The Five Claims of the #KeepJBJ Reporters

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One of the more interesting aspects to the #KeepJBJ campaign is the degree to which reporters – ostensibly impartial observers – have been sucked up in the frenzy to start the 23 year old in the major leagues. Or at least wish to give that appearance; Pete Abraham, for example, who gives every appearance now of being fully on the bandwagon, earlier implied it was something of an act:

Maybe they’re just trying to sell papers by siding with the masses, maybe they’re legitimately convinced it’s the right thing to do. It’s difficult to say with any certainty, which in my opinion is a failure on the part of the reporter, but that’s a subject for another day.

Should Jackie Bradley Jr end up making the club tomorrow – as is widely expected – it would not be, as Marc Normandin put it, the end of the world. It would, however, be a mistake.

The #KeepJBJ subset of media covering the Red Sox are building their case using a few different claims that are worth examining in more detail.

Claim #1: “This isn’t about Spring Training statistics”

See, for example, Rob Bradford’s denial here:

While it’s true that in the piece mentioned, not to mention all of the other pieces written in favor of keeping Bradley on the roster, Spring Training statistics are rarely if ever mentioned, there’s one important question none of the reporters (to date, anyhow) have cared to answer: if Bradley was hitting, say, .215, would we be having this conversation?

The answer, of course, is no. It’s difficult if not impossible to imagine a grassroots #KeepJBJ campaign if the outfielder wasn’t putting up numbers reminiscent of Bonds in his prime. The glove is great, undoubtedly, but so was Che-Hsuan Lin’s.

As Curt Schilling (of all people) outlines here, however, these numbers are utterly meaningless. Unfortunately, as Keith Law observes, it is very difficult for some to accept the fact that Spring Training statistics are useless.

While none of the reporters in question will admit it, then, the fact remains that each and every one of them is basing their belief that Bradley should remain with the team on his spring numbers. Even if they say they are not.

Claim #2: “Service time shouldn’t be an issue”

Rob Bradford argues this explicitly here, and Pete Abraham (among others) has made the same argument on Twitter.

In this, at least, the #KeepJBJ party is technically correct. Assuming that Bradley Jr is kept, he could be sent down for 20 days later in the season to gain the additional year of service time.

There are a few problems here, however:

  1. Injuries could make it impossible for him to be sent down. If there’s any team that should know this, it’s the Red Sox. Know how many games Ellsbury played in 2010, March through May? Nine. Say he gets hurt again (he’s already jammed an ankle). Or Victorino. If you leave Bradley in the minors for nine games, this is not an issue. If you’ve started him in the majors, on the other hand, it’s extremely unlikely he would be sent down for the required 20 games, and thus you lose a year of Bradley in his prime.
  2. What if his performance prohibits you from demoting him, either because his agent (Boras, remember) would file a grievance as Rob Neyer suggests or because he’s playing well enough he can’t be sent down. If you’re Pete Abraham, you say, essentially, so what? Personally, I think we need to be smarter than that.

Claim #3: “The Red Sox can’t afford to start slow”

This is easy to address: the Red Sox can, in fact, afford to start slow. Even after their horrific start in 2011, it took a historically unprecedented collapse to keep them on the outside looking in. In a perfect world, of course, they get off to a hot start. If they don’t, however, baseball is, as they say, a marathon, not a sprint. This is basically an opinion masquerading as a fact that reporters are using to justify another opinion. So we can toss it.

Claim #4: “We need to have the best team on the field”

If we assume for the sake of argument that the Red Sox need to have their best nine players on the field for the first nine games, the question is whether Bradley’s part of that best nine. To argue that he is the “best choice” for the roster spot, you have to assume that he’ll hit – which is certainly possible. It’s equally plausible, however, that he doesn’t. Everyone cites Mike Trout, for example, as justification for starting Bradley in the majors. Know what he did in his first 40 games at the major league level? .220/.281/.390. Pedroia’s another common comparison. In 2006, he hit .305/.384/.426 at Pawtucket. The 31 games after his promotion to the majors? .191/.258/.303.

