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

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The blues, originally uploaded by jurek d..

We got swept. By the A’s. It sucked. I don’t know about you, but I liked it better when we were sweeping folks, rather than getting swept.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Good Guys were stranded out on the West Coast for Memorial Day weekend – putting a serious dent in my boating and social scheduling – we only managed to put up six runs in three games.

Blame’s tough to figure here. The offense, well, we know what they did. Or didn’t do. And the starters? Wake didn’t pitch well enough to win, didn’t. Beckett did, didn’t. Lester, well, let’s just say he was more hittable than his last outing. The bullpen, however, tipped the odds seriously in Oakland’s favor. After Lopez served one up to Cust, our win probability went from ~19% to ~5%.

We’re seriously going to have to do something about the bullpen.

Speaking of, one of the candidates continues to shine.

Bard

As the Portland Press Herald’s Kevin Thomas – who, as an aside, is rapidly becoming one of my favorites of the Sox beat writers – relates, recently promoted Daniel Bard’s introduction to the Sea Dog faithful went smoothly. 2K’s in 2IP, the final batter going down on a 99 MPH fastball. In 5 IP at Portland, Bard’s K’d 8, walked 1, and given up a mere 2 hits. The 16 batters that he’s faced are hitting .125.

With the obvious and understood small sample size caveat, if he keeps this up he may force Team Theo’s hand. We’ve talked before about why the Sox would be hesitant to promote the kid – see Hansen, Craig, or Meredith, Cla – but seriously: his K/9 is 14.4. At AA.

I make no promises that he’ll keep it up – particularly the control side of the equation – but if he does, I think you have to consider whether or not he could be an ’03 Papelbon type late season addition.

Beckett

One pitcher who’s been less impressive of late has been Josh Beckett. He hasn’t been terrible, but the two outings that preceded his Oakland start, he gave up 5 and 6 earned, off 5 home runs. The homers, for me, are the most worrisome trend, as he’s on a 31 homer pace. I for one would love to avoid a repeat of ’06 season, which saw him surrender 36.

Chad Finn thinks it’s too early to hit the panic button, and I agree. But it does bear watching.

The Inside Edge folks attribute Beckett’s struggles to pitching from the stretch, noting that he’s actually giving up a lower BAA and OBP than he did last year. From the windup, opposing batters are hitting .177. With guys on base, they skyrocket to .379, with a horrific .690 slugging percentage.

But wait, it gets worse. Same situation, guys on base, but behind in the count and forced to throw a fastball, the numbers are just terrifying. The batting average is .692, and the slugging is 1.385. For real. In the same situation last year, hitters were at .303/.485.

I don’t know whether it’s a mechanical thing, if he’s tipping his pitches from the stretch, or what, but I trust that Farrell and co are on it.

Buchholz

Spitting on my idea of bringing Bucky back and throwing him in the pen – Colon, after all, was reasonably effective – the Sox sent him back to Pawtucket for a start. While I’d much prefer his innings to come from us, though I know he’s been up and down, the Sox brass – who are clearly in a much better position to know what’s good for the kid than I – clearly feels that he’s got some work to do.

Specifically, as Mike Scandura over at Fire Brand reports, on his fastball.

“(Boston) told me they wanted me to throw 60-to-65 percent fastballs, so that’s what I tried to do,” said Buchholz who worked four innings plus one batter. “I felt like there were a lot of off-speed counts where I could have thrown off-speed pitches and maybe get some swings and misses. But I stuck with the fastball and overall I felt like it worked out good.”

Other items worth noting. Buchholz’ fastball reportedly topped out at 96, and the righthander walked two against 3 K’s in his outing. Interestingly, he was apparently told he was coming down for two rehab starts. Makes you wonder what the plan is for him going forward.

