If I’d told you before the season that 21 games into the season that Buchholz would be our best starter – easily, that Darnell McDonald would have played more games that Ellsbury and be second in OPS to Varitek…on the team, what would you have said? What if I also told you that we would have scored 95 runs, but given up 113? That our vaunted defense would be -14 in defensive runs saved, tied for worst in the league with the Brewers? That our last six wins were one run affairs, against Baltimore, Texas and Toronto? That they’d leave us still one game under .500?
You’d figure we’d be further than 3 back from the Yankees, right? And that the Yankees would be in first place, not the Rays, correct?
But that’s why they play the games. This game is weird. I mean, how else do you explain Beckett’s identically terrible numbers this April to last?
In the wake of Buchholz’ gem tonight, you’d think I’d be leading the cheerleading squad. Not so much. We’ve stacked the deck against us, what with all this playing like shit. FanGraphs says we’ll finish in third, and frankly there are nights when it’s been tough to argue the point.
Still, the most important thing to remember is – as we talked about last week – is that the mean catches up with everyone in the end. For better, and for worse. So just like these folks with The Greater Good (and incidentally, if you haven’t seen that movie, you need to), I ask you to repeat after me: Regression to the Mean. Looking for evidence of that, I took a quick look at our BABIP figures for the season. And found it.
You know how hot JV’s been? Well, it just so happens that his batting average on balls in play is .400. Meaning that when he makes contact, he’s hitting about .110 better than is normal. Or in layman’s terms, he’s been pretty lucky, and is likely to get worse. Which is bad for us.
Good for us, however, are the BABIP’s posted by two of our coldest hitters: Drew and Ortiz. As it happens, they are 2 and 3 for lowest figures on the team Drew at .227 and .233 respectively. Meaning that they are likely to get better. Which is good for us.
As you might suspect, with the pitching, defense and offense all pretty awful in the early going, a regression to the mean would be just what the doctor ordered for us.
Will it be enough to make the playoffs? Who knows. It’s way too early to be writing off our chances on account of a six game deficit, but there’s no getting around the fact that the Rays and Yankees are good. Really good.
But have faith, my friends. We’ve had the second worst starting ERA in the league, two thirds of our starting outfield hasn’t seen the field in two weeks, and Beltre’s got close to one third of last year’s errors one eigth into the season. These too shall pass. It’s a long summer, and all we need is for our guys to start being our guys. Which we’re seeing signs of already.
In the meantime, buckle up and try and enjoy the ride.
Truth be told, none of the following matters. Seriously. Remember last year? According to the numbers, we didn’t have much business being in a series with the Angels, let alone winning it. We all know how that turned out.
Still, inquiring minds want to know what we think of the matchup. Maybe it’s because the puerile conventional “wisdom” continuously spewed by the professional media – “we’re in their heads!” – sounds suspiciously like what we heard from Yankee fans pre-2004. Or maybe it’s because we’ve come to understand that while the numbers from the first season don’t dictate the outcome of the second season, neither are they irrelevant.
Either way, wicked clevah is back – per your request, or over your protest, whichever- with a barely informed take on the matchups between yours and my Boston Red Sox, and our eternal foe, the Los Angeles Angels. Oh, and by the way, if you’re waiting for the “of Anaheim,” I wouldn’t hold your breath. With no further delay, on to the breakdown.
Red Sox Hitting
The good news is that you can probably ignore the splits versus the Angels staff listed above. It includes far too many one or two game sample sizes to be meaningful in any realistic sense, and is included for the sake of completeness more than anything else. The bad news is that we are not, as currently consituted, an offensive juggernaut. We’re more than adequate, but lack the thump of lineups of yore – particularly if Varitek plays. Which I hope he does not, for a variety of reasons. I’m not sure I buy the rumors that Varitek’s advantaging fastballs in his game management to offset his diminished arm strength – and I certainly don’t have the numbers to make that case – but the fact is that he is essentially a liability now both at the plate and behind it.
What the 2009 flavor of the Red Sox is, however, is reasonably balanced. We’re third in the league in runs, second in OBP, and second in OPS. All of that is good. The bad is that the Angels, as we’ll see, are pretty comparable – they scored more runs, but rank third to our second in OBP and OPS.
The gist is that the 2009 Red Sox, particularly with Victor Martinez starting in place of Jason Varitek, are a club that can and will score runs against the Angels staff. What’s difficult to foresee is whether or not they’ll produce adequately in a short series. This club, as anyone who’s watched the season unfold will ruefully acknowledge, has been prone to streaks both hot and cold. As of Thursday, assuming that’s when we get underway, we’ll need to produce, and produce quickly. If we have another cold stretch, we’ll be going home early.
Red Sox Pitching
Pitching and defense wins championships, or so the saying goes. We’ll have to hope that’s not entirely true, because as Theo lacknowledged this week, we’ve gone from being a terrible defensive club to one that’s still not stellar: “By our numbers, we’re still not the defensive club we want to be. But we’re better. On certain days with certain lineups out there, we can use defense as a weapon to help out our pitching staff.”
Because of the attention to this problem – and in spite of it, early – our pitching has been generally very good. The rotation has gone from surplus to deficit, starting a one legged Wakefiled down the stretch. And the bullpen has seen its more than few declines in individual performance. But on balance, we’re as well positioned as any other club in either league heading into the postseason when it comes to pitching.
Do I know what we’ll get from Beckett or Buchholz following their last outings? Not at all. And that’s without talking about Matsuzaka, who’s luck with the bases loaded – like the center – cannot hold. But I trust Lester to get us started on the right note, and I feel confident that between Beckett (though his velocity is, as far as I can tell, down by a one to two MPH) and Bucky, we’ll get one quality outing, and it’s not out of the realm that we could get two. Which gives us a good shot, particularly in a short series.
