Fastball, Fastball, Fastball

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Papelbon Pitches, originally uploaded by waldoj.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way. Papelbon is absolutely correct: this game is not the end of the world. Red is right that “that shit’s just gonna happen.” John Farrell obviously has forgotten more about pitching than I ever will. And Cafardo, as he is wont to do, is clearly blowing things way out of proportion.

My problem is far more prosaic: what gives with the fastball heavy approach? As noted yesterday, as the fastball percentage has gone up, the numbers have gone down. From inhuman levels, true, but it’s still worth noting.

As many have noted, over the past two games, Pap threw 30 fastballs in one stretch. That’s a problem. Or two problems, actually. As Keith Law puts it:

Relying exclusively on a fastball — even a good one like Papelbon’s — poses two problems. First, the hitter can mostly look at one level within the zone for a pitch to hit. Pitchers use off-speed pitches to change hitters’ eye levels, forcing them to consider that the pitch might finish up in the zone, down in the zone or below the zone. Secondly, hitters can “cheat” and start their bats a little earlier when they know — or can reasonably guess — that a fastball is coming. Johnson absolutely was doing it Tuesday, as was Aybar, although he does that all the time anyway. Papelbon has to start mixing in a second pitch, preferably the splitter, or hitters will keep timing his fastball and driving it to the outfield or out of the park.

What about Papelbon’s defense, you ask? “I don’t feel there’s a reason for me going to my second-best pitch when I’m effective with my No. 1.” With all due respect to the best closer we’ve had in my lifetime, that strikes me as absurd.

The same kind of absurd that saw Beckett throw little but fastballs in his first trip around the AL. The trip that saw his ERA jump to north of 5 and his home runs allowed to 36. Even pitchers with dominant fastballs – pitchers like Beckett or Papelbon – need something else. In shelving his secondary pitches, Pap is doing the hitters a major favor, and, one has to think, himself a disservice. Becaause there will come a time where he doesn’t have the good fastball. A time where he needs the split, the slider, maybe even both. And if he’s not throwing them, the confidence in them must suffer.

My hope, actually, is that Pap is just being stubborn. Stubborn like Beckett. Because that’s correctable. Potentially easily, after a lesson like last night.

My fear, however, is that he’s not throwing his secondary pitches because he can’t, because it hurts. Both the split and the slider torque the arm to a greater degree than the fastball, and I’m worried that may be playing its part. It’s, sadly, the most plausible explanation

Because as much as Farrell talks about how locating the fastball to four different quadrants can make it “like four different pitches,” it is not four different pitches.

Just ask Dan Johnson.

Good News/Bad News from Keith Law

In case you missed it, Scouts, Inc/ESPN’s Keith Law scouted the Rays/Sox opener and had some good news bad news for the faithful. On the good news side, there was his take on Lester:

The story of the Red Sox’s 3-0 win over Tampa Bay on Monday night was Jon Lester, who dominated the Rays for five innings and then gutted his way through another two-plus innings.

Lester continues to look stronger every time out. He showed outstanding command of three pitches on Monday. Over the first five innings, he worked heavily off his fastball, mixing in the cutter and curveball, both of which were very sharp.

[snip]

Overall, it was an incredibly strong performance from the potential No. 2 starter in Boston’s playoff rotation. When he had all three pitches working with strong command, he was able to get hitters on both sides of the plate out and to do it in different ways each time through the order. He’ll need to avoid tricks and stay with the fastball-first approach if he gets the call in October.

Nothing in there I particularly disagree with. That said, I’m more than a bit concerned that he’s currently sitting at 189.1 IP. After so much was made last year of the benefit that rest had for Beckett heading into the playoffs, wouldn’t it seem normal to expect a similar respite be given to Lester? Particularly since he’s 24 and only threw 63 big league innings last year?

Or am I taking crazy pills?

On the less positive front was Law’s reaction to Papelbon’s (successful) outing:

Jonathan Papelbon used to throw a devastating splitter as his out-pitch, changing eye levels between the splitter and his upper-90s fastball. He’s scrapped the splitter and replaced it with a slider that’s nowhere near the swing-and-miss pitch that the splitter was. On Monday, he got his four outs without throwing anything but a fastball. Papelbon’s been more hittable this year, and if he’s trying to be a one- or 1½-pitch pitcher, that’s a likely reason why, and a cause for some concern headed into the postseason.

I had been wondering why Papelbon was more hittable this year than last – relatively speaking, of course. His ’08 season line of (.204/.228/284) is nothing to cry about, but neither is it ’07’s (.146/.219/.244). Some of that, of course, is luck. 07’s BABIP was .237, while ’08’s is the more predictable .299. Some of it was the fact that his performance was not sustainable. Still, the fact is that he’s giving up a few more hits, and as heavily leveraged as his innings are, a few more hits are noticeable.

Law traces that back to an unwillingness to throw his split, which is the first explanation I’ve seen, but Fangraphs says that’s not entirely accurate. According to them, Pap’s fastball percentage is up – 81.6% of the time over last year’s 78.1 or 06’s 73.5. It is also true that his usage of the split has steadily declined over that same span, from 19.7, to 15.7 to this season’s 12.4. But he is still throwing it, or so says the data.

Even so, I am curious, and not a little worried, about the trend. Because while Pap’s fastball is explosive, and does move, his performance was better when he showed a bit more variety. Worse, it makes you wonder if there’s a reason he’s throwing fewer splits.

Obviously, I’d take him over just about any other relief pitcher on the planet. But are the warning signs there?

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.

Am I For Lowrie, Or Against Lugo?

Jed Lowrie, SS, Hitting Third

I admit it. The primary reason I root for Jed Lowrie is my assumption (read: hope) that if he plays well enough, I won’t have to watch Lugo anymore. That’s not the only reason, of course. By all accounts, Lowrie is a good, respectful kid and I generally enjoy seeing products of our farm system perform well. Also, he wears a Red Sox uni.

But my affection for the player is as much a function of my disaffection for the player he’s effectively replacing as anything else. Sad, but true. I’ll root for Lugo, because he plays in Boston, but there’s not much about him as a player that I appreciate.

Which begs the question: how is the kid doing?

The answer? Not too bad. Not too bad at all.

