News from the AFL

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Expo on 3rd, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

Cleaning out a couple of Arizona Fall League links I’ve had sitting around for a bit.

  • How Fast Do They Throw? Average And Max Velocities For Everyone In The AFL: Richardson’s the only guy we have on the list. Max velocity was 95.3, average was 92.97. Which is a little harder than I thought he threw.
  • Tanner Scheppers looks like the real deal:
    Speaking of Richardson, here’s what Law had to say:

    Boston farmhand Dustin Richardson could fill one of the lefty spots in the Red Sox’s ‘pen next year, with an average fastball/slider combination that should make him effective against left-handed hitters; he didn’t show a third pitch he could use against right-handers but hasn’t shown much of a platoon split in his minor league career.

  • BA’s AFL Notebook: Catching Roundup:
    The less positive read on Luis Exposito:

    Red Sox catcher Luis Exposito provides a big target behind the plate for his pitchers, and the 22-year-old looks even bigger than his listed height and weight of 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. He threw out just three of 21 basestealers in the AFL, but he generally receives solid marks for his defensive tools. Though he doesn’t swing and miss excessively, scouts have some concerns about the length of his swing, and the scouting consensus is that he’s likely a backup at the big league level, with the potential to work himself into a starting role.

    “Exposito is extremely physical, extremely strong and he has a great arm” said Mesa manager Brandon Hyde, who managed the Marlins’ Double- A Jacksonville affiliate this summer. “He could be a power bat that could be a good catch-and-throw guy behind the plate.”

    Exposito split time behind the plate for Mesa with the Angels’ Hank Conger, a 21-year-old who hit .295/.369/.424 in 123 games during the regular season with Double-A Arkansas. A hodgepodge of shoulder, back, hamstring and hand injuries have limited Conger’s time behind the plate in pro ball, but it’s Conger’s defense that struck Hyde the most.

    “I was really impressed with Hank’s leadership skills and what he’s been doing behind the plate,” Hyde said. “He receives well, he blocks fantastic and he really takes control of the game. He’s a quarterback there and a leader on the field. I’ve been really impressed with his game management skills.”

  • Jason Grey’s AFL position wrap: Catchers:
    The slightly more positive read on Exposito:

    Exposito has a lot of strength and has shown very good power potential in the AFL, and he’s very strong defensively. But his swing gets long, and there are holes in it. He’ll give up the outer half a bit too often by trying to yank the ball too much. His batting average might be iffy at the higher levels, but the 22-year-old does bring some things to the table that should at least put him on your radar screen.

Just in case you were wondering what was going on out in AZ.

Pedroia at Short: Desperation or Due Diligence?

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redsox 255, originally uploaded by h8rnet.

The moment Peter Gammons elevated the talk of Pedroia moving from second back to short from rumor to fact via a couple of quotes typical for last year’s MVP, it was on. Cafardo, scooped, effectively dismissed the suggestion. To Mazz, it predictably was read as a sign that the club was a “little desperate“. Edes – and I’ll get to his return to the scene eventually – characterized the conversations as “casual.”

Among the national media, Law was skeptical he could handle the position and Neyer intimated that the Sox wouldn’t consider the move if they didn’t believe – based on the data – that he could potentially handle it. Also, that it meant Pedroia was a great teammate.

Myself? I think this is posturing. Nothing more.

Did the Sox talk to Pedroia? I’m sure they did. Did they consider the option of moving him? Undoubtedly. As they should.

Consider the infielders we’ve been linked to this offseaon: Scutaro, Kennedy, Everett, DeRosa and Crosby. And those are just the ones we know about. Who’s to say how much time Theo’s spent on the phone talking Stephen Drew, Yunel Escobar or someone really cool we don’t even know about.

Point being: the Red Sox are doing, in talking to Pedroia and pretty much every available free agent, what they always do, and what they should always do: explore every option. Every option. Trades. Signings. New training regimens. Coaching staff alterations. And yes, positional shifts.

It doesn’t mean that every option is actually on the table, let alone a probable outcome. Just that the club’s done its due diligence and are aware of the implications of the choices available to them.

