Predicting Ellsbury: The Trends vs The Projections

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }
.flickr-yourcomment { }
.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }
.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }

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.

Don't Mess With (The Kid From) Texas: Buchholz' Delivery

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }
.flickr-yourcomment { }
.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }
.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }



claybuchholz5 crop, originally uploaded by firebrandal.

This season, seven Red Sox pitchers have started more than five games. Six of them have ERAs below 4.20. The seventh, Clay Buchholz, pitched a no-hitter last season and currently has a 2.45 ERA in five starts since returning to Triple-A Pawtucket. Buchholz is 23, and going through the sort of thing that 23-year-old pitchers often go through.” – Rob Neyer

Precisely.

What Neyer is talking about: in 8 starts this year, everyone’s favorite 23 year old righthander that dates Victoria’s Secret models and Penthouse Pets had surrendered 49 hits and 3 homers over 42.1 IP. For those bad at math, that’s a 10.42 H/9. Not strong. Also not strong were the 20 BBs in those 42 and change innings. Not what was expected of the quote unquote best pitching prospect in the minor leagues.

Clearly, some adjustments were in order. As Neyer puts it, the kind of adjustments that most 23 year old pitchers have to make.

And to his credit, the pitcher understood this. In some candid comments following a Pawtucket start, Buchholz had the following to say about the areas on his report card marked Needs Improvement:

“The number of fastballs I was throwing was really low because I fell in love with off-speed stuff because I had success with it early,” he said. “But big league hitters catch on to it. They have video just like I have video. It’s easy to see what kind of routine somebody gets into regardless of if it’s hitting or pitching.”

Personally, I’m fine with all of the above. Particularly because, as mentioned before, the Red Sox know far better what’s good for the kid than yours truly. If they think he needs better fastball command, then he probably needs better fastball command.

But I’m worried. Not because of his performance: most young pitchers go through this, as discussed above. But because there’s nothing in his minor league history to indicate a problem with command, fastball or otherwise.

In 301.2 minor league innings, Buchholz has walked 87 guys – roughly 2.6 per 9. That’s a good number. More impressive, he’s struck out 370 guys in those 300+ innings – 11.06 per 9. That’s a really good number. Freakishly good, in fact.

Certainly it’s possible – even likely – that Buchholz didn’t need his fastball as much in the minors given the quality of his offspeed stuff. It’s just as likely that he will, in fact, need it in the majors. What worked for his no hitter was never a guarantee to work indefinitely. Still, there’s nothing to indicate numbers-wise (I don’t have PitchF/X data for him), that command was the issue.

The additional minor league seasoning I can live with, here’s my real concern: the Red Sox are reportedly tinkering with his delivery. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Sox “want Buchholz to move his arm slot away from his head, an adjustment they believe will increase the movement on his fastball.”

Again, I’m fully aware of both my lack of credentials and the Sox’ track record when it comes to managing the development of their young pitchers. Number of pitchers successfully developed by me? Zero. Number of pitchers successfully developed by the Sox? Papelbon, Lester, Masterson and if we’re being charitable, Hansen and MDC.

But still: altering his delivery? The kid has a career 11.06 K/9 and 2.60 BB/9 in 300+ minor league innings. And the Driveline Mechanics guys, in particular, love his delivery (though they do admit to preferring a high 3/4 slot). Whatever happened to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Isn’t this the kid what tossed a no-hitter?

Frankly, however, these concerns may be academic. Whatever changes they’ve made, they appear to be working: Buchholz has given up a total of 2 runs in his last four starts. His last outing? 5 IP, 1 H, 6 Ks.

So while I’ll trust that the Sox know best (pipe down back there, Meredith), I hope they don’t screw with this kid too much. Whatever he’s been doing to date has worked well; well enough that the numbers say he can star in the majors, delivery changes or no.

Predicting Pedro: The Bad News, The Good News, and The No News

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }
.flickr-yourcomment { }
.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }
.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }



pedroia, originally uploaded by eürodäna.

It’s the request hour here at wicked clevah, so by all means, let’s chat about Dustin Pedroia.

He’s slumping, but you all knew that. Players get rested for lots of reasons, but in his case the explanation wasn’t all that complicated: he can’t buy a hit (or worse, a walk) at the moment.