The bullpen, meanwhile, has been without question the finest assembled in Theo’s tenure. While the gambles on Penny and Smoltz provided little, additions like Ramirez, Wagner and, to a lesser extent, Saito, have been crucial in giving us the depth necessary to not work Oki and Pap into the ground. I don’t know what they’ll do about the rest of the staff, but I’m hopeful that Delcarmen doesn’t make the roster. Even before the car accident (thank Jebus he’s ok), he was not right. MDC’s not reliable when he’s throwing 95+; when he’s topping out at 93 and averaging 91, he might as well be throwing BP.
But with Pap rounding into form – his .167 batting average against in September was his best month of the season, and he’s walked only six people since the All Star break compared to eighteen before – and Wagner, Ramirez, Okajima capable of providing quality innings, the pen is as deep as it’s been. Bard, to me, is the wildcard. Here’s his batting average against by month: .233 (May), .237 (June), .103 (July), .302 (August), .292 (September). Before the break, hitters averaged .193 againt him; it’s been .270 since. Or, as Keith Law summed it up: “Dan Bard, Aug 4th to today: 16 IP, 20 H, 5 HR, 11 BB, 22 K, .313/.416/.594.” That’s what we in the business know as “suboptimal.” If he can correct the ailment, be it mechanical or psychological in origin (I’ve seen no evidence that it’s velocity related), I can see him getting some high leverage innings. Until then, however, he should be relegated to a lower profile role in the pen.
One other notable asset to our staff: every man on it – with the potential exception of a Byrd if he makes the roster – has the ability to miss bats. To the point that they’re second in the league in strikeouts. The lowest K/9 of the likely roster members is Buchholz at 6.65, and – his performance to date notwithstanding – he has the ability to strike people out on any given night. Perhaps the ability is overvalued, but strikeout pitchers are at something of a premium in the second season.
Again, I don’t think the Angels will be getting too geeked over Hunter, Kendrick, and Napoli’s combined 1.135 OPS. Well, Napoli’s maybe: he terrifies me. But again, with the sample sizes essentially miniscule and therefore statistically meaningless, we’d do better to look to the more significant season worth of data we have on the Angels offense. Which, regrettably, tells us that they’re good. Not too different from our offense, in fact.
Whether or not the talking heads are correct and Abreu’s sheer presence has convinced the previously walk averse Angels of the value of not making outs, the fact is that this Angel’s offense is quite capable. Their team batting average is nearly thirty points better than ours, while we own a ten point advantage in slugging percentage. OBP is essentially a wash.
Add it up, and they’re a potentially dangerous offense capable of working pitchers, getting on base and scoring runs. The OBP in particular is a concern, when coupled with their vaunted dedication to smallball and our more than adequately demonstrated inability to control the running game.
Pitching-wise, the Angels have had their challenges this season. Adenheart, a talented young pitcher, was killed by a drunk driver early in the season in an awful tragedy. Shields, a staple of past Angels bullpens, is on the DL. Ditto for Escobar and Moseley. Arredondo has been for now left off the roster, less effective than he was a year ago.
Still, the Angels have cobbled together both a credible rotation and a capable bullpen. The staff has not distinguished itself over the course of the season: it’s 9th in ERA, sixth in earned runs, ninth in strikeouts, and 11th in batting average against. They’re helped out, however, by their defense: as you can see above, three of the four starters own ERA’s lower than their Fielding Independent Pitching rates. And every one of them has pitched well against the Red Sox at one time or another: even Lackey, who’s had bad luck at Fenway, pitched quite effectively there in his last appearance in Boston though losing the game.
The bullpen, meanwhile, is fronted by a closer with unimpressive numbers. It’s true that he probably struck out Nick Green, saving the game, but on the season Fuentes has surrendered a less than stellar 53 hits and 24 walks in 55 innings pitched. Throw the save numbers out: he’ll get the job done more than he won’t, but he is the antithesis of a shutdown closer. Which could be magnified in the postseason.
The addition of Ervin Santana, however, could be a real boon and help them stabilize the setup innings. While his strikeout rate was down this year as a starter, in short bursts one would expect that weakness to be mitigated. Though he struck out only two in his last start on the 28th, he maxed out at 95.8 MPH. The rest of the arms in the bullpen are capable if not overwhelming. Bulger – assuming he makes the roster (he’s got a sore shoulder) – and Palmer use a wide arsenal and change speeds enough to get people out, while Jepsen can dial it up to the mid 90’s but is fastball reliant.
They’re good, and more than capable of shutting us down, but they are not dominant.
What to Expect
This is not the Angels team we’re used to seeing. Sure, they’ll still play small ball more than they should, but the offense is less easily kept off the bases than in the past. With an improved offense and a consistent pitching staff, the Angels deserve their berth and our respect. It’ll be a battle.
P.S. If I get a chance, I’ll take a look at the benches and the respective defenses, but in the meantime, this will have to do. Questions? You know here to find me.
Update: If you’re an Insider, ESPN’s Keith Law has his previews up for both the Angels and Sox.
Last I checked, Josh Bard – the catcher we shipped to San Diego after he proved unable to catch Wake – is available. Probably because in 57 games with the Friars, he put up an abysmal .202/.235/.333 line. Not a typo: he really was a .569 OPS player. That said, ‘07 saw him put up a .285/.364/.404 in a tough hitters’ park, and Bill James’ ‘09 forecast is .268/.342/.395. Which may not seem like much, until you remember that Tek’s 08 line was .220/.313/.359. And that Tek’s 09 projection is .238/.334/392. And that Bard is six years younger than Varitek.
