How's Our Offense?

In the wake of the Mark Teixeira signing – and as an aside, does anyone else find it remarkable that Mazz is still arguing that the outcome could have been different, in spite of evidence like this? – and, to a lesser extent, the acquisition and signing of Matt Joyce and Pat Burrell by the Rays, many seemed to conclude that the Sox’ offense would necessarily compare less than favorably to our divisional rivals. Which of course is entirely possible.

But I thought it would be interesting to look at the projected average OPS of the anticipated lineups for the three AL East clubs to see how they fared relative to one another. For the comparison, I picked the CHONE projections, not least because they’re available by team. If anyone has the James or Marcel numbers batched I’d be happy to add them.

Anyway, here’s what CHONE sees for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009:

Not bad. Joyce and Burrell are decent additions, and the lineup as a whole should have reasonable on base skills with the exception of the bottom of the lineup (they’re not ordered here).

Now how about the big, bad Yankees?

I might quibble with a few of the projections, but basically it shows what you’d expect: substantial on base ability top to bottom, with consistent power through the first six spots.

But what of the good guys? Are we completely outclassed in this winter of media discontent?

Not exactly. What we give up in power, CHONE expects us to make up in OBP. Which is all the more interesting, as one common criticism of OPS is that it undervalues OBP.

Does this mean everything’s sunshine and lollipops for ’09? Hardly. First, it’s just a projection. Two, it doesn’t factor in benches. Three, it can’t anticipate injuries. And so on.

But it is worth remembering, I think, that the conventional wisdom that we wanted Tex while the Yankees needed him is looking pretty accurate by CHONE’s numbers.

You Heard It Here…First?: Josh Bard

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Josh Bard, originally uploaded by ewen and donabel.

For the first time in recorded history, you may actually have heard it here first. The Josh Bard news, that is.

Back on December 4th, I wrote this:

Last I checked, Josh Bard – the catcher we shipped to San Diego after he proved unable to catch Wake – is available. Probably because in 57 games with the Friars, he put up an abysmal .202/.235/.333 line. Not a typo: he really was a .569 OPS player. That said, ‘07 saw him put up a .285/.364/.404 in a tough hitters’ park, and Bill James’ ‘09 forecast is .268/.342/.395. Which may not seem like much, until you remember that Tek’s 08 line was .220/.313/.359. And that Tek’s 09 projection is .238/.334/392. And that Bard is six years younger than Varitek.

Twenty-five days later Sean McAdam has this news for us:

Moving to improve their depth on the mound and behind the plate, the Red Sox have agreements in place with right-hander Brad Penny and catcher Josh Bard, according to an industry source.

I’ll get to the Penny news later – tomorrow if I’m not too lazy – but I’ll be honest: I like the Bard signing.

True, Bard is no Martin, Mauer, or McCann. He’s not even a Flying Molina Brother (at least of the Bengie variety). But there are several things arguing in this deal’s favor, most notably the fact that it’s short money and short term, and doesn’t cost us prospects. Our risk, therefore, is minimized and our flexibility to either deal for or develop a long term solution is preserved.

We’re buying low on Bard because, as mentioned, he had an abysmal ’08. Still, he’s only a year removed from this PECOTA commentary:

After Bard took to being knuckleballer Tim Wakefield`s personal catcher like a duck takes to being repeatedly poked with a fork, the Red Sox panicked and flipped him to San Diego for his predecessor, Doug Mirabelli. They never could have anticipated he`d hit like he did in San Diego, just as there`s no reason for the Padres to expect him to do it again. Still, Bard`s a true switch-hitter, solid against both righties and lefties, and PECOTA expects him to maintain his new-found plate discipline, so he`ll still be one of the better players at his position. Although properly considered the better-throwing alternative to Mike Piazza on last year`s Pads, Bard didn`t surpass him by much. Throwing out only 18 percent of opposing baserunners isn`t very special, but, in Bard`s defense, he`s done better before; perhaps Pads pitchers need to work on holding runners as much as their catchers need to work on throwing.

And – remember, he’s six years younger than Tek – the projections all look ok.

AVG OBP SLG OPS
Bill James .268 .337 .392 .729
CHONE .254 .338 .369 .707
Marcel .266 .342 .395 .737

Like I said: no Mauer. But compared to Tek’s .672 OPS last season, even CHONE’s pessimistic forecast looks acceptable.

And speaking of Tek, I have to think this pretty much means he’s not back. Not just because McAdam says that the Sox “have all but given up on re-signing” him, but because of the Wakefield factor.

Initial speculation considered the possibility of Bard backing up a resigned Varitek, but while I suppose that’s not impossible, haven’t we tried that before? That would leave us with two catchers that have more or less demonstrated that they cannot catch one of the pitchers we’re throwing every five days.

From this signing, then, I conclude not that Bard will be the unchallenged starter, but that the second catcher will be someone who can catch Timmeh – i.e. not Varitek.

Could it be Kottaras, perhaps? Evan over at Fire Brand had a nice piece looking at this a couple of days ago and built a fairly credible case that Kottaras could be a bigger factor than we might have expected in the catching equation. The signing of Bard, if anything, improves his chances, as he’s now one of the few catchers in the organization with experience catching a knuckleball (in case you missed it, the Yankees signed Cash away from us).

Is a Bard/Kottaras tandem the long term solution to our catching needs? Obviously not. But could it provide us with a credible stop gap until such time as we can find one? Seems at least possible. If both hit only to their James projected OPS, in fact, they would have placed 6th and 7th respectively amongst qualifying catchers last season – such is the state of big league catching these days.