The single most consistent truth of player development is that it is rarely linear. This particular claim assumes – with essentially no evidence but his spring training numbers – that Bradley will be an offensive asset to the major league roster rather than a liability. While it’s certainly possible that that’s the case, taking it as a given – as the reporters are – is a mistake.

Claim #5: “The Red Sox need Bradley to put people in the seats”

Let’s say that the Red Sox send Bradley to Pawtucket for the requisite nine games. Know how many home games he’d miss? Three. The Sox’ first two series are on the road. They can probably expect to sell out their home opener, so even if they keep Bradley down we’re effectively talking about the gate for two games. It seems a little silly to justify a year of service time for two gates, particularly so early.

The Net

Viewed dispassionately, this is a simple decision. Even if Bradley was the second coming of Mike Trout, the Red Sox could survive without him for nine games. More to the point, if they can’t, the season is lost anyway and there’s even less incentive to start him in the majors. Even Trout couldn’t make that big a difference in a mere nine games.

Trading nine games from a 23 year old Bradley for one hundred and sixty two from a Bradley in his peak years is nothing less than folly. It pains me to make the case against Bradley, because even setting the talent aside he seems like a personable, poised kid who gets it. But his performance this spring – which is to his credit, to be clear – has seemingly cast a spell over everyone in Florida. My hope is that Cherington has maintained his distance, and sees the risks associated with an immediate promotion clearly. It’s one thing for reporters to get swept up in the performance and cavalierly dismiss the financial implications; it would be quite another for the man who’s charged with balancing the short and long term health of the organization.

Years from now, no one’s likely to remember the names of the reporters who agitated on behalf of starting Bradley in the majors. The General Manager who made that decision, however, and cost the club a year of service time in exchange for nine games, well, he’s likely to be raked over the coals by the same media personalities that are campaigning for his promotion.

Jackie Bradley’s Time is Not Now

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The case for Bradley is simple: He’s been the best player in camp since the day he arrived. After going 3-for-4 with a homer on Monday and adding another hit in his lone at-bat yesterday, he finds himself hitting .536 (15-for-28). Add flawless outfield defense, the fact that he’s homegrown, and the lack of compelling alternatives, and this decision should be a slam dunk.” – John Tomase, “Jackie Bradley’s Time is Now

Like many fans and reporters alike, John Tomase of the Herald has apparently been swept up in the Jackie Bradley Jr hysteria that is sweeping Boston at the moment. Even implying that the Red Sox should send JBJ to the minors elicits reactions like these:

It’s easy to see why people are excited. From his appearances on everyone’s top prospects lists to his .423 OBP over two minor league seasons to his defense to his personality, it’s hard not to like the kid. As Chad Finn suggests, he might be “the fun story of camp.”

While it’s ok to get excited, however, it’s important not to get carried away. ZIPS, for example, believes that Bradley would produce something like a .249/.329/.367 in the majors right now. Given his defense and speed on the bases, that might actually still be a useful player. A savior, however, it is not.

“But,” you say, “he’s hitting .536/.629/.714 this spring!” Well, let’s talk about Spring Training statistics for a minute. Working as far back as MLB’s statistics allow us to go – 2006 – here are other notable Spring Training performances.

  • 2012: Putting up a .447/.512/.816 for a 1.327 OPS over 18 games, Darnell McDonald outhit Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, Will Middlebrooks and Adrian Gonzalez. His closest competitor amongst regulars is Cody Ross who slashed a .370/.431/.826.

    McDonald’s final numbers over the 38 games before the Red Sox released him? .214/.309/.369.
  • 2011: Amongst players with a minimum of 14 games in Spring Training – three more than Adrian Gonzalez played – Oscar Tejeda hit .360/.407/.640. That was better than Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Pedroia, JD Drew and Marco Scutaro.

    His final 2011 line? He never appeared in the majors, and split last season between the Pirates and Red Sox AA systems.
  • 2010: For players appearing in a minimum of 16 games, Jeremy Hermida was the best hitter on the roster, posting a .450/.500/.650 line.