His season numbers are nothing to complain about: .289/.342/.423. For the sake of comparison, at the time of his injury Lugo was at .271/.355/.330. In other words, Lowrie is out-OPSing his competition by just short of a hundred points .765 to .685, and Lugo is also giving up almost twenty points of average.

So far so good.

Better is the fact that Lowrie’s numbers have only improved since the All Star break. With the requisite small sample size warning, over the 16 games he’s appeared in since, I have (meaning I did the math, so take it with a grain or three of salt) Lowrie at .296/.387/.426. An .813 OPS from a rookie shortstop? Yeah, I’ll take that. Provided that he can make at least the routine plays. And it is that question, frankly, that is most relevant, as defense is and always has been the wild card with respect to Lowrie. Most observers believed he’d hit, but opinions on whether he could handle short on an everyday basis have varied widely.

So can he? Hell if I know.

But the early returns look acceptable, in that he’s more than holding his own versus the incumbent Lugo in nearly every defensive metric available. Fielding percentage, we can throw out, because Lugo’s got dozens more chances and thus can’t be expected to match Lowrie’s perfect 1.0. More interestingly, their range factors are identical at 3.70. Zone Rating favors the kid heavily: .905 to .823. Baseball Prospectus favors him, if less obviously, giving Lowrie an even 0 in Fielding Runs Above Replacement (meaning he’s zero runs better than the lowest replacement available) against Lugo’s -2 (he’s not). Last, he have The Hardball Times telling us that by their Revised Zone Rating (RZR), Lowrie is…again…better: .829 to .786.

For those that skimmed all those numbers and weird terms above, the gist is this: Lowrie’s equal to or better than Lugo in every measurable category. Sometimes by sizable margins. Hell, while we’re here, why don’t we see how the kid measures up to Cap’n Jetes? Just for kicks.

BA OBP SLG RF ZR RZR FRAA
Jeter .281 .343 .393 4.18 .837 .865 -12
Lowrie .289 .342 .423 3.70 .905 .829 0

Lowrie wins a few and loses a few, but all around he doesn’t look bad next to the future Hall of Famer. True, the latter is having a very poor season offensively and on the downside of his career defensively; to the extent that the whispers of moving to first have already started (not surprising after his abysmal ’07 defensive showing). But still, Lowrie’s acquitting himself well, I think.

What does this tell us? Not a whole hell of a lot, at least definitively, given the state of today’s defensive metrics (and I’m far from up-to-date on the state of the art in that department). But it certainly suggests that while Lowrie may be perceived as a borderline candidate for the shortstop position, he mans it at least as well as the guy he’s subbing for. Setting the bar with Lugo is, of course, dangerous, but that’s where we’re at.

Meaning that, logically, he should keep his spot when Lugo returns from his injury. Whether or not things actually play out that way remains to be seen; it took Tito an awful long time to make the Ellsbury for Crisp swap last year, but that was more defensible given Crisp’s defensive value.

Beyond the the in-season implications, however, lurks the question of what to do next year. There are two fundamental questions to be answered: will Lugo be with this team? And if the answer to that is no, would they trust Lowrie with the position full time.

Again, I haven’t the faintest. But I must say that the news that our payroll come November could be down to $110 millon gives me hope. Hope that the Red Sox will recognize the (foolishly, IMO) sunk cost that is Lugo and send him on his merry way.

In the meantime, I’m rooting for Lowrie. For his own sake, yes, but also for mine.

Update: More from Peter Gammons – “One NL team’s defensive statistics, scouting and ratings have John McDonald of the Blue Jays as the best defensive shortstop in the majors. No surprise. They have Boston’s Jed Lowrie at No. 5 among the 62 ranked shortstops, even if his sample is small.”

I, For One, Welcome Our New Left Fielder

First things first: it’s been a while. I know that, you may know that, and WordPress here definitely knows that. But let’s set that aside for the moment, as I think I have a fix for the intermittency around here. More on that tomorrow.

For now, we’ve got a much bigger fish to fry, as one of the most talented and perplexing talents ever to don a Red Sox uniform is currently en route to the left coast. Along with seven or so million dollars, better known as his pay. Headed south a few hundred miles are two of the products of our farm system: Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen. Playing left field tomorrow night, meanwhile, will be one Jason Bay.

Just how did we come to this point? It’s an excellent question, and neither I, nor even those you might read in the print media, are likely to have all of the answers. Theo might. Tito might. John Henry might. But I do not.

Still, I’ll give it the old college try. Here are the questions I have and my answers to them. Before you ask, yes, this is me asking myself questions. It’s weird, I get it, but it’s quicker. Bear with me.

Q: What is the deal, finally, that was agreed upon?
A: It’s a three-way trade, as most of you have probably heard. We ship Rmirez to the Dodgers along with cash to cover his salary. We also ship Hansen and Moss to the Pirates. Meanwhile, the Dodgers send Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris to the Pirates. In return for all of the above, the Buccos give us Jason Bay.

Q: How did you feel about the deal when you first heard it announced?
A: Well, let’s back up. Heading into the deadline, I was convinced that M-Ram should be traded. Not at all costs – Bay or Kemp from the Dodgers were the acceptable returns I could have lived with – but ideally traded. Sitting at Byrnes’ Pub in Bath, I was more than a bit disappointed when four o’clock rolled around and not only had Manny not been traded, we’d done nothing, period. Worse, MLB.com was reporting sometime around 3:30 (according to NESN) that not only had we not acquired Bay, but that Tampa had at the cost of Jeff Niemann and Reid Brignac, Tampa’s #3 and #4 prospects coming into the 08 season according to Baseball America.

Q: So you were disappointed.
A: Definitely. The Yankees have substantially upgraded their club – at a relatively low cost, for the most part – adding an outfielder, a lefthanded reliver, and a starting catcher. And as I write this, they’re one and half games in back of us, despite losing their best starting pitcher, their second best young pitcher, their starting left fielder, and their starting catcher to injuries.

Tampa, meanwhile, leads us by 3 games, with a young club that doesn’t have all that many holes.

So not doing anything, to me, would have been a blow. Maybe that’s right, maybe that’s wrong, but that’s the way it was.

Q: And when you heard the trade announced?
A: Initially, I was pleased. As I said, I was ready for Manny to be gone, and now he was. Ask and ye shall receive. But as the news trickled out, however, that not only was Manny gone with his salary, but Hansen and Moss too, I was less pleased. Particularly since the rumor last night was Manny for Bay and Grabow; not Manny, Hansen and Moss for just Bay.

