I'm Back, Bitches

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In the words of Peter Griffin, “That kill me? Yeah, I was afraid of that.” Instead of a discount surgeon this time, however, it was vacation.

But I’m back now. And badder than before. Hope all you guys are getting this via a feed rather than regular visits.

Anyway, ahl has requested a remaining schedule analysis. Sadly, I don’t have time for anything as detailed as that at the moment, what with the post-vacation hangover crushing me.

That said, let’s take a (reasonably) quick look at the realities of the schedule – and a few other items – in an edition of In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events.

Shall we?

Beckett

Like most of you – I feel safe in assuming – the words “Dr. James Andrews,” as recently applied to Beckett, absolutely terrified me. As the news was read to me all I could think was “please not Andrews, please not Andrews, please not Andrews.” Not because I’m convinced he’s the difference between a title and not – though we’re obviously not winning one without him, I’m not convinced we’re winning one with our bullpen as currently constituted – but more because of what it could have meant beyond this season. Losing our ace, with all due apologies to Jon Lester, for 18 months to Tommy John surgery would have been devastating.

But the news there, of course, was good. Or at least as good as a visit to Andrews gets. There’s clearly something still wrong, but at least they’ve done all the due diligence they can.

Incidentally, anyone care to place bets that it was Schilling’s experience with the club doctors that led to Beckett’s personal request to see Andrews? If so, I will happily take your money.

Buchholz

A whole slew of folks has checked in to see whether or not my expectations for Buchholz have been rethought in the wake of his flameout and subsequent demotion. The short answer? No. To quote Rob Neyer, “Buchholz is 23, and going through the sort of thing that 23-year-old pitchers often go through.” The list of pitchers – good ones – that have come up and struggled mightily is far too long to be of interest.

Did I expect him to struggle as much as he did? Nope. But does his performance, which was exceedingly poor, change the fact he has the ability to dominate in the big leagues? No again.

Yes, his command deserted him (93 hits and 41 walks in 76 IP). But he’s still striking guys out: 72Ks for a K/9 of 8.53, which is better than Matsuzaka’s 7.93 and Lester’s 6.32, and only slightly worse than Beckett’s 8.74.

Also, his luck was hideous. His BABIP for the 08 season was an appalling .366. Batters are hitting nearly 80 points better than they should, then, on balls put in play. Which screams for a reversion to the mean. Again, for comparison, Matsuzaka (.266), Lester (.303), Beckett (.330).

It is, then, still my firm expectation that the man called Clay will be fine. As Kevin Thomas reports, it would appear that he’s already righting the ship.

It may be true that There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect, but I’d still rather have Buchholz than just about any other pitcher from the minor leagues.

Byrd, Kotsay, et al

True, I should be doing individual pieces on each. But I’m not, so let’s just focus on the big picture: Theo and the gang did well. Neither, of course, are studs. Nor are they likely to be major difference makers. Byrd is no Sabathia (though what’s left of him come the playoffs should be interesting to see), Kotsay is no Texeira, but you knew that.

What they are, rather, are credible reinforcements. Help for a club that finds itself shorthanded due to injury and performance issues alike.

Nor was the cost prohibitive, although Sumoza’s power is more than I would have liked to surrender, especially considering our system’s deficiencies in that regard. And frankly, I probably would have given up more to get Mrs. Kotsay on our side.

Lester

His one start blip aside, the kid’s been a stud. This is the pitcher everyone valued over Papelbon, over Buchholz, over everyone. He’s emerged a legitimate #2 starter to Beckett, and I feel pretty good when he takes the mound.

My question: what about his innings? He’s at 176.2 right now, with three starts remaining. Say he goes 6 in each: that would put him, at season’s end, at 194.2. Given that he threw 134.2 last year, 200+ innings pitched would seem to be a lot to ask. Particularly for an organization that protects its kids as ours does.

In which case, it would be logical to suspect that they’d skip him for a start or two. But how can they, realistically, when the division is more or less out of our grasp and the wild card is likely to be a down-to-the-wire affair?

A reemergence from Buchholz in the Portland playoffs could be the best thing to happen to Lester’s ’07 season. Because otherwise I’m not sure how the lefty would be available for the playoffs should we be fortunate enough to make it.

MDC

Yes, Mirabelli told Amalie last season that Delcarmen’s stuff was the best on the team, bar none, and yes he’s unscored upon in his last 7 outings (7.1 IP).

But no, I don’t trust him. And I’m not sure Tito does, either.

Sandwiched into that little run, of course, is his one third of an inning appearance at Yankee Stadium in which MDC managed to allow a hit and two walks in the time it took to get one out.

As Baseball Prospectus has written in the last, he’s missed bats at every level, and he’s got all of the tools necessary to be successful. But he’s 26 years old, and this is his fourth year seeing time with the club, and you still don’t know what you’re going to get day-to-day.

Frustrating, because we need him. Badly.

Pedroia

I would love to take credit for the little guy’s resurgence since I wrote this piece refusing to dismiss him, since he’s hitting .391/.432/.609 in that time with 10 stolen bases and more walks than strikeouts, but I can’t.

It’s all him, and bless him for it. We need more of that, as offense is going to be at a premium with our bullpen.

The Division vs The Schedule

Allan’s got the right of it, I think: this is a Wild Card race, not a battle for the division. Sure, we need to try and take the division (I fear the Angels) and, sure, it’s possible that we could take all or most of the six remaining head to head contests with the Rays and make things interesting. But it’s improbable.

We won twice as many games as we lost in August (18-9), and actually dropped two and a half games in the standings (3 GB to 5.5 GB). All you can do is tip your cap to the Rays, and focus on trying to get into the playoffs any which way we can.

Sure, our ‘pen is combustible and likely to prove our undoing, but that’s what we said in ’03 as well, and Embree, Timlin and Williamson suddenly and unexpectedly settled down. Stranger things have happened, then. Not many, but they have.

The Kids & The Playoffs

Finally made it to a Seadogs game this past week, and Lars Anderson – to my completely untrained eye – looks good. I’m always suspect of subjective phrases like “the ball comes off his bat differently,” but, well, it does. The lineout he made in the second damn near killed their shortstop it was hit so hard. Kudos to the Fire Brand guys for getting an interview with him. Sadly, Bard (back) and Reddick (ankle) didn’t play, but it was good to see Diaz (looked not so good with the bat) and others in person.

Also, on a related note, the news that all seven minor league clubs finished with winning records and four (including the Seadogs) are going to the playoffs is welcome. Our front office isn’t perfect – damn you, Lugo – but they’ve legitimately done wonders with the farm system. Which should pay dividends both immediate and long term.

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.

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.