    In the 52 games before his release, Hermida put up a .203/.257/.348 for the Red Sox.
  • 2009: Filtering to a minimum of 40 at bats, Jeff Bailey’s 1.055 OPS narrowly edged out Chris Carter’s 1.038 and Nick Green’s .938, but easily bested Pedroia’s .913, Jason Bay’s .909 or David Ortiz’ .892.

    Jeff Bailey’s final line in 2009? .208/.330/.416. It would be his last as a big league player.
  • 2008: Over a minimum of 35 at bats, Joe Thurston’s .874 OPS was enough to eclipse Drew, Manny Ramirez and Ortiz.

    How did Thurston do in 2008? He played four games for the Red Sox and hit .000.111/.000.
  • 2007: Do you remember Eddie Rogers? If so, you probably live near Pawtucket. He still managed to outhit Ortiz and Ramirez, however, with a .922 OPS.

    After appearing in a handful of games for the Orioles the year before, Rogers never played for the Red Sox in 2007 and hasn’t appeared in a major league game since.
  • 2006: Dustan Mohr might be a more familiar name, as he appeared in more than a 100 major league games from 2002-2004. With the Red Sox in the spring of 2006, he hit .350/.422/.650 for a 1.072 OPS. Ortiz only put up a .970, Ramirez a .944, Mike Lowell a .916 and Kevin Youkilis an .880.

    In 21 games for the Red Sox that season, Mohr put up a .175/.233/.350 line. He would appear in the majors for 7 games the following year, and that was it.

The point here, of course, isn’t that Bradley Jr is Darnell McDonald, Oscar Tejeda, Jeremy Hermida, Jeff Bailey, Joe Thurston, Eddie Rogers or Dustan Mohr. He’s better than all of them. In terms of their accumulated WAR totals, he’s exceedingly likely to end up being better than all of them combined.

No, the takeaway here is simple: spring training stats are meaningless. Basing decisions off of them, therefore, is foolish. And if you take away the spring numbers-based belief that he’ll be a well above average offensive player, the case for starting him in the majors collapses.

Having never played above AA – and having slumped noticeably in the second half there last year (.350/.424/.463 vs .228/.346/.423) – the 23 year old is likely to benefit from more consistent at bats in the minors. Just as important are questions of service time. While some dismiss these as minor issues, if you believe that Jackie Bradley Jr is the second coming, exposing him to free agency a year earlier than you have to is silly.

The only rational course of action for the club is to start him in the minors, likely at AAA. If he struggles, as could easily happen (development is rarely linear, remember), he would do so in an environment where the focus is on development rather than wins and losses. And if he puts up a 1.343 with Pawtucket, you’ve sacrified a few weeks of playing time to gain a year of service time. In a year where even the most optimistic forecasts have the Red Sox competing for one of the two wild card berths, that’s not only the logical choice, it’s the only choice.

Jackie Bradley Jr is a true prospect, and has done nothing in his career to argue that he won’t be an adequate successor to Ellsbury, but please, skip the Mike Trout comparisons. As a 20 year old, Trout put up a .326/.399/.564 line in the American League. When he was 20, Bradley was hitting .368/.473/.587 – for the University of South Carolina.

Trout couldn’t wait, but Bradley Jr can. So can we.

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

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Bailey Triples, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

Greetings: I bid you a fond welcome to this week’s ICYHBKUWCE. Which is coming to you, please note, precisely a week after the last entry. That’s right: one week, people. Bow before my production capability.

The timing seems appropriate, however, as tomorrow will leave us one day from Opening Day. Meaning that, in addition to planning the trip down there, I’ll have to carve up the time to do my season preview. Jebus knows where that’s coming from. Anyway, let’s get on to the post.

Bard

You’ll recall that, while loving Daniel Bard’s arm, I’ve remained skeptical of his ability to consistently throw strikes. Because as hard as you throw, major league hitters can hit it if they know it’s coming. Fortunately, the North Carolina product’s made strides the last few years on the strike throwing front, cutting his walks per nine from a horrifying 14.85 in 2007 to a workable if still suboptimal 4.78. Those who wonder why he’s going down, incidentally, would do well to pay attention to that number.

