Don't Shoot the Messenger

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Beckett, originally uploaded by culhanen.

But you remember that Beckett news I had for you yesterday? The good news that he was better than anticipated the day after tweaking his back? Well, that’s over.

If I’d had as much progress from yesterday to today as I did from the first day to the second day, I wouldn’t have ruled that out. Today I’;m just holding up my obligation (to talk to media). It probably would have been better to talk to you guys yesterday because I was a little more optimistic. I’m in a pretty crappy mood as far as this thing goes because it was a pretty frustrating day because yesterday was good and today’s kind of horse(bleep).

In the business, this is what’s known as bad news. Maybe not panic news, but certainly not a positive development.

In case that wasn’t enough for you, MLB Trade Rumors throws cold water on the Crisp to the Padres trade rumor from yesterday, while Shysterball takes care of the Cubs version.

At the risk of being less than totally negative, however, I have to admit that I don’t totally buy either of the above objections completely. Of the Padres reputed objections to a deal, two seem bogus: Crisp is obviously on the block, and while Theo and co won’t hand him away, they’ll negotiate. From the Shysterball angle, I fully agree that the presence of Pie would seem to negate the value of Crisp: but what if the former was traded for the O’s Roberts, as has oft been rumored?

And as long as we’re going to slip in some good news, everyone’s favorite rookie centerfield prospect jacked his average all the way up to .240 by banging out 2 hits today – one of them a leadoff single against none other than Best Pitcher on the Planet, Johan Santana. Even better, our own young lefthander – once poised to be traded for the Best Pitcher on the Planet – outpitched his counterpart (2H, 5K, 1BB, 14BF in 4 IP vs 2H, 4K, 15BF in 4). A performance which had the Globe mentioning Lester and opening day in the same sentence (no link b/c Shaugnessy wrote the piece), however premature.

But for those of you still eager to despair over a centerfielder’s poor spring training numbers, turn your eyes towards Ichiro, who is still seeking his first hit.

Anyway, sorry to end on a positive note but, hey, I don’t make the news.

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

Maybe it’ll become a Sunday tradition, this current events bit, but in the meantime, my apologies for the radio silence the past few days. First I was ambushed by some sort of evil cold/flu hybrid, and then I was up in the mountains where Atingular has decided against providing even basic connectivity.

Hopefully you haven’t missed me as it’s been a quiet week. Or it had, until the last 24 hours or so. Since I left town, all hell broke loose. That, or it’s the regular slate of minor spring training injuries and trade rumors.

You make the call.

Analysts and Reporters

If you’ve been reading this site religiously (all 10 of you) or you know me personally (the same 10 of you), you may have gotten the impression that I favor certain analysts and reporters over others.

This impressions is, in fact, true, and you need look no further than the blogroll on the left for the quote unquote recommended sources. Occasionally during the season I’ll pull a quote or a conclusion that I find noteworthy; whether that’s for positive or negative reasons.

  • Cafardo:
    The reporter singled out today is none other than Boston’s Nick Cafardo. I’ve always preferred his colleague Gordon Edes’ work (with the exception of Edes’ treatment of Manny over the years) over Cafardo’s, and while his Sunday Notes columns is worth reading, his conclusions – in my view – frequently leave something to be desired. Unless you think that CC Sabathia – who approximated Beckett’s numbers last year over 40+ more IP – deserved to place fourth in the Cy Young voting.

    With that background in mind, be aware that I may be reading too much into this, but I can’t get anything from the following except that Cafardo considers himself “old school” regarding pitcher usage:
    “Bravo to Mike Mussina for his take on limiting the innings of young pitchers such as Kennedy, Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Clay Buchholz, “I’m from the old school,” said Mussina, who threw 241 innings as a rookie. “I’m one of the few guys left that pitched last century. My opinion of what wears your arm down isn’t necessarily how many innings you throw in a starter situation. Wearing down happens when you’re out there a lot and you don’t get the proper rest in between those turns. That’s what beats you up.”

    Exactly. Let’s ignore innings because that worked so well for Baker and Riggleman when they managed Prior and Wood. All I can say is that I’m glad Cafardo’s not responsible for the careers of Buchholz, Lester, et al.

  • Neyer:
    I consider myself a fan of Rob Neyer’s, even if I don’t agree with every last thing he writes. Much of my appreciation for his work derives from his approach: much like Google in the technology world, he strives to make decisions based on actual data.

    That said, I’m at a loss to defend his Top 10 Baseball Movies. Any man that believes that Fever Pitch is a better film than The Natural…well, I just don’t know what to say. Words fail me. My faith in Neyer’s analysis skills is not exactly shattered, but I’ll admit that I’m unlikely to solicit his opinion on movies in the future. Ever.