For not the first time, of course. Last season famously saw Pedroia stumble out of the gate to a .182/.308/.236 line in April. By his own admission, something had to change. And fortunately for everyone, the little guy included, it did. His lowest OBP by month after April was September, at .330. His lowest average a .299 showing in July.

In spite of the highly forgettable April, his first half showing was .318/.400/.450, slightly better than his second half of .317/.362/.435.

That was then, this (.260/.311/.365) is now.

After a very Pedroia-like April of .306/.352/.423, he slumped though May (.260/.295/.374). And June? Well, words don’t really convey the depth of the problem so I’ll just leave you with his performance thus far: .097/.256/.129. That’s right: if he doesn’t turn things around shortly, June will be a worse month – a significantly worse month – than April of ’07.

Which we can all undoubtedly do without.

Supporters are likely to then jump to his defense by touting his, well, defense. Which makes sense, because I, like presumably most of you, am under the impression that he’s a top notch defender at second. Which he may well be. But not according to any of the rudimentary defensive metrics I have available to me. His best showing is in Zone Rating, where he places fourth amongst AL second basemen behind Ellis, Cano and Grudzielanek – all of whom enjoy reasonable reputations for their defense. In Range Factor, however, he’s 7th, along with 8th in Fielding Percentage. Just amongst the AL candidates, mind.

All of which ultimately proves nothing, but has to be considered, particularly in light of his reduced offensive value.

Zach Hayes over at Fire Brand posed the question a week ago: will Dustin Pedroia have a second-year downfall? He argues that so far the answer is yes, and I can’t really argue the point.

But that question is of far less importance, I think, then this one: what can we expect from Pedroia going forward in ’08? Is Pedroia destined to be the next Hinske, a one-time ROY exposed over time as a marginal major leaguer?

Obviously, I don’t have the foggiest: predictions are not my gig. I’m concerned, of course. Not because not because of the slump, precisely, but rather the lack of an adequate – or any, really – explanation for the slump. Yes, he’s been victimzed by the men in blue, who among other offenses robbed him of a home run (replay can’t get here fast enough). And a couple of stellar defensive efforts – Upton’s catch, in particular – haven’t helped. But neither of those conditions, nor the fact that he was the only regular not to get any time off until June, can be held responsible for his post-April line.

It is indeed possible that we’re seeing the beginning of a permanent decline in his performance, as one of the MVN commenters argued.

But I personally don’t buy that, for three reasons.

First: history’s on his side. His college and minor league track records predicted the success he had last season, just as they predicted to the front office the transition to the majors would be challenging. That history didn’t predict the current trend, that I’m aware of, but neither do they preclude it: we are talking, after all, about a relatively small sample size.

Second: I’ve heard nothing to suggest that pitchers have discovered and are actively exploiting a fatal flaw. No one would make the claim that his swing is optimal, particularly for a player of his size, but from the games I’ve seen he’s getting himself out as much as the pitchers are. Were he consistently going down to a particular pitch, pitch sequence, or pitch location, I’d be more pessismistic, but the data doesn’t demonstrate that. As nearly as I can determine, he’s getting himself out on pitches all over the strike zone. Which makes the problem harder to fix, but less likely to be an intrinsic limitation.

Third: None of the numbers guys saw this coming, and I mean none of them. The lowest OBP any of Bill James, CHONE, Marcel, MINER, PECOTA, or ZiPS predicted for ’08 was Miner at .355. Three of the five had him at .369 or better. The lowest average? ZiPS at .292. Three of the five were .299 or above. In its diagnostics, in fact, BP’s PECOTA assigned the following probabilities to potential outcomes:

  • Breakout Rate: 21%
  • Improve Rate: 58%
  • Collapse Rate: 11%
  • Attrition Rate: 7%

Obviously, predictions are as much art as science, but I don’t like the odds that all of the math geeks are wrong. A few of them, sure, but not all.

Last: There’s lady luck. You’ll recall that I more or less dimissed its importance when discussing, as an example, some of the defensive plays made against Pedroia above. I stand by that, because they’re not a sufficient explanation for his performance to date. But it is true that he’s been unlucky with his batting average on balls put in play thus far at .278 (.290 is average). Last season he clearly overachieved in that regard at .334, but .278 is definitely unlucky. Meaning that it should correct itself over the course of the year, manifesting itself as a small but potentially useful bump in his overall offensive output.

