Hitting the Links

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Stretching the Arm, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

‘I had no idea we got [John] Lackey until [trainer Mike] Reinold came down to see me, just a few days ago,’ [Papelbon] said. ‘I swear to you. I don’t know anything about the ballclub, but I know the words to the ‘Mickey Mouse Clubhouse’ song.’

Adrian Beltre deal? He hadn’t heard. Casey Kotchman about to be traded to the Mariners? Nope. Mike Cameron? ‘Cameron, Mike Cameron?’ he said. “We got him? I swear to you, I didn’t know.'” – Gordon Edes, Papelbon’s recurring nightmare

Me neither, Paps, me neither. What, that’s less than plausible? Fine, blame the back to work crush.

Anyway, there’s way too much news to cover quickly, so for now I’m just going to hit you with a couple of links you might be interested in. I’ll follow up with a review of the macro offseason plan later, and tackle Beltre/Lackey/Cameron following. Suffice it to say I’m happy, relatively speaking, with the way things are going. Now, to the links!

First, one on – who else? – Buch. The esteemed Eric Van of SoSH fame on wicked clevah’s pet project:

Let’s compare Clay to Sabathia.

At the exact same age, Sabathia had established himself as an MLB workhorse starter. He already had five full years of MLB pitching under his belt and had a career 106 ERA+ and was coming off a 104 season. Folks looking at his stuff thought he’d get better, sooner than later, and they were right. He had a 139 ERA+ the next year and has been 140 starting then.

Clay Buchholz’s age 24 half-season is probably more impressive than Sabathia’s full year. Under any other circumstances he would have been recalled after just a few starts in Pawtucket, and from what we know about MLE’s he could have been expected to put up excellent numbers had he made those AAA starts for the Sox. When he was recalled, he put up a 111 ERA+ in his half-year.

But wait, you say … Sabathia had been doing this forever! How can you compare the two?

Exactly.

C. C. Sabathia graduated HS at age 17. Who knows how many innings he pitched in HS? Presumably quite a few.

By the time he was 19 plus a few months, C.C. had thrown 234 additional innings in the minors.

What was Clay Buchholz doing at the same age? Mostly playing the OF. The guy is faster than Jacoby and apparently a pretty good hitter. While (as amarshal points out) he did pitch in HS, it wasn’t his sole focus and apparently not even his emphasis, since it hasn’t been widely reported. And he didn’t pitch an inning his freshman year in college.

During the summer he turned 20, C.C. threw 180 innings in the majors. Clay Buchholz went back to the mound as a JuCo sophomore — still splitting time in the OF, though — and threw 86 insane innings, got drafted by the Sox, and threw another 41 IP.

By the time they were both 24, C.C. had been pitching full-time since he was, what, 14? And had all his HS innings and 234 in the minors and 776 in the big leagues. Clay Buchholz had been pitching full-time since he was 20 and had fewer HS innings (in all likelihood), 86 college, 344 in the minors, and 99 in the majors. That’s 1010 versus 529 plus a likely edge in HS. And six more years of concentrating full-time on his craft.

Given the incredible advantage Sabathia had in experience, what do you make of the fact that Buchholz was better at age 24?

Jon Lester had 474 professional innings when he was derailed briefly by cancer, very close to the 529 Clay had in college and pro ball coming into this year. In this comparison Lester’s a year younger than Clay but he again has the advantage of having been dedicated to pitching since high school. His 2007, like Clay’s 2009, was split between Pawtucket and Boston, but Clay was better at both levels. You know what happened to Lester starting in 2008.

Tim Lincecum had a ton of HS and 342 college innings under his belt when he split his first pro season between the minors and the show — and put up a 112 ERA+ for the Giants. Admittedly, again, he was almost two years younger, but again, he’d been focusing on pitching (rather famously in his intensity) years longer than Clay.

Felix Hernandez had 581 pro innings coming into his second full season with the M’s. And he then had, you guessed it, a 112 ERA+. People were starting to get impatient with him, but the next year (after another 200 IP) he went to 122 and then this year he skyrocketed. Granted, he did all this at ages 3 years younger than Clay at a comparable point in post-HS experience — but, again, Felix became a full-time pitcher at a much younger age than Clay.

Verlander is the only guy that phragle mentioned who was better than a 112 ERA+ with a significantly fewer amount of post-HS innings (and sustained it; Greinke had a 120 his rookie season but that’s a more complicated story, of course).

Buchholz has been unbelievably good given his lack of experience.

If you care to, find us a prospect who was just as heralded in terms of stuff, and who had as much success at a comparable point in post-HS experience, and didn’t get hurt, but stalled and never got much better. Only if there are a bunch of guys like that can you argue that Clay is not an excellent bet to become an elite pitcher. Because there are certainly a whole bunch of guys like that who did get much better.

So yeah, I’m still a believer.

Dave Cameron, of USS Mariner fame (and if you haven’t heard of that, trust me, he’s tremendous), on the new sabermetrically inclined Sox:

The age of the Giambi brothers is over. Sure, these teams would still love to have a middle-of-the-order thumper who can get on base and hit the ball 500 feet with regularity, but they aren’t going to pay the market price for power when similar value comes at a discount in another package. The value purchase now is to re-create the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals, a tremendous defensive team led by speed merchants who ran their way into the World Series despite a glaring lack of home run hitters.

Whitey Herzog, who managed that Cardinals team, would never be mistaken for a “Moneyball” disciple. But if Herzog were still putting together rosters in 2010, the teams that would most resemble what he would want are the teams that use statistical analysis to help inform their decisions. What was old is new again, and 2010 will be the year that the scouts and statheads finally come to an agreement on how a team should be built.