This has the obvious benefit is that the front office is not guessing. If the Marlins call and offer Uggla for a reasonable acquisition cost, they know that Pedroia’s game for short if need be. They don’t suspect he is, they don’t think he is, they know he is. Because they’ve been proactive, and they asked. Does that make it likely? Hardly. I’d bet a pretty reasonable chunk of change that when we open next spring, Pedroia’s not at short. But it can’t hurt to ask. If anything, it can only help.

The less appreciated benefit to this news, and likely one of the reasons the front office is probably happy with the interview (assuming it wasn’t a plant), is that it improves their negotiating position. Even if Scutaro’s advisors suspect that the front office doesn’t want to move their second baseman, they can’t be certain it won’t happen. Which improves, if only slightly, the Red Sox negotiating position.

The interesting question, to me, isn’t whether or not Pedroia can play short. I’m sure he could play the position passably, if not at the level he can handle second or one that we’d be happy with.

The interesting question is whether or not Pedroia knows all of the above; that, effectively, his interview was a negotiating tactic. Because if he knows that and was still so genuine, he’s an even better teammate that Neyer and company think he is.

The Second Season Begins: The wicked clevah 2009 ALDS Preview

Truth be told, none of the following matters. Seriously. Remember last year? According to the numbers, we didn’t have much business being in a series with the Angels, let alone winning it. We all know how that turned out.

Still, inquiring minds want to know what we think of the matchup. Maybe it’s because the puerile conventional “wisdom” continuously spewed by the professional media – “we’re in their heads!” – sounds suspiciously like what we heard from Yankee fans pre-2004. Or maybe it’s because we’ve come to understand that while the numbers from the first season don’t dictate the outcome of the second season, neither are they irrelevant.

Either way, wicked clevah is back – per your request, or over your protest, whichever- with a barely informed take on the matchups between yours and my Boston Red Sox, and our eternal foe, the Los Angeles Angels. Oh, and by the way, if you’re waiting for the “of Anaheim,” I wouldn’t hold your breath. With no further delay, on to the breakdown.

Red Sox Hitting

The good news is that you can probably ignore the splits versus the Angels staff listed above. It includes far too many one or two game sample sizes to be meaningful in any realistic sense, and is included for the sake of completeness more than anything else. The bad news is that we are not, as currently consituted, an offensive juggernaut. We’re more than adequate, but lack the thump of lineups of yore – particularly if Varitek plays. Which I hope he does not, for a variety of reasons. I’m not sure I buy the rumors that Varitek’s advantaging fastballs in his game management to offset his diminished arm strength – and I certainly don’t have the numbers to make that case – but the fact is that he is essentially a liability now both at the plate and behind it.

What the 2009 flavor of the Red Sox is, however, is reasonably balanced. We’re third in the league in runs, second in OBP, and second in OPS. All of that is good. The bad is that the Angels, as we’ll see, are pretty comparable – they scored more runs, but rank third to our second in OBP and OPS.

The gist is that the 2009 Red Sox, particularly with Victor Martinez starting in place of Jason Varitek, are a club that can and will score runs against the Angels staff. What’s difficult to foresee is whether or not they’ll produce adequately in a short series. This club, as anyone who’s watched the season unfold will ruefully acknowledge, has been prone to streaks both hot and cold. As of Thursday, assuming that’s when we get underway, we’ll need to produce, and produce quickly. If we have another cold stretch, we’ll be going home early.

Red Sox Pitching

Pitching and defense wins championships, or so the saying goes. We’ll have to hope that’s not entirely true, because as Theo lacknowledged this week, we’ve gone from being a terrible defensive club to one that’s still not stellar: “By our numbers, we’re still not the defensive club we want to be. But we’re better. On certain days with certain lineups out there, we can use defense as a weapon to help out our pitching staff.”

Because of the attention to this problem – and in spite of it, early – our pitching has been generally very good. The rotation has gone from surplus to deficit, starting a one legged Wakefiled down the stretch. And the bullpen has seen its more than few declines in individual performance. But on balance, we’re as well positioned as any other club in either league heading into the postseason when it comes to pitching.

