Why the Red Sox Front Office is Doing What it's Doing

If not for the good folks from Baseball Prospectus – via ESPN – I’m not sure who would be putting our front office into context. It seems clear that the Boston writers, with but a few exceptions, can’t be trusted with the task. Witness their breathless, hysterical escalation of the non-news of Theo’s “bridge” comment. Or, more importantly, their continuing inability to explain the big picture of how the front office operates.

For the casual, and perhaps not-so-casual fan, then, I offer the following question and answer series. Cribbed in part from conversations I’ve had with people less interested in obsessed with the club than yours truly, it attempts to answer that simple question: what is the front office is doing, and why?

Q: Ok, so what is the front office’s plan? Mazz says it’s “pitching and defense.” Is that true?
A: The truth is that there is no plan. Or more correctly, there is no single plan. The front office seems to recognize that the composition of championship clubs varies, as the material differences between our 2004 and 2007 clubs demonstrate quite adequately. Rather than have a fixed view of roster construction, then, the front office will dynamically readjust their plans based on the players on hand, those available via trade or free agency, and perhaps most importantly, inefficiencies in the current marketplace.

Q: So it’s not always going to be “pitching and defense?”
A: No. Bill James told us as much.

“I believe it’s accurate to say that it was our perception that that was where the value was in this year’s market, in this year’s set of conditions. It also had to do with the needs of last year’s team. Last year’s team needed some defense, we had to invest in some defense, and the market seemed pretty good for it. But to say that’s the new thing and it will be that way from now on, I wouldn’t do that…

I think we understand we’ve had good defensive metrics now for five or six years. When I started with the Red Sox we didn’t have them, we had kind of primitive ones. We’ve got pretty good ones now for several years. It has reached the point at which not only us but a lot of teams are confident about that now and are starting to let the money flow toward gloves, which is a good thing…

So I wouldn’t say it’s a one-year correction at all. But I also think next year’s market will be entirely different. It may well be that next year, we’ll look at our team and say we need to put our money in thunder.”

Q: They’ll adapt, in other words?
A: Precisely. The Lackey signing is Exhibit A here. As Theo has acknowledged, the Red Sox did not head into the offseason with the intent of pursuing that pitcher. When the opportunity presented itself, however, the Red Sox considered it, and layered it into a series of other moves that took the club in a different direction. It might have been Plan C or D, rather than Plan A.

Q: How is this different than what other clubs do?
A: Well, it’s not that different from what enlightened clubs might do, but it’s certainly not what the writers expect.

Q: How do you mean?
A: Consider how many times writers talked about our offensive shortcomings this winter. What was their expectation? That we would sign either Jason Bay or Matt Holliday – had to, in fact – because our needs were clearly on offense. That was their expected result. And what was the actual result? We signed neither, allocating our dollars instead to the best free agent pitcher available, strengthening an area of the club that wasn’t terribly weak to begin with.

Q: Why not pursue offense?
A: It’s not that they didn’t. We know that they bid for Bay, and we’re told that they were in on Holliday as well. But the front office doesn’t let artificial perceptions of need impact their judgments about player value. Meaning that they’ll pay Bay or Holliday this season, or a Teixeira last season, what they believe he’s worth – no more than that. Rather than overpay a Bay or Holliday, they’ll improve the club in other ways that they believe represent better value.

Q: So there’s really no plan?
A: If anything, the front office seems focused on what Theo talks about above: balance. They want to have good pitching, good defense, and good offense. But they appreciate the reality that all of those areas factor into winning, not just offense, so if they can’t improve in one area at a reasonable cost, they can improve in others and still achieve the goal of improving the club. Ultimately, they want to get good value for their investment, whatever that may be.

Overpaying an offensive player just because you may need offense doesn’t represent good value.

Q: But aren’t there times when they can’t improve in other areas? Where they’ll be desperate and have to, say, field a shortstop?
A: Certainly. That’s when you end up with a Julio Lugo on a four year deal. After that debacle, I’d guess that the front office will do everything in its power to avoid finding itself over a barrel in that fashion again. Even the Mike Lowell deal can be viewed similarly: without any good internal third base candidates and a poor market, they didn’t have much choice but to commit more years to Lowell than was prudent. And now, like Lugo, they’re likely to be paying him to play elsewhere.

In a perfect world, the Sox development system over time has viable candidates at multiple positions, so that they’re more frequently dealing from a position of strength when it comes to negotiations. But building that complete a system takes time.

Q: Let’s go back to value: how does the club measure that?
A: Based on their statistical analysis and their scouting assessments, presumably. But the Red Sox are also very cognizant of market influences on value.

Q: What impact does the market have on value? Isn’t a player universally valued? A 30 homer guy is a 30 homer guy, right?
A: Not at all. Market perceptions of value vary consistently, and the Red Sox front office, like their more enlightened counterparts with other clubs, look constantly for inefficiencies in the valuation process.

Q: Can you provide an example?
A: Sure. Moneyball is the canoical reference point here.

Q: Right: OBP is undervalued, right?
A: Wrong. First of all, Moneyball was not about OBP. Moneyball was about nothing more or less than the inefficiency of markets. Specifically baseball. The idea that it’s a book about OBP has been propagated by the less open-minded of the mainstream baseball media. Which is to say, most of them. As one of the exceptions, Chad Finn, observes:

There is an element of mean-spirited giddiness among those who didn’t much approve of [Billy Beane] being awarded the “smartest man in baseball” title belt after the success of Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball.” Not coincidentally, those who dismiss or discredit Beane typically tend to be the same shortsighted wretches who believe the book’s theme is about acquiring players who walk a lot. Must be easier to pick at the perceived smartest guy in the room and cheer for his comeuppance than it is to open your own mind and overcome those preconceived notions.

