Bullpen Now, Bullpen Later

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Called Strike, originally uploaded by sogrady.

As of yesterday, our bullpen was the not-so-proud owner of a collective 5.46 ERA. In 28 IP, we’d struck out 26, which is good, but walked 13, which is not so good. Fully half of those 26 K’s belonged to two pitchers: Paps (7), which you probably guessed, and Aardsma (6), which you may not have.

It’s for that reason alone – in spite of their usage in yesterday’s game (Aardsma preceded Corey) – that I suspect that this commenter over on Fire Brand is correct. Corey, in my mind, will be the one to go.

It’s the move I would make, because all things being equal you favor the strikeout pitcher. And things are hardly equal here. While Aardsma’s control has been characteristically poor – 4 BB’s in 4.1 IP – he at least has the strikeouts and a WHIP below 2. Corey has only walked 1 in the same span, but have give up 9 hits to Aardsma’s 2, and 7 runs to Aardsma’s 2.

So – assuming that Lopez is still protected from on high by the powers of darkness (his numbers are worse than either of the other two) – Corey should be the one to go.

The question is whether or not this will represent a real improvement, as Orsillo asserted on tonight’s telecast.

Certainly Timlin can be expected to provide higher quality outings that Corey has in his 6 appearances to date, but neither should we be expecting a great deal from the 42 year old reliever. PECOTA sees him throwing only 45 innings, and putting up a 4.40 ERA in that time (vs 3.80 in ’07).

The bullpen savior, he is not likely to be.

Stabilizer, maybe. His spring numbers show the same old Timlin, just with more contact. He doesn’t walk many – 1 in 8 IP over 7 outings – but he’s pitching more to contact, with 9 bits to go along with that walk.

At the very least, he’ll be an arm we can throw out against the Yankees in the middle innings that will throw strikes, and that’s certainly worth something.

However Timlin pitches, it seems clear that we’re going to need contributions from elsewhere, lest we run Oki into the ground yet again. Even more because of Buchholz and Lester’s innings caps.

But with credible bullpen arms overvalued at the moment, short of a Crisp trade, where might they come from? The minors, in all likelihood.

Given the ‘pen’s performance of late, I’ve been keeping an eye on some of the likely candidates for bullpen innings and the news on that front – unlike with the big club arms – is mostly good.

I was actually visiting Pawtucket’s site just yesterday to check in on Hansen, and apparently Kevin Thomas was thinking along the same lines. With the obvious small sample size caveat, it’s worth noting that in 3 appearances covering 6 IP, Hansen’s K’d 8, walked 3, and allowed 1 hit. It’s 3 games, yes, but it’s the best 3 game stretch he’s had since the tail end of last season.

One level down, Justin Masterson is actually outperforming Hansen, as the BA guys note. In 2 starts and 9 innings, Masterson’s walked none and K’d 10 against 5 hits. In his second outing, Masterson went 5, striking out 7. All of the other outs? Groundballs. Of the 2 hits he allowed, one was a groundball single.

Does this mean, as some are beginning to argue, that we should dump not only Corey but Aardsma too, in favor of the young arms?

No. Barring injury, Hansen and Masterson will remain as options for our bullpen, while once Aardsma, Corey or even Lopez are gone, they’re gone for good as all are out of options. So rather than prematurely divest ourselves of potential assets, it makes more sense to wait and see what, if anything, Aardsma and the rest of the current relief staff can provide us, while gaining additional insight into the performances of the likes of Masterson and Hansen. As well as both of the latter two have pitched, they are both exceedingly young, and we’ve only a handful of games to judge them by.

In a month or two, I might change my tune, but for now I think we try to keep the ship afloat with the pieces we’ve got, while assessing the readiness of potential help down the line.

Update: Rob Bradford confirms that Corey was the roster casualty, DFA’d after the game to make room for Timlin.

Buchholz and Hansen: Second Looks

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Warmup, originally uploaded by Plutor.

If you’re craving reassurance with respect to the rough outings today from first Buchholz and then Hansen, well, you shouldn’t.

