It's Nobody's Fault But Valentine's

No matter what the media would have you believe, Bobby Valentine’s current problems are not about Terry Francona. Nor even Curt Schilling. They’re about Bobby Valentine.

Was Schilling a hypocrite when he popped off about Valentine having never been in the locker room, exactly the kind of move he hated as a player? Yes. Is it likely that he’s unfairly biased against Valentine because of his relationship with Francona? Again, yes. But here’s the problem: none of that means that Schilling is wrong. And in the wake of that controversy, Valentine is doing nothing but proving Schilling correct.

The popular narrative about last season was, and to some degree is, that the Red Sox’ failure was attributable to a lack of accountability that festered under Tito’s free hand. Peter Abraham apparently subscribes to this theory, saying yesterday:

Everybody knows what happened in 2011. The Red Sox weren’t ready for the season to start and then they quit on each other at the end.

Is there some truth to that assertion? With certainty. But was that the reason 2011 ended in disaster? Or is the more likely explanation that normal clubhouse behaviors became magnified in the wake of a historic collapse that was the product of a true perfect storm?

What if, for example, Doubront hadn’t showed up out of shape, then gotten hurt? What if Hill had lasted more than 9 (scoreless) games? What if Jenks pitched in more than 19 games, and pitched like Jenks? What if Drew hadn’t faded so suddenly? What if Kalish and Linares hadn’t been hurt and therefore unable to replace him? What if Buchholz hadn’t had a stress fracture in his back, missing half a season? What if Youk had been playing at third instead of Aviles? What if Bard and Lester hadn’t all lost the strike zone at the same time? What if Gonzalez hadn’t shown the ill effects of the home run derby, a surgically repaired shoulder, or both? What if Carl Crawford had finally, eventually been even 80% of Carl Crawford? Hell, what if Darnell McDonald hadn’t been picked off in the top of the ninth inning that first series in Cleveland after being swept by Texas?

The answer is that the Red Sox probably would have made the playoffs, Tito probably would still be the manager and Theo might even still be the GM. In spite of – or is that because of? – Francona’s leniency.

The popular narrative, in other words, is lazy, not attempting to explain why the Red Sox were the best team in baseball for fourth months, nor to understand the failure as a cumulative event. It’s a gross oversimplification that seeks to assign blame for an event that was the product of dozens of cascading errors. One that mistakes symptoms for cause. If any one of dozens of factors had played out differently, Valentine probably wouldn’t be the manager.

None of that happened, however, which is how Bobby V happened. In a classic management blunder, ownership over-rotated and hired the exact opposite of the manager they determined was the problem – his two World Series titles notwithstanding.

The really surprising thing wasn’t that management’s chosen anti-Francona experienced issues, nor even that they occured so soon. No, the real surprise was that after almost a decade out of major league baseball – an exile due in part to his inability to control his mouth – Bobby Valentine, a sixty-two year old man, was after all these years unable to control his mouth.

What the Globe’s Peter Abraham got right was that Valentine’s bizarre indictment of (and later apology to) Youk was a mistake. What he got wrong was the implication – perhaps born out of Valentine’s own denials – that this was somehow manufactured by Francona’s admirers, or those operating off of Bobby V stereotypes. Bobby brought this on himself, and needed no help from anyone to do it.

There just isn’t a rational defense for his comments. Like so many of the things that come out of Valentine’s mouth – remember when he had to apologize to Jeter in spring training?, there was no upside to them. Whether it was intended as motivation or was the product of someone who can’t help himself, the impact was a media firestorm and an angry, immediate rebuke from the clubhouse in the person of Pedroia. All this, nine days into his tenure. Which begs the question: if Bobby’s as smart as everyone thinks he is, why can’t he just shut his trap?

One other thing that Abraham got right: if Valentine doesn’t learn to keep his mouth shut, it’s going to be a long season. Those who wished for a manager that would be harder on the players are going to discover that it’s best to be careful what you wish for.

Five Reasons Bobby Valentine is a Bad Idea

Lotteria: Bobby Valentine

My track record on decisions as they relate to ownership and management of the Red Sox is, at best, suspect. I was not a fan of the new ownership group when they came in. I was not in favor of Theo’s promotion. And I was not supportive of his first managerial hire, a man who had failed with the Phillies. Two world series titles and a nine plus season sellout streak later, and I think it’s safe to admit that I was wrong on all counts. Over the past decade, in fact, I’ve come to appreciate – and in the case of Francona, genuinely like – all of the above.

