Mazz vs the Strawman

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Not My Hat!, originally uploaded by cogdogblog.

If the length of contract was an issue for Bay and the Sox — he wanted five years, they stopped at four — why couldn’t such a clause have satisfied all parties? As it is, the Red Sox will be paying Mike Cameron and Jeremy Hermida somewhere in the neighborhood of $10.5 million this year when Bay might have cost them $15 million. Who would you rather have?” – Tony Massarotti

I despair for the state of professional sportswriting in this town, I really do. Thank the great spirit that Gammons is back: maybe he could tell Mazz what’s going on.

Anyway, here’s the deal Mazz: you get to pick one from a) criticizing the Sox for paying players to play elsewhere or b) implying that they’re cheap for not going the extra year on contracts. One. You can’t have it both ways. Because the former is the inevitable outcome of the latter, which is what you believe should happen.

The answer to the question of the above is simple: the Red Sox cannot protect themselves from an extra year of long dollars to Jason Bay with an injury clause because they don’t believe he’ll decline simply because of an injury. Their position – and the opinion of a lot of other smart, educated writers out there – is that Bay will not be worth the money he’s owed towards the end of his contract.

The end of the contract that Mazz, conveniently, ignores in his strawman “Mike Cameron and Jeremy Hermida somewhere in the neighborhood of $10.5 million this year when Bay might have cost them $15 million. Who would you rather have?” nonsense. Bay may or may not be worth more than Mike Cameron and Jeremy Hermida next year, but last I checked Jason Bay is not looking to sign for one year. So the difference isn’t $4.5M million, as Mazz implies, but – conservatively – probably something closer to $45 million. Bay turned down $60 million, remember, while Cameron’s package is $15.5M and Hermida’s 2010 money is probably something around $3M. But maybe I’m just being uncharitable to Mazz, assuming he’s willfully ignoring the total contract obligations in service of his myopic point? Could be he just misplaced a decimal point.

Sportswriters – particularly the ones that write about baseball – talk incessantly about “accountability.” They expect players to stand up following poor performances and be accountable, and generally argue that it reflects poorly on the player when they do not.

But how many sportswriters hold themselves to that same, elevated standard? How many of the writers, for example, have acknowledged that their calls last winter to sell low on Buchholz were foolish? By the logic above, Mazz is entitled to criticize the club coming and going. If Mazz wants to argue that the Red Sox, as a club with substantial financial resources, should spend more liberally than they do, fine. I disagree, but we can have that conversation. But when Mazz then turns around and docks them for the byproduct of long term contracts, the logic begins to break down.

Do I expect sportswriters, living as they are in the moment, to be perfectly analytical? No. But I do expect them to be, at a minimum, logically consistent in their positions, and that’s just not the case here. As Mazz said the last time he let his emotions carry him away, “I messed up here.”

I think we’re due another one of those any day now.

The Cost of and Need for Adrian Gonzalez

Some of you have apparently gotten the idea, from the last two pieces, that I’m against acquiring Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres. Not so.

Far from it, in fact. All that I’m asking for – as always – is some perspective. Some examination of the economics involved, the mechanics of the transaction.

The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn, for example, a writer that I have a lot of respect for, is arguing for an acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez at, essentially, any cost:

If Theo has to part with Casey Kelly (is he closer to the next Frankie Rodriguez or closer to the next Zack Greinke?) or Ryan Westmoreland (are the injuries officially a concern?) or frankly, anyone in the organization with legitimate aspirations of playing in Fenway Park someday, he must do it.

Emphasis his. He reiterated this view ten days later, saying:

I’ve explained my feelings on this before, and nothing has changed: It is going to take a bounty of riches to get Gonzalez from the Padres, in part because he is a wonderful, underpaid player in the heart of his prime, and in part because new Padres GM Jed Hoyer probably has as much familiarity with the Red Sox farm system as anyone not named Theo Epstein. But I’ll shout it again: He is worth it. Give them Clay Buchholz, Ryan Westmoreland, Casey Kelly, and another SoxProspects.com favorite or two, and do not look back.

As you probably guessed, I do not subscribe to this view. Candidly, I think at best it’s the kind of pre-Theo regime thinking that led us to win nothing for eighty years. At worst, it’s a panic move.

Every asset has a cost, and not every cost is worth paying.

I’ve looked at Gonzalez twice now, so I won’t rehash my analysis of him. Suffice it to say he’s an outstanding offensive first baseman when he’s facing right-handed pitching, below average otherwise. Defensively, he’s an asset.

What of the other pieces to a transaction, however? What of the cost and the need?

Cost

As should be expected, Finn sets up his at-any-cost acquisition scenario with an ostensible reminder of the unpredictability of prospects.