Twenty-five days later Sean McAdam has this news for us:
Moving to improve their depth on the mound and behind the plate, the Red Sox have agreements in place with right-hander Brad Penny and catcher Josh Bard, according to an industry source.
I’ll get to the Penny news later – tomorrow if I’m not too lazy – but I’ll be honest: I like the Bard signing.
True, Bard is no Martin, Mauer, or McCann. He’s not even a Flying Molina Brother (at least of the Bengie variety). But there are several things arguing in this deal’s favor, most notably the fact that it’s short money and short term, and doesn’t cost us prospects. Our risk, therefore, is minimized and our flexibility to either deal for or develop a long term solution is preserved.
We’re buying low on Bard because, as mentioned, he had an abysmal ’08. Still, he’s only a year removed from this PECOTA commentary:
After Bard took to being knuckleballer Tim Wakefield`s personal catcher like a duck takes to being repeatedly poked with a fork, the Red Sox panicked and flipped him to San Diego for his predecessor, Doug Mirabelli. They never could have anticipated he`d hit like he did in San Diego, just as there`s no reason for the Padres to expect him to do it again. Still, Bard`s a true switch-hitter, solid against both righties and lefties, and PECOTA expects him to maintain his new-found plate discipline, so he`ll still be one of the better players at his position. Although properly considered the better-throwing alternative to Mike Piazza on last year`s Pads, Bard didn`t surpass him by much. Throwing out only 18 percent of opposing baserunners isn`t very special, but, in Bard`s defense, he`s done better before; perhaps Pads pitchers need to work on holding runners as much as their catchers need to work on throwing.
And – remember, he’s six years younger than Tek – the projections all look ok.
Like I said: no Mauer. But compared to Tek’s .672 OPS last season, even CHONE’s pessimistic forecast looks acceptable.
And speaking of Tek, I have to think this pretty much means he’s not back. Not just because McAdam says that the Sox “have all but given up on re-signing” him, but because of the Wakefield factor.
Initial speculation considered the possibility of Bard backing up a resigned Varitek, but while I suppose that’s not impossible, haven’t we tried that before? That would leave us with two catchers that have more or less demonstrated that they cannot catch one of the pitchers we’re throwing every five days.
From this signing, then, I conclude not that Bard will be the unchallenged starter, but that the second catcher will be someone who can catch Timmeh – i.e. not Varitek.
Could it be Kottaras, perhaps? Evan over at Fire Brand had a nice piece looking at this a couple of days ago and built a fairly credible case that Kottaras could be a bigger factor than we might have expected in the catching equation. The signing of Bard, if anything, improves his chances, as he’s now one of the few catchers in the organization with experience catching a knuckleball (in case you missed it, the Yankees signed Cash away from us).
Is a Bard/Kottaras tandem the long term solution to our catching needs? Obviously not. But could it provide us with a credible stop gap until such time as we can find one? Seems at least possible. If both hit only to their James projected OPS, in fact, they would have placed 6th and 7th respectively amongst qualifying catchers last season – such is the state of big league catching these days.
How you deploy them could ultimately be determined by their play, as well as the pitchers’ comfort level with each. If you weight his experience, and think Bard is more the .285/.364/.404 player from ’07 than the .569 OPS of ’08, you could start him four days a week and designate Kottaras as Wake’s caddy.
But given that James projects more offense from the rookie than the vet – an anticipated .765 OPS to Bard’s .729 – it might be wiser to platoon them to some extent. Which could work nicely, because while Bard switch hits, his lifetime OPS is eighty points higher against lefties than righties (.785 to .705). Kottaras, meanwhile, hits from the lefthand side, and his splits show it: career, his OPS is 46 points better vs righties than lefties (.808 to .762).
Are Bard and Kottaras the tandem for ’09? Hell, I don’t know. The point here is that if they are, we might not be in terrible shape.
So it’s been a while. But hear me now and understand me later, I needed the time off. And whether you know it or not, you did too. Even if you didn’t, what are you going to do about it?
Because either way, we’re back, baby, and a lot has happened since the last time you and I checked in. Which, in turn, begs the question: why are we wasting time talking about how many months it’s been since our last chat? Let’s just get to it.
In spite of the best efforts of the Boston media (read: Cafardo and Massarotti) to drive me completely insane, it would appear that the front office and I are on the same page with respect to Buchholz. Last week, the MLB.com Rangers beat reporter put it this way:
The Red Sox have made it clear that they aren’t interested in trading Clay Buchholz under any circumstances.
This week, Peter Gammons validated that while talking to our friends from Fire Brand:
I don’t think Texas will trade Teagarden, and their asking price for Saltalamacchia has been either Buchholz or Masterson and Bowden; not happening.
To which I say: thank Jebus. It’s not that I’m unwilling to part with Buchholz under the right circumstances; it’s just that – as discussed – I think trading him now is the very essence of selling low.
Which, fortunately, it seems like our front office is smart enough to recognize. Now if only the media could see the light…
As I said in one of the Fire Brand Roundtables, I’m all for bringing our own prodigal son dlowe back.
“Call me crazy, but I say DLowe – provided you can get him at reasonable (for the Red Sox) dollars for three years or less, and that you do your homework on his off the field status. Much as I’d love Teixeira, he’s going to get a massive six plus year deal from someone, and it won’t be us. Ditto for CC, and with him you have overuse/weight issues potentially complicating the back end of the deal. Burnett and Sheets, meanwhile, are terrific pitchers…when they take the field. Which isn’t often. Sheets hasn’t thrown 200 innings since ’04, and Burnett’s done it only twice in the last six years. Plus, they’ll command a significant premium as high strikeout pitchers. Lowe, meanwhile, has thrown 200 four out of the last six (and just missed in ’07), while keeping his ERA since leaving Boston comfortably under 4. Park effects have a lot to do with that, of course, but with his groundball ratio it’s less true than it might be with other pitchers. If you have some assurances that the pitcher wouldn’t spend every available evening at Daisy Buchanan’s, then, and he’s willing to sacrifice either years or dollars to play where he wants, I think you have to consider it.”
