Cabrera vs Gonzalez: Peter Abraham's Made His Choice, Have You?

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Miguel Cabrera, originally uploaded by Kevin.Ward.

True, he came over from a Yankees blog and seems to fall back into that beat from time to time, but I generally like the work that Peter Abraham is doing for the Globe thus far. Which is why his latest piece “Miguel Cabrera? No, thanks” surprised me.

It’s not that I think Cabrera’s a no brainer trade target for the Sox; the .26 BAC on the last weekend of the season was bad, the resulting domestic incident with his wife horrifying. But Abraham’s case against Cabrera, otherwise, seems weak to me.

Let’s review.

There are assorted rumors out there that Cabrera will be made available via trade and — hey — the Red Sox could play him at first base. It’s not quite Adrian Gonzalez, but it would be an impressive acquisition.”

Why doesn’t Cabrera belong in the same sentence as Adrian Gonzalez, exactly?

Offensively, they’re very comparable. Gonzalez’ 2009 line was .277/.407/.551, Cabrera .324/.396/.547. And before you point to Petco’s BPF of 89, remember that Cabrera’s playing in essentially a neutral park (six year average is 100.16) in the American League, against American League pitching. More, James’ projections show Cabrera being the obviously superior option next year: .318/.394/.569 to Gonzalez’ .279/.372/.516. Oh, and unlike Gonzalez (.770 OPS vs LHP in 2009), he shows essentially no platoon split: .315/.441/.517 vs LHP, .327/.380/.556 vs RHP.

Also? Cabrera’s a year younger than Gonzalez and 72 career home runs up on his older rival (209-137). Not that this is a surprise: in his six full seasons in the majors, Cabrera’s put up wOBA’s over .400 three times, and just missed in a fourth season (2005, .399). Gonzalez, meanwhile, only has four full seasons to his credit, and has exceeded a .400 wOBA just once, last season.

If anything, then, Cabrera is Gonzalez’ offensive superior due to the fact that he’s done it for longer, and is more or less equally effective against left and right handed pitching.

Yeah, but the defense, you’re thinking. Cabrera’s eating his way out of a position. Well, maybe he is, and maybe he’s not: I don’t have data on that. But Gonzalez’ edge here isn’t as big as you’d think. In 2009, Gonzalez put up a strong UZR/150 of 3.4. Cabrera? 3.1. And remember, this was just his second season at the position after moving over from third (where he was, it must be said, pretty brutal).

[Cabrera] also is owed $126 million over the next six seasons.”

True (add in the 2015 figure of $22M). Gonzalez, meanwhile, is owed a mere $4.75M, not including an eminently affordable 2011 $5.5M option.

But if the Sox are going to heavily mortgage the farm for Gonzalez, you have to assume they’d like to extend him beyond 2011. And what do you imagine that cost might look like? Fangraphs says Gonzalez’ 2009 season was worth $28.4M. What do you think Gonzalez’ is going to ask for should he hit free agency?

I don’t know, and neither do you. But that’s the point: you don’t have to wonder with Cabrera, you know. Cost certainty is not the primary concern when the total obligation is north of 100 million, but neither is it valueless.

And speaking of value.

The Tigers are owned by pizza magnate Mike Ilitch and have a pile of money. If Cabrera is being shopped, it’s not for budgetary reasons. It’s because they decided they would be better off without him. That should give teams plenty of pause.”

Maybe. But just because Ilitch has money doesn’t mean that he wants to spend it frivolously on a club that may or may not contend (seriously, look at their roster), and is saddled with expensive and unmovable obligations like Ordonez. Nor does it mean that retaining Cabrera represents the quickest route back to the playoffs for the Tigers; indeed, the best option for them may well be to move Cabrera for the talent he would undoubtedly command in return. He’s a premium offensive player locked up for years at a contract that looks to be market appropriate, and would bring a substantial return even with his market limited by the contract size.

