Rumors of My Death Etc Etc

from the pressbox

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

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

Now.

Buchholz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lowe

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

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

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

Pedroia

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

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

Ramirez

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

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

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

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

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

I’m cool with that.

Tazawa

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

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

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

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

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

Teixeira

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

Here’s what we know:

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

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

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

Varitek

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

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

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

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

Should be fun to watch.

And as a special bonus catching section:

Bard

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

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

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

Well, I don’t even know where to start. You’re screwed. You missed 1.) a sweep of Tampa, 2.) a brawl with Tampa, 3.) a brawl between Manny and Youk (not joking), 4.) an injury to Ellsbury, 5.) progress from Schill, 6.) held breath on Papi, 7.) two more good starts from Masterson and so on.

Oh, and the draft was this week.

So good luck catching up on all of that. But I’ll tell you what, we’ll try for you anyway.

The Brawl

I’m with the SOSH folks on this one: I’m not sure I can defend Coco here. Maybe on the hard slide – that’s debatable, but not in charging the mound. Shields – to his credit – hit him in exactly the right way, not dialing it up and not shooting for the head. True, he was an idiot for doing it in the second inning, but he handled himself well, while Coco – in my view – did not.

Either way, I’ll take the sweep.

The Bullpen

One of the brighter spots in the past week to ten days has been – shockingly – Boston’s bullpen. Tito seems to be easing Hansen into a MDC-in-’07-like 7th inning role. The onetime bust out of St John’s is unscored upon in his last five apperances, and over 5.2 IP has K’d 5, walked 2 and given up just one hit. Speaking of MDC, you know who also has exactly the same numbers over his last five appearances? That’s right. MDC. Throw in the potential of Masterson down the stretch, and we may not have to do too much to reconstruct our once leaky pen.

One minor down note: Daniel Bard, he of the 100 MPH fastball, got lit up today against Akron. In 1.2 IP, he coughed up 4 hits – 2 of them homers – and 4 runs, striking out only one. On the plus side, he didn’t walk anybody.

The Draft

Lots of takes on the club’s haul in the draft, and obviously the signing process for these kids will be lengthy, but I’m encouraged not just by the reports but by the fact that it would appear that we’ll be ignoring the commissioner office’s slot recommendations once again. As we should.

Here’s Baseball America’s page (sub req’d, sorry), but, better, here‘s Keith Law’s take on our draft class:

Boston bet it all on red, taking one high-ceiling player after another. Apparently, they’re willing to worry about the signability of these players later on. Casey Kelly is a first-rounder as a pitcher or position player, but his bonus demands and commitment to play quarterback at Tennessee scared off potential suitors. Ryan Westmoreland’s bonus demands ($1.6 to $2.1 million) and commitment to Vanderbilt had him viewed as completely unsignable all spring, even though he was a top-40 talent and had performed well over the summer with a wood bat. Bryan Price was totally misused at Rice, and was one of the best reliever-to-starter conversion opportunities in the draft. Derrik Gibson and Pete Hissey are both athletic, projectable tools players with the chance to play in the middle of the field (Gibson as a shortstop/second baseman, Hissey as a center fielder); both also have commitments to strong college programs (North Carolina and Virginia, respectively). Even if the Red Sox don’t sign all four of those high school talents, signing Kelly and one of the others would be an impressive haul of talent — and we know the Sox have the resources to sign more than just two.

So the class is good. But good as in better than the Yankees? Law says yes:

Steve (Clemson, SC): Hey Keith, Sorry but I have to ask: Better 2008 draft, if they sign most of their picks, Red Sox or Yankees?

SportsNation Keith Law: Red Sox.

We can only hope.

The Fight

At the SeaDog brewpub down in Brunswick, they have HD. Which is good. They don’t have audio, which is bad. So I had no idea what the hell was happening when M-Ram and Yoooook had to be separated in our own dugout. Neither, I learned later, did anyone else, but still.

If the reports are accurate, and that this centered around the (potentially widely held) perception that Youk is putting his own concerns in front of the teams by tearing apart the dugout post an at bat in games where we’re up comfortably, then I’m glad this came out now. Better to let it out now, ugly as it appeared, then let it fester.

