The ALCS So Far

beckett

It’s pretty simple: Beckett is not healthy. I don’t know if it’s his elbow, his oblique, or something else, but the man is not right. To argue anything else is to insult our collective intelligence, because the available evidence supports no other conclusion. It’s not that he’s surrendering runs; even the best postseason pitcher of this generation will do that, from time to time, and this Rays club is solid one through nine. It is, rather, the manner in which he’s going about his business. You’ve probably read by now that over the course of 93 pitches, Beckett got precisely one fastball by a Ray. One. Also, that his velocity is significantly reduced; he’s reportedly operating from 90-93 at this point.

It’s far from impossible to make the transition from power pitcher to finesse pitcher; that’s effectively what we’ve seen Schilling do the last few seasons here. But I seriously doubt that can be done – or at least done effectively – in playoff games. The stakes are simply too high, and the hitting that much better. Given that Beckett’s not likely to become Jamie Moyer in time for a potential Game 6 start, I hope our manager and the front office are asking themselves the heretical if necessary question: is Beckett our best option as a starter at this point? Or might we get more out of Byrd?

All of that would occur privately, of course. I expect none of Francona, Farrell or Beckett to claim anything other than that the pitcher is fine, because as much as it’s obvious to you, me and the Rays’ hitters that that is demonstrably false, it gains them nothing to allow that the pitcher’s injured. The media in general, I think, has been less inclined to question the official word than one might expect in the days leading up to yesterday’s start, but that’s all over in the wake of a second subpar outing.

The question at this point is what happens next? The good news is that we emerge from Tampa with a split. If you’d told me in advance that we’d get one in spite of a less than five inning start from Beckett, I would have called you a liar. The bad news is that without Beckett, our chances of taking the series are compromised.

Tomorrow’s Lester outing is, as anticipated, a must win game. If we can take that, we would then have to win two out four games started by Wake, Matsuzaka, Beckett and Lester – though it’s possible that Beckett could be bumped in favor of the young lefty if we were facing elimination. Certainly possible – particularly if Matsuzaka pitches as he did in Game 1, but we must win tomorrow. If we don’t, we’re in serious trouble, I think.

In other news, not that I doubted he’d turn things around, but it was nice to see Petey unload yesterday. If we can sustain some of the offense that we got in the early going yesterday – tough to do, since it principally came off a pitcher with a diminished arsenal – I like our chances going forward. The starters, with the exception of Beckett for the reasons noted above, are doing their job, and the pen has greatly exceeded my pessimistic expectations. But to take this series, we’re going to need runs. Quite a few of them, I think. And a fair number of them are going to have to come from Petey, since the Large Father – like Beckett – isn’t the Large Father at the moment.

Did That Just…Oh My God IT'S OUT: Game 2 Reaction

Speaking for each and every one of us, Denton said this:

F#@KING JD DREW WHOM I LOVE LIKE A BROTHER OR PERHAPS A WOMAN OF QUESTIONABLE BACKGROUND AFTER I’VE HAD MANY DRINKS JUST DRIVES A TWO-RUN HOMER OUT OF THE PARK AND THE RED SOX TAKE THE LEAD HOLY SHIT I’VE LOST IT

So let it be written, so let it be done. After a long, brutally drawn out night spent nursing four beers and dreams of failure at Byrnes’ Irish Pub in Bath, ME, we are shipping up to Boston, improbably up 2-0.

Any by we’re, I don’t just mean in a metaphorical sense, as in we the Red Sox. I mean, we as in me and the Red Sox. Or, if you want to be like that, the Red Sox and I.

That’s right: thanks to what is essentially a miracle, I will be making a shockingly unanticipated visit to Fenway Park to see Josh Beckett – who is now, apparently, a definite – take the mound. Thanks to the largesse of a friend and wicked clevah reader.