Do I know what we’ll get from Beckett or Buchholz following their last outings? Not at all. And that’s without talking about Matsuzaka, who’s luck with the bases loaded – like the center – cannot hold. But I trust Lester to get us started on the right note, and I feel confident that between Beckett (though his velocity is, as far as I can tell, down by a one to two MPH) and Bucky, we’ll get one quality outing, and it’s not out of the realm that we could get two. Which gives us a good shot, particularly in a short series.

The bullpen, meanwhile, has been without question the finest assembled in Theo’s tenure. While the gambles on Penny and Smoltz provided little, additions like Ramirez, Wagner and, to a lesser extent, Saito, have been crucial in giving us the depth necessary to not work Oki and Pap into the ground. I don’t know what they’ll do about the rest of the staff, but I’m hopeful that Delcarmen doesn’t make the roster. Even before the car accident (thank Jebus he’s ok), he was not right. MDC’s not reliable when he’s throwing 95+; when he’s topping out at 93 and averaging 91, he might as well be throwing BP.

But with Pap rounding into form – his .167 batting average against in September was his best month of the season, and he’s walked only six people since the All Star break compared to eighteen before – and Wagner, Ramirez, Okajima capable of providing quality innings, the pen is as deep as it’s been. Bard, to me, is the wildcard. Here’s his batting average against by month: .233 (May), .237 (June), .103 (July), .302 (August), .292 (September). Before the break, hitters averaged .193 againt him; it’s been .270 since. Or, as Keith Law summed it up: “Dan Bard, Aug 4th to today: 16 IP, 20 H, 5 HR, 11 BB, 22 K, .313/.416/.594.” That’s what we in the business know as “suboptimal.” If he can correct the ailment, be it mechanical or psychological in origin (I’ve seen no evidence that it’s velocity related), I can see him getting some high leverage innings. Until then, however, he should be relegated to a lower profile role in the pen.

One other notable asset to our staff: every man on it – with the potential exception of a Byrd if he makes the roster – has the ability to miss bats. To the point that they’re second in the league in strikeouts. The lowest K/9 of the likely roster members is Buchholz at 6.65, and – his performance to date notwithstanding – he has the ability to strike people out on any given night. Perhaps the ability is overvalued, but strikeout pitchers are at something of a premium in the second season.

Angels Hitting

Again, I don’t think the Angels will be getting too geeked over Hunter, Kendrick, and Napoli’s combined 1.135 OPS. Well, Napoli’s maybe: he terrifies me. But again, with the sample sizes essentially miniscule and therefore statistically meaningless, we’d do better to look to the more significant season worth of data we have on the Angels offense. Which, regrettably, tells us that they’re good. Not too different from our offense, in fact.

Whether or not the talking heads are correct and Abreu’s sheer presence has convinced the previously walk averse Angels of the value of not making outs, the fact is that this Angel’s offense is quite capable. Their team batting average is nearly thirty points better than ours, while we own a ten point advantage in slugging percentage. OBP is essentially a wash.

Add it up, and they’re a potentially dangerous offense capable of working pitchers, getting on base and scoring runs. The OBP in particular is a concern, when coupled with their vaunted dedication to smallball and our more than adequately demonstrated inability to control the running game.

Angels Pitching

Pitching-wise, the Angels have had their challenges this season. Adenheart, a talented young pitcher, was killed by a drunk driver early in the season in an awful tragedy. Shields, a staple of past Angels bullpens, is on the DL. Ditto for Escobar and Moseley. Arredondo has been for now left off the roster, less effective than he was a year ago.

Still, the Angels have cobbled together both a credible rotation and a capable bullpen. The staff has not distinguished itself over the course of the season: it’s 9th in ERA, sixth in earned runs, ninth in strikeouts, and 11th in batting average against. They’re helped out, however, by their defense: as you can see above, three of the four starters own ERA’s lower than their Fielding Independent Pitching rates. And every one of them has pitched well against the Red Sox at one time or another: even Lackey, who’s had bad luck at Fenway, pitched quite effectively there in his last appearance in Boston though losing the game.