My previous judgements notwithstanding, I believe that the hiring of Bobby Valentine as Red Sox manager is a mistake, one that will not end well. I was appalled yesterday to hear Glenn Ordway and Michael Holley of WEEI argue that Red Sox fans would love Valentine. I think he’s the definition of an overreaction to the events of last season, and a decision we’ll come to regret. My primary concern isn’t performance; the role of the manager in modern baseball has substantially less impact on a club’s fortunes than, say, an NFL head coach. But Bobby Valentine is a mistake for the following reasons.

He’s Thinking Short Term

If Bobby Valentine is smart – and even his critics will grant him that – he’s thinking short term. He’d be foolish to do anything else. With a two year contract, he’s on a short leash. And at 61 years old, it’s not clear that he’ll get another managing opportunity should he fail or underperform with the Red Sox.

Nor can he expect much patience from ownership. Having missed the playoffs two years in a row, and following the September implosion, John Henry and company are desperate for a winner. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to win. Desperation, however, leads to good decisions infrequently. If it’s true that Jose Iglesias is Valentine’s preferred shortstop – and his comments on the matter have done nothing to dispell these rumors – Valentine is indisputably thinking short term.

Iglesias’ history demonstrates conclusively that he’s not ready for the major leagues offensively, and even Valentine has admitted that in the American League East carrying an automatic out on the roster is not realistic. Because of injury, Iglesias has been limited to essentially a season’s worth of professional at bats. Over those 671 plate appearances in the minors, Iglesias has put up a .261/.308/.316 line. ZIPS projects that to a .600 OPS player in the bigs; Bill James, usually an optimistic projection, sees Iglesias putting up a .554. Almost eight times out of ten, then, Iglesias will be out. The front office has been clear that Iglesias needs more time, understanding that he’s not ready and that the failure he will almost certainly experience in the bigs could set him back. Valentine appears unconcerned about this, presumably because he’s thinking less about what Iglesias will be doing for the Red Sox four or five years from now and more about him saving pitchers’ runs this year.

A manager who is fundamentally misaligned with the front office strategy is a problem, particularly when that strategy has been effective over a multi-year period.

He Regards His Opinions as Facts

It is commonly understood that apart from the last roster spot or two or players coming off of injury, spring training is not a useful evaluation tool. Rosters are variable, players may be more focused on getting their work in than results, park factors are in play and so on. Year after year, we’re handed fresh evidence that spring training performance is not predictive.

Which is why it’s odd that Valentine is attempting to exert control over the roster based off of spring training performances. These games are an insufficient sample size for Valentine – whatever his baseball acumen – to make predictive judgements on players. If the front office – with its years of experience and scouting of the player – believes that Iglesias should open the season in the minors, for example, why would Valentine use a handful of spring training at bats to conclude otherwise? Or if the decision was made in the offseason to try Daniel Bard as a starter, why would you let six starts persuade you otherwise?

Valentine’s known for his self-confidence, but it would seem clear that he lacks the data to credibly contradict the front office strategies. But when you consider that he regards his observations as facts, his assertions make more sense.

He’s Good For the Media, Not With the Media

One of the things Francona was widely praised for during his tenure with the club was his handling of the media. Whether his deft touch was born in the harsh climate of Philadelphia or born with him, Francona had a knack for interacting positively with the media while being respectful of his opponents and shielding his players from criticism. From a media perspective, he may have been frustrating in spite of his genial nature, because he never really gave you the soundbite you were looking for, the off the cuff, controversial quip that would enrage callers and light up the talk show phone lines. Everything he said was deliberate and considered for impact: how will this answer affect my players? How could this be misconstrued and bent to another purpose? To have that approach and yet maintain cordial relationships with media members is hard, but Francona handled it with apparent ease.

Everything that Francona did, Valentine does not. And the media (self-admittedly) loves him for it. He gives them exactly what they need: controversy. The kind of controversy which drives pageviews, sells newpapers and makes the talk show host’s job easier by having callers fill their airtime.

More than living up to his reputation as the managerial equivalent of Curt Schilling – one always chasing the red lights of the cameras – Valentine is willing to expound at length on anything and everything, or anyone. Already in spring training he’s generated controversy by falsely claiming that Jeter and the Yankees didn’t practice the flip play from the 2001 ALDS, for getting involved in a spat with Ozzie Guillen and for making an issue of the Yankees’ decision to end a contest in a tie.