Make no mistake: Gonzalez will bring, as Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman cleverly called it this summer when his name first showed up in trade rumors, the madre lode. And yet, chances are Gonzalez will prove worth whatever package the Red Sox part with. All prospects are essentially lottery tickets, even the truly elite. In the 2002 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America founder Allan Simpson rated his top 10 prospects this way:

  1. Josh Beckett, RHP, Marlins
  2. Mark Prior, RHP, Dusty Baker’s Arm ‘n’ Limb Meat Grinder Emporium
  3. Sean Burroughs, 3B, Padres
  4. Hank Blalock, 3B, Rangers
  5. Wilson Betemit, SS, Braves
  6. Ryan Anderson, LHP, Mariners
  7. Juan Cruz, RHP, Cubs
  8. Josh Hamilton, OF, Devil Rays
  9. Mark Teixeira, 3B, Rangers
  10. Carlos Pena, 1B, A’s

Joe Mauer was 14th, Marlins shortstop Miguel Cabrera — yes, shortstop; imagine that now — was 31st, one spot below KC’s Angel Berroa, and Gonzalez was 34th, one spot ahead of the Angels’ Casey Kotchman.

So, yeah . . . lottery tickets. Case rested.

Finn may rest his case, but let me have a crack at it. Personally, I look at that and see a pitcher that almost single-handedly won two world series titles ranked one, a pitcher that would have had a stellar career were his arm not abused two, and an eight-nine-ten that anyone would kill to have in their offense. Throw in the fact that Blalock had one .900+ OPS season and three north of .850, the fact that Betemit and Cruz are still playing, and I don’t think the list says what Finn thinks it says.

While it’s ugly and obvious, in hindsight, that Cabrera and Mauer should be near the top of the list and Berroa not on it, better than fifty percenty of the individuals on that list are, or were, successful major leaguers. And most of those performed at an elite level for at least a season in their careers. Not a bad success rate for an organization that knows nothing about the players but what they can glean from their performance and interviews with the staff.

My bet is that Theo, McLeod and co know a bit more than Baseball America about their players than Baseball America. With all due respect to that fine organization, of course.

So yes, prospects are unpredictable. But not that unpredictable. At least relative to their major league counterparts. Here’s what Baseball Prospectus said about Gonzalez in 2005, for example:

Once a Grade-A Prospect in Florida, Gonzalez came to Arlington as part of the Ugueth Urbina trade and is now far from a can’t-miss. He’s still only 23 this season, but he’s at a point where it’s time to pick it up with the bat if he wants to have a career as an MLB starter.

One problem with discussions of “prospects,” in general, is just that: it’s general. Let’s look at a more specific example, closer to home. One in which there was a premium player on the market that we were rumored to be interested in. One Johan Santana.

With the Minnesota Twins insisting on center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in any trade for pitcher Johan Santana, the Red Sox have altered their offer and have told the Twins they are willing to include the outfielder.

But sources say the Red Sox have also told the Twins they will not trade left-handed pitcher Jon Lester and Ellsbury together in the package they are offering.

The Red Sox included Ellsbury in one of their proposals a week ago, but the Twins asked the Red Sox for two players among the group of three prospects — Ellsbury, Lester and pitcher Clay Buchholz. Boston then offered Lester, center fielder Coco Crisp, minor league shortstop Jed Lowrie and a minor league pitcher.

On the one hand, the article on the other serves to prove Finn’s point: were we really valuing Ellsbury’s 2009 .770 OPS and his -14 UZR/150 equally with Jon Lester?

On the other, it’s an accurate illustration of the cost of such trades. Would you prefer to have a.) Santana, or b.) your starting centerfielder, starting shortstop candidate, #1 and #3 starters and a bullpen arm (Ramirez via Crisp)? I prefer the latter, personally.

Which is why I’m less excited than Finn to give up “Clay Buchholz, Ryan Westmoreland, Casey Kelly, and another SoxProspects.com favorite or two.”

Need

The conventional wisdom says that the Red Sox are in deep shit, offensively. Let’s take a quick look at the projections for next season, assuming a.) no further trades or acquisitions (including no Bay) and b.) Lowrie as the shortstop:

CHONE projects our offense as a collective .274/.354/.441 offense for a .796 OPS. Bill James, meanwhile, is more optimistic, projecting a .280/.368/.462/.831. For context, the Yankees led the league in OPS last year at .839.

Now before you get excited, remember: the above projections are just for starters. They don’t include all the bench, roster filler – or worse, pitcher – at bats. If we just take the starters from last year, as an example, their OPS was .852. The actual? .806.

Still, the projections indicate that our offense – even without help – isn’t awful. Last year’s CHONE predictions, for example? .817 OPS.

In other words, we’re giving up 21 points of projected OPS to a year in which we scored the third most runs, had the second highest OBP, SLG and OPS. and hit the fourth most home runs.

Is there room for improvement? Undoubtedly. But neither can you, I think, build the case that we’re doomed absent a Gonzalez type. And yes, that’s even if we don’t resign J Bay.

The Net

Do I hope we can acquire a premium offensive asset, someone like Adrian Gonzalez? Yes indeed. The prolonged offensive slumps were, more than anything else, what held the club back this year. But am I willing to hand over four or five legitimate prospects for the privilege? I am not. Our top two prospects, a past number one prospect / #2/#3 starter (and potential ace at Petco), and another prospect is too rich a haul by far for two years of Gonzalez, in my opinion. Particularly since his value is only likely to decline from here, as he’s a.) unlikely to exceed his current performance levels and b.) he’s getting closer to free agency.