Then I thought about it a bit, and became resigned.

Q: Resigned why?
A: Because the only conclusion that one can draw from this afternoon’s trade is that things must have been worse – far worse – than we realized. As a friend of mine said in a text, it’s

“almost as if they were anxious to get rid of him. it really makes me wonder if there was more behind the scenes toxicity that we were not made aware of.”

That, in a nutshell, is the situation as I’ve come to see it over the past few days. Denton from the essential Surviving Grady had it right two years ago when he said:

I do believe that once Manny finds a new home, RSN is going to start to get the whole story. The “Manny being Manny” and overall quirkiness were barely tolerable with the information we had. We were willing to overlook a lot in return for Manny’s production. But what about the stories we haven’t heard yet? I think there has been a lot more going on behind the scenes that’s been hidden from the media.

Exactly. Things are almost certain to be a lot less rosy than we’re generally made aware of.

Q: How do you come to that conclusion?
A: Mostly from what I read. I don’t mean the stock media reports; while I’m not inclined to defend Ramirez, as has Allan over at the Joy of Sox, I do agree with him that Manny has been regularly tilted at by a media that didn’t seem to care for him much. Allan calls out Gordon Edes (who is leaving the Globe for Yahoo, incidentally) for this bit of snark:

He’d been sent to Massachusetts General Hospital during the game to have an MRI of both knees, the Sox evidently taking no chances that their slugger might have gotten confused about which one hurt.

Which is appropriate. Edes – whom I like and respect apart from his treatment of Ramirez (far more so than his colleague Cafardo, as you might know) – has been like this for a while.
So the reporters opinions on Manny, well, they don’t mean a whole lot to me. Much more important has been the silence from the rest of the club. Just as in the past, no one apart from the embattled Lugo has come to Manny’s defense. Schilling, in fact, positively killed Manny this afternoon. Maybe, you think, that’s just Schilling being Schilling. WEll, Pedroia and Youk sound a little lukewarm to me.

And frankly this bit from Olney pretty much sums up the relationship Manny has with his manager – who for my money, is the best the Red Sox have had:

Think about how nutty this situation is: In the last five weeks of the 2006 season, reliever Julian Tavarez — who became Manny’s Tony Snow, his spokesman — knew more about whether Manny was going to play or whether he was available to pinch-hit than Boston manager Terry Francona, general manager Theo Epstein and owners John Henry and Larry Lucchino. Absurd.

When was that written? December of 2006. Seriously. We’ve been dealing with this – codepending, if you will – that long.

Throw in the fact that this year’s incidents have been different, and it’s been pretty clear that Manny was not a good fit going forward.

Q: What does “different” mean in this context?
A: In the past, Manny seemed less angry than goofy. There’s the possibly apocryphal story that he had his tailored clothes embroidered with MBM – Manny Being Manny – and my all time favorite, his decision to cut off Damon’s throw from center…while he was in left. I still laugh when I tell that story.

But this year’s MBM incidents have been less harmless than in years past. Pushing Jack McCormick to the ground after he was unable to come up with 16 tickets to the Sox/Astros game? That’s not the happy go lucky Manny we know, and usually, love. Likewise the bizarre Youk/Manny fracas. I can understand if Manny’s frustrated with Youk’s tendency to fling things around the dugout, but fighting in the dugout? Seriously? Or how about telling ESPNDeportes that the “Red Sox don’t deserve a player like me?”

No, the public incidents, anyway, paint a much different picture of Manny than we’ve seen in the past. One that told me he had to go.

Q: But at what price?
A: That, I think, is the point. Think of it this way: the Red Sox front office is generally regarded as being intelligent, diligent, and creative. They’re not perfect – I will never understand their pursuit of Lugo – but they’ve generally been very, very good. Even the Yankee fans agree will grant us that.

And yet they decided that it was in the club’s best interests to ship Manny, the rest of his salary for the year, and two prospects – albeit not elite ones – out the door to get a player of lesser ability.

The fact that that calculus alone made sense tells me everything I need to know about just how bad things were.

Q: So you don’t think this is just a product of a front office / journalist collaboration?
A: No. Is it possible, even likely, that the front office was intentionally leaking to reporters for the purpose of swaying public sentiment in their favor? Sure.

But I have a hard time believing that Gammons’ outrage at Manny is merely him playing the role of front office stooge, as Allan implies. Not simply because I think it unlikely that a reporter of Gammons’ experience would allow himself to be so simply and basely used, but because Gammons has generally been a guy that gave players a chance to be heard. When Roberto Alomar spit on an umpire, Gammons gave him the chance to explain. When John Rocker disparaged virtually every minority on the planet, Gammons listened.

Maybe Gammons doesn’t have the story exactly right – nobody on the outside could – but I think he’s far more right than wrong here. Regardless of what the front office did or did not tell him.

Q: Enough of the muckraking, what do you think of the deal in baseball terms?
A: It’s a good deal for the Dodgers, though they’ve got quite the logjam in the outfield, and it’s an excellent deal in my view from the Pirates perspective. Keith Law says that Morris is the only high upside player in the deal, but in Hansen, LaRoche, and Moss they have some very usable, more or less MLB ready players. And the high upside arm. Maybe they’d prefer to have Niemann and Brignac, but this is a far cry from the days of Littlefield when they’d covet their own assets and get either nothing or nothing of value in return for them.

Q: And for the Sox?
A: A lot of it depends. How does Bay – who’s accustomed to a small market and weaker NL pitching – adapt to Boston? What do Hansen and Moss end up doing? But I’m fine with the deal, ultimately. One, because as discussed above I think it needed to be made. But also because it has potential upside for us, both this year and next. As Law explains:

Bay will really improve the 2009 Red Sox. Boston was almost certain to decline Ramirez’s $20 million option for 2009, which would have left the Red Sox with an offensive hole to fill for next year. Bay is under control for next year, so the hole is already filled, and he’s signed for an amazingly cheap $7.5 million. Even considering the $7 million Boston sent L.A. to pay Manny’s freight for this year (because the Dodgers told teams they could not add any payroll this season), the Red Sox are getting a $15-20 million bat in Bay without the headaches Ramirez had caused lately. And they managed to do it without depleting their strong farm system or committing to a four- or five-year deal they’d regret by the middle of the second year.