But more importantly, OBP isn’t undervalued, OBP was undervalued. Big difference. Prior to the publication of that book, and for a few years after its release, players that got on base were not properly valued by the marketplace. But, the Kansas City Royals aside, OBP players, in general, are getting the money they deserve. According to the market, at any rate.

This means that there are fewer inefficiencies to be exploited there, versus a few years ago. The days of getting high OBP players for pennies on the dollar are, in all likelihood, over.

Q: So, what, we don’t want high OBP players anymore?
A: Not at all. The ability to get on base is one of the single most important offensive skills players can have, so the Red Sox will continue to try acquire players with those skills, and cultivate it in the players that they draft and develop. What they won’t be able to do any longer, because the valuation of OBP is better, is acquire those players as efficiently (read: cheaply) as they have in the past.

Q: What do they do, then? What kind of player represents the new value?
A: That won’t be clear for a year or two, but the early indications are that the club believes that defense is currently undervalued. As the signings of Beltre, Cameron, et al would indicate. As Dave Cameron explains, this is why clubs like ours look more old school, than Moneyball.

Epstein and James have traded on-base percentage for ultimate zone ratings, believing that the market has over-corrected and is now undervaluing a player’s ability to save runs in the field. They aren’t the only ones — the Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners, and yes, even Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics are also on the bandwagon.

The question is, particularly with newer and better defensive performance data about to be available, how much longer defense will be undervalued. When defense is properly valued, what’s next? Cameron’s guessing older players, which makes sense, because the value of younger players has never been higher, and older players are finding it a more and more difficult economic environment.

But we’ll see.

Q: Where does budget come into this? Mazz, CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty and others have argued in the past that the Red Sox are a big market club behaving as if it’s only got small market dollars. Is that fair?
A: I don’t think so, no. The Red Sox are, to be sure, applying the prinicples that have made small market teams competitive to their larger organization, but they are not at all shy with the dollars when – and this is the important part – it represents good value, in their opinion. They won’t spend just to spend, even if that’s what people want.

Q: Example?
A: Sure. Holliday was a player that the Red Sox liked, by all accounts. But they recognize that he isn’t a great player, just a very good one. So when he expected to be paid like a great player, they moved on. And when the dollars they had budgeted for Teixeira proved unnecessary because that player signed elsewhere, they didn’t simply throw that money at a player of lesser ability. That’s not being cheap, that’s not being stupid.

Q: But can’t the Red Sox, as a big market club, afford a couple million extra here and there?
A: Absolutely. But quite often the discrepancies between the player and agent’s opinion of his value and the Red Sox’s aren’t off by a couple of million – they’re off by tens of millions. Think of Pedro Martinez who wanted a fourth year, and got it – bless him, delivering about 1.5 seasons worth of performance for that. That’s a significant difference, in capital terms. Holliday, more recently, got $122M from the Cardinals. The Red Sox were prepared to pay him Lackey’s money, or $82M. The differences, then, aren’t small. And while the Red Sox, as a large market team, might not be sunk if a $120M player gets hurt or underperforms, it would unquestionably negatively impact the product on the field and, more importantly, it’s just not a good way to spend your money.

Better to take that extra money and plow it back into more efficient marketplaces, from the club’s perspective, such as the draft.

Q: So the philosophy, then, is to acquire the best players you can at the most reasonable cost?
A: That’s it in a nutshell, yes. Whether you’re the Marlins or the Yankees, you want to assemble the best possible roster at the lowest possible cost. Because every dollar you overpay is a dollar that can’t be invested, elsewhere. Money is not infinite, even for the Yankees. True, the marginal values of players, wins and such differ based on context – a good reliever likely has more value to a contending club than to one in last place, for example – but overpaying is bad business. And as Steinbrenner discovered, or rather Michaels and Cashman have educated him on, bought teams correlate weakly with success.

Q: Let’s go back to the draft: are there market inefficiencies to exploit there?
A: Absolutely. First, it’s an artificially constrained marketplace, unlike the free agency foreign born players have access to. Second, the draft dynamics introduce certain inefficiencies that have been heavily exploited by clubs like the Red Sox. MLB has recommended acquisition costs for slots in the draft; the first pick should get X, the second Y, etc. Unsurprisingly, the players and agents often have differing opinions on the player’s value. The question for a club, then, is whether you will pay above slot bonuses to talent, or whether you will rigidly follow MLB’s guidelines. The Red Sox have, for several years, ignored the recommended slotting, and have done well in the draft. Clubs like Houston Astros, however, have stuck to the slotting guidelines, and their minor league system is barren as a result.

In essence, the draft is just another market inefficiency that the Red Sox – and other clubs, to be sure – have identified and are actively exploiting. To their benefit, and to ours.

Q: All of this just sounds like economics.
A: Probably because it is. It’s essentially Econ 101: asset valuation, exploitation of market inefficiencies, etc.

Q: So can we expect a playoff berth every year running the team on economic principles rather than traditional baseball practices?
A: Annual playoff berths actually are an unrealistic expectation. Better to judge by the process than the outcome, on balance. If we fail to make the playoffs in a given year – as in 2006 – this doesn’t mean the process is flawed.

That said, in a small sample size – Theo’s only been in charge since November 2002, remember – the results have been generally positive. Two more World Series titles than in the previous eighty years combined, and a playoff berth every year but one.

Q: Why don’t fans understand all of this?
A: Mostly because casual fans only have so much time to follow the team, and leave the big picture contextualizing to those who follow it professionally. And those professionals are letting the fans down. The media can’t explain what the front office is doing to the fans because they don’t understand it themselves. It’s easier to write a story about how the Sox are cheap for “replacing” Bay with Cameron and Hermida. It takes a little more time, effort and education to put the economics and statistics into context, because you’d have to actually study, you know, economics and statistics. And most of the writers in our market have put about as much effort into learning those subjects as they have learning Spanish to communicate more effectively with an increasingly Latin heavy population of baseball players.