Acquisitions are essentially an equation. A complicated one, to be sure, but an equation nonetheless. Divided by the market conditions, the two sides – Padre’s needs (asset and financial) + Asset (Gonzalez) value and Red Sox needs and Asset Value – need to balance. The proposals I’m seeing thus far skew too far – way too far in my view – towards the Padre side of that equation.

We’ll see if Theo and co. agree.

The wicked clevah ALCS Preview

Aaaand the Pitch!, originally uploaded by TheBusyBrain.

We could talk about Game 4, but why? It’s not as if it would be news to you. You saw Lester do his thing, Varitek tag Willits, and Lowrie single off the same Shields that made him look foolish at the game I attended. And you went nuts just like I and the other 30 Sox fans gathered at the Riviera did. If you didn’t, you’re almost certainly in the wrong place.

Besides, we’ve got bigger things on our mind than recapping a series won. I can’t speak for you, but I’m far more interested in the Tampa scouter than the Angels’ bitterness. One of those things is relevant, after all, and one is not. So let us look forward, then, rather than backward. Because while it is meet and right that the players should celebrate the shit out of the series win, you and I have work to do. Not that I didn’t celebrate, mind you.

With the obvious caveat that 18 games is not that much bigger a sample size than the nine that proved more or less irrelevant during the ALDS, here are a few numbers, and a few comments. On to the wicked clevah ALCS Preview…unless you’d prefer to click through 15 pages of Nick Cafardo analysis.

The Season Series

Was far less one sided than was the Angels season matchup, actually. But for Pap’s brief and unproductive infatuation with fastball, we would have split at worst. As it is, they took the head to head matchup with us 10-8, which was the bad the news. The good news is that over the course of those 18 games, we outscored the Artists Formerly Known as the Devil Rays by 20 runs, 87-67. Which means precisely dick where the standings and the division title are concerned. Still, it’s worth noting that Tampa’s average margin of victory was 2 runs while the Sox typically won by 5.

If you think you hear a but coming, well, aren’t you just the sharpest tack in the box.

The Injuries

Do not bode well for the good guys, obviously. Lowell has been subtracted – mercifully, I think, after watching him gimp through Game 3. Drew is day to day. Beckett is not healthy, in my completely uneducated and uninformed opinion. What about an educated and informed opinion? Well, the folks from Dugout Central think he might be hurt. The Rays, meanwhile, aren’t much healthier than any other club playing in October, but they enter the series with significantly less injury concerns than our guys. Which puts us at a decided disadvantage, as Keith Law noted in his series scouter:

At full strength, Boston would be the favorite despite Tampa Bay’s home-field advantage, but Boston is not close to full strength. Lowell is out, which hurts the Sox’s infield defense and gives his at-bats to Sean Casey or Mark Kotsay. Beckett is on the roster but not at 100 percent. Ortiz is still struggling to hit stuff on the outer half the way he has in the past.

If you deduce from the above that he’s not picking us to win, you’re correct. He has the Rays moving on in 7. And for the record, he correctly predicted the results of the first series.

The Rays Lineup

Is not stellar, it’s true. Their collective season line of .260/.340/.422 was outperformed – significantly – by our own .281/.359/.450. Also, they’re significantly left handed. Law:

The Rays lean heavily to the left as a lineup, a big advantage against Boston except when Jon Lester is on the mound. If Daisuke Matsuzaka won’t use his changeup, and if Josh Beckett is struggling to throw to his glove side, those left-handed bats — like Carlos Pena and Akinori Iwamura — should have a field day.

The Rays, however, never did fall apart down the stretch as predicted by many of the less savvy analysts. Quite the contrary, in fact – they actually improved down the stretch. After posting a .260/.336/.409 prior to the All Star break – at which point they were breathing down our necks in second place, you might recall – they improved their on base abilities slightly and their slugging significantly, at .261/.345/.441.

All in all, this is a lineup that while potentially unimpressive on paper, has won ballgames consistently all summer – and may be improving still.

Here’s what their presumptive starters did against us this season:

POS NAME AVG OBP SLG OPS
C Navarro .190 .250 .206 .456
1B Pena .314 .429 .647 1.076
2B Iwamura .319 .385 .551 .935
3B Longoria .245 .373 .367 .740
SS Bartlett .254 .286 .328 .614
LF Crawford .234 .308 .362 .669
CF Upton .128 .255 .256 .512
RF Gross .204 .291 .408 .691
DH Floyd .125 .276 .125 .401

Murderer’s row, they are not. But they’ve got guys who hit us well – Pena in particular – and managed to do enough damage to take an 18 game series from us.

The Rays Pitching

The pitching staff of this club was, in my view, the single most important factor in their 2008 ascendance. Over 1457.2 IP, the Rays posted a highly respectable staff ERA of 3.82, and allowed a line of .246/.314/.400. Notable is a rather pronounced home/road split. At home, the Rays are exceptional, with opposing hitters only putting up a .230/.301 /.365 line, which jumps to .261/.327/.435 when they’re on the road.

While the success of the rotation can probably be chalked up to maturation – Shields, Kazmir, Garza et al have always had ability – the bullpen is more difficult to explain. Balfour was picked up via waivers in spring training, Howell is a failed starter, and so on. Whatever the cause, however, Tampa’s staff has been as excellent as it has been unexpected on the year. Or maybe you thought Sonnanstine would or could beat Beckett twice.