Instead of having to find a left fielder for next year, we’ve got one. At $7.5M. Which is $12.5M less than Ramirez’s ’09 option would have cost us.

Is it ideal? No. Ask Anaheim, or LA of Anaheim, or whatever they’re called now, if they’re happy to see Manny gone after they couldn’t get him out during last year’s postseason. No, this was about as well as we were going to do. Which is itself a sad comment.

Q: Let’s talk about Bay: what are we getting?
A: Bay’s a good player, or at least he has been in small markets in the NL. He is not Manny Ramirez, but then no one is. A quick comparison:

BA OBP SLG OPS+ HR
Bay .282 .375 .519 135 22
Ramirez .299 .398 .529 140 20

A slide-in replacement for the lineup? Not quite. But as close as we were going to get, I’d think. And Bay, by all accounts, is a significant defensive upgrade: he’s got the range to cover center, and his arm is reportedly average. Meaning that our outfield, defensively, with Bay in left, Crisp/Ellsbury in center, and Drew in right, should be one of the best in the big leagues.

Other interesting items from his splits:

  • As others have noted, he has a bizarre reverse platoon split. That is, he’s a right handed batter that, this season, is hitting righties well (.307/.387/.566) and lefties poorly (.190/.333/.345). Indications are that this year is a fluke, however, as his three year 05-07 trend shows nothing of the kind: .296/.405/.543 against lefties, .276/.368/.493 against righties.
  • He tends to wear down slightly in the second half: .283/.388/.505 pre-break against .279/.369/.506 after.
  • He’s hit best in the cleanup spot in the lineup: .286/.386/.516 in 790 ABs, compared to .278/.377/.510 in 679 ABs hitting third.
  • He’s hit well with runners in scoring position, .282/.400/.502, and with runners on, .282/.388/.486, but poorly close and late – .205/.333/.373.
  • He’s played three games in his career at Fenway, and put up a .250/.357/.417 line.
  • Though he’s .257/.278/.429 career against the Yankees, he’s .362/.412/.532 against their current staff.
  • Though he’s .391/.429/.739 career against Tampa, he’s .200/.283/.425 against their current staff (1-18 off Wheeler).
  • He hits .257 off fastballs, .290 off curves, .269 off sliders, .244 off changeups, and .111 off everything else.

Q: Besides losing the kids in addition to the money, anything else bug you about this trade?
A: The fact that we didn’t get a reliever. Ultimately, that’s been our Achilles heel all season. Many have noted that we can theoretically add one before the waiver trade deadline in a month, but we need the help now. Bringing someone back this week would have been ideal, and it would have been nice, for example to have spun Moss into Mahay instead of folding him into Bay.

Q: Net net, what’s your take.
A: In Theo we trust. If he determined Manny needed to go, that’s good enough for me. He did well to get Bay, dealing as he was from a position of extreme weakness, and now we just have to hope we can patch up the bullpen and right the ship. Oh, and before I forget, best of luck to the kids: here’s hoping that Hansen and Moss blossom down in Pittsburgh.

Q: Will you miss Manny?
A: I’ll miss his performances. The Angels ALDS game that he won last year in walkoff fashion? I was there, and he absolutely crushed that ball.

But the player? Not really. I’m with Tim: he lost me this year.

Update: While I’m sure many will regard it as a post-exit character assassination, Sean McAdam reported the following last night:

General manager Theo Epstein was working with a mandate from within his own clubhouse. Following his team’s dispiriting loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Wednesday night, Epstein met with a handful of Red Sox veterans, all of whom delivered the same message: Manny had to go.

Buster Olney is reportedly saying much the same on SportsCenter this morning. Sad.

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

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04-04-08-PawSox-02, originally uploaded by jasonandrewlayne.

What a difference a week makes.

Had we entered the break mired in second place, I would have made some statements to the effect that the standings at the All Star break count for little. So I’m little inclined to make too much of a half game lead. Particularly after a game in which Matsuzaka threw only 68 of 115 pitches for strikes and the offense left 20 men on base.

Still, first tastes better than second. It’s not often you make up five games in a week. And while it’ll ultimately be of minimal import, the fact that the Tampa kids are hearing footsteps is not terrible news.

Lest we get carried away, bear in mind that our club yet has serious problems. Even as we slightly underperform our Pythagorean expectations and Tampa outperforms theirs, as the Joy of Sox notes.

The bullpen is yet unreliable, as last night’s contest reminds us, and our offense – the explosions against the Twins and O’s this week aside – is streaky. Masterson should help the former and the Large Father the latter (knock on wood), but I assume that Theo and folks are working the phones.

Yes, Tampa just dropped seven games in a row, but should they, for example, pull off a Murton and Street trade, we may have a problem.

Anyway, on to this week’s ICYHBKUWCE…

Ellsbury

A number of you have suggested that Ellsbury’s struggles of late might be attributable to his June 5th injury; the diving catch that resulted in a sprained wrist. You may be right.

It’s not conclusive, but the before and after numbers leave open the possibility of a connection:

AB BA BB K HR
Before 190 .284 28 24 4
After 129 .256 5 22 1

Granted, it’s 60 fewer at bats, but still. Here’s hoping the break does the kid some good.

Lars Anderson

Though he hasn’t gotten too much ink here, Lars Anderson is, according to many, both our best power prospect and our best first base prospect. A couple of updates on his progress:

Baseball America:

Sending big Lars Anderson to the hitter’s haven that is Lancaster figured to produce some fireworks, and Anderson hasn’t disappointed. As hot as Anderson was in June, when he hit .360/.440/.490, he’s been even better in July. Anderson has already cracked four home runs in nine games this month, three of which have come away from Lancaster. He did more than hit for power this week, as Anderson reached base at least once in every game and strung together four multi-hit games. For the season, Anderson is batting .324/.416/.529, ranking him fifth in the league in average and third in on-base percentage.