But his slow progress on the business of not hitting the backstop has me more excited when I read things like the following from Jayson Stark:

One of my favorite spring pastimes is polling scouts on the hardest throwers they’ve seen. And the undisputed radar-gun champion of Florida is Red Sox flash Daniel Bard.

“I had him at 99 [miles per hour] five pitches in a row,” said one scout. “He was just cruising along at 95-96 until a guy got in scoring position. Then bam, he just reached back and hit 99 five straight pitches. He was like [Curt] Schilling used to be back when he was in Philadelphia.”

Because while it’s provably true that pitching is about a lot more than velocity, it sure doesn’t hurt to be the hardest throwing guy out there.

Baseball Prospectus

Some of you may know that I’m a big fan of the folks over at Baseball Prospectus; if you hadn’t realized that yet, you will when I do the season preview. I love the application of statistical analysis to the game I love: to the extent that I actively wish I’d taken math in college. In any event, there are some changes in the works over there, so I’d just like to take a minute to wish everyone involved the best of luck. I’m still a happy, paying subscriber.

Buster Olney Loves Us

Or more specifically, our pitching. Here’s a few choice quotes from the last week or so (all subscriber only, sorry):
First:

Clay Buchholz continues to be dominant. The Red Sox value their rotation depth, including the annual production of Tim Wakefield. But Buchholz has been so good this spring that you do wonder if they’ll put Wakefield on layaway, whether it be at the back end of their bullpen or on the disabled list, and insert Buchholz into the No. 5 spot. While Wakefield is generally a hit-or-miss kind of pitcher at this stage in his career, depending on his health and how his knuckleball is moving, Buchholz has the ability to control games. And Boston’s clear strength is its rotation: The Red Sox could run out a frightening five of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brad Penny and Buchholz.

Next,

The Red Sox have another good pitcher from Japan, as Daniel Barbarisi writes. Look, nobody knows what is going to happen with David Ortiz this year, or J.D. Drew, or Mike Lowell, but here’s a bet that you could take to the bank: The Red Sox are loaded with pitching.

Last,

Justin Masterson is happily awaiting a decision on his role, Amalie Benjamin writes. The Red Sox are set up well after stockpiling arms, Sean McAdam writes. Boston’s pitching depth is nothing less than stunning.

I don’t know that I’d go so far as stunning, but I’m in agreement that our depth – in both the rotation and the pen – may be the best that I’ve seen. It will doubtless be taxed, and may actually seem insufficient, because we’ve got a few MASH regulars on the staff. But I also don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that, should a Bard emerge midseason as a viable option for some type of role in the major league pen, that we see one of the stockpiled arms traded.

What would MDC fetch, I wonder, from a contender in another league? Might a team desperate for a closer give up the farm for Saito? Worth pondering.

And So Does Jayson Stark

More of the same.

Community Doings

Good to see Brazilian Pedro (just to distinguish you, sir) make it into RedSox.com beat reporter Ian Browne’s mailbag with a question inspired, at least in part, by incessant chattering about Buchholz.

Pretty cool.

Rotation

As most of you are aware, the front four spots in the rotation have been set, in Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Wakefield. No surprises. What remains to be determined is the fifth starter. Buchholz’ short luck – he’s having a dominant spring, but is likely to get squeezed out if Penny’s healthy – has been well chronicled, as has been Masterson’s assignment to the bullpen (which I agree with).

What will be interesting to me, beyond the obvious “where will Smoltz fit when he’s ready?,” as I’ve already argued that that someone will be a.) injured or b.) rested, is whether or not we’d consider trading one of the pieces to a contender. Not that I’m saying it’s likely, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the following things happen: a.) Penny pitches like a 2/3 starter in the fifth starter spot for the first two months, b.) Buchholz pitches dominant baseball at Pawtucket, c.) Smoltz remains on track for a June re-entry.

Wouldn’t you have to consider making Penny available at the deadline in that scenario? Particularly if the lineup proves to be somewhat to significantly anemic? You’d have Smoltz coming back with Buchholz as insurance. Sure, it’d be better to hang on to them all, but Penny’s not locked up for next year, so you might want to maximize your return on that investment, maybe with an eye toward the longer term (controllable power).

