Buchholz…One More Time

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

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

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

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

Simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rumors of My Death Etc Etc

from the pressbox

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

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

Now.

Buchholz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lowe

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

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

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

Pedroia

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

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

Ramirez

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

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

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

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

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

I’m cool with that.

Tazawa

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

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

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

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

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

Teixeira

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

Here’s what we know:

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

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

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

Varitek

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

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

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

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

Should be fun to watch.

And as a special bonus catching section:

Bard

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

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

Sunset on the '08 Season

Georgetown sunset

At 11:40 last night, Patrick – the bartender at Byrnes – flipped from TBS to the Weather Channel, ending the 2008 Red Sox season in the process. There would be no comeback, not this time, not this year. Now it’s time for golf, or if your’re Mikey Lowell, hip surgery.

The story of Game 7, as far as I’m concerned, is not terribly complicated: Lester pitched a very good game, while Garza pitched a great one. Yes, Lester no hit them for the first three, but Garza might as well have been throwing BBs. The onetime head case pitched inside to left and right hand batters, he threw hard, and he was locating two different breaking balls. Frankly, it was something to behold. If you weren’t a Sox fan, that is.

Had you told me last week that the Rays would take the series by beating Lester twice, I would have bet substantial cash that you were wrong. But in the end, the better, healthier team won. Neither Lester nor my watching from a venue in which I had been undefeated in the playoffs could have derailed the Rays on a night like that, one in which Garza channelled Josh Beckett, circa 2007.

With a bit of time to regroup, I find that I’m a bit hollowed out but ok. As are most of the people that I’ve spoken with and/or read. I’ve been very pleased to see that the reactions, by and large, from the fanbase reflects my own feelings: gratitude for another excellent summer of baseball, respect for a well constructed young club that played with a lot of heart, and hope for the future. We didn’t win a championship, and that hurts. It’s crushing, actually. But neither will I succumb to the Yankees mindset, in which anything less than a championship is a failure.

If we had ended this series by being shutout in Game 5, despair and anger would have been understandable, if still not productive. But in pushing it to Game 7, battered and facing long odds – as long as you’ll see – this year’s edition of the Boston Red Sox earned my respect, and I believe they should have yours.

Heading in to the offseason, we’ll have a lot more on what just happened and what might happen next, but for now I’d just like to congratulate the Tampa Bay Rays on a well played series, and thank the Boston Red Sox for a run that made us all proud, even as they fell short.

John 3:16

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You haven’t heard from me, because, really, what was there to say? Since we last talked, we’ve been savaged with a plastic hamster. Twice.

But that’s in the past, and revisiting just how many runs we’re talking about, how many hits, or how many times I’ve been crotch-kicked is pointless. A loss is a loss, whether you lose by 1 or by 10.

Nor will I tell you that we will win tonight. Given how good they’ve been, and how bad we’ve been, any such proclamation would ring hollow. What I will tell you, is that we can win tonight. We’re still alive, and that’s more than 27 other teams can say.

So don’t give up.

We’re beaten up, we’re dropping like flies, and we’ve been embarrassed on consecutive nights at home. But we play tonight with a chance to win. Personally, I’d like to believe that we’ll do something with that. Particularly since I’ll be watching the game from Byrnes’, where I am undefeated in this postseason.

So watch, root, believe. Because even the Lord said, “Go Sox.”

The ALCS So Far

beckett

It’s pretty simple: Beckett is not healthy. I don’t know if it’s his elbow, his oblique, or something else, but the man is not right. To argue anything else is to insult our collective intelligence, because the available evidence supports no other conclusion. It’s not that he’s surrendering runs; even the best postseason pitcher of this generation will do that, from time to time, and this Rays club is solid one through nine. It is, rather, the manner in which he’s going about his business. You’ve probably read by now that over the course of 93 pitches, Beckett got precisely one fastball by a Ray. One. Also, that his velocity is significantly reduced; he’s reportedly operating from 90-93 at this point.

It’s far from impossible to make the transition from power pitcher to finesse pitcher; that’s effectively what we’ve seen Schilling do the last few seasons here. But I seriously doubt that can be done – or at least done effectively – in playoff games. The stakes are simply too high, and the hitting that much better. Given that Beckett’s not likely to become Jamie Moyer in time for a potential Game 6 start, I hope our manager and the front office are asking themselves the heretical if necessary question: is Beckett our best option as a starter at this point? Or might we get more out of Byrd?

All of that would occur privately, of course. I expect none of Francona, Farrell or Beckett to claim anything other than that the pitcher is fine, because as much as it’s obvious to you, me and the Rays’ hitters that that is demonstrably false, it gains them nothing to allow that the pitcher’s injured. The media in general, I think, has been less inclined to question the official word than one might expect in the days leading up to yesterday’s start, but that’s all over in the wake of a second subpar outing.