John Sickels:

Anderson currently ranks seventh in the California League with a .916 OPS, with a complete line of .317/.411/.505, 18 doubles, 11 homers, 45 walks, and 57 strikeouts in 281 at-bats. The league OPS is .744, so his OPS is 23 percent above league context. A left-handed hitter, he’s destroying southpaws to the tune of .383/.462/.617. Against right-handers he’s at .290/.391/.460, an interesting reverse platoon split but one that likely indicates he won’t have to be platoooned at higher levels. I like the high walk rate along with reasonable strikeouts. His home run power may be a bit less than you’d expect from a 6-4, 215 pounder, although he’s obviously dangerous and his home run power is expected to continue to increase. He is still just 20 years old.

On the negative side, Anderson has a sharp home/road split, .359/.451/.579 at home in the friendly confines of Lancaster, .272/.365/.426 on the road. On the other hand, the home/road split has lessened of late. He spent some time on the DL with a sore wrist in May, and has been blistering hot since returning to action in June, hitting .369/.450/.533 in 30 games since returning from the wrist injury.

It’ll be interesting to see if the presence of Anderson influences our appetite for Texeira, if or when he becomes available as a free agent.

Lowrie vs Lugo

Five days ago, Allen Chace over at Over the Monster said this with respect to our shortstop situation:

I don’t think we’re going to see any changes real soon. Lugo is the starter for the time being. There are no terribly appetizing trade options, so until Lugo’s OBP goes down below, say, .330, we’re not going to see Lowrie brought up and given a shot.

At the time, I agreed. And we all know what’s happened since: Lugo strained or tore – depending on who you believe – his quad, and is out for four to six weeks. And just like that, Lowrie replaces Lugo.

The question is for how long? Probably four to six weeks. Particularly if Lowrie is as minimal a factor as he was in yesterday’s contest. Which could be a concern, as he’s been in something of a funk to open July, putting up a .176/.275/.294 down at Pawtucket in 9 games this month.

But what if the kid plays well? Lugo lamented his injury, claiming that he’d just “found his swing.” Which is interesting, since July was shaping up to be his worst month since April (.259/.323/.259). When he comes back, assuming he won’t be a hundred percent in the field, the only thing arguing in his favor for playing time will be the inexplicable $9M we’re paying him.

Odds are Lugo will get his job back. And those of you that have been around a while know that Lugo’s not exactly my favorite player. But I do think it’s worth questioning how far we’re going to go with a shortstop that was essentially terrible before he tore his quad.

Masterson’s Replacing…Who?

Last week, I expressed surprise that Buchholz hadn’t been brought up and Masterson shifted to the pen. Well, it looks as if I was a week early, because Bucky’s back and Masterson will be soon. And none too soon, though he’s not likely to help our walk numbers out there.

When I first heard the news, my first thought was – predictably – why not lsat week? My second, however, was the question Kevin Thomas is asking: “When Masterson returns to Boston, which reliever goes?”

Looking at the staff, I think the conclusion is obvious:

  • David Aardsma
  • Manny Delcarmen
  • Craig Hansen
  • Javier Lopez
  • Hideki Okajima
  • Jonathan Papelbon
  • Mike Timlin

Barring an injury, I think Hansen’s not long for our pen. If he was able to throw even a few more strikes, I might argue for a Timlin exit (as I’m of the opinion that there’s a giant fork sticking out of his back), but the young reliever’s not giving me a leg to stand on.

Couple Timlin’s marginally improved performance since his return from the DL (4 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 3 K, 1 BB) with Hansen’s ongoing inability to throw balls over the plate (26.1 IP, 25 H, 18BB, 22Ks), and I can’t see anyone but Hansen being sent down.

Not least because he’s the only one that actually can be sent down, as far as I know.

Trade Chips

Given the abovementioned issues with the roster, the Sox front office is undoubtedly doing the due diligence on who’s available. While that subject is covered in detail elsewhere – MLB Trade Rumors is always my first stop – the question of who we’re likely to be asked for is less well documented. Fortunately, Sean McAdam’s broken that down for us. His list looks like this:

Elite Prospects

  • Michael Bowden
  • Lars Anderson
  • Josh Reddick
  • Ryan Kalish
  • Jed Lowrie

Next Level Down

  • Kris Johnson
  • Daniel Bard
  • Oscar Tejeda
  • Che-Hsuan Lin
  • Mark Wagner

Could Draw Interest

  • Brandon Moss
  • David Pauley
  • Chris Carter

There are probably a couple of other players that would be of potential interest – Michael Almanzar, Bubba Bell, or even George Kottaras – that’s a reasonably complete list.

The one thing I haven’t heard many people discuss: Bowden might be overvalued at the moment, his calf injury notwithstanding. Given his performance at Double A, he might be considered by other clubs an elite pitching prospect, but his ceiling is likely considerably lower than that. That doesn’t mean you trade him; pitchers of his caliber don’t grow on trees. But it may make him more of a tradeable commodity than he would otherwise be, particularly in a deal involving young catching talent.

Varitek’s Future

One of the conversations I’ve been having over and over concern’s Varitek’s future. On the one hand, he’s been absolutely miserable with the bat this season. Out of 19 MLB catchers that have seen 250+ ABs this year, Tek is 17th in average,16th in OBP, and SLG. That’s not good.

On the other hand, there’s his celebrated reputation for working with pitchers, his tenure and stature with the club, and the fact that catching around the majors is horribly scarce.

Between those two positions, you might think, lies a compromise path that would keep our captain in a Red Sox uni for the remainder of his career.

According to Hacks with Haggs, however, Peter Gammons is skeptical:

He’s a 36-year-old guy who has played his heart out for a long time. He was not exactly a gifted hitter. He really hasn’t had a good offensive year since 2005, so where is he at this point in his career. What worries me about this for the Red Sox is that this becomes ugly as it comes to the end of the year and he approaches free agency.

I know we have people saying you have to sign him no matter what, but if you have Jason Varitek for four years and $40 million or you have Brian Schneider for one-year and $3 million, there’s no question you take Brian Schneider for the $3 million in my mind.

As much as I really like Varitek, he’s at the point where you really worry about where he’s going to be. Two years at $7 million is fine, but I think that Scott Boras is going to convince someone out there that he’ll make the difference with the pitching staff. And you’ve always got the Mets. They offered Jorge Posada five years at the age of 36, which is one of the most laughable offers of all time. I think if they get down to the end of the year and there’s no progress and Scott is looking for those four years. Jason is a very loyal guy to Scott and it could create a chasm between Varitek and the club that could be a problem coming down the stretch.