A few comments (of dubious value):

  • Let’s give credit where credit is due: Matsuzaka did his job Friday night by keeping us in the ballgame. That said, watching him pitch is just excruciating. His games are all too typically a high wire act, and last night was no exception. Add in the additional weight of a playoff game, and it was a long night. In my clearly inexpert opinion, his difficulty largely stems from the fact that he lacks – or lacks consistent command of – a true swing and miss pitch. His K rates demonstrate more than adequately that he has the ability to generate strikeouts, but in games like last night’s he seems consistently unable to put away hitters after getting them in two strike counts.
  • Schilling said exactly what I was thinking on the drive home last night: “the league MVP or runner up has not had a hit yet.” One reason – a healthy Beckett would be another – to be optimistic in tomorrow’s contest. Another? The little guy is 7-18 against tomorrow’s starter for a lifetime .389/.389/.444 line. I’m not worried about Petey: he’s going to hit sooner or later, and with two wins, we haven’t missed him terribly yet.
  • No one will – or should – claim that we don’t miss Manny Ramirez offensively. His postseason performance with the Sox speaks for itself. But much as was said at the time of the trade, while Bay is no Ramirez, he’s not a bad player. And right now, if you were to vote for a series MVP, wouldn’t it have to be Bay? Also notable: Bay is 1-3 lifetime vs Saunders, which would be less interesting if the hit wasn’t a home run. That’s one of three home runs we’ve hit lifetime off the pitcher (the other two came from Crisp and Youk).
  • I confess to being sorry to have made this particular Angels fan unhappy. But if I have to pick between that and making everyone’s favorite beat writer happy, it’s not even a conversation. Sorry, lady: you’re cute, but you’re no Amalie.
  • Chad Finn on Tito:

    I was almost as encouraged by the inclusion of third-string catcher David Ross on the final roster as I was by the news that Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew were among the final 25, for this reason: It’s a clear sign that Tito Francona intends to pinch hit for the mummified remains of Jason Varitek when the situation calls for it. One of the countless things I admire about Francona as a manager is that he consciously changes his approach in the postseason. He manages with more inning-to-inning urgency, whereas from April to September he always has the big picture and the long season in focus. There were a handful of times during the regular season when I’d catch myself screaming at the Samsung after Francona refused to hit for Varitek in a key situation. (Varitek, of course, either whiffed or grounded into a routine double play, depending if there was a runner on first). Ross’s presence on the roster is all the proof I need that Tito is about to change his ways again.

    Precisely. And you need look no further for evidence of this, I think, than Mike Lowell’s DNP last night. This decision was clearly excruciating for Francona, in part because Lowell even hobbled adds something to the club, but more the respect the third baseman has earned. But Tito, as he might not do during the regular season, is clearly managing for the moment.

    Exactly as he should be doing.

  • JD DREW! That’s twice in the last two postseasons that I’ve seen K-Rod taken deep by one of our boys. And twice in the last two postseasons that Drew has hit a big, game changing homer. That this one wasn’t a four run job like last year’s does nothing to diminish its importance: it was huge, because extra innings – and, presumably, an MDC appearance – lay dead ahead.
  • A couple of folks at Byrnes were nervous when Pap threw a few balls in the dirt. Personally, I was elated, as that indicates that the days of the fastball-only approach may be over for the time being, as the split moves back in.
  • Speaking of MDC, does anyone else think it’s interesting that he hasn’t pitched yet?
  • And speaking of absences, did anyone note that senior Globe writer Nick Cafardo was sent to Tampa, rather than the series we’re actually playing in? I know his is a more national beat, and that I know next to nothing about the staffing of sports beats, but dare I hope this means that someone feels the same way I do about Cafardo? Adam Kilgore, by the way, a new addition to the Globe team, is excellent so far. IMHO, anyway.
  • If you’re going to make the argument that – in hindsight – the hole that the Angels have dug for themselves is due to poor roster construction, poor managerial tactics, or something similar, shouldn’t you at least mention the fact that both games could have gone the other way? Or is that a case of the facts getting in the way of a good story?
  • And because I can’t post without talking about numbers, lifetime our guys have put up a .670 OPS against Saunders in 130 ABs. The best (minimum 5 ABs): Crisp at 1.000, Youk at .931, Pedro at .833, Drew at .733, and Cash at .733. That’s the good news. The bad is that Lowrie, Lowell, Ortiz, Ells, Tek, and Casey are all OPSing at .500 or under. All of which, based on the results to date, means precisely dick. But just so you feel prepared.

