Don't Give Him the Heater, Pap

Breaking Balls Are for Rhodes Scholars, by J. Papelbon” – Keith Law

If it’s any consolation, watching Game 3 was just as brutal in person. Maybe more. The first two games weren’t any picnic, of course, but losing Game 3 that way was a serious kick to the crotch.

But we’ll have time to get into all of that later. What I’m going to try here is a new strategy heading into the offseason. One of the obstacles to more recent posts around these parts is the sheer size of some of the posts, and by extension, the time spent collecting the numbers. The thinking is that by tackling just one question at a time, it’ll be easier to crank out (slightly) more frequent posts. We’ll see if it works, of course, but that’s the plan.

So no detailed postmortem for now, no long analysis of the plans for 2010, no funeral dirge for the season now expired. Instead, I’m going to take a brief look at one simple issue: Papelbon’s pitch selection.

Before I continue, let me be clear: this is not an attempt to pin the series loss on Papelbon – if there’s any single culprit, it was the offense – or to turn him into a scapegoat for the team’s problems. Nor is it a recommendation that he be traded, as was a common reaction in the minutes after the game. It’s simply a look at one obvious elephant in the room.

The short version is probably known to most of you: Pap has, in recent years, been relying more and more heavily on his fastball. Here’s a piece from last September looking at just this subject. Why bring it up again now? Because out of 28 pitches thrown on Sunday, 27 were four seam fastballs. The 28th? Two seam fastball. The velocity histogram says that he threw a few offspeed offerings, late, but by then it was too little, too late.

But that’s a small sample size, you might argue. Too true. So here are a few more numbers for you. His percentage of fastballs thrown, by year, since 2006: 73.5%, 78.1%, 81.2%, 81.5%. Now, his percentages of split-fingered fastballs thrown, same years: 19.7%, 15.7%, 12.6%, 9.3%. While it’s true that he used his slider a bit more this year, at 9.2% compared to last season’s 6.1%, it’s clearly not at the expense of the fastball. That pitch being thrown, according to the data we have, better than eight times out of ten these days.

Why? That, to me, is a question that needs to be asked. Maybe you get a substantive answer, and maybe you don’t, but I would love to see someone get both Papelbon and Farrell on the record on the subject. Not because of what happened Sunday – because of what might happen going forward.

It’s demonstrably true that Papelbon has an excellent fastball. It’s got good velocity, better movemement, and he generally commands the pitch well. Or at least he did until this season, when he reportedly had altered his delivery to minimize the stress on his shoulder and arm. The early season returns on this mechanical shift were not promising, but it must be said that his walks and batting average were both significantly improved in the second half (18 BB 1st half / 6 2nd – .230 BAA / .189).

But it is also true that – with the possible exception of Mariano Rivera – no one’s fastball is good enough to be relied on exclusively. And yet that is essentially what Pap is doing, a little bit more each season.

Is it that he wants to emulate Rivera? Is it an injury or the fear of one? Is it a lack of confidence in his secondary offerings? Is it Varitek’s fastball bias? Who knows.

Whatever the reason, the strategy needs to be reevaluated. Not because of the outcome-based analysis that is inevitable in the wake of such a crushing defeat, but because we have a set of statistically significant data that says he’s getting worse. His walks per nine were the highest since 2005, and since he began relying more heavily on the fastball last year, his batting average, on base and slugging percentages allowed are up significantly.

Again, Papelbon was not the reason we lost to the Angels. But he was a big part of the reason we’ve won the last few years, and on his current trajectory, it’s not clear that he’ll be as significant an asset going forward. For his sake and for ours, he needs to think carefully about his pitch selection.

I Gotta Admit, I'm Gonna Miss 'Em

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }
.flickr-yourcomment { }
.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }
.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }



Shot of the Back of the Park, originally uploaded by sogrady.

According to Evan Brunell, the ringleader over at Fire Brand of the American League, we’re about to lose the not-really-iconic Coke bottles from behind the Monster. And while I can’t say that I had strong feelings about them one way or another when they went up – though they really got some of the traditionalists in a twist – like Evan, I’m going to miss them when they’re gone.

Not like I miss my childhood pets, perhaps, but it’ll be weird seeing Manny’s bombs go into orbit rather than ricocheting wildly off a giant fake glass bottle.

Vaya con dios, my friends.

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

So I walked two miles through the freezing, blowing snow for a thin meal of gruel to bring you today’s entry. That, or I walked a hundred yards for Eggs Mazatlan.

At least the snow was real. Promise.

Anyway, we’ve got a full slate for this week’s In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events, so let’s get to it.

Colon’s Arm

I’ve weighed in on the Colon signing previously, but there were a couple of interesting tidbits this week. First, from Andrew Jackson Peter Gammons himself,

Red Sox conditioning guru Mike Reinhold is satisfied with what he’s seen in Bartolo Colon’s shoulder and pitching coach John Farrell likes his velocity, so there was nothing to lose.