The good news is that with sites like Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, Sons of Sam Horn and others, the general level of discourse and discussion about baseball is rising quickly. More and more fans appreciate the better understanding we have of today’s game, which means the audience for the kind of uneducated and sensationalistic coverage typical of the Murray Chass’ of the world is smaller by the day. And not a moment too soon.

In Case You Were Wondering…

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Lowrie Steps Out, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

Where I’ve been, remember that it’s Memorial Day weekend and both the dock and the boat are in the water. And yet I’m still here slaving away over a hot laptop.

So don’t say I never did anything for you.

Anyway, answers to some other questions, In Case You Were Wondering.

How the Red Sox survived the poor performance of the rotation in the early going…

The answer – or part of it – is schedule strength. As of May 14th, the Red Sox had played the second easiest schedule in the majors according to Jason Stark, as measured by their opponents winning percentage (.45248). The Angels were the only club over .500.

On the good news front, we’re done with our left coast swings already.

Whether Matt Garza just gives us a hard time…

The answer is…sort of. As ESPN’s Christopher Harris noted:

It’s just too bad [Garza] can’t face the Red Sox every time out. After dominating them in the ALCS last year, Garza has given up four runs in 21 2/3 innings against Boston so far in 2009, giving him a 1.66 ERA against them and a 5.13 ERA against everyone else. (His non-Boston WHIP is a respectable 1.22, though not quite as good as his versus-Boston 0.83.)

On the good news front, we won’t see him again until at least August.

When Lars Anderson might be ready…

The answer is: not for a little while yet. Through 27 games, his line was .232/.304/.357 for a .661, not what you want out of a corner infielder. Or a utility infielder, really.

On the good news front, he’s added eighty points of OPS since (.738 entering today) and John Sickels isn’t particularly concerned about the slow start. Nor is, for that matter, Director of Player Development Mike Hazen:

“He’s just hit a slide here,” Hazen said. “Before that, he was fine. He’s doing fine. Everybody goes through the lull at some point during the year. It’s still the time in the season you can go 0 for 5 and your batting average drops 30 points. He’ll be fine.”

Whether or not Nick Cafardo has changed his tune on trading Clay Buchholz…

The answer is: unclear. But Cafardo is unambiguous when expressing his opinion that Buchholz is where he ought to be down in Pawtucket:

A lot of clamoring to get Buchholz up to the big leagues, but what’s the hurry? One of the problems with young pitchers these days is that they haven’t had enough seasoning. There was a time when teams felt a kid had to pitch at least 500 minor league innings. Buchholz has pitched 379 1/3 in the minors and 98 2/3 innings in the majors, so he’s just about there. He’s dominated the minors – 26-12 with a 2.30 ERA – but is 5-10 with a 5.56 ERA in 20 major league games. It won’t hurt Buchholz to stay down a tad longer.

On the good news front, even with his last start which was a clunker (4.1 IP, 7H, 3ER, 2BB, 5K), Buchholz is dominating AAA. He’s putting up a 1.60 ERA with 42 strikeouts to balance 12 walks, surrendering seven earned runs in seven starts. I wonder if Penny reads wicked clevah.

Whether we’re going to trade for a bat…

The answer is: not yet, but maybe. Gammons described the situation as follows:

The Red Sox will scout out some potential bats, but right now they are not going to trade Clay Buchholz and won’t discuss Michael Bowden (the two pitchers have a combined 1.04 ERA at Pawtucket) unless the bat they get is very young. The Nationals have let it be known that Nick Johnson is available, but Boston won’t trade Buchholz. The Sox have looked at some outfielders like Ryan Spilborghs and Matt Murton, but the asking price continues to be their young starting pitching. If Ortiz is struggling come July, they may change their minds. Clubs will soon be asking for left-hander Nick Hagadone, who threw 98 this week in extended spring coming off Tommy John, but Boston won’t trade him. They will bring him along carefully and not rush him to the majors this season as a David Price-style September addition.

On the good news front, well, there isn’t much here. Papi needs to figure it out, quickly, because the Sox can only hide him for so long.

If the Sox might not dangle Manny Delcarmen, who seems to have been finally relegated to lower leverage situations by Francona after numerous trials…

The answer is: possibly. Gammons again:

Boston might be willing to move Manny Delcarmen, who might be able to close in the National League, but they’d trade him only for a significant bat.

On the good news front, the Crisp/Ramirez swap has been stellar thus far. In 42 games with the Royals, Coco’s hitting at a .234/.348/.405 clip, which isn’t terrible but not terribly far from replacement level. Ramon Ramirez, on the other hand, has been nothing less than excellent. In 22.2 IP, he’s allowed 2 earned runs while striking out 13 against 7 walks. From the same Gammons’ piece:

One scout says Ramon Ramirez “may be the best trade of the offseason. He could easily close if anything happened to Jonathan Papelbon.”

If we have the worst shortstop defense in the league…

The answer is: pretty much. Of the 47 players that have at least ten games played at the position this season, Nick Green is fourth worst by fielding percentage while Lugo is fifth from the bottom. Green, at least, fares a bit better in range factor – placing 22 out of 47 with a 4.25 (yes, he’s ahead of Jeter) – but Lugo’s abysmal in that category as well, still fifth from the bottom. To be fair to Lugo, however, the Zone Rating metric likes him, putting him #9 to Green’s #31, though one suspects that’s just a sample size error.