Gonzalez, by comparison, is eminently movable with his currently affordable contract. Meaning that the Padres addressable market is wider, and thus more competitive, at least in theory, than it would be for Cabrera.

Anyway, do I really want Cabrera? Not without some assurances that he’s addressing his drinking problems, no. But neither do I think it makes sense to write him off based on superficial observations, particularly relative to a player who is provably his inferior.

The Shortstop of the Future is When? On Jose Iglesias


Sometimes it’s the simple pleasures that get you through the day…like watching Jose Iglesias take infield practice.” – Jason Grey, ESPN

That Theo’s had a revolving door at the shortstop position since Nomar left town is well known. What’s far less certain, at this juncture, is when and how that issue will be resolved. Because for all of his efforts this season, a major league team that features Nick Green as its starting shortstop has problems.

The one time shorstop of the future, Jed Lowrie, is coming off two straight injury marred seasons. So while the club would no doubt like to pen his name into the lineup as next season’s starting shortstop, they are undoubtedly working on a Plan B, lest we end up with another year of the aforementioned Green.

Whoever Lowrie’s safety net is, the bet here is that it will be short term. Maybe a discounted return appearance for the shortstop flavor of Gonzalez, maybe an Omar Vizquel, or maybe, in the words of Frank the Tank, it’ll be something cool we don’t even know about. But as we saw when the club decided against outbidding the Twinkies for the forgotten JJ Hardy, the Red Sox seem to believe that our shortstop of the future is already in the fold in Cuban defector Jose Iglesias. Whose father, in case you’re interested, is a Boston fan.

There are better than 8 million reasons to suspect that’s the case, but if you had any doubts, Theo’s been surprisingly – shockingly, almost – candid on the subject.

Epstein said that as they search for a shortstop for this season, it’s with the knowledge that Iglesias is the shortstop of the future.

Two questions occur: one, is this a good thing? Two, if the future isn’t next year, when is it?

The answer to the first question depends on the expectations you have for the shortstop position. Or if you want to be more sophisticated in your approach, the makeup of the roster around the shortstop position: get more offense from other spots, of course, and you need less from the shortstop.

Given the premium that teams have been placing of defensive efficiency of late, however, defense would seem to be the clear priority for would-be candidates regardless of roster construction. Fortunately, Iglesias by most accounts has that in spades.

The BP guys killed him a bit when he hit the market, saying:

Iglesias has a similarly strong tournament record, drawing attention for his flashy glovework at shortstop, with one scout grading his fielding as an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His arm is enough to stick at shortstop, but his range is somewhat limited by his fringe-average speed. Iglesias makes the most of his ability, with instincts that enhance his tools and excellent makeup. He bats from the right side and while his overall offensive package leaves a bit to be desired, most scouts agree Iglesias will hit enough to allow him to profile as a big league regular. He has decent pop in his 5’10 frame, at a maxed-out 180 lbs., though he can get pull-happy at times. An international scouting director called Iglesias’ total package, “Ryan Theriot with better hands.” Iglesias is a defensive-oriented overachiever and executives say he would be more of a 2nd-3rd rounder if eligible for the recent draft.

But pretty much everyone else loves him at short.

Here’s his manager in the AFL:

“He’s got great hands—I mean, unreal hands—and they’re quick,” said Mesa manager Brandon Hyde, who managed Double-A Jacksonville (Marlins) this summer. “They’re quick and they’re soft, and his feet work. His footwork is lightning fast, with a good arm. You put those things together and you’ve got a really good shortstop.”

And if that’s not enough hyperbole for you, here’s an NL scout: “He may have the quickest hands I’ve ever seen. Get a closet for his Gold Gloves.” And a Cubs report: “he is the best defensive shortstop to come along in years.”

That’s the good news. The bad news? No, it’s not just that he’s a Cuban, and their track record – Kendry Morales and his 2009 .924 OPS aside – hasn’t been great in recent years. The concern, for us, should be that the bat isn’t generating quite the same reviews.

