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.

Defensing the Lowell Trade

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MVP, originally uploaded by BostonTx.

I love Mikey Lowell. You love Mikey Lowell. Even Yankee fans love Mikey Lowell, down deep, because he came out of their system. Probably the only people on Earth that don’t love Lowel are Rockies fans, for whom Lowell is nothing more than bad memories of what could have been.

But if he’s gone – and from what I’m reading, it’s still an if – it’s for a very simple reason: defense. And you know what? I can’t really argue with that.

When the only team in the league worse than you in defensive efficiency is the Royals, as it was for the Red Sox in 2009, you need to make a change. As Gammons said,

We learned a lot watching the Rays go from a bad to an extraordinary defensive team from 2007 to 2008, which took them into the World Series.

Or did we all learn it in 2008? Seems to me that our front office was way ahead of us on that score, as evidenced by the 2004 acquisitions of Cabrera and Mink-alphabet.

Simply put, when the object of the game is to score more runs than the other guys, you need to try and do two basic things: score more runs, and give up fewer. If this was 2010 and Mauer and company were on the market, I think the front office would be trying to do both.

But this is still 2009, and the best hitters on the market are one of our own and a guy who – for his career – has a .250 point home/away OPS split. Which might be less of a concern if he hadn’t called Coors Field home for five of his first six seasons.

So giving up fewer runs it is, by default, because the prospect of paying Holliday Teixeira money makes me physically ill. But while I’m sure they’ll kick the tires on Halladay and Lackey, the cost/benefit on those potential improvements to our pitching staff are likely to be less than attractive, for now and for later.

Which means that the most efficient way for us to get better is to play better defense. Much better defense. Scutaro will help there, but Lowell – as much as any fan hates to admit it – was part of the problem last year.

His UZR/150 went from an excellent 15.6 in 2008 to a -14.4 in 2009. Every range related metric Baseball Reference has dropped off the table last season. Much like we couldn’t wait to find out if Lowrie’s healed enough to hit, we probably can’t wait to find out if Lowell’s able enough to play third. Not as a 36 year old, anyway.

As for the players not liking it? Why would they? Hell, I don’t like it. But Theo’s not supposed to do what we like, and what makes us feel good: he’s supposed to do what’s best for the Boston Red Sox.

And unfortunately, if we want to get better defensively, and we need to, that probably means moving Lowell.

Who’s going to play if he is moved? We’ll tackle that question later. For now, let me just echo Red and say, Thank You Mike Lowell.

Beckett Not Being Beckett: The Game 3 Reaction

Fenway says hi

I’ll admit it: seven hits in 12 innings was not precisely what I had in mind for my first in person postseason appearance at the park this season. After all, I brought a lifetime 5-1 playoff record to Fenway last night. I recognized that the Angels pitching was excellent – and that our offense can be pitched to, now more than ever – but, well, you saw what happened.

About as fun as a kick in the crotch.

On the one hand, if you’d told me we’d be up 2-1 after three games before the series began, I would have taken it. On the other, we lost a Beckett start, and if Lester can’t clinch tonight we’re looking at a Game 5 started by Matsuzaka. Which is almost more than I bear.

Twelve innings and a one run loss make it seem like the game was close, but in truth, it wasn’t. Ells’ first hit should never have dropped, and without that we don’t score four and we don’t go to extras. Sadly, we were unable to steal the game we didn’t deserve to win, with out best chance dying in the glove of Rivera (or was Willits in by then?) when Lowrie flied out to right off K-Rod with the bases loaded.

Anyway, I doubt reliving the game inning by inning would be all that cathartic, so let’s move on to the post-game comments:

  • Beckett:
    The Texan righthander says that physically he’s fine. Which is entirely unsurprising, whether it’s true or it isn’t. For my part, I say that the available evidence contradicts that claim. Easily.