Lugo

One of you kind readers had the temerity to call into question my indictment of Julio Lugo by virtue of a lack of context. Well, not really, but sort of. So for you, kind readers, here’s some context: out of 21 shortstops that ESPN’s gimpy player stats page maintains, Julio Lugo is 14th on the list in terms of OPS. The players ahead of him on the list?

  1. Rafael Furcal
  2. Hanley Ramirez
  3. Miguel Tejada
  4. Stephen Drew
  5. Jeff Keppinger
  6. Yunel Escobar
  7. Ryan Theriot
  8. Jose Reyes
  9. Cristian Guzman
  10. Michael Young
  11. Derek Jeter
  12. Bobby Crosby
  13. Edgar Renteria

There are a couple of obvious names that should be on that list ahead of him, but there are some that really should not. Keppinger? Escobar? Theriot? Christian Guzman, even?

So given further context, the point stands: Lugo’s a problem. And his error today didn’t help his case.

The good news? Last year Lugo ended the year 19th out of 22 in OPS. Bad as he is, he’s better than he was last year.

Santana

Everybody and their mother is bringing up Buster Olney’s two pieces which note that the prized and pricey lefthander’s velocity is down and that he’s throwing with more effort. Immediately following this observation comes the qualification that, even if he’s not what he was, Santana is still better than the overwhelming majority of starters in the league.

Now I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so:

Just as important as the cost, is the predictability of the returns on that cost: i.e. the injury risk. Like many, I’m concerned by his late season fade (check his September splits). I seriously doubt that he forgot how to pitch, meaning that the most logical conclusion is that he wasn’t entirely right. Keith Law seems to share those concerns, saying:

“I haven’t read any of the others (I was on vacation), but I’d take A-Rod, Beckett, and Sabathia (because I’m a little concerned about how Santana finished 2007).

And then there’s the fact that virtually all of the players mentioned in connection to a potential Santana trade – Bowden, Ellsbury, Lester, Lowrie, and Masterson – have performed well, most at the major league level, and the deal becomes even a more obvious win.

I’m not saying that Santana’s not an excellent pitcher: he is. But for how long? Long enough to outweigh the value of three or four of the above players? Plus 20M+ per? I don’t think so.

Tampa

You know what else I told you? That Tampa was good.

With today’s sweep, we’re a half game out of first place. Behind the Rays.

Last But Not Least: Our Best Wishes

On the subject of things that are more important than baseball comes some bad news: two members of the Red Sox family have been diagnosed with cancer. Greenville (Class A) prospect Anthony Rizzo will miss the rest of the season following a diagnosis of Limited Stage Classical Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and Jon Lester’s father John was also has, as his son did, lymphoma.

Fortunately, the prognosis is both cases seems to be excellent. But as a family that has seen its share of cancer – my father’s had it twice and my uncle once – the news has a terrible resonance with me.

Not that either will read this, but we at wicked clevah would like to extend our best wishes and hopes for a full recovery to both individuals and their families. There’s a reason I give to the Jimmy Fund every year. This is it.

Gas Out of the Bullpen: Not Exactly What I Had in Mind

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Danger, originally uploaded by Clearly Ambiguous.

So the bullpen’s been, um, run prevention challenged of late: tell me something I don’t know, you’re probably thinking. Well, ok smart guy, how about some numbers (courtesy of Inside Edge, courtesy of ESPN)?:

Red Sox bullpen — 2007 vs. 2008 (regular season, through Thursday)
2007 2007 MLB rank 2008 2008 MLB rank
ERA 3.10 2nd 4.56 27th
WHIP 1.21 1st 1.46 19th
Opp. batting average .226 1st .270 27th

The fact that the bullpen has cost us nine games already (NINE games, Mrs Bueller) is likely, as Tim notes, high on Theo’s radar.

Corey and Snyder are long since banished: the former for San Diego and the latter for Pawtucket. Tavarez was recently jettisoned, and according to Jason Stark the Brewers have some interest in the Crazy One. In the same piece, Stark mentions that both Aardsma and Lopez have been shopped – though individually – by our front office, seeking either a left handed relief pitcher or prospect. Though both have had their moments, I’m not going to be broken up if either departs (particularly Lopez).

