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.”

Cashing Out Mirabelli

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Best Catching Tandem in the Majors, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Let me get the first question out of the way: no, I have no idea what prompted this morning’s shocking-for-Sox-fans release of Dougie Parm. If you deduce from that that I don’t buy the simplistic “Kevin Cash is a better defensive catcher” explanation, well aren’t you just the genius?

It’s not that I doubt that Cash actually is Mirabelli’s superior defensively. I’m quite sure that is, in fact, the case. Cash impressed with his work with Wakefield last year, and I confess that I was a bit surprised that Mirabelli was actually retained this past offseason because of that, even at the low guaranteed dollars. Apparently Jed Hoyer hesitated similarly, before ultimately bringing the backup backstop back.

No, the question here is the timing. If, as Epstein said, this “was a debate early in camp,” why release him before the game? Maybe there’s no good time to release a veteran like Mirabelli, who has a long history with the club, but just prior to a game? A game that he was scheduled to start? I’m with the crowd that smells something piscean.

In any event, Mirabelli is gone. True, we thought that before only to be proven wrong (that link is absolute comedy), but if forced to bet I’d say he’s gone for good this time. Assuming that he’s not going to be ferried back to the park by police escort any time soon, however, the question is what now?

I see two possibilities.

One, the team intends to carry Cash as its backup indefinitely. Defensively, Cash is better than Mirabelli in most respects with the exception of his handling of Wakefield. But even there Cash is capable in way that, say, Josh Bard was not, though it will be interesting to see how the pitcher reacts to having his personal caddy dumped. Rather unceremoniusly.

Offensively, Mirabelli is not even a shadow of his 2004 self when – as the picture argues – Tek and Dougie Parm combined to be the best catching tandem in the majors. But even at his reduced levels, he’s a better offensive option. PECOTA sees Mirabelli putting up a .214/.294/.354 line this year, against Cash’s .206/.278/.327. It’s true that neither one was likely to be any kind of offensive factor, due to the limitations of both skills and playing time, but Cash is essentially a zero at the plate. When you’re giving up 20 points in projected OBP and 30 points in projected SLG to Mirabelli, you’ve got problems. As Allan Wood points out, one of the SOSHers has noted that Clemens has a better lifetime OBP. Yes, Roger Clemens, the pitcher.

Anyone think Kevin Towers is on the phone with the cut catcher as we speak, hoping to pry loose another Meredith?

Anyway, the other obvious possibility is that Cash is nothing more than a placeholder, keeping a seat warm for an asset to be named later – whether that’s via a trade or the progression of one of the kids (Brown or Kottaras, presumably). The former strikes me as the more likely, not only because neither Brown nor Kottaras is ready for the show yet (no, I’m not getting too excited vis a vis Kottaras after 10 spring training ABs), but more because it seems unlikely that you’d break in a rookie catcher with…Wake.

Even with the move made, however, I’m still surprised. I’m not quite as pessimistic as Rotoworld, who reacted as follows:

It’s a very surprising move that they’d risk upsetting chemistry and take Tim Wakefield out of his comfort zone in order to go with Kevin Cash as their No. 2 catcher. Cash is an excellent defender and he did impress while catching Wakefield during Mirabelli’s DL stint last year, but he’s one of the very worst hitters at the upper levels of the game. Maybe it’s an upgrade for Boston, but the difference in performance shouldn’t be worth even one game in the standings. Depending on how Wakefield reacts, it might be necessary to drop him in draft lists.

But I am surprised. More than you’d expect with the departure of a 37 year old number 2 catcher coming off a .638 OPS season, because it’s not just him we’re talking about of course. His roster spot has been entirely dependent on Wakefield’s for years now, and you have to wonder whether or not this has implications for the knuckleballer in ’09. As Neyer puts it:

Obviously, not a lot of games are won and lost by backup catchers. But as much as I love Tim Wakefield, one can’t help but wonder if his contribution is worth all this fuss.

But for now it’ll be interesting to watch. While Dougie waits by the phone.

Catching Up

By now, you’ve all probably seen that the good folks over at Baseball America rated our farm system second to Tampa’s stellar stable. So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice. And while my enthusiasm is tempered by the realization that should the Santana trade be completed we’d slide back south of 10th, it’s still an achievement worth recognizing and appreciating.

In looking over the list of our Top 30 Prospects, however, it’s a stark reminder that when it comes to the catching position, we’re not exactly stacked. Pitching, we have. Fortunately. And though we’re a bit light in the power department (what with Anderson maturing slowly and picks like Jason Place not having panned out yet), we’ve got credible candidates in both the outfield (Ellsbury, Kalish, Moss, etc) and infield (Anderson, Lowrie, Tejeda, etc).

Then there’s the catching spot.

As far as I can tell, that’s going to be a bit of a problem. An untimely one, as well, with both the presumed current catching tandem of Mirabelli and Tek up for free agency after this year.

From the sounds of it, a reupping of Tek at $10M+ per could be in the works, and Mirabelli’s future – as always – is in the hands of one Timothy Wakefield.

Should they both depart, however, this is what we have on hand:

  • Dusty Brown:
    Known primarily for his defense, Brown showed enough offense last season in Portland to justify a spot on the 40 man. True, .268/.344/.453 in 250 AA AB’s for a 2000 draftee isn’t exactly lighting it up, but the Sox seem enthused about his abilities behind the dish. Farm director Mike Hazen said of Brown, “We really like his ability behind the plate. There’s just not a lot of good catching across baseball. We just feel like Dusty is a good catcher.” A bit of a back-handed compliment, perhaps, but with the state of catching generally and our organization specifically, we’ll have to take what we can get.
  • George Kottaras:
    The catching prospect sent over by San Diego in return for a month or two of David Wells, seems to have hit a bit of a wall and dropped right off of the Top 30 list this year. A defensive work-in-progress generally better known for his offense – his on base skills in particular, Kottaras posted .241/.316./.408 line at Pawtucket last year. Not awful, particularly for a catcher, but given his defensive lack of excellence, not particularly reassuring either. One thing worth noting: Kottaras’ was weighed down partially by a poor start – .196/.272/.304 in the first half – but rebounded nicely with a .318/.389/.582 line in the second.
  • Mark Wagner:
    The owner of the 20th spot in on this year’s Top 30 list, has generally been rated by John Sickels as a Grade C prospect. For context: Sickels doesn’t give out D’s or F’s. In Wagner’s defense, however, he’s still young and has been solid since turning pro, handing in a cumulative .291/.378/.460 in 3 minor league seasons. True, one of those seasons was at the launching pad that is Lancaster, but a .939 OPS at any level is still an accomplishment (Manny’s ’07 number? .881). Even better? Offense isn’t his only trick, as he BA tabbed him as our Best Defensive Catcher.

What if we don’t retain Tek? None of the kids are projected to be ready in ’09, so we’d probably have to go the free agent route. Tim Dierkes over at MLB Trade Rumors has suggested Kenji Johjima as a potential target, but I was surprised to discover that he gave up a couple of homers and better than 40 points of OBP to our current backstop. Surprised is precisely what I should have been, however, given Joe-mama’s performance against us: .375/.464/.708. David Ortiz, in other words.

Outside of Johjima, I’m not sure what the options are. But ultimately I think the Sox will look to lock up Tek, as the Yankees did with Posada, because Hazen’s right: there just isn’t much catching around.