    And that’s coming from someone who counts Tremors as one of his favorite movies.

Injuries

Would that it weren’t the case, but sadly, there’s a lot to report on this front. I have to tell you, there are very few things more terrifying than being in the mountains with limited or no connectivity, and see a Rotoworld headline screeching “Beckett Scratched.”

  • Beckett:
    Sox manager Terry Francona had a good report on Josh Beckett, who left Saturday’s game with back spasms after throwing six warm-up pitches. The manager said Beckett “looked way better than we expected,” but would not commit as to whether Beckett would be ready for the opener in Japan.” (link)

    This, candidly, is bad news. It won’t be horrible news until I hear either that it’s disc related or involves him missing a significant portion of the season, but it’s not what I wanted to hear. We could be looking at opening the season without our top 2 starters (Matsuzaka’s wife is expecting), which is not the end of the world but not how you’d draw it up either.
  • Crisp:
    In a video over on Boston.com, Crisp says, “I feel good right now, like I’m ready to play, other than I can’t get out there and run.” This does not strike me as good news, particularly for a player whose value is largely based on his ability to run.
  • Lugo:
    Shortstop Julio Lugo missed his sixth straight game with lower back tightness.” (link)

    What interests me here is how little actual reporting has been done on this injury. Coming off a down year, and with a very credible prospect in Lowrie poised to push him, I find the general lack of interest in Lugo’s condition as somewhat curious.

    Of course, if could be nothing more than a tacit acknowledgement that with an $8+ million price tag, he’s virtually unmovable.

Players

Besides injuries, there have been some notable player developments over the past week. Unfortunately, few of them good. Meaningless as spring training games are, it’d be nice to win a few. But anyhow, two quick player items.

  • Ellsbury:
    Echoing the thoughts of a number of fans I’ve spoken with, Allen Chace of Over the Monster said the following yesterday:
    As Rotoworld points out, Jacoby has hit pretty terribly thusfar, and Coco Crisp, seemingly, hasn’t played since the Carter administration.

    I have to disagree with our omnipresent sidebar companion. I don’t think it is necessarily doing anything for Tacoby’s case that Coco hasn’t played in awhile. They’re not going to let this kid back into the job, no matter how good he was down the stretch last season. It’s already been speculated here and elsewhere that the Sox would need to see quite a bit from Ellsbury unless Crisp is traded: they don’t need any kind of distraction that Crisp might be, and his value would only get lower as he sees more time riding the pine.

    While acknowledging that it’s easier to say this given that my Navajo brother went 3-5 this afternoon with a bomb and a double, I must – in turn – respectfully disagree with Mr. Chace. For three reasons.

    1. There’s no denying that – until today – Ellsbury hadn’t been good. But there’s also no denying that our other starters haven’t been much better (Crisp doesn’t count: he’s had 4 ABs). It’s true that Ellsbury’s hitting .190. But it’s also true that Manny’s at .188, and Lowell’s at .200. As is Drew. And Pedroia, last year’s ROY? .174. I’d love for all of the above to be lighting it up, but I can’t force myself to take their performances at this point seriously.
    2. I think the competition is more than mere performance. Trade value, particularly for the asset that is Crisp, has to factor in. If they can get a useful reliever or a couple of prospects for Crisp, I don’t think the Sox would hesitate to let Ellsbury back into the job.
    3. I think the front office is savvy enough to recognize that prior minor and major league performance is a better indicator of future performance than a handful or three of spring training at bats. They demonstrated this last year, trusting that Pedroia’s minor league success would manifest itself at the big league level in the face of an abysmal early performance.
  • Lester:
    A minor note, but I hadn’t seen Lester’s velocity peaks yet. The Great Gammons is reporting the following “[Lester's] velocity is up in the mid-90s, his curveball is sharp, and they’re holding back on his cutter until the rest of his arsenal is ready.”
  • Papelbon:
    Papelbon went into the offseason with the idea of adding a third pitch to his fastball and split-finger fastball and chose the slider.

    Yesterday, in his second appearance of the spring, he used it to get two of the three outs he recorded in the fourth
    .” (link)

    I guess this means the “slutter” didn’t work out?

Trade Rumors

Remember when I mentioned that it was Theo’s opinion that the prospects for a Crisp trade were poor? Yeah, let’s just forget about that. Because right now it’s all Crisp, all the time on the trade rumors front. A quick recap of the least far fetched.