The question at this point is what happens next? The good news is that we emerge from Tampa with a split. If you’d told me in advance that we’d get one in spite of a less than five inning start from Beckett, I would have called you a liar. The bad news is that without Beckett, our chances of taking the series are compromised.

Tomorrow’s Lester outing is, as anticipated, a must win game. If we can take that, we would then have to win two out four games started by Wake, Matsuzaka, Beckett and Lester – though it’s possible that Beckett could be bumped in favor of the young lefty if we were facing elimination. Certainly possible – particularly if Matsuzaka pitches as he did in Game 1, but we must win tomorrow. If we don’t, we’re in serious trouble, I think.

In other news, not that I doubted he’d turn things around, but it was nice to see Petey unload yesterday. If we can sustain some of the offense that we got in the early going yesterday – tough to do, since it principally came off a pitcher with a diminished arsenal – I like our chances going forward. The starters, with the exception of Beckett for the reasons noted above, are doing their job, and the pen has greatly exceeded my pessimistic expectations. But to take this series, we’re going to need runs. Quite a few of them, I think. And a fair number of them are going to have to come from Petey, since the Large Father – like Beckett – isn’t the Large Father at the moment.

The wicked clevah ALCS Preview

Aaaand the Pitch!, originally uploaded by TheBusyBrain.

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

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

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

The Season Series

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

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

The Injuries

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

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

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

The Rays Lineup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rays Pitching

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

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

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

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

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

The Sox Lineup

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

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

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

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

The Sox Pitching

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

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

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

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

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

The Prediction

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

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

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

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

Beckett Not Being Beckett: The Game 3 Reaction

Fenway says hi

I’ll admit it: seven hits in 12 innings was not precisely what I had in mind for my first in person postseason appearance at the park this season. After all, I brought a lifetime 5-1 playoff record to Fenway last night. I recognized that the Angels pitching was excellent – and that our offense can be pitched to, now more than ever – but, well, you saw what happened.

About as fun as a kick in the crotch.

On the one hand, if you’d told me we’d be up 2-1 after three games before the series began, I would have taken it. On the other, we lost a Beckett start, and if Lester can’t clinch tonight we’re looking at a Game 5 started by Matsuzaka. Which is almost more than I bear.

Twelve innings and a one run loss make it seem like the game was close, but in truth, it wasn’t. Ells’ first hit should never have dropped, and without that we don’t score four and we don’t go to extras. Sadly, we were unable to steal the game we didn’t deserve to win, with out best chance dying in the glove of Rivera (or was Willits in by then?) when Lowrie flied out to right off K-Rod with the bases loaded.

Anyway, I doubt reliving the game inning by inning would be all that cathartic, so let’s move on to the post-game comments:

  • Beckett:
    The Texan righthander says that physically he’s fine. Which is entirely unsurprising, whether it’s true or it isn’t. For my part, I say that the available evidence contradicts that claim. Easily.

    When Saunders is throwing harder (96) than Beckett (topped out at 94, sat at 92) according to the Fenway Park gun there’s something wrong. Set aside the results for a minute – while he labored in giving up nine hits over five, Beckett did keep us in the game – he just didn’t look like Beckett. His velocity was down, his command was poor, and he – like Matsuzaka the start before him – could not put batters away. Beckett started the game with one fastball in his first ten pitches and couldn’t cover first base; if that doesn’t scream “problem” I don’t know what would. If you asked the Angels privately, I would bet you a case of Smithwick’s that each and every one of them believes Beckett is still hurt.

    Which begs certain questions: if he’s not healthy – as I assume that he’s not – why not hold him for a Game 5 start and throw either Byrd or Wake? Lose that and you would then have to take one of two pitched by Lester and a more fully rested Beckett. And if he’s not healthy, why was he starting at all? Not only were we behind the 8 ball all day, the start cost us seven innings and 109 pitches from the pen. If last night was a consequence of Beckett trying to do too much and misleading his manager and the training staff as to his physical readiness, it’ll be a shame.