Some of these issues might be, as Valentine claims, overblown. But it’s difficult to imagine any of them occurring if Francona was still in the dugout. That Bobby Valentine is a controversial is inarguable; even he would probably acknowledge the perception. The question is whether generating controversy is likely to have a positive impact on the Red Sox, and just as importantly for this ownership group, perceptions of the Red Sox. It seems probable, given both how outspoken he is and the volume of statements he generates, that he will periodically embarrass the club.

Francona was the very definition of uncontroversial, and the Red Sox sold out nearly every game in his tenure. It’s not clear how the controversy Valentine generates can improve upon that situation.

He Doesn’t Defend His Players

Valentine’s assertion this week that in 3,000 games he’s never criticized a player was fascinating for the level of insight it provided into the level of the manager’s self-confidence. According to Valendine, public identification of a player’s failure or lack of performance isn’t criticism; it’s merely a statement of fact.

Leaving aside the obvious problem with his argument – whether he thinks something is criticism is less important than whether the player perceives it as such – the real question is what the upside is to his candor. Ostensibly, it’s to help his players achieve “excellence.” And if he was candid in private with the player, the approach would be understandable. But talking candidly with assorted media members about player failures – what he argue are merely “facts” – seems less likely to motivate a player than to inspire resentment.

Making matters worse is the fact that Valentine is, in this respect, a polar opposite from Francona. Whether you believe Francona over-protected his players, it’s difficult to build the case that completely reversing course is likely to help morale. You don’t have to believe that Francona’s approach was entirely correct to understand that Valentine’s approach may be less than optimal, particularly for a team of verteran personalities, and egos.

He’s Different for the Sake of Being Different

While his smartest-guy-in-the-room vibe occasionally rubs me the wrong way, one of the things I admire about Tampa’s Joe Maddon – who incidentally was the runner up to Tito for the Red Sox job – is his willingness to be creative. Bill James’ greatest contribution to the world may well be his insistence on questioning everything: to evaluate, quantitatively, each and every assumption. To ask ourselves how we know something is correct, if we haven’t actually tested. Maddon is perhaps the most prominent disciple of this mindset managing today, because while some of the things he does – infield positioning, for example – seem unorthodox, they’re generally driven by data.

Valentine has much the same iconoclast streak in him. And as Peter Abraham says, even things that initially baffle may well be correct. But the concern is that, at least in some cases, he’s being different for the sake of being different. Consider, for example, Valentine’s opinion on the windup. “I’m not a believer in the windup, period. I don’t get it.” Forgetting the fact that there’s a comfort level involved with pitchers that have spent years crafting their deliveries from the windup, the explanation from Valentine’s own pitching coach was simple:

“Generating power. It’s why guys do it,” said McClure, who noted that the windup allows pitchers to generate power from parts of their body other than their arms, thus reducing stress. “There’s more fluidity, more rhythm, it’s less mechanical. Normally, the windup is so you can get all your body parts moving.

“He wasn’t a pitcher,” added McClure, “so I don’t know if he’d understand that.”

The last part may be the most revealing. What McClure’s saying, however indirectly, is that in spite of the fact that Valentine’s never been a pitcher and therefore can’t comment on the actual merits of a practice from an experiential perspective, he’s got a definitive opinion on the subject.

Which might be fine, if he wasn’t so unequivocal. The real problem isn’t with the substance of Valentine’s pronouncements, but the unjustified confidence he has in them. It bears an uncomfortable resemblance, in fact, to Joe Kerrigan giving Manny Ramirez advice on hitting. Suffice it then to say that I share Chad’s concerns above: every time Valentine does something against the grain, I wonder what the source is. Genuine innovation, or Bobby Being Bobby, seeking attention.

The Net

If the Red Sox are winning, I expect little friction or dissent: winning is the oil that makes the machine run smoothly. My worry is that if – when – the Red Sox hit a rough patch, that the combination of Valentine’s arrogance, short term focus and lack of self-control with the media will cause problems. Some of which may have long term implications, particularly those that relate to player development.

I hope to be proven wrong about all of the above. Nothing would make me happier than for Bobby Valentine to make me eat crow by being exactly the fresh-thinking innovator the Red Sox need. Obviously I’m unconvinced, but the day will never come when I root against my team – their manager included. But none of his actions since taking the reins have persuaded me that he’s anything other than the wrong choice for this club.

