No Pen for Clay

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Fenway Park: Bullpen, originally uploaded by wallyg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost as obvious as our bullpen issues.

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

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

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a $9 seat at hadlock, originally uploaded by sogrady.

I haven’t. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been keeping up, I just haven’t been writing here to keep all of you up to date with said current events. But anyway, we’re back. And c’mon, three posts in two days? That has to count for something.

While I can’t promise that we won’t have similar outages in future, I’d be surprised if we see another one of similar duration any time in the near future. Unless I’ll be moving half way across the country the week before JavaOne again and no one’s yet informed me.

Anyhow, if all of the above has the ring of a half assed apology for the downtime, well, that’s just your imagination. I’m ready to get to the news on the heels of a much needed Sox sweep – bye, Brew Crew (especially you, Ryan Braun) – which followed a brutal four game depantsing at the hands of the Twins and O’s.

So with no further delay, this week’s ICYHBKUWCE:

April Homers Down

This will doubtless come too late to stave off claims in some quarters – I’m looking at you, self-righteous sportswriters, pundits and analysts – that power is down because of the testing program, but this piece I found via Neyer is fascinating. I’ve always taken the “bats warm up with the weather” arguments with several liberal helpings of salt, but the correlation between weather and extra base power is difficult to refute. Food for thought, or ammunition the next time some ignorant talking head pops off.

Buchholz’ Vacation

I’m with Chad: count me among those that is of the opinion that Bucky’s trip to the DL is little more than this year’s equivalent of Beckett’s downtime for the “avulsion.” Disabling him serves two purposes besides healing his wounded paw: first, it’s a mental health break for the starter followin two outings in which he didn’t make it into the fifth (both losses). Second, and more importantly, it’s an enforced period of rest during which he will not be accumulating innings. Rest worked for Beckett last year, and could and probably should work for Bucky this year.

What will be interesting will be what role he comes back to: I’m increasingly convinced that he may be – Earl Weaver style (Keith Law would undoubtedly approve) – shunted back to the bullpen until Colon proves ineffective.

One interesting bit of trivia: who’s got the second highest K/9 on the club? You guessed it: everyone’s favorite slim righthander. At 9.14, he’s behind only Pap, and ahead of Aardsma, Beckett, Delcarmen, Lester, Matsuzaka, Okakima, Hansen, Wake, and, well, you get the picture. That’s the good news. The bad? Righties are killing him to the tune of a .908 OPS.

Masterson on Tap

As the Boston Globe was kind enough to inform us, Portland’s own Justin Masterson will be getting his second big league start this Tuesday. Which is curious, because as previously noted in this space, Masterson hasn’t exactly been lighting it up. It’s not every day that you give up 7 earned in a start and earn a promotion to the big club. But desperate times and all, he’s the guy. And I suppose it’s worth noting that he did pitch very effectively in his previous outing against a talented Angels club (which featured another impossible Okajima outing: bases loaded, no one out).

If you’re looking for an explanation for why we’re comfortable starting the kid in this spot, the Providence Journal Bulletin actually saw fit to relay some of Tito’s comments on the matter:

Manager Terry Francona, acknowledging that Masterson has been cuffed around in his last few starts for Double A Portland, said the pitcher’s mistake has been leaving balls up in the zone late in games.

I’m not entirely convinced this is a good move, as I’m not sure the majors are where a pitcher learns to get the ball down, but then I don’t have to be convinced, because no one cares what I think.

More on Run Differentials

In the earlier piece on Tampa, I mentioned Run Differentials, and I’m sure that you’re dying for more information on the subject. So here’s Neyer with more:

Not only are the Rays in first place, they’re in first place on merit, as their +25 run differential is slightly better than that of the Red Sox (+23). Everybody else in the division — Orioles (-7), Blue Jays (-1) and Yankees (-6) — is bunched up around .500, exactly where they should be.

I wonder what our run differential might be if our bullpen wasn’t 27th in the league…

Youk’s Start

That Youk is tearing the cover off of the ball at the moment, you probably knew. That he leads all Sox regulars in OBP, SLG, doubles, total bases and lags Papi in home runs by 1, you might have known. What you probably didn’t was why. Fortunately, Inside Edge has you covered.