    When Saunders is throwing harder (96) than Beckett (topped out at 94, sat at 92) according to the Fenway Park gun there’s something wrong. Set aside the results for a minute – while he labored in giving up nine hits over five, Beckett did keep us in the game – he just didn’t look like Beckett. His velocity was down, his command was poor, and he – like Matsuzaka the start before him – could not put batters away. Beckett started the game with one fastball in his first ten pitches and couldn’t cover first base; if that doesn’t scream “problem” I don’t know what would. If you asked the Angels privately, I would bet you a case of Smithwick’s that each and every one of them believes Beckett is still hurt.

    Which begs certain questions: if he’s not healthy – as I assume that he’s not – why not hold him for a Game 5 start and throw either Byrd or Wake? Lose that and you would then have to take one of two pitched by Lester and a more fully rested Beckett. And if he’s not healthy, why was he starting at all? Not only were we behind the 8 ball all day, the start cost us seven innings and 109 pitches from the pen. If last night was a consequence of Beckett trying to do too much and misleading his manager and the training staff as to his physical readiness, it’ll be a shame.

  • Bullpen:
    Much maligned by yours truly during the season, the relievers have pitched brilliantly for the most part. They haven’t been perfect, and have been as lucky (think Vlad’s first-to-third try) as they have been good, but last night was an excellent illustration of their turnaround: seven innings, three hits, one run. Can’t ask for any more than that.
  • Lowell:
    As you’ve no doubt read by now, Lowell looked bad last night. What was not properly conveyed was precisely how bad he looked. Lowell, who’s building a strong case as the toughest player in the league, is a shell at present, and moves as if he were hollow. His range is literally measured in feet, and his at bats are tough to watch. I have nothing but respect for him trying to play – and for gutting out the late innings walk last night – but we need to ask whether at the 30 or 40% he’s playing at currently, he’s an asset or a liability. Painful as that might be for our club.
  • Lopez:
    Just for the record, I don’t blame Lopez for last night’s outcome. His game is not facing righties, and that’s what got to him in the 12th. Why Lopez over Byrd? I didn’t quite follow Tito’s explanation, but I think it was this: Lopez needed to face the lefties coming up. If you use Byrd, he’s on in for a few batters, then it would Lopez’ turn, at which point you’ve burned your long guy (Wake was not an option because Cash had been erased). Seems a little circuitous logic-wise, but frankly there aren’t many great options in 12th inning of a playoff game in which your starter only went five.
  • Lowrie:
    Nor, for the record, do I hold Lowrie accountable for last night. Bases loaded, two out, facing one of the better closers in the game, the kid put a good swing on the ball, which is all that you can reasonably ask. The ball just hung up a few seconds long.
  • MDC:
    Giving credit where credit is due, as I’ve been a critic, MDC looked positively overpowering last night. He threw his change for strikes and made Anderson, in particular, look bad swinging through it. And while I don’t believe it was intentional, I’m glad he hit Napoli. The Angels catcher was far too comfortable in the box.
  • Napoli:
    Speaking of, I’m not sure if it was obvious on the telecast, but his first home run (I was in the dude’s room for the second) was an absolute bomb. The ball was crushed, and there was less than no doubt about it, even as it came off the bat.
  • Papi:
    I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but one common observation last night was that the Large Father just isn’t the same. He hit the ball hard a few times – flying out short of the warning track in his first two at bats – and walked late, but he’s clearly not the threat he was last season, or even early this one. Which is a problem.
  • Pedroia:
    The little guy actively took upon himself the blame for last night’s loss, which was good but hardly necessary. True, he remains hitless, and didn’t deliver in two or three spots last night that might have won us the ballgame. But a.) he’s not the only problem on offense, b.) he’s been unlucky on a few balls that were hit and hit well, and c.) they’re not giving him a lot to hit.
  • Shields:
    Was absolute nails last night. He located a fastball with good velocity (topping at 94), dropped in a mid 70′s hook, and threw in a slider for good measure. None of our guys looked comfortable, and none had particularly good at bats. That’s the good news for the Angels fan; the bad news is that he was leaned on heavily, throwing 28 pitches in 2 and a third IP. His availability tonight, presumably, will be limited.
  • Texeira/Vlad:
    Are easily outdoing their Red Sox counterparts this series. Like our ’07 Papi/Manny combo, they’re hitting pretty much everything (averages are .538 and .583, respectively). They are, frankly, terrifying at the moment.
  • Varitek:
    A few people were surprised that Tito pinch hit for Varitek. I would remind those people that a.) Tito manages – again, as he should – for the moment in the postseason, and that b.) Varitek can still hit lefties with moderate success, but is having serious trouble hitting from the left side of the plate. The move, therefore, was nothing more than a logical decision, if one that didn’t pay off.