How you deploy them could ultimately be determined by their play, as well as the pitchers’ comfort level with each. If you weight his experience, and think Bard is more the .285/.364/.404 player from ’07 than the .569 OPS of ’08, you could start him four days a week and designate Kottaras as Wake’s caddy.

But given that James projects more offense from the rookie than the vet – an anticipated .765 OPS to Bard’s .729 – it might be wiser to platoon them to some extent. Which could work nicely, because while Bard switch hits, his lifetime OPS is eighty points higher against lefties than righties (.785 to .705). Kottaras, meanwhile, hits from the lefthand side, and his splits show it: career, his OPS is 46 points better vs righties than lefties (.808 to .762).

Are Bard and Kottaras the tandem for ’09? Hell, I don’t know. The point here is that if they are, we might not be in terrible shape.

Why I Still Believe In Buchholz (No, It's Not a Mancrush)

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Welcome to the Major Leagues, Clay, originally uploaded by cardamom.

Following my continuing defense of Buchholz – and my best efforts to expose the incompetent efforts of his detractors – even a few friends have begun to question whether there might not be an ulterior motive at work. Perhaps even an unhealthy mancrush.

To which I’d reply: nonsense. No one can unseat Pedro in that regard.

I’m not even opposed to trading the kid, actually. All that I want is for the player to be valued properly. Which, as even a reluctant Nick Cafardo seems to have conceded, he is, thanks to our front office.

Asked in a Boston.com chat yesterday by Dave M, “Why are the Sox so unwilling to trade Clay?” Tony Massarotti replied, “No idea. I’d do it in a minute.” Which I would characterize as a stupid, uneducated answer; not that he’ll ever know, because as we know from the good folks at Over the Monster’s interview, Tony doesn’t have the time to read blogs.

Why do I keep making that argument, however? Because young players – young pitchers, in particular – often struggle. It’s so common that I find it at least mildly horrifying that our current staff of professional writers seems fundamentally unable to remember it when forming opinions on our players.

Consider the cases of two players that we all now accept as regulars.

Pedroia

Few remember it now, in the wake of his MVP award, but El Caballito struggled mightily upon not just his first but his second introduction to the major leagues.

  • In 2006, in 31 games played, Pedroia put up a less than sparkling .191/.258/.303 line. That’s right; this year’s AL MVP OPS’d .561. To put that in contrast for you, the Mets’ Luis Castillo’s OPS this past year was .660. Who’s Castillo, you ask? Exactly, I answer.
  • In 2007, for the first 19 games to open the season, Pedroia was worse, putting up a .182/.308/.236 line for a .544. You may remember that that was when the media – and some fans, to be sure, was calling for Dustin to be replaced as the everyday second baseman by Alex Cora.

In short, over his first fifty games in the majors, Pedroia was awful, and the media was leading the charge to run him out of the yard. Fortunately, they don’t run the show, and we now have an MVP at second.

How many games has Buchholz played in the majors to date, you might reasonably wonder? Twenty. And his minor league track record is significantly more impressive than Pedroia’s.

Lester

But maybe you think that the struggles of pitching and positional player prospects are too apples to oranges. Surely Cafardo, Mazz and the rest of the crew that’s dismissed Buchholz as a flash in the pan couldn’t have missed similar prospect struggles from players that play the same position?

Well, actually they have.

Most of us have likewise forgotten that Lester’s first year in the majors was…less than impressive. To be fair, it was cut short by cancer, but I’ve read nothing to indicate that the illness directly impacted his performance. Here’s what Lester did in his first 80+ innings.

IP H BB SO ERA K/9 BB/9
81.3 91 43 60 4.76 6.64 4.76

Some bumps, some bruises, but all in all that’s not a bad line for a young pitcher adjusting to the majors. And we all saw how Lester pitched this season, with more innings under his belt. Before faltering in his first start in the ALCS, he was dominant.

And now, how about that bust Buchholz?

IP H BB SO ERA K/9 BB/9
79.8 83 39 80 4.62 9.02 4.40

Yes, you’re reading that right: at a similar major league innings mark, Buchholz had a lower ERA, was striking out 2+ more batters per nine innings, while walking fewer.

And yet the media, in their infinite wisdom, has concluded that Buchholz has nothing to offer us, and is best kicked out of town for whatever return we can get.

Because no young player’s ever struggled to make the jump to the majors, after all. And especially not here in Boston. If that had happened, and kids that struggled went on to win MVP’s and to pitch like aces, we’d remember.

Wouldn’t we?

Things Are Never As Bad As They Seem, Though They Could Be Better

It’s not all good and it’s not all bad
Don’t believe everything you read
” – Mr. E

Mark Teixeira agreed to terms while I was somewhere over the Atlantic, I think, barreling down to JFK at five hundred miles an hour at thirty thousand feet. In spite of their DirecTV service, however, I didn’t hear about it till we touched down, the cellphone reconnected and the text messages flooded in.

My first reaction, as documented by Twitter, was probably similar to many of yours: “every text message I get notifying me that the Yankees signed Teixeira is like a kick in the crotch from Santa.” The majority of you I’ve heard from remain angry, to go with grim, depressed and pessimistic. And who knows, you could well be right to feel that way. But with the initial shock worn off, I’m far more au fait than I expected to be at this point.

Consider that, in retrospect, this is perhaps the least surprising thing that could have happened.