The Net:
If you came here looking for proof that we’re not in the midst of a season long sophomore slump, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But neither am I willing to write him off as a one year wonder; it’s not just what he did last year, it’s what his entire history says he should do. What the numbers confirm he should do.

We just have to hope that he starts doing that sooner rather than later.

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


(link courtesy of Dan Lamothe over at the Red Sox Monster)

Manny hit his 500th. In a Red Sox uniform. Which given that he was placed on unconditional waivers just a few years back, probably qualifies as mildly surprising. Kudos to Manny for this achievement, it’s a real benchmark.

One that, frankly, makes me appreciate just how absurd it is for A-Rod to have passed the mark last year, while four years younger than M-Ram. And consider that Junior – who is 2 years older than Manny and has missed somewhere around a billion games since leaving Seattle – is sitting just shy of 600. Incredible. All three of them.

Anyway, we also we lost a bunch of games on the road. Like, lots of them. Enough so that we find ourselves, once more, looking up at that Tampa club I specifically warned you people about. But I suppose it’s not your fault. What with your lack of any ability to change anything or do something about Tampa.

Anyway, on to this week’s ICYHBKUWCE:

Bard’s Resurgence

Much has been made in many venues – this one being no exception – of Daniel Bard‘s transformation from a freakishly hard throwing walk machine to potentially useful bullpen piece. ESPN’s Keith Law had this to say about the reliever in a chat this week:

Bard’s been 98-100 with life, and he’s throwing strikes. Great move skipping him past the scene of the crime in Lancaster, too. Haven’t heard anything on Cox, although I know last year his velo was down.

As for the mentioned Cox, that would be Bryce. While he hasn’t quite matched Bard’s numbers – let alone his fastball – Cox has put up an interesting 21 K/3 BB/1.59 ERA line in 22.2 IP. Which he needed to do, because last year was not a good one for him, despite the talk early in ’07 that he was a potential closer candidate down the line.

Clay vs Masterson

With Colon safely holding down Buchholz’ spot in the majors, there’s not much opportunity at the current time for either Buchholz or Masterson to start at the major league level: Matsuzaka DL’d or no. Everyone’s favorite Clay, of course, came off his rehab and remained at Pawtucket, ostensibly to work on his fastball and secondarily – one would assume – to keep his innings down.

Masterson, meanwhile, had his PawSox start bumped up to put him in line for a start in Matsuzaka’s slot in the event that he had to be placed on the DL. Which he was, obviously.

All of which is causing some to question whether or not Buchholz has been passed by Masterson on the depth chart. Some, like the Portland Press Herald’s Kevin Thomas, who said just that:

It will be interesting to see how Justin Masterson does Tuesday at Fenway. If he has a third sold start, does he move ahead of Buchholz on the depth chart?

To which I’d reply, with all due respect to Thomas: that’s insane.

Obviously, I hope that Masterson throws the shit out of the ball in his third appearance. Hell, I’d even take a no hitter. But the fact is that in terms of projection, it’s still no certainty that Masterson’s future role with this club is as a starting pitcher. He has one potentially dominant pitch: a sinking fastball. His changeup was essentially unusable in his second start, and his slider is relatively average by all accounts. One pitch pitchers typically don’t fare all that well multiple times through the order, let alone multiple times through the league.

Buchholz, on the other hand, has two 70 pitches: his curve and his change. If his fastball is even average, he’s a potentially dominant arm. As we saw last year against Baltimore.

So intending no disrespect to Masterson, who seems to be as good a kid as he is a pitcher, let’s not get carried away when projecting these kids. A couple of starts doesn’t alter the expectation that while both kids should end up being very good, useful pitchers, Buchholz could be an ace.

Cap’n Intangibles: Say it Ain’t So

From the non-Red Sox department comes an interesting little tidbit from Dan Graziano of the New Jersey Star Ledger. In a piece (via Buster Olney) discussing Jeter’s statistical improvement defensively this season comes the revelation that the sainted shortstop may have been a wee bit careless with respect to his defensive responsibilities:

According to two Yankees officials, who requested anonymity because they feared they were talking about things that might upset or embarrass Jeter, the Yankees approached their captain last offseason and told him they wanted him to work on his defense — specifically on balls hit up the middle to his left, where he has been particularly weak.