Paps, outside of one Lugo blown save and one legitimate blown save, is still Paps: i.e. one of the best relievers in the league. His numbers, frankly, are inhuman. .560 OPS against? 23 Ks and 2 BBs in 18.2 IP? Screw the consecutive speed bumps, he’s fine.

Oki, for all the flak he’s absorbed for the admittedly hideous numbers with inherited runners, has been fine when not placed in exceedingly high leverage situations (bases loaded, no one out? c’mon). This assumes that the wrist injury doesn’t linger, of course. Apres that? Well, perhaps not le deluge, but close.

MDC has recovered somewhat from his late April string of four straight scored on appearances, but his 1 hit, 1 1/3 appearance today aside, he’s clearly not emerging as the relief ace that some had hoped for (and that I didn’t expect). Still, he’s here for the duration.

Timlin, as nearly as I can determine, is cooked. With the caveat that it’s an obviously small sample size, he’s been scored on in 50% of his last 6 outings, and has recently lowered his ERA to 9.00. The other metrics? In 10 IP, hitters are putting up a .405/.426/.714 line against him. That’s 17 hits in 10 IP, along with 3 HRs and 3 BBs and 10 ERs. Lefties are hitting him worse (OPS of 1.264), but righties aren’t exactly weak with the stick (OPS of 1.019). True, we all thought he was done last year – and he probably was – but nothing in his performance thus far indicates a bounceback is imminent.

Hansen, of course, was already up and effectively took Tavarez’ roster spot. On the surface, his numbers aren’t much better than Timlin’s in an admittedly small sample size – 8.44 ERA vs the aforementioned 9 – but his sample size is smaller and a closer look reveals some reasons to hope. First, he’s only allowing a line of .238/.333/.381, which is far from terrible. Second, he’s striking people out – 4 K’s in 5.1 IP. Unfortunately, Driveline Mechanics is extremely pessimistic about Hansen’s prospects: both in terms of performance and the potential for injury.

Help, we need. Clearly. But from whence shall it come?

Of the internal candidates previously discussed in this space, the news is mostly negative.

Masterson, since his electric debut in Portland and his outstanding spot start for the big boys, has been hit. His last outing on the 15th saw him give up 9 hits and 7 earned runs in 6 IP, though he only walked 2. Since April 30th, in fact, he’s given up the following in earned runs: 4, 4, 1, and 7. Haven’t heard what the problem might be, but he’s probably not going to be a boost struggling like that.

Richardson, if anything, has been worse. I saw him throw against Bowie down in Portland on the 9th, and he allowed 8 hits and 6 tuns in 5 IP while walking 3. None of the hits were cheap, either. His last five starts, by earned runs, are 3, 4, 1, 6 and 4. Which accounts for the 4.83 ERA. I don’t have the splits, so it’s possible his numbers left on left are better, but again, he doesn’t appear poised to help in the near term.

Bard, on the other hand, might. The pitcher I’ve been notably skeptical of – he’s been walking better than a guy an inning professionally, remember – was recently promoted to good old Portland this week. Though old for the league, Bard dominated Greenville, striking out 43 of the 100 batters he faced over 28 innings, but more importantly only walking 4. The shift to the bullpen, it would seem, might be paying dividends; I’ll try to get to a few Portland games to see first hand. Will he be up? The last time they promoted a 22 year old in Hansen it set him back years, so I tend to doubt it. But with the bullpen in the shape it’s in, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Particularly if he puts up numbers at Portland similar to those we’ve seen in Greenville.