The bullpen, meanwhile, is fronted by a closer with unimpressive numbers. It’s true that he probably struck out Nick Green, saving the game, but on the season Fuentes has surrendered a less than stellar 53 hits and 24 walks in 55 innings pitched. Throw the save numbers out: he’ll get the job done more than he won’t, but he is the antithesis of a shutdown closer. Which could be magnified in the postseason.

The addition of Ervin Santana, however, could be a real boon and help them stabilize the setup innings. While his strikeout rate was down this year as a starter, in short bursts one would expect that weakness to be mitigated. Though he struck out only two in his last start on the 28th, he maxed out at 95.8 MPH. The rest of the arms in the bullpen are capable if not overwhelming. Bulger – assuming he makes the roster (he’s got a sore shoulder) – and Palmer use a wide arsenal and change speeds enough to get people out, while Jepsen can dial it up to the mid 90′s but is fastball reliant.

They’re good, and more than capable of shutting us down, but they are not dominant.

What to Expect

This is not the Angels team we’re used to seeing. Sure, they’ll still play small ball more than they should, but the offense is less easily kept off the bases than in the past. With an improved offense and a consistent pitching staff, the Angels deserve their berth and our respect. It’ll be a battle.

P.S. If I get a chance, I’ll take a look at the benches and the respective defenses, but in the meantime, this will have to do. Questions? You know here to find me.

Update: If you’re an Insider, ESPN’s Keith Law has his previews up for both the Angels and Sox.

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.

Fastball, Fastball, Fastball

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Papelbon Pitches, originally uploaded by waldoj.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way. Papelbon is absolutely correct: this game is not the end of the world. Red is right that “that shit’s just gonna happen.” John Farrell obviously has forgotten more about pitching than I ever will. And Cafardo, as he is wont to do, is clearly blowing things way out of proportion.

My problem is far more prosaic: what gives with the fastball heavy approach? As noted yesterday, as the fastball percentage has gone up, the numbers have gone down. From inhuman levels, true, but it’s still worth noting.

As many have noted, over the past two games, Pap threw 30 fastballs in one stretch. That’s a problem. Or two problems, actually. As Keith Law puts it:

Relying exclusively on a fastball — even a good one like Papelbon’s — poses two problems. First, the hitter can mostly look at one level within the zone for a pitch to hit. Pitchers use off-speed pitches to change hitters’ eye levels, forcing them to consider that the pitch might finish up in the zone, down in the zone or below the zone. Secondly, hitters can “cheat” and start their bats a little earlier when they know — or can reasonably guess — that a fastball is coming. Johnson absolutely was doing it Tuesday, as was Aybar, although he does that all the time anyway. Papelbon has to start mixing in a second pitch, preferably the splitter, or hitters will keep timing his fastball and driving it to the outfield or out of the park.

What about Papelbon’s defense, you ask? “I don’t feel there’s a reason for me going to my second-best pitch when I’m effective with my No. 1.” With all due respect to the best closer we’ve had in my lifetime, that strikes me as absurd.

The same kind of absurd that saw Beckett throw little but fastballs in his first trip around the AL. The trip that saw his ERA jump to north of 5 and his home runs allowed to 36. Even pitchers with dominant fastballs – pitchers like Beckett or Papelbon – need something else. In shelving his secondary pitches, Pap is doing the hitters a major favor, and, one has to think, himself a disservice. Becaause there will come a time where he doesn’t have the good fastball. A time where he needs the split, the slider, maybe even both. And if he’s not throwing them, the confidence in them must suffer.

My hope, actually, is that Pap is just being stubborn. Stubborn like Beckett. Because that’s correctable. Potentially easily, after a lesson like last night.

My fear, however, is that he’s not throwing his secondary pitches because he can’t, because it hurts. Both the split and the slider torque the arm to a greater degree than the fastball, and I’m worried that may be playing its part. It’s, sadly, the most plausible explanation

Because as much as Farrell talks about how locating the fastball to four different quadrants can make it “like four different pitches,” it is not four different pitches.