  • Bullpen:
    Much maligned by yours truly during the season, the relievers have pitched brilliantly for the most part. They haven’t been perfect, and have been as lucky (think Vlad’s first-to-third try) as they have been good, but last night was an excellent illustration of their turnaround: seven innings, three hits, one run. Can’t ask for any more than that.
  • Lowell:
    As you’ve no doubt read by now, Lowell looked bad last night. What was not properly conveyed was precisely how bad he looked. Lowell, who’s building a strong case as the toughest player in the league, is a shell at present, and moves as if he were hollow. His range is literally measured in feet, and his at bats are tough to watch. I have nothing but respect for him trying to play – and for gutting out the late innings walk last night – but we need to ask whether at the 30 or 40% he’s playing at currently, he’s an asset or a liability. Painful as that might be for our club.
  • Lopez:
    Just for the record, I don’t blame Lopez for last night’s outcome. His game is not facing righties, and that’s what got to him in the 12th. Why Lopez over Byrd? I didn’t quite follow Tito’s explanation, but I think it was this: Lopez needed to face the lefties coming up. If you use Byrd, he’s on in for a few batters, then it would Lopez’ turn, at which point you’ve burned your long guy (Wake was not an option because Cash had been erased). Seems a little circuitous logic-wise, but frankly there aren’t many great options in 12th inning of a playoff game in which your starter only went five.
  • Lowrie:
    Nor, for the record, do I hold Lowrie accountable for last night. Bases loaded, two out, facing one of the better closers in the game, the kid put a good swing on the ball, which is all that you can reasonably ask. The ball just hung up a few seconds long.
  • MDC:
    Giving credit where credit is due, as I’ve been a critic, MDC looked positively overpowering last night. He threw his change for strikes and made Anderson, in particular, look bad swinging through it. And while I don’t believe it was intentional, I’m glad he hit Napoli. The Angels catcher was far too comfortable in the box.
  • Napoli:
    Speaking of, I’m not sure if it was obvious on the telecast, but his first home run (I was in the dude’s room for the second) was an absolute bomb. The ball was crushed, and there was less than no doubt about it, even as it came off the bat.
  • Papi:
    I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but one common observation last night was that the Large Father just isn’t the same. He hit the ball hard a few times – flying out short of the warning track in his first two at bats – and walked late, but he’s clearly not the threat he was last season, or even early this one. Which is a problem.
  • Pedroia:
    The little guy actively took upon himself the blame for last night’s loss, which was good but hardly necessary. True, he remains hitless, and didn’t deliver in two or three spots last night that might have won us the ballgame. But a.) he’s not the only problem on offense, b.) he’s been unlucky on a few balls that were hit and hit well, and c.) they’re not giving him a lot to hit.
  • Shields:
    Was absolute nails last night. He located a fastball with good velocity (topping at 94), dropped in a mid 70’s hook, and threw in a slider for good measure. None of our guys looked comfortable, and none had particularly good at bats. That’s the good news for the Angels fan; the bad news is that he was leaned on heavily, throwing 28 pitches in 2 and a third IP. His availability tonight, presumably, will be limited.
  • Texeira/Vlad:
    Are easily outdoing their Red Sox counterparts this series. Like our ’07 Papi/Manny combo, they’re hitting pretty much everything (averages are .538 and .583, respectively). They are, frankly, terrifying at the moment.
  • Varitek:
    A few people were surprised that Tito pinch hit for Varitek. I would remind those people that a.) Tito manages – again, as he should – for the moment in the postseason, and that b.) Varitek can still hit lefties with moderate success, but is having serious trouble hitting from the left side of the plate. The move, therefore, was nothing more than a logical decision, if one that didn’t pay off.

What to expect tonight? It’s all on the starters. With an offday tomorrow if the series goes to five games, both clubs will have some flexibility with their respective ‘pens. But not a lot: the workloads have been heavy. Last night alone, the Angels’s relief core all threw around 30 pitches (Arredondo 28, Shields 28, K-Rod 33). Our workload wasn’t that much lighter (Delcarmen 25, Oki 17, Masterson 16, Pap 31, Lopez 20). If one starter goes five against the other’s seven or eight, he’s going to lose.

The good news is that we’re throwing the ace of our postseason tonight in Lester; the bad news is that the Angels are doing the same. True, Lackey’s history at Fenway is less than stellar (I’m on a train and can’t look up the numbers), but his near no-hitter this year was pitched there, unless I’m mistaken.

In other words, I expect another good, tight ballgame. Which makes for good TV. But I have to be honest: I’d settle for a big margin Sox win.

P.S. One thing to keep on the back of your mind: might Beckett be available for an inning or two out of the pen on Wed, if necessary?

Did That Just…Oh My God IT'S OUT: Game 2 Reaction

Speaking for each and every one of us, Denton said this:

F#@KING JD DREW WHOM I LOVE LIKE A BROTHER OR PERHAPS A WOMAN OF QUESTIONABLE BACKGROUND AFTER I’VE HAD MANY DRINKS JUST DRIVES A TWO-RUN HOMER OUT OF THE PARK AND THE RED SOX TAKE THE LEAD HOLY SHIT I’VE LOST IT

So let it be written, so let it be done. After a long, brutally drawn out night spent nursing four beers and dreams of failure at Byrnes’ Irish Pub in Bath, ME, we are shipping up to Boston, improbably up 2-0.

Any by we’re, I don’t just mean in a metaphorical sense, as in we the Red Sox. I mean, we as in me and the Red Sox. Or, if you want to be like that, the Red Sox and I.