Anyway, here’s how they’ve performed against us this in 2008.

PLAYER STARTS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Shields 4 .256 .318 .397 .715
Kazmir 4 .324 .433 .689 1.123
Garza 4 .250 .316 .429 .744
Sonnanstine 2 .152 .216 .196 .411

Check out the Sonnanstine numbers in particular; the kid is like kryptonite to us. Not that the front three are slouches either. Our average margin of victory might have been five runs, but with the exception of a late season shelling of Kazmir, they generally didn’t come off these guys.

The Sox Lineup

As mentioned, we’re banged up. In ways obvious – Lowell being absent – and not. Papi, as an example, hasn’t really been the same since returning to the lineup with a wrist that made a clicking noise. He has been far from poor, at .277/.385/.529, but it’s just not Papi. Consider that from April 22nd, when he began pulling out of his pronounced early season slump, to May 31st, his last day in the lineup before going on the DL, he put up numbers like we’re used to seeing: .313/.408/.626. Nor was he in the ALDS what he was in the same series last year: this year’s version hit .235/.350/.294, last year’s .714/.846/1.571 (not a typo). Some of it, of course, is that he’s not getting younger. But it also seems reasonable to suppose that his newfound mortality is at least in part a consequence of his injured wrist.

With that sunny comment, let’s look at how our guys fared against the enemy pitchers.

POS NAME AVG OBP SLG OPS
C Varitek .167 .246 .259 .505
1B Casey .286 .444 .286 .730
2B Pedroia .296 .378 .451 .829
3B Youkilis .232 .382 .429 .810
SS Lowrie .179 .361 .214 .575
LF Bay .235 .278 .765 1.042
CF Ellsbury .292 .347 .369 .716
RF Drew .324 .447 .649 1.095
DH Ortiz .243 .300 .585 .895

We’re not lighting it up any more than the Rays are, in other words. You might notice that I’ve started Kotsay over Casey and/or Cora, which is due to his offense (.730 OPS to Cora’s .536 and Kotsay’s .431), but again we’re talking exceedingly small sample sizes so I have no idea what the lineup will actually look like.

The Sox Pitching

Was, as discussed in the ALDS preview, non-terrible. Tampa edges us in ERA, 3.82 to 4.01, but we struck out hitters at higher rate (7.36 K/9 to 7.06). Which is, as the Baseball Prospectus Secret Sauce indicates (see here for Neyer’s explanation), more than slightly important. True, our staff had their issues against this club – this game in particular was a swift kick in the nuts – but our overall numbers against Tampa hitters are ok, in general.

Of course, we know more now than we did at the close of the season. We know that Lester is throwing well, that Beckett is not, and that Matsuzaka is pitching exactly as he did during the regular season – struggling to get through five. We also know that Wake, who struggled in September – not making it through three innings on two occasions – is getting the fourth start. The order, as you’ve no doubt heard, is Matsuzaka/Beckett/Lester/Wake, which puts Beckett and Lester in a position to pitch games six and seven, should either or both prove necessary.

PLAYER STARTS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Matsuzaka 3 .228 .366 .298 .664
Beckett 5 .209 .244 .364 .609
Lester 3 .240 .313 .320 .633
Wakefield 3 .279 .361 .525 .886

Pretty good, with the exception of Wake. Of course are numbers were terrible against the Angels, and we pitched quite capably, so the above should be taken with a grain or three of salt. There are many variables at work here – many of which contradict each other. Take Wakefield: his numbers this year against Tampa are, to put it mildly, not strong. But lifetime, he’s 19-5 against Tampa in 41 starts, allowing a line of .226/.296/.364. So which do you put more faith in? The more recent small sample size, or the less current but more statistically significant metrics? You got me. What can we expect from Beckett? Same answer. And so on.

Ultimately, I expect us to pitch capably, if not dominantly. Where that gets us is anyone’s guess.

The Prediction

You know the drill – no predictions. Though there is bad news on that front; the smartest guys in the (ESPN) room – the same two that correctly picked us in the first round – are picking the bad guys these days. Law has us falling four games to three, while Neyer has us out in six. It gets worse: Steve Phillips picked us to win. More specifically, the ESPN simulations have us losing Game 1 52% of the time.

From where I sit, the series may come down to Beckett. If we assume that Lester at least gives us a chance to win in his two starts, and that we might reasonably expect to take one of the three Matsuzaka/Wake starts, our erstwhile ace becomes the key. If he pitches like he did Sunday, we’re in serious trouble, in my view. If, on the other hand, he’s at a level closer to what we saw last year, it would dramatically reduce the pressure on everyone else.

Offensively, we’re going to need more from Papi and Petey both. A lot more. We were frankly lucky to advance, in my view, getting as little as we did from those two against the Angels. It’s not reasonable, after all, to expect Bay to sustain his ALDS OPS of 1.356, meaning that offense will have to come from other sources. If the little guy and the large father can get back on track, it would be another means of reducing the number of high leverage innings our staff must throw.