Not much has happened to change that opinion: if anything, Lowe has ramped up his “I’d love to play in Boston” rhetoric. I still think it’s a long shot, given what he’s likely to be offered elsewhere, but I take him over Sheets and even Burnett easy. As does Neyer.
What can you say, except: I can’t believe I singlehandedly turned El Caballito’s season around with this post and he’s offered me nothing? Ungrateful little pony…But otherwise, I couldn’t be happier. After what he went through early in ’07, when everyone was burying the tiny rookie with the big swing, this is a veritable storybook turnaround.
As much as I admire his play, however, I’m even more appreciative of his willingness to compromise and share a little risk with the club, sacrificing overall dollars in the process. We are unlikely to see this with our other young kids, with Pap looking to max his dollars and Ells having signed with Boras, but I admit to an unreasonable appreciation for Dustin’s willingness to take a hometown discount in return for security. The $40M+ guaranteed presumably doesn’t hurt, either.
I think we can file this one under a big miss for wicked clevah, since I saw Crisp as gone last…February. But the return here, I don’t think, was awful. A power arm for the middle innings is nothing to sneer at given our bullpen’s regular season struggles last year. Particularly if, as Gammons argues, the market for Crisp was weak overall:
The Red Sox surveyed what was a surprisingly small market for Crisp — Cincinnati was the other club with the most interest — and decided that with Jeremy Affeldt starting out the 2008 free-agent market by signing a two-year, $8 million deal with the Giants, it likely will be easier to find another outfielder than secure a low-cost power reliever.
That said, not everyone’s on board. Law thinks we could be disappointed in the return:
For the Red Sox, they save a good amount of cash by moving a superfluous player and get a cheap arm for their pen, albeit one with some red flags. Ramon Ramirez works primarily with two pitches — a 91-93 mph fastball that he pounds to his glove side and an upper 80s splitter (or split-change) with a very sharp downward movement. He’ll occasionally mix in a slider around 86-87 mph, but it’s not as effective as the splitter, which he throws almost as often as his fastball. Despite some violence in his delivery, he’s had around average control throughout his pro career (just 25 unintentional walks this year) and has a history of missing bats. The surprise in his performance is that he keeps the ball in the park; he doesn’t have great life or sink on his fastball, and his command of it is fringe-average, yet he has given up just 9 home runs in 156 career big-league innings, half of which came in Colorado. Between that and his moderate platoon split, it seems unlikely that he’s an eighth inning solution for the Red Sox.
Ultimately, while I was surprised – I anticipated Crisp being part of a trade with Texas for one of their catchers – I’m not disappointed in the return. Even if Ramirez is not an eighth inning solution, he gives us another useful, controllable arm, some flexibility in trading someone from the pen if necessary, and salary relief for a player we didn’t need – and who may have been less of a good soldier in his second year of not starting.
I’m cool with that.
First things first: the kid’s highly unlikely to make the major league roster out of the gate. And reports that he’s cranking 97+ with his fastball are – apparently – pure exagerration as he sits 90-93, from the more reasonable reports that I’ve seen. All of that said, I – shockingly – concur with Mazz that this Tazawa is, if nothing else, a hedge against the draft pick that we could conceivably lose:
Now that Junichi Tazawa is here, the smart thing to do would be to consider him as the Sox’ first-round selection in 2009.
Viewed that way, the signing makes a lot of sense, and it was at a reasonable expense as well: $3.3M. Here’s Law’s take:
He’s not major-league ready, having only pitched in an amateur industrial league in Japan, but he should be ready to start in Double-A and could see the majors in late 2009 if all goes well. His splitter (or split-change) should give minor-league hitters nightmares, but he’ll need to work on his fastball command. If his breaking ball doesn’t come along, he projects more as a plus two-pitch reliever than as a starter.
Another of the FO’s decisions that I’m more than fine with.
To address the question posed by Senor Frechette – what becomes of Lars Anderson should we sign Tex – the answer is: I don’t know. There seem to be three possibilities: 1.) he becomes trade bait, 2.) he’s worked into an infield/DH rotation beginning in late 09 or 2010, 3.) he’s inserted into left field following Bay’s departure after the ’09 season.
Anderson’s not projected to be ready until midseason at the earliest, with 2010 as a more likely arrival date
Of the spots he could take on the current roster, Bay is up after ’09, Lowell ’10, Papi ’10 (club option for ’11), Youk ’11 (I think, based on his service time)
We’ve got – potentially – a lot of money to play with this offseason, with $40M or so coming off the books
There’s an assumption amongst media members that we’ll take our current projected surplus and apply that to Teixeira, and this makes sense given the uncertainty and frequent inconsistency of our offense last season – particularly with Manny gone. But it remains to be seen whether or not he’s going to try and break the bank and shoot for $200M, even in this economy. If he that’s the case, I think we bow out. But stranger things have happened.
If he’s not signed, Anderson continues on track, I think, to take Lowell’s place (w/ Youk shifting to third) in the 2010 timeframe. If Tex does come on board, I think Anderson is retained if only to provide insurance depending on whether the Large Father a.) recovers adequately and b.) signs with Boston following the expiration of his contract. Given Anderson’s status as the top prospect in a still top shelf farm system, he’s not going anywhere except for a premium talent in return.