They also asked Jeter if he would please be more attentive to advance scouting reports when positioning himself. This has been a particular peeve of the Yankees’ regarding Jeter in recent years — that he was stubborn about not wanting to move a step or two to his right or left to account for the hitter, the pitcher or the situation. If the scouting report tells them that Batter A hits 80 percent of his ground balls at or to the right of second base, it would make sense for a shortstop with poor range to his left to shade that way to compensate. Jeter, it is said, did not pay much attention to this.

Even in a vacuum, this would not reflect well on the player. But when the player in question refused to put the team first and allow a better defensive shortstop on the roster (that’d be A-Rod) to play the position – well, it’s particularly inexcusable.

But of course, because it’s Cap’n Intangibles, the press found ways in the offseason to praise the shortstop for finding ways to “train better” as he ages.

Ellsbury’s Defense

As everyone is no doubt aware, when both He-Who-Is-Named-After-a-Cereal and my Navajo Brother play the same outfield, the latter is shifted to either one of the corners in deference the former’s veteran status and sparkling defensive play in ’07. But perhaps that shouldn’t be the case.

According to the Great Gammons, the A’s resident genius, our onetime would-be GM, said that Ells is “without doubt the best defensive center fielder in the game today.”

Either way, it’s a good problem to have, because with those two and Drew in right it’s about as good a defensive outfield as you’re likely to see.

Free Trot

From the bittersweet files comes an update on one of my all time favorite Sox, one Christopher Trotman Nixon. As the Times is good enough to tell us, Trot is, at the age of 34, toiling away for AAA Tuscon in the Arizona system.

Tell me something couldn’t be worked out with Arizona. I mean, seriously? The club admits in the article that Arizona doesn’t have room for him. Even if there’s not a spot on the major league roster for him now, and there is not, I have to think he’d prefer to bide his time in Pawtucket over Tuscon.

Free Trot!

Minor League Gameday Audio

From Senor Hartzell comes a wonderful discovery for those of you that are as baseball as insane as I am: the minor league guys have gameday audio available as well. Enjoy, and thanks for the tip, Noel.

Road Struggles

We’re not good on the road. You’re shocked, I know. But some of the numbers are just bizarre. Our OPS at home, for example, is a 113 points higher (.857 to .744). You know what the equivalent delta is for the Rockies, the club with perhaps the most notorious home/away split? 93 (.773 to .680).

The pitching issues are no less mysterious. While we’re actually allowing a lower OPS away from Fenway, our ERA on the road is almost a full run higher (4.40 to 3.50). And, obviously, the winning percentage is a bit different: .808 at home to .406.

If it’s any consolation, according to Buster Olney this is not unique to the Sox, it’s a league wide issue. He quotes Steve Hirdt of Elias as saying the following:

In recent years, baseball’s home-team winning percentage has been very consistent: In each of the past 15 years, it was never lower than .516 and never as high as .550. The past four years were .535, .537, .546 and .542.

But this year, through games of May 29, home teams have a combined .577 winning percentage. The last major-league season in which the home-team winning percentage finished that high was 1931 (when it was .582). Since then, the HTWP has finished as high as .570 only once (.573 in 1978).

Bizarre. And neither the people he spoke with, nor those contacted by Cafardo, can explain it.

Nor can I, obviously. But the one thing I do know is that it needs to change, and fast. Winning 40 percent of 50 percent of our schedule is not going to get us to where we need to go. Not at all.

No Pen for Clay

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }
.flickr-yourcomment { }
.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }
.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }



Fenway Park: Bullpen, originally uploaded by wallyg.

You might remember how I’ve speculated – as long as Colon remains effective – about the possibility of Buchholz coming out of the bullpen. The thinking being that a.) it allows the club greater flexibility in terms of controlling his innings with regard to his ’08 season caps, and b.) it might afford him the opportunity to continue his adjustments to major league hitters in less strategically significant innings.

Also, there’s the fact that our bullpen as currently constituted, well, is killing us.

Sure, Buchholz can continue progressing as a starter down in Pawtucket, but every inning he throws down there is one he doesn’t throw with the big club.