Game 3

Yes, the pressure is on the Angels. Yes, we’re playing at home. Yes, our ace is throwing against their #3 starter. And yes, we can probably expect Pedroia to chip in before the series is ended.

But tomorrow’s game is very far from a given. As noted in this space before, we’ve thrown Beckett against weaker starters this season and come out on the losing end. And Saunders – for reasons that are unclear to me – generally performs well against our lineup. Besides, who knows better than us that 2-0 does not a series win make?

So no guarantees here that we’ll wrap it up. Quite the contrary, in fact: I expect the Angels to come out loose because that’s all they can do, and I expect a solid outing from Saunders. Beyond that, I leave it to Beckett’s right arm.

While I can’t guarantee a win, however, I can guarantee that I’ll be doing everything in my power to secure one. Which might not be much, but is something.

Schilling to Bradford to You

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Houston, We Have a Problem, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Once upon a time, the feed for Rob Bradford’s feed was full text. Alas, with Rob now employed by the Boston Herald, those days are seemingly behind us, as the Herald is intent on artificially inflating page views by serving only partial text via readers. But that’s about all I have to complain about; he is, otherwise, one of my favorites of the Sox beat writers.

Interviews like this two part series with Schilling are a great example of why. Yes, the questions come from the readers as opposed to Rob, but that’s part of his charm. Unlike most of the Boston writers, he’s actively embraced the idea that he probably doesn’t have all the answers. Or questions, as the case may be.

But anyhow, here are a couple of interesting question and answer exchanges that I found particularly interesting. They’re provided below, with my reaction following in italics.

Q: If this is it and you never pitch again, will this whole surgery/no surgery debacle taint your Red Sox experience or is it still pretty special?

CS: Whether I pitch again or not won’t change my feelings about what has happened over the past three to four months. But that is completely separate and apart from the experience I’ve had the honor of being part of on the field and in the clubhouse.

Perhaps there are other ways to read this remark, but my guess is that his feelings over what has transpired over the past three to four months are less than positive towards the club. Which may be perfectly justified, for all that I know of the situation. I do find it notable, however, as it seems at least possible that it will permanently color his relationship with the club going forward.

Q: What is your opinion on the increasing importance of pitch counts? There seems to be too much reliance on the 100 pitch threshold. It should all depend on how “easy” or “hard” the pitches have been through the game (i.e. constantly working out of jams or not). I’d love to hear your opinion on this subject.

CS: I guess my question has always been why 100? Why not 92 or 157? Why is it 100? Why is it 200 IP? I have no idea why that is the number but I absolutely agree with SOME number being paid attention to because I have watched the positive impact and also felt it as well.

I’ll have more on the pitch count question shortly, but I’d argue that Schilling’s opinion regarding pitch counts is rather progressive for a pitcher of his era and type. While I think he’s focusing too much on the actual number – it’s not possible for it to be anything but arbitrary when it’s a general rule – I find it refreshing that he’s willing to recognize the benefits of rest. I hope that attitude is common on our staff.

Q: Do pitchers actually lose something on their fastball when they develop a pattern of throwing a lot of cutters, for example? I thought I read this theory about Andy Pettitte in the late 90’s.

CS: I’ve always felt that the change-up, the softer stuff are the pitches that start to erode velocity and only then if they are pitches you begin to rely heavily on. Due to the physical exertion and feel of the fastball, you begin to lose some of that when you lean heavily on pitches that don’t force the same delivery or effort level in my opinion.

This is an interesting assertion, one that I don’t know that I’ve ever heard before. It would be interesting to how well fastball/change pitchers held or did not their velocity over time versus, say, fastball/slider pitchers. The original questioner also brings up a good point, in that Pettite and similar pitchers – I believe they held Lester back from using his cutter in spring training – have been accused of over using their breaking balls or offspeed offerings.