  • Chicago:
    While major league sources indicate the Chicago Cubs have Coco Crisp on their wish list, the Red Sox have no interest in expendable starting pitcher Jason Marquis or Arizona League MVP outfielder Sam Fuld.” (Nick Cafardo)

    Glad to hear this one shot down, personally. I don’t think I’d take Marquis for a bag of balls at this point, let alone a Gold Glove quality center fielder signed to an affordable contract. Two years removed from a 6.02 ERA in the NL Central, PECOTA sees him putting up a 5.04 in the same league. In other words, he’d get chewed up and spit out in the AL East. And there’s the fact that he’s already at odds with Piniella over his role on the staff.

    Which leaves Fuld, who, with all due respect, would have very little upside in our organization. This particular package making the rounds, then, would seem to me to be nothing but a rumor. I’m sure the Cubs would make that deal in a heartbeat, but if the Sox bite their sanity would be called into question.
  • Oakland:
    The Red Sox continue to talk with the Oakland Athletics about center fielder Coco Crisp. ” (Buster Olney)

    Little information to work with in this case, although the rumors were floated earlier in the office season that Beane might work to acquire Crisp so that he in turn could flip the player. What’s unclear would be what would be coming back. The primary assets of interest – Blanton and Street – would require far more than Crisp in return, so I’m not sure what we could expect. Still, bears watching.
  • San Diego:
    San Diego is considering trying to trade for Boston’s Coco Crisp now that center fielder Jim Edmonds has already broken down with a calf injury.” (John Perrotto)

    The primary reason that this one makes sense to me? If you’re trying to approximate Cameron, and keep your fly ball prone staff happy in a sizable park, Crisp is your best available bet to do that.
  • Seattle:
    The Mariners, unhappy with their in-house options, are in the market for a veteran right-handed hitting outfielder. Why not Coco Crisp? Sure, he’s a switch-hitter, but his splits suggest it could make some sense.” (Matt Birt)

    This one, to be clear, is nothing more than speculation. Informed speculation, as it comes courtesy of MLB Trade Rumor’s Matt Birt, but speculation nonetheless. Still, like San Diego has a sizable park to cover and if Ichiro and Crisp were two thirds of the M’s outfield, their staff – Horacio Ramirez and all – is going to look much better than they actually are. Which they probably know, having watched Cameron for years.

Ballplayer Wants to Get Paid: News at 11

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Red Sox vanity, originally uploaded by sixes & sevens.

So Papelbon wants to get paid. And the club is reluctant to pay him more than they have to. Both of these things I know. What I don’t is why this is qualifies as news. Or, more pertinently, why this should be anything but expected.

Is Papelbon’s overt drive for a better financial return flattering? Hardly. It’s clearly left a sour taste in Rob’s mouth. But is it really that surprising that a 27 year old kid wants to be paid like one of the best in the league, when he’s begun like one of the best in the league’s history?

If Cole Hamels, Nick Markakis, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, or innumerable other young players serving their time are anything to judge by, the answer is no. Pap’s behavior is both predictable and anything but illogical.

Papelbon’s dealing from a position of public relations strength, after all, even as he’s not from a contractual and service time perspective. Or maybe you believe that the World Series clinching closer, much beloved for his…ahem…free spirit, will be booed on opening day for publicly requesting a raise of ~$400K. You know, since we’re paying Drew $12M+ to hit .270 and slug .423.

Sure, some will be turned off, and the Herald is already doing its best to fan those flames with a little editorializing in its headline (which, I suppose, is to be expected during an otherwise quiet camp). But most fans, I suspect, will sympathize. Just pay the man, they’ll say. Excuse me, are saying. What’s a couple of hundred large to a team that can afford to pay Lugo $8M per?

There is precedent, after all. As Sox and Pinstripes notes, the Rockies just ponied up a guaranteed $8.025 million for their closer, who – while the owner of absolutely filthy stuff – is far less accomplished than Papelbon. Which, incidentally, you can be sure that Papelbon and the flying Levinson brothers (better known as his agents) have duly noted.

The question from a club perspective, I’m guessing, is this: what’s the return on effectively doubling (Paps made $425K last year, and is asking for $900K this one) the cost of the player? The $900K figure, after all, derives explicitly from the voluntary payroll escalation the Phillies committed to with the aforementioned Ryan Howard. Does anyone think that Howard is genuinely more likely to sign with the Phillies when he becomes a free agent two years from now?

Seriously?

So if the benefit isn’t an ease of retention come free agency, the question is what’s in it for the club? Because as much as I’d like them to throw around hundreds of thousands of dollars, none of that has conveniently found its way into my pockets. Hypothetically speaking, I think it’s safe to assume that in return for our $475K, we’d receive an unknown quantity of goodwill. Maybe $475K’s worth, maybe less, it’s tough to say. As it always is, even on balance sheets.