Besides, the guys are Surviving Grady are spot on, it was worth it just to hear Tito’s one line summary:

I think they were just exchanging some views on things.

The O’Brien Factor

I’ll acknowledge up front that this could just be me. I’ll also acknowledge that I don’t particularly care for Dave O’Brien (I’d prefer to have a Sox only play by play announcer), even while I’ll concede that he’s a well regarded national broadcaster. But there is one thing he’s doing that is making me insane: he’s ignoring, completely, generally accepted rules against jinxing games, performances or players.

Jon Lester’s no hitter? He was discussing it freely in the fifth. We’re poised to take the third of three games against Tampa? He’s calling it a sweep before the game is ended. Masterson’s the pitcher of record in a game we’re winning by a run? O’Brien’s word choice is “will win.” Not the conditional “would,” but “will.”

I’m not saying that this is anything but trivial. I’m also not saying I’m sane. But listen to a game he broadcasts and see if you notice: he has no sense whatsoever with his tenses or conditionals. None.

And it’s driving me crazy.

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


(link courtesy of Dan Lamothe over at the Red Sox Monster)

Manny hit his 500th. In a Red Sox uniform. Which given that he was placed on unconditional waivers just a few years back, probably qualifies as mildly surprising. Kudos to Manny for this achievement, it’s a real benchmark.

One that, frankly, makes me appreciate just how absurd it is for A-Rod to have passed the mark last year, while four years younger than M-Ram. And consider that Junior – who is 2 years older than Manny and has missed somewhere around a billion games since leaving Seattle – is sitting just shy of 600. Incredible. All three of them.

Anyway, we also we lost a bunch of games on the road. Like, lots of them. Enough so that we find ourselves, once more, looking up at that Tampa club I specifically warned you people about. But I suppose it’s not your fault. What with your lack of any ability to change anything or do something about Tampa.

Anyway, on to this week’s ICYHBKUWCE:

Bard’s Resurgence

Much has been made in many venues – this one being no exception – of Daniel Bard‘s transformation from a freakishly hard throwing walk machine to potentially useful bullpen piece. ESPN’s Keith Law had this to say about the reliever in a chat this week:

Bard’s been 98-100 with life, and he’s throwing strikes. Great move skipping him past the scene of the crime in Lancaster, too. Haven’t heard anything on Cox, although I know last year his velo was down.

As for the mentioned Cox, that would be Bryce. While he hasn’t quite matched Bard’s numbers – let alone his fastball – Cox has put up an interesting 21 K/3 BB/1.59 ERA line in 22.2 IP. Which he needed to do, because last year was not a good one for him, despite the talk early in ’07 that he was a potential closer candidate down the line.

Clay vs Masterson

With Colon safely holding down Buchholz’ spot in the majors, there’s not much opportunity at the current time for either Buchholz or Masterson to start at the major league level: Matsuzaka DL’d or no. Everyone’s favorite Clay, of course, came off his rehab and remained at Pawtucket, ostensibly to work on his fastball and secondarily – one would assume – to keep his innings down.

Masterson, meanwhile, had his PawSox start bumped up to put him in line for a start in Matsuzaka’s slot in the event that he had to be placed on the DL. Which he was, obviously.

All of which is causing some to question whether or not Buchholz has been passed by Masterson on the depth chart. Some, like the Portland Press Herald’s Kevin Thomas, who said just that:

It will be interesting to see how Justin Masterson does Tuesday at Fenway. If he has a third sold start, does he move ahead of Buchholz on the depth chart?

To which I’d reply, with all due respect to Thomas: that’s insane.

Obviously, I hope that Masterson throws the shit out of the ball in his third appearance. Hell, I’d even take a no hitter. But the fact is that in terms of projection, it’s still no certainty that Masterson’s future role with this club is as a starting pitcher. He has one potentially dominant pitch: a sinking fastball. His changeup was essentially unusable in his second start, and his slider is relatively average by all accounts. One pitch pitchers typically don’t fare all that well multiple times through the order, let alone multiple times through the league.

Buchholz, on the other hand, has two 70 pitches: his curve and his change. If his fastball is even average, he’s a potentially dominant arm. As we saw last year against Baltimore.