Which is great when he throws poorly, but decidedly less great when he tosses a game like this one.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only one speculating on this subject. Sunday, BP’s John Perrotto apparently had the same idea, saying (subscriber link, sorry):

With Bartolo Colon apparently in the Red Sox rotation to stay, it would not be a surprise to see rookie Clay Buchholz used in relief once he comes off of the disabled list to help shore up a shaky bullpen.

As much as it might seem a logical possibility on paper, however, the club seems to be ruling it out. In today’s Notebook in the Boston Globe, everyone’s favorite Amalie reports that a bullpen role for Clay is unlikely:

“I just don’t think you turn a kid with his potential [into a reliever now], you possibly make him a bullpen guy in May, come back and make him a starter in June,” Francona said. “That’s not going to work, at least in my opinion. We got into a situation a couple years ago with [converting Jonathan Papelbon to a reliever]. It was late in the year, and that was difficult, and probably not fair to him. Sometimes you get thrown in a situation you don’t want to. But I don’t know that that’s really what we want to do. You ask me if [Buchholz] could do it? Yeah, I know he could.”

Oh well, it’s not the first time I’ve been wrong, and it certainly won’t be the last. Here’s hoping they have a plan for reintegrating him, however. As Francona notes, his potential is obvious.

Almost as obvious as our bullpen issues.

P.S. This Inside Edge piece confused me. Last I checked, Colon bumped Buchholz, not Masterson. In my mind, the latter is a candidate for a bullpen role at present, not a full time rotation spot. But maybe I missed something.

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

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }
.flickr-yourcomment { }
.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }
.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }



The blues, originally uploaded by jurek d..

We got swept. By the A’s. It sucked. I don’t know about you, but I liked it better when we were sweeping folks, rather than getting swept.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Good Guys were stranded out on the West Coast for Memorial Day weekend – putting a serious dent in my boating and social scheduling – we only managed to put up six runs in three games.

Blame’s tough to figure here. The offense, well, we know what they did. Or didn’t do. And the starters? Wake didn’t pitch well enough to win, didn’t. Beckett did, didn’t. Lester, well, let’s just say he was more hittable than his last outing. The bullpen, however, tipped the odds seriously in Oakland’s favor. After Lopez served one up to Cust, our win probability went from ~19% to ~5%.

We’re seriously going to have to do something about the bullpen.

Speaking of, one of the candidates continues to shine.

Bard

As the Portland Press Herald’s Kevin Thomas – who, as an aside, is rapidly becoming one of my favorites of the Sox beat writers – relates, recently promoted Daniel Bard’s introduction to the Sea Dog faithful went smoothly. 2K’s in 2IP, the final batter going down on a 99 MPH fastball. In 5 IP at Portland, Bard’s K’d 8, walked 1, and given up a mere 2 hits. The 16 batters that he’s faced are hitting .125.

With the obvious and understood small sample size caveat, if he keeps this up he may force Team Theo’s hand. We’ve talked before about why the Sox would be hesitant to promote the kid – see Hansen, Craig, or Meredith, Cla – but seriously: his K/9 is 14.4. At AA.

I make no promises that he’ll keep it up – particularly the control side of the equation – but if he does, I think you have to consider whether or not he could be an ’03 Papelbon type late season addition.

Beckett

One pitcher who’s been less impressive of late has been Josh Beckett. He hasn’t been terrible, but the two outings that preceded his Oakland start, he gave up 5 and 6 earned, off 5 home runs. The homers, for me, are the most worrisome trend, as he’s on a 31 homer pace. I for one would love to avoid a repeat of ’06 season, which saw him surrender 36.

Chad Finn thinks it’s too early to hit the panic button, and I agree. But it does bear watching.

The Inside Edge folks attribute Beckett’s struggles to pitching from the stretch, noting that he’s actually giving up a lower BAA and OBP than he did last year. From the windup, opposing batters are hitting .177. With guys on base, they skyrocket to .379, with a horrific .690 slugging percentage.

But wait, it gets worse. Same situation, guys on base, but behind in the count and forced to throw a fastball, the numbers are just terrifying. The batting average is .692, and the slugging is 1.385. For real. In the same situation last year, hitters were at .303/.485.