That’s right: thanks to what is essentially a miracle, I will be making a shockingly unanticipated visit to Fenway Park to see Josh Beckett – who is now, apparently, a definite – take the mound. Thanks to the largesse of a friend and wicked clevah reader.

A few comments (of dubious value):

  • Let’s give credit where credit is due: Matsuzaka did his job Friday night by keeping us in the ballgame. That said, watching him pitch is just excruciating. His games are all too typically a high wire act, and last night was no exception. Add in the additional weight of a playoff game, and it was a long night. In my clearly inexpert opinion, his difficulty largely stems from the fact that he lacks – or lacks consistent command of – a true swing and miss pitch. His K rates demonstrate more than adequately that he has the ability to generate strikeouts, but in games like last night’s he seems consistently unable to put away hitters after getting them in two strike counts.
  • Schilling said exactly what I was thinking on the drive home last night: “the league MVP or runner up has not had a hit yet.” One reason – a healthy Beckett would be another – to be optimistic in tomorrow’s contest. Another? The little guy is 7-18 against tomorrow’s starter for a lifetime .389/.389/.444 line. I’m not worried about Petey: he’s going to hit sooner or later, and with two wins, we haven’t missed him terribly yet.
  • No one will – or should – claim that we don’t miss Manny Ramirez offensively. His postseason performance with the Sox speaks for itself. But much as was said at the time of the trade, while Bay is no Ramirez, he’s not a bad player. And right now, if you were to vote for a series MVP, wouldn’t it have to be Bay? Also notable: Bay is 1-3 lifetime vs Saunders, which would be less interesting if the hit wasn’t a home run. That’s one of three home runs we’ve hit lifetime off the pitcher (the other two came from Crisp and Youk).
  • I confess to being sorry to have made this particular Angels fan unhappy. But if I have to pick between that and making everyone’s favorite beat writer happy, it’s not even a conversation. Sorry, lady: you’re cute, but you’re no Amalie.
  • Chad Finn on Tito:

    I was almost as encouraged by the inclusion of third-string catcher David Ross on the final roster as I was by the news that Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew were among the final 25, for this reason: It’s a clear sign that Tito Francona intends to pinch hit for the mummified remains of Jason Varitek when the situation calls for it. One of the countless things I admire about Francona as a manager is that he consciously changes his approach in the postseason. He manages with more inning-to-inning urgency, whereas from April to September he always has the big picture and the long season in focus. There were a handful of times during the regular season when I’d catch myself screaming at the Samsung after Francona refused to hit for Varitek in a key situation. (Varitek, of course, either whiffed or grounded into a routine double play, depending if there was a runner on first). Ross’s presence on the roster is all the proof I need that Tito is about to change his ways again.

    Precisely. And you need look no further for evidence of this, I think, than Mike Lowell’s DNP last night. This decision was clearly excruciating for Francona, in part because Lowell even hobbled adds something to the club, but more the respect the third baseman has earned. But Tito, as he might not do during the regular season, is clearly managing for the moment.

    Exactly as he should be doing.

  • JD DREW! That’s twice in the last two postseasons that I’ve seen K-Rod taken deep by one of our boys. And twice in the last two postseasons that Drew has hit a big, game changing homer. That this one wasn’t a four run job like last year’s does nothing to diminish its importance: it was huge, because extra innings – and, presumably, an MDC appearance – lay dead ahead.
  • A couple of folks at Byrnes were nervous when Pap threw a few balls in the dirt. Personally, I was elated, as that indicates that the days of the fastball-only approach may be over for the time being, as the split moves back in.
  • Speaking of MDC, does anyone else think it’s interesting that he hasn’t pitched yet?
  • And speaking of absences, did anyone note that senior Globe writer Nick Cafardo was sent to Tampa, rather than the series we’re actually playing in? I know his is a more national beat, and that I know next to nothing about the staffing of sports beats, but dare I hope this means that someone feels the same way I do about Cafardo? Adam Kilgore, by the way, a new addition to the Globe team, is excellent so far. IMHO, anyway.
  • If you’re going to make the argument that – in hindsight – the hole that the Angels have dug for themselves is due to poor roster construction, poor managerial tactics, or something similar, shouldn’t you at least mention the fact that both games could have gone the other way? Or is that a case of the facts getting in the way of a good story?
  • And because I can’t post without talking about numbers, lifetime our guys have put up a .670 OPS against Saunders in 130 ABs. The best (minimum 5 ABs): Crisp at 1.000, Youk at .931, Pedro at .833, Drew at .733, and Cash at .733. That’s the good news. The bad is that Lowrie, Lowell, Ortiz, Ells, Tek, and Casey are all OPSing at .500 or under. All of which, based on the results to date, means precisely dick. But just so you feel prepared.

Game 3

Yes, the pressure is on the Angels. Yes, we’re playing at home. Yes, our ace is throwing against their #3 starter. And yes, we can probably expect Pedroia to chip in before the series is ended.