Just ask Dan Johnson.

Good News/Bad News from Keith Law

In case you missed it, Scouts, Inc/ESPN’s Keith Law scouted the Rays/Sox opener and had some good news bad news for the faithful. On the good news side, there was his take on Lester:

The story of the Red Sox’s 3-0 win over Tampa Bay on Monday night was Jon Lester, who dominated the Rays for five innings and then gutted his way through another two-plus innings.

Lester continues to look stronger every time out. He showed outstanding command of three pitches on Monday. Over the first five innings, he worked heavily off his fastball, mixing in the cutter and curveball, both of which were very sharp.

[snip]

Overall, it was an incredibly strong performance from the potential No. 2 starter in Boston’s playoff rotation. When he had all three pitches working with strong command, he was able to get hitters on both sides of the plate out and to do it in different ways each time through the order. He’ll need to avoid tricks and stay with the fastball-first approach if he gets the call in October.

Nothing in there I particularly disagree with. That said, I’m more than a bit concerned that he’s currently sitting at 189.1 IP. After so much was made last year of the benefit that rest had for Beckett heading into the playoffs, wouldn’t it seem normal to expect a similar respite be given to Lester? Particularly since he’s 24 and only threw 63 big league innings last year?

Or am I taking crazy pills?

On the less positive front was Law’s reaction to Papelbon’s (successful) outing:

Jonathan Papelbon used to throw a devastating splitter as his out-pitch, changing eye levels between the splitter and his upper-90s fastball. He’s scrapped the splitter and replaced it with a slider that’s nowhere near the swing-and-miss pitch that the splitter was. On Monday, he got his four outs without throwing anything but a fastball. Papelbon’s been more hittable this year, and if he’s trying to be a one- or 1½-pitch pitcher, that’s a likely reason why, and a cause for some concern headed into the postseason.

I had been wondering why Papelbon was more hittable this year than last – relatively speaking, of course. His ’08 season line of (.204/.228/284) is nothing to cry about, but neither is it ’07′s (.146/.219/.244). Some of that, of course, is luck. 07′s BABIP was .237, while ’08′s is the more predictable .299. Some of it was the fact that his performance was not sustainable. Still, the fact is that he’s giving up a few more hits, and as heavily leveraged as his innings are, a few more hits are noticeable.

Law traces that back to an unwillingness to throw his split, which is the first explanation I’ve seen, but Fangraphs says that’s not entirely accurate. According to them, Pap’s fastball percentage is up – 81.6% of the time over last year’s 78.1 or 06′s 73.5. It is also true that his usage of the split has steadily declined over that same span, from 19.7, to 15.7 to this season’s 12.4. But he is still throwing it, or so says the data.

Even so, I am curious, and not a little worried, about the trend. Because while Pap’s fastball is explosive, and does move, his performance was better when he showed a bit more variety. Worse, it makes you wonder if there’s a reason he’s throwing fewer splits.

Obviously, I’d take him over just about any other relief pitcher on the planet. But are the warning signs there?

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

It’s been a bad weak. Until the two Yankee wins, in fact, I was borderline despondent. And why not? A week ago today, Brian Moehler started against Josh Beckett, and we lost that game. Then Shields went out and beat Masterson, which could have been expected. Next Garza beat Wakefield, which was at least understandable. Wednesday, we scratched to a three run lead against Kazmir, who typically owns us, and then…the wheels came off.

That, put bluntly, was just a horror show. Easily the most painful bullpen implosion this season, and one that we’ll have to hope doesn’t come back haunt us down the stretch. Though it already is, as Tampa’s not only not faltering, but expanding on their cushion in the division.

The only consolation is that the Yankees are similarly miserable. Which, of course, is no consolation at all. Anyway, on to this week’s ICYHBKUWCE.