So intending no disrespect to Masterson, who seems to be as good a kid as he is a pitcher, let’s not get carried away when projecting these kids. A couple of starts doesn’t alter the expectation that while both kids should end up being very good, useful pitchers, Buchholz could be an ace.

Cap’n Intangibles: Say it Ain’t So

From the non-Red Sox department comes an interesting little tidbit from Dan Graziano of the New Jersey Star Ledger. In a piece (via Buster Olney) discussing Jeter’s statistical improvement defensively this season comes the revelation that the sainted shortstop may have been a wee bit careless with respect to his defensive responsibilities:

According to two Yankees officials, who requested anonymity because they feared they were talking about things that might upset or embarrass Jeter, the Yankees approached their captain last offseason and told him they wanted him to work on his defense — specifically on balls hit up the middle to his left, where he has been particularly weak.

They also asked Jeter if he would please be more attentive to advance scouting reports when positioning himself. This has been a particular peeve of the Yankees’ regarding Jeter in recent years — that he was stubborn about not wanting to move a step or two to his right or left to account for the hitter, the pitcher or the situation. If the scouting report tells them that Batter A hits 80 percent of his ground balls at or to the right of second base, it would make sense for a shortstop with poor range to his left to shade that way to compensate. Jeter, it is said, did not pay much attention to this.

Even in a vacuum, this would not reflect well on the player. But when the player in question refused to put the team first and allow a better defensive shortstop on the roster (that’d be A-Rod) to play the position – well, it’s particularly inexcusable.

But of course, because it’s Cap’n Intangibles, the press found ways in the offseason to praise the shortstop for finding ways to “train better” as he ages.

Ellsbury’s Defense

As everyone is no doubt aware, when both He-Who-Is-Named-After-a-Cereal and my Navajo Brother play the same outfield, the latter is shifted to either one of the corners in deference the former’s veteran status and sparkling defensive play in ’07. But perhaps that shouldn’t be the case.

According to the Great Gammons, the A’s resident genius, our onetime would-be GM, said that Ells is “without doubt the best defensive center fielder in the game today.”

Either way, it’s a good problem to have, because with those two and Drew in right it’s about as good a defensive outfield as you’re likely to see.

Free Trot

From the bittersweet files comes an update on one of my all time favorite Sox, one Christopher Trotman Nixon. As the Times is good enough to tell us, Trot is, at the age of 34, toiling away for AAA Tuscon in the Arizona system.

Tell me something couldn’t be worked out with Arizona. I mean, seriously? The club admits in the article that Arizona doesn’t have room for him. Even if there’s not a spot on the major league roster for him now, and there is not, I have to think he’d prefer to bide his time in Pawtucket over Tuscon.

Free Trot!

Minor League Gameday Audio

From Senor Hartzell comes a wonderful discovery for those of you that are as baseball as insane as I am: the minor league guys have gameday audio available as well. Enjoy, and thanks for the tip, Noel.

Road Struggles

We’re not good on the road. You’re shocked, I know. But some of the numbers are just bizarre. Our OPS at home, for example, is a 113 points higher (.857 to .744). You know what the equivalent delta is for the Rockies, the club with perhaps the most notorious home/away split? 93 (.773 to .680).

The pitching issues are no less mysterious. While we’re actually allowing a lower OPS away from Fenway, our ERA on the road is almost a full run higher (4.40 to 3.50). And, obviously, the winning percentage is a bit different: .808 at home to .406.

If it’s any consolation, according to Buster Olney this is not unique to the Sox, it’s a league wide issue. He quotes Steve Hirdt of Elias as saying the following:

In recent years, baseball’s home-team winning percentage has been very consistent: In each of the past 15 years, it was never lower than .516 and never as high as .550. The past four years were .535, .537, .546 and .542.

But this year, through games of May 29, home teams have a combined .577 winning percentage. The last major-league season in which the home-team winning percentage finished that high was 1931 (when it was .582). Since then, the HTWP has finished as high as .570 only once (.573 in 1978).

Bizarre. And neither the people he spoke with, nor those contacted by Cafardo, can explain it.

Nor can I, obviously. But the one thing I do know is that it needs to change, and fast. Winning 40 percent of 50 percent of our schedule is not going to get us to where we need to go. Not at all.

