On Trading Buchholz…Again

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Lester Delivers to Holliday, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

From the same team that brought you Nick Cafardo, the Boston Globe is pleased to introduce…ex-Boston Heralder Tony Massarotti. Or Mazz, as he’s known around the Fens. And, the logo.

In a Friday chat, Mazz – like his esteemed colleague Cafardo before him – speculates on the possibility of the Rockies’ Matt Holliday ending up with the Red Sox.

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad deal. We could use some power, and he’s putting up a .950 OPS this season, with a lifetime of .939. That edges Bay’s .893 season, .891 lifetime. And surprisingly – to me anyway – Holliday is even Bay’s superior in the field in virtually every metric: fielding percentage (.988 to.984), range factor (1.81 to 1.77), and zone rating (.902 to .788). Even better, Holliday’s two years younger than Bay at 28.

While Bay’s a fine player, Holliday’s better. If the Rockies would trade them one for one, you take that deal walking away.

But at what cost?

Mazz thinks adding Buchholz to Bay makes a fine deal. Which shouldn’t surprise me, as the media absolutely lives in the now, with little sense of past or future. Personally, I think that’s an absolutely terrible deal. Here’s why:

  1. Bucholz’s minor league numbers indicate the ability to not just pitch successfully at the major league level, but to be dominant. That’s among the rarest of commodities in the game, and trading it for a relatively one dimensional player – accomplished as he might be – is foolish. To defend the idea of trading Buchholz, as Mazz does, by reminding readers that we have Bowden in the fold indicates that Mazz is unable to distinguish between potential #1 starters and potential #3 starters. Buchholz is the former, Bowden the latter. You trade the Bowdens, while keeping the Buchholz’s, if you’re smart. Even if the rookie got shelled early and lost his confidence.
  2. But let’s just say – for the sake of argument – that you would contemplate trading Buchholz. Maybe you have concerns about his off the field lifestyle, or whatever. Why would you trade him now? In his career, his value has never been lower, coming off a season in which he posted a 6.75 ERA over 76 innings. You and I and Theo might look at the fact that he struck out 72 hitters over that span and see signs that he’s coming out of it, but potential trade partners will incessantly point to the runs surrendered. As they should. So a trade of Buchholz now would be selling low. Not a habit of our front office, fortunately.
  3. Worse than selling low, you’re trading a premium asset to solve a problem that you don’t have. Holliday is Bay’s superior, agreed, with the possible exception of the splits I’ll get to in a moment. But he’s not that superior. We’re talking ~60 points of OPS. Would it be nice to get more offense out of left field? Sure. But would it be nicer to have a shiny new catcher? I think so. When the front office hits the offseason and looks to next year, my guess is that left field will not be first and foremost amongst the problems they set out to solve.
  4. Then, there’s the splits. Mazz says he’s aware of them, which is good, but that he’s also aware that Holliday would be playing half his games at Fenway. Where, in a very small sample size (13 ABs), he’s been very good: .385/.429/.769. Fine. But the fact is that from 2005-2007, he was an .809 OPS player away from Coors field. This year he’s up to .895; right around Jason Bay territory, in other words. For that you want to spend 15M per or more? Buster Olney said it best: “he’s worth more to the Rockies than he is to any other team.”
  5. Oh, and he’s a Boras client. Not that we can’t or won’t sign those – there half a dozen or so just on the current roster – but it means that Holliday will only come at top dollar.

For the life of me, I really can’t fathom why the media – like the casual fans they are so quick to dismiss and disdain – insists on living only in the moment. Why they remain unable to view players in context, as does – thankfully – the front office (with the exception of Julio Lugo). And so on.

But that’s the Fourth Estate for you.

Hankenstein is Back, and Dumber than Before

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Yanked my Johnson, originally uploaded by greggoconnell.

I’ll leave the Blue Jays wild card chat for later; for now I’ll merely point you to Hankenstein’s latest verbal salvo. One that warms my heart, and is likely to horrify any serious Yankee fan.

What’s his plan for the offseason?

“Suffice to say, there’s not going to be any more, on my part, of trying to keep everybody happy. If I want somebody, I’m going to go after him,” Steinbrenner told The Record by phone this afternoon.

Treee-mendous. Nothing would make me happier than a repeat of the 80’s era Steinbrennian approach of signing a bunch of aged, high priced free agents. In that respect, Mussina’s resurgence may be the best thing that could have happened to us.