We knew the Empire would be flexing their financial muscles in an unprecedented fashion, given the twin realities of a shiny new park (built, in part, with tax dollars) and a distinct lack of postseason play for the to be retired House that Ruth Built.

And even if we knew that John Henry’s parting words – “we will not be a factor” – to Boras and Teixeira this week were oh-so-carefully crafted to avoid closing any doors (even as they proved accurate), we also knew that the owner was concerned about the impact the financial crisis would have on baseball and that he would therefore have limits to the Red Sox financial commitments. Not to mention that provisions like the no-trade the Yankees granted him go against our (intelligent) policy.

You know what? I think the club is right here.

The Red Sox identified a player that they wanted, they pursued him aggressively – offering, until the Yankees showed up, the highest AAV – and they came up short. To a team with greater (limitless?) financial resources. Where’s the shame in that? If we can all agree that every player should have a cost ceiling – and we should, at least, be able to agree on that – why should we agonize when we lose players because they fall outside of it?

No one’s saying you have to like it. But to conclude – as many in the media are doing right now – that this is an outright failure on the part of our front office or ownership group is a rather egregious misunderstanding of the situation. In my opinion.

In the opening paragraph to his piece “Did Yanks win … or did Sox just lose?,” the Globe’s Tony “I’d-trade-Buchholz-in-a-minute” Massarotti said the following:

They ultimately lost Mark Teixeira to the Yankees for maybe $1 million-$2 million a year, roughly 1 percent of their 2008 payroll.

Intended or not, the obvious implication to this reader is that the Sox lost because they were cheap. Which strikes me as not only incorrect, but shockingly naive.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Sox extended themselves beyond the already staggering sum of $21M per year they were offering to someone playing first base. Let’s also say, again, for the sake of argument, that Teixeira didn’t prefer the Yankees all along – as has been claimed. Is Mazz really going to argue that the Yankees couldn’t have simply upped the price tag again? And again? That they couldn’t, ultimately, afford to outspend us? Or, alternatively, to stretch us to a point at which, even if we won, the contract would be unreasonably burdensome?

Of course they could.

That, my friends, is how Boras plays clubs. And our refusal to play his game is but one reason I remain glad that Theo, John Henry and the gang are running this club as dispassionately and rationally as possible. Because we’ve seen how running the club by catering to public sentiment works: we have eighty long years of history that tells us it’s the wrong way to do things.

This deal, as far as I’m concerned, came down to one thing: the Yankees have more money to spend. Nothing more, nothing less.

And no, I’m not going to cry foul about that.

Because it’s true that even with C.C., Burnett and Tex, the Yankee payroll will still be less than last year. Which is, it should be noted, something of a comment on the lack of correlation between payroll to performance as measured by record. But we’ll leave that argument for another time, not least because the Yankees have spent more wisely this trip around.

Is the following also true?

Even before their latest spending spree, the Yankees finished 2008 with a record payroll of $222.5 million, according to figures sent to clubs in recent days by the commissioner’s office. The $75 million gap between the Yankees and the next-highest spender, the Red Sox ($147.1 million), was more than the payroll of nine teams.

Sure. And I will undoubtedly be throwing that at my Yankee fan friends all season long, to best exploit their Puritanical guilt at having the top four salaries in the sport aggregated on their roster. Three on the infield alone.

But I’ll also be mindful of the delta between our payroll and that of the Rays. Not least because of how those guys played last year.

Few of the beat writers I’ve seen, meanwhile, have actually looked at what this means; they’re writing mostly about this feels. Fortunately, Law and Neyer – as writers with no connection to the club – have done what was necessary. Here are their reads.

First up, Law.

Give the Yankees credit: They’re not some nouveau riche team throwing their money around on whatever shiny baubles they come across in free agency. Signing three of the top four free agents on the market is a sign that they have excellent taste, even if they don’t seem to have a credit limit.

The signing of free agent Mark Teixeira fills a hole that has glared more and more every year of this decade at first base.

He’s probably the best defensive player relative to his position on the Yankees now, and could be one of only two or three who are above average depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out. He adds significant power to a lineup that had just two players slug over .500 this past year, and his .410 OBP in 2008 would have led the Yankees by 18 points.

Coupled with the loss of Jason Giambi, the signing of Teixeira means a net gain to the Yankees of four to five wins, considering both his bat and his defense. He also eliminates the need the Yankees had for a right-handed caddy for Giambi, since Teixeira is a true switch-hitter with power and patience from both sides of the plate. The Yanks still have to find a solution in center field, unless they decide to give Melky Cabrera the job again and live with the consequences if he continues to struggle. However, if they re-sign Andy Pettitte, they’re just about done.

[snip]

The Red Sox were in on the Teixeira chase until the last moment, and I have to wonder if they feel that they were used to drive up the price for the Yankees. Still, Boston is in good shape offensively and defensively without him. The Red Sox are still hoping that Mike Lowell returns at least mostly to form, but they’re set at first base in the short term with Kevin Youkilis and the long term with top prospect Lars Anderson reaching Double-A this year at age 20.

Not good news, but nor is the sky falling. Neyer’s view is a bit less good for us.

And just like that, the equation has changed.

Just like that, the conventional wisdom is now going to be that the Yankees are the team to beat.

You know what, though? I’m here to tell you that the conventional wisdom … is, as usual, exactly right. Of course the Yankees are the team to beat. The Yankees won 89 games this past season, and they’ve added the best pitcher in the majors and the second-best first baseman. They’re also likely to get more production next year from Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada, and Chien-Ming Wang is probably going to (roughly) double his eight wins of this year.