First, Youk is flat out destroying lefties (.444/.538/.889 for an absurd 1.427 OPS). Against lefties, he’s effectively Barry Bonds circa 2004. Which makes a difference.

Also important, however, and significantly less obvious, is his ability to hit off speed pitches. According to Inside Edge, his average and slugging numbers against off-speed offerings the last three years look as follows:
2006 .235 .340
2007 .263 .382
2008 .333 .563The scouting service believes the above augurs well for his ability to sustain some level of the performance we’ve seen to date going forward. I hope they’re right.

Wait on Crisp?

As for the obligatory Crisp rumors, comes the following, via MLB Trade Rumors via Ken Rosenthal: it may make more sense to hang on to Crisp. Apparently the free agent center field class for ’09 – unlike this past offseason – is weak, meaning that retaining him for the duration might be the preferred approach. While I still would entertain trade offers if it might improve the bullpen, particularly with Moss on the mend, his speed and defense do look good on the roster. Particularly the bench.

Last, But Far From Least

Courtesy of the aforementioned Chad Finn, did you know that Tito was one of Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd?” Me neither.

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

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Lester in the Pen, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

Running late, as usual. Blame the Red Sox this time. What would you have me do: watch the Sox/Yankees or crank out the ICYHBKUWCE that I owe you?

Exactly.

In the meantime, I’m not going to say anything about our play of late so as not to jinx us. But given that there’s another tilt with the empire coming in a littler over an hour, I’m going to keep this short and sweet. This week’s edition of In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events is player focused.

Enjoy, or at least read it.

Cash

Heard anyone complaining about his defense, and/or the impact it’s having on Timmeh? Me neither. The Sox should, of course, be actively on the market for catching because one injury to Tek and we’re in serious trouble (Brown and Kottaras’ success notwithstanding – more on that in a follow up). We could, in fact, find ourselves in a similar position to the Empire.

Colon

It’s not exactly throwing heat, but Colon – sidelined by an oblique injury – is at least back to playing catch.

Cora

Cora, on the other hand, was DL’d with Thurston replacing him. If Lowell wasn’t already out, I’d be less concerned about this, as it would offer Lowrie an opportunity to get his feet wet in an uber-utility role.

Delcarmen

Yes, his inconsistency is driving me crazy too. This past weekend, he gets couple of big outs against the Yankees. Last night? 2 free passes in an inning, and one hit by pitch scoring the at-the-time tying run.

How a pitcher with his stuff gets into so many 3 ball counts is beyond me, but until his command is better he won’t be the relief ace that we want him to be. Anyone else think it was interesting to see him replaced by Aardsma last night – particularly given their similarity?

Lester

Frustrating as MDC might be, however, it’s nothing compared to Lester. As Zach Hayes over at Fire Brand summarizes:

So far this season, Lester has thrown one outstanding start against weak hitting Oakland, one below average start against Detroit and two bad starts in Japan vs. the A’s and Monday at Cleveland. Lester isn’t being consistently pounded for home runs and hits (just two big ones- Emil Brown and Marcus Thames), but he’s constantly falling behind in the count, throwing all over the zone and putting too many free runners on base.

Remember when I asked whether his Oakland start was an adjustment or mere statistical variation? Well, we may not know the answer yet, but the initial data isn’t promising. It’s so unpromising, in fact, that Hayes asks whether or not it might be Lester rather than Buchholz that’s sent down when/if Colon arrives.

My own take is that Buchholz will be headed back down, unless Lester completely and utterly melts down, for the simple reason of innings. Buchholz’ professional innings totals? 22.2 IP Majors, 285.2 Minors. Lester? 144.1 IP Majors, 483.2 minors.

Lester’s far better positioned than Buchholz to handle a full season’s workload at this point, cancer or no cancer.

Lowell

Not much to relate here: the swelling’s down, but there’s been no further progress.

Lowrie

Congrats to the rookie for his first appearance, first major league hit, and first major league three RBI game. Particularly since the latter proved the difference in the ballgame. Oh, if you see him, wish him a happy birthday tomorrow.