Like most observers, I expect a tight series. We may not be the favorites, banged up as we are, but we’ll have a chance to win. This time of year, that’s about all you can ask.

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.

Lester = Nails: Game 1 Reaction

I love being wrong. Truly. Particularly when it results in us taking the first game of what will be a tough series, whoever ends up moving on.

While I focused on his poor showing against the Angels this season in my preview, Lester battled through some early command problems, settled down, and essentially destroyed a pretty solid lineup. True, perennial irritant Garret Anderson had a couple of hits, and there was the unearned run courtesy of a nervous Lowrie, but the lefty standing in for Beckett was – there really isn’t any other word for it – nails. Beckett himself couldn’t have done much better.

Which was excellent timing, because Lackey – inexplicably pulled after 97 pitches – was outstanding himself. Apart from an outside fastball to Bay, who looked truly awful against the breaking ball in his first two at bats, the Angels’ ace pitched a solid ballgame.

The question that everyone – including myself – has at this point is: what happens from here? Senor Churbuck seems optimistic, arguing that I didn’t account for my Navajo brother’s (sorry, ahl) resurgence at the plate. Which is true; Ells was all over the basepaths last night, and the insurance run he knocked in was big.

As is typical, I have no idea what happens next. To advance, our job is pretty straightforward: we need to win two of the next four ballgames.

The matchups, again, will be:

  1. Matsuzaka vs Santana
  2. Beckett (in theory) vs Saunders
  3. Lester vs Lackey
  4. Matsuzaka vs Santana

If Beckett is Beckett, or a close enough approximation thereof, our chances in Game 3 are good. It’s very far from a given – remember that Beckett has lost to luminaries like Andy Sonnanstine and Brian Moehler this year – but the matchup, on paper, has to be considered a good one for us.

Should we win his start, that obviously means we would need to take one of two Matsuzaka starts and another from Lester. Possible? Absolutely. Likely? I’m not sure I would go that far.

Remember that while a win is a win, last night was not exactly a drubbing. There were several points in that game – Lester’s early command issues, Ellsbury’s unreal grab of a sinking liner, Vlad’s blind man’s baserunning – which potentially would have led to a different, less favorable, outcome.

I’m happy we won, you’re happy we won, and merciful Poseidon is happy we won, but the kids didn’t exactly light it up. 8-35 is good for a .229 batting average; most nights that’s not good enough. Not that the Angels were that stellar either, mind you, at 9-36.

All of which is a fancy way of saying that we got a little lucky, which is nothing to be ashamed of in the postseason, and that in another Lackey v Lester game, it’s reasonable to expect that things could go either way.

Which brings us to Matsuzaka v Santana; to my mind, the least favorable matchup of the three. Even if we throw Matsuzaka’s poor start against the Angels this year out – because Lester certainly outperformed his – there’s Santana to consider.

Always a talented pitcher, Santana has had something of a bizarre career. Exhibit A was last season, when he was dominant at home (3.27 ERA) and essentially useless on the road (8.38 ERA). This year, however, he’s put things together and had a fine season. 3.49 ERA, 214 strikeouts, 47 walks, and a .237 allowed average in 219 innings pitched. His home / road split even reverted: 4.03 at home, 3.02 on the road. Yeah, you got me.

He didn’t throw against us this year, but how do we hit him historically? Not bad, actually. 26-77, good for a .338 average, to go with a .414 OBP and a .597 slugging percentage. Crisp is 2-2, Cora 2-3, Ortiz 5-9 with a home run, and Kotsay (who, reportedly, is playing first) is 7-18 with two doubles. Casey, Tek, Pedroia and Ells, meanwhile, are hitless in a handful of at bats.

But none of the above, of course, means much. If it did, Lester would have gotten shelled last night. This is the playoffs, those are small sample sizes, and who knows what the hell will happen.

Tomorrow night is big, obviously. If we can steal both games against the Angels best pitchers, with our ace yet to throw, we’re in excellent shape. It’s not a must win: if you’d told me we’d split to open the series, I probably would have taken it. But a loss would put immense pressure on the Angels, who are already dealing with questions about all of the playoff exits, the recent history, etc etc, ad nauseam.

So from a predictive standpoint, to answer the question: am I more optimistic than I was prior to the series start? Certainly. With one game won, our odds cannot help but increase. But a win tomorrow night would make me even more positive.

On Trading Buchholz…Again

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Lester Delivers to Holliday, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

From the same team that brought you Nick Cafardo, the Boston Globe is pleased to introduce…ex-Boston Heralder Tony Massarotti. Or Mazz, as he’s known around the Fens. And, the logo.

In a Friday chat, Mazz – like his esteemed colleague Cafardo before him – speculates on the possibility of the Rockies’ Matt Holliday ending up with the Red Sox.

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad deal. We could use some power, and he’s putting up a .950 OPS this season, with a lifetime of .939. That edges Bay’s .893 season, .891 lifetime. And surprisingly – to me anyway – Holliday is even Bay’s superior in the field in virtually every metric: fielding percentage (.988 to.984), range factor (1.81 to 1.77), and zone rating (.902 to .788). Even better, Holliday’s two years younger than Bay at 28.

While Bay’s a fine player, Holliday’s better. If the Rockies would trade them one for one, you take that deal walking away.