Repeat after me: it’s. their. first. outing. Against the pros, anyway.

But I was curious to see what – precisely – went wrong for the two on the day, because the box score doesn’t always tell the full story. Herewith is my quick scouter on the pair’s efforts today, which – considering that I’m completely untrained for the task – isn’t terribly valuable.

Anyway.

Buchholz

Not a terrible outing, overall, Buchholz just got some balls up in the first inning and had some balls hit just far enough away from defenders to cause problems. More:

  • The NESN gun had his fastball between 88-92, and in his post-game remarks he mentioned that he sees himself sitting between 90-93 easy, with a couple extra available when he needs it.
  • Four seam fastballs that dominated the first IP were frequently up, which has been a bit of a problem in his “last two bullpens.”
  • Mentioned that he “might have been trying to throw too hard”
  • Great separation velocity-wise with his changeup: arm action is good and the gun had them generally at 78 with an occasional 75
  • Second IP was much smoother, primarily because he went to a two seam fastball that generated some quick outs on the ground
  • All three pitches – fastball, curve, and change – got hit, but all three looked good at times
  • First few hits came in two strike counts

Hansen

Hansen’s outing was less promising than Buchholz’, primarily because his velocity crept down but his control – particularly of the slider – did not improve. Still, if the infield behind him had managed to turn a double play his line would have looked very different. More:

  • The NESN gun had Hansen’s fastball between 90-95, and his slider was fairly consistent at 83.
  • Fastballs were generally thrown down in the zone, but command within it was spotty.
  • Sliders were so-so on the day, with one or two good ones thrown against several way out of the zone. Remy’s characterization of the pitch was “flat”
  • Clearly had difficulty throwing strikes with either the fastball or the slider
  • Subtracting velocity did not necessarily improve his control: the third batter of the inning took four straight balls, which came in at 93-92-91-90
  • While several of the non-strikes were borderline pitches, several – particularly after runs scored – missed by a significant margin
  • Fastball showed good velocity to close out the inning (95)

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

So I walked two miles through the freezing, blowing snow for a thin meal of gruel to bring you today’s entry. That, or I walked a hundred yards for Eggs Mazatlan.

At least the snow was real. Promise.

Anyway, we’ve got a full slate for this week’s In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events, so let’s get to it.

Colon’s Arm

I’ve weighed in on the Colon signing previously, but there were a couple of interesting tidbits this week. First, from Andrew Jackson Peter Gammons himself,

Red Sox conditioning guru Mike Reinhold is satisfied with what he’s seen in Bartolo Colon’s shoulder and pitching coach John Farrell likes his velocity, so there was nothing to lose.

If you’re looking for validation, Buster Olney’s got you covered:

Heard this: The Red Sox team doctors were pleasantly surprised by the condition of Bartolo Colon’s arm when they examined him.

Neither offers any guarantees, obviously, but it’s mildly promising.

Which is nice, considering that Keith Law had gotten the following quote from a front office official this offseason: “his medicals are a disaster.” I still don’t think we’re going to get much, if anything from him, but if his velocity is adequate it’s not unreasonable to predict we could get a couple of league average starts out of the righthander.

Garcia?

In the Colon piece linked to earlier, I also mentioned that I’m somewhat interested in Freddy Garcia as a candidate for some second half innings. Which meant the following Gammons bit was of significant interest:

Freddy Garcia checked in at Fort Myers to be examined Wednesday. Garcia hopes to be back in August, so if the Red Sox were to have a rash of pitching injuries, they will have a means to compare shoulder examinations and see his progress.

As with Colon, it seems to be another obvious “can’t hurt” move.

Hansen: All Growns’d Up?

For the record, I’m not one who yearns for all of the off the field details that inevitably result when a bunch of 20 something athletes – some of whom are rich – are thrown together for months at a time. I may not pine for the days when the Mick’s antics were glossed over in nod nod nudge nudge wink wink fashion…er, actually, yes I do. I wish fervently that I was kept less informed about the bullshit (you may have noticed a distinct lack of Clemens coverage hereabouts…this is not an accident).