It’s not so much that I’m wedded to the idea of having Varitek; it’s more that I don’t know who we’d replace him with.

Lastly

Farewell, Bobby Murcer. Though a Yankee, you were by all accounts a classy individual and a credit to your city and club. RIP.

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

It’s been a bad weak. Until the two Yankee wins, in fact, I was borderline despondent. And why not? A week ago today, Brian Moehler started against Josh Beckett, and we lost that game. Then Shields went out and beat Masterson, which could have been expected. Next Garza beat Wakefield, which was at least understandable. Wednesday, we scratched to a three run lead against Kazmir, who typically owns us, and then…the wheels came off.

That, put bluntly, was just a horror show. Easily the most painful bullpen implosion this season, and one that we’ll have to hope doesn’t come back haunt us down the stretch. Though it already is, as Tampa’s not only not faltering, but expanding on their cushion in the division.

The only consolation is that the Yankees are similarly miserable. Which, of course, is no consolation at all. Anyway, on to this week’s ICYHBKUWCE.

Odds

The ESPN gang took all the time and trouble to add odds to their standings page, so I’d feel badly if I didn’t take advantage. From here on out, we’ll snapshot the results each Sunday to gauge the Sox chances’ and my own sanity.

This week’s odds? 33.7% of winning the division, 30.9% of being the wild card, for a 64.7% chance of making the playoffs. Can’t speak for you, but I’m not terribly enthused by those numbers. Tampa’s odds? 59.1%, 21.9%, and 80.9%. Not joking.

Bullpen

In case you’re counting, now, the bullpen has cost us 15 games. Winning half of those would put us in the division lead. Same with a third of those. A quarter…well, you see where I’m going.

So please, no more talk of Sabathia, or AJ Burnett, or whomever: we need help in the pen, desperately. Yes, part of it has been starters – I’m looking at you Matsuzaka – that are throwing 100+ pitches just to struggle through five. But can you look me in the eye you feel good about turning a one or two run lead over to the bullpen after seven? I didn’t think so. When Delcarmen is your best strike thrower, Lopez is arguably your best setup option, and the return of Mike Timlin’s 6.75 ERA and .876 OPS against is a good thing, there’s no other supportable conclusion but that you’ve got problems. Serious problems.

Is it time to give up on the likes of Craig Hansen, as Rob Neyer is ready to do? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I could build the case either way.

Whatever you believe, it’s clear that we need help. It’s been said that the first few months of the season are used to tell clubs you what they need. If that’s true, Wednesday night was a Times Square size billboard saying, “NEED RELIEF ARMS STOP CAN’T STOP THE BLEEDING STOP RAYS ARE PULLING AWAY.”

We all know the story: Oki 08 is no Oki 07, Hansen can’t throw strikes as often as he can, and MDC is getting caught doing his best LaTroy Hawkins impression more often than is helpful. Etc etc etc.

Can Fuentes be the man? Who knows. But somebody has to step up. If the ‘pen costs us another 15 games in the second half, I can’t see how we’ll catch Tampa.

Personally, I’m somewhat perplexed as to why Buchholz hasn’t been brought up to start, and Masterson shifted into the pen. Almost makes you wonder if they’re showcasing the latter for a trade…

Cafardo

Frustrates me, I’ll admit. Clearly my least favorite of any of the Red Sox beat writers, I both rue and lament the day he was given the senior status over at the Globe. Not just because of things like his bizarre defense of his own slagging of Richmond, VA’s food:

Ripping Richmond dining provoked a lot of e-mails, except everyone suggested the same four or five places. That’s all you’ve got?

It’s mostly because I don’t believe he’s terribly diligent. Which, considering the fanbase, is not a forgivable sin.

Take his suggestion today that the Red Sox could effectively swap roster spots, Matt Holliday for Manny Ramirez (presumably in the offseason, though he doesn’t specify):

Is it out of the realm of possibility that Matt Holliday winds up with Boston and the Red Sox don’t pick up Manny Ramírez’s $20 million option? Both players are represented by Scott Boras.

This isn’t the first time Cafardo’s speculated on the subject; the last time he broached the subject was in the same article he mentioned his preference for Shelley Duncan over Jason Giambi.

So to answer his question, no, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Holliday’s putting up a .990 OPS, and will command dollars with Boras as his adviser, but if Manny’s not picked up we’d have ~20M to find some power. But is it too much to ask – as I did the last time – that Cafardo at least bring up the home/road splits? He’s clearly aware that such things exist, as he cites Burrell’s Citizens Bank Park line as a reason he’s a fit for the Phillies.

If Cafardo concluded that Holliday’s last three year .281/.343/.466 away split would be worth the premium he’ll command on the market, ok. I personally don’t agree, because Manny even in a down year is besting that at .279/.379/.495, but the argument is there. Particularly if you factor in age.

But it’s never even come up. Which makes me wonder if Cafardo has even looked at the numbers before pontificating on the subject.

Law

This week’s Keith Law chat on ESPN was a veritable gold mine of Sox-related information. Among the items:

  • On Michael Bowden:
    Jim (Portland, OR): KLaw, what is your opinion on Bowden now that you’ve seen him?

    SportsNation Keith Law: Disappointed. He was 88-91, below average command, flashed a plus curveball that has a chance to be an out pitch. Barely used his change, which Red Sox people have told me is his best pitch. Ugly delivery. Never saw the 94 mph I’d heard he was dealing this year, and the pro scout behind me told me he’d seen Bowden twice before (in 2008) and never had him above 88-92.

  • On Masterson and Bard:
    Howie Rhody: Sox bullpen has been terrible lately. Time to bring up Bucholtz and Bard? Send Masterson to the pen with Bard?

    SportsNation Keith Law: Buchholz in the rotation and Masterson in the pen. I wouldn’t let Bard near the majors – yes, he hit 98 for me, but walked the first two batters, showed little command, and had a below-average breaking ball. He’s further away than I thought.

  • On the Draft Signings Progress:
    Andrew (Exeter): Have you heard any news about the Red Sox tough signs?

    SportsNation Keith Law: Sounds like Alex Meyer is less likely. Navery Moore has been throwing very well in Tennessee, back up to the mid-90s, and the Sox are monitoring him – could be a surprise signing there later in the summer. Reader Matt R told me that Ryan Westmoreland has joined the Facebook group for Red Sox prospects … hmmm [ed – I can confirm that Westmoreland is in the group – I looked]. Everyone expects them to get Hissey and Gibson signed. Haven’t heard anything on Cooper or Marquis.