What to expect tonight? It’s all on the starters. With an offday tomorrow if the series goes to five games, both clubs will have some flexibility with their respective ‘pens. But not a lot: the workloads have been heavy. Last night alone, the Angels’s relief core all threw around 30 pitches (Arredondo 28, Shields 28, K-Rod 33). Our workload wasn’t that much lighter (Delcarmen 25, Oki 17, Masterson 16, Pap 31, Lopez 20). If one starter goes five against the other’s seven or eight, he’s going to lose.

The good news is that we’re throwing the ace of our postseason tonight in Lester; the bad news is that the Angels are doing the same. True, Lackey’s history at Fenway is less than stellar (I’m on a train and can’t look up the numbers), but his near no-hitter this year was pitched there, unless I’m mistaken.

In other words, I expect another good, tight ballgame. Which makes for good TV. But I have to be honest: I’d settle for a big margin Sox win.

P.S. One thing to keep on the back of your mind: might Beckett be available for an inning or two out of the pen on Wed, if necessary?

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

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Lester in the Pen, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

Running late, as usual. Blame the Red Sox this time. What would you have me do: watch the Sox/Yankees or crank out the ICYHBKUWCE that I owe you?

Exactly.

In the meantime, I’m not going to say anything about our play of late so as not to jinx us. But given that there’s another tilt with the empire coming in a littler over an hour, I’m going to keep this short and sweet. This week’s edition of In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events is player focused.

Enjoy, or at least read it.

Cash

Heard anyone complaining about his defense, and/or the impact it’s having on Timmeh? Me neither. The Sox should, of course, be actively on the market for catching because one injury to Tek and we’re in serious trouble (Brown and Kottaras’ success notwithstanding – more on that in a follow up). We could, in fact, find ourselves in a similar position to the Empire.

Colon

It’s not exactly throwing heat, but Colon – sidelined by an oblique injury – is at least back to playing catch.

Cora

Cora, on the other hand, was DL’d with Thurston replacing him. If Lowell wasn’t already out, I’d be less concerned about this, as it would offer Lowrie an opportunity to get his feet wet in an uber-utility role.

Delcarmen

Yes, his inconsistency is driving me crazy too. This past weekend, he gets couple of big outs against the Yankees. Last night? 2 free passes in an inning, and one hit by pitch scoring the at-the-time tying run.

How a pitcher with his stuff gets into so many 3 ball counts is beyond me, but until his command is better he won’t be the relief ace that we want him to be. Anyone else think it was interesting to see him replaced by Aardsma last night – particularly given their similarity?

Lester

Frustrating as MDC might be, however, it’s nothing compared to Lester. As Zach Hayes over at Fire Brand summarizes:

So far this season, Lester has thrown one outstanding start against weak hitting Oakland, one below average start against Detroit and two bad starts in Japan vs. the A’s and Monday at Cleveland. Lester isn’t being consistently pounded for home runs and hits (just two big ones- Emil Brown and Marcus Thames), but he’s constantly falling behind in the count, throwing all over the zone and putting too many free runners on base.