One of the things that’s perplexed me this offseason has been the talk of securing Varitek – either via arbitration or a short term free agent deal – to train his replacement, to be obtained via trade. Gammons among others has mentioned this as a possibility, and while there’s nothing intrinsically odd about that, except for this question: who catches Wake? Theo addressed that in his comments today:
“We have to be mindful of the fact that Wake can be a challenge for some catchers,” Epstein said. “At the same time, I don’t know that even Wake feels we should limit our options at catcher because of any one pitcher. We just have to strike the right balance. [Varitek’s] caught him in the past. We’ll see. There’s no news on that front. He’s always been an option to catch him. He’s caught him in the past. It’s obviously something that [Terry Francona’s] stayed away from in recent years.”
With all due respect to Theo, this strikes me as pure posturing. If Varitek could catch Wake, there would have been no need for the panic deal that sent Bard – more on him in a minute – and Meredith out to San Diego for Mirabelli. Assuming that the Captain can’t catch him regularly, then, that would mean that the job of catching would Wake would either a.) fall to Varitek’s replacement, or b.) Cash, necessitating the extremely suboptimal three catchers on the roster. Frankly, the latter strikes me as a non-starter here in the Big Boy league, meaning that if Tek and a young catcher are acquired, the job of catching Wake is going to be the kid’s.
Not sure about you, but I don’t see that happening. I think either Tek is retained or we get a replacement, not both. Which, I couldn’t tell you, though we’ll know by Sunday whether or not the Captain has accepted arbitration.
Should be fun to watch.
And as a special bonus catching section:
Last I checked, Josh Bard – the catcher we shipped to San Diego after he proved unable to catch Wake – is available. Probably because in 57 games with the Friars, he put up an abysmal .202/.235/.333 line. Not a typo: he really was a .569 OPS player. That said, ’07 saw him put up a .285/.364/.404 in a tough hitters’ park, and Bill James’ ’09 forecast is .268/.342/.395. Which may not seem like much, until you remember that Tek’s 08 line was .220/.313/.359. And that Tek’s 09 projection is .238/.334/392. And that Bard is six years younger than Varitek.
I’ll admit that a proposed catching tandem of Bard/Cash isn’t all that thrilling, but it could a.) save us from overpaying for the likes of Salty – who may not be able to catch long term anyway (the cat is huge), and b.) give the kids (Exposito, Wagner, et al) another year to develop and tell us whether or not our solution is in house after all.
I’ll admit it: seven hits in 12 innings was not precisely what I had in mind for my first in person postseason appearance at the park this season. After all, I brought a lifetime 5-1 playoff record to Fenway last night. I recognized that the Angels pitching was excellent – and that our offense can be pitched to, now more than ever – but, well, you saw what happened.
About as fun as a kick in the crotch.
On the one hand, if you’d told me we’d be up 2-1 after three games before the series began, I would have taken it. On the other, we lost a Beckett start, and if Lester can’t clinch tonight we’re looking at a Game 5 started by Matsuzaka. Which is almost more than I bear.
Twelve innings and a one run loss make it seem like the game was close, but in truth, it wasn’t. Ells’ first hit should never have dropped, and without that we don’t score four and we don’t go to extras. Sadly, we were unable to steal the game we didn’t deserve to win, with out best chance dying in the glove of Rivera (or was Willits in by then?) when Lowrie flied out to right off K-Rod with the bases loaded.
Anyway, I doubt reliving the game inning by inning would be all that cathartic, so let’s move on to the post-game comments:
The Texan righthander says that physically he’s fine. Which is entirely unsurprising, whether it’s true or it isn’t. For my part, I say that the available evidence contradicts that claim. Easily.
When Saunders is throwing harder (96) than Beckett (topped out at 94, sat at 92) according to the Fenway Park gun there’s something wrong. Set aside the results for a minute – while he labored in giving up nine hits over five, Beckett did keep us in the game – he just didn’t look like Beckett. His velocity was down, his command was poor, and he – like Matsuzaka the start before him – could not put batters away. Beckett started the game with one fastball in his first ten pitches and couldn’t cover first base; if that doesn’t scream “problem” I don’t know what would. If you asked the Angels privately, I would bet you a case of Smithwick’s that each and every one of them believes Beckett is still hurt.
Which begs certain questions: if he’s not healthy – as I assume that he’s not – why not hold him for a Game 5 start and throw either Byrd or Wake? Lose that and you would then have to take one of two pitched by Lester and a more fully rested Beckett. And if he’s not healthy, why was he starting at all? Not only were we behind the 8 ball all day, the start cost us seven innings and 109 pitches from the pen. If last night was a consequence of Beckett trying to do too much and misleading his manager and the training staff as to his physical readiness, it’ll be a shame.
Much maligned by yours truly during the season, the relievers have pitched brilliantly for the most part. They haven’t been perfect, and have been as lucky (think Vlad’s first-to-third try) as they have been good, but last night was an excellent illustration of their turnaround: seven innings, three hits, one run. Can’t ask for any more than that.
As you’ve no doubt read by now, Lowell looked bad last night. What was not properly conveyed was precisely how bad he looked. Lowell, who’s building a strong case as the toughest player in the league, is a shell at present, and moves as if he were hollow. His range is literally measured in feet, and his at bats are tough to watch. I have nothing but respect for him trying to play – and for gutting out the late innings walk last night – but we need to ask whether at the 30 or 40% he’s playing at currently, he’s an asset or a liability. Painful as that might be for our club.
Just for the record, I don’t blame Lopez for last night’s outcome. His game is not facing righties, and that’s what got to him in the 12th. Why Lopez over Byrd? I didn’t quite follow Tito’s explanation, but I think it was this: Lopez needed to face the lefties coming up. If you use Byrd, he’s on in for a few batters, then it would Lopez’ turn, at which point you’ve burned your long guy (Wake was not an option because Cash had been erased). Seems a little circuitous logic-wise, but frankly there aren’t many great options in 12th inning of a playoff game in which your starter only went five.