Q: I’m always interested in hearing what pitchers are willing to say about throwing inside and brushback/knockdown pitches. Do they serve a pitcher well, a team well? Are they effective at all on the opposition? If not, why not? Are there times when a pitcher want to throw one but can’t, or doesn’t wan’t to, but has to? Is it solely up the pitcher to launch one? Does a pitcher take a little bit off a pitcher when he’s going to launch one? Does a pitcher feel personal about it, or does the hitter, or is it just part of the game? There’s this one pitcher I’ve watched, who I won’t name, but he seems nice enough, who generally puts one right ont he batter’s butt cheek to sort of get the job done without trying to hurt the guy. If you want to comment on this, we’ll assume it’s the hypothetical pitcher we’re talking about rather than anyone in particular.

CS: Whew, that’s a lot. Pitching inside is absolutely essential to being dominant in the major leagues, no question. You absolutely must pitch inside and I always look at that, the corners of the plate, and the “sweet spot” of the strike zone in similar fashion. Meaning if you throw 85 mph you have to pitch farther in. You have smaller corners and the hitters’ sweet spot in the strike zone is larger. As you move up the velocity scale all of those things get bigger and smaller. When I threw 95 I look at the corners as being 5-6 inches each. Pitching in was about inner-half to just off, and the hitters’ sweet spot in the zone was much smaller. As my velocity has decreased the corners get smaller, I have to pitch farther in, and there is a lot more room in the strike zone I need to stay out of. As far as hitting batters goes, the game has changed in epic fashion. Umpires can now throw pitchers out if the THINK the pitcher hit a batter intentionally and has resulted in some comical scenarios. I have talked with many umpires who detest the rule, because they just don’t know in many cases. The amount of money in the game has forced owners to do some things to the game that I don’t think are necessarily in the game’s best interest. However, I will add that at one point the players did such a poor job of playing the game right that we warranted oversight because we couldn’t manage it ourselves. It got to a point where every time a hitter was even thinking he was being thrown at he charged, and no one wins there.

A lot to parse there, clearly, but the pieces I found most insightful were the margin for error as it relates to velocity and the impact of the umpiring crews on the ability to throw inside. The latter, of course, is something that many of us have noticed over the past few years, particularly when it came to performances from those that, like Pedro, made a living throwing inside.

The former is likewise fairly unsurprising, but the specifics on inches and corner size I had not seen discussed previously.

Q: Sandy Koufax said, “Pitching is the art of instilling fear,” and “Show me a guy who can’t pitch inside and I’ll show you a loser.” And yet he hit only 18 batters in 2,324 innings. Don Drysdale on the other hand hit 154 batters in 3,432 innings and Pedro Martinez has (so far) hit 131 batters in 2,673 innings. You have only hit 52 batters in 3,261 innings. Has your control been so good that you can still pitch inside without hitting batters, or is it that your split is more likely to be in the dirt and that explains your low HBP number?

CS: I would say it’s been control more than anything. I would like to think I’ve conducted myself the right way on the mound. Of the 52 guys I have hit I would say roughly half were guys that deserved it and now it, and I never aimed high. When I hit someone on purpose the intent was to make sure they knew it, their teammates knew it, and the offending pitcher knew it as well. That and I wanted it to hurt after the game so I would always aim for the hip to the arm pit.

I think Schilling is entirely correct: it all does come down to control. Throwing inside, of course, is not by definition a euphemism for hitting batters. But the worse the pitcher’s control, the more likely that the conflation of those to terms will end up being entirely appropriate. Schilling’s refusal to elevate the ball when intentionally hitting batters speaks well of him, I’d say, and I generally do not condone head hunting because the risks are too great.

That said, anyone that saw Hideki Matsui’s at bats before and after Pedro threw one under right under his chin in the 2004 ALCS has to appreciate the art – and make no mistake, it is an art – of intimidation.

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

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Jed Lowrie, SS, Hitting Third, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Bowing to the inevitable, I’ve basically accepted that this recurring feature is to become my own half-assed version of the Sunday Notes column pioneered by the inestimable Peter Gammons. Though it’s clearly blasphemous to discuss this space and Gammons in the same sentence, at least I’m not calling it a Notes column. Or claiming it’s particularly well written. Or informed. And so on.

Anyway, on to this week’s roundup.