Remember when I asked whether his Oakland start was an adjustment or mere statistical variation? Well, we may not know the answer yet, but the initial data isn’t promising. It’s so unpromising, in fact, that Hayes asks whether or not it might be Lester rather than Buchholz that’s sent down when/if Colon arrives.

My own take is that Buchholz will be headed back down, unless Lester completely and utterly melts down, for the simple reason of innings. Buchholz’ professional innings totals? 22.2 IP Majors, 285.2 Minors. Lester? 144.1 IP Majors, 483.2 minors.

Lester’s far better positioned than Buchholz to handle a full season’s workload at this point, cancer or no cancer.

Lowell

Not much to relate here: the swelling’s down, but there’s been no further progress.

Lowrie

Congrats to the rookie for his first appearance, first major league hit, and first major league three RBI game. Particularly since the latter proved the difference in the ballgame. Oh, if you see him, wish him a happy birthday tomorrow.

Papi

I can’t say – apart from the hits collected – that I’ve seen much to convince me Papi’s back. But I have to say that the comment that Evan over at Fire Brand collected from Pizza Cutter was enlightening:

In general, Ortiz hits a lot of foul balls (including two strike fouls!) although he’s a power hitter and power hitters are generally high risk/high reward swingers, hence a lot of K’s and a lot of HR’s. Part of the reason that he’s so good is that his swing allows him to recover from a big swing midway and at least poke a ball foul to stay alive.

David Ortiz’s “slump” is nothing more than a run of bad luck. BABIP is generally within control of the hitter and Ortiz, a lifetime .310 BABIP hitter is hitting .114 this year…As much as I’d love it if he would politely hit like this for the next few months (or at least until the Red Sox get out of Cleveland tonight), I wouldn’t bet on that happening unless there’s some sort of (major) injury that we don’t know about. Patience is a virtue. Y’all waited 86 years. Ortiz will be fine.

Worth thinking about; I should have looked up his BABIP data myself.

Tek

Speaking of slumps, remember when everyone wrote him off after Japan/LA? I do.

The Mayor Comes to Town

So we’re getting Sean Casey. While I can’t really say that I have strong feelings on the subject one way or another, it’s a Red Sox transaction and thus must be documented. In excessive detail. Here we go.

Q: What’s the nature of the transaction?
A: One year deal at $700K according to the Great Gammons. Edes says $800K. Doesn’t look like a minor league invite sort of thing, but the contract is apparently non-guaranteed.

Q: Who is Sean Casey?
A: A 1B/DH type, pretty much strictly, who’s played with Cleveland (briefly), Cincinnatti, Detroit, Pittsburgh in his career. While much beloved by fans, players and media, I’m probably faster than he is. Like, a lot faster. And I’m the slowest man alive.

Q: What’s with the much beloved bit?
A: Casey is rumored to be the most popular player in MLB. As the good folks over at Surviving Grady relate, in a survey of 464 major leaguers asked who the friendliest player was, Casey’s name was returned on 46% of the ballots. The runners up? Jim Thome and Mike Sweeney, at a whopping 7% a piece. Put more simply: you don’t pick up a moniker like “The Mayor” by being a dick.

Q: So he’s one of those rare players the ravenous Boston media won’t pick on?
A: Sure seems that way. Witness these tidbits, “a very popular and enthusiastic player,” “considered an outstanding clubhouse influence,” “excellent contact hitter,” “chosen for three NL All-Star teams,” “made a big impact with Detroit.”

Q: Ok, the Boston media is sold. How about you?
A: Meh. As I said from the outset, I’ve really got no strong feelings one way or another. He’s got some very useful skills, but lacks the versatility you’d expect from a bench player, as Allen Chace over at Over the Monster notes.

Q: Let’s parse that a little bit: what are his useful skills?
A: Dude, it’s the Red Sox front office. What do you think? Baserunning?

The guy gets on base. Lifetime OBP is .366, and last year was at .353.

