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.

Am I For Lowrie, Or Against Lugo?

Jed Lowrie, SS, Hitting Third

I admit it. The primary reason I root for Jed Lowrie is my assumption (read: hope) that if he plays well enough, I won’t have to watch Lugo anymore. That’s not the only reason, of course. By all accounts, Lowrie is a good, respectful kid and I generally enjoy seeing products of our farm system perform well. Also, he wears a Red Sox uni.

But my affection for the player is as much a function of my disaffection for the player he’s effectively replacing as anything else. Sad, but true. I’ll root for Lugo, because he plays in Boston, but there’s not much about him as a player that I appreciate.

Which begs the question: how is the kid doing?

The answer? Not too bad. Not too bad at all.

His season numbers are nothing to complain about: .289/.342/.423. For the sake of comparison, at the time of his injury Lugo was at .271/.355/.330. In other words, Lowrie is out-OPSing his competition by just short of a hundred points .765 to .685, and Lugo is also giving up almost twenty points of average.

So far so good.

Better is the fact that Lowrie’s numbers have only improved since the All Star break. With the requisite small sample size warning, over the 16 games he’s appeared in since, I have (meaning I did the math, so take it with a grain or three of salt) Lowrie at .296/.387/.426. An .813 OPS from a rookie shortstop? Yeah, I’ll take that. Provided that he can make at least the routine plays. And it is that question, frankly, that is most relevant, as defense is and always has been the wild card with respect to Lowrie. Most observers believed he’d hit, but opinions on whether he could handle short on an everyday basis have varied widely.

So can he? Hell if I know.

But the early returns look acceptable, in that he’s more than holding his own versus the incumbent Lugo in nearly every defensive metric available. Fielding percentage, we can throw out, because Lugo’s got dozens more chances and thus can’t be expected to match Lowrie’s perfect 1.0. More interestingly, their range factors are identical at 3.70. Zone Rating favors the kid heavily: .905 to .823. Baseball Prospectus favors him, if less obviously, giving Lowrie an even 0 in Fielding Runs Above Replacement (meaning he’s zero runs better than the lowest replacement available) against Lugo’s -2 (he’s not). Last, he have The Hardball Times telling us that by their Revised Zone Rating (RZR), Lowrie is…again…better: .829 to .786.

For those that skimmed all those numbers and weird terms above, the gist is this: Lowrie’s equal to or better than Lugo in every measurable category. Sometimes by sizable margins. Hell, while we’re here, why don’t we see how the kid measures up to Cap’n Jetes? Just for kicks.

BA OBP SLG RF ZR RZR FRAA
Jeter .281 .343 .393 4.18 .837 .865 -12
Lowrie .289 .342 .423 3.70 .905 .829 0

Lowrie wins a few and loses a few, but all around he doesn’t look bad next to the future Hall of Famer. True, the latter is having a very poor season offensively and on the downside of his career defensively; to the extent that the whispers of moving to first have already started (not surprising after his abysmal ’07 defensive showing). But still, Lowrie’s acquitting himself well, I think.

What does this tell us? Not a whole hell of a lot, at least definitively, given the state of today’s defensive metrics (and I’m far from up-to-date on the state of the art in that department). But it certainly suggests that while Lowrie may be perceived as a borderline candidate for the shortstop position, he mans it at least as well as the guy he’s subbing for. Setting the bar with Lugo is, of course, dangerous, but that’s where we’re at.

Meaning that, logically, he should keep his spot when Lugo returns from his injury. Whether or not things actually play out that way remains to be seen; it took Tito an awful long time to make the Ellsbury for Crisp swap last year, but that was more defensible given Crisp’s defensive value.

Beyond the the in-season implications, however, lurks the question of what to do next year. There are two fundamental questions to be answered: will Lugo be with this team? And if the answer to that is no, would they trust Lowrie with the position full time.

Again, I haven’t the faintest. But I must say that the news that our payroll come November could be down to $110 millon gives me hope. Hope that the Red Sox will recognize the (foolishly, IMO) sunk cost that is Lugo and send him on his merry way.

In the meantime, I’m rooting for Lowrie. For his own sake, yes, but also for mine.

Update: More from Peter Gammons – “One NL team’s defensive statistics, scouting and ratings have John McDonald of the Blue Jays as the best defensive shortstop in the majors. No surprise. They have Boston’s Jed Lowrie at No. 5 among the 62 ranked shortstops, even if his sample is small.”

Why I Have Issues With Nick Cafardo

NESN trade deadline special

When one of the other patrons of Byrnes’ Irish Pub caught me swearing at Nick Cafardo midway through his performance on NESN’s afternoon trading deadline special, an explanation was asked for. Those of you who’ve been around here for more than, oh, a few days will know that I don’t think much of Nick Cafardo’s work at the Globe.

Making Gordon Edes’ migration to a more national platform at Yahoo all the more problematic.