All of that said, I do find some of the language employed towards oblique references to carousing hilarious. Witness this aside from Tito on Hansen:

I think he’s grown up. That doesn’t mean it all clicks in this week. He’s young, and did not necessarily make the best decisions all the time. I hope [the maturity] shows up on the field.

What these kids do off the diamond is something I regard as none of my business. But that won’t prevent me from laughing at the linguistic machinations managers and front office employees will resort to to hint at underlying issues.

But perhaps you prefer to take the comments literally? When Baseball America says of Hansen:

Hansen did hit a couple of speed bumps after his resurgence, missing three weeks in August after he banged his forearm when he slipped and fell against a nightstand.

You think, sure, that’s just what happened. Hell, it’s certainly possible.

For my part, however, I think there are a couple of things to read between those lines. Not that I want to.

Masterson: Bullpen or Starter?

Many baseball observers – including Rob Neyer – have mentioned Justin Masterson as a potential asset to offset the potential loss of Schilling’s innings. Which based on his minor league performance to date, not to mention the performance I saw firsthand last summer in his second AA start, is eminently sane and reasonable.

But the question remains: will be contribute as a starter or a reliever? As discussed previously, many think his arm profiles better in the bullpen. What I hadn’t heard was a Red Sox opinion on that subject.

Until this week.

On the 28th, the enterprising and stupidly attractive Amalie Benjamin secured the following quote from Senor John Farrell:

If you want to profile him out, he looks like a reliever just with the pitch mix that he has, a different arm angle that he pitches with. But until he’s fully developed the ability to use three pitches – the slider is going to be a big pitch for him – our plan is going to [be to] continue to start him, but knowing that we wouldn’t hesitate to move him to the bullpen if he shows us he can contribute this year.

Not quite case closed, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for him to get a start in the big leagues.

Putting The Young Pitchers’ Struggles in Context

Jon Lester (1 IP, 2H, 4 ER, 4BB, 0K) got knocked around yesterday . Clay Buchholz (2 IP, 5H, 4 ER, 1BB, 1K) got knocked around today. So obviously we’re screwed, and the sky is falling. Dogs and cats living together, you get the idea.

Just as it is for Johan Santana (2 IP, 3 ER, 4H, 0BB, 1K) and the Mets, and Erik Bedard (2 IP, 3 ER, 4H, 2BB, 1K) and the M’s.

If you hear me argue that Bedard, let alone Santana, should be the expectation for either Buchholz or Lester this season, you have my permission to involuntarily commit me for psychiatric evaluation. But let’s also not write off their minor and major league histories on the basis of a poor spring training outing.

Or three.

The Crisp Update

In his interview with Dennis and Calahan, Grandmaster Theo was fairly blunt about the poor prospects for a Crisp trade. One of the primary issues being the plethora of available center field free agents, a few of whom are still available (Lofton and Patterson, primarily).

But that doesn’t mean that our diligent front office hasn’t been working the phones, attempting to extract blood from the proverbial stone. Earlier this week, Gammons had this to say:

The Cubs have talked to several teams about Matt Murton, including the Rangers (Marlon Byrd) and the Red Sox (Coco Crisp), but neither team will trade a center fielder even up. Boston wants Murton, who took his parents to the first game of the World Series last fall at Fenway, but are wary of trading Crisp because speed players like Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury can so easily break down with leg problems.

And then today the always timely MLB Trade Rumors updated us on the prospects of a Crisp trade to either of the Chicago ballclubs.

The only thing I’d add to that particular account is the fact that it’s not necessarily Gomez’s ’08 season that blocks a potential Crisp-to-the-Twins trade, but the subsequent seasons in which Crisp is due better than $6M per. Affordable under most circumstances, but not when you have a Gomez in house waiting in the wings.

Yankee Nation?