Here’s Keith Law:

I don’t see the argument that he’ll never hit, but it would be hard to project him as more than a hitter for average and maybe some doubles power. He’s very short to the ball with almost no load and has quick wrists, so getting to the ball and driving it to the outfield shouldn’t be a problem. It’s not a swing that’s going to generate power and he doesn’t square balls up consistently, although the latter could come with time. I could see an Adam Everett downside here unless he proves to be a degenerate hacker at the plate.

And Jason Grey:

$8.5 million or not, the 19-year-old still has to show he’s not Rey Ordonez. He’s the best defensive shortstop in the minors right now, but even when he squares the ball up, it doesn’t really go anywhere. He’s short to the ball with a good eye, but doesn’t get a good load. There’s at least some speed (he’s a 60 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale), so he could eventually be an empty batting-average guy who puts up some stolen bases.

Gammons, for his part, relays the following:

In one person’s words, “hyper,” and will have to work hard at his plate discipline. Like so many young Cuban players, Iglesias swings at almost everything.

For all of the poor reviews, however, it should be noted that he’s hitting in the AFL. Reasonably well, actually. .295/.348/.459 in 16 games. True, the AFL is not generally regarded as predictive – due both to the small sample sizes and the uneven quality of the competition – but it’s always better to play well than not. Less positive than his overall line is the 4 BB’s in 61 ABs, particularly since he’s striking out twice as much.

Am I excited about the potential addition of an Adam Everett-ish bat to a lineup that has been – to put it charitably – periodically anemic the past two seasons? Not exactly. But the world in which a 32 year old Alex Gonzalez – he of the career .689 OPS – is viewed as an attractive option is clearly not a perfect one. I’ll take the younger version if it saves me from having to watch us sadly overexpose a fine utility player at the position, thanks.

If we assume then, as I think is safe, that the club is not assuming that shortstop position will be a substantial source of offense whenever Iglesias arrives, it follows that they’ll be looking to augment our production in some of the other roster spots. Does that mean Bay is going to be back? Maybe. But it certainly means that players who offer substantial offense from a defensive roster spot will be major target should they reach the market. Players like a Joe Mauer, who could be available in 2011.

Right around when Iglesias could be arriving. Hmmm…

Is A-Gon – The Other One – Really The Solution?

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Adrian Gonzalez, originally uploaded by SD Dirk.

The one thing the Red Sox must do to bridge the gap between them and the World Series champion Yankees? Acquire Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

Losing out on Mark Teixeira in the offseason – losing him to the Yankees – seemed to be the biggest difference between the teams. The Yankees piled on with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, but the Sox had comparables in Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.” – Nick Cafardo, Why the Sox should be going, going . . . going after Gonzalez

There is a school of thought – epitomized by Nick Cafardo above – that says that Adrian Gonzalez is the cure for what ails the Red Sox. That he’s the answer to the Yankee’s Mark Teixeira.

On one level, it’s easy to understand why. Over the last three years, his age 25, 26, and 27 seasons, he’s put up a cumulative .279/.371/.519 line, good for an .891 OPS. Not bad. This past season, he put up a .958 cumulative line, good for sixth in the majors of OPS from the first base position. That’s one spot behind Youk, who checked in at .961 (in sixty odd fewer ABs) and one spot ahead of the aformentioned Teixeira, whose slow start kept him to a .948 line in almost sixty more ABs.

And he did all of the above playing in a park that kills hitters: Petco has a batting park factor of 89 (100 is neutral, > 100 is good for hitters). Contrast that with Youk (BPF of 108) or Tex (BPF of 100).

But for all of the analysis that leads the professionals to conclude that A-Gon is what this team needs, I’ve seen precious little attention to a troubling aspect to his performance: his splits.

Not the home road ones: if you can put up an .859 at Petco, you should be fine pretty much everywhere else, and he is – 1.045 OPS away from home last year. No, the thing I’m surprised no one’s focusing on is his L/R numbers.