We use a bunch of statistics around here that some of you may not be familiar with. So, in case you’re curious, explanations of UZR and WAR.

And now on wicked clevah, the Gammons section.

Over on EEI, the Commish predicted we’d be better because of – you guessed it – our defense and pitching:

I think they’re better this year. I’ll tell you why. The whole run-scoring thing, I’m not that worried about. I think that the depth of the lineup will be very good. I think the depth of the roster is much better. It’s amazing to me they finished second, they had the second-best record, the second-best run differential, and they had 55 games started by [Brad] Penny, [John] Smoltz, [Paul] Bird, a bad [Daisuke] Matsuzaka, [Michael] Bowden and [Junichi] Tazawa. In 55 games, more than one-third of their games, their starting pitchers had a 6.28 earned run average, and they still had the second-best run differential and record in the league. They could change that a lot.”

For his old employer the Glober, he talked about the possibility of adding a bat:

If they need somebody I think they will. Right now they don’t seem very worried about it. If Ellsbury continues the progress he made getting to fastballs in the second half of hte season, they believe the top third of the order will produce more runs than any time in the recent past. They have a lot better left/right balance and they believe the defense will make up for any difference between the HR totals of Jason Bay and Beltre. People talk about their lack of power last year but they hit almost 50 more homers and scored 5 more runs than they did when they won the WS in 2007.

At his new home on MLB.com, @pgammo reiterated the pitching-and-defense mantra:

I think Boston has won, because of the immense difference their defense will make. They are pitching-oriented, and they added Lackey. They think Clay Buchholz could be a No. 2 or 3 starter. So you’ve added all that defense with Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro and Mike Cameron, and you’re also able to get Beltre on a one-year deal. I think it’s a great deal by Scott Boras to get Beltre into a ballpark where he might hit 30 to 35 home runs and win a Gold Glove and give him a chance to really make some money in free agency, but it’s a great short-term deal for Boston. They’ve really improved themselves.

And speaking of defense, ours is projected to be a lot better. How much better? 84 defensive runs saved better, according to the respected John Dewan. The SoSH gang has more on that piece here.

Meanwhile, the not respected Dan Shaughnessy embarassed himself – again – as articulated by Rob Neyer. Who also, every so subtly, eviscerated Nick Cafardo here.

And at least until we get to the players, that’s all I have for you at the moment.

Quick Links: New Radio Team, Why I Love Amalie, and More

mmm...Amalie

Or not so quick.

Anyway, another day, another new feature here at wicked clevah. Bringing you the news quickly. If not succinctly.

Bullpen Breakdown

Firebrand of the American League: I’ll be taking my own look at the roster – probably after we have more to go on, say midway through Spring Training – but in the meantime, Evan Brunell over on Firebrand of the American League has an interesting look at the battle for the final few bullpen roles. I think it under emphasizes slightly the role that roster status will play in the decision making process – I’d personally be shocked if any of the folks that don’t have to pass through waivers make the club from the outset – but it’s a good roundup of the candidates and their strengths and weaknesses.

One note worth adding: FBAL’s Dave B is not unique in his fascination with non-roster invitee Lee Gronkiewicz. Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan had this to say in his AL East preview:

Journeyman right-hander Lee Gronkiewicz has a 2.48 career ERA in the minors with nearly a 4:1 career K/BB. That ratio was 85/12 last year in 78 2/3 innings at three levels. There’s not much room in Fenway’s bullpen, but an injury to somebody could create an opportunity for the veteran to be this year’s Lee Gardner.

A long shot? Of course. But if there’s any front office that will give him credit for those numbers, it’s ours.

More Truck Day

Kelly O’Connor: Via Surviving Grady comes word of Kelly O’Connor’s Truck Day pictures. In case you, like me, can’t get enough.

New Radio Team Announced

Boston Globe: I’ll be honest: I never really cared for Jerry Trupiano, the long term radio partner of Joe Castiglione. His delivery was nothing to write home about, but the grating factor for me was his stale humor. A few summers back he had a running joke about some karaoke that Castiglione had done – Runaround Sue, I think it was – that became one of his running gags. It wasn’t particularly amusing the first time around, and to say it never grew on me was putting it mildly.

But neither was I big fan of Dave O’Brien (who other folks love) or Glenn Gefner (whom other folks most certainly did not). Most particularly, however, I didn’t like the transition back and forth between the two, and the obvious lack of chemistry between the boothmates, where chemistry = knowing who says what, and when, and who fills silences, and how.

Apparently, things are going to get worse in that department this season: not only are we not consolidating things in the booth, we’re adding a fourth. Castiglione remains, which is good, as does O’Brien, but when the latter is absent he’ll be replaced by a tag team of Dale Arnold or Jon Rish. I’ve heard both before, of course, in the context of their respective WEEI duties, and neither inspires strong feelings one way or the other.

I’ll reserve judgement until I hear the three pairings play out, but I’m not optimistic about the state of Red Sox radio in ’08. Which pains me in particular, because I don’t have TV set up in the cottage I live in in the summer (it’s in the one next door), meaning that radio is my primary medium whether I’m at home, on the boat or in the car.

Why I Love Amalie

Boston Globe: I’m far from alone in the massive crush I have on Amalie Benjamin – see the page footer over on the brilliance that is Surviving Grady – but a piece of hers today may win you over as well. In discussing Matsuzaka, she penned the following:

Matsuzaka, meanwhile, has turned his Mohawk from last season into something of a mullet. It’s definitely a party in the back.

Priceless, I think we can all agree.

But it’s even more valuable in the context of her competition: crusty old embittered white men. To me she’s a breath of fresh air in an increasingly stale medium. Also, there’s the hotness.