Bill James’ Contribution

I am in no way an expert on Bill James or his contributions to the game. I’ve read a few of his books, digested countless interviews, and cheered his hiring by the Good Guys. But Edes’ piece on James this week did little to dispell the notion that he’s ultimately a very humble man, entirely unfocused on the scope of his contributions to the game. From my vantage point, James’ primary gift to baseball can be summed up in one simple lesson: Of Everything You Know to Be Right and True, Only Some Is. For that alone, the man belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Clay = Playah

So Clay has “gone out with” the Penthouse Pet of the Year, Erica Ellyson. Ok, good for him. But I have three questions after reading that item. First, he was seeing a Victoria’s Secret model last year and no one knew? Second, did he start seeing that one before or after the no hitter? Third, why is his Dad not only providing all of the above information, but providing it to a radio station?

Correcting Cafardo

Sadly, this is likely to become a recurring feature, given Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo’s frequently questionable conclusions. Cafardo, you might remember, is the one who argued that Sabathia was the fourth best pitcher in the AL last year and was subtly lamenting the innings caps imposed on young pitchers these days. This week’s pearls of wisdom from the unfortunate owner of Boston’s Notes responsibilities:

  • I know Jason Giambi makes $21 million this year, but I’d play Shelley Duncan at first. What energy.

    I mean, Who wouldn’t? Honestly, who among you would not sit Giambi and his $21M and his lifetime .411 OBP (.356 last season, in a down year) in favor of Duncan and his lifetime .329 (lifetime .337 in the minors). Because, after all, the latter has “energy.” As an aside, if some of the baseball purists wonder why statistics people tend to completely discard non-statistical arguments, well, after reading people like Cafardo, can you blame them?

    Some of you might rightly argue that the Yankees could could employ one player at DH and the other at first, but then the question becomes: why doesn’t Cafardo make that argument instead?

  • Boras also represents Matt Holliday, a free agent after 2009. Think the Sox might have their sights on him?

    Indeed they might, as Holliday was a legitimate MVP candidate last season. But you’d think that Cafardo – as someone whose job it is to report on baseball – might actually acknowledge that the Sox might have their sights set similarly on Holliday’s home/road splits (last three years: .370/.430/.676 home, .281/.343/.466 away). But maybe that’s asking too much.

If This Isn’t the Luckiest Kid Ever…

I invite you to tell me who is. I mean, his first ball game?

Lowrie = Pedroia?

For those curious as to why I’m not terribly enthusiastic about the presence of Julio Lugo on our roster at ~$8M per, look no further than this piece. Entitled “Lowrie, Pedroia Have Their Differences,” it effectively proves the opposite. How does it do that? Well, in 1,216 minor league plate appearances for Pedroia and 1,263 for would-be shortstop candidate Jed Lowrie, their respective OPSs are .846…and .846. Granted, Pedroia’s includes a season’s worth of AAA ABs while Lowrie’s does not, but nonetheless: they are similar players offensively.

Speaking of Lowrie, apparently he told Kevin Thomas earlier this week that he’s been told to be “be ready to go to Japan.” Maybe that need has subsided in the wake of Lugo’s return to the lineup, but interesting nonetheless.

And for those of you who’ve decided that Lowrie can’t play after he’s put up a .167 average in 37 spring training AB’s, it might be worth considering that Pedroia’s average last spring after 51 AB’s was a robust .196.

More Cash vs Mirabelli

I’ve already said my piece on the Cash over Mirabelli issue, but three interesting tidbits that have emerged since then.

  1. I found the language Cash used in his interview with the Globe interesting. Apparently he “had an agreement” with the Red Sox at the start of camp.
    “They said come into camp and see where it goes from there. They’ve been up front and honest with me. No promises or no guarantees or anything, but they told me you will have opportunities.”

  2. Additionally, Curt Schilling’s take on the decision is worth a read. Not least for this subtle dig at the front office’s lack of recognition for Dougie’s Going Deep’s assets:
    In this market with all that goes on off the field guys like Doug have so much value beyond the 100 or so ABs they get each year, but people can’t quantify that, and many dismiss it.

