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

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The blues, originally uploaded by jurek d..

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

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

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

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

Speaking of, one of the candidates continues to shine.

Bard

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

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

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

Beckett

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

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

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

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

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

Buchholz

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

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

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

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

Lugo

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

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

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

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

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

Santana

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa

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

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

Last But Not Least: Our Best Wishes

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

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

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

Terrified of Tampa

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Devil Rrays, originally uploaded by mandolux.

[Tampa is] going to be not just a team on the radar screen in coming years, they’re going to turn into a force.” – Theo Epstein.

Sadly, I concur. The sentiment would have probably seemed at once more prescient and less surprising had I published this when I first started writing it. Which, for the record, was actually before this March 20th Twitter. Also, before we were at the quarter pole looking up at the Rays in the standings.

By now, everyone and their mother has heard about these “new” Rays, making this piece both redundant and superfluous. But I’m not quite convinced that Red Sox Nation is as concerned about the Rays as they should be.

Obviously they’re going to cause problems this year. There’s the fact that they’re leading the division, of course, but more alarming is the fact that their Run Differential suggests that they should be leading the division (the Rays have scored 26 more runs than they’ve allowed through 43 games, while the Sox are +25 through 44). Think it’s a scheduling thing? They’re 18-12 vs the AL East.

Frankly, it’s looking more and more like the BP guys called this one, as they called the White Sox’ miserable ’07 season. I thought they’d be improved, but that an 88-74 season was seriously optimistic.

That’ll learn me to compete with the math geeks.

My real concern, however, isn’t this season. Not that I relish the thought of a resurgent Rays club, but Tampa making a single season run like the Marlins of yore I could live with. The longtime laughingstock positioning itself for years of competitive play, I’m not sure I can.

Which is a problem, because that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Consider the roster:

C D Navarro
1B C Pena
2B A Iwamure
3B E Longoria
SS J Barlett
RF J Gomes
CF B Upton
LF C Crawford

SP J Shields
SP S Kazmir
SP E Jackson
SP M Garza
SP A Sonnanstine

RP T Percival
RP D Wheeler
RP A Reyes
RP T Miller

I’m not sure what you see, but I see a solid club. They’re above average, I’d argue, everywhere but catcher, shortstop and right field – and I haven’t even run the numbers, that could be understating the case. The rotation is solid 1-4, and the bullpen has options beyond a closer fresh off the juvenation machine.

And unlike the aforemention Marlins, the Rays are in the process of making sure that the key pieces will be around for years to come. Shields, Longoria, Wheeler, Pena, and now Kazmir. And if Neyer’s right, Upton could follow.

Perhaps you’ll also recall how our much vaunted farm system was ranked second in all of major league baseball? Guess who finished ahead of us. Seriously.

As if Tampa’s current staff wasn’t frightening enough, help is on the way. David Price, last year’s first overall pick in the draft, got an excellent review from A-Rod despite coughing up a homer to the Cooler while the latter was on a rehab assignment. Bolstering the staff shortly should be Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Jeff Niemann, while Bartlett’s replacement Reid Brignac is in place.

Couple the best farm system in the game, with a talented young major league roster and the financial wherewithal to sign some of the young players to multi-year deals and what do you get? A competitive Rays club. Oh, and they may be getting a brand new waterfront ballpark.

Within one, maybe two years at the outside, we’ll be sitting in our rockers waxing nostalgic about the good old days when we only had to worry about the Yankees. Mark my words.

You can talk all you want about the talented Blue Jays pitching staff – which is excellent, no doubt – but it’s the Rays that really scare me.

I Almost Feel Sorry For Yankees Fans at This Point

Hankenstein (courtesy of Newsday)
(image courtesy of Newsday)

Look, I don’t like them any more than you do, generally. But in all seriousness, would you wish their new owner on anyone? Even your worst enemy?

I’m not sure.

What’s he said now? Oh, just that the Rays have no justification for retaliating against his Yankees because they’re the beneficiaries of revenue sharing.

“I don’t want these teams in general to forget who subsidizes a lot of them, and it’s the Yankees, the Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets,” he said to The New York Post. “I would prefer if teams want to target the Yankees that they at least start giving some of that revenue sharing and luxury tax money back. From an owner’s point of view, that’s my point.”

In case you missed the background, a Rays minor leaguer (Elliott Johnson) ran over a Yankee minor league catcher (Francisco Cervelli) at the plate in a hard but legitimate play, breaking the backstop’s wrist. Four days later, the always classy Yankee Shelley Duncan tried to spike Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura in a hard and illegitimate play, prompting a real, live Simmons basebrawl.

As Olney says, none of the above is really that newsworthy: everyone’s acting as you might expect them to.

But what I hadn’t known was that the Rays were disqualified from defending themselves from eye high spikes, simply because their budget is an eighth of the Empire’s. Particularly if they “go after [Yankee] stars.” You know, as is traditional.

Thank Jebus Hankenstein is around to educate all of us on the subject, however. Otherwise those uppity Rays might think that, well, they’re an actual major league team that could actually compete with the Yankees. And we can’t have that.