[snip]

A week ago, the Yankees were merely another of the fine teams in the American League East, no worse but no better than the Red Sox or the Rays. Today, though? If you pride yourself on holding unconventional views, then by all means, you should predict one of those other teams will win the East. Just don’t bet good money on it.

Given that they know the math better than I do, I’ll take their word for it. But you’ll forgive me if I don’t write off the 2009 season as a lost cause in December.

Giambi in 145 games in 2008 put up an .876 OPS. Teixeira put up a .962. So that’s an upgrade for them, clearly. They’re getting Giambi circa 2005 to replace Giambi circa 2009, but one that can actually play defense.

How’s he compare to Youk, tho? Well, the Greek God himself spotted the Sox with a .959 in 08. Not too shabby, even by Teixeira standards. And for those arguing that it was a career year for He Whose Beard Frightens Children, you may well be right. But here’s his career progression: .780, .805, .810, .843, .959. Looks reasonably like progress to me. And given that he’s 29, he’s still got a few good years ahead, I think. But who knows. And yes, of course, it would be nice to have two Teixeira’s instead of one.

But at least we have the one.

No, I’m with the Press Herald’s Kevin Thomas who says:

Mark Teixeira has signed with the New York Yankees and … if you listen to some media folk, the Red Sox have failed miserably and are in trouble.

Hmm.

Hmm indeed (though I’d feel better if he hadn’t cited Steve Phillips in that piece, as I think…little of him).

While Mazz would apparently suggest that by claiming anything other than “we’re doomed…DOOMED!” I am “perpetuating organizational propaganda,” I think we’ll have a pretty good club in 2009. The Yankees may well win the 95 games the Red Sox front office projects them to every year, but there’s a long way to go between here and there. Or maybe you knew the Rays would take the division last year?

Anyway, in case you’re still in need of it, the Top 5 Reasons to Be Happy We Didn’t Sign Teixeira:

5. Keeping Lowell gives us premium gloves at third and first (assuming Lowell is reasonably healthy), instead of premium at first and average at third.
4. Eight years is a long time in an uncertain – even for NY – economy. Particularly with a no trade.
3. Our best positional prospect, Lars Anderson, plays the same position as Teixeira.
2. Even with a banged up Lowell, a month and a half without Papi and a few months with a half-Papi, we were second in the league in runs scored. The Yankees, with the two previous highest contracts in the game manning the left side of their infield? Seventh.
1. The spectacularly irritating and fact-free will-he-or-won’t-he-sign saga is now over. For at least eight years.

So we’ll see what ’09 brings. If this doesn’t get the Yankees over the top, we may yet see a repeat of their 2003 strategy, as documented by The Onion. And who wants that?

If nothing else, the rivalry is back.

Buchholz…One More Time

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In case it was less than obvious, I was driven insane some months ago by the media’s complete inability to grasp even the basics of player evaluation; most acutely with respect to Clay Buchholz.

But while reading Over the Monster’s interview with the Globe’s Tony Massarotti – kudos to OTM on that, BTW – I really think I’ve had a breakthrough in my comprehension of how Massarotti and his colleages can look at the same set of data and come to such different conclusions: we’re not looking at the same data.

Everything about the media’s evaluation of our players begins to make sense if you do one, simple thing: discount their minor league performance and scouting reports. If you base your analysis off of nothing more than their performance with the big club, Tony, Nick and the rest of the gang are exactly right. Phrases like, I still think “Buchholz’ greatest value is on the trade market,” or “Masterson seems like the best of the lot,” are not controversial, obtuse or perplexing, but simple statements of fact. Well, maybe not so much the former, because it flies in the face of basic precepts like “sell high/buy low,” but you get the point.

Try it. Just look at the major league numbers for a minute. Not the ones that provide context like BABIP, and not the ones are decent indicators of ceiling like K/9. Don’t look, in fact, any further than ERA, because that’s all you’ll need. Buchholz’ ERA last season was 6.75 (ignore the 1.59 over 22.1 IP in ’07). Masterson’s was 3.16. Who’s the better pitcher? Masterson. Who’s expendable? Buchholz.

Simple.

What makes life hard for me, I can see now, is that I actually consider their minor league histories, and factor them in when evaluating the player. To make matters worse, I view ERA as slightly more important than a pitcher’s W/L record – which is effectively irrelevant for the purposes of evaluation, as far as I’m concerned – but significantly less useful than, oh, BABIP, K/9, HR/9, and K/BB. And the nail in the coffin? I’m reluctant to project too much on the basis of sample sizes of less than a hundred innings at the major league level.

If I didn’t have those problems, none of the following would trouble me when I concluded that Buchholz was a bust and should be shipped for the first available need:

  • Buchholz’ BABIP – career – is .343. The average typically allowed on balls in play for pitchers of virtually any type is .290, which in English means that hitters have an average 50+ points higher against Buchholz than they should.

    One of two conclusions, therefore, is supportable: a.) Buchholz has found some new way to uniquely allow a higher average on balls in play, or b.) he’s been unlucky in a small sample size and will inevitably revert to the mean.