Last year, Gonzalez put up a .305/.448/.629 against RHP, which is obscene. But lefties didn’t just contain him, they erased him: .234/.339.431. That comes out to a .770 OPS, which is good for 102nd in the league. To put that in terms we can all understand, from the left hand side, Gonzalez is – offensively – Colorado’s Dexter Fowler or, closer to home, Ellsbury. Presumably without the stolen bases.

He’s so good against RHP that this gets overlooked, but it would presumably matter a lot more when we faced, say, CC at Yankee Stadium.

Elite players in the league will show some platoon split, but typically nothing that drastic. Youk, for example, put up a .953 OPS vs lefties last year, .964 vs righties. Teixeira, a .940/.952. You need to produce against both left and right handed pitching to be counted among the best. Gonzalez, meanwhile, has never shown the ability to do that. 2009 was no fluke; his three year splits are .744/973.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t go after him? No. As mentioned, he’s so productive against right handed pitching that he’s a serious asset at the plate, and with a UZR/150 of 3.4, he’s no slouch with the glove.

But should Theo simply throw prospects at San Diego to get him? No. He’s good. Really good, in fact. He’s just not as perfect as a lot of people seem to think he is.

Don't Give Him the Heater, Pap

Breaking Balls Are for Rhodes Scholars, by J. Papelbon” – Keith Law

If it’s any consolation, watching Game 3 was just as brutal in person. Maybe more. The first two games weren’t any picnic, of course, but losing Game 3 that way was a serious kick to the crotch.

But we’ll have time to get into all of that later. What I’m going to try here is a new strategy heading into the offseason. One of the obstacles to more recent posts around these parts is the sheer size of some of the posts, and by extension, the time spent collecting the numbers. The thinking is that by tackling just one question at a time, it’ll be easier to crank out (slightly) more frequent posts. We’ll see if it works, of course, but that’s the plan.

So no detailed postmortem for now, no long analysis of the plans for 2010, no funeral dirge for the season now expired. Instead, I’m going to take a brief look at one simple issue: Papelbon’s pitch selection.

Before I continue, let me be clear: this is not an attempt to pin the series loss on Papelbon – if there’s any single culprit, it was the offense – or to turn him into a scapegoat for the team’s problems. Nor is it a recommendation that he be traded, as was a common reaction in the minutes after the game. It’s simply a look at one obvious elephant in the room.

The short version is probably known to most of you: Pap has, in recent years, been relying more and more heavily on his fastball. Here’s a piece from last September looking at just this subject. Why bring it up again now? Because out of 28 pitches thrown on Sunday, 27 were four seam fastballs. The 28th? Two seam fastball. The velocity histogram says that he threw a few offspeed offerings, late, but by then it was too little, too late.

But that’s a small sample size, you might argue. Too true. So here are a few more numbers for you. His percentage of fastballs thrown, by year, since 2006: 73.5%, 78.1%, 81.2%, 81.5%. Now, his percentages of split-fingered fastballs thrown, same years: 19.7%, 15.7%, 12.6%, 9.3%. While it’s true that he used his slider a bit more this year, at 9.2% compared to last season’s 6.1%, it’s clearly not at the expense of the fastball. That pitch being thrown, according to the data we have, better than eight times out of ten these days.

Why? That, to me, is a question that needs to be asked. Maybe you get a substantive answer, and maybe you don’t, but I would love to see someone get both Papelbon and Farrell on the record on the subject. Not because of what happened Sunday – because of what might happen going forward.

It’s demonstrably true that Papelbon has an excellent fastball. It’s got good velocity, better movemement, and he generally commands the pitch well. Or at least he did until this season, when he reportedly had altered his delivery to minimize the stress on his shoulder and arm. The early season returns on this mechanical shift were not promising, but it must be said that his walks and batting average were both significantly improved in the second half (18 BB 1st half / 6 2nd – .230 BAA / .189).