Papi

I can’t say – apart from the hits collected – that I’ve seen much to convince me Papi’s back. But I have to say that the comment that Evan over at Fire Brand collected from Pizza Cutter was enlightening:

In general, Ortiz hits a lot of foul balls (including two strike fouls!) although he’s a power hitter and power hitters are generally high risk/high reward swingers, hence a lot of K’s and a lot of HR’s. Part of the reason that he’s so good is that his swing allows him to recover from a big swing midway and at least poke a ball foul to stay alive.

David Ortiz’s “slump” is nothing more than a run of bad luck. BABIP is generally within control of the hitter and Ortiz, a lifetime .310 BABIP hitter is hitting .114 this year…As much as I’d love it if he would politely hit like this for the next few months (or at least until the Red Sox get out of Cleveland tonight), I wouldn’t bet on that happening unless there’s some sort of (major) injury that we don’t know about. Patience is a virtue. Y’all waited 86 years. Ortiz will be fine.

Worth thinking about; I should have looked up his BABIP data myself.

Tek

Speaking of slumps, remember when everyone wrote him off after Japan/LA? I do.

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

We just got our asses kicked, pal. As previously discussed.

But what profit is it to dwell on our sub.500 record after a mere seven games? Let’s be mature about the situation, and indulge rather in our usual Sunday habit of Sox related news and anecdotes and Cafardo bashing.

Blue Plate Special

We’re old, or so says Major League Baseball. Via the Globe’s Nick Cafardo comes the following:

The average age of 861 Major League players on 25-man active rosters, disabled lists, and restricted lists as of April 1 was recorded at 29.46 years old. The Boston Red Sox are the oldest club in the majors with an average age of 31.33, while the Houston Astros pace the National League at 31.09 years old. The Florida Marlins are the youngest team in baseball with an average age of 27.78, and the Oakland Athletics field the youngest squad in the American League at 28.20 years old.

It would have been nice of Cafardo to provide some context and note that some of the elder statesmen that skew those numbers – Schilling, Timlin, Wakefield – are question marks for next season’s roster, or that four of our current starters are 27 or younger, but maybe that’s too much to ask.

Catching Conundrums

Remember when we discussed our precarious catching situation? It persists. Here’s the latest from Olney:

Scouts and officials with other teams say the Red Sox have been actively making inquiries about catchers, which makes sense, because among AL contenders, their backup situation isn’t strong. For example: Toronto has Gregg Zaun and Rod Barajas, the Indians have Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach, the Yankees have Jorge Posada and Jose Molina.

I’d predict that we would be dealing for catching, but the position is at such a premium at the moment we’d be required to significantly overpay, which the front office generally prefers not to do. So we’ll have to wait and see.

Colon Pitched Well – Not As Good as Reported – But Well

You may have read reports that Bartolo Colon was throwing in the mid 90’s during his Pawtucket start – I know I did. As I’d guessed, however, some of that was just an optimistic radar gun. From Soxprospects.com’s Clem21 (via Fire Brand of the American League):

Had excellent command tonight considering the conditions. His breaking pitches were pretty sharp and he was in control of the hitters for his outing. AB touched on his velocity in his post. He seemed to have pretty good velocity for innings 1-3, but it trailed off in innings 4-5. Generated a good amount of swings and misses from the AAA hitters in the beginning innings, but they started fouling off a lot of his pitches as the outing went on. I saw him hit 95 on the stadium gun as pointed out, but I checked in with a Cubs scout sitting next to me and he had him at 92 on his gun for the same pitch. He had Colon at 88-91 for the outing with him dipping down to 87-88 in the 5th inning before reaching back to 92 on his last pitch. Overall, it was a positive outing for Colon, but I don’t see the arm strength there as of yet and see it being another 2-3 outings before we see what he’s really got.

Some of you might read that as terrible news, but I find that scouter very encouraging. Sure, I’d prefer a Colon throwing gas, gas and more gas just like the old days. But I’m far more concerned about his command; that, you might remember, was his undoing in his spring training start against the Empire.

If he can throw low 90’s consistently and locate, I’d expect him to bump Buchholz back down to Pawtucket for both seasoning and innings limitation purposes one or two starts into the future.