If you’re looking for validation, Buster Olney’s got you covered:

Heard this: The Red Sox team doctors were pleasantly surprised by the condition of Bartolo Colon’s arm when they examined him.

Neither offers any guarantees, obviously, but it’s mildly promising.

Which is nice, considering that Keith Law had gotten the following quote from a front office official this offseason: “his medicals are a disaster.” I still don’t think we’re going to get much, if anything from him, but if his velocity is adequate it’s not unreasonable to predict we could get a couple of league average starts out of the righthander.

Garcia?

In the Colon piece linked to earlier, I also mentioned that I’m somewhat interested in Freddy Garcia as a candidate for some second half innings. Which meant the following Gammons bit was of significant interest:

Freddy Garcia checked in at Fort Myers to be examined Wednesday. Garcia hopes to be back in August, so if the Red Sox were to have a rash of pitching injuries, they will have a means to compare shoulder examinations and see his progress.

As with Colon, it seems to be another obvious “can’t hurt” move.

Hansen: All Growns’d Up?

For the record, I’m not one who yearns for all of the off the field details that inevitably result when a bunch of 20 something athletes – some of whom are rich – are thrown together for months at a time. I may not pine for the days when the Mick’s antics were glossed over in nod nod nudge nudge wink wink fashion…er, actually, yes I do. I wish fervently that I was kept less informed about the bullshit (you may have noticed a distinct lack of Clemens coverage hereabouts…this is not an accident).

All of that said, I do find some of the language employed towards oblique references to carousing hilarious. Witness this aside from Tito on Hansen:

I think he’s grown up. That doesn’t mean it all clicks in this week. He’s young, and did not necessarily make the best decisions all the time. I hope [the maturity] shows up on the field.

What these kids do off the diamond is something I regard as none of my business. But that won’t prevent me from laughing at the linguistic machinations managers and front office employees will resort to to hint at underlying issues.

But perhaps you prefer to take the comments literally? When Baseball America says of Hansen:

Hansen did hit a couple of speed bumps after his resurgence, missing three weeks in August after he banged his forearm when he slipped and fell against a nightstand.

You think, sure, that’s just what happened. Hell, it’s certainly possible.

For my part, however, I think there are a couple of things to read between those lines. Not that I want to.

Masterson: Bullpen or Starter?

Many baseball observers – including Rob Neyer – have mentioned Justin Masterson as a potential asset to offset the potential loss of Schilling’s innings. Which based on his minor league performance to date, not to mention the performance I saw firsthand last summer in his second AA start, is eminently sane and reasonable.

But the question remains: will be contribute as a starter or a reliever? As discussed previously, many think his arm profiles better in the bullpen. What I hadn’t heard was a Red Sox opinion on that subject.

Until this week.

On the 28th, the enterprising and stupidly attractive Amalie Benjamin secured the following quote from Senor John Farrell:

If you want to profile him out, he looks like a reliever just with the pitch mix that he has, a different arm angle that he pitches with. But until he’s fully developed the ability to use three pitches – the slider is going to be a big pitch for him – our plan is going to [be to] continue to start him, but knowing that we wouldn’t hesitate to move him to the bullpen if he shows us he can contribute this year.

Not quite case closed, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for him to get a start in the big leagues.

Putting The Young Pitchers’ Struggles in Context

Jon Lester (1 IP, 2H, 4 ER, 4BB, 0K) got knocked around yesterday . Clay Buchholz (2 IP, 5H, 4 ER, 1BB, 1K) got knocked around today. So obviously we’re screwed, and the sky is falling. Dogs and cats living together, you get the idea.

Just as it is for Johan Santana (2 IP, 3 ER, 4H, 0BB, 1K) and the Mets, and Erik Bedard (2 IP, 3 ER, 4H, 2BB, 1K) and the M’s.

If you hear me argue that Bedard, let alone Santana, should be the expectation for either Buchholz or Lester this season, you have my permission to involuntarily commit me for psychiatric evaluation. But let’s also not write off their minor and major league histories on the basis of a poor spring training outing.

Or three.

The Crisp Update

In his interview with Dennis and Calahan, Grandmaster Theo was fairly blunt about the poor prospects for a Crisp trade. One of the primary issues being the plethora of available center field free agents, a few of whom are still available (Lofton and Patterson, primarily).

But that doesn’t mean that our diligent front office hasn’t been working the phones, attempting to extract blood from the proverbial stone. Earlier this week, Gammons had this to say:

The Cubs have talked to several teams about Matt Murton, including the Rangers (Marlon Byrd) and the Red Sox (Coco Crisp), but neither team will trade a center fielder even up. Boston wants Murton, who took his parents to the first game of the World Series last fall at Fenway, but are wary of trading Crisp because speed players like Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury can so easily break down with leg problems.

And then today the always timely MLB Trade Rumors updated us on the prospects of a Crisp trade to either of the Chicago ballclubs.