But it is also true that – with the possible exception of Mariano Rivera – no one’s fastball is good enough to be relied on exclusively. And yet that is essentially what Pap is doing, a little bit more each season.

Is it that he wants to emulate Rivera? Is it an injury or the fear of one? Is it a lack of confidence in his secondary offerings? Is it Varitek’s fastball bias? Who knows.

Whatever the reason, the strategy needs to be reevaluated. Not because of the outcome-based analysis that is inevitable in the wake of such a crushing defeat, but because we have a set of statistically significant data that says he’s getting worse. His walks per nine were the highest since 2005, and since he began relying more heavily on the fastball last year, his batting average, on base and slugging percentages allowed are up significantly.

Again, Papelbon was not the reason we lost to the Angels. But he was a big part of the reason we’ve won the last few years, and on his current trajectory, it’s not clear that he’ll be as significant an asset going forward. For his sake and for ours, he needs to think carefully about his pitch selection.

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

image courtesy Erik Dasque

(image courtesy Erik Dasque)

We just got our asses kicked, pal.

Spare me the “we scored as many runs as they did” arguments: the Yankees just savaged us with a plastic hamster. If you are lucky enough to score four runs off an in-form CC, you need to take advantage of that. Instead, Beckett was completely unable to stop the bleeding, surrendering runs in six of the eight innings he pitched. The bludgeoning was so bad, in fact, that I’m kind of surprised to see that no one is speculating along the same lines as yours truly. The first pitch dongs were one thing, but the curveball Cano hit out last night was not a bad pitch: decent break, caught the outside edge of the plate, and yet was crushed. I have to believe the Sox are at least asking the question of whether he was tipping (the Cardinals, apparently, believe that Smoltz was), but none of the media thought of it so maybe he did just pitch that badly. Or, more accurately, has been pitching that badly.

Because while it was bad that our ace got his teeth kicked by our most hated rivals while the offense managed to scrap together a few runs off their #1, what’s worse is that this, in some respects, it’s not a surprise. The big Texan’s had a distinctly odd season. The fiancee and I – oh, did I not mention that? yeah, I got engaged, it’s awesome – saw him dominate the Rays in the season opener. He followed that gem with four starts in which he gave up 4,3, 8 and 7 runs, respectively. That was good for a 7.22 ERA in April. And who’d he give up 8 against, you ask? I’ll give you a hint: they wiped the floor with him last night as well.

Anyway, since the start of May, Beckett’s generally been excellent (ERA’s by month: May 2.38, June 1.51, July 3.35). Or rather he had been, until his last start at Toronto, a 5 and a third, 7 run clunker. Throw in the start previous, in Detroit, and Beckett’s given up 10 home runs in his last three starts, after giving up 10 in his first 22 starts combined. That, my friends, is what we in the business call a problem.

So what’s the problem? Damned if I can tell. PitchFX tells us his velocity seems ok: 94.5 and a half on the fastball, topping out at 96.5. Nor is there anything obvious in the plots. We know he’s throwing strikes – they were the balls leaving the park at a high velocity. But he’s also out of the zone enough that they can’t tee off. No, I don’t know what’s wrong. I haven’t done a deep look at the numbers, but nothing jumps out at me from what I’ve seen.

Which makes me wonder – based also on the approaches the Yankees took to the plate last night – if he isn’t tipping his pitches. If that seems implausible, think of it this way: it’s either that, or he’s suddenly and inexplicably pitching very, very badly. I prefer the former.

Either way, I’m sure Farrell and company are hard at work on the issue as I write this, which is good. We need Beckett to be Beckett, because we’re going to need everybody performing to get to the postseason. Speaking of…

The Postseason

My problem with the folks that pronounce definitely that we’re either out of the division race or still in it is that they’re both wrong. We’re not technically out of it, but we’re not in it, really, either. As of this morning, the Monte Carlo simulations run by Clay Davenport and the fine folks from BP, we’ve got a 3.09% chance of winning the division. Let’s be generous and round that up to 3.1%: we’re still not likely to win this thing, although mathematically, it’s still possible. Yes, we’ve played the Yankees well – this weekend and the last series notwithstanding, we’re 9-6 against them. But they’re destroying everyone else, and we are most certainly not. Hence the seven and a half game lead.