Odds

The ESPN gang took all the time and trouble to add odds to their standings page, so I’d feel badly if I didn’t take advantage. From here on out, we’ll snapshot the results each Sunday to gauge the Sox chances’ and my own sanity.

This week’s odds? 33.7% of winning the division, 30.9% of being the wild card, for a 64.7% chance of making the playoffs. Can’t speak for you, but I’m not terribly enthused by those numbers. Tampa’s odds? 59.1%, 21.9%, and 80.9%. Not joking.

Bullpen

In case you’re counting, now, the bullpen has cost us 15 games. Winning half of those would put us in the division lead. Same with a third of those. A quarter…well, you see where I’m going.

So please, no more talk of Sabathia, or AJ Burnett, or whomever: we need help in the pen, desperately. Yes, part of it has been starters – I’m looking at you Matsuzaka – that are throwing 100+ pitches just to struggle through five. But can you look me in the eye you feel good about turning a one or two run lead over to the bullpen after seven? I didn’t think so. When Delcarmen is your best strike thrower, Lopez is arguably your best setup option, and the return of Mike Timlin’s 6.75 ERA and .876 OPS against is a good thing, there’s no other supportable conclusion but that you’ve got problems. Serious problems.

Is it time to give up on the likes of Craig Hansen, as Rob Neyer is ready to do? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I could build the case either way.

Whatever you believe, it’s clear that we need help. It’s been said that the first few months of the season are used to tell clubs you what they need. If that’s true, Wednesday night was a Times Square size billboard saying, “NEED RELIEF ARMS STOP CAN’T STOP THE BLEEDING STOP RAYS ARE PULLING AWAY.”

We all know the story: Oki 08 is no Oki 07, Hansen can’t throw strikes as often as he can, and MDC is getting caught doing his best LaTroy Hawkins impression more often than is helpful. Etc etc etc.

Can Fuentes be the man? Who knows. But somebody has to step up. If the ‘pen costs us another 15 games in the second half, I can’t see how we’ll catch Tampa.

Personally, I’m somewhat perplexed as to why Buchholz hasn’t been brought up to start, and Masterson shifted into the pen. Almost makes you wonder if they’re showcasing the latter for a trade…

Cafardo

Frustrates me, I’ll admit. Clearly my least favorite of any of the Red Sox beat writers, I both rue and lament the day he was given the senior status over at the Globe. Not just because of things like his bizarre defense of his own slagging of Richmond, VA’s food:

Ripping Richmond dining provoked a lot of e-mails, except everyone suggested the same four or five places. That’s all you’ve got?

It’s mostly because I don’t believe he’s terribly diligent. Which, considering the fanbase, is not a forgivable sin.

Take his suggestion today that the Red Sox could effectively swap roster spots, Matt Holliday for Manny Ramirez (presumably in the offseason, though he doesn’t specify):

Is it out of the realm of possibility that Matt Holliday winds up with Boston and the Red Sox don’t pick up Manny Ramírez’s $20 million option? Both players are represented by Scott Boras.

This isn’t the first time Cafardo’s speculated on the subject; the last time he broached the subject was in the same article he mentioned his preference for Shelley Duncan over Jason Giambi.

So to answer his question, no, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Holliday’s putting up a .990 OPS, and will command dollars with Boras as his adviser, but if Manny’s not picked up we’d have ~20M to find some power. But is it too much to ask – as I did the last time – that Cafardo at least bring up the home/road splits? He’s clearly aware that such things exist, as he cites Burrell’s Citizens Bank Park line as a reason he’s a fit for the Phillies.

If Cafardo concluded that Holliday’s last three year .281/.343/.466 away split would be worth the premium he’ll command on the market, ok. I personally don’t agree, because Manny even in a down year is besting that at .279/.379/.495, but the argument is there. Particularly if you factor in age.

But it’s never even come up. Which makes me wonder if Cafardo has even looked at the numbers before pontificating on the subject.

Law

This week’s Keith Law chat on ESPN was a veritable gold mine of Sox-related information. Among the items:

  • On Michael Bowden:
    Jim (Portland, OR): KLaw, what is your opinion on Bowden now that you’ve seen him?