But at what cost?

Mazz thinks adding Buchholz to Bay makes a fine deal. Which shouldn’t surprise me, as the media absolutely lives in the now, with little sense of past or future. Personally, I think that’s an absolutely terrible deal. Here’s why:

  1. Bucholz’s minor league numbers indicate the ability to not just pitch successfully at the major league level, but to be dominant. That’s among the rarest of commodities in the game, and trading it for a relatively one dimensional player – accomplished as he might be – is foolish. To defend the idea of trading Buchholz, as Mazz does, by reminding readers that we have Bowden in the fold indicates that Mazz is unable to distinguish between potential #1 starters and potential #3 starters. Buchholz is the former, Bowden the latter. You trade the Bowdens, while keeping the Buchholz’s, if you’re smart. Even if the rookie got shelled early and lost his confidence.
  2. But let’s just say – for the sake of argument – that you would contemplate trading Buchholz. Maybe you have concerns about his off the field lifestyle, or whatever. Why would you trade him now? In his career, his value has never been lower, coming off a season in which he posted a 6.75 ERA over 76 innings. You and I and Theo might look at the fact that he struck out 72 hitters over that span and see signs that he’s coming out of it, but potential trade partners will incessantly point to the runs surrendered. As they should. So a trade of Buchholz now would be selling low. Not a habit of our front office, fortunately.
  3. Worse than selling low, you’re trading a premium asset to solve a problem that you don’t have. Holliday is Bay’s superior, agreed, with the possible exception of the splits I’ll get to in a moment. But he’s not that superior. We’re talking ~60 points of OPS. Would it be nice to get more offense out of left field? Sure. But would it be nicer to have a shiny new catcher? I think so. When the front office hits the offseason and looks to next year, my guess is that left field will not be first and foremost amongst the problems they set out to solve.
  4. Then, there’s the splits. Mazz says he’s aware of them, which is good, but that he’s also aware that Holliday would be playing half his games at Fenway. Where, in a very small sample size (13 ABs), he’s been very good: .385/.429/.769. Fine. But the fact is that from 2005-2007, he was an .809 OPS player away from Coors field. This year he’s up to .895; right around Jason Bay territory, in other words. For that you want to spend 15M per or more? Buster Olney said it best: “he’s worth more to the Rockies than he is to any other team.”
  5. Oh, and he’s a Boras client. Not that we can’t or won’t sign those – there half a dozen or so just on the current roster – but it means that Holliday will only come at top dollar.

For the life of me, I really can’t fathom why the media – like the casual fans they are so quick to dismiss and disdain – insists on living only in the moment. Why they remain unable to view players in context, as does – thankfully – the front office (with the exception of Julio Lugo). And so on.

But that’s the Fourth Estate for you.

I, For One, Welcome Our New Left Fielder

First things first: it’s been a while. I know that, you may know that, and WordPress here definitely knows that. But let’s set that aside for the moment, as I think I have a fix for the intermittency around here. More on that tomorrow.

For now, we’ve got a much bigger fish to fry, as one of the most talented and perplexing talents ever to don a Red Sox uniform is currently en route to the left coast. Along with seven or so million dollars, better known as his pay. Headed south a few hundred miles are two of the products of our farm system: Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen. Playing left field tomorrow night, meanwhile, will be one Jason Bay.

Just how did we come to this point? It’s an excellent question, and neither I, nor even those you might read in the print media, are likely to have all of the answers. Theo might. Tito might. John Henry might. But I do not.

Still, I’ll give it the old college try. Here are the questions I have and my answers to them. Before you ask, yes, this is me asking myself questions. It’s weird, I get it, but it’s quicker. Bear with me.

Q: What is the deal, finally, that was agreed upon?
A: It’s a three-way trade, as most of you have probably heard. We ship Rmirez to the Dodgers along with cash to cover his salary. We also ship Hansen and Moss to the Pirates. Meanwhile, the Dodgers send Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris to the Pirates. In return for all of the above, the Buccos give us Jason Bay.

Q: How did you feel about the deal when you first heard it announced?
A: Well, let’s back up. Heading into the deadline, I was convinced that M-Ram should be traded. Not at all costs – Bay or Kemp from the Dodgers were the acceptable returns I could have lived with – but ideally traded. Sitting at Byrnes’ Pub in Bath, I was more than a bit disappointed when four o’clock rolled around and not only had Manny not been traded, we’d done nothing, period. Worse, MLB.com was reporting sometime around 3:30 (according to NESN) that not only had we not acquired Bay, but that Tampa had at the cost of Jeff Niemann and Reid Brignac, Tampa’s #3 and #4 prospects coming into the 08 season according to Baseball America.

Q: So you were disappointed.
A: Definitely. The Yankees have substantially upgraded their club – at a relatively low cost, for the most part – adding an outfielder, a lefthanded reliver, and a starting catcher. And as I write this, they’re one and half games in back of us, despite losing their best starting pitcher, their second best young pitcher, their starting left fielder, and their starting catcher to injuries.

Tampa, meanwhile, leads us by 3 games, with a young club that doesn’t have all that many holes.

So not doing anything, to me, would have been a blow. Maybe that’s right, maybe that’s wrong, but that’s the way it was.