The obvious question then is whether we can secure the wild card, and the answer is that we can, but that our competition is stiff. The same projection has us at a 52% probability to win the wild card, with the Rays at 24% and the Rangers at 15%. That sounds good, but a.) that’s only a 1 in 2 chance of making the playoffs, and b.) we’re one bad week – and sweet Jebus knows we’ve had plenty of those – away from being where the Rangers are now.

So yes, we can make it, but our margin for error is effectively non-existent. We can’t have any more team wide slumps, no major injuries, and our rotation can’t afford any more Smoltz-esque starts. And speaking of Smoltz…


As could have been predicted, Smoltz’s generally awful performance coupled with the team’s coincidental malaise led to a bunch of “Theo screwed everything up this offseason” commentary. Smoltz, like Penny, was – in my view – a good bet that just didn’t pan out. Nor would it have, I don’t think. Yes, as Nick Steiner gleefully covers – he’s a Cardinals fan – the ex-Brave’s first outing for the Redbirds was a gem: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, and 9 K’s. But as he acknowledges, this is a.) the NL west, b.) the worst team in the NL west, and c.) the best pitcher’s park in the game.

Were there positive signs when Smoltz was throwing for us? Absolutely. He was striking people out, not walking too many and his velocity was acceptable, if not overwhelming as in the past. But, as I said on the fangraphs blog, we just couldn’t afford to keeping losing games while he got himself straightened out. If we were sitting in the Yankee’s seats right now, with a comfortable margin in the division, I have little doubt Smoltz would still be here, and maybe pitching more to his peripherals. But in the meantime, he was getting crushed and killing our bullpen.

So I was fine with the signing, just as I’m fine seeing him go. Because one of the kids is, at this point, probably a better choice for a rotation spot.


To answer your first question, no, I do not feel “vindicated” about my assessment of one Clay Buchholz. While I am, of course, please that he’s pitched very credibly and kept us in games against – in succession – Sabathia, Verlander and Halladay, the simple facts are that his performance is not going to be sustainable unless he improves. When you’re walking almost as many as you strike out per nine – 4.7 vs 5.6 – you’re going to have problems. So he needs to at least quit putting guys on base, and it would help – his new two seam, groundball machine notwithstanding – if he struck a few more guys out.

But am I exceedingly glad that the media – or at least the Cafardo and Mazz contingent – isn’t running things? You bet. Cafardo? “I make the Clay Buchholz-Jarrod Saltalamacchia deal right now.” Forget the nerve damage – that couldn’t have been foreseen. But Salty’s line this year? .236/.293/.375 for a .668 OPS. And remember, it’s not clear that he’ll be able to remain a catcher. Mazz, you might recall, was rather in favor of a Clay Buchholz and Jason Bay for Matt Holliday swap. Holliday’s numbers in the big boys league? .286/.378/.454 for an .831 OPS, which is right in line with 2005-2007 numbers away from Coors Field.

Or maybe you remember when Cafardo said this: “With Justin Masterson making a solid impression in the majors and Buchholz down in Triple A, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which of the two starters the Sox are higher on at the moment.” Even while he followed that with a caveat that the Red Sox valued him too highly to trade, the statement made zero sense to anyone who views a player’s potential beyond what they are doing right now.

Masterson’s a good player, and one that I was sorry to see go. But in three starts with Cleveland, he’s had two decent starts and one very bad one, and – more troubling – he still can’t get lefties out (.323/.401/.463 in ’09, numbers which have declined from his .238/.365/.422 in ’08). This was apparent last year when Cafardo wrote those words – all you had to do was look at the numbers – but the media seemingly can’t be bothered to look beyond what they see on the field that day, that minute.