Nor, for the record, do I hold Lowrie accountable for last night. Bases loaded, two out, facing one of the better closers in the game, the kid put a good swing on the ball, which is all that you can reasonably ask. The ball just hung up a few seconds long.
Giving credit where credit is due, as I’ve been a critic, MDC looked positively overpowering last night. He threw his change for strikes and made Anderson, in particular, look bad swinging through it. And while I don’t believe it was intentional, I’m glad he hit Napoli. The Angels catcher was far too comfortable in the box.
Speaking of, I’m not sure if it was obvious on the telecast, but his first home run (I was in the dude’s room for the second) was an absolute bomb. The ball was crushed, and there was less than no doubt about it, even as it came off the bat.
I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but one common observation last night was that the Large Father just isn’t the same. He hit the ball hard a few times – flying out short of the warning track in his first two at bats – and walked late, but he’s clearly not the threat he was last season, or even early this one. Which is a problem.
The little guy actively took upon himself the blame for last night’s loss, which was good but hardly necessary. True, he remains hitless, and didn’t deliver in two or three spots last night that might have won us the ballgame. But a.) he’s not the only problem on offense, b.) he’s been unlucky on a few balls that were hit and hit well, and c.) they’re not giving him a lot to hit.
Was absolute nails last night. He located a fastball with good velocity (topping at 94), dropped in a mid 70’s hook, and threw in a slider for good measure. None of our guys looked comfortable, and none had particularly good at bats. That’s the good news for the Angels fan; the bad news is that he was leaned on heavily, throwing 28 pitches in 2 and a third IP. His availability tonight, presumably, will be limited.
Are easily outdoing their Red Sox counterparts this series. Like our ’07 Papi/Manny combo, they’re hitting pretty much everything (averages are .538 and .583, respectively). They are, frankly, terrifying at the moment.
A few people were surprised that Tito pinch hit for Varitek. I would remind those people that a.) Tito manages – again, as he should – for the moment in the postseason, and that b.) Varitek can still hit lefties with moderate success, but is having serious trouble hitting from the left side of the plate. The move, therefore, was nothing more than a logical decision, if one that didn’t pay off.
What to expect tonight? It’s all on the starters. With an offday tomorrow if the series goes to five games, both clubs will have some flexibility with their respective ‘pens. But not a lot: the workloads have been heavy. Last night alone, the Angels’s relief core all threw around 30 pitches (Arredondo 28, Shields 28, K-Rod 33). Our workload wasn’t that much lighter (Delcarmen 25, Oki 17, Masterson 16, Pap 31, Lopez 20). If one starter goes five against the other’s seven or eight, he’s going to lose.
The good news is that we’re throwing the ace of our postseason tonight in Lester; the bad news is that the Angels are doing the same. True, Lackey’s history at Fenway is less than stellar (I’m on a train and can’t look up the numbers), but his near no-hitter this year was pitched there, unless I’m mistaken.
In other words, I expect another good, tight ballgame. Which makes for good TV. But I have to be honest: I’d settle for a big margin Sox win.
P.S. One thing to keep on the back of your mind: might Beckett be available for an inning or two out of the pen on Wed, if necessary?
Had we entered the break mired in second place, I would have made some statements to the effect that the standings at the All Star break count for little. So I’m little inclined to make too much of a half game lead. Particularly after a game in which Matsuzaka threw only 68 of 115 pitches for strikes and the offense left 20 men on base.
Still, first tastes better than second. It’s not often you make up five games in a week. And while it’ll ultimately be of minimal import, the fact that the Tampa kids are hearing footsteps is not terrible news.
Lest we get carried away, bear in mind that our club yet has serious problems. Even as we slightly underperform our Pythagorean expectations and Tampa outperforms theirs, as the Joy of Sox notes.
The bullpen is yet unreliable, as last night’s contest reminds us, and our offense – the explosions against the Twins and O’s this week aside – is streaky. Masterson should help the former and the Large Father the latter (knock on wood), but I assume that Theo and folks are working the phones.
Yes, Tampa just dropped seven games in a row, but should they, for example, pull off a Murton and Street trade, we may have a problem.
Anyway, on to this week’s ICYHBKUWCE…
A number of you have suggested that Ellsbury’s struggles of late might be attributable to his June 5th injury; the diving catch that resulted in a sprained wrist. You may be right.
It’s not conclusive, but the before and after numbers leave open the possibility of a connection:
Granted, it’s 60 fewer at bats, but still. Here’s hoping the break does the kid some good.
Though he hasn’t gotten too much ink here, Lars Anderson is, according to many, both our best power prospect and our best first base prospect. A couple of updates on his progress:
Sending big Lars Anderson to the hitter’s haven that is Lancaster figured to produce some fireworks, and Anderson hasn’t disappointed. As hot as Anderson was in June, when he hit .360/.440/.490, he’s been even better in July. Anderson has already cracked four home runs in nine games this month, three of which have come away from Lancaster. He did more than hit for power this week, as Anderson reached base at least once in every game and strung together four multi-hit games. For the season, Anderson is batting .324/.416/.529, ranking him fifth in the league in average and third in on-base percentage.
Anderson currently ranks seventh in the California League with a .916 OPS, with a complete line of .317/.411/.505, 18 doubles, 11 homers, 45 walks, and 57 strikeouts in 281 at-bats. The league OPS is .744, so his OPS is 23 percent above league context. A left-handed hitter, he’s destroying southpaws to the tune of .383/.462/.617. Against right-handers he’s at .290/.391/.460, an interesting reverse platoon split but one that likely indicates he won’t have to be platoooned at higher levels. I like the high walk rate along with reasonable strikeouts. His home run power may be a bit less than you’d expect from a 6-4, 215 pounder, although he’s obviously dangerous and his home run power is expected to continue to increase. He is still just 20 years old.