But tomorrow’s game is very far from a given. As noted in this space before, we’ve thrown Beckett against weaker starters this season and come out on the losing end. And Saunders – for reasons that are unclear to me – generally performs well against our lineup. Besides, who knows better than us that 2-0 does not a series win make?

So no guarantees here that we’ll wrap it up. Quite the contrary, in fact: I expect the Angels to come out loose because that’s all they can do, and I expect a solid outing from Saunders. Beyond that, I leave it to Beckett’s right arm.

While I can’t guarantee a win, however, I can guarantee that I’ll be doing everything in my power to secure one. Which might not be much, but is something.

Lester = Nails: Game 1 Reaction

I love being wrong. Truly. Particularly when it results in us taking the first game of what will be a tough series, whoever ends up moving on.

While I focused on his poor showing against the Angels this season in my preview, Lester battled through some early command problems, settled down, and essentially destroyed a pretty solid lineup. True, perennial irritant Garret Anderson had a couple of hits, and there was the unearned run courtesy of a nervous Lowrie, but the lefty standing in for Beckett was – there really isn’t any other word for it – nails. Beckett himself couldn’t have done much better.

Which was excellent timing, because Lackey – inexplicably pulled after 97 pitches – was outstanding himself. Apart from an outside fastball to Bay, who looked truly awful against the breaking ball in his first two at bats, the Angels’ ace pitched a solid ballgame.

The question that everyone – including myself – has at this point is: what happens from here? Senor Churbuck seems optimistic, arguing that I didn’t account for my Navajo brother’s (sorry, ahl) resurgence at the plate. Which is true; Ells was all over the basepaths last night, and the insurance run he knocked in was big.

As is typical, I have no idea what happens next. To advance, our job is pretty straightforward: we need to win two of the next four ballgames.

The matchups, again, will be:

  1. Matsuzaka vs Santana
  2. Beckett (in theory) vs Saunders
  3. Lester vs Lackey
  4. Matsuzaka vs Santana

If Beckett is Beckett, or a close enough approximation thereof, our chances in Game 3 are good. It’s very far from a given – remember that Beckett has lost to luminaries like Andy Sonnanstine and Brian Moehler this year – but the matchup, on paper, has to be considered a good one for us.

Should we win his start, that obviously means we would need to take one of two Matsuzaka starts and another from Lester. Possible? Absolutely. Likely? I’m not sure I would go that far.

Remember that while a win is a win, last night was not exactly a drubbing. There were several points in that game – Lester’s early command issues, Ellsbury’s unreal grab of a sinking liner, Vlad’s blind man’s baserunning – which potentially would have led to a different, less favorable, outcome.

I’m happy we won, you’re happy we won, and merciful Poseidon is happy we won, but the kids didn’t exactly light it up. 8-35 is good for a .229 batting average; most nights that’s not good enough. Not that the Angels were that stellar either, mind you, at 9-36.

All of which is a fancy way of saying that we got a little lucky, which is nothing to be ashamed of in the postseason, and that in another Lackey v Lester game, it’s reasonable to expect that things could go either way.

Which brings us to Matsuzaka v Santana; to my mind, the least favorable matchup of the three. Even if we throw Matsuzaka’s poor start against the Angels this year out – because Lester certainly outperformed his – there’s Santana to consider.

Always a talented pitcher, Santana has had something of a bizarre career. Exhibit A was last season, when he was dominant at home (3.27 ERA) and essentially useless on the road (8.38 ERA). This year, however, he’s put things together and had a fine season. 3.49 ERA, 214 strikeouts, 47 walks, and a .237 allowed average in 219 innings pitched. His home / road split even reverted: 4.03 at home, 3.02 on the road. Yeah, you got me.

He didn’t throw against us this year, but how do we hit him historically? Not bad, actually. 26-77, good for a .338 average, to go with a .414 OBP and a .597 slugging percentage. Crisp is 2-2, Cora 2-3, Ortiz 5-9 with a home run, and Kotsay (who, reportedly, is playing first) is 7-18 with two doubles. Casey, Tek, Pedroia and Ells, meanwhile, are hitless in a handful of at bats.

But none of the above, of course, means much. If it did, Lester would have gotten shelled last night. This is the playoffs, those are small sample sizes, and who knows what the hell will happen.

Tomorrow night is big, obviously. If we can steal both games against the Angels best pitchers, with our ace yet to throw, we’re in excellent shape. It’s not a must win: if you’d told me we’d split to open the series, I probably would have taken it. But a loss would put immense pressure on the Angels, who are already dealing with questions about all of the playoff exits, the recent history, etc etc, ad nauseam.

So from a predictive standpoint, to answer the question: am I more optimistic than I was prior to the series start? Certainly. With one game won, our odds cannot help but increase. But a win tomorrow night would make me even more positive.