What’s the goodwill balanced against, is the next question. Yes, aside from the cash. And the answer to that, as far as I’m concerned, is precedent. Which is the answer to the impasse here, I suspect.

As Paps himself observes, the Red Sox will have no shortage of similar cases in the future – unlike the Phillies, who don’t have quite the same stable of kids on the way. Next year there’s Pedro, the year after (presumably) Buchholz and Ellsbury, and maybe the year after that Bowden, Kalish, Masterson et al.

So if the Red Sox set, with Papelbon, the precedent that goodwill is worth doubling a contract before contractually obligated to do so, and before the big raises start with arbitration, it seems extraordinarily likely that the respective agents for the aforementioned players will all remember that a year from now, two years from now, three years from now. Even if they’re not the caliber player that Papelbon is, because for all of his obvious excellence, let’s remember that a year ago this time no one was certain whether or not the closer’s shoulder was capable of holding up for a calendar year. Ellsbury in particular, you might recall, got scooped up by Scott Boras this past offseason. He tends to file away things like that, unfortunately for all of us.

What happens, then? Well, my guess is that the Red Sox – as usual – have a value that they will not exceed for Papelbon. It’s also very possible that they’d like to see another season from him to gain further insight into his injury risk. You know, for those actuarial tables they use to spit out the valuation. And speaking of the valuation, it seems likely, based at least on the public commentary, that Papelbon’s opinion of it is not entirely aligned with the club’s.

Meaning that I’m guessing they’ll renew with a slight raise, without giving Papelbon what he wants financially. Or without coming to a long term agreement.

Does that bode ill for the future? Very probably. Frankly, I’m terrified of 2010. Not just because we’ll only have 2 years left before the end of the world, but because all of the kids we value highly now because they’re not just good but cheap will be good but expensive. Not to mention the fact that Tampa is likely to be very, very good by then.

But that’s a conversation for another time. For now, just try and shrug off attempts to manufacture controversy, understanding that both sides are acting entirely predictably and in their own self interests. That’s what I’m doing, anyway.

Buchholz and Hansen: Second Looks

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Warmup, originally uploaded by Plutor.

If you’re craving reassurance with respect to the rough outings today from first Buchholz and then Hansen, well, you shouldn’t.

Repeat after me: it’s. their. first. outing. Against the pros, anyway.

But I was curious to see what – precisely – went wrong for the two on the day, because the box score doesn’t always tell the full story. Herewith is my quick scouter on the pair’s efforts today, which – considering that I’m completely untrained for the task – isn’t terribly valuable.

Anyway.

Buchholz

Not a terrible outing, overall, Buchholz just got some balls up in the first inning and had some balls hit just far enough away from defenders to cause problems. More:

  • The NESN gun had his fastball between 88-92, and in his post-game remarks he mentioned that he sees himself sitting between 90-93 easy, with a couple extra available when he needs it.
  • Four seam fastballs that dominated the first IP were frequently up, which has been a bit of a problem in his “last two bullpens.”
  • Mentioned that he “might have been trying to throw too hard”
  • Great separation velocity-wise with his changeup: arm action is good and the gun had them generally at 78 with an occasional 75
  • Second IP was much smoother, primarily because he went to a two seam fastball that generated some quick outs on the ground
  • All three pitches – fastball, curve, and change – got hit, but all three looked good at times
  • First few hits came in two strike counts

Hansen

Hansen’s outing was less promising than Buchholz’, primarily because his velocity crept down but his control – particularly of the slider – did not improve. Still, if the infield behind him had managed to turn a double play his line would have looked very different. More:

  • The NESN gun had Hansen’s fastball between 90-95, and his slider was fairly consistent at 83.
  • Fastballs were generally thrown down in the zone, but command within it was spotty.
  • Sliders were so-so on the day, with one or two good ones thrown against several way out of the zone. Remy’s characterization of the pitch was “flat”
  • Clearly had difficulty throwing strikes with either the fastball or the slider
  • Subtracting velocity did not necessarily improve his control: the third batter of the inning took four straight balls, which came in at 93-92-91-90
  • While several of the non-strikes were borderline pitches, several – particularly after runs scored – missed by a significant margin
  • Fastball showed good velocity to close out the inning (95)

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

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

At least the snow was real. Promise.

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

Colon’s Arm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garcia?

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

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

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

Hansen: All Growns’d Up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masterson: Bullpen or Starter?

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

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

Until this week.

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

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

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

Putting The Young Pitchers’ Struggles in Context

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

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

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

Or three.