  • In 344.1 IP in the Minor Leagues, Buchholz has struck out 417 guys while walking 95. His ERA over that span? 2.43. In case you’re fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing, those numbers are good. Exceedingly good. For the sake of comparison, Masterson – who, in spite of being the media’s flavor the month, I really like – has struck out 193 while walking 59 in over a hundred fewer innings (233.1). His ERA? 3.78. What do those numbers mean? Buchholz – per nine innings pitched at the minor league level – has struck out roughly three more guys, while walking .2 more. It’s always difficult to predict pitchers, but the ability to strike men out while walking as few as possible is one of the best indicators.
  • Aside from the statistical arguments that Buchholz is a pitcher with a higher upside than Masterson (and Bowden, in my view, isn’t even in this conversation yet), there’s the scouting report on their respective arsenals. Buchholz has two pitches that are considered plus – his curveball and changeup – and his fastball is, when he can locate it, more than adequate, with good to plus velocity. Masterson has one pitch that is considered plus – his fastball – and two that are not: his changeup and slider. Thus, while both pitchers have suggestive platoon splits in their major league history to date, the scouting reports indicate that Buchholz has more weapons than Masterson to attack left handed hitters.

Ignoring all of that, it’s easy to see why Buchholz is on the media’s shit list at the moment. Not living up to the impossible expectations created by the no hitter would be enough on its own, but carousing with Victoria’s Secret models and Penthouse pets? You’re done in this town, kid: no matter what your minor league numbers say.

Well, except for the fact that Theo’s running things. Thank Jebus.

Maybe Bucky pans out, and maybe he doesn’t: he’s a pitching prospect, after all. But to regard him, as the media quite obviously does, as done after 98.2 innings is, to me, the real insanity here.

Rumors of My Death Etc Etc

from the pressbox

So it’s been a while. But hear me now and understand me later, I needed the time off. And whether you know it or not, you did too. Even if you didn’t, what are you going to do about it?

Because either way, we’re back, baby, and a lot has happened since the last time you and I checked in. Which, in turn, begs the question: why are we wasting time talking about how many months it’s been since our last chat? Let’s just get to it.

Now.

Buchholz

In spite of the best efforts of the Boston media (read: Cafardo and Massarotti) to drive me completely insane, it would appear that the front office and I are on the same page with respect to Buchholz. Last week, the MLB.com Rangers beat reporter put it this way:

The Red Sox have made it clear that they aren’t interested in trading Clay Buchholz under any circumstances.

This week, Peter Gammons validated that while talking to our friends from Fire Brand:

I don’t think Texas will trade Teagarden, and their asking price for Saltalamacchia has been either Buchholz or Masterson and Bowden; not happening.

To which I say: thank Jebus. It’s not that I’m unwilling to part with Buchholz under the right circumstances; it’s just that – as discussed – I think trading him now is the very essence of selling low.

Which, fortunately, it seems like our front office is smart enough to recognize. Now if only the media could see the light…

Lowe

As I said in one of the Fire Brand Roundtables, I’m all for bringing our own prodigal son dlowe back.

“Call me crazy, but I say DLowe – provided you can get him at reasonable (for the Red Sox) dollars for three years or less, and that you do your homework on his off the field status. Much as I’d love Teixeira, he’s going to get a massive six plus year deal from someone, and it won’t be us. Ditto for CC, and with him you have overuse/weight issues potentially complicating the back end of the deal. Burnett and Sheets, meanwhile, are terrific pitchers…when they take the field. Which isn’t often. Sheets hasn’t thrown 200 innings since ’04, and Burnett’s done it only twice in the last six years. Plus, they’ll command a significant premium as high strikeout pitchers. Lowe, meanwhile, has thrown 200 four out of the last six (and just missed in ’07), while keeping his ERA since leaving Boston comfortably under 4. Park effects have a lot to do with that, of course, but with his groundball ratio it’s less true than it might be with other pitchers. If you have some assurances that the pitcher wouldn’t spend every available evening at Daisy Buchanan’s, then, and he’s willing to sacrifice either years or dollars to play where he wants, I think you have to consider it.”

Not much has happened to change that opinion: if anything, Lowe has ramped up his “I’d love to play in Boston” rhetoric. I still think it’s a long shot, given what he’s likely to be offered elsewhere, but I take him over Sheets and even Burnett easy. As does Neyer.

Pedroia

What can you say, except: I can’t believe I singlehandedly turned El Caballito’s season around with this post and he’s offered me nothing? Ungrateful little pony…But otherwise, I couldn’t be happier. After what he went through early in ’07, when everyone was burying the tiny rookie with the big swing, this is a veritable storybook turnaround.

As much as I admire his play, however, I’m even more appreciative of his willingness to compromise and share a little risk with the club, sacrificing overall dollars in the process. We are unlikely to see this with our other young kids, with Pap looking to max his dollars and Ells having signed with Boras, but I admit to an unreasonable appreciation for Dustin’s willingness to take a hometown discount in return for security. The $40M+ guaranteed presumably doesn’t hurt, either.

Ramirez

I think we can file this one under a big miss for wicked clevah, since I saw Crisp as gone last…February. But the return here, I don’t think, was awful. A power arm for the middle innings is nothing to sneer at given our bullpen’s regular season struggles last year. Particularly if, as Gammons argues, the market for Crisp was weak overall:

The Red Sox surveyed what was a surprisingly small market for Crisp — Cincinnati was the other club with the most interest — and decided that with Jeremy Affeldt starting out the 2008 free-agent market by signing a two-year, $8 million deal with the Giants, it likely will be easier to find another outfielder than secure a low-cost power reliever.