As just about everybody is aware at this point, Hankenstein continues to disgrace himself and his club [1] by running his mouth at every given opportunity. His latest verbal failing came in the context of a NY Times article, which quoted him as saying the following:

“Red Sox Nation?” Hank says. “What a bunch of [expletive] that is. That was a creation of the Red Sox and ESPN, which is filled with Red Sox fans. Go anywhere in America and you won’t see Red Sox hats and jackets, you’ll see Yankee hats and jackets. This is a Yankee country. We’re going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order.”

Hankenstein’s obvious mental limitations aside, the above is actually an argument worth considering, given the Pinstriped ones obvious brand strength. So consider it I did, by looking at – gasp! – some actual numbers. From here. What do they tell me?

That the Sox are really giving the Evil Empire a run for their money.

For example, the Red Sox average road attendance in 2007 was? 38,641. The Empire? 37,227. 2006 saw the Sox temporarily bested, 38,028 to 36,098, but 2005 saw the Sox back on top, 37,735 to 37,036. The 3 year averages? Sox are 37,491, while the Yanks are 37,430.

So we win. Narrowly, it’s true, but a win is a win. Which isn’t bad for a city of 590,000 competing with a city of 8.25 million.

Looks like people do honestly prefer good to evil. Who would have guessed?

[1] From an actual email from one of my actual Yankee friends (I know, but he’s an excellent guy): “he blows. i hate him. just when i was starting to actually like the yankees again, he happens. bums me out.”

Quick Links: Drunk Ortiz, Hansen Thoughts, Jeter Leader?

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the_scene, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Good news, everyone! I survived a weekend spent in an 8×6 shack on a frozen lake in sub-zero Minnesota temperatures with three other dudes. More or less in one piece.

Honestly, though, if there’s anything better than ice fishing for getting me ready for baseball, I’m not sure what it would be.

Age Surprises

Peter Gammons: Every so often I’m surprised by age comparisons. Sometimes I’m more impressed with a player because they’re younger than I believed, others I’m less impressed because they’re older. Either way, it’s always interesting.

Gammons mentioned one today:

Remember that Jon Garland is six months younger than Bedard and has 52 more career wins.

In the immortal words of Carsenio, “I did not know that.” But the one that really put things in perspective for me?

Clay Buchholz will be 23 to start the season, while Seattle’s Felix Hernandez – you remember the one hitter last year, don’t you? – will be 21.

In the only slightly less immortal words of Stephen Colbert, “Think about that. I haven’t.”

Battle Royale in Bullpen

Amalie Benjamin: According to everyone’s favorite Amalie, the Sox will open with 12 pitchers on the roster rather than 11. With Papelbon, Okajima, Delcarmen, Timlin, and Tavarez all but guaranteed of spots if they’re healthy – whether it’s for contract reasons, talent, or ideally both – that leaves two spots up to the likes of Aardsma, Hansen, Lopez, Snyder, and the non-roster invitees in Michael Bowden, Lee Gronkiewicz, Hunter Jones, Dan Kolb, Justin Masterson, Jon Switzer and Michael Tejera. Unless – and maybe even if – Bowden and Masterson allow no hits and no walks for all of spring training, they’re ticketed for the minors. Jones too. The rest of the folks on that list are real long shots.

Cashman Watch, Continued

Bill Madden: First we have this bit from Madden:

At the time [of Pettite’s return], there was elation all around, especially from Cashman, who used Pettitte’s “I shall return” proclamation as the incentive for walking away from a deal for the Twins’ Johan Santana – a deal he never wanted to make. With Pettitte taking up $16 million in payroll, the Yankees could no longer afford Santana, Cashman argued, and Hal Steinbrenner, Hank’s partner and the primary financial expert in the business, agreed.

“Take your choice, guys,” Hal reportedly told the group of Yankee higher-ups in a meeting on the Santana deal prior to Cashman’s departure for the winter meetings. “Pettitte or Santana?”

And then we have this bit from the great Gammons:

But if all the spotlight causes the respectful, quiet Pettitte to go into a shell and turn into a 35-year-old .500 pitcher, his grab for the $16 million that steered the Yankees away from Johan Santana may cost a few jobs. Which will not be fair.