The Crisp Update

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

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

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

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

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

Yankee Nation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bullpen Watch: Daniel Bard

When Daniel Bard was drafted out of North Carolina in the first round of the 2006 draft, the Red Sox almost certainly had visions of him as a starting pitcher. At least that’s what the $1.55M signing bonus he received would indicate to me.

As of last week, however, that plan appears to have been scrapped in favor of a relief role. Recognizing that the lack of a second pitch – Baseball America’s scouter: “he’s never has had a reliable breaking ball…his changeup is less dependable than his breaking ball” – the front office has decided to move Bard into the bullpen, according to Rob Bradford.

Keith Law, for one, would seem to argue in favor of the idea. We’ve already mentioned his feelings on Bard generally, but regarding the prospect of Bard in the bullpen specifically he’s said:

Paul (San Francisco): Will Craig Hansen or Daniel Bard ever make this list?

SportsNation Keith Law: Bard is much more likely. I’ve almost given up hope on Hansen. Bard in the pen could move quickly.

And given the requirements for success as a starting pitcher versus that of a relief arm, it’s difficult to argue with that assessment.

But just how quickly can Bard be expected to move? Bradford mentions his success as a reliever in the Hawaiian Winter League, saying:

Bard threw 16 innings over 16 winter league games, allowing four runs on eight hits while striking out 15.

Further, he quotes Bard as crediting the bullpen stint with a perceived improvement in his performance:

“Hawaii was the first time I have thrown out of the bullpen,” he said. “It’s a different mentality, but I threw pretty well out there. I was throwing one- or two-inning outings, just coming in and blowing it out and letting my stuff take over. To be honest, my command and stuff all jumped up when I was out there, whether it was a confidence thing or being more aggressive facing hitters. It’s something that was a lot more effective.”

All of which sounds great. The problem is that if Hawaii represented a “jump” in his command, it’s not a positive indicator for the future.

What Bradford declined to mention amidst the good news of his 1.08 ERA and 8 hits in 16+ IP in Hawaii was that in addition to the 15Ks came 15 BBs. And five hit batsman. That’s 20 guys on base in ~17 innings. Before hits.

As Project Prospect puts it, for all that Bard has a potentially dominant major league fastball, “he can’t reasonably hope to continue holding opposing hitters to the .140 BABIP he did in Hawaii, particularly if he’s walking over 8 batters per game and hitting over 2.5.”

It may well be that a shift to the bullpen allows Bard to focus more on the command of his fastball rather than the evolution of a starter’s repertoire, and it’s unquestionably true that his arm gives him the potential to impact the major league bullpen should his control prove even adequate.

But what I haven’t see yet are any indications that the control will evolve as quickly as some seem to think. Here’s hoping he proves me wrong, because I’d love nothing more than to see him and his electric arm breaking bats for the good guys sooner rather than later.

What's Colon Got Left? A Q&A

Look, if Sean Casey got his own Q&A, I can’t very well not produce one for a pitcher that won the Cy Young three seasons ago, can I? Even if it’s a non-guaranteed, minor league deal?

Exactly.

Q: So what’s the deal with Colon?
A: ESPN is reporting that the deal is minor league in nature, including no guaranteed money. Fire Brand of the American League puts the potential cash outlay should Colon make the major league roster at around a million.

Q: What kind of pitcher is Colon now?
A: Colon came up essentially a fireballing workhorse. Though my 2004 Scouting Notebook lists him at 5 foot 11, it also lists his weight – conservatively – at 240. Earlier in his career, he essentially was a one pitch pitcher, pumping in high 90′s fastballs with good and occasionally exceptional control. For show, he’d also feature a changeup and a hard breaking ball, but Colon was a fastball pitcher most nights.

In recent years, however, all of the innings – he averaged 215 per for 8 seasons beginning in 1998 (a year in which he went from 98 IP to 204, interestingly) – appear to have caught up with the big righthander. Heading into last season, he was rehabbing a partially torn rotator cuff, and the results of that rehab were not promising. A 6.34 ERA in 99.1 IP for the Angels, during which he coughed up 15 HRs and 29 BBs, while striking out 76. The strikeout numbers aren’t terrible, and may indicate that he’s got something left. The problem is the batting numbers against, which are terrifying. Opposing hitters put up a .320/.366/.490 against him in 412 ABs. Essentially, every hitter in the lineup was Kevin Youkilis. Not good.

Also not good were the scouting reports from winter ball: Rotoworld reported that he was working mainly in the 88-91 range when giving up 2 runs in 4.1 IP against Venezuela. If you’re Pedro, you can make that work, but, well, you know where I’m going.

