedly less great when he tosses a game like this one.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only one speculating on this subject. Sunday, BP’s John Perrotto apparently had the same idea, saying (subscriber link, sorry):

With Bartolo Colon apparently in the Red Sox rotation to stay, it would not be a surprise to see rookie Clay Buchholz used in relief once he comes off of the disabled list to help shore up a shaky bullpen.

As much as it might seem a logical possibility on paper, however, the club seems to be ruling it out. In today’s Notebook in the Boston Globe, everyone’s favorite Amalie reports that a bullpen role for Clay is unlikely:

“I just don’t think you turn a kid with his potential [into a reliever now], you possibly make him a bullpen guy in May, come back and make him a starter in June,” Francona said. “That’s not going to work, at least in my opinion. We got into a situation a couple years ago with [converting Jonathan Papelbon to a reliever]. It was late in the year, and that was difficult, and probably not fair to him. Sometimes you get thrown in a situation you don’t want to. But I don’t know that that’s really what we want to do. You ask me if [Buchholz] could do it? Yeah, I know he could.”

Oh well, it’s not the first time I’ve been wrong, and it certainly won’t be the last. Here’s hoping they have a plan for reintegrating him, however. As Francona notes, his potential is obvious.

Almost as obvious as our bullpen issues.

P.S. This Inside Edge piece confused me. Last I checked, Colon bumped Buchholz, not Masterson. In my mind, the latter is a candidate for a bullpen role at present, not a full time rotation spot. But maybe I missed something.