Who’s left? Well, Gronkiewicz was throwing well, but is hurt. Michael Bowden, with Masterson one of the top starter prospects at Portland, is throwing well (2.57 ERA in 42 IP with 41 Ks and 12 BBs), but doesn’t necessarily profile that well in a relief role this season because he doesn’t have a single dominant pitch like Bard (fastball) or Masterson (sinker). Hunter Jones might have been a candidate, after the lefty struck out 26 in 22.2 IP at Portland, but his Pawtucket debut was rocky (3 H, 1 ER in 1 IP).

My dark horse? Buchholz. If Colon comes back and can take his slot in the rotation, Bucky could be a real weapon – not to mention a godsend – coming out of the bullpen, and it would help keep his innings down.

As for external candidates, well, it’s best not to speak of that. Not because of how poorly the Gagne trade turned out, but rather because there really aren’t any obvious Gagne’s to trade for at the moment. Give the front office credit: while their bullpen construction is suspect, they are creative when it comes to trades.

It may take not just a portion, but all of that creativity to find a solution to this year’s bullpen crisis. Because a crisis it most certainly is. Unless you’re happy with how those nine (NINE) games turned out.

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

One Day At Fenway – Letus Extreme Film – Time Lapse – HDTV from Tom Guilmette on Vimeo.

We’ve come back in a couple of games. While we’d all prefer to not to have to come back, count me among those that does believe that doing it successfully does confer an intangible confidence to the club. What’s that worth, statistically speaking?

Maybe nothing. But maybe something. And either way, chalk us up for a couple more wins and a tie for the major league lead in wins. It’s early, so I’d make little or nothing out of that – no more than I would when we were several games back – but I am going to say I Told You So when I claimed the sky wasn’t falling.

Anyway, on to this week’s roundup.

The Bullpen Hopefuls

I waited so long to report on this that the Globe actually caught me up, but a couple of the potential late season bullpen contributors have been throwing well. In order of their proximity to the majors:

  1. Hansen:
    The one time future closer turned potential bust is quietly getting people out at a nice clip. In 11 IP, Hansen’s surrendered 1 unearned run and 2 hits, while K’ing 11, and perhaps most importantly, walking only 3. It’s too early to be excited, but it’s not impossible to imagine him to make a leap similar to the one Delcarmen executed last season.
  2. Masterson:
    Is straight lighting it up. Through an admittedly small sample size of 4 starts, the sinkerballer has a .95 ERA in 19 IP, to go along with 23 K’s and only 5 BB’s. He’s not long for Portland, sadly, as I doubt that I’ll get back to Maine in time to see another start from him there.
  3. Richardson:
    Ignored by the Globe, possibly because he’s more of a one pitch pitcher (fastball), the lefty Dutin Richardson is also throwing well for our AA club. In 3 starts covering 17 IP, he’s coughed up 4 ER while’s striking out 20 against 6 free passes. Not bad numbers, particularly given the fact that he’s a lefty.
  4. Bard:
    You might recall that I’ve been skeptical of Bard’s near term viability due to his complete inability to throw strikes. Well, given the fact that he throws near 100, count me among those that would be happy to be proven wrong. Which he may yet do, if his start is any indication. Law’s been hearing good things, saying “I’ve been hearing that Bard has been out of sight since Hawaii. His velo is back, and he’s pounding the lower half of the zone. And of course he’s throwing strikes,” and the numbers back him up. In 11.2 IP at Greenville, Bard’s K’d 16 against a mere 2 walks and 5 hits. For someone who spent last season walking better than a batter an inning, this is a positive development, small sample size or no.

The Catching Hopefuls

Beyond some of the nice pitching, there’s some decent news on the catching front. And with Kevin Cash as our primary backup, all I can say is thank Jebus. The rundown, in order of proximity to the majors:

  1. Kottaras:
    Not doing much other than leading a relatively strong Pawtucket offense in OPS with a .276/.354/621 line. The major obstacle to his ascension this season is his defensive liability; he’s not Tek, and while he’s presumably catching the knuckleballer Charlie Zink, I haven’t heard that he’s a candidate for Cash’s spot.
  2. Brown:
    Brown’s tailed off a bit since an early hot start, but .762 OPS (.244/.340/.422) at Pawtucket is at least respectable given his reputation as a solid defensive catcher.
  3. Wagner:
    Like Brown, Wagner’s tailed off a bit since the start of the season, but in his first season at AA, he’s putting up a .250/.318/.350 line. Far from setting the world on fire, but the 23 year old is keeping his head above water which is nice to see.