The wicked clevah ALDS Preview

2007

So we’re in the playoffs. Which is terrific. Fantastic, even. I don’t know about you, but I savored the shit out of this appearance. Partially because it’s been a long, tough road to get here. But mostly because if you don’t make the playoffs, it’s difficult to win the World Series. Which is bad.

The obvious question at this point – the question on your mind and mine is simple – can we win? That one, at least, I can answer: yes. If the Cardinals, winners of a mere 83 games, could win it in ’06, anything is clearly possible. The playoffs, as several wise people have commented, are something of a crapshoot. And besides, as Bob Ryan says, we are pretty much playing with house money at this point.

But to answer the better, more important question of will we win, I looked at the numbers, and I’m sorry to say they’re not good. Like, really not good. The Angels beat writers may be shooting for the reverse jinx, the MLB Angels guy might lean our way, and Rob Neyer might argue we have the best team, but man, the numbers. I know it’s a small tiny sample size and all that, and that most of it will go out the window tomorrow night at 10 PM ET…but man, the numbers.

So with the reiterated caveat that we’re dealing with an extremely small sample size – all numbers are for the ’08 season unless otherwise specified – here’s your Angels v Sox playoff preview.

The Season Series

Everyone knows this already, but in case you hadn’t been keeping up with current events, we got our asses kicked. The Angels not only took eight of the nine contests between the two clubs, they scored nearly twice as many runs as we did in doing so – 61-33.

Thankfully, that’s behind us, and truthfully it was a long time ago. The last time we saw the Angels was the 30th of July.We’re a different team than we were then, and so are they.

The Injuries

As if the record wasn’t quite discouraging enough, there’s the fact that we are light years from operating at full strength. No club is fully healthy at this time of year, but having your starting third basemen and right fielder afflicted with a torn labrum of the hip and herniated disc, respectively, wasn’t how we’d draw things up. ESPN says they could both play in Game 1, but even if they can, what can they give us?

And then, of course, there was the late breaking Beckett news, which was about as welcome as a kick to the crotch. Before I continue, however, let me compliment the Sox on their tight ship: I’m with Art – if the Angels known Beckett is iffy, they probably opt for the schedule requiring us to use four starters, not three. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the likelihood that Beckett starts on Sunday.

No matter what I tell the ladies, I am not a doctor, so I don’t have the faintest idea. But I can’t say that Art’s review of the Sox history with oblique injuries is particularly reassuring: our last four bouts with the side muscle have cost us an average of just under 21 days. Which, in case you’re scoring at home, is about 14 more days than Beckett will have. But, like Lowell, the kid is tough, so we’ll see.

If he doesn’t pitch, however, or doesn’t pitch effectively, we’re probably in trouble. For reasons that I’ll get into in a minute.

And we’re not even accounting for the fact that Ortiz still seems bothered by his wrist from time to time.

Healthy, we ain’t.

The Angels Lineup

This, according to just about everyone, is the Angels’ primary weakness – Texeira or no Texeira. Which is understandable, given that they put up a .268/.329/.412 line for a .741 OPS. Non-stellar, especially for a team that won a hundred games. As Keith Law puts it in his scouter:

The Angels’ main Achilles heel is their lineup, although they’ll head into October with a stronger offense than their season-long totals might indicate. It is as impatient a lineup as you’ll see in the postseason; they finished 11th in the AL in OBP at .329, and 12th in walks, ahead of only Seattle and Kansas City. Many of their hitters try to get a fastball early in the count and shoot it to the opposite field, eschewing both power and the benefits of patience to try to reach base quickly via singles and the occasional double down the line and then put pressure on the defense. On any given night, they’ll run four below-average hitters for their positions out there in Chone Figgins (who does work the count, but has so little power as to be ineffectual), Aybar, and two of Juan Rivera, Gary Matthews Jr. and Garret Anderson; it’s five on nights when Jeff Mathis starts behind the plate. Vlad Guerrero can still get the bat to the ball — wherever the latter might be — extremely well, but the result of that contact is a little weaker than it’s ever been before. Teixeira’s arrival is one of the reasons why those season-long numbers are a little misleading; he’s put up numbers for the Angels comparable [ed -.133/.188/.333/.521] to what Manny Ramirez has posted for the Dodgers, but in the tougher league.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that against us, at least this year, the Halos have been better than non-stellar. And then some.

En route to scoring those 61 runs, the Angels’ lineup hit .305/.360/.540/.901 against our pitching. And before you ask, yes, that includes two Beckett starts and one apiece from Lester and Matsuzaka. Here’s what their projected started lineup did against the good guys:

POS NAME AVG OBP SLG OPS
C Mathis .231 .259 .423 .682
1B Texeira 1 GP 0-4
2B Kendrick .200 .261 .250 .511
3B Figgins .306 .405 .361 .766
SS Aybar .500 .500 .857 1.357
LF Anderson .378 .395 .649 1.043
CF Hunter .361 .395 .694 1.089
RF Guerrero .270 .325 .459 .784
DH Rivera .286 .353 .357 .710

Granted, Aybar’s not likely to OPS 1.357 against us in the Division Series, but still. They killed our guys pretty good, as you’ll see when I get to the Sox pitching.