Sooner or later this has to be addressed: while there are some clamoring for a bat to replace Papi’s, the shortstop defense is to me the far bigger problem. We’ve proven already that the lineup can score runs while getting essentially zero from Papi, but our defensive efficiency is already costing us runs and – worse – games.

If Lowrie’s return is delayed at all, expect Theo to address this at the All Star break at the latest.

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

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And we’re back. What, you thought I was going to post in the middle of the 11 game winning streak and risk screwing that up?

C’mon. You know better than that.

Sure, that ended a while back, but you try selling a loft and organizing not one, not two, not three but four moves. Anyway, in spite of what ahl and his pink hat taunting might argue, this particular entry was planned over the weekend. In other words, hating on the blog will not get you posts on demand.

Unless they were already planned, in which case it will. Anyway, on to In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events.

General

  • Offense: You know the basics: after an abysmal start, the offense has performed acceptably: 5.78 R/G (2nd in the AL), .371 OBP (1st), .834 (1st), and we’re fifth in home runs and third in stolen bases. This, in spite of essentially nothing from Papi and our catching tandem. While I would not be opposed to an upgrade here – yes, I’d still love to see Miguel Cabrera once Detroit figures out that their local economy isn’t coming back before the End Times – our is capable and reasonably versatile.
  • Pitching: Expected to be a strength, our pitching thus far has been a substantial weakness. The defense, which I’ll get to in a moment, is admittedly doing them no favors, but the rotation has up until the past few starts simply been poor. Raise your hand if you thought Beckett and Lester would own ERAs north of 6 this far in. Matsuzaka making an appearance on the DL was comparatively predictable, as were Masterson’s struggles the last few times out (kid pitchers need to make adjustments). The question is what we do at this point. The answer? Not much, I think. Unless they’re injured, Beckett and Lester will continue to run out every fifth day and they’ll get it figured out, I think. Or at least Beckett will; I’m frankly worried about Lester’s innings jump, just as I was last season and this spring training. Wake’s been stellar thus far, and Penny’s shown enough the past two starts that someone may trade for him. The bullpen – Pap’s struggles aside – has been uniformly excellent, although the rotation’s struggles are burning them out.
  • Defense: There’s no way to sugarcoat it, to paraphrase a recent reality show: we’ve just been bad. In the AL, we’re fourth from the bottom in Fielding Percentage, second from the bottom in caught stealing, and third from the bottom in defensive efficiency. And it’s not all the shortstop position: this one’s a team effort. This is perhaps my greatest concern with the team right now, because it’s going to be difficult to fix the pitching if we keep giving the bad guys extra outs.

Bard

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the kid with the big arm is with the big club. But while I haven’t always been a believer – as it’s not so long ago that the kid had as much idea as I did about where the ball was going – I’m in favor of this promotion. Not that he’s ready to assume Pap’s mantel – he may never be – but it’s definitely time to see what we have. Keith Law apparently agrees:

Tom (Watertown, MA) : You think Daniel Bard has the mental fortitude to succeed in a high-leverage bullpen role in Boston? He seems like the type that may not be cut out for that kind of pressure…

SportsNation Keith Law: That’s been the knock on him, and when I’ve seen him in pro ball, it’s been an issue. I understand he is throwing incredibly well in AAA, so it’s probably time to find out, right? Call him up, start him in mop-up, work him slowly up towards a leveraged role.

Couldn’t agree more. Bard definitely has – as he’s allowed in interviews – much left to learn, but it’s not clear he’d get the necessary instruction in Pawtucket: in 16 IP, he struck out 29 guys, walking 5. Let’s see what he can do for us.

And not have him face Richie Sexon with the bases loaded, preferably.

Buchholz

How about an update for wicked clevah’s personal hobby horse? In 27 IP (he tweaked a hammy), Buchholz has struck out 27 while giving up 12 hits and 4 earned runs for a batting average against of .126 and an ERA of 1.33. The kid’s alright, methinks. The only black mark is that he’s walked 10 guys: he needs to improve that or the big league hitters are going to force him to throw something right down the pipe with all the guys on base.

Lowrie

I’ve heard it suggested here and there that Lowrie could have played through his wrist injury. Gammons’ kind of nips that one in the bud:

Red Sox players take turns checking out the bone removed from Jed Lowrie’s wrist. Huge. “I had [Dustin] Pedroia floating around in there,” says Lowrie. “How in the world did you play?” asks David Ortiz.

Get well soon kid. Seriously. Have you seen our shortstops?

Lugo

What do you want from me? I told you he was bad, and that was when he was healthy. What on earth are we going to do with him if he can’t move?

Masterson

Today’s internet rumor du jour comes courtesy of the fabled “message boards” and Klaw’s ESPN chat:

john (charlotte, nc): I heard today on the “message boards” they’re reports out of Anaheim that the Angels are offering Brandon Wood to the Red Sox for Justin Masterson…if this is even true, does it make sense?

SportsNation Keith Law: Those “message boards” are super-reliable, too. Why would the Red Sox want another corner infielder?

I’ll be honest: I like Masterson a lot, but if I thought Wood could play shortstop I’d have to consider this, at least trying to interest the Angels in Bowden instead. Wood’s not going to hit for average, but he’s a legit power threat. From the answer, though, it would appear that Law thinks he needs to move.