BABIP Gets Everyone in the End: No Exceptions

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Brandon Webb bunting, originally uploaded by SD Dirk.

From the files of questions I meant to answer, but am stupid and forgot to:

Would one expect Masterson’s BABIP to be lower since he’s a sinkerballer? Have you taken a look at other pitchers whose repertoire resembles that of Masterson and Buchholz?

Thx, ahl, for the reminder.

Your answer: I would expect it to be lower because he’s a sinkerballer. But, as admitted above, I am stupid and this expectation is wrong. Or so say the numbers.

If you’re following along at home, this discussion dates back to my claim that a portion of Masterson’s success is due to his unusually low BABIP numbers. After Saturday’s start, that sits at an even .220, where .290 or so is the expected average on balls put in play.

Some of this, I believed while writing the piece, had to be attributable to his heavy, groundball inducing two seam fastball. It seemed logical, after all, that the allowed average for a pitcher that generates little but groundouts would be lower than a similar flyball pitcher.

However logical it might seem, however, there’s no evidence that this is true. Looking close to home, I checked DLowe’s career BABIP and guess what? It’s almost exactly what you’d expect at .297. This from a pitcher that has, for his career, generated 64.5% of his outs on the ground (Beckett’s at 44.2% for comparison’s sake).

How about Brandon Webb, another extreme groundball pitcher? His career BABIP is actually higher than average, at .317. The lowest it’s been for a full season for him? .275 in ’03.

All of which tells me two things, neither of which is good for us. First, that groundball pitchers are not exceptions to the average on balls put in play, however counterintuitive this may seem. And two, given that fact, it should be expected that Masterson’s exceptional luck on balls put in play to date will correct itself. Probably with negative results on his performance.

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

rain delay

Yeah, yeah, I missed a week – that’s what happens when you hit Fenway. Anyway, more importantly the first half came to a close. About a week earlier than normal, in fact. The good news is that we ended the first half, as we did last year, in first place. The bad news is that the lead this time around was a half game, rather than the ten and a half it was last year.

Practically speaking, this has both positive and negative impacts, but I’m most concerned about the fact that it makes the resting of our starters more problematic. If you drop a game on a spot starter and you’re up by ten plus games, you might not enjoy it, but you’re not likely to lose sleep over it. With a half game lead, on the other hand, every last game is precious.

Breaking Players In

Wherever we got it, there’s little question that our player development program is paying serious dividends. It’s one thing to be able to draft well – thanks Jason McLeod – it’s an entirely different matter to progress the talent and ensure that, when they arrive, they’re prepared on and off the field.

According to Peter Gammons, in fact, as relayed by Hacks with Haggs, the Sox are among the best in the game at that:

I don’t think many other teams understand that, and I think they really get that. I have no doubt in my mind that Jed Lowrie will come back up here and be good, or that Michael Bowden will make three or four starts at some point and be very good. I really give them credit. It’s a combination of all that Mike Hazen and Ben Cherington and all of the minor league development people have done, and what John Farrell and all of the Sox pitching instruction people have done.

Buchholz v Masterson, Round 50

I like Justin Masterson, I really do. He seems like a great kid, and he’s clearly a future major league pitcher. But I’m getting very tired of hearing from the media that he’s a better pitcher than Buchholz. That might be true right now – though it’s certainly debatable – but it’s terribly unlikely to be true in future.

The performance thus far, however, leads media members, myopically focused on the present, to conclude that the one in Triple A is the one that’s expendable:

Why would the Red Sox be interested in trading for C.C. Sabathia? First, because they can. They have the money to sign him long term. They also have the prospects to give up, including what might be the most attractive player any team could include in a package – Clay Buchholz. With Justin Masterson making a solid impression in the majors and Buchholz down in Triple A, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which of the two starters the Sox are higher on at the moment.

Never mind the minor league histories, never mind the no hitter thrown just last season, never mind the small sample size: clearly Buchholz is expendable. I mean, what has he done for us lately?

So let’s look at a few numbers. You know, just to prove that Buchholz is trade bait.

Innings BAA Ks BBs K/9 BB/9 K/BB
Buchholz 65.0 .256 65 30 9.00 4.15 2.17
Masterson 42.0 .197 32 21 6.86 4.50 1.52

In short, in 23 more Major League innings pitched, Buchholz is striking out more hitters while walking fewer. But he’s allowing a batting average against that is 60 points higher, so we must trade him.

But if you’re thoughtful, you might stop and ask: why is his allowed average that much worse? And his ERA a full run higher? Which could – if you knew about it – prompt you to think about the batting average on balls put in play, a statistic which gives depth to the basic performance metrics. The average is about .290; pitchers giving up a BABIP much higher are likely to perform better over time as they revert to the mean, while pitchers giving up a BABIP considerably worse are likely to perform that way as they do too. The numbers? Buchholz’ MLB BABIP is .337, while Masterson’s number is .210. In other words, Masterson’s been very lucky, and Buchholz has been somewhat unlucky.

But apparently it’s too much to ask that a mainstream Boston beat reporter understand the concept of a small sample size or the nuances of statistics beyond ERA and wins and losses. True, the numbers say that both pitchers will eventually be useful. Also true, that they say that Masterson has been more useful over the first half of this season. But it’s quotes like the above that make me thank Jebus that Theo and co are running the club rather than the likes of Cafardo, because the numbers tell us pretty clearly that if you’re going to trade a pitcher, Buchholz is the last one you’d want to give up.

Bullpen Woes Continue

Just when you thought it was safe to dip into the Red Sox pen, well, there’s last night. After last Sunday’s game (which I attended), when the one reliable piece in the pen proved not to be and his mates picked him up for four innings, many argued that it marked a turning point.

Not so much.

Oki is still having problems – to the extent that McAdam thinks the Sox could look at the possibility of trading for Fuentes. MDC continues to be lights out one night, torched the next. Hansen is slightly more reliable, but still prone to overthrowing. Aardsma’s striking out everyone, but still being used in games where we trail, which tells you something.