Q: And when you heard the trade announced?
A: Initially, I was pleased. As I said, I was ready for Manny to be gone, and now he was. Ask and ye shall receive. But as the news trickled out, however, that not only was Manny gone with his salary, but Hansen and Moss too, I was less pleased. Particularly since the rumor last night was Manny for Bay and Grabow; not Manny, Hansen and Moss for just Bay.

Then I thought about it a bit, and became resigned.

Q: Resigned why?
A: Because the only conclusion that one can draw from this afternoon’s trade is that things must have been worse – far worse – than we realized. As a friend of mine said in a text, it’s

“almost as if they were anxious to get rid of him. it really makes me wonder if there was more behind the scenes toxicity that we were not made aware of.”

That, in a nutshell, is the situation as I’ve come to see it over the past few days. Denton from the essential Surviving Grady had it right two years ago when he said:

I do believe that once Manny finds a new home, RSN is going to start to get the whole story. The “Manny being Manny” and overall quirkiness were barely tolerable with the information we had. We were willing to overlook a lot in return for Manny’s production. But what about the stories we haven’t heard yet? I think there has been a lot more going on behind the scenes that’s been hidden from the media.

Exactly. Things are almost certain to be a lot less rosy than we’re generally made aware of.

Q: How do you come to that conclusion?
A: Mostly from what I read. I don’t mean the stock media reports; while I’m not inclined to defend Ramirez, as has Allan over at the Joy of Sox, I do agree with him that Manny has been regularly tilted at by a media that didn’t seem to care for him much. Allan calls out Gordon Edes (who is leaving the Globe for Yahoo, incidentally) for this bit of snark:

He’d been sent to Massachusetts General Hospital during the game to have an MRI of both knees, the Sox evidently taking no chances that their slugger might have gotten confused about which one hurt.

Which is appropriate. Edes – whom I like and respect apart from his treatment of Ramirez (far more so than his colleague Cafardo, as you might know) – has been like this for a while.
So the reporters opinions on Manny, well, they don’t mean a whole lot to me. Much more important has been the silence from the rest of the club. Just as in the past, no one apart from the embattled Lugo has come to Manny’s defense. Schilling, in fact, positively killed Manny this afternoon. Maybe, you think, that’s just Schilling being Schilling. WEll, Pedroia and Youk sound a little lukewarm to me.

And frankly this bit from Olney pretty much sums up the relationship Manny has with his manager – who for my money, is the best the Red Sox have had:

Think about how nutty this situation is: In the last five weeks of the 2006 season, reliever Julian Tavarez — who became Manny’s Tony Snow, his spokesman — knew more about whether Manny was going to play or whether he was available to pinch-hit than Boston manager Terry Francona, general manager Theo Epstein and owners John Henry and Larry Lucchino. Absurd.

When was that written? December of 2006. Seriously. We’ve been dealing with this – codepending, if you will – that long.

Throw in the fact that this year’s incidents have been different, and it’s been pretty clear that Manny was not a good fit going forward.

Q: What does “different” mean in this context?
A: In the past, Manny seemed less angry than goofy. There’s the possibly apocryphal story that he had his tailored clothes embroidered with MBM – Manny Being Manny – and my all time favorite, his decision to cut off Damon’s throw from center…while he was in left. I still laugh when I tell that story.

But this year’s MBM incidents have been less harmless than in years past. Pushing Jack McCormick to the ground after he was unable to come up with 16 tickets to the Sox/Astros game? That’s not the happy go lucky Manny we know, and usually, love. Likewise the bizarre Youk/Manny fracas. I can understand if Manny’s frustrated with Youk’s tendency to fling things around the dugout, but fighting in the dugout? Seriously? Or how about telling ESPNDeportes that the “Red Sox don’t deserve a player like me?”

No, the public incidents, anyway, paint a much different picture of Manny than we’ve seen in the past. One that told me he had to go.

Q: But at what price?
A: That, I think, is the point. Think of it this way: the Red Sox front office is generally regarded as being intelligent, diligent, and creative. They’re not perfect – I will never understand their pursuit of Lugo – but they’ve generally been very, very good. Even the Yankee fans agree will grant us that.

And yet they decided that it was in the club’s best interests to ship Manny, the rest of his salary for the year, and two prospects – albeit not elite ones – out the door to get a player of lesser ability.

The fact that that calculus alone made sense tells me everything I need to know about just how bad things were.

Q: So you don’t think this is just a product of a front office / journalist collaboration?
A: No. Is it possible, even likely, that the front office was intentionally leaking to reporters for the purpose of swaying public sentiment in their favor? Sure.

But I have a hard time believing that Gammons’ outrage at Manny is merely him playing the role of front office stooge, as Allan implies. Not simply because I think it unlikely that a reporter of Gammons’ experience would allow himself to be so simply and basely used, but because Gammons has generally been a guy that gave players a chance to be heard. When Roberto Alomar spit on an umpire, Gammons gave him the chance to explain. When John Rocker disparaged virtually every minority on the planet, Gammons listened.

Maybe Gammons doesn’t have the story exactly right – nobody on the outside could – but I think he’s far more right than wrong here. Regardless of what the front office did or did not tell him.