    SportsNation Keith Law: Disappointed. He was 88-91, below average command, flashed a plus curveball that has a chance to be an out pitch. Barely used his change, which Red Sox people have told me is his best pitch. Ugly delivery. Never saw the 94 mph I’d heard he was dealing this year, and the pro scout behind me told me he’d seen Bowden twice before (in 2008) and never had him above 88-92.

  • On Masterson and Bard:
    Howie Rhody: Sox bullpen has been terrible lately. Time to bring up Bucholtz and Bard? Send Masterson to the pen with Bard?

    SportsNation Keith Law: Buchholz in the rotation and Masterson in the pen. I wouldn’t let Bard near the majors – yes, he hit 98 for me, but walked the first two batters, showed little command, and had a below-average breaking ball. He’s further away than I thought.

  • On the Draft Signings Progress:
    Andrew (Exeter): Have you heard any news about the Red Sox tough signs?

    SportsNation Keith Law: Sounds like Alex Meyer is less likely. Navery Moore has been throwing very well in Tennessee, back up to the mid-90s, and the Sox are monitoring him – could be a surprise signing there later in the summer. Reader Matt R told me that Ryan Westmoreland has joined the Facebook group for Red Sox prospects … hmmm [ed - I can confirm that Westmoreland is in the group - I looked]. Everyone expects them to get Hissey and Gibson signed. Haven’t heard anything on Cooper or Marquis.

Quick Links: Drunk Ortiz, Hansen Thoughts, Jeter Leader?

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the_scene, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Good news, everyone! I survived a weekend spent in an 8×6 shack on a frozen lake in sub-zero Minnesota temperatures with three other dudes. More or less in one piece.

Honestly, though, if there’s anything better than ice fishing for getting me ready for baseball, I’m not sure what it would be.

Age Surprises

Peter Gammons: Every so often I’m surprised by age comparisons. Sometimes I’m more impressed with a player because they’re younger than I believed, others I’m less impressed because they’re older. Either way, it’s always interesting.

Gammons mentioned one today:

Remember that Jon Garland is six months younger than Bedard and has 52 more career wins.

In the immortal words of Carsenio, “I did not know that.” But the one that really put things in perspective for me?

Clay Buchholz will be 23 to start the season, while Seattle’s Felix Hernandez – you remember the one hitter last year, don’t you? – will be 21.

In the only slightly less immortal words of Stephen Colbert, “Think about that. I haven’t.”

Battle Royale in Bullpen

Amalie Benjamin: According to everyone’s favorite Amalie, the Sox will open with 12 pitchers on the roster rather than 11. With Papelbon, Okajima, Delcarmen, Timlin, and Tavarez all but guaranteed of spots if they’re healthy – whether it’s for contract reasons, talent, or ideally both – that leaves two spots up to the likes of Aardsma, Hansen, Lopez, Snyder, and the non-roster invitees in Michael Bowden, Lee Gronkiewicz, Hunter Jones, Dan Kolb, Justin Masterson, Jon Switzer and Michael Tejera. Unless – and maybe even if – Bowden and Masterson allow no hits and no walks for all of spring training, they’re ticketed for the minors. Jones too. The rest of the folks on that list are real long shots.

Cashman Watch, Continued

Bill Madden: First we have this bit from Madden:

At the time [of Pettite's return], there was elation all around, especially from Cashman, who used Pettitte’s “I shall return” proclamation as the incentive for walking away from a deal for the Twins’ Johan Santana – a deal he never wanted to make. With Pettitte taking up $16 million in payroll, the Yankees could no longer afford Santana, Cashman argued, and Hal Steinbrenner, Hank’s partner and the primary financial expert in the business, agreed.

“Take your choice, guys,” Hal reportedly told the group of Yankee higher-ups in a meeting on the Santana deal prior to Cashman’s departure for the winter meetings. “Pettitte or Santana?”

And then we have this bit from the great Gammons:

But if all the spotlight causes the respectful, quiet Pettitte to go into a shell and turn into a 35-year-old .500 pitcher, his grab for the $16 million that steered the Yankees away from Johan Santana may cost a few jobs. Which will not be fair.