But anyway, for the new people, here’s the scoop: it’s not that I have any personal distaste for the man. I don’t know him from Adam, and he’s never kicked a dog of mine. That I know of. I simply don’t think he’s terribly good at his job. He’s not Murray Chass, nor – thank Jebus – Dan Shaughnessy, but I think he’s well beyond the “slowing-down portion of his career” as Scott’s Shots calls it.

In the past, I’ve criticized him for:

  • Pondering the replacement of Manny Ramirez with Matt Holliday…without mentioning the latter’s troubling home/road splits.
  • Trivializing the implications of roster movements.
  • Ignoring the reality – or at least declining to provide some context and counter-analysis (start by explaining the cases of Prior, M, or Wood, K, why don’t you?) – that innings caps for young pitchers are a beneficial development.
  • Arguing that Shelley Duncan (DFA’d twice already this season) should play over Jason Giambi because of his “energy.”
  • And, of course, assigning CC Sabathia – the eventual winner – a truly inexplicable fourth place vote for the Cy.

And that’s just the last twelve months. Fire Joe Morgan has taken him apart in the past for a rather egregious error or two.

The errors, actually, I can live with. Those happen. I make them, you make them, and even Kevin Youkilis makes them. It’s more that he just doesn’t seem to understand today’s game, what with its newfangled “innings caps” and “statistics.”

Witness these two bits of pre-trading deadline speculation regarding Buchholz.

First, Nick Cafardo:

The Sox are still in on Colorado’s Brian Fuentes, Kansas City’s Ron Mahay, and Oakland’s Huston Street, and were interested in Marte…The Sox will likely not give up Clay Buchholz for Fuentes, but the Rockies may take less.

Next, Sean McAdam:

The Sox are one of many teams intrigued with Colorado lefty Brian Fuentes, but the Rockies have asked for Clay Buchholz in return — far too steep a price for a two-month rental. Fuentes can become a free agent at the end of the season.

To quote Mugatu, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. I know, McAdam knows, and hopefully you know that you don’t cough up elite pitching prospects for the two month rental of a middle reliever. However desperately your bullpen needs one.

But not Cafardo. They “likely” won’t give up Buchholz? “Likely?” To judge from their behavior thus far, it’s reasonable to conclude that there was a less than zero chance that our front office would move Buchholz in a deal for Fuentes. Considerably less than zero, in fact. Or maybe you think the player that was untouchable in the Santana deal would be moved for a reliever?

As nearly as I can determine, Cafardo’s player evaluations consist of “what have you done for me lately?” Sure, you threw a no-hitter last year, Bucky, and your minor league 10.91 K/9 rate is borderline inhuman…but Masterson’s reeled off five or six quality starts. So thanks, but we need someone in the pen for two months.

How else to explain his belief that Masterson had climbed above Buchholz on the depth chart, in spite of minor – and major league, actually – numbers that indicate that the latter will be a star and the former, in all probability, a reliever.

So anyway, let this post serve as both a written record of my issues with Cafardo and my fervent hope that he not get the job of competing with the new ‘EEI web outlet. The Boston Globe has been my home page on every browser I’ve had since the original Netscape Navigator, but if it’s going to compete going forward it needs more help than Cafardo can provide.

If the Globe folks are looking for someone to fill a web spot, they’d do better to get someone who’s new media savvy, comfortable with the statistics that drive much of modern baseball’s decision making, and knows how to relate to their target audience.

Someone like their very own Chad Finn. Or one of the guys at Fire Brand. Anyone but Cafardo. Please. I want to keep reading the Globe.

Chili Davis on Pedro's 17K Game

Late to the party with this one, as a bunch of folks have already linked to it, but in case you haven’t seen it, an interview with Chili Davis from the Baseball Prospectus guys. In which he discusses Pedro’s legendary 17K effort at Yankee Stadium.

Davis: And then, Paul O’Neill came up, and he came hard in on O’Neill, jammed him, Bernie Williams came up, he came hard in on Bernie, jammed him, got out of the inning. Well, the next inning, he’s warming up, and Tino Martinez and I are standing on the on-deck circle, and I remember walking over to Tino and saying, “Tino, he’s got a good heater today, and he knows it. He knows it, Tino, and he’s coming in.” Everybody that came up, he started them fastball, hard in. I said, “If I was you, Tino, I’d look in, and try to turn on something.” And Tino was in a slump at the time, and he looked at me, and he was like “You know, uh, you know uh, uh, I don’t know,” kind of hesitant to take the game plan up there. So he went up there, and I think Pedro jammed him up inside, broke his bat or something, and he went back to the dugout. And I stand on deck, and I go, “You know what, you [expletive]? You come in here. Yeah, I know I’m 40, or 39, or whatever years old, I know you think you can get it in. But I’m looking in here. You throw that first-pitch heater in here, and I’m gonna turn on it.” And I’d no sooner said it, he threw that heater inside, and I, I was looking for it, and boom! Turned on it, you know, yeah.

That game marked the one and only time during my Manhattan tenure that New Yorkers, seeing my Red Sox hat, bought me beer. One of my fondest Red Sox memories, period.