I don’t know whether it’s a mechanical thing, if he’s tipping his pitches from the stretch, or what, but I trust that Farrell and co are on it.

Buchholz

Spitting on my idea of bringing Bucky back and throwing him in the pen – Colon, after all, was reasonably effective – the Sox sent him back to Pawtucket for a start. While I’d much prefer his innings to come from us, though I know he’s been up and down, the Sox brass – who are clearly in a much better position to know what’s good for the kid than I – clearly feels that he’s got some work to do.

Specifically, as Mike Scandura over at Fire Brand reports, on his fastball.

“(Boston) told me they wanted me to throw 60-to-65 percent fastballs, so that’s what I tried to do,” said Buchholz who worked four innings plus one batter. “I felt like there were a lot of off-speed counts where I could have thrown off-speed pitches and maybe get some swings and misses. But I stuck with the fastball and overall I felt like it worked out good.”

Other items worth noting. Buchholz’ fastball reportedly topped out at 96, and the righthander walked two against 3 K’s in his outing. Interestingly, he was apparently told he was coming down for two rehab starts. Makes you wonder what the plan is for him going forward.

Lugo

One of you kind readers had the temerity to call into question my indictment of Julio Lugo by virtue of a lack of context. Well, not really, but sort of. So for you, kind readers, here’s some context: out of 21 shortstops that ESPN’s gimpy player stats page maintains, Julio Lugo is 14th on the list in terms of OPS. The players ahead of him on the list?

  1. Rafael Furcal
  2. Hanley Ramirez
  3. Miguel Tejada
  4. Stephen Drew
  5. Jeff Keppinger
  6. Yunel Escobar
  7. Ryan Theriot
  8. Jose Reyes
  9. Cristian Guzman
  10. Michael Young
  11. Derek Jeter
  12. Bobby Crosby
  13. Edgar Renteria

There are a couple of obvious names that should be on that list ahead of him, but there are some that really should not. Keppinger? Escobar? Theriot? Christian Guzman, even?

So given further context, the point stands: Lugo’s a problem. And his error today didn’t help his case.

The good news? Last year Lugo ended the year 19th out of 22 in OPS. Bad as he is, he’s better than he was last year.

Santana

Everybody and their mother is bringing up Buster Olney’s two pieces which note that the prized and pricey lefthander’s velocity is down and that he’s throwing with more effort. Immediately following this observation comes the qualification that, even if he’s not what he was, Santana is still better than the overwhelming majority of starters in the league.

Now I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so:

Just as important as the cost, is the predictability of the returns on that cost: i.e. the injury risk. Like many, I’m concerned by his late season fade (check his September splits). I seriously doubt that he forgot how to pitch, meaning that the most logical conclusion is that he wasn’t entirely right. Keith Law seems to share those concerns, saying:

“I haven’t read any of the others (I was on vacation), but I’d take A-Rod, Beckett, and Sabathia (because I’m a little concerned about how Santana finished 2007).

And then there’s the fact that virtually all of the players mentioned in connection to a potential Santana trade – Bowden, Ellsbury, Lester, Lowrie, and Masterson – have performed well, most at the major league level, and the deal becomes even a more obvious win.

I’m not saying that Santana’s not an excellent pitcher: he is. But for how long? Long enough to outweigh the value of three or four of the above players? Plus 20M+ per? I don’t think so.

Tampa

You know what else I told you? That Tampa was good.

With today’s sweep, we’re a half game out of first place. Behind the Rays.

Last But Not Least: Our Best Wishes

On the subject of things that are more important than baseball comes some bad news: two members of the Red Sox family have been diagnosed with cancer. Greenville (Class A) prospect Anthony Rizzo will miss the rest of the season following a diagnosis of Limited Stage Classical Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and Jon Lester’s father John was also has, as his son did, lymphoma.

Fortunately, the prognosis is both cases seems to be excellent. But as a family that has seen its share of cancer – my father’s had it twice and my uncle once – the news has a terrible resonance with me.

Not that either will read this, but we at wicked clevah would like to extend our best wishes and hopes for a full recovery to both individuals and their families. There’s a reason I give to the Jimmy Fund every year. This is it.