That said, not everyone’s on board. Law thinks we could be disappointed in the return:

For the Red Sox, they save a good amount of cash by moving a superfluous player and get a cheap arm for their pen, albeit one with some red flags. Ramon Ramirez works primarily with two pitches — a 91-93 mph fastball that he pounds to his glove side and an upper 80s splitter (or split-change) with a very sharp downward movement. He’ll occasionally mix in a slider around 86-87 mph, but it’s not as effective as the splitter, which he throws almost as often as his fastball. Despite some violence in his delivery, he’s had around average control throughout his pro career (just 25 unintentional walks this year) and has a history of missing bats. The surprise in his performance is that he keeps the ball in the park; he doesn’t have great life or sink on his fastball, and his command of it is fringe-average, yet he has given up just 9 home runs in 156 career big-league innings, half of which came in Colorado. Between that and his moderate platoon split, it seems unlikely that he’s an eighth inning solution for the Red Sox.

Ultimately, while I was surprised – I anticipated Crisp being part of a trade with Texas for one of their catchers – I’m not disappointed in the return. Even if Ramirez is not an eighth inning solution, he gives us another useful, controllable arm, some flexibility in trading someone from the pen if necessary, and salary relief for a player we didn’t need – and who may have been less of a good soldier in his second year of not starting.

I’m cool with that.

Tazawa

First things first: the kid’s highly unlikely to make the major league roster out of the gate. And reports that he’s cranking 97+ with his fastball are – apparently – pure exagerration as he sits 90-93, from the more reasonable reports that I’ve seen. All of that said, I – shockingly – concur with Mazz that this Tazawa is, if nothing else, a hedge against the draft pick that we could conceivably lose:

Now that Junichi Tazawa is here, the smart thing to do would be to consider him as the Sox’ first-round selection in 2009.

Viewed that way, the signing makes a lot of sense, and it was at a reasonable expense as well: $3.3M. Here’s Law’s take:

He’s not major-league ready, having only pitched in an amateur industrial league in Japan, but he should be ready to start in Double-A and could see the majors in late 2009 if all goes well. His splitter (or split-change) should give minor-league hitters nightmares, but he’ll need to work on his fastball command. If his breaking ball doesn’t come along, he projects more as a plus two-pitch reliever than as a starter.

Another of the FO’s decisions that I’m more than fine with.

Teixeira

To address the question posed by Senor Frechette – what becomes of Lars Anderson should we sign Tex – the answer is: I don’t know. There seem to be three possibilities: 1.) he becomes trade bait, 2.) he’s worked into an infield/DH rotation beginning in late 09 or 2010, 3.) he’s inserted into left field following Bay’s departure after the ’09 season.

Here’s what we know:

  1. The Sox value him highly – he’s Baseball America’s #1 Sox prospect
  2. Anderson’s not projected to be ready until midseason at the earliest, with 2010 as a more likely arrival date
  3. Of the spots he could take on the current roster, Bay is up after ’09, Lowell ’10, Papi ’10 (club option for ’11), Youk ’11 (I think, based on his service time)
  4. We’ve got – potentially – a lot of money to play with this offseason, with $40M or so coming off the books

There’s an assumption amongst media members that we’ll take our current projected surplus and apply that to Teixeira, and this makes sense given the uncertainty and frequent inconsistency of our offense last season – particularly with Manny gone. But it remains to be seen whether or not he’s going to try and break the bank and shoot for $200M, even in this economy. If he that’s the case, I think we bow out. But stranger things have happened.

If he’s not signed, Anderson continues on track, I think, to take Lowell’s place (w/ Youk shifting to third) in the 2010 timeframe. If Tex does come on board, I think Anderson is retained if only to provide insurance depending on whether the Large Father a.) recovers adequately and b.) signs with Boston following the expiration of his contract. Given Anderson’s status as the top prospect in a still top shelf farm system, he’s not going anywhere except for a premium talent in return.

Varitek

One of the things that’s perplexed me this offseason has been the talk of securing Varitek – either via arbitration or a short term free agent deal – to train his replacement, to be obtained via trade. Gammons among others has mentioned this as a possibility, and while there’s nothing intrinsically odd about that, except for this question: who catches Wake? Theo addressed that in his comments today:

“We have to be mindful of the fact that Wake can be a challenge for some catchers,” Epstein said. “At the same time, I don’t know that even Wake feels we should limit our options at catcher because of any one pitcher. We just have to strike the right balance. [Varitek’s] caught him in the past. We’ll see. There’s no news on that front. He’s always been an option to catch him. He’s caught him in the past. It’s obviously something that [Terry Francona’s] stayed away from in recent years.”

With all due respect to Theo, this strikes me as pure posturing. If Varitek could catch Wake, there would have been no need for the panic deal that sent Bard – more on him in a minute – and Meredith out to San Diego for Mirabelli. Assuming that the Captain can’t catch him regularly, then, that would mean that the job of catching would Wake would either a.) fall to Varitek’s replacement, or b.) Cash, necessitating the extremely suboptimal three catchers on the roster. Frankly, the latter strikes me as a non-starter here in the Big Boy league, meaning that if Tek and a young catcher are acquired, the job of catching Wake is going to be the kid’s.

Not sure about you, but I don’t see that happening. I think either Tek is retained or we get a replacement, not both. Which, I couldn’t tell you, though we’ll know by Sunday whether or not the Captain has accepted arbitration.

Should be fun to watch.

