Beckett Not Being Beckett: The Game 3 Reaction

Fenway says hi

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:

  • Beckett:
    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.

  • Bullpen:
    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.
  • Lowell:
    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.
  • Lopez:
    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.
  • Lowrie:
    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.
  • MDC:
    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.
  • Napoli:
    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.
  • Papi:
    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.
  • Pedroia:
    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.
  • Shields:
    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.
  • Texeira/Vlad:
    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.
  • Varitek:
    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?

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

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Danger, originally uploaded by Clearly Ambiguous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, on to this week’s roundup.

The Bullpen Hopefuls

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

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

The Catching Hopefuls

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

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

The Good and Bad Mechanics

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

The Kids

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

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

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

Bullpen Now, Bullpen Later

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Called Strike, originally uploaded by sogrady.

As of yesterday, our bullpen was the not-so-proud owner of a collective 5.46 ERA. In 28 IP, we’d struck out 26, which is good, but walked 13, which is not so good. Fully half of those 26 K’s belonged to two pitchers: Paps (7), which you probably guessed, and Aardsma (6), which you may not have.

It’s for that reason alone – in spite of their usage in yesterday’s game (Aardsma preceded Corey) – that I suspect that this commenter over on Fire Brand is correct. Corey, in my mind, will be the one to go.

It’s the move I would make, because all things being equal you favor the strikeout pitcher. And things are hardly equal here. While Aardsma’s control has been characteristically poor – 4 BB’s in 4.1 IP – he at least has the strikeouts and a WHIP below 2. Corey has only walked 1 in the same span, but have give up 9 hits to Aardsma’s 2, and 7 runs to Aardsma’s 2.

So – assuming that Lopez is still protected from on high by the powers of darkness (his numbers are worse than either of the other two) – Corey should be the one to go.

The question is whether or not this will represent a real improvement, as Orsillo asserted on tonight’s telecast.

Certainly Timlin can be expected to provide higher quality outings that Corey has in his 6 appearances to date, but neither should we be expecting a great deal from the 42 year old reliever. PECOTA sees him throwing only 45 innings, and putting up a 4.40 ERA in that time (vs 3.80 in ’07).

The bullpen savior, he is not likely to be.

Stabilizer, maybe. His spring numbers show the same old Timlin, just with more contact. He doesn’t walk many – 1 in 8 IP over 7 outings – but he’s pitching more to contact, with 9 bits to go along with that walk.

At the very least, he’ll be an arm we can throw out against the Yankees in the middle innings that will throw strikes, and that’s certainly worth something.

However Timlin pitches, it seems clear that we’re going to need contributions from elsewhere, lest we run Oki into the ground yet again. Even more because of Buchholz and Lester’s innings caps.

But with credible bullpen arms overvalued at the moment, short of a Crisp trade, where might they come from? The minors, in all likelihood.

Given the ‘pen’s performance of late, I’ve been keeping an eye on some of the likely candidates for bullpen innings and the news on that front – unlike with the big club arms – is mostly good.

I was actually visiting Pawtucket’s site just yesterday to check in on Hansen, and apparently Kevin Thomas was thinking along the same lines. With the obvious small sample size caveat, it’s worth noting that in 3 appearances covering 6 IP, Hansen’s K’d 8, walked 3, and allowed 1 hit. It’s 3 games, yes, but it’s the best 3 game stretch he’s had since the tail end of last season.

One level down, Justin Masterson is actually outperforming Hansen, as the BA guys note. In 2 starts and 9 innings, Masterson’s walked none and K’d 10 against 5 hits. In his second outing, Masterson went 5, striking out 7. All of the other outs? Groundballs. Of the 2 hits he allowed, one was a groundball single.

Does this mean, as some are beginning to argue, that we should dump not only Corey but Aardsma too, in favor of the young arms?

No. Barring injury, Hansen and Masterson will remain as options for our bullpen, while once Aardsma, Corey or even Lopez are gone, they’re gone for good as all are out of options. So rather than prematurely divest ourselves of potential assets, it makes more sense to wait and see what, if anything, Aardsma and the rest of the current relief staff can provide us, while gaining additional insight into the performances of the likes of Masterson and Hansen. As well as both of the latter two have pitched, they are both exceedingly young, and we’ve only a handful of games to judge them by.

In a month or two, I might change my tune, but for now I think we try to keep the ship afloat with the pieces we’ve got, while assessing the readiness of potential help down the line.

Update: Rob Bradford confirms that Corey was the roster casualty, DFA’d after the game to make room for Timlin.