What’s his philosophy with respect to the value of prospects?

“I want more.”

Very sophisticated. Very nuanced. Volume will be key, as he’ll trade them at each and every opportunity for “established stars.”

His reactions to the Yankees season?

“Even besides injuries, certain players didn’t perform. Certain things didn’t get done. It was somewhat the result of things that had been done over the last five years, and now I plan on fixing them…I’m very disappointed in this team.”

Wonderful. Couple the above with the his intended “more opinions the better” approach, and I for one am looking forward to Hankenstein’s tenure.

I hope, for our sake, he’s able to keep his smarter brother Hal at bay.

Fastball, Fastball, Fastball

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Papelbon Pitches, originally uploaded by waldoj.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just ask Dan Johnson.

Good News/Bad News from Keith Law

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

Or am I taking crazy pills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Klassy, Ozzie

Ozzie Guillen, by SD Dirk

I almost forgot: it’s been a while since I heard anything as classless as Ozzie Guillen’s comments following Michael Bowden’s start and win against the White Sox on Saturday. Responding to the 21 year old’s 5 inning, 7 hit, 2 run, 3K/1BB outing, Guillen said:

He got us on a bad day. He’s OK. He didn’t really impress me. He beat a team right now that is not swinging the bat well. The first inning he threw all fastballs. We’re a fastball-hitting team and we couldn’t get him. When you deserve credit, I’ll give you credit. He didn’t impress me. He was good enough to beat the White Sox tonight.

The point here is not to argue that Bowden is the second coming of Koufax: he is not. His likely ceiling, by most accounts, is as a #3 starter, and Keith Law in particular was unimpressed:

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

Nor would I argue that Bowden threw a gem. He was good, but not excellent.

But the fact is that in his first start at the major league level, at the age of 21, he beat a lineup that is contending for a playoff spot. Managed by the same person disparaging the performance.

Asked about Guillen’s comments, Tito had little to say, which is unsurprising given the differences between the two men.

Guillen has long regarded his outspokenness as a virtue, a point of pride. And perhaps at times it is. But what profit here? What possible good does it do Guillen, his players, or the Chicago White Sox organization he represents? Why attempt to diminish the effort of a kid that just beat your club? At best, it reeks of poor sportsmanship. More likely, Guillen and the White Sox just made some unnecessary enemies.

Doubtless, Guillen would chalk this up to him being honest, or perhaps telling it like it is. But he might do well to discover that there’s a third option between telling the truth and telling lies: keeping your mouth shut.

I'm Back, Bitches

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In the words of Peter Griffin, “That kill me? Yeah, I was afraid of that.” Instead of a discount surgeon this time, however, it was vacation.

But I’m back now. And badder than before. Hope all you guys are getting this via a feed rather than regular visits.

Anyway, ahl has requested a remaining schedule analysis. Sadly, I don’t have time for anything as detailed as that at the moment, what with the post-vacation hangover crushing me.

That said, let’s take a (reasonably) quick look at the realities of the schedule – and a few other items – in an edition of In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events.

Shall we?

Beckett

Like most of you – I feel safe in assuming – the words “Dr. James Andrews,” as recently applied to Beckett, absolutely terrified me. As the news was read to me all I could think was “please not Andrews, please not Andrews, please not Andrews.” Not because I’m convinced he’s the difference between a title and not – though we’re obviously not winning one without him, I’m not convinced we’re winning one with our bullpen as currently constituted – but more because of what it could have meant beyond this season. Losing our ace, with all due apologies to Jon Lester, for 18 months to Tommy John surgery would have been devastating.

But the news there, of course, was good. Or at least as good as a visit to Andrews gets. There’s clearly something still wrong, but at least they’ve done all the due diligence they can.

Incidentally, anyone care to place bets that it was Schilling’s experience with the club doctors that led to Beckett’s personal request to see Andrews? If so, I will happily take your money.

Buchholz

A whole slew of folks has checked in to see whether or not my expectations for Buchholz have been rethought in the wake of his flameout and subsequent demotion. The short answer? No. To quote Rob Neyer, “Buchholz is 23, and going through the sort of thing that 23-year-old pitchers often go through.” The list of pitchers – good ones – that have come up and struggled mightily is far too long to be of interest.