Q: How about the projections?
A: They’re actually not as bad as you might predict. PECOTA sees him putting up a 4.77 ERA in 92.3 IP, striking out 62 and walking 26. Bill James calls for a 4.24 ERA in 20 fewer IP, predicting 51 Ks and 22 BBs in 70.0 innings even.

For what it’s worth, however, PECOTA was significantly optimistic last year. It forecast a 4.77 ERA in 121 IP. The actuals, again, were 6.34 in 99.1 IP.

Prediction is a tough science.

Q: So you’re against the trade?
A: Not at all. Frankly, for a fifth starter, I’d be fine with even the PECOTA projection to slightly worse. And frankly, we could use 90+ innings of credible major league pitching.

Besides, with no guaranteed money on the table, it’s essentially a zero risk move for the club. So I’m positive on it.

Q: Why make the move?
A: It’s a hedge against the Schilling injury, obviously. As Theo and company have said multiple times, no one was counting on Schilling for a 200+ inning season this year, but neither were they forecasting zero which appears to be a distinct possibility at this point.

While everyone expects both Buchholz and Lester to pitch and pitch effectively on the major league roster this year – and certainly I’d expect both to give us superior innings relative to Colon – the fact is that neither should be expected to give us a full starters workload. Buchholz and Lester both were around ~150 IP last year – 146.6 and 153.2 IP, respectively – and expecting them to take that to 200 is a stretch. Not to mention that it might compromise their playoff availability, should we be lucky enough to make it that far.

So in short, we need innings. The higher quality those innings the better, obviously, but we’re going to need innings.

Q: How do you expect him to be deployed?
A: It depends on how he’s throwing, of course, but ultimately I think Evan Brunnell over at Fire Brand said it best:

Colon should be a safey net. If Buchholz or Lester completely blows up in April, you bring Colon up. If Colon is still with the club after May 1 (I’m assuming he has the standard May 1 opt-out clause if he’s not in the major leagues) and injury strikes, you call him up. If the Red Sox want to send Buchholz down in July just to limit his innings and Schilling’s not back yet, you call Colon up.

I expect the Sox to get him in to see what they’ve got, then use him tactically to control and keep manageable our young starters’ workloads.

Q: What is the value of Colon relative to some of the other available options?
A: Significant. Unless you’re excited by the likes of Eric Milton, Jeff Weaver, Kyle Lohse, Rodrigo Lopez or Russ Ortiz – a few of whom might require not only guaranteed deals but multi-year ones at that – Colon is a good risk/reward play. The only other pitcher I would have been interested in from the list of rehabbing players would have been Freddy Garcia, who I think will make a contribution somewhere in the second half.

Should we expect much from Colon? Certainly not. But does he have some upside as a candidate for innings at the back end of the rotation? Sure.

Crisp: Going or Staying?

We’re not going to forget, as an organization, that he’s the incumbent.” – Terry Francona

Around 8:01 in the above video, Tito reminds us of Crisp’s value. A reminder that would seem to be well aimed, given the propensity of many – yours truly included – to regard the trade of the incumbent as something of a foregone conclusion.

Which begs the question: should he be traded? Setting aside the clubhouse dynamics for just a moment, let’s look at a few projections. First, Crisp. PECOTA sees his ’08 line as .278/.338/.407, with Bill James projecting slightly lower in the latter two categories at .335 and .400 respectively. On the other side of the ring, PECOTA projects Ellsbury to put up a .287/.346/.395 line in ’08, with James’ numbers significantly more optimistic for OBP and SLG at .374/.436.

If we go strictly by PECOTA, then, we might give a slight offensive edge to Ellsbury as the slight disparity in power is offset by a greater on base percentage. But when James is thrown into the mix, Ellsbury becomes the far more dynamic offensive force. Even allowing for Crisp’s defensive superiority then – because I’m in agreement with Tito that Crisp played the position last year about as well as you can – you’d take my Navajo brother over the incumbent.

Not that the Red Sox should allow this to play out as anything other than a straight up competition, because to anoint Ellsbury as the starter would not only push Crisp towards a Payton-like disaffection but might significantly impact his trade value. All things considered, then, I’m regrettably in agreement with Buckley that it seems likely that the Red Sox would prefer that Ellsbury win the job outright. Short sample size of spring training or no.

Bill James, remember, works for the good guys in the Red Sox front office.

What pushes me over the edge in wanting Ellsbury to win the job isn’t Crisp’s cost – at $3.8M last year he’s actually quite affordable for a Gold Glove caliber centerfielder – but rather his redundancy. With Kielty on deck, Crisp becomes an interesting trading chip, either for an interesting bullpen arm or – packaged – for a starter candidate. Not that I’m contending that Kielty or even Ellsbury is Crisp’s equal in the field – neither will be this season – but that we have the pieces in place to replace him. And Ellsbury, with the little service time he has and the potentially greater offensive upside, is clearly the piece you’d like to keep around.