Anyone care to give me odds that Cashman is one of those jobs?

Hansen, Hansen, Hansen – So Hot Right Now?

Speaking of Hansen, he’s received a lot of attention in the Globe. Granted, some of the coverage was for the novelty of the surgery he had to correct sleep apnea; in his own words, he used to snore like a 500 pound fat man. But he’s also being discussed almost daily by the beat writers as a legitimate candidate for one of the last spots in the pen.

Certainly, if he can throw strikes with a slider resembling the one he threw at St John’s, I’d bet on him for a spot. The kid throws hard, after all. Unfortunately, I’d put the odds of that precondition being met as long indeed. Keith Law is, if anything, even more convinced of this than I am. In fact, he’s gone as far as arguing that Daniel Bard is a better bet than Hansen, saying:

I saw Hansen again in the Fall League … it’s not there, at least not yet. I’d be more inclined to put money on Bard taking a step forward in ’08 than Hansen.

Given that Bard’s walked nearly 2 guys for every one he’s struck out as a pro (78BB/47K), and better than 1/IP (78BB/75IP), well, that can’t really be taken as a positive report on Hansen.

Good Times, Good Times

Steve Buckley: I don’t think this qualifies as throwing your teammate under the bus simply because it’s high comedy, but, well, you make the call:

“Last year after we won it,” [Papelbon] said yesterday, “I was in a hotel room partying, and Ortiz was there trying to show me how to do the breakdance. And he fell over, and he didn’t know what he was doing. Either that or he was just too drunk. I don’t know.”

The good folks over at Surviving Grady are absolutely right: Papelbon must be miced 24/7/365. That would be the first and only reality show I’d ever watch. Unless someone sticks a camera on Marissa Miller (sorry, Amalie).

Rest as a Trend

Rob Bradford: It’s clear from Rob’s latest and some of the other commentary leading up to and follow last year’s playoffs that enforced rest may become a prescribed part of the Red Sox pitching management strategy. As an aside, I was a bit surprised – and pleased – to see Beckett recognize the benefits of the approach, given that it is at odds with the Herschiser like ideal that starting pitchers are a horse to be ridden until they die.

What I’m curious about now is whether or not this strategy of enforced rest will be emulated more broadly within the league. Certain factors – the lack of starting pitching to support the approach, the lack of intelligence within some front offices, or incompatible pitching management philosophies – are likely to limit the spread of the tactic. But baseball front offices are smarter and more creative than they were even a few years ago, and even the conservative clubs are willing to try and emulate what’s been successful for Word Series winners.

Taking One for the Team?

John Mazor: Fortunately, I don’t need to take apart this crime against sports journalism, because the pros at Fire Joe Morgan have already done that for you. Nor do I have to explain why Jeter is not a pre-eminent or even average shortstop, because the Penn researchers Mazor is trying to slag have explained that in sufficient detail for all but the most ardent homers.

For an article that bases much of its argument on the fact that Jeter has won three Gold Gloves – in spite of the fact that that award means nothing (disagree? then explain how Palmeiro won it for 1B in ’99 while playing only 28 games at the position) – I find it surprising that Mazor fails to mention that the two Gold Gloves that Rodriguez wore came in his last two years as a shortstop. The years, put differently, before he moved to third base to accommodate the statistically and observably inferior shortstop. As one of the researchers put it, “The Yankees have one of the best defensive shortstops playing out of position in deference to one of the worst defensive shortstops.”

Is Jeter an excellent player? Indeed. But is he the leader, and the Cap’n Intangibles, that Yankee fans believe him to be? I’m not sure how you make that argument. To me, a real leader would have done what was best for the team: let the best shortstop man that position.

But frankly, as I used to tell my Yankee friends, I’m just as happy that that didn’t work out. Can you imagine a world in which the Pinstriped ones could throw A-Rod and Jeter at short and second, then find power bats for the corners? It’s too terrifying to even contemplate.