But for now, the Angels’ pitching.

The Angels Pitching

For the year, the Angels’ pitching was good. Their 1-2 of Lackey/Santana is about as good as you’ll find, the rest of the rotation is serviceable, and the pen has potentially dominant setup men in front of the record setting K-Rod. Together, the unit put up a 4.02 ERA, 1092K, 457BB, 6.81 K/9 line in 1442.1 IP. Not bad.

The better news, for Angels fans, is that they’re even better that against the Sox. In the 9 games and 80 innings they threw against us this year, their numbers look like this: 3.60 ERA, 50K, 30BB, 5.62 K/9. Not great strikeout or walk numbers, but 33 runs in 9 games is pretty good against our lineup, generally.

Here’s how their top three did against us:

PLAYER STARTS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Lackey 2 .132 .207 .321 .528
Santana DNP
Saunders 3 .254 .346 .437 .782

Credible. Lackey, in particular, after years of getting beaten like the redheaded stepchild by our lineup, owned us in his two starts. If he throws like he did in the regular season against us – rather than his disastrous last start – it’ll be a long day.

The lone strike against the Angels staff is that they faltered in September, albeit while striking more guys out: 4.91 ERA, 225.1 IP, 194K, 75BB, 7.75 K/9. That could easily be attributable, however, to their massive lead in the division.

Anyway, time for a look at our lineup.

The Sox Lineup

Another good news/bad news deal here. The good news is that our lineup was good. As Law put it in his scouting report:

The Red Sox had the best offense in the American League this year, finishing second in runs scored to Texas (who play in a much better hitters’ park) and third in slugging percentage, while leading the league in OBP. They traded their best hitter in Manny Ramirez and got back an equivalent hitter in Jason Bay.

At full strength, they have six strong hitters who are tough outs, usually running 1-6 in their lineup. Dustin Pedroia murders fastballs from up and in to out over the plate, and can foul off a lot of pitches away that he can’t hit fair; his biggest weakness is in under his hands, but few pitchers pitch him there. David Ortiz is weak against lefties, especially lower-slot lefties, who work him soft away, but he hits almost everything else, with good power from left-center all the way to deep right. Bay and Kevin Youkilis are extremely patient hitters. Both let the ball travel well, have good power and will try to pull stuff on the outer half; Bay shows more power, especially when he gets his arms extended. Mike Lowell, when his hip isn’t causing him trouble, has lost a touch of bat speed but still has no trouble with average fastballs; he shows good plate coverage with doubles power. Rookie shortstop Jed Lowrie hasn’t had great results against right-handers since he Wally Pipped Julio Lugo, but takes extremely good at-bats and has murdered left-handed pitching.

The bad news, well, there’s a bunch of it. In order of importance:

  1. Health:
    Note that the above scouting report discusses the lineup using the qualifier “at full strength.” While we might reasonably dispute the predictions of who will play and what percent they’ll be playing at if they do appear, no one’s going to claim that we’re at full strength. If Lowell can’t go, we lose defensively and offensively whoever plays – Casey at 1B, Cora at SS – whomever. If Drew can’t go, it’s the same deal. Kotsay’s a valuable pickup, but he’s not Drew. But then Drew hasn’t been Drew in, oh, a month or two. So health, clearly, is an issue.
  2. Ramirez:
    I’m on the record as being for the Ramirez trade, and I’m not going to backtrack now. But I did say that the Angels in particular probably weren’t that upset:

    “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.”

    What were his postseason numbers against the Angels, you ask? .375/.615/1.125. That’s AVG/OPS/SLG. No OPS in there at all. Seriously. In the regular season, Manny’s not quite as inhuman, putting up a mere .298/.414/.569/.983. So losing him hurts. But as we know, Bay’s a good player. What are his numbers? Well, that’s actually the next problem.

  3. Bay:
    To begin with, Bay’s never played in the postseason, so it’s unclear how he’ll perform there. But neither had he played in a big market like Boston, and he’s done just fine so I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt there. What’s he done against the Angels, though? This season, nothing. But the lifetime numbers aren’t inspiring: .133/.188/.333/.521. It’s literally a handful of ABs – 15 – so it means very little. Still, it’s not encouraging.

Those are the biggies. There are a host of smaller ones about each player, but I’ll skip that. Here’s what each or our starters did against the Angels this year.