Q: I’ve heard – via Nick Cafardo – that he’s a good pinch hitter as well. Is that true?
A: Well, Cafardo has him at 5-11 last year in that role. Which is good. ESPN actually has him at 6-12, which is also good. But given that his three year total of 21 ABs as a PH is the very definition of small sample size, I’m not ready to draw any firm conclusions off of that fact.

Q: Gotcha. So the OBP is good. What are the downsides?
A: Primarily, as discussed by Allen, there’s the lack of versatility. I’ve never been considered the world’s biggest Hinske fan, but at least he gives you the option in the outfield. As would have a Brad Wilkerson, before he signed with the Mariners.

Casey’s limited, but balancing that is Youk’s abilities at third. So though Casey is limited to first, given Youk’s versatility, The Mayor effectively represents relief at both first and third.

The other primarily limitation of Casey’s game is power. Put bluntly, it’s never really been a part of his game. Lifetime SLG is .450, and his last three years are .364/.408/.393. But in a bench player, that’s not really such a priority.

Q: What do the players think?
A: Given his reputation, they’re likely to be as fired up as Curt Schilling is. As an aside to Curt, who observed “I think he’s gotten the best of me more than I on him,” that’s not quite true. He’s at 6 hits in 19 ABs with 2 BBs, for a .316/.381/.474 line. Thus he’s hit you well, but not more often than you get him.

Q: What do the splits tell us?
A: One minor surprise: he’s better against lefties than righties over the last 3 years (.326/.380/.448 vs .284/.346/.387). Other than that, very little of significance: he hasn’t hit well at Camden Yard in 13 ABs (.445 OPS), hasn’t been much better at Fenway (.483 OPS in 30 ABs), and is worst at Yankee Stadium (.417 OPS in 21 ABs). He also hasn’t responded well to the DH role in a mere 26 ABs, hitting .192/.250/.308 in that role.

Q: A cursory glance suggests that Casey is like an older Youk. Is that reasonably accurate?
A: Well, they’re both first baseman with lower power profiles than you expect for the position, but Youk can handle third and gets on base at a slightly higer clip (.383 to .366 lifetime). Interestingly, though, Casey’s hit for a bit more pop over his career (.450 to Youk’s .434). I hadn’t known that.

Q: So what’s the bottom line on this deal?
A: Seems like a classic low-risk/moderate reward scenario. At worst, he’s a low cost (read: easily jettisoned) asset with the club who may make the clubhouse a better place. At best, he’s a good OBP bat off the bench that can spell both Lowell at third (by proxy) and Youk at first, which is important since the fomer is aging (33) and the latter tends to wear down (1st and 2nd half splits the last 3 years: .309/.410/.478 vs .249/.355/.384). Thus, I give the deal a thumbs up, even if I’m not dancing in the streets as a result.

Filed Under "Things I Didn't Know"

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Game 4: Lowell scores in the 5th, originally uploaded by guano.

Item #1: Mike Lowell’s wife’s name is “Bertica.” For serious. See the quote here. Wikipedia confirms, which is important as it’s Cafardo.

Far be it from me to poke fun at either member of the happy couple: I have nothing but respect for Mr. Lowell – as a player (though I agree with ZIPS that he’s in line for a substantial downward correction) and person – and I’m quite sure the the Mrs. is no less deserving.

It’s just that I’ve never heard of anyone – real, fictional, or imagined – saddled with a name like Bertica. Honestly, if I had to pick between being a boy named Sue or a girl named Bertica, I’d pick Sue seven days a week and twice on Sunday. I might even pick Trinka – as in former Sox wife-or-girlfriend Trinka Lowe – over Bertica, though that’s a tough call.

Anyway, all due credit to her for surviving the unfortunate appellation.

P.S. Thanks to Flickr user guano (no, not joking, and yes I appreciate the irony) for the Creative Commons licensed shot.