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

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }
.flickr-yourcomment { }
.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }
.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }



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

(Image courtesy of the Boston Globe)

Yes, I’m a couple of days late with this, but did you really want me to post something on Sunday? Trust me, you did not. Besides, I’ve been a little busy preparing for a cross-country move.

Anyway, In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events, we lost five in a row then won an absolute gem tonight. So we’ve got that going for us.

Also, we’re tied for first and we were swept first by the bubonic plague and then by a rash of injuries. Not good times.

But now it’s time for this week’s ICYHBKUWCE…

The Crisp

The complexion of these rumors has likely changed dramatically in the wake of Kielty’s broken hand and my Navajo brother’s gimpy groin, but I still think Crisp is going sooner or later. The Great Gammons’ money appears to be on the Cubs:

With the Orioles strong, hustling start, there is an increased belief that Peter Angelos won’t allow Brian Roberts to be traded, hence the [I think he meant Cubs] renewed discussions with the Red Sox concerning Coco Crisp. Boston is still interested in Cubs right-handed pitcher Sean Gallagher and a Class A prospect in return for Crisp.

Gallagher, for the record, is the Cubs 5th best prospect according to BP, with a 90-94 MPH fastball, 11-5 curveball and a change. Ceiling appears to be #3 starter.

Still, Gammons’ acknowledges that Beane is still lurking:

Billy Beane called Theo Epstein again Friday, trying to talk him into dealing Coco Crisp.

Olney, on the other hand, suggests that we explore a deal with M’s for the now blocked catcher Clement:

The Mariners locked up Kenji Johjima to a long-term deal…What follows is pure speculation; to repeat, pure speculation. With the Mariners now committed to Johjima for the next few years, it might make sense for Seattle to offer catching prospect Jeff Clement to the Red Sox in return for outfielder Coco Crisp, with other players also involved in the deal; the Red Sox would have to include some pitching.

That would be an interesting deal, frankly. I’m not sure how we’d integrate him into this year’s roster, given that Wake needs a catcher with stellar hands and that from all reports is not Clement, but it would potentially address our future catching situation. Clement does not project to offer the same defense that Tek does, but his bat should be top notch for the position.

What Olney doesn’t state, however, is that a Clement acquisition would likely spell the end of Tek’s tenure. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

The Debut

Prior to his emergency start this past week, the Baseball Prospectus guys were discussing Justin Masterson and mentioned that their analyst Kevin Goldstein had called Masterson’s sinker “arguably the best in all of the minor leagues.” Normally these kinds of enthusiastic endorsements spell doom for the pitcher.

Not so, fortunately, though Lopez and MDC (Oki gets a free pass b/c, seriously, bases loaded no one out?) didn’t just blow the game they torched it. Molotov Cocktails and everything.

The numbers for the big sinkerballer? 95 pitches over 6 innings, 2 hits, 1 run (nicked for a dinger by Napoli). 11 of his 18 outs were groundballs, and he walked four against four K’s.

The two questions for me following his outing? First, will he be down in Portland long enough for me to see him throw? Second, if his changeup has improved enough to use it effectively in his very first major league start, does he still profile as a reliever?

This season, that’s certainly how he’ll contribute. But longer term, I’m beginning wondering if there are 3/4 starter innings in his future.

The Homer

The Iwamura homer was a crushing blow, without a doubt. Buchholz was dominant, as was Jackson for that matter, and piling another one into the losing column in such a fashion was a kick in the teeth. But I’m in full agreement with Chad Finn when he said the following, and not just because he’s a Bath, ME native:

Call me a Tito Apologist if you must, but I don’t blame him at all for leaving Clay Buchholz in during the eighth inning Saturday night, when his spectacular performance was spoiled by Akinori Iwamura’s two-run homer. Seems to me the same people who were charbroiling Francona for leaving Buchholz in are the same ones who would be yowling if he pulled him and either Hideki Okajima or Jonathan Papelbon had coughed up the game. The kid was cruising, and he was beaten when a good hitter hit a good pitch. Sometimes that happens.

Sometimes that happens, indeed. I won’t resort to the “tip your cap” cliche, but I’m tempted. Sorely.