On the negative side, Anderson has a sharp home/road split, .359/.451/.579 at home in the friendly confines of Lancaster, .272/.365/.426 on the road. On the other hand, the home/road split has lessened of late. He spent some time on the DL with a sore wrist in May, and has been blistering hot since returning to action in June, hitting .369/.450/.533 in 30 games since returning from the wrist injury.
It’ll be interesting to see if the presence of Anderson influences our appetite for Texeira, if or when he becomes available as a free agent.
Lowrie vs Lugo
Five days ago, Allen Chace over at Over the Monster said this with respect to our shortstop situation:
I don’t think we’re going to see any changes real soon. Lugo is the starter for the time being. There are no terribly appetizing trade options, so until Lugo’s OBP goes down below, say, .330, we’re not going to see Lowrie brought up and given a shot.
At the time, I agreed. And we all know what’s happened since: Lugo strained or tore – depending on who you believe – his quad, and is out for four to six weeks. And just like that, Lowrie replaces Lugo.
The question is for how long? Probably four to six weeks. Particularly if Lowrie is as minimal a factor as he was in yesterday’s contest. Which could be a concern, as he’s been in something of a funk to open July, putting up a .176/.275/.294 down at Pawtucket in 9 games this month.
But what if the kid plays well? Lugo lamented his injury, claiming that he’d just “found his swing.” Which is interesting, since July was shaping up to be his worst month since April (.259/.323/.259). When he comes back, assuming he won’t be a hundred percent in the field, the only thing arguing in his favor for playing time will be the inexplicable $9M we’re paying him.
Odds are Lugo will get his job back. And those of you that have been around a while know that Lugo’s not exactly my favorite player. But I do think it’s worth questioning how far we’re going to go with a shortstop that was essentially terrible before he tore his quad.
Last week, I expressed surprise that Buchholz hadn’t been brought up and Masterson shifted to the pen. Well, it looks as if I was a week early, because Bucky’s back and Masterson will be soon. And none too soon, though he’s not likely to help our walk numbers out there.
When I first heard the news, my first thought was – predictably – why not lsat week? My second, however, was the question Kevin Thomas is asking: “When Masterson returns to Boston, which reliever goes?”
Looking at the staff, I think the conclusion is obvious:
Barring an injury, I think Hansen’s not long for our pen. If he was able to throw even a few more strikes, I might argue for a Timlin exit (as I’m of the opinion that there’s a giant fork sticking out of his back), but the young reliever’s not giving me a leg to stand on.
Couple Timlin’s marginally improved performance since his return from the DL (4 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 3 K, 1 BB) with Hansen’s ongoing inability to throw balls over the plate (26.1 IP, 25 H, 18BB, 22Ks), and I can’t see anyone but Hansen being sent down.
Not least because he’s the only one that actually can be sent down, as far as I know.
Given the abovementioned issues with the roster, the Sox front office is undoubtedly doing the due diligence on who’s available. While that subject is covered in detail elsewhere – MLB Trade Rumors is always my first stop – the question of who we’re likely to be asked for is less well documented. Fortunately, Sean McAdam’s broken that down for us. His list looks like this:
Next Level Down
Could Draw Interest
There are probably a couple of other players that would be of potential interest – Michael Almanzar, Bubba Bell, or even George Kottaras – that’s a reasonably complete list.
The one thing I haven’t heard many people discuss: Bowden might be overvalued at the moment, his calf injury notwithstanding. Given his performance at Double A, he might be considered by other clubs an elite pitching prospect, but his ceiling is likely considerably lower than that. That doesn’t mean you trade him; pitchers of his caliber don’t grow on trees. But it may make him more of a tradeable commodity than he would otherwise be, particularly in a deal involving young catching talent.
One of the conversations I’ve been having over and over concern’s Varitek’s future. On the one hand, he’s been absolutely miserable with the bat this season. Out of 19 MLB catchers that have seen 250+ ABs this year, Tek is 17th in average,16th in OBP, and SLG. That’s not good.
On the other hand, there’s his celebrated reputation for working with pitchers, his tenure and stature with the club, and the fact that catching around the majors is horribly scarce.
Between those two positions, you might think, lies a compromise path that would keep our captain in a Red Sox uni for the remainder of his career.
According to Hacks with Haggs, however, Peter Gammons is skeptical:
He’s a 36-year-old guy who has played his heart out for a long time. He was not exactly a gifted hitter. He really hasn’t had a good offensive year since 2005, so where is he at this point in his career. What worries me about this for the Red Sox is that this becomes ugly as it comes to the end of the year and he approaches free agency.
I know we have people saying you have to sign him no matter what, but if you have Jason Varitek for four years and $40 million or you have Brian Schneider for one-year and $3 million, there’s no question you take Brian Schneider for the $3 million in my mind.
As much as I really like Varitek, he’s at the point where you really worry about where he’s going to be. Two years at $7 million is fine, but I think that Scott Boras is going to convince someone out there that he’ll make the difference with the pitching staff. And you’ve always got the Mets. They offered Jorge Posada five years at the age of 36, which is one of the most laughable offers of all time. I think if they get down to the end of the year and there’s no progress and Scott is looking for those four years. Jason is a very loyal guy to Scott and it could create a chasm between Varitek and the club that could be a problem coming down the stretch.
It’s not so much that I’m wedded to the idea of having Varitek; it’s more that I don’t know who we’d replace him with.
Farewell, Bobby Murcer. Though a Yankee, you were by all accounts a classy individual and a credit to your city and club. RIP.