Is the Extra Wild Card Format Good for the Red Sox?

Major League Baseball, you may have heard, has altered the playoff format for the first time since 1995. In 2012, we’ll see the addition of two new wild card teams – one per league – each of which will face off with the other wild card in a one game playoff. Discussions of whether this is a good or bad thing for the sport don’t interest me, particularly, because they’re academic: the change is made, it’s not being retracted and none of us can properly predict the impact.

I am, however, extremely interested in what impact the shift in format would have for the Red Sox. Would we still be talking about beer and fried chicken, for instance, if the second wild card had been available last year? In all probability, yes, because while we would have been that second wild card, we would have been starting Beckett on two day’s rest for the one game playoff.

But still. As the American League East grows more competitive by the year, what’s the impact of having one more opportunity to reach the postseason? Like a lot of Red Sox fans, I’m extremely interested in this question. Which is why I was initially interested in Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory’s piece on ESPN entitled “Winners and losers of new playoffs.” Who would benefit the most from the new format? And conversely, who did it hurt?

Oddly, however, Szymborski – who is very, very good – didn’t take what I thought would be the obvious step in answering this question. He’s done the math to estimate the playoffs odds before the change, as well as the 2012 playoff probability after, with the table below sorted by the latter.

But in the context of answering questions regarding the impact of the new playoff format, this format is unhelpful. I’m much more interested in understanding what the difference is in the odds between before and after are, and who benefits the most.

Based on his research, I did some very basic math, subtracting the odds before from the odds after, the results of which are below.

The good news? The Red Sox appear to benefit as much as almost any team from the new format. Which is enough for me to support it.

I Preferred Mystified to Concerned

“But with Buchholz’s injury concerns, Bard’s inexperience as a starter, and Oswalt’s not-actually-here status, this year’s rotation looks as troubling as last year’s. Carl Crawford’s wrist could make year two of the $142 million experiment as ugly as year one. Aviles, Punto, and Iglesias might evoke memories of Julio Lugo sooner than Nomar, Cabrera, or even Scutaro himself. Kevin Youkilis’ health remains troubling, as does his fading range. And Ellsbury might be due for a bit of pullback, if Red Sox senior baseball ops adviser Bill James’ own Plexiglass Principle is to be believed. Shipping Scutaro, Lowrie, Reddick, and the rest out of town this offseason might amount to very little. But none of the players acquired in trade were commodities that couldn’t have been snagged by simply spending a few bucks. The Red Sox could have kept all or most of those players, inked Ross, Oswalt, a couple of capable relievers, and more, and been a better, deeper team once the dust settled.

It’s tough to look at this offseason and not think anything other than This Red Sox team could have and should have been better, if management hadn’t suddenly decided to start pinching pennies.”

Jonah Keri tries to find an explanation for Boston's long, cold winter of confusion – Grantland.

Don't Believe the Hype: The Scutaro Deal is Mystifying

Error

In his analysis of the Scutaro trade, Gordon Edes asks “Would you trade Marco Scutaro straight up for Roy Oswalt?” This is at best an oversimplification of the deal mechanics, one that casts the Red Sox and GM Ben Cherington in a more favorable light. In reality, Edes – like other defenders of this transaction – is attempting to link two transactions which should be considered independent of one another. Even should the trade of Scutaro net Oswalt, this is still a poor deal.

The problem isn’t the trade of Scutaro, per se. True, this compromises our lineup, our defense or both, with neither Aviles nor Punto realistic starting shortstop candidates – and Aviles, at least, is already ticketed for time in right field – and Iglesias far from ready [1]. But realistically, as Peter Abraham documents, our roster doesn’t have many movable pieces, either because they cost too much or because they’re paid too little to be worth moving. If we assume that the Red Sox feel that they need to add pitching and have to move payroll to do so, it’s either Scutaro or Youkilis. Given that the latter is coming off injury, the return will be downward adjusted which makes trading him less attractive. Add in the fact that the market for a $12M player is narrower than a $6M player, and you’re trading Scutaro. It’s not ideal, but Cherington’s working within the constraints established by ownership. Fine.

What is less fine is the return. Over the last four seasons, Scutaro’s averaged 3.2 wins per season. By Fangraphs math, this has made him worth around $14M per season. His 2012 option salary? $6M. When you trade an asset worth more than $10M but is paid $6M, you need to get something of comparable value back. As Keith Law put it on Twitter, “You don’t dump a