The Return

One other pitcher on the roster merry go round we’ve had the past few weeks was none other than one time future closer, turned potential bust, turned, well, listen to his catcher:

“I thought he threw the ball excellent,” said Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash. “From seeing him in Pawtucket last year, a little bit in spring training, that was definitely a bright spot. I look forward to seeing him out there again. His slider has improved drastically. He showed pretty good fastball command other than that one pitch.”

Call me crazy, but I think we’re going to need Hansen before all is said and done. Here’s hoping he keeps it up down in Pawtucket. His first appearance after his recall, he was excellent: 3K in 2 IP, to go with no hits and no walks. Tonight? Not so much. 2 hits, a walk, a K and 3 runs in 1.1 IP.

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

Why this video? Because now that the meaningless games are officially out the way, that’s what I want: an Encore.

And yes, I know this is two weekly features back to back. So sue me.

Anyway, this week’s edition of In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events, such as it is, comes to you from the road. Where the road equals Georgetown, ME. While tomorrow will see me journey to yours and my favorite city, it won’t be until next week that I actually catch a game live.

That’s right: should I be able to wrangle the travel – and I think I’ll be able to – next Wednesday night I’ll be seeing the good guys take on the Tigers. Whose lineup, frankly, is just unfair. But we’ll get there.

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve got for you.

Best 1-2 Punch of the AL? Not in Boston

With all due respect to the Fire Brand of the American League’s Guest Columnist Bottom Line Rob, I could not disagree more with his assessment of the best one/two starter tandems in the good half of the league.

Nearly as I can determine, he seems to base it primarily on wins. The combination that I – and apparently MVN’s Tim Daloisio as well – would pick, Bedard/Hernandez from the M’s, is dismissed with the following:

Neither of these guys have come close to winning 20 games, but with J.J. Putz as their closer and a solid offense, both youngsters have the stuff to each that goal. That said, Seattle was 2nd to the Yankees with a .287 team BA last year, but they only scored 794 runs… and that makes it tough for any pitcher to earn the win.

Which may be true, but not at all how I’d judge the pitchers.

Let’s look at how his qualified pick – Beckett/Matsuzaka – fared against mine and Tim’s Bedard/Hernandez choice last seasion. First, Boston’s guys:

Player K/9 BB/9 BAA IP
Beckett 8.70 1.79 .237 200.2
Matsuzaka 8.84 3.52 .249 204.2

Not bad at all. Matsuzaka walks too many guys, and neither is a premium strikeout pitcher, but that’s a pretty good front of the rotation. And that’s without the improvement in Matsuzaka I expect to see this season, even if it wasn’t apparent in his first outing.

Now what about the Seattle kids?

Player K/9 BB/9 BAA IP
Bedard 10.93 2.82 .217 182
Hernandez 7.8 2.51 .280 190.2

For my money, better. True, the M’s duo is giving up 30 innings to Beckett and Matsuzaka, but I wouldn’t bet on that being the case in ’08. Bedard was sidelined with an injury not expected to affect him this season, and Felix is young. Like two years younger than Clay Buchholz young.

Looking at the numbers from ’07, Bedard more or less outpitched Beckett – who had a Cy Young quality season – numbers-wise, and Hernandez struck out one fewer but walked one fewer in roughly comparable innings relative to Matsuzaka.

As a 21 year old. Against major league competition.

So while I like our rotation as a whole against the M’s, I’m with Tim: if I had to pick between our front two and their front two, I’d take the latter. Though I’d want to get Beckett back once the postseason started.

Going or Staying: Kielty

When Kielty signed with the good guys this offseason, I was convinced that a Crisp deal was not only in the works, but in the books. Which shows you what my prediction skills are like.

The question now is what Kielty’s fate will be. The Globe is reporting that it’s dependent on demand:

Kielty said he plans to remain in LA for a couple of days with family while awaiting word on his job prospects. If another job doesn’t materialize, he’ll go to Pawtucket, which opens its season Thursday. (link)

As for the odds that another job materializing, one of the MLB Trade Rumors folks speculates as follows:

With all the rumors swirling recently about teams in need of outfield help, I have to believe that Kielty will land a major league gig. PECOTA projects a line of .253/.331/.418 based on 159 plate appearances and Kielty can play all three outfield spots. (link)

On paper, I agree with that assessment, but I think there’s more to the equation here. If not, why would Kielty have signed here in the first place? He must have known there would be demand, and yet he took a job here, presumably banking on the fact that one of Crisp/Ellsbury would end up gone. Which, frankly, was a reasonable assumption.