Q: Enough of the muckraking, what do you think of the deal in baseball terms?
A: It’s a good deal for the Dodgers, though they’ve got quite the logjam in the outfield, and it’s an excellent deal in my view from the Pirates perspective. Keith Law says that Morris is the only high upside player in the deal, but in Hansen, LaRoche, and Moss they have some very usable, more or less MLB ready players. And the high upside arm. Maybe they’d prefer to have Niemann and Brignac, but this is a far cry from the days of Littlefield when they’d covet their own assets and get either nothing or nothing of value in return for them.

Q: And for the Sox?
A: A lot of it depends. How does Bay – who’s accustomed to a small market and weaker NL pitching – adapt to Boston? What do Hansen and Moss end up doing? But I’m fine with the deal, ultimately. One, because as discussed above I think it needed to be made. But also because it has potential upside for us, both this year and next. As Law explains:

Bay will really improve the 2009 Red Sox. Boston was almost certain to decline Ramirez’s $20 million option for 2009, which would have left the Red Sox with an offensive hole to fill for next year. Bay is under control for next year, so the hole is already filled, and he’s signed for an amazingly cheap $7.5 million. Even considering the $7 million Boston sent L.A. to pay Manny’s freight for this year (because the Dodgers told teams they could not add any payroll this season), the Red Sox are getting a $15-20 million bat in Bay without the headaches Ramirez had caused lately. And they managed to do it without depleting their strong farm system or committing to a four- or five-year deal they’d regret by the middle of the second year.

Instead of having to find a left fielder for next year, we’ve got one. At $7.5M. Which is $12.5M less than Ramirez’s ’09 option would have cost us.

Is it ideal? No. Ask Anaheim, or LA of Anaheim, or whatever they’re called now, if they’re happy to see Manny gone after they couldn’t get him out during last year’s postseason. No, this was about as well as we were going to do. Which is itself a sad comment.

Q: Let’s talk about Bay: what are we getting?
A: Bay’s a good player, or at least he has been in small markets in the NL. He is not Manny Ramirez, but then no one is. A quick comparison:

BA OBP SLG OPS+ HR
Bay .282 .375 .519 135 22
Ramirez .299 .398 .529 140 20

A slide-in replacement for the lineup? Not quite. But as close as we were going to get, I’d think. And Bay, by all accounts, is a significant defensive upgrade: he’s got the range to cover center, and his arm is reportedly average. Meaning that our outfield, defensively, with Bay in left, Crisp/Ellsbury in center, and Drew in right, should be one of the best in the big leagues.

Other interesting items from his splits:

  • As others have noted, he has a bizarre reverse platoon split. That is, he’s a right handed batter that, this season, is hitting righties well (.307/.387/.566) and lefties poorly (.190/.333/.345). Indications are that this year is a fluke, however, as his three year 05-07 trend shows nothing of the kind: .296/.405/.543 against lefties, .276/.368/.493 against righties.
  • He tends to wear down slightly in the second half: .283/.388/.505 pre-break against .279/.369/.506 after.
  • He’s hit best in the cleanup spot in the lineup: .286/.386/.516 in 790 ABs, compared to .278/.377/.510 in 679 ABs hitting third.
  • He’s hit well with runners in scoring position, .282/.400/.502, and with runners on, .282/.388/.486, but poorly close and late – .205/.333/.373.
  • He’s played three games in his career at Fenway, and put up a .250/.357/.417 line.
  • Though he’s .257/.278/.429 career against the Yankees, he’s .362/.412/.532 against their current staff.
  • Though he’s .391/.429/.739 career against Tampa, he’s .200/.283/.425 against their current staff (1-18 off Wheeler).
  • He hits .257 off fastballs, .290 off curves, .269 off sliders, .244 off changeups, and .111 off everything else.

Q: Besides losing the kids in addition to the money, anything else bug you about this trade?
A: The fact that we didn’t get a reliever. Ultimately, that’s been our Achilles heel all season. Many have noted that we can theoretically add one before the waiver trade deadline in a month, but we need the help now. Bringing someone back this week would have been ideal, and it would have been nice, for example to have spun Moss into Mahay instead of folding him into Bay.

Q: Net net, what’s your take.
A: In Theo we trust. If he determined Manny needed to go, that’s good enough for me. He did well to get Bay, dealing as he was from a position of extreme weakness, and now we just have to hope we can patch up the bullpen and right the ship. Oh, and before I forget, best of luck to the kids: here’s hoping that Hansen and Moss blossom down in Pittsburgh.

Q: Will you miss Manny?
A: I’ll miss his performances. The Angels ALDS game that he won last year in walkoff fashion? I was there, and he absolutely crushed that ball.

But the player? Not really. I’m with Tim: he lost me this year.

Update: While I’m sure many will regard it as a post-exit character assassination, Sean McAdam reported the following last night:

General manager Theo Epstein was working with a mandate from within his own clubhouse. Following his team’s dispiriting loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Wednesday night, Epstein met with a handful of Red Sox veterans, all of whom delivered the same message: Manny had to go.

Buster Olney is reportedly saying much the same on SportsCenter this morning. Sad.