Four Man Rotations, Pitch Counts, and More: Bill James

A terrific – particularly compared to 60 Minutes – Freakonomics interview with Bill James in the NY Times yielded this gem:

Q: Do you feel, given the right personnel, that some teams should try a four man rotation. If not, why not? If so, which team do you think is best suited and why?

A: I think it is plausible that that could happen and could succeed. I would explain my feelings about it this way: that between 1975 and 1990, two changes were made to reduce the workload of starting pitchers in an effort to reduce injuries. First, we switched from a four-man to a five-man rotation. Second, we imposed pitch-count limits on starting pitchers, starting at about 140 and then gradually reducing that to about 110.

I think it is clear that at least one of those changes was unnecessary, and accomplished nothing. It is possible that both of them were unnecessary and accomplished nothing, but the better evidence is on the side of the pitch limits. I think it is possible, based on what I know, that the starting rotations could go back to four pitchers with no negative consequences.

It’s possible that it’s solely because I’m a pitching geek, but I find this fascinating. Particularly because it comes from someone on our own staff.

Interviewing Cashman

A number of outlets have pointed to LoHud’s interview with Brian Cashman, and I’d agree that it’s informative, insightful, and all that good stuff. Worth a read, in other words. But one of the more interesting answers, from my perspective, was this:

Neil asked: What do you think is the most significant move you have made as GM of the Yankees? For good or bad?

Brian Cashman: “I don’t know if you can say one’s significant over another. This is how many years I have done this? Ten or 11? This is my 11th year. It varies. It depends on where the organization is. There are a number of moves we made to finish off championship runs. Like 2000, when we built that team on the run. In 2000, we changed over a big part of that roster in season to get our third championship in three years and then our fourth world championship appearance in five years. That was pretty special. But I think after 05, making the tough decision to take the steps back to rebuild the farm system and be patient and try to teach patience where patience doesn’t exist within the recent history of this franchise. I think that’s going to be a big turning point for this franchise for a long time.”

Unfortunately, I agree with him.

More Japan

Call me unsurprised: the players have nothing positive to say about the Japan trip. I sympathize, because I think the entire concept is asinine, not to mention hideously inconvenient to fans here in the US, but I’m tired of hearing about it.

Improved international relations aside, this trip has been officially classified as an absolute joke.

Believe me, Papelbon isn’t on an island with his opinion. Even before the final out was registered last night, the Sox’ well-worn description of the 19-day road trip as “a business trip” had morphed into downright disgust.

My prediction? The volume of Japan trip mentions – for the season – will be inversely proportional to our win total.

No More Red Sox are the New Yankees

From the Globe’s David Lefort comes the interesting – more on that in a moment – word that we’re no longer second in MLB payroll. Nor even third.

Figures obtained by the Associated Press indicated that the Red Sox opened the season with a payroll of $133,440,037 (click here for a player-by-player breakdown), which is down $10 million from their Opening Day payroll last season and ranks as the fourth-highest in the majors. Not surprisingly, the Yankees lead the way with just over $209 million.

Remember this the next time someone tries to persuade you that we’re “just like the Yankees.” We spend more than the majority of other clubs, it’s true, but the payroll delta this season comes to better than $75M according to my rudimentary math.

Why is this interesting? Because it may indicate that we’ll have some flexibility come the trading deadline. Never to early to begin speculating.

Stay Klassy, Cafardo

Paps and Oki aside, the bullpen has sucked to date, you’ll get no argument on that here. Still, I was personally offended on behalf of Aardsma/Corey/Snyder when Cafardo reacted to the bullpen implosion on the 5th with the following:

Looks like there’ll be plenty of candidates for Josh Beckett’s roster spot.

You want to dog their performance, fine. But I draw the line at sarcasm when it comes to roster spots: these are people’s lives and careers we’re talking about. A little bit less angry fan would be appreciated from a theoretically objective reporter.

What's Colon Got Left? A Q&A

Look, if Sean Casey got his own Q&A, I can’t very well not produce one for a pitcher that won the Cy Young three seasons ago, can I? Even if it’s a non-guaranteed, minor league deal?

Exactly.

Q: So what’s the deal with Colon?
A: ESPN is reporting that the deal is minor league in nature, including no guaranteed money. Fire Brand of the American League puts the potential cash outlay should Colon make the major league roster at around a million.