Is Crisp a bad guy to have around even should he fail to win the CF job? Obviously not. Not many teams can tout throw a glove like his onto the field from the bench. But I do think that given the noise he and his agent have made to date, it might be best if he moves on. Assuming he’s not the starter.

Obviously we shouldn’t give him away, but there are certainly teams – like the Braves – in need of a centerfielder. Where we have surplus, and may be able to extract some value.

Quick Links: Drunk Ortiz, Hansen Thoughts, Jeter Leader?

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the_scene, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Good news, everyone! I survived a weekend spent in an 8×6 shack on a frozen lake in sub-zero Minnesota temperatures with three other dudes. More or less in one piece.

Honestly, though, if there’s anything better than ice fishing for getting me ready for baseball, I’m not sure what it would be.

Age Surprises

Peter Gammons: Every so often I’m surprised by age comparisons. Sometimes I’m more impressed with a player because they’re younger than I believed, others I’m less impressed because they’re older. Either way, it’s always interesting.

Gammons mentioned one today:

Remember that Jon Garland is six months younger than Bedard and has 52 more career wins.

In the immortal words of Carsenio, “I did not know that.” But the one that really put things in perspective for me?

Clay Buchholz will be 23 to start the season, while Seattle’s Felix Hernandez – you remember the one hitter last year, don’t you? – will be 21.

In the only slightly less immortal words of Stephen Colbert, “Think about that. I haven’t.”

Battle Royale in Bullpen

Amalie Benjamin: According to everyone’s favorite Amalie, the Sox will open with 12 pitchers on the roster rather than 11. With Papelbon, Okajima, Delcarmen, Timlin, and Tavarez all but guaranteed of spots if they’re healthy – whether it’s for contract reasons, talent, or ideally both – that leaves two spots up to the likes of Aardsma, Hansen, Lopez, Snyder, and the non-roster invitees in Michael Bowden, Lee Gronkiewicz, Hunter Jones, Dan Kolb, Justin Masterson, Jon Switzer and Michael Tejera. Unless – and maybe even if – Bowden and Masterson allow no hits and no walks for all of spring training, they’re ticketed for the minors. Jones too. The rest of the folks on that list are real long shots.

Cashman Watch, Continued

Bill Madden: First we have this bit from Madden:

At the time [of Pettite's return], there was elation all around, especially from Cashman, who used Pettitte’s “I shall return” proclamation as the incentive for walking away from a deal for the Twins’ Johan Santana – a deal he never wanted to make. With Pettitte taking up $16 million in payroll, the Yankees could no longer afford Santana, Cashman argued, and Hal Steinbrenner, Hank’s partner and the primary financial expert in the business, agreed.

“Take your choice, guys,” Hal reportedly told the group of Yankee higher-ups in a meeting on the Santana deal prior to Cashman’s departure for the winter meetings. “Pettitte or Santana?”

And then we have this bit from the great Gammons:

But if all the spotlight causes the respectful, quiet Pettitte to go into a shell and turn into a 35-year-old .500 pitcher, his grab for the $16 million that steered the Yankees away from Johan Santana may cost a few jobs. Which will not be fair.

Anyone care to give me odds that Cashman is one of those jobs?

Hansen, Hansen, Hansen – So Hot Right Now?

Speaking of Hansen, he’s received a lot of attention in the Globe. Granted, some of the coverage was for the novelty of the surgery he had to correct sleep apnea; in his own words, he used to snore like a 500 pound fat man. But he’s also being discussed almost daily by the beat writers as a legitimate candidate for one of the last spots in the pen.

Certainly, if he can throw strikes with a slider resembling the one he threw at St John’s, I’d bet on him for a spot. The kid throws hard, after all. Unfortunately, I’d put the odds of that precondition being met as long indeed. Keith Law is, if anything, even more convinced of this than I am. In fact, he’s gone as far as arguing that Daniel Bard is a better bet than Hansen, saying:

I saw Hansen again in the Fall League … it’s not there, at least not yet. I’d be more inclined to put money on Bard taking a step forward in ’08 than Hansen.

Given that Bard’s walked nearly 2 guys for every one he’s struck out as a pro (78BB/47K), and better than 1/IP (78BB/75IP), well, that can’t really be taken as a positive report on Hansen.