Wilkerson, Bailey, Carter

It’s been a tough winter for a lot of veterans, and Wilkerson is no exception. Expected to battle for the spot vacated by the recently operated on Kotsay, he’s now apparently left the club – it’s presumed – after being told he wouldn’t be making the club. Which might be too bad, because if he could even put up a shadow of his career line Bill James’ project .770 OPS, he would have been useful in a reserve role, particularly given the fact that he can man center. But you have to show the club something, and he didn’t in the at bats he got.

Which leaves Bailey and Carter fighting it out for one last spot – assuming Green’s locked up the utility role behind Lowrie, until Lugo returns. What do the systems project for those two? Chris Carter has a CHONE predicted OPS of .784, Marcel of .772, and ZIPS of .815. Ex-catcher Jeff Bailey, meanwhile, is at .770, .773, and .804 for the respected systems, and – interestingly – has a James’ number to boot of .830. Given the relative lack of differentiation between their anticipated offensive output, and Bailey’s superiority (relatively) with the glove, my bet’s on him. True, Carter’s leading the club with six dingers this spring, but, well, it’s spring.

Will be interesting to see who makes it, though.

Yankee Defense

While we – by design – focus most of our attention on the good guys around here, I liked this little tidbit enough from Stark to pass it along:

GLOVE AFFAIR: The most-heard observation about the Yankees this spring: That team could have serious, and potentially fatal, defensive issues. They’re range-challenged in left, in right and at shortstop. They have reliability issues at second. Alex Rodriguez is now a major question on every level. And nobody knows what kind of defensive catcher Jorge Posada is capable of being over the long haul. There are rumblings the Yankees are poking around again on Mike Cameron’s availability.

Defense matters, as it’s critical to run prevention. So while I’m still as afraid of the Yankees as the folks from BP are, this is a thread that could bear watching.

Postscript

You gotta hand it to the fine folks at fave Surviving Grady for their headline writing: So Brad Penny, Takashi Saito and Josh Beckett Walk Into a Karaoke Bar…

Cashing Out Mirabelli

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Best Catching Tandem in the Majors, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Let me get the first question out of the way: no, I have no idea what prompted this morning’s shocking-for-Sox-fans release of Dougie Parm. If you deduce from that that I don’t buy the simplistic “Kevin Cash is a better defensive catcher” explanation, well aren’t you just the genius?

It’s not that I doubt that Cash actually is Mirabelli’s superior defensively. I’m quite sure that is, in fact, the case. Cash impressed with his work with Wakefield last year, and I confess that I was a bit surprised that Mirabelli was actually retained this past offseason because of that, even at the low guaranteed dollars. Apparently Jed Hoyer hesitated similarly, before ultimately bringing the backup backstop back.

No, the question here is the timing. If, as Epstein said, this “was a debate early in camp,” why release him before the game? Maybe there’s no good time to release a veteran like Mirabelli, who has a long history with the club, but just prior to a game? A game that he was scheduled to start? I’m with the crowd that smells something piscean.

In any event, Mirabelli is gone. True, we thought that before only to be proven wrong (that link is absolute comedy), but if forced to bet I’d say he’s gone for good this time. Assuming that he’s not going to be ferried back to the park by police escort any time soon, however, the question is what now?

I see two possibilities.

One, the team intends to carry Cash as its backup indefinitely. Defensively, Cash is better than Mirabelli in most respects with the exception of his handling of Wakefield. But even there Cash is capable in way that, say, Josh Bard was not, though it will be interesting to see how the pitcher reacts to having his personal caddy dumped. Rather unceremoniusly.

Offensively, Mirabelli is not even a shadow of his 2004 self when – as the picture argues – Tek and Dougie Parm combined to be the best catching tandem in the majors. But even at his reduced levels, he’s a better offensive option. PECOTA sees Mirabelli putting up a .214/.294/.354 line this year, against Cash’s .206/.278/.327. It’s true that neither one was likely to be any kind of offensive factor, due to the limitations of both skills and playing time, but Cash is essentially a zero at the plate. When you’re giving up 20 points in projected OBP and 30 points in projected SLG to Mirabelli, you’ve got problems. As Allan Wood points out, one of the SOSHers has noted that Clemens has a better lifetime OBP. Yes, Roger Clemens, the pitcher.