Running late, as usual. Blame the Red Sox this time. What would you have me do: watch the Sox/Yankees or crank out the ICYHBKUWCE that I owe you?
In the meantime, I’m not going to say anything about our play of late so as not to jinx us. But given that there’s another tilt with the empire coming in a littler over an hour, I’m going to keep this short and sweet. This week’s edition of In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events is player focused.
Enjoy, or at least read it.
Heard anyone complaining about his defense, and/or the impact it’s having on Timmeh? Me neither. The Sox should, of course, be actively on the market for catching because one injury to Tek and we’re in serious trouble (Brown and Kottaras’ success notwithstanding – more on that in a follow up). We could, in fact, find ourselves in a similar position to the Empire.
It’s not exactly throwing heat, but Colon – sidelined by an oblique injury – is at least back to playing catch.
Cora, on the other hand, was DL’d with Thurston replacing him. If Lowell wasn’t already out, I’d be less concerned about this, as it would offer Lowrie an opportunity to get his feet wet in an uber-utility role.
Yes, his inconsistency is driving me crazy too. This past weekend, he gets couple of big outs against the Yankees. Last night? 2 free passes in an inning, and one hit by pitch scoring the at-the-time tying run.
How a pitcher with his stuff gets into so many 3 ball counts is beyond me, but until his command is better he won’t be the relief ace that we want him to be. Anyone else think it was interesting to see him replaced by Aardsma last night – particularly given their similarity?
Frustrating as MDC might be, however, it’s nothing compared to Lester. As Zach Hayes over at Fire Brand summarizes:
So far this season, Lester has thrown one outstanding start against weak hitting Oakland, one below average start against Detroit and two bad starts in Japan vs. the A’s and Monday at Cleveland. Lester isn’t being consistently pounded for home runs and hits (just two big ones- Emil Brown and Marcus Thames), but he’s constantly falling behind in the count, throwing all over the zone and putting too many free runners on base.
Remember when I asked whether his Oakland start was an adjustment or mere statistical variation? Well, we may not know the answer yet, but the initial data isn’t promising. It’s so unpromising, in fact, that Hayes asks whether or not it might be Lester rather than Buchholz that’s sent down when/if Colon arrives.
My own take is that Buchholz will be headed back down, unless Lester completely and utterly melts down, for the simple reason of innings. Buchholz’ professional innings totals? 22.2 IP Majors, 285.2 Minors. Lester? 144.1 IP Majors, 483.2 minors.
Lester’s far better positioned than Buchholz to handle a full season’s workload at this point, cancer or no cancer.
Not much to relate here: the swelling’s down, but there’s been no further progress.
Congrats to the rookie for his first appearance, first major league hit, and first major league three RBI game. Particularly since the latter proved the difference in the ballgame. Oh, if you see him, wish him a happy birthday tomorrow.
I can’t say – apart from the hits collected – that I’ve seen much to convince me Papi’s back. But I have to say that the comment that Evan over at Fire Brand collected from Pizza Cutter was enlightening:
In general, Ortiz hits a lot of foul balls (including two strike fouls!) although he’s a power hitter and power hitters are generally high risk/high reward swingers, hence a lot of K’s and a lot of HR’s. Part of the reason that he’s so good is that his swing allows him to recover from a big swing midway and at least poke a ball foul to stay alive.
David Ortiz’s “slump” is nothing more than a run of bad luck. BABIP is generally within control of the hitter and Ortiz, a lifetime .310 BABIP hitter is hitting .114 this year…As much as I’d love it if he would politely hit like this for the next few months (or at least until the Red Sox get out of Cleveland tonight), I wouldn’t bet on that happening unless there’s some sort of (major) injury that we don’t know about. Patience is a virtue. Y’all waited 86 years. Ortiz will be fine.
Worth thinking about; I should have looked up his BABIP data myself.
Speaking of slumps, remember when everyone wrote him off after Japan/LA? I do.
I’ve received emails from a few of you regarding the past two games. Which is cool. But thus far, I haven’t seen anyone make my point for me: that the really interesting things about the past two games had nothing to do with Papi. Or Tek.
While I still think some of the projections for the Smiling One are optimistic – occasionally aggressively so – it was obvious to more or less the whole town that he wasn’t going to go ofer the season. Or even the week. And that the power would come. Likewise, He Who is Part Tree probably wasn’t going to be striking out better than 80% of the time for the season, old as he may be.
Just as obviously, Matsuzaka and Lester aren’t going to throw 2 and 3 hitters every time out. Two starts doesn’t even begin to describe the microscopic nature of the sample size.
But I’m curious, I’ll admit. Chuck the results; the A’s aren’t exactly this year’s version of this year’s Tigers lineup (Bannister’s impressive shutout notwithstanding).
What I’m more interested in was the approach of both starters. Both kids – I’m offically allowed to use that term as both are younger than me – followed the Red Sox mandate under Epstein, Farrell and co of pounding the strikezone. I haven’t run the numbers, because my connection here at the airport is moderately to heavily cranky, so take this with a shaker or two of salt, but it seemed that both pitchers threw a higher percentage of fastballs than in previous starts. Where higher reads as much higher.
Which is interesting, given that the conventional wisdom regarding both pitchers in the offseason – ratcheted up a notch after their respective season openers – was that each was unnecessarily tentative. Reluctant to trust their stuff and the defense behind them. That both, in other words, were not pitching up to their talent levels.
One start does not a season or career make, of course. Let alone one against a club not expected to contend in the weakest division in the big boy pants AL. But I’m still struggling to contain my hope – good thing, maybe the best of things it may be – that yesterday’s outings are harbingers of an important adjustment for these two.
Mostly because if they can but approximate the performances they gave yesterday, and Beckett is Beckett, we’re not in bad shape.
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:
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.
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.
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.