Anyone care to give me odds that Cashman is one of those jobs?

Hansen, Hansen, Hansen – So Hot Right Now?

Speaking of Hansen, he’s received a lot of attention in the Globe. Granted, some of the coverage was for the novelty of the surgery he had to correct sleep apnea; in his own words, he used to snore like a 500 pound fat man. But he’s also being discussed almost daily by the beat writers as a legitimate candidate for one of the last spots in the pen.

Certainly, if he can throw strikes with a slider resembling the one he threw at St John’s, I’d bet on him for a spot. The kid throws hard, after all. Unfortunately, I’d put the odds of that precondition being met as long indeed. Keith Law is, if anything, even more convinced of this than I am. In fact, he’s gone as far as arguing that Daniel Bard is a better bet than Hansen, saying:

I saw Hansen again in the Fall League … it’s not there, at least not yet. I’d be more inclined to put money on Bard taking a step forward in ’08 than Hansen.

Given that Bard’s walked nearly 2 guys for every one he’s struck out as a pro (78BB/47K), and better than 1/IP (78BB/75IP), well, that can’t really be taken as a positive report on Hansen.

Good Times, Good Times

Steve Buckley: I don’t think this qualifies as throwing your teammate under the bus simply because it’s high comedy, but, well, you make the call:

“Last year after we won it,” [Papelbon] said yesterday, “I was in a hotel room partying, and Ortiz was there trying to show me how to do the breakdance. And he fell over, and he didn’t know what he was doing. Either that or he was just too drunk. I don’t know.”

The good folks over at Surviving Grady are absolutely right: Papelbon must be miced 24/7/365. That would be the first and only reality show I’d ever watch. Unless someone sticks a camera on Marissa Miller (sorry, Amalie).

Rest as a Trend

Rob Bradford: It’s clear from Rob’s latest and some of the other commentary leading up to and follow last year’s playoffs that enforced rest may become a prescribed part of the Red Sox pitching management strategy. As an aside, I was a bit surprised – and pleased – to see Beckett recognize the benefits of the approach, given that it is at odds with the Herschiser like ideal that starting pitchers are a horse to be ridden until they die.

What I’m curious about now is whether or not this strategy of enforced rest will be emulated more broadly within the league. Certain factors – the lack of starting pitching to support the approach, the lack of intelligence within some front offices, or incompatible pitching management philosophies – are likely to limit the spread of the tactic. But baseball front offices are smarter and more creative than they were even a few years ago, and even the conservative clubs are willing to try and emulate what’s been successful for Word Series winners.

Taking One for the Team?

John Mazor: Fortunately, I don’t need to take apart this crime against sports journalism, because the pros at Fire Joe Morgan have already done that for you. Nor do I have to explain why Jeter is not a pre-eminent or even average shortstop, because the Penn researchers Mazor is trying to slag have explained that in sufficient detail for all but the most ardent homers.

For an article that bases much of its argument on the fact that Jeter has won three Gold Gloves – in spite of the fact that that award means nothing (disagree? then explain how Palmeiro won it for 1B in ’99 while playing only 28 games at the position) – I find it surprising that Mazor fails to mention that the two Gold Gloves that Rodriguez wore came in his last two years as a shortstop. The years, put differently, before he moved to third base to accommodate the statistically and observably inferior shortstop. As one of the researchers put it, “The Yankees have one of the best defensive shortstops playing out of position in deference to one of the worst defensive shortstops.”

Is Jeter an excellent player? Indeed. But is he the leader, and the Cap’n Intangibles, that Yankee fans believe him to be? I’m not sure how you make that argument. To me, a real leader would have done what was best for the team: let the best shortstop man that position.

But frankly, as I used to tell my Yankee friends, I’m just as happy that that didn’t work out. Can you imagine a world in which the Pinstriped ones could throw A-Rod and Jeter at short and second, then find power bats for the corners? It’s too terrifying to even contemplate.