    Or maybe I’m reading too much into that

  3. Last, I found the Herald’s take on the matter interesting (one commenter assumes it’s Mazz talking, but I don’t see a byline and I would have assumed it was Bradford:
    For what it’s worth, many members of the media did not like Mirabelli and found him to be arrogant. My relationship with him was quite good. Mirabelli had a dry, sarcastic sense of humor and was quite self-deprecating, though you probably had to know him to understand him. Regardless, his teammates generally liked him, which is all that really matters.

The Power of Jacoby

Lots has been written about my Navajo brother’s power – or lacktherof – in the months since he took Red Sox Nation by storm. And it was in that context that I found Grandmaster Theo’s candid comments on the subject to Baseball Prospectus’ David Laurilia intriguing:

He will eventually have more power than people give him credit for. It’s really a matter of him taking his BP swing into the game, because if you watch his BP, he has incredible natural backspin that he generates. He’s stronger now, and his ball really carries. But even from the day we signed him, he was able to go deep into the bullpens in Fenway in batting practice. I think that with any young hitter it’s a matter of refining your approach and getting comfortable, so that eventually you can take your best swing – your BP swing – into the game with you on a more consistent basis, against all kinds of pitching. For some players, that process takes them their whole career. It takes them years to make that adjustment. With him, once he does that, I think you’ll see a lot more power.

Intriguing. I’m not entirely buying it – though I do agree that Ellsbury will have eventually have more power than many project for him – but intriguing. Still, I lean more towards Rob Neyer on this one, who says:

A “lot more power,” though? Well, maybe. When Damon was 23, he hit eight home runs. When Ellsbury was 23 (last year), he hit five. From 24 through 26, Damon averaged 16 homers per season. Could Ellsbury do that? Sure. At 6-foot-1 and 185 (listed) pounds, he’s bigger than the young versions of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. But Damon never did become a superstar. And Ichiro hits them a long ways in BP, too.

Either way, I count myself as not terribly concerned. If Ellsbury becomes nothing more than Jonny Damon – let alone Ichiro – I’ll count myself as very pleased. And if he ends up developing the power that Epstein projects, I’ll consider that Gravy. Capital intended.

Trade Talk

More from Cafardo, who’s not terrible when he sticks to reporting and skips the analysis:

“Kyle Snyder, Julian Tavarez, and Bryan Corey are among the most scouted pitchers in the American League. One or all could be moved before the start of the season.”

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

Or, the inaugural edition of a recurring series.

The Beckett Update

Meant to mention this last week but, well, you know how it goes. If you haven’t seen it yet, Peter Gammons spoke with one member of the Red Sox front office who’s of the opinion that after Beckett’s current deal expires in 2010, we’ll be unable to sign the righthander.

“We’d better enjoy [Josh] Beckett the next three years,” one Boston Red Sox official said, “Because we won’t be able to sign him after his deal is up after 2010.”

Which is a grim prospect, not only because the Yankees will presumably have interest, but also because that’s just about the time that Tampa will be getting good (but more on that later).

Now even I can acknowledge that a problem three years away is a problem for another day, and I won’t get in a twist about it. At least, no more than usual.

But I think it’s worth noting that the $30M deal Beckett signed – much lamented by the Sports Guy during Beckett’s rough introduction to the AL – was in retrospect a masterstroke. Even if Beckett is hurt for a significant portion of it.

The Catching Update

In celebration of Truck Day, I treated myself to a copy of the Baseball America Prospect Handbook for 2008. It’s mildly alarming just how excited I was to get home and crack it, but that’s a subject for another day. Of greater interest was the catching depth chart, which BA lists as follows:

  1. Mark Wagner
  2. George Kottaras
  3. Dusty Brown
  4. Tyler Weeden
  5. Jon Egan

The good news is that – as previously discussed – Wagner owns the #20 spot on Boston’s Top 30 prospects list. The bad news is that Kottaras was last year’s #12, and Egan was last year’s #24, and both failed to make this year’s list. It would be inaccurate to say that it’s entirely a reflection on their respective seasons, as the overall depth of our system took a step forward last year, but neither did they progress as anticipated.