Good Times, Good Times

Steve Buckley: I don’t think this qualifies as throwing your teammate under the bus simply because it’s high comedy, but, well, you make the call:

“Last year after we won it,” [Papelbon] said yesterday, “I was in a hotel room partying, and Ortiz was there trying to show me how to do the breakdance. And he fell over, and he didn’t know what he was doing. Either that or he was just too drunk. I don’t know.”

The good folks over at Surviving Grady are absolutely right: Papelbon must be miced 24/7/365. That would be the first and only reality show I’d ever watch. Unless someone sticks a camera on Marissa Miller (sorry, Amalie).

Rest as a Trend

Rob Bradford: It’s clear from Rob’s latest and some of the other commentary leading up to and follow last year’s playoffs that enforced rest may become a prescribed part of the Red Sox pitching management strategy. As an aside, I was a bit surprised – and pleased – to see Beckett recognize the benefits of the approach, given that it is at odds with the Herschiser like ideal that starting pitchers are a horse to be ridden until they die.

What I’m curious about now is whether or not this strategy of enforced rest will be emulated more broadly within the league. Certain factors – the lack of starting pitching to support the approach, the lack of intelligence within some front offices, or incompatible pitching management philosophies – are likely to limit the spread of the tactic. But baseball front offices are smarter and more creative than they were even a few years ago, and even the conservative clubs are willing to try and emulate what’s been successful for Word Series winners.

Taking One for the Team?

John Mazor: Fortunately, I don’t need to take apart this crime against sports journalism, because the pros at Fire Joe Morgan have already done that for you. Nor do I have to explain why Jeter is not a pre-eminent or even average shortstop, because the Penn researchers Mazor is trying to slag have explained that in sufficient detail for all but the most ardent homers.

For an article that bases much of its argument on the fact that Jeter has won three Gold Gloves – in spite of the fact that that award means nothing (disagree? then explain how Palmeiro won it for 1B in ’99 while playing only 28 games at the position) – I find it surprising that Mazor fails to mention that the two Gold Gloves that Rodriguez wore came in his last two years as a shortstop. The years, put differently, before he moved to third base to accommodate the statistically and observably inferior shortstop. As one of the researchers put it, “The Yankees have one of the best defensive shortstops playing out of position in deference to one of the worst defensive shortstops.”

Is Jeter an excellent player? Indeed. But is he the leader, and the Cap’n Intangibles, that Yankee fans believe him to be? I’m not sure how you make that argument. To me, a real leader would have done what was best for the team: let the best shortstop man that position.

But frankly, as I used to tell my Yankee friends, I’m just as happy that that didn’t work out. Can you imagine a world in which the Pinstriped ones could throw A-Rod and Jeter at short and second, then find power bats for the corners? It’s too terrifying to even contemplate.

The Clay Rules?

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Clay Buchholz, originally uploaded by andywirtanen.

In discussing the news that Joba Chamberlain will begin the season in the Yankee bullpen, in a plan aimed at keeping him available while not overextending him innings-wise, Rob Neyer wrote the following:

This is simply where we’re at now, with young starting pitchers. We are not going to see Joba Chamberlain throw 180 innings in his first season as a major league starter, and we are not going to see Clay Buchholz throw 180 innings in his first season as a major league starter. What makes this even trickier, for the Yankees and the Red Sox, is October. They have to plan for seven months of high-intensity baseball rather than six.

Emphasis Rob’s. Forgoing the cliche about great minds – as I’m about 12 mentally – Rob and I clearly think alike. I said the following, after all, a week ago today:

Nor can, in my view, Buchholz be expected to shoulder a Schilling-like role at his age and experience level. The guess here is that Buchholz will be capped in ‘08 to ~165 IP, meaning that a year long starter role in the rotation would be problematic, even without the complication of potential playoff innings. If I had a gun to my head, I’d predict the Sox would begin the season with a rotation of Beckett, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Lester, and Tavarez, and integrate Buchholz down the stretch after some seasoning in Pawtucket or the Sox bullpen. And I don’t know about you, but that prospect doesn’t do much for me.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I see that John Farrell taking the over on 165. From the Boston Globe:

“We had a target number of innings before the season started last year, which we’ll have this year,” Farrell said. “It’ll certainly be an increase over the 150 innings that we targeted last year. I think it’s a reasonable number to think that Clay is going to be in line for 180-190 innings, in that range.”

Is he being optimistic? Is it gamesmanship, for competitive or trade purposes? Or are the front office and Tito legitimately counting on Buchholz for 180+ IP?

Frankly, I haven’t the foggiest. But if I were a betting man, I still would not take the over on 170. 175, tops. Regardless of what Farrell may be quoted as saying to a Boston beat writer on the eve of spring training.