Lugo: The Question, Not the Answer

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }
.flickr-yourcomment { }
.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }
.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }



Lugo on Second, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

In that other blog I write, disclosure usually revolves around commercial relationships we have with various commercial entities. Here on wicked clevah, they’ll most often reveal personal biases I have either for or against players.

Yes, I do have biases against certain players, even Red Sox. I don’t believe in booing our own players under any circumstances – what happened to Mark Bellhorn was, in my view, just plain wrong – but I don’t have quite the same affection for each and every one of them that I do for, say, my Navajo brother.

Naturally.

So, full disclosure: on the current edition of the Boston Red Sox, the player I’m least fond of is one Julio Lugo. Besides his play in the field, I haven’t been terribly impressed by his attitude, either in interviews or when asked to fill in in left.

I’m hardly the only one guilty of being less than fond of our current starting shortstop, of course, but I was under the impression that I was leading that campaign until I read Sarah Green’s post over on UmpBump. Sweet lord.

I’m not quite that bad.

But I am not a fan, and the front office’s obsession with Lugo absolutely mystified me. Theo and the gang first tried to pry him away from the Rays prior to his trade to the Dodgers, next he was a rumored piece coming back in return for Andy Marte at one point, and once he hit the free agent market they couldn’t throw $36 million at him fast enough.

Which I never understood. He was a nice player, certainly. And we did have an opening at shortstop at the time. But $9 million? After the 2006 season, when we signed him, he was a lifetime .269/.335/.386 player. And offense, you’ll remember, was his strength.

Was he an upgrade, offensively, over Alex Gonzalez? You’d think so. And if your metric is OBP, the answer is yes. Barely, even though Gonzo was positively allergic to walks. Lugo was not, however, an upgrade in the power department. Gonzalez’ line in his single season with us?
.255/.299/.397/.696
And what has Lugo done is his season plus?
.259/.323/.341/.664
Not, I’d argue, an upgrade worth $4,625,000 (the delta between Gonzalez’ and Lugo’s ’08 salaries: I’m not even factoring in the rest of the deal).

And if offense was why he was brought in, what of his defense? Well, actually, until this year, it was better than advertised. As a shortstop, his Fielding Percentage was a tie for the fourth best of his career and he only made 19 errors, though his Range Factor was the third worst and his Zone Rating was the fourth worst.

But this year? Though it’s early, it’s the worst year of his career in a couple of categories: Fielding Percentage (excluding 2006’s 8 games at SS) and Range Factor. It’s his third worst in terms of Zone Rating, and he’s on a 46 error pace.

Things are bad enough, in fact, that Tito has taken to replacing Lugo in the late innings with Alex Cora. The same Alex Cora that several of the SOSH folks believe to be the inferior fielder. As an aside on that subject, Cora’s career numbers at SS are superior to Lugo’s in both Fielding Percentage (.971 to .964) and Zone Rating (.858 to .844), and Lugo’s edge in range factor is slight (4.57 to 4.52).

The question now is what comes next. 40 error shortstops putting up a .664 OPS for $9M+ are not the most marketable of commodities. As has been noted elsewhere, the Red Sox are unusually willing – a benefit of enlightened ownership, no doubt – to recognize a sunk cost when they see one and correct the situation, but I think a solution this season is unlikely.

To me, much depends on whether or not the club feels Jed Lowrie can handle shortstop on an everyday basis (no, I’m not a believer in Omar Vizquel, even if the rumor did originate with the great Gammons). Chad Finn, for one, is convinced that he can’t, while a scout that Baseball America spoke to was more positive (though the Eckstein comp is damning):

“Lowrie definitely profiles at the position,” the scout said. “He’s one of those guys that moves up a level and makes the big wigs go, ‘God, this guy just does everything so easy–he just does it and does it.’

“He’s kind of like David Eckstein with a lot better tools. You sit there and say to yourself, ‘That guy’s an everyday shortstop.’ He makes the plays–nothing necessarily real flashy, but he’s going to get it done. He’s made some flashy plays so far this year, but I think he was kind of playing out of his butt a little bit. I know going to the hole to get balls has been something where people have killed him in the past, but I saw him get three or four average runners to above in the first two series. He can go get it.”

Whatever the answer is on Lowrie, however, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Lugo is not the answer he felt he would be.

Which I probably could have told Theo, had he but asked.