BA shares my concern about our catching depth, saying:

“the only unsettled long-term position on the Red Sox is catcher, where there’s no clear heir apparent to Jason Varitek. Wagner is the leading candidate to fill that role, as he has the most well-rounded game among a group of catching prospects that also includes Dusty Brown, Jon Egan, George Kottaras, Jon Still, and Tyler Weeden.”

Their prediction is that Wagner will be up in Portland this year, so I’ll try and get down to see him.

While it’s nice that BA shares my concern, the Red Sox front office is a bit more important in the overall equation. Since they’re in a position to do something about it, and so on. Anyhow it appears that they are applying the same shotgun approach to catching that it does to the bullpen: the more candidates you have, the better the chance that one proves viable. Back in October, we signed 24 year old Dennis Blackmon out of the independent leagues, and three days ago there was word we were close to bringing in Hayato Doue (see above video), a 25 year old Japanese catcher from the independent leagues over there.

Personally, I like these deals. True, the odds of Blackmon or Doue contributing in the long term are thin. But catching is in short supply, and I’d prefer to at least make the effort at finding a diamond in the rough. If we end up discovering nothing, and are forced to trade a Gold Glove caliber CF for a mediocre backstop like Gerald Laird (lifetime OBP of .297) so be it. But let’s at least look around first.

The Schilling Update

Generally, when someone medically trained characterizes a tendon in your shoulder as “irreversibly diseased” and “separate[d] into these bands of spaghetti” it’s not good news, but bad news. Which is what the news on Schilling is, quite obviously. It’s worth noting, as Buster Olney writes, that given the fact that Morgan is legally prevented from speaking without Schilling’s go ahead the aforementioned interview is essentially PR by proxy. Schilling apparently wants Red Sox fans to know that he does not agree with the diagnosis, but is unwilling to do more than hint at said disagreement on his blog, preferring to leave the direct messaging to an authorized mouthpiece. Ok.

Given everything Schilling has pitched through in his career, no one can ever question his ability to pitch with pain: the procedure that resulted in the bloody sock, after all, was first practiced on a cadaver. Seriously. So I have to believe that the big righthander honestly trusts Morgan that surgery offers him a legitimate chance at pitching this year.

Irrespective of what Morgan – and presumably Schilling – would prefer to do to address the current condition, however, the club and the player are apparently going ahead with a cortisone powered rehab.

When asked when Schilling would be able to pitch again using this approach, Morgan’s optimistic answer was: “never.” A real sunbeam, that guy. The guess here is that the two surgeons recommending this course of action are only slightly more hopeful than Morgan when it comes to rehab, but it’s obvious that they are spectacularly less positive about the prospects of a return this season if surgey is pursued. Ergo, the last ditch attempt at rehab.

Don’t know about you guys, but it sounds like it’s time for Plan B here.

The Yankee Update

Leave it to Peter Gammons to explain why it is my fondest wish that Brian Cashman and the Yankees part company, the sooner the better:

As he has done his entire tenure as general manager of the Yankees, Brian Cashman has spent the offseason doing what he believed was in the best long-term interests of the Yankees. Because he eschewed the Santana trade, Cashman’s job now is likely tied to Phil Hughes, Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, et al. But Cashman wants to build a long-term pitching staff, then take money and fill where he needs to build as the Yankees see a number of big contracts go away in the next two offseasons. With close to a half-dozen pitchers making less than $500,000 in 2009, Cashman next winter will be able to go get Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and even Joe Nathan, if he so chooses.

I much preferred a Yankee club that spent and spent in a vain effort to solve more fundamental underlying problems. You know, just like our country does.

Schilling's Shoulder

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that Curt Schilling is injured. Seriously enough to jeopardize this season, if not his remaining career. If you haven’t heard, let the lovely and talented and hopefully single Amalie Benjamin bring you up to speed.

Following the predictable media frenzy of speculation, the pitcher himself spoke directly on the subject late today.

In his missive, Schilling denies that he has been diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff, and that rotator cuff surgery had been recommended. He acknowledges, however, that there were differences of opinion regarding potential solutions. Which is, as Curt himself wrote, far from atypical. But the assumption is that Morgan – the surgeon in whom Schilling has the most confidence – recommended surgery.