And as a special bonus catching section:

Bard

Last I checked, Josh Bard – the catcher we shipped to San Diego after he proved unable to catch Wake – is available. Probably because in 57 games with the Friars, he put up an abysmal .202/.235/.333 line. Not a typo: he really was a .569 OPS player. That said, ’07 saw him put up a .285/.364/.404 in a tough hitters’ park, and Bill James’ ’09 forecast is .268/.342/.395. Which may not seem like much, until you remember that Tek’s 08 line was .220/.313/.359. And that Tek’s 09 projection is .238/.334/392. And that Bard is six years younger than Varitek.

I’ll admit that a proposed catching tandem of Bard/Cash isn’t all that thrilling, but it could a.) save us from overpaying for the likes of Salty – who may not be able to catch long term anyway (the cat is huge), and b.) give the kids (Exposito, Wagner, et al) another year to develop and tell us whether or not our solution is in house after all.

The wicked clevah ALCS Preview

Aaaand the Pitch!, originally uploaded by TheBusyBrain.

We could talk about Game 4, but why? It’s not as if it would be news to you. You saw Lester do his thing, Varitek tag Willits, and Lowrie single off the same Shields that made him look foolish at the game I attended. And you went nuts just like I and the other 30 Sox fans gathered at the Riviera did. If you didn’t, you’re almost certainly in the wrong place.

Besides, we’ve got bigger things on our mind than recapping a series won. I can’t speak for you, but I’m far more interested in the Tampa scouter than the Angels’ bitterness. One of those things is relevant, after all, and one is not. So let us look forward, then, rather than backward. Because while it is meet and right that the players should celebrate the shit out of the series win, you and I have work to do. Not that I didn’t celebrate, mind you.

With the obvious caveat that 18 games is not that much bigger a sample size than the nine that proved more or less irrelevant during the ALDS, here are a few numbers, and a few comments. On to the wicked clevah ALCS Preview…unless you’d prefer to click through 15 pages of Nick Cafardo analysis.

The Season Series

Was far less one sided than was the Angels season matchup, actually. But for Pap’s brief and unproductive infatuation with fastball, we would have split at worst. As it is, they took the head to head matchup with us 10-8, which was the bad the news. The good news is that over the course of those 18 games, we outscored the Artists Formerly Known as the Devil Rays by 20 runs, 87-67. Which means precisely dick where the standings and the division title are concerned. Still, it’s worth noting that Tampa’s average margin of victory was 2 runs while the Sox typically won by 5.

If you think you hear a but coming, well, aren’t you just the sharpest tack in the box.

The Injuries

Do not bode well for the good guys, obviously. Lowell has been subtracted – mercifully, I think, after watching him gimp through Game 3. Drew is day to day. Beckett is not healthy, in my completely uneducated and uninformed opinion. What about an educated and informed opinion? Well, the folks from Dugout Central think he might be hurt. The Rays, meanwhile, aren’t much healthier than any other club playing in October, but they enter the series with significantly less injury concerns than our guys. Which puts us at a decided disadvantage, as Keith Law noted in his series scouter:

At full strength, Boston would be the favorite despite Tampa Bay’s home-field advantage, but Boston is not close to full strength. Lowell is out, which hurts the Sox’s infield defense and gives his at-bats to Sean Casey or Mark Kotsay. Beckett is on the roster but not at 100 percent. Ortiz is still struggling to hit stuff on the outer half the way he has in the past.

If you deduce from the above that he’s not picking us to win, you’re correct. He has the Rays moving on in 7. And for the record, he correctly predicted the results of the first series.

The Rays Lineup

Is not stellar, it’s true. Their collective season line of .260/.340/.422 was outperformed – significantly – by our own .281/.359/.450. Also, they’re significantly left handed. Law:

The Rays lean heavily to the left as a lineup, a big advantage against Boston except when Jon Lester is on the mound. If Daisuke Matsuzaka won’t use his changeup, and if Josh Beckett is struggling to throw to his glove side, those left-handed bats — like Carlos Pena and Akinori Iwamura — should have a field day.

The Rays, however, never did fall apart down the stretch as predicted by many of the less savvy analysts. Quite the contrary, in fact – they actually improved down the stretch. After posting a .260/.336/.409 prior to the All Star break – at which point they were breathing down our necks in second place, you might recall – they improved their on base abilities slightly and their slugging significantly, at .261/.345/.441.

All in all, this is a lineup that while potentially unimpressive on paper, has won ballgames consistently all summer – and may be improving still.

Here’s what their presumptive starters did against us this season:

POS NAME AVG OBP SLG OPS
C Navarro .190 .250 .206 .456
1B Pena .314 .429 .647 1.076
2B Iwamura .319 .385 .551 .935
3B Longoria .245 .373 .367 .740
SS Bartlett .254 .286 .328 .614
LF Crawford .234 .308 .362 .669
CF Upton .128 .255 .256 .512
RF Gross .204 .291 .408 .691
DH Floyd .125 .276 .125 .401

Murderer’s row, they are not. But they’ve got guys who hit us well – Pena in particular – and managed to do enough damage to take an 18 game series from us.

The Rays Pitching

The pitching staff of this club was, in my view, the single most important factor in their 2008 ascendance. Over 1457.2 IP, the Rays posted a highly respectable staff ERA of 3.82, and allowed a line of .246/.314/.400. Notable is a rather pronounced home/road split. At home, the Rays are exceptional, with opposing hitters only putting up a .230/.301 /.365 line, which jumps to .261/.327/.435 when they’re on the road.