The Good and Bad Mechanics

Like Rob Neyer, these photos of Lopez and Oki mid-delivery make me vaguely nauseous. But I’m gratified that Driveline Mechanics has little but positive feedback on Buchholz’ mechanics.

The Kids

Kevin Thomas just covered this, but let me reinforce his contention that the kids are playing well. Ellsbury’s speed – particularly in the Yankees series – proved to be gamebreaking as advertised. And Lowrie? Well, he’s merely putting up a .429/.375/.571 line since his call up.

Yes, the kids will take their lumps as all rookies do. Some will flame out spectacularly. But for now they’re doing well plugging holes and making other assets (Crisp, Lugo) expendable in the event that we can find a good trading partner.

(thanks to Tim Daloisio for the link to the video)

Bullpen Watch: Daniel Bard

When Daniel Bard was drafted out of North Carolina in the first round of the 2006 draft, the Red Sox almost certainly had visions of him as a starting pitcher. At least that’s what the $1.55M signing bonus he received would indicate to me.

As of last week, however, that plan appears to have been scrapped in favor of a relief role. Recognizing that the lack of a second pitch – Baseball America’s scouter: “he’s never has had a reliable breaking ball…his changeup is less dependable than his breaking ball” – the front office has decided to move Bard into the bullpen, according to Rob Bradford.

Keith Law, for one, would seem to argue in favor of the idea. We’ve already mentioned his feelings on Bard generally, but regarding the prospect of Bard in the bullpen specifically he’s said:

Paul (San Francisco): Will Craig Hansen or Daniel Bard ever make this list?

SportsNation Keith Law: Bard is much more likely. I’ve almost given up hope on Hansen. Bard in the pen could move quickly.

And given the requirements for success as a starting pitcher versus that of a relief arm, it’s difficult to argue with that assessment.

But just how quickly can Bard be expected to move? Bradford mentions his success as a reliever in the Hawaiian Winter League, saying:

Bard threw 16 innings over 16 winter league games, allowing four runs on eight hits while striking out 15.

Further, he quotes Bard as crediting the bullpen stint with a perceived improvement in his performance:

“Hawaii was the first time I have thrown out of the bullpen,” he said. “It’s a different mentality, but I threw pretty well out there. I was throwing one- or two-inning outings, just coming in and blowing it out and letting my stuff take over. To be honest, my command and stuff all jumped up when I was out there, whether it was a confidence thing or being more aggressive facing hitters. It’s something that was a lot more effective.”

All of which sounds great. The problem is that if Hawaii represented a “jump” in his command, it’s not a positive indicator for the future.

What Bradford declined to mention amidst the good news of his 1.08 ERA and 8 hits in 16+ IP in Hawaii was that in addition to the 15Ks came 15 BBs. And five hit batsman. That’s 20 guys on base in ~17 innings. Before hits.

As Project Prospect puts it, for all that Bard has a potentially dominant major league fastball, “he can’t reasonably hope to continue holding opposing hitters to the .140 BABIP he did in Hawaii, particularly if he’s walking over 8 batters per game and hitting over 2.5.”

It may well be that a shift to the bullpen allows Bard to focus more on the command of his fastball rather than the evolution of a starter’s repertoire, and it’s unquestionably true that his arm gives him the potential to impact the major league bullpen should his control prove even adequate.

But what I haven’t see yet are any indications that the control will evolve as quickly as some seem to think. Here’s hoping he proves me wrong, because I’d love nothing more than to see him and his electric arm breaking bats for the good guys sooner rather than later.