Anyhow, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Kielty. It’s not that he’s indispensable, but I think he is an excellent complementary piece assuming that Crisp eventually is traded. I’m not sure who’d serve as the fourth outfielder in Kielty’s absence. Moss is credible, but probably can’t handle center regularly as Kielty can.

In my perfect world, we extract something useful for Crisp, and move on. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Pitch Counts and Injuries

There’s been a lot written about pitch counts and the risks to young pitchers the past few years. Witness this little tidbit from Neyer from a recent ESPN Chat:

As you know, the new paradigm suggests that young pitchers risk injury when their innings increase significantly from one season to the next. Carmona went from 103 innings to 215 innings. That doesn’t mean he’s going to get hurt, but it’s something worth worrying about.

That conclusion is even more interesting in light of Carmona’s playoff meltdown. But I also wanted to draw your attention to a recent piece on a very special – and very ominous – pitching club that one of our guys was on the verge of joining in ’07: the 3500 club. Here’s how Brett Greenfield describes it:

Certain pitchers exhibit warning signs from year to year. I’ve always wondered why certain pitchers’ careers take a turn for the worse. Some hurlers just throw too many pitches.

I’ve compiled a list of pitchers who have thrown 3500 or more pitches in a single season since 2005. There only appears to be a handful of them each year. However, there are several recidivists.

When I display for you the list of pitchers who are on this list and you see how their careers have taken a turn for the worse because of overuse, you’ll know why nobody wants to be a part of this club.

The ’07 members? Dontrelle Willis, Daniel Cabrera, Gil Meche, CC Sabathia, Aaron Harang, Scott Kazmir, Jake Peavy, Carlos Zambrano, Dan Haren, Barry Zito, John Lackey and Bronson Arroyo. Great, you’re thinking: Matsuzaka’s not on the list. Well, I’ve got bad news for you: he just missed. Fangraphs has his total pitchcount last year at 3480.

Not convinced that he belongs? Well, Baseball Prospectus has him atop their Pitcher Abuse Points table, some 19000 points ahead of the #3 finisher, AJ Burnett. The other guys in the top 5? Zambrano at #2, Halladay at #4, and Harang at #5.

All guys that work a lot.

I’m not quite recanting my Matsuzaka improvement predictions, but I’ll confess to being worried.

Predictions

I’m no great fan of predictions – actually, I actively hate them. You might have noticed given that I’ve done none myself (though I do think Verlander should be the favorite for the Cy) – but I’ve seen forecasts that are literally all over the map.

Case in point are the good folks over at Baseball Prospectus. The projected records have us finishing at 91-71, along with the Indians and Tigers, while the Yankees run away with the league at 97-65 and the Angels take the West with and 85-77 record. No word on who the wild card would be in such a scenario.

But at the same time, today BP’s Joe Sheehan projected us finishing ahead of the Yankees, strictly according to runs scored/allowed projections, at 96-66 to their 95-67.

Who to believe? None of them, as far as I’m concerned. As the Great Gammons says, any significant downtime to Beckett or Tek (yes, the same Tek who struck out 9 of 11 ABs in Japan – patience, people), and we are in serious trouble – projections or no projections. Hell throw Paps and Oki in there. Papi too.

You get the point: predictions are like battle plans. They never survive the first encounter with the enemy.

Terumasa Matsuo: Who is He, and What Can He Do?

Honestly, I have no idea. Backing up, for those of you who haven’t been keeping up with current events, we signed a 26 year old Japanese pitcher from one of their independent leagues. No scouter on him yet – I’m working on it.

In the meantime, here’s what Rotoworld had to say on the news:

According to Boston’s press release, the 26-year-old Matsuo was the Shikoku Island League MVP in 2007, when he led the league with 15 wins and 159 strikeouts. He had a 1.72 ERA and allowed 85 hits in 152 innings. In 2006, he had an 11-2 record with a 1.82 ERA, 134 strikeouts and 98 hits issued in 138 innings in 2006. Obviously, it’s not nearly the same level of competition as the Japanese Pacific or Central Leagues. He’s not someone to rush out and grab in keeper leagues. (link)

Normally, I’d be less optimistic, but we’ve shown some ability to scout Japan in recent years, so who knows.