Is Buchholz as valuable as Stephen Strasburg? Not even close. But am I glad that the front office viewed him with a bit of perspective that the media apparently can’t be bothered with? Hell yes. Just as I’m excited they improved the defense behind the kid. Which brings us to Josh’s question.


Like the Globe’s Adam Kilgore – who’s doing a very nice job, incidentally – I was curious, initially, to see whether Gonzalez would be an actual upgrade in the field. At the time, A-Gon’s UZR/150 was below that of Nick Green. But it’s apparent to both of us that this move had delivered as expected, and the math agrees: A-Gon’s up to 6.5 runs above average, better than Green’s 5.2. Interestingly, the forgotten Lowrie’s at 21.3.

Anyway, while age the knee surgery may – undoubtedly has, actually – subtracted from Gonzalez’s once exceptional range in the field, he’s at least been surehanded in the field. It might be that Green’s errors stick out all the more because they’ve been so brutal and ill timed, but I’m happy to have Gonzalez back, particularly considering the cost. Shortstop prospects, we have, and we didn’t give up any of the good ones. We did, however, give up some talented kids to get us a new catcher.


Much attention has been paid this past week to Martinez’ role, as his insertion at catcher had – until Saturday and Sunday – welded Varitek to the bench. Which is, frankly, where he needed to be, given what he was bringing to the table offensively and – it must be said – defensively. Johnny Bench, Martinez is not, but the kid can hit, and as Schilling said on WEEI the other day, he caught the last two Cy Young award winners, so he’s no idiot.

Were Hagadone and Masterson a steep price to pay for the transaction? Indeed. Hagadone, coming off Tommy John surgery, is the rare high velocity lefthander, and if he can add a third pitch to the slider, has upper rotation written all over him. Masterson, his lefty difficulties notwithstanding, is a hugely versatile pitcher, capable of seamlessly shifting back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation and back.

What we got back, however, as Keith Law covers, is versatility and flexibility going forward:

For Boston, he could replace Jason Varitek, or could fill in at multiple positions, playing every day but splitting time across catcher, first base and DH, especially the last when a left-hander is on the mound. He’s a legitimate switch-hitter and controls the strike zone, so at worst the Red Sox just got a catcher who can get on base and who’s under contract for a reasonable $7.5 million next year.

This is, as Theo might put it, a move made with both today and tomorrow in mind. Which makes it tough to argue with, in spite of the cost.

As for the Kotchman deal, don’t look at me: I still don’t get that one. I know he’s controllable for two more years, but LaRoche must have made himself very unpleasant to get turned around inside of two weeks.

Before I close, two quick items: one good, one sad.

I, like the rest of Red Sox nation, would like to wish Jerry Remy a fond welcome back following his return to the booth Friday night. I also give him a lot of credit for speaking publicly about his depression. This can be a shameful affliction for many under the best of conditions, and the baseball industry is, well, how do we say it: not terribly progressive. While I haven’t, fortunately, suffered from it, a lot of people that I know have, and it’s my hope that revelations like Remy’s will act to destigmatize depression for those who have it. So welcome back, and thank you.

On the sad news front, my sincere condolences to the family of Greg Montalbano, one time Northeastern pitcher (and Carlos Pena teammate) and Red Sox prospect (and Kevin Youkilis teammate). After suffering for cancer for several years, Greg succumbed last week. From everything I’ve read, he was a good man with a very healthy perspective on his lot in life. He will, like all good people, be missed.

In Case You Were Wondering…

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Lowrie Steps Out, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whether Matt Garza just gives us a hard time…

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

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

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

When Lars Anderson might be ready…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whether we’re going to trade for a bat…

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

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

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

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

The answer is: possibly. Gammons again:

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

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

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

If we have the worst shortstop defense in the league…

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

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

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