Papi

Yes, I’m watching the same games as you, yes, I’m worried, and no, I have no idea when or if he’ll come out of it. This isn’t like Pedroia or Ellsbury last year, where the age profile and history says it’ll ultimately be fine. I don’t know that he’s cooked, but he just doesn’t look right at the plate. To me or the Baseball Prospectus guys:

Despite hitting more fly balls and liners than in previous seasons, Ortiz hasn’t had the timing to make solid contact and instead has hit just .221 while popping out on more than 16 percent of his fly balls. He has yet to homer, even though we are approaching mid-May in a year when the long ball is flying out of parks everywhere. He hasn’t been able to hit the ball the other way nor take advantage of the Green Monster for wall balls and towering homers, either, because pitchers are challenging him inside, knowing that he’s having trouble catching up. Pitchers also are challenging him earlier in the count; Ortiz is seeing first-pitch strikes 58 percent of the time, right at the league average and well above the rates he had seen the previous few seasons, when he was one of the dominant sluggers in the game.

Ortiz is seeing more pitches per plate appearance, but he isn’t seeing better pitches to hit and is chasing more balls out of the zone. Although he has been able to hit balls out of the zone at the same rate as in previous years, he’s not making good contact on them. The old Ortiz would have sat on those pitches and forced a pitcher to go back in the zone, but with more pitchers putting him in the hole early, he hasn’t been able to control the count.

All told, this means that the league is less afraid of Ortiz than it used to be, and that’s not a good sign for either him or Boston. If you listen to Magadan talk about where the bat-speed issues are coming from, Ortiz still should be able to make the league pay for this indiscretion once he sorts himself out, but the longer he takes to reach that point, the more likely it will be that his bat speed has truly diminished.

All of that said, I’ll go on the record as saying that I think Francona’s doing the right thing, which also just so happens to be the only thing he can do. You can’t take a player like Ortiz and drop him to seventh or eighth, in my opinion, after a month and a half. If we hit June, fine, but let’s see what happens between now and then.

Penny

Remember when I said this?

What will be interesting to me, beyond the obvious “where will Smoltz fit when he’s ready?,” as I’ve already argued that that someone will be a.) injured or b.) rested, is whether or not we’d consider trading one of the pieces to a contender. Not that I’m saying it’s likely, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the following things happen: a.) Penny pitches like a 2/3 starter in the fifth starter spot for the first two months, b.) Buchholz pitches dominant baseball at Pawtucket, c.) Smoltz remains on track for a June re-entry.

Wouldn’t you have to consider making Penny available at the deadline in that scenario? Particularly if the lineup proves to be somewhat to significantly anemic? You’d have Smoltz coming back with Buchholz as insurance. Sure, it’d be better to hang on to them all, but Penny’s not locked up for next year, so you might want to maximize your return on that investment, maybe with an eye toward the longer term (controllable power).

Well, I do. Anyway, Buster Olney’s apparently getting on that bandwagon:

Something to watch: Boston’s pitching surplus might lead to an early-season trade. Clay Buchholz has been absolutely dominant in the minors so far this year, and very soon, Daisuke Matsuzaka will return to the big leagues.

Eventually, it figures that Justin Masterson will go back to the Boston bullpen, and that will create the spot in the rotation for Matsuzaka. If the Red Sox want to create another for Buchholz, they would always have the option of taking offers for a veteran pitcher who has had quality starts in four of his six outings. That guy is Brad Penny, who might be a nice fit for a team like the Milwaukee Brewers or the Mets. That’s all speculation at this point.

Speculation, it might be, but we have holes we need to fix. If Penny or a package including Penny could bring us someone who could at least catch the ball at short, it could be an upgrade of two positions.

One of them – please God – being shortstop.

Am I For Lowrie, Or Against Lugo?

Jed Lowrie, SS, Hitting Third

I admit it. The primary reason I root for Jed Lowrie is my assumption (read: hope) that if he plays well enough, I won’t have to watch Lugo anymore. That’s not the only reason, of course. By all accounts, Lowrie is a good, respectful kid and I generally enjoy seeing products of our farm system perform well. Also, he wears a Red Sox uni.

But my affection for the player is as much a function of my disaffection for the player he’s effectively replacing as anything else. Sad, but true. I’ll root for Lugo, because he plays in Boston, but there’s not much about him as a player that I appreciate.

Which begs the question: how is the kid doing?

The answer? Not too bad. Not too bad at all.

His season numbers are nothing to complain about: .289/.342/.423. For the sake of comparison, at the time of his injury Lugo was at .271/.355/.330. In other words, Lowrie is out-OPSing his competition by just short of a hundred points .765 to .685, and Lugo is also giving up almost twenty points of average.

So far so good.

Better is the fact that Lowrie’s numbers have only improved since the All Star break. With the requisite small sample size warning, over the 16 games he’s appeared in since, I have (meaning I did the math, so take it with a grain or three of salt) Lowrie at .296/.387/.426. An .813 OPS from a rookie shortstop? Yeah, I’ll take that. Provided that he can make at least the routine plays. And it is that question, frankly, that is most relevant, as defense is and always has been the wild card with respect to Lowrie. Most observers believed he’d hit, but opinions on whether he could handle short on an everyday basis have varied widely.

So can he? Hell if I know.

But the early returns look acceptable, in that he’s more than holding his own versus the incumbent Lugo in nearly every defensive metric available. Fielding percentage, we can throw out, because Lugo’s got dozens more chances and thus can’t be expected to match Lowrie’s perfect 1.0. More interestingly, their range factors are identical at 3.70. Zone Rating favors the kid heavily: .905 to .823. Baseball Prospectus favors him, if less obviously, giving Lowrie an even 0 in Fielding Runs Above Replacement (meaning he’s zero runs better than the lowest replacement available) against Lugo’s -2 (he’s not). Last, he have The Hardball Times telling us that by their Revised Zone Rating (RZR), Lowrie is…again…better: .829 to .786.

For those that skimmed all those numbers and weird terms above, the gist is this: Lowrie’s equal to or better than Lugo in every measurable category. Sometimes by sizable margins. Hell, while we’re here, why don’t we see how the kid measures up to Cap’n Jetes? Just for kicks.