POS NAME AVG OBP SLG OPS
C Varitek .154 .389 .231 .620
1B Casey .231 .231 .385 .615
2B Pedroia .385 .405 .538 .943
3B Youk .241 .333 .690 1.023
SS Lowrie .227 .261 .273 .534
LF Bay DNP
CF Crisp .286 .333 .643 .976
RF Ellsbury .200 .222 .371 .594
DH Ortiz .318 .444 .682 1.126

The Sox Pitching

As a staff, the Sox pitched relatively well. Our staff ERA was a tick lower than the Angels’ at 4.01, and over the 1427.1 IP our guys threw we K’d hitters at a higher rate than the Angels – 7.36 K/9 to 6.81.

Much has been made – and rightly so – of our starting pitching in this series. The injury to Beckett complicates that case, of course, but Lester and Matsuzaka have both turned in solid seasons. Lester, for example, was just named the AL Pitcher of the Month for the second time this season, and while I’m seriously concerned about his innings jump (Hacks with Haggs was the first media blog I saw discuss this), he’s been a horse. Matsuzaka, for his part, won 18 games for the club. Yes, it was in maddening fashion, as he’s clearly averse to pitching to contact, and would prefer to walk man after man, but he struck guys out, was hard to hit, and won games. Beckett, meanwhile, had a more up and down season, but appeared to be rounding into postseason form prior to his oblique strain. Which would have given us a front three that matched up well with most anyone.

And then, the injury. There, we’ll just have to wait and see. As close to the vest as the Sox play things, we’ll know he’s starting when he’s actually out on the mound Sunday. And not until then.

In the meantime, however, it’s worth noting that none of our front three pitched particularly well against the club they’re going to face. Our entire staff, in fact, pitched poorly. As a club, we threw up a 6.23 ERA in 78 IP. Our K rate also dipped to 5.88/9.

You might be thinking at this point that that’s all the bullpen; that the starters fared well, only to be undone. Not so. All three of Beckett, Lester, and Matsuzaka threw against the Angels. none fared well. Here are the numbers:

PLAYER STARTS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Beckett 2 .345 .367 .552 .918
Lester 1 .429 .478 .857 1.335
Matsuzaka 1 .350 .391 .700 1.091

Again, we’re talking about four starts between them, so it’s important not to read too much into the numbers. But I’d still much rather have the Angels’ staff’s than ours.

As for the bullpen, well, you probably know how I feel on that subject. Here’s Law’s take:

The Red Sox’s bullpen has been up and down this season, with even closer Jonathan Papelbon showing some cracks in the foundation. Papelbon has become a fastball-centric pitcher, leaving his outpitch splitter in his back pocket in many outings, even favoring his average slider over the splitter when he does want to go to a second pitch. To be his usual dominant self, he needs to use a second pitch to change hitters’ eye levels and prevent them from cheating on his fastball, which, while hard, is somewhat straight.

Behind Papelbon, the Red Sox have, at least on paper, a strong setup corps. Justin Masterson has stepped into the right-handed setup role, throwing 90-mph sinkers with the occasional 94-95-mph four-seamer and enough mid-80s sliders to keep hitters honest; he generates a ridiculous number of ground balls while also avoiding the free pass. Manny Delcarmen has recovered from a rough patch in early July, when he briefly lost command of his fastball, and is back to pumping 94-96 mph four-seamers with good downhill plane and a plus-plus changeup, throwing both pitches and the occasional curveball for strikes. And Hideki Okajima, who slumped midseason around the time Delcarmen did, has recovered his form as a lefty reliever who can get righties out with his split-change “okie-dokie” pitch and quick, short-breaking curveball. If David Aardsma is healthy enough to pitch, he provides Boston with another power arm — he throws a fastball up to 99 mph and has an average splitter but below-average command — that it can use to keep a close game from getting out of hand.

Aardsma, we know, is out. As for Masterson, MDC, and Oki, the operative phrase to me seems to me “on any given day.” They certainly have the ability to bridge a tight game; they each also have the ability to turn a game around by putting people on base and giving up the ill timed hit. Several people have expressed concern about Papelbon, but I’m inclined to trust him come the postseason until he gives me a reason not to. He pitched poorly on Sunday, but that’s a meaningless appearance.

Do I trust the pen, then? Nope. But can they get it done? No question.

The Prediction

There is no prediction; I don’t do predictions. If you go in for that kind of thing, only four out of ten of ESPN’s “experts” picked the good guys. The good news is that the two smartest – Law and Neyer – see the Sox taking the series. The bad is that the dumbest – Phillips – did as well.

Net net, we’re in for a tough sled. Even at full strength, the Angels could have handled us. Depleted as we are, we can still win, but our margin for error will be very slight. The key, as Francona observed, is playing with a lead. We cannot afford to get into their bullpen down, as Arredondo, K-Rod, Shields and the gang are terrifying.

Whatever happens, I’m proud of our guys for getting here, and I’m planning my schedule around them. Here’s hoping they’re playing for a while yet.