While the success of the rotation can probably be chalked up to maturation – Shields, Kazmir, Garza et al have always had ability – the bullpen is more difficult to explain. Balfour was picked up via waivers in spring training, Howell is a failed starter, and so on. Whatever the cause, however, Tampa’s staff has been as excellent as it has been unexpected on the year. Or maybe you thought Sonnanstine would or could beat Beckett twice.

Anyway, here’s how they’ve performed against us this in 2008.

PLAYER STARTS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Shields 4 .256 .318 .397 .715
Kazmir 4 .324 .433 .689 1.123
Garza 4 .250 .316 .429 .744
Sonnanstine 2 .152 .216 .196 .411

Check out the Sonnanstine numbers in particular; the kid is like kryptonite to us. Not that the front three are slouches either. Our average margin of victory might have been five runs, but with the exception of a late season shelling of Kazmir, they generally didn’t come off these guys.

The Sox Lineup

As mentioned, we’re banged up. In ways obvious – Lowell being absent – and not. Papi, as an example, hasn’t really been the same since returning to the lineup with a wrist that made a clicking noise. He has been far from poor, at .277/.385/.529, but it’s just not Papi. Consider that from April 22nd, when he began pulling out of his pronounced early season slump, to May 31st, his last day in the lineup before going on the DL, he put up numbers like we’re used to seeing: .313/.408/.626. Nor was he in the ALDS what he was in the same series last year: this year’s version hit .235/.350/.294, last year’s .714/.846/1.571 (not a typo). Some of it, of course, is that he’s not getting younger. But it also seems reasonable to suppose that his newfound mortality is at least in part a consequence of his injured wrist.

With that sunny comment, let’s look at how our guys fared against the enemy pitchers.

POS NAME AVG OBP SLG OPS
C Varitek .167 .246 .259 .505
1B Casey .286 .444 .286 .730
2B Pedroia .296 .378 .451 .829
3B Youkilis .232 .382 .429 .810
SS Lowrie .179 .361 .214 .575
LF Bay .235 .278 .765 1.042
CF Ellsbury .292 .347 .369 .716
RF Drew .324 .447 .649 1.095
DH Ortiz .243 .300 .585 .895

We’re not lighting it up any more than the Rays are, in other words. You might notice that I’ve started Kotsay over Casey and/or Cora, which is due to his offense (.730 OPS to Cora’s .536 and Kotsay’s .431), but again we’re talking exceedingly small sample sizes so I have no idea what the lineup will actually look like.

The Sox Pitching

Was, as discussed in the ALDS preview, non-terrible. Tampa edges us in ERA, 3.82 to 4.01, but we struck out hitters at higher rate (7.36 K/9 to 7.06). Which is, as the Baseball Prospectus Secret Sauce indicates (see here for Neyer’s explanation), more than slightly important. True, our staff had their issues against this club – this game in particular was a swift kick in the nuts – but our overall numbers against Tampa hitters are ok, in general.

Of course, we know more now than we did at the close of the season. We know that Lester is throwing well, that Beckett is not, and that Matsuzaka is pitching exactly as he did during the regular season – struggling to get through five. We also know that Wake, who struggled in September – not making it through three innings on two occasions – is getting the fourth start. The order, as you’ve no doubt heard, is Matsuzaka/Beckett/Lester/Wake, which puts Beckett and Lester in a position to pitch games six and seven, should either or both prove necessary.

PLAYER STARTS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Matsuzaka 3 .228 .366 .298 .664
Beckett 5 .209 .244 .364 .609
Lester 3 .240 .313 .320 .633
Wakefield 3 .279 .361 .525 .886

Pretty good, with the exception of Wake. Of course are numbers were terrible against the Angels, and we pitched quite capably, so the above should be taken with a grain or three of salt. There are many variables at work here – many of which contradict each other. Take Wakefield: his numbers this year against Tampa are, to put it mildly, not strong. But lifetime, he’s 19-5 against Tampa in 41 starts, allowing a line of .226/.296/.364. So which do you put more faith in? The more recent small sample size, or the less current but more statistically significant metrics? You got me. What can we expect from Beckett? Same answer. And so on.

Ultimately, I expect us to pitch capably, if not dominantly. Where that gets us is anyone’s guess.

The Prediction

You know the drill – no predictions. Though there is bad news on that front; the smartest guys in the (ESPN) room – the same two that correctly picked us in the first round – are picking the bad guys these days. Law has us falling four games to three, while Neyer has us out in six. It gets worse: Steve Phillips picked us to win. More specifically, the ESPN simulations have us losing Game 1 52% of the time.

From where I sit, the series may come down to Beckett. If we assume that Lester at least gives us a chance to win in his two starts, and that we might reasonably expect to take one of the three Matsuzaka/Wake starts, our erstwhile ace becomes the key. If he pitches like he did Sunday, we’re in serious trouble, in my view. If, on the other hand, he’s at a level closer to what we saw last year, it would dramatically reduce the pressure on everyone else.

Offensively, we’re going to need more from Papi and Petey both. A lot more. We were frankly lucky to advance, in my view, getting as little as we did from those two against the Angels. It’s not reasonable, after all, to expect Bay to sustain his ALDS OPS of 1.356, meaning that offense will have to come from other sources. If the little guy and the large father can get back on track, it would be another means of reducing the number of high leverage innings our staff must throw.

Like most observers, I expect a tight series. We may not be the favorites, banged up as we are, but we’ll have a chance to win. This time of year, that’s about all you can ask.