Anyone think Kevin Towers is on the phone with the cut catcher as we speak, hoping to pry loose another Meredith?

Anyway, the other obvious possibility is that Cash is nothing more than a placeholder, keeping a seat warm for an asset to be named later – whether that’s via a trade or the progression of one of the kids (Brown or Kottaras, presumably). The former strikes me as the more likely, not only because neither Brown nor Kottaras is ready for the show yet (no, I’m not getting too excited vis a vis Kottaras after 10 spring training ABs), but more because it seems unlikely that you’d break in a rookie catcher with…Wake.

Even with the move made, however, I’m still surprised. I’m not quite as pessimistic as Rotoworld, who reacted as follows:

It’s a very surprising move that they’d risk upsetting chemistry and take Tim Wakefield out of his comfort zone in order to go with Kevin Cash as their No. 2 catcher. Cash is an excellent defender and he did impress while catching Wakefield during Mirabelli’s DL stint last year, but he’s one of the very worst hitters at the upper levels of the game. Maybe it’s an upgrade for Boston, but the difference in performance shouldn’t be worth even one game in the standings. Depending on how Wakefield reacts, it might be necessary to drop him in draft lists.

But I am surprised. More than you’d expect with the departure of a 37 year old number 2 catcher coming off a .638 OPS season, because it’s not just him we’re talking about of course. His roster spot has been entirely dependent on Wakefield’s for years now, and you have to wonder whether or not this has implications for the knuckleballer in ’09. As Neyer puts it:

Obviously, not a lot of games are won and lost by backup catchers. But as much as I love Tim Wakefield, one can’t help but wonder if his contribution is worth all this fuss.

But for now it’ll be interesting to watch. While Dougie waits by the phone.

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

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

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

You make the call.

Analysts and Reporters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Injuries

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

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

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

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

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

Players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trade Rumors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, We Can Beat College Kids

Whether they’re from BC or Northeastern.

So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.

Be better than the Boston media, however, and forget the scores. Professionals beating amateurs isn’t a story, top or otherwise.

Even looking at the performances isn’t going to tell you much. Which is the difficulty with these games, of course. If you beat them like a rented mule, well, you’re supposed to. If you get roughed up, though, you’re not only going to take shit from your teammates, you’re going to look bad and you might even begin to doubt a bit.

Unless, of course, it’s Manny, because the odds of him actually knowing who he’s playing at any given time are slim.

Not that there was any failure today. BC was one hit, Northeastern added two, while our offense scored a couple of dozen runs. Even Belichick would have a tough time going negative on this one. Or positive, for that matter.

Stars of the game?

  • Best Hitting Performance: Take your pick between Bubba Bell (AA starting outfielder) who walked three times or Brandon Moss (AAA starting outfielder or trade bait) who had three hits and a sac fly.
  • Best Pitching Performance: Beckett – no hits, no walks, 4 K’s in 2 IP.

The one general trend I was pleased with was the command. Sure, they’re pitching to college hitters. Yes, the pitchers are ahead of the hitters at this point in the spring. But you still have to throw strikes.

Which we did. The number of walks on the day? 2. With both arriving in the 9th 7th inning of the second game.

We’ll see how they do against their fellow pros, of course, and I’m reading approximately nothing into the game, as mentioned. But as season openers against college teams go, I’ve got no complaints.

Your Wait is Almost Over

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2007-01-75339-06A, originally uploaded by el swifterino.

Sure, the regulars will get one AB, two tops. And the pitchers will be all be of the minor league variety and will be featured for an inning or a pitch count, whatever comes first.

But tell me you’re not excited by the prospect of baseball, broadcast live, from City of Palms park tomorrow afternoon. According to Kevin Thomas, tomorrow’s 6:05 game between the Good Guys and Northeastern is to be broadcast live on WEEI.

I know I’ll be listening.