The only thing I’d add to that particular account is the fact that it’s not necessarily Gomez’s ’08 season that blocks a potential Crisp-to-the-Twins trade, but the subsequent seasons in which Crisp is due better than $6M per. Affordable under most circumstances, but not when you have a Gomez in house waiting in the wings.

Yankee Nation?

As just about everybody is aware at this point, Hankenstein continues to disgrace himself and his club [1] by running his mouth at every given opportunity. His latest verbal failing came in the context of a NY Times article, which quoted him as saying the following:

“Red Sox Nation?” Hank says. “What a bunch of [expletive] that is. That was a creation of the Red Sox and ESPN, which is filled with Red Sox fans. Go anywhere in America and you won’t see Red Sox hats and jackets, you’ll see Yankee hats and jackets. This is a Yankee country. We’re going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order.”

Hankenstein’s obvious mental limitations aside, the above is actually an argument worth considering, given the Pinstriped ones obvious brand strength. So consider it I did, by looking at – gasp! – some actual numbers. From here. What do they tell me?

That the Sox are really giving the Evil Empire a run for their money.

For example, the Red Sox average road attendance in 2007 was? 38,641. The Empire? 37,227. 2006 saw the Sox temporarily bested, 38,028 to 36,098, but 2005 saw the Sox back on top, 37,735 to 37,036. The 3 year averages? Sox are 37,491, while the Yanks are 37,430.

So we win. Narrowly, it’s true, but a win is a win. Which isn’t bad for a city of 590,000 competing with a city of 8.25 million.

Looks like people do honestly prefer good to evil. Who would have guessed?

[1] From an actual email from one of my actual Yankee friends (I know, but he’s an excellent guy): “he blows. i hate him. just when i was starting to actually like the yankees again, he happens. bums me out.”

You Know You're From Boston When

Surely, you think, he’s not reduced to inflicting upon us the type of content typically reserved for email forwards. And with that, if your next thought wasn’t “and don’t call me Shirley,” I’ve lost all respect for you and will punch you.

To address the point, yes, this is a forward, and yes I hate them at least as much as you do. More. But this one is funny. For serious. It’s a total pissah.

Because I’m often accused of being from Boston – a claim I’ve never made, please note – I thought it would be useful to turn this into an ad hoc test.

Let’s see how I did.

  1. You think of Philadelphia as the Midwest.
    Dude, I live in Denver.
  2. You think it’s your God-given right to cut someone off in traffic.
    Especially people from Connecticut.
  3. You think there are only 25 letters in the alphabet (no R’s).
    This one depends on who you believe; my friends or me. Also, how drunk I am at the time.
  4. You think three straight days of 90+ temperatures is a heatwave.
    I flee Denver in the summer for a reason, people.
  5. All your pets are named after Celtics or Bruins.
    Celtics or Bruins? Seriously? Where’s the guy making these questions up from? LA? Montreal?
  6. You refer to 6 inches of snow as a “dusting.”
    When you split your time between Colorado and Maine, anything under 2 feet is a dusting.
  7. Just hearing the words “New York” puts you in an angry mood.
    You and me are going to tangle. Like right now.
  8. You don’t think you have an attitude.
    I don’t think it, I know it
  9. You always ‘bang a left’ as soon as the light turns green, and oncoming traffic always expects it.
    Denver folken expect this less.
  10. Everything in town is “a five minute walk.”
    Well, it is.
  11. When out of town, you think the natives of the area are all whacked.
    Look, when “how’re you doing?” is anything but a rhetorical question, you are whacked.
  12. You still can’t bear to watch highlights from game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
    Now we know where this guy’s from: New York. Let’s get him.
  13. You have no idea what the word compromise means.
    Wrong. I’ve got a dictionary.
  14. You believe using your turn signal is a sign of weakness.
    The lessons the Pats and Sox learned from the NSA have made an impression on me, what can I say?
  15. You don’t realize that you walk and talk twice as fast as everyone else.
    Until I met a girlfriend from Texas’ grandmother and she couldn’t understand a thing I said, I didn’t.
  16. You’re anal, neurotic, pessimistic and stubborn.
    Just because I took the same route to the office, wore the same clothes, and ate the same meals for the duration of the ’04 playoffs doesn’t mean I’m neurotic. Or didn’t you see how that turned out, you New York loving bastard?
  17. You think if someone is nice to you, they must want something or are from out of town.
    I hated my best friend from college when we first met and kicked him out of a party my roommates and I were throwing for precisely this reason.
  18. Your favorite adjective is “wicked.”
    Uh. No comment.
  19. You think 63 degree ocean water is warm.
    Beats 50 something, don’t it?
  20. You think the Kennedy’s are misunderstood.
    Not after Teddy butchered Mick McGwire and Sammy Sooser’s names, I don’t.

Based on the above, I think I check out as born and raised in Jersey, don’t you?

Anyway, read the rest. It’s funny. And if you don’t think so, it’s not my fault you’re retahded.