Did I expect him to struggle as much as he did? Nope. But does his performance, which was exceedingly poor, change the fact he has the ability to dominate in the big leagues? No again.

Yes, his command deserted him (93 hits and 41 walks in 76 IP). But he’s still striking guys out: 72Ks for a K/9 of 8.53, which is better than Matsuzaka’s 7.93 and Lester’s 6.32, and only slightly worse than Beckett’s 8.74.

Also, his luck was hideous. His BABIP for the 08 season was an appalling .366. Batters are hitting nearly 80 points better than they should, then, on balls put in play. Which screams for a reversion to the mean. Again, for comparison, Matsuzaka (.266), Lester (.303), Beckett (.330).

It is, then, still my firm expectation that the man called Clay will be fine. As Kevin Thomas reports, it would appear that he’s already righting the ship.

It may be true that There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect, but I’d still rather have Buchholz than just about any other pitcher from the minor leagues.

Byrd, Kotsay, et al

True, I should be doing individual pieces on each. But I’m not, so let’s just focus on the big picture: Theo and the gang did well. Neither, of course, are studs. Nor are they likely to be major difference makers. Byrd is no Sabathia (though what’s left of him come the playoffs should be interesting to see), Kotsay is no Texeira, but you knew that.

What they are, rather, are credible reinforcements. Help for a club that finds itself shorthanded due to injury and performance issues alike.

Nor was the cost prohibitive, although Sumoza’s power is more than I would have liked to surrender, especially considering our system’s deficiencies in that regard. And frankly, I probably would have given up more to get Mrs. Kotsay on our side.

Lester

His one start blip aside, the kid’s been a stud. This is the pitcher everyone valued over Papelbon, over Buchholz, over everyone. He’s emerged a legitimate #2 starter to Beckett, and I feel pretty good when he takes the mound.

My question: what about his innings? He’s at 176.2 right now, with three starts remaining. Say he goes 6 in each: that would put him, at season’s end, at 194.2. Given that he threw 134.2 last year, 200+ innings pitched would seem to be a lot to ask. Particularly for an organization that protects its kids as ours does.

In which case, it would be logical to suspect that they’d skip him for a start or two. But how can they, realistically, when the division is more or less out of our grasp and the wild card is likely to be a down-to-the-wire affair?

A reemergence from Buchholz in the Portland playoffs could be the best thing to happen to Lester’s ’07 season. Because otherwise I’m not sure how the lefty would be available for the playoffs should we be fortunate enough to make it.

MDC

Yes, Mirabelli told Amalie last season that Delcarmen’s stuff was the best on the team, bar none, and yes he’s unscored upon in his last 7 outings (7.1 IP).

But no, I don’t trust him. And I’m not sure Tito does, either.

Sandwiched into that little run, of course, is his one third of an inning appearance at Yankee Stadium in which MDC managed to allow a hit and two walks in the time it took to get one out.

As Baseball Prospectus has written in the last, he’s missed bats at every level, and he’s got all of the tools necessary to be successful. But he’s 26 years old, and this is his fourth year seeing time with the club, and you still don’t know what you’re going to get day-to-day.

Frustrating, because we need him. Badly.

Pedroia

I would love to take credit for the little guy’s resurgence since I wrote this piece refusing to dismiss him, since he’s hitting .391/.432/.609 in that time with 10 stolen bases and more walks than strikeouts, but I can’t.

It’s all him, and bless him for it. We need more of that, as offense is going to be at a premium with our bullpen.

The Division vs The Schedule

Allan’s got the right of it, I think: this is a Wild Card race, not a battle for the division. Sure, we need to try and take the division (I fear the Angels) and, sure, it’s possible that we could take all or most of the six remaining head to head contests with the Rays and make things interesting. But it’s improbable.

We won twice as many games as we lost in August (18-9), and actually dropped two and a half games in the standings (3 GB to 5.5 GB). All you can do is tip your cap to the Rays, and focus on trying to get into the playoffs any which way we can.

Sure, our ‘pen is combustible and likely to prove our undoing, but that’s what we said in ’03 as well, and Embree, Timlin and Williamson suddenly and unexpectedly settled down. Stranger things have happened, then. Not many, but they have.