BA OBP SLG RF ZR RZR FRAA
Jeter .281 .343 .393 4.18 .837 .865 -12
Lowrie .289 .342 .423 3.70 .905 .829 0

Lowrie wins a few and loses a few, but all around he doesn’t look bad next to the future Hall of Famer. True, the latter is having a very poor season offensively and on the downside of his career defensively; to the extent that the whispers of moving to first have already started (not surprising after his abysmal ’07 defensive showing). But still, Lowrie’s acquitting himself well, I think.

What does this tell us? Not a whole hell of a lot, at least definitively, given the state of today’s defensive metrics (and I’m far from up-to-date on the state of the art in that department). But it certainly suggests that while Lowrie may be perceived as a borderline candidate for the shortstop position, he mans it at least as well as the guy he’s subbing for. Setting the bar with Lugo is, of course, dangerous, but that’s where we’re at.

Meaning that, logically, he should keep his spot when Lugo returns from his injury. Whether or not things actually play out that way remains to be seen; it took Tito an awful long time to make the Ellsbury for Crisp swap last year, but that was more defensible given Crisp’s defensive value.

Beyond the the in-season implications, however, lurks the question of what to do next year. There are two fundamental questions to be answered: will Lugo be with this team? And if the answer to that is no, would they trust Lowrie with the position full time.

Again, I haven’t the faintest. But I must say that the news that our payroll come November could be down to $110 millon gives me hope. Hope that the Red Sox will recognize the (foolishly, IMO) sunk cost that is Lugo and send him on his merry way.

In the meantime, I’m rooting for Lowrie. For his own sake, yes, but also for mine.

Update: More from Peter Gammons – “One NL team’s defensive statistics, scouting and ratings have John McDonald of the Blue Jays as the best defensive shortstop in the majors. No surprise. They have Boston’s Jed Lowrie at No. 5 among the 62 ranked shortstops, even if his sample is small.”

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

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04-04-08-PawSox-02, originally uploaded by jasonandrewlayne.

What a difference a week makes.

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…

Ellsbury

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:

AB BA BB K HR
Before 190 .284 28 24 4
After 129 .256 5 22 1

Granted, it’s 60 fewer at bats, but still. Here’s hoping the break does the kid some good.

Lars Anderson

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:

Baseball America:

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.

John Sickels:

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.

Masterson’s Replacing…Who?

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:

  • David Aardsma
  • Manny Delcarmen
  • Craig Hansen
  • Javier Lopez
  • Hideki Okajima
  • Jonathan Papelbon
  • Mike Timlin

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.

Trade Chips

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:

Elite Prospects

  • Michael Bowden
  • Lars Anderson
  • Josh Reddick
  • Ryan Kalish
  • Jed Lowrie

Next Level Down

  • Kris Johnson
  • Daniel Bard
  • Oscar Tejeda
  • Che-Hsuan Lin
  • Mark Wagner

Could Draw Interest

  • Brandon Moss
  • David Pauley
  • Chris Carter

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.

Varitek’s Future

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.

Lastly

Farewell, Bobby Murcer. Though a Yankee, you were by all accounts a classy individual and a credit to your city and club. RIP.

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

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The blues, originally uploaded by jurek d..

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

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

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

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

Speaking of, one of the candidates continues to shine.

Bard

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

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

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

Beckett

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

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

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

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

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

Buchholz

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

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

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

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

Lugo

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

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

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

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

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

Santana

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa

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

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

Last But Not Least: Our Best Wishes

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

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

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

Lugo: The Question, Not the Answer

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Lugo on Second, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

In that other blog I write, disclosure usually revolves around commercial relationships we have with various commercial entities. Here on wicked clevah, they’ll most often reveal personal biases I have either for or against players.

Yes, I do have biases against certain players, even Red Sox. I don’t believe in booing our own players under any circumstances – what happened to Mark Bellhorn was, in my view, just plain wrong – but I don’t have quite the same affection for each and every one of them that I do for, say, my Navajo brother.

Naturally.

So, full disclosure: on the current edition of the Boston Red Sox, the player I’m least fond of is one Julio Lugo. Besides his play in the field, I haven’t been terribly impressed by his attitude, either in interviews or when asked to fill in in left.

I’m hardly the only one guilty of being less than fond of our current starting shortstop, of course, but I was under the impression that I was leading that campaign until I read Sarah Green’s post over on UmpBump. Sweet lord.

I’m not quite that bad.

But I am not a fan, and the front office’s obsession with Lugo absolutely mystified me. Theo and the gang first tried to pry him away from the Rays prior to his trade to the Dodgers, next he was a rumored piece coming back in return for Andy Marte at one point, and once he hit the free agent market they couldn’t throw $36 million at him fast enough.

Which I never understood. He was a nice player, certainly. And we did have an opening at shortstop at the time. But $9 million? After the 2006 season, when we signed him, he was a lifetime .269/.335/.386 player. And offense, you’ll remember, was his strength.

Was he an upgrade, offensively, over Alex Gonzalez? You’d think so. And if your metric is OBP, the answer is yes. Barely, even though Gonzo was positively allergic to walks. Lugo was not, however, an upgrade in the power department. Gonzalez’ line in his single season with us?
.255/.299/.397/.696
And what has Lugo done is his season plus?
.259/.323/.341/.664
Not, I’d argue, an upgrade worth $4,625,000 (the delta between Gonzalez’ and Lugo’s ’08 salaries: I’m not even factoring in the rest of the deal).

And if offense was why he was brought in, what of his defense? Well, actually, until this year, it was better than advertised. As a shortstop, his Fielding Percentage was a tie for the fourth best of his career and he only made 19 errors, though his Range Factor was the third worst and his Zone Rating was the fourth worst.

