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

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.

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

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Danger, originally uploaded by Clearly Ambiguous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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