The Kids & The Playoffs

Finally made it to a Seadogs game this past week, and Lars Anderson – to my completely untrained eye – looks good. I’m always suspect of subjective phrases like “the ball comes off his bat differently,” but, well, it does. The lineout he made in the second damn near killed their shortstop it was hit so hard. Kudos to the Fire Brand guys for getting an interview with him. Sadly, Bard (back) and Reddick (ankle) didn’t play, but it was good to see Diaz (looked not so good with the bat) and others in person.

Also, on a related note, the news that all seven minor league clubs finished with winning records and four (including the Seadogs) are going to the playoffs is welcome. Our front office isn’t perfect – damn you, Lugo – but they’ve legitimately done wonders with the farm system. Which should pay dividends both immediate and long term.

Five Things I Don't Quite Get

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Brian Giles headed to third, originally uploaded by SD Dirk.

If there are five things that Peter Gammons doesn’t quite get, I figure it’s ok for there to be five things I don’t quite get. Because I know Peter Gammons (no, I don’t), and I know that I am no Peter Gammons.

  1. Why we claimed Brian Giles:
    Gammons explains it thus:

    The Red Sox did want Brian Giles. With Jacoby Ellsbury struggling, Giles could have led off and played some right feld, with J.D. Drew moving [to] center. And Giles could have been DH insurance should David Ortiz experience further problems with his troublesome left wrist.

    Still, I’m unconvinced. Unless they think Ells is struggling, like Bucky, enough that he’d have to go down. Granted, Giles’ .296/.389/.440 line puts Ells’ .269/.331/.373 to shame. And his numbers against certain AL rivals are less than awful: Angels (.394/.512/.758), New York (.275/.333/.488), Tampa (.261/.320/.565). And the last three years 05-07 he’s been a better hitter in the second half than he was in the first (.820 to .817 OPS). And…actually, never mind. I get this now.

  2. Why we didn’t claim for Chad Bradford:
    This one is more perplexing. As Neyer says:
    Speaking of waiver claims, the Rays made a nice one yesterday, picking up Chad Bradford, and I’m surprised that 11 teams — including the Red Sox, the Yankees, the White Sox and the Twins — passed on him. Bradford’s got a 2.45 ERA this season, despite a strikeout rate, 2.9 per nine innings, that’s well below what’s needed to pitch effectively in the majors. In his prime — his first three seasons with the A’s — Bradford struck out 7.2 per nine innings, which is excellent, especially for a guy who never broke 90 with his “fastball.” Bradford’s strikeout rate has plummeted since then, bottoming out this year. So how has he survived? He’s become exceptionally stingy with the long ball, giving up only five homers in his last 190 innings. In contrast, last year Brad Penny had the lowest home run ratio among ERA title qualifiers, and Penny gave up nine homers in 208 innings.

    With the Sox in 05, Bradford wasn’t stellar. He gave up 29 hits and 4 walks in 23 and change innings. And there’s the aformentioned strikeout rate problem.

    But the fact is that he’s been good this year, giving up a run more in 40 plus innings for Baltimore than he did in the 23+ he threw for us. He might not have fit into last year’s pen, but this year’s edition? Hell, who wouldn’t?

  3. Why we’ve underperformed our run differential so badly:
    Aside from the Cubs who are at +139, the Sox have the best run differential in the majors at +108. That’s compared to Tampa at +65, the Yankees at +41, the White Sox at +65, the Twins at +37, and the Angels at +62. Our Pythagorean record stands at 70-48 versus the actual 67-51. By contrast, Tampa’s expected record at 65-52 is seriously outperformed by their actual 71-46. Doubtless there’s no single explanation, but if we don’t revert to the mean – and soon – we’re going to have a serious problem.
  4. Why MLB would bother investigating Manny:
    Rumor has it – and yes that’s all I’ll call it, originating as it did with the Shank – that MLB is investigating both Boras and Manny for the events that preceded the latter’s departure. Is it possible that Boras and Manny conspired together in an effort to ensure that the options were dropped? Sure, it’s possible. But I don’t know how you’d prove it without a smoking gun email. His July line of .347/.473/.587 was the best he’d put up all season. Maybe he tanked, maybe he didn’t, but investigating is a waste of time without proof.
  5. Why it’s 2008 and the owners are only just poised to discuss the absurd, byzantine blackout restrictions:
    Seriously, this is just mind boggling. Or would be, if MLB’s business side wasn’t so glacially slow and backward.