But this year? Though it’s early, it’s the worst year of his career in a couple of categories: Fielding Percentage (excluding 2006’s 8 games at SS) and Range Factor. It’s his third worst in terms of Zone Rating, and he’s on a 46 error pace.

Things are bad enough, in fact, that Tito has taken to replacing Lugo in the late innings with Alex Cora. The same Alex Cora that several of the SOSH folks believe to be the inferior fielder. As an aside on that subject, Cora’s career numbers at SS are superior to Lugo’s in both Fielding Percentage (.971 to .964) and Zone Rating (.858 to .844), and Lugo’s edge in range factor is slight (4.57 to 4.52).

The question now is what comes next. 40 error shortstops putting up a .664 OPS for $9M+ are not the most marketable of commodities. As has been noted elsewhere, the Red Sox are unusually willing – a benefit of enlightened ownership, no doubt – to recognize a sunk cost when they see one and correct the situation, but I think a solution this season is unlikely.

To me, much depends on whether or not the club feels Jed Lowrie can handle shortstop on an everyday basis (no, I’m not a believer in Omar Vizquel, even if the rumor did originate with the great Gammons). Chad Finn, for one, is convinced that he can’t, while a scout that Baseball America spoke to was more positive (though the Eckstein comp is damning):

“Lowrie definitely profiles at the position,” the scout said. “He’s one of those guys that moves up a level and makes the big wigs go, ‘God, this guy just does everything so easy–he just does it and does it.’

“He’s kind of like David Eckstein with a lot better tools. You sit there and say to yourself, ‘That guy’s an everyday shortstop.’ He makes the plays–nothing necessarily real flashy, but he’s going to get it done. He’s made some flashy plays so far this year, but I think he was kind of playing out of his butt a little bit. I know going to the hole to get balls has been something where people have killed him in the past, but I saw him get three or four average runners to above in the first two series. He can go get it.”

Whatever the answer is on Lowrie, however, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Lugo is not the answer he felt he would be.

Which I probably could have told Theo, had he but asked.

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

Maybe it’ll become a Sunday tradition, this current events bit, but in the meantime, my apologies for the radio silence the past few days. First I was ambushed by some sort of evil cold/flu hybrid, and then I was up in the mountains where Atingular has decided against providing even basic connectivity.

Hopefully you haven’t missed me as it’s been a quiet week. Or it had, until the last 24 hours or so. Since I left town, all hell broke loose. That, or it’s the regular slate of minor spring training injuries and trade rumors.

You make the call.

Analysts and Reporters

If you’ve been reading this site religiously (all 10 of you) or you know me personally (the same 10 of you), you may have gotten the impression that I favor certain analysts and reporters over others.

This impressions is, in fact, true, and you need look no further than the blogroll on the left for the quote unquote recommended sources. Occasionally during the season I’ll pull a quote or a conclusion that I find noteworthy; whether that’s for positive or negative reasons.

  • Cafardo:
    The reporter singled out today is none other than Boston’s Nick Cafardo. I’ve always preferred his colleague Gordon Edes’ work (with the exception of Edes’ treatment of Manny over the years) over Cafardo’s, and while his Sunday Notes columns is worth reading, his conclusions – in my view – frequently leave something to be desired. Unless you think that CC Sabathia – who approximated Beckett’s numbers last year over 40+ more IP – deserved to place fourth in the Cy Young voting.

    With that background in mind, be aware that I may be reading too much into this, but I can’t get anything from the following except that Cafardo considers himself “old school” regarding pitcher usage:
    “Bravo to Mike Mussina for his take on limiting the innings of young pitchers such as Kennedy, Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Clay Buchholz, “I’m from the old school,” said Mussina, who threw 241 innings as a rookie. “I’m one of the few guys left that pitched last century. My opinion of what wears your arm down isn’t necessarily how many innings you throw in a starter situation. Wearing down happens when you’re out there a lot and you don’t get the proper rest in between those turns. That’s what beats you up.”

    Exactly. Let’s ignore innings because that worked so well for Baker and Riggleman when they managed Prior and Wood. All I can say is that I’m glad Cafardo’s not responsible for the careers of Buchholz, Lester, et al.

  • Neyer:
    I consider myself a fan of Rob Neyer’s, even if I don’t agree with every last thing he writes. Much of my appreciation for his work derives from his approach: much like Google in the technology world, he strives to make decisions based on actual data.

    That said, I’m at a loss to defend his Top 10 Baseball Movies. Any man that believes that Fever Pitch is a better film than The Natural…well, I just don’t know what to say. Words fail me. My faith in Neyer’s analysis skills is not exactly shattered, but I’ll admit that I’m unlikely to solicit his opinion on movies in the future. Ever.

    And that’s coming from someone who counts Tremors as one of his favorite movies.

Injuries

Would that it weren’t the case, but sadly, there’s a lot to report on this front. I have to tell you, there are very few things more terrifying than being in the mountains with limited or no connectivity, and see a Rotoworld headline screeching “Beckett Scratched.”

  • Beckett:
    Sox manager Terry Francona had a good report on Josh Beckett, who left Saturday’s game with back spasms after throwing six warm-up pitches. The manager said Beckett “looked way better than we expected,” but would not commit as to whether Beckett would be ready for the opener in Japan.” (link)

    This, candidly, is bad news. It won’t be horrible news until I hear either that it’s disc related or involves him missing a significant portion of the season, but it’s not what I wanted to hear. We could be looking at opening the season without our top 2 starters (Matsuzaka’s wife is expecting), which is not the end of the world but not how you’d draw it up either.
  • Crisp:
    In a video over on Boston.com, Crisp says, “I feel good right now, like I’m ready to play, other than I can’t get out there and run.” This does not strike me as good news, particularly for a player whose value is largely based on his ability to run.
  • Lugo:
    Shortstop Julio Lugo missed his sixth straight game with lower back tightness.” (link)

    What interests me here is how little actual reporting has been done on this injury. Coming off a down year, and with a very credible prospect in Lowrie poised to push him, I find the general lack of interest in Lugo’s condition as somewhat curious.