Courtesy of Thomas, the Sox lineup looks as follows:

  1. Crisp, cf
  2. Cora, 2b
  3. Drew, rf
  4. Ramirez, dh
  5. Casey, 1b
  6. Carter, lf
  7. Mirabelli, c
  8. Lowrie, ss
  9. Ginter, 3b

The pitchers scheduled to throw are: Justin Masterson, Craig Hansen, Michael Bowden, Craig Breslow, Hunter Jones, and Kyle Jackson.

Let’s play some freaking ball.

Quick Links: New Radio Team, Why I Love Amalie, and More

mmm...Amalie

Or not so quick.

Anyway, another day, another new feature here at wicked clevah. Bringing you the news quickly. If not succinctly.

Bullpen Breakdown

Firebrand of the American League: I’ll be taking my own look at the roster – probably after we have more to go on, say midway through Spring Training – but in the meantime, Evan Brunell over on Firebrand of the American League has an interesting look at the battle for the final few bullpen roles. I think it under emphasizes slightly the role that roster status will play in the decision making process – I’d personally be shocked if any of the folks that don’t have to pass through waivers make the club from the outset – but it’s a good roundup of the candidates and their strengths and weaknesses.

One note worth adding: FBAL’s Dave B is not unique in his fascination with non-roster invitee Lee Gronkiewicz. Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan had this to say in his AL East preview:

Journeyman right-hander Lee Gronkiewicz has a 2.48 career ERA in the minors with nearly a 4:1 career K/BB. That ratio was 85/12 last year in 78 2/3 innings at three levels. There’s not much room in Fenway’s bullpen, but an injury to somebody could create an opportunity for the veteran to be this year’s Lee Gardner.

A long shot? Of course. But if there’s any front office that will give him credit for those numbers, it’s ours.

More Truck Day

Kelly O’Connor: Via Surviving Grady comes word of Kelly O’Connor’s Truck Day pictures. In case you, like me, can’t get enough.

New Radio Team Announced

Boston Globe: I’ll be honest: I never really cared for Jerry Trupiano, the long term radio partner of Joe Castiglione. His delivery was nothing to write home about, but the grating factor for me was his stale humor. A few summers back he had a running joke about some karaoke that Castiglione had done – Runaround Sue, I think it was – that became one of his running gags. It wasn’t particularly amusing the first time around, and to say it never grew on me was putting it mildly.

But neither was I big fan of Dave O’Brien (who other folks love) or Glenn Gefner (whom other folks most certainly did not). Most particularly, however, I didn’t like the transition back and forth between the two, and the obvious lack of chemistry between the boothmates, where chemistry = knowing who says what, and when, and who fills silences, and how.

Apparently, things are going to get worse in that department this season: not only are we not consolidating things in the booth, we’re adding a fourth. Castiglione remains, which is good, as does O’Brien, but when the latter is absent he’ll be replaced by a tag team of Dale Arnold or Jon Rish. I’ve heard both before, of course, in the context of their respective WEEI duties, and neither inspires strong feelings one way or the other.

I’ll reserve judgement until I hear the three pairings play out, but I’m not optimistic about the state of Red Sox radio in ’08. Which pains me in particular, because I don’t have TV set up in the cottage I live in in the summer (it’s in the one next door), meaning that radio is my primary medium whether I’m at home, on the boat or in the car.

Why I Love Amalie

Boston Globe: I’m far from alone in the massive crush I have on Amalie Benjamin – see the page footer over on the brilliance that is Surviving Grady – but a piece of hers today may win you over as well. In discussing Matsuzaka, she penned the following:

Matsuzaka, meanwhile, has turned his Mohawk from last season into something of a mullet. It’s definitely a party in the back.

Priceless, I think we can all agree.

But it’s even more valuable in the context of her competition: crusty old embittered white men. To me she’s a breath of fresh air in an increasingly stale medium. Also, there’s the hotness.

Merry Truck Day, and To All a Goodnight

Truck Day (courtesy of the Boston Globe)There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s the headlights of an 18 wheeler. But a good 18 wheeler, not like that one with the goblin head from the crime against film that was Maximum Overdrive.

I don’t care what that frigging groundhog said: truck day means spring is at hand. My people, baseball is but four days away. Let there be much rejoicing, but no eating of minstrels.