More on him when I have it.

The Obligatory Crisp Update

Lastly, the news that I’m sure you’re just as sick of reading as I am writing: teams are interested in Coco, but no one’s shown any inclination to pull the trigger. The latest rumor, courtesy of the Globe’s Nick Cafardo:

The Cubs would still love to get their hands on Coco Crisp, but for now, youngster Felix Pie is their man in center. Sox assistant to the general manager Allard Baird spent a lot of time in Arizona last week scouting the Cubs, among others. (link)

Much as I love his defense – and I really love his defense – I’d almost trade Crisp at this point just so that I wouldn’t have to digest any further trade rumors.

I said almost.

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

As assumptions go, the one that says that everyone reading this knows we’re 1-1 for the season seems pretty unlikely to make an ass out of either you or me. It also seems reasonable to guess that you’re all aware that this week has yet to see a In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events.

So I’ll forgo informing you of the former, and instead deliver an abbreviated version of the latter. That work?

Injury News

Good news, for once. Crisp is playing, as you’ve seen. And Beckett K’d 6 minor leaguers in 4 scoreless innings today, which you may not have.

McCracken

Many or all of you may not have heard of Voros McCracken, but suffice it to say that he’s the creator of Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS), a very interesting statistic. He also is a former member of our resident nerdery, one whom chose to fly the coop. Apparently, he wasn’t a terribly happy camper:

In terms of my work with the Red Sox it was mostly enjoyable but occasionally frustrating. Being able to have the ear of an MLB GM is something most of the people who do what I do aspire to and it was indeed very {searching for a word} exhilarating? On the other hand the money was lousy, and at times I was left without any real idea of what kind of effect I was having on things. When you work on something for five months, deliver the final product and hear little back about it, it can be disheartening.

One of the things that kind of bugged me with the Red Sox was a somewhat implied expectation that I’d come up with something like DIPS on a regular basis. Whether that’s reasonable for someone else or not, I personally just don’t have that in me.

There are echoes of Bill James’ interview in there, and I’m wondering if it might not behoove us to give our number crunchers a slightly better sense of the value of their input. A bit management 101, I realize, but still.

Pitching Performances from Japan in One Sentence

I promised not to rehash the loss, and I won’t, but some quick reactions to a few of the pitching performances – theirs and ours – in the first two games.

  • Aardsma:
    He lit it up early last year too, but I’m not complaining.
  • Corey:
    Probably needs to be perfect; wasn’t.
  • Foulke:
    Still have a soft spot for him, and still can’t figure how that delivery works.
  • Harden:
    On the rare occasions he’s healthy, it’s rare for him to pitch poorly.
  • Lester:
    He’ll have better days this season, but also worse ones.
  • Matsuzaka:
    Like last year, not exactly pounding the strikezone.
  • Oki:
    Heard his crazy Japanese entrance song; seriously, WTF?

  • Papelbon:
    Not a strong outing; couldn’t be less concerned.

Trade Rumors

More trade rumors swirling this week.

First, Crisp:
[Tampa] are also taking a look at Coco Crisp; Tampa Bay is loaded with a wide range of pitching prospects, so it would seem that Boston could find a fit if it wanted to make a deal.” (link)

Seems far fetched to me, but Crisp would be excellent for their young pitchers, and they’ve got a full cupboard to deal from.

Then the pitchers:
Speaking of the Sox, the team is drawing interest in three right-handed pitchers who are out of options — David Aardsma, Bryan Corey and Kyle Snyder. Any of the three would make sense for a pitching-hungry team such as the Giants, Astros or Cardinals. The Sox, who can’t keep them all, don’t figure to seek a great deal in return.” (link)

This one’s interesting because if I’m not mistaken we have to make a roster move shortly, as the extra spots we were granted for the Japan trip expire.

Lastly, this puzzler about Matt Murton:
There is talk that the Red Sox may strike a deal with the Cubs for Matt Murton eventually, and the Cubs may deliver Murton to a place where he could play.” (link)

I get why we like Murton, but where, precisely, is he supposed to play?