Q: What kind of pitcher is Colon now?
A: Colon came up essentially a fireballing workhorse. Though my 2004 Scouting Notebook lists him at 5 foot 11, it also lists his weight – conservatively – at 240. Earlier in his career, he essentially was a one pitch pitcher, pumping in high 90’s fastballs with good and occasionally exceptional control. For show, he’d also feature a changeup and a hard breaking ball, but Colon was a fastball pitcher most nights.

In recent years, however, all of the innings – he averaged 215 per for 8 seasons beginning in 1998 (a year in which he went from 98 IP to 204, interestingly) – appear to have caught up with the big righthander. Heading into last season, he was rehabbing a partially torn rotator cuff, and the results of that rehab were not promising. A 6.34 ERA in 99.1 IP for the Angels, during which he coughed up 15 HRs and 29 BBs, while striking out 76. The strikeout numbers aren’t terrible, and may indicate that he’s got something left. The problem is the batting numbers against, which are terrifying. Opposing hitters put up a .320/.366/.490 against him in 412 ABs. Essentially, every hitter in the lineup was Kevin Youkilis. Not good.

Also not good were the scouting reports from winter ball: Rotoworld reported that he was working mainly in the 88-91 range when giving up 2 runs in 4.1 IP against Venezuela. If you’re Pedro, you can make that work, but, well, you know where I’m going.

Q: How about the projections?
A: They’re actually not as bad as you might predict. PECOTA sees him putting up a 4.77 ERA in 92.3 IP, striking out 62 and walking 26. Bill James calls for a 4.24 ERA in 20 fewer IP, predicting 51 Ks and 22 BBs in 70.0 innings even.

For what it’s worth, however, PECOTA was significantly optimistic last year. It forecast a 4.77 ERA in 121 IP. The actuals, again, were 6.34 in 99.1 IP.

Prediction is a tough science.

Q: So you’re against the trade?
A: Not at all. Frankly, for a fifth starter, I’d be fine with even the PECOTA projection to slightly worse. And frankly, we could use 90+ innings of credible major league pitching.

Besides, with no guaranteed money on the table, it’s essentially a zero risk move for the club. So I’m positive on it.

Q: Why make the move?
A: It’s a hedge against the Schilling injury, obviously. As Theo and company have said multiple times, no one was counting on Schilling for a 200+ inning season this year, but neither were they forecasting zero which appears to be a distinct possibility at this point.

While everyone expects both Buchholz and Lester to pitch and pitch effectively on the major league roster this year – and certainly I’d expect both to give us superior innings relative to Colon – the fact is that neither should be expected to give us a full starters workload. Buchholz and Lester both were around ~150 IP last year – 146.6 and 153.2 IP, respectively – and expecting them to take that to 200 is a stretch. Not to mention that it might compromise their playoff availability, should we be lucky enough to make it that far.

So in short, we need innings. The higher quality those innings the better, obviously, but we’re going to need innings.

Q: How do you expect him to be deployed?
A: It depends on how he’s throwing, of course, but ultimately I think Evan Brunnell over at Fire Brand said it best:

Colon should be a safey net. If Buchholz or Lester completely blows up in April, you bring Colon up. If Colon is still with the club after May 1 (I’m assuming he has the standard May 1 opt-out clause if he’s not in the major leagues) and injury strikes, you call him up. If the Red Sox want to send Buchholz down in July just to limit his innings and Schilling’s not back yet, you call Colon up.

I expect the Sox to get him in to see what they’ve got, then use him tactically to control and keep manageable our young starters’ workloads.

Q: What is the value of Colon relative to some of the other available options?
A: Significant. Unless you’re excited by the likes of Eric Milton, Jeff Weaver, Kyle Lohse, Rodrigo Lopez or Russ Ortiz – a few of whom might require not only guaranteed deals but multi-year ones at that – Colon is a good risk/reward play. The only other pitcher I would have been interested in from the list of rehabbing players would have been Freddy Garcia, who I think will make a contribution somewhere in the second half.

Should we expect much from Colon? Certainly not. But does he have some upside as a candidate for innings at the back end of the rotation? Sure.