Besides Fuentes and a few other high cost options, the relief market doesn’t look particularly compelling. Meaning that the time to evaluate our internal options could be within the next few weeks.

Bard, in particular, seems like a candidate for Pawtucket in the very near future, if not a trial with the big club. His first pitch today arrived at 98, and Bob Stanley was reportedly very impressed:

Pawtucket Red Sox color man Bob Montgomery said Bob Stanley recently gushed about Sox reliever Daniel Bard. “Ninety-seven, 98 miles per hour with a 12-6 curveball,” said Montgomery. “[Stanley] said he was one of the nastiest relievers he’s seen.”

Fireside Chats w/ Art Martone

I’m only a few minutes into it, but I wanted to be sure and congratulate our friends over at Fire Brand for scoring the inestimable Art Martone as a guest for their Fireside Chats podcast.

I’m a fan of the MVN guys’ work in general, and my appreciation for Art’s work goes back years. Prior to my introduction to SoSH, Art’s old ProJo columns were along with Gammons’ work a key component of my Red Sox intelligence gathering. He had the unique ability to respond rationally to situations which other fans and even journalists could not; an approach, candidly, that I’ve tried to learn from and emulate.

Great to see that combination, and congrats again to Tim and the gang.

Nixon Still Loves Us

Count me among those that is rooting hard for Trot as he fights to stay up in the majors with the Mets. My affection for Nixon goes back a long, long way – to his draft day, in fact – and I wish him nothing but the best.

And according to the Globe, he feels the same way:

Thanks to all the Red Sox fans out there. It means a lot to any athlete to be remembered that way. Thanks for ’04. I miss ya. I may not show it, but it’s pretty cool the way they remember you. I was in Portland and one guy had my old No. 7 jersey on and told me he skipped out of work. It really is a Nation.

We miss you too, sir. And we have no problem showing it.

Predicting Ellsbury: The Trends vs The Projections

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On June 14th, Dustin Pedroia had dropped his line to .260/.311/.365. Prompting this entry. Since that post, Pedroia has gone 29 for his last 57, good for a .509 average. Over the same span, he also has six doubles, three dingers – even two steals. Better, he’s struck out once against three walks.

So it’s no surprise that I’ve been asked to write up my Navajo brother in similar fashion, as he “slumped” in June bringing his average down to its lowest point since March.

Let’s see, then, if by taking a similar look, we can help Ells return to his early ’08 form. Or, best case, his late season ’07 form.

First, the baseline: going into today’s game, Ellsbury’s line stands at .272/.348/.391. According to the occasionally flaky ESPN Player Stats function, those numbers rank him 11th, 8th, and 12th amongst all MLB center fielders. His rank in OPS tied for 10th with Nick Swisher, trailing the following nine players:

  1. Josh Hamilton .924
  2. Grady Sizemore .890
  3. Nate McLouth .889
  4. Carlos Beltran .858
  5. David DeJesus .855
  6. Rick Ankiel .835
  7. Aaron Rowand .819
  8. B.J. Upton .814
  9. Torii Hunter .785

While there are a few surprise names on that list, like Nate McLouth or David DeJesus, I find little to complain about with his placement, considering that he’s had a grand total of 127 plate appearances coming into this year.

So what’s the problem? The trending. Average is headed down, from .282 in April, to .281 in May, to .259 in June. The OBP is falling, .402 to .375 to .273, as is the SLG, .451 to .396 to .329. With the barometric readings of the center fielders performance reading “storm coming,” it’s useful to ask whether this is one of the inevitable squalls young players go through, or a longer protracted seasonal change.

To which I’ll predictably answer, I don’t know.

But as with Pedroia, I’m cautiously optimistic. For many of the same reasons, in fact.

His college and minor league track records, for one, indicate little other than that Ellsbury can play. The prevailing question among evaluators, in fact, hasn’t been whether he’ll hit, but rather for how much power. That subject, you might remember, has been debated previously in these very pages, in which I sided with Neyer over Theo, who said the following:

He will eventually have more power than people give him credit for. It’s really a matter of him taking his BP swing into the game, because if you watch his BP, he has incredible natural backspin that he generates. He’s stronger now, and his ball really carries. But even from the day we signed him, he was able to go deep into the bullpens in Fenway in batting practice.

The power question notwithstanding, it’s important to emphasize the point of the discussion, which is not whether Ellsbury will hit or have value, but rather how much. Even those that might be perceived as critics acknowledge that he’s likely to be a very useful player. Witness Aaron Gleeman, who said:

If things go well for Ellsbury, he looks capable of hitting around .300/.370/.425 on a regular basis. Toss in good defense with 50-steal speed and that’s an extremely good player. In fact, it’s essentially Kenny Lofton. Like Ellsbury, Lofton is a slight, incredibly fast, lefty-hitting center fielder who was drafted out of a Pac-10 college and made his big-league debut as a 24-year-old. Despite showing even less power than Ellsbury in the minors, Lofton has hit .299/.372/.423 with 622 steals during his 17-year career.

Everybody loves Ells, in other words. Including, as it turns out, the math guys. Again as with Pedroia, most projection systems saw good things in ’08 from the favorite of young ladies everywhere. The anticipated lines:

  • Baseball Prospectus: .288/.348/.397
  • Bill James: .329/.383/.460
  • CHONE: .299/.353/.418
  • Marcel: .308/.365/.473
  • ZiPS: .297/.349/.392

Average out the math guys’ projections, then, and what do you get? .304/.360/.428. A line which I, for one, would be more than content with.

And then there’s his speed. The most steals any of the projection systems anticipated was 43, from ZiPS. With 34 at the moment, he seems a lock to best that: as Chad Finn notes, that puts him on pace for 68. That being his half season total, don’t ya know.

The question, then, is why the decline? Is it the exploitation of specific holes in his swing? Or merely the sign of a pending adjustment?

From the projections and the minor league history, my money’s on the latter. And even if it’s not, I might take his combination of defense – Beane called it the best in the majors – and speed anyway.

Either way, let’s cut the kid some slack: of his 261 AB’s, 244 have come in the leadoff spot. Which tells me two things: one, he’s under a bit more pressure than he would be if they, say, batted him eighth or ninth as they were forced to do with Crisp. And second, that Tito and company – the ones in a position to know – think he can handle that pressure.

Given that, let’s wait and see what transpires.