While the media reactions have been preoccupied with the disconnects between the pitcher and the club, I frankly find that subject spectacularly uninteresting. Consider me not shocked that the player and the club might have different motivations, goals, concerns and responsibilities in this situation. Nor do I think speculation as to the actual nature of the injury is a productive line of discussion, since I’m unqualified to render any meaningful opinion on the subject.

Instead, let’s discuss a few potential outcomes and the resulting impact of those outcomes.

Rehabilitation is Successful, Schilling Misses Portion of the Season

The only outcome more unlikely than this is that Schilling misses no time whatsoever, but as Papi, Schilling and others demonstrated last year the wonders of cortisone coupled with a tolerance for pain make some surprising things possible. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Schilling misses the first two months: this, to me, is the best possible scenario for three reasons:

  1. It would provide Buchholz with a rotation opening
  2. It would not require Buchholz to spend the entire season in the rotation
  3. It would mean that Schilling could provide us with 120+ innings of league average better innings in return for the $8M investment

But ultimately I think this scenario unlikely.

Rehabilitation is Successful, Schilling Misses Half the Season

This is the Boston Globe’s prediction:

Even without surgery, the 41-year-old Schilling is not expected to be ready to pitch until at least the All-Star break, according to several sources familiar with his condition.

Note particularly the “at least” qualifier in the above.

Half a season or more of downtime would raise more serious rotation questions for the Sox, the biggest of which is this: where are we going to find 150+ ~4 ERA (Schilling was at 3.87 last year) ERA innings? Is Buchholz capable of that? Indeed. But if he gives us 100 innings in the first half plus, he’d have to be used sparingly down the stretch to ensure his availability for any potential playoff appearance. Lest we forget, the Sox are rigid in their innings restrictions for young pitchers, and Buchholz was shut down last year at 146.6 innings for precautionary health reasons.

Rehabilitation is Unsuccessful, Schilling Misses the Season

Depending on the nature of the diagnosis, this scenario may be the most likely. Morgan seems to have felt so, anyway. This, unlike some of the folks who wrote in to ask me about it, is highly problematic for the Red Sox. We didn’t need Schilling to be a 200+ inning workhorse this year, as we do have depth in the rotation with the aforementioned Buchholz and even the forgotten Tavarez, but I think the current roster construction did assume something akin to last year’s injury shortened output.

As Rob Neyer notes, we’re far from sunk if the big righthander misses the ’08 season, but it will require some definite juggling. He speculates that Justin Masterson, a sinkerballer I saw throw in Portland last year, would be in the mix to make up the innings, but most observers – Keith Law among them – are convinced Masterson is likely to be limited to a bullpen role in the context of the major leagues.

Nor can, in my view, Buchholz be expected to shoulder a Schilling-like role at his age and experience level. The guess here is that Buchholz will be capped in ’08 to ~165 IP, meaning that a year long starter role in the rotation would be problematic, even without the complication of potential playoff innings. If I had a gun to my head, I’d predict the Sox would begin the season with a rotation of Beckett, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Lester, and Tavarez, and integrate Buchholz down the stretch after some seasoning in Pawtucket or the Sox bullpen. And I don’t know about you, but that prospect doesn’t do much for me.

The Net?

It’s not terribly surprising given the pitcher’s age and recent injury history, and we’ll be able to deal. And it’s not like we have a choice either way.

As usual, the folks at Surviving Grady have the best take:

we have some options here. One is to run around and scream that the season’s over and we’re toast and we’re never going to find out just why Penny’s dad hates Desmond so much on Lost. Another is to somehow go back in time to just before the Mets landed Santana, and “intercept” them with the help of a few killer robots and some Mafiosa. Yet another is to get Schilling on Roger’s innovative, career-saving vitamin B-12 program, which, as we know, did wonders for the Rocket. The last and most plausible is to explore the free agent market, or promote the newly-bulked Buchholz to the starting rotation.

I don’t watch Lost, so that option’s not available to me, and I’m not a sky-is-falling type anyhow, but I can’t say that I feel good that Theo may be on the phone with Josh Fogg’s agent as we speak.