    Of course, if could be nothing more than a tacit acknowledgement that with an $8+ million price tag, he’s virtually unmovable.

Players

Besides injuries, there have been some notable player developments over the past week. Unfortunately, few of them good. Meaningless as spring training games are, it’d be nice to win a few. But anyhow, two quick player items.

  • Ellsbury:
    Echoing the thoughts of a number of fans I’ve spoken with, Allen Chace of Over the Monster said the following yesterday:
    As Rotoworld points out, Jacoby has hit pretty terribly thusfar, and Coco Crisp, seemingly, hasn’t played since the Carter administration.

    I have to disagree with our omnipresent sidebar companion. I don’t think it is necessarily doing anything for Tacoby’s case that Coco hasn’t played in awhile. They’re not going to let this kid back into the job, no matter how good he was down the stretch last season. It’s already been speculated here and elsewhere that the Sox would need to see quite a bit from Ellsbury unless Crisp is traded: they don’t need any kind of distraction that Crisp might be, and his value would only get lower as he sees more time riding the pine.

    While acknowledging that it’s easier to say this given that my Navajo brother went 3-5 this afternoon with a bomb and a double, I must – in turn – respectfully disagree with Mr. Chace. For three reasons.

    1. There’s no denying that – until today – Ellsbury hadn’t been good. But there’s also no denying that our other starters haven’t been much better (Crisp doesn’t count: he’s had 4 ABs). It’s true that Ellsbury’s hitting .190. But it’s also true that Manny’s at .188, and Lowell’s at .200. As is Drew. And Pedroia, last year’s ROY? .174. I’d love for all of the above to be lighting it up, but I can’t force myself to take their performances at this point seriously.
    2. I think the competition is more than mere performance. Trade value, particularly for the asset that is Crisp, has to factor in. If they can get a useful reliever or a couple of prospects for Crisp, I don’t think the Sox would hesitate to let Ellsbury back into the job.
    3. I think the front office is savvy enough to recognize that prior minor and major league performance is a better indicator of future performance than a handful or three of spring training at bats. They demonstrated this last year, trusting that Pedroia’s minor league success would manifest itself at the big league level in the face of an abysmal early performance.
  • Lester:
    A minor note, but I hadn’t seen Lester’s velocity peaks yet. The Great Gammons is reporting the following “[Lester's] velocity is up in the mid-90s, his curveball is sharp, and they’re holding back on his cutter until the rest of his arsenal is ready.”
  • Papelbon:
    Papelbon went into the offseason with the idea of adding a third pitch to his fastball and split-finger fastball and chose the slider.

    Yesterday, in his second appearance of the spring, he used it to get two of the three outs he recorded in the fourth
    .” (link)

    I guess this means the “slutter” didn’t work out?

Trade Rumors

Remember when I mentioned that it was Theo’s opinion that the prospects for a Crisp trade were poor? Yeah, let’s just forget about that. Because right now it’s all Crisp, all the time on the trade rumors front. A quick recap of the least far fetched.

  • Chicago:
    While major league sources indicate the Chicago Cubs have Coco Crisp on their wish list, the Red Sox have no interest in expendable starting pitcher Jason Marquis or Arizona League MVP outfielder Sam Fuld.” (Nick Cafardo)

    Glad to hear this one shot down, personally. I don’t think I’d take Marquis for a bag of balls at this point, let alone a Gold Glove quality center fielder signed to an affordable contract. Two years removed from a 6.02 ERA in the NL Central, PECOTA sees him putting up a 5.04 in the same league. In other words, he’d get chewed up and spit out in the AL East. And there’s the fact that he’s already at odds with Piniella over his role on the staff.

    Which leaves Fuld, who, with all due respect, would have very little upside in our organization. This particular package making the rounds, then, would seem to me to be nothing but a rumor. I’m sure the Cubs would make that deal in a heartbeat, but if the Sox bite their sanity would be called into question.
  • Oakland:
    The Red Sox continue to talk with the Oakland Athletics about center fielder Coco Crisp. ” (Buster Olney)

    Little information to work with in this case, although the rumors were floated earlier in the office season that Beane might work to acquire Crisp so that he in turn could flip the player. What’s unclear would be what would be coming back. The primary assets of interest – Blanton and Street – would require far more than Crisp in return, so I’m not sure what we could expect. Still, bears watching.
  • San Diego:
    San Diego is considering trying to trade for Boston’s Coco Crisp now that center fielder Jim Edmonds has already broken down with a calf injury.” (John Perrotto)

    The primary reason that this one makes sense to me? If you’re trying to approximate Cameron, and keep your fly ball prone staff happy in a sizable park, Crisp is your best available bet to do that.
  • Seattle:
    The Mariners, unhappy with their in-house options, are in the market for a veteran right-handed hitting outfielder. Why not Coco Crisp? Sure, he’s a switch-hitter, but his splits suggest it could make some sense.” (Matt Birt)

    This one, to be clear, is nothing more than speculation. Informed speculation, as it comes courtesy of MLB Trade Rumor’s Matt Birt, but speculation nonetheless. Still, like San Diego has a sizable park to cover and if Ichiro and Crisp were two thirds of the M’s outfield, their staff – Horacio Ramirez and all – is going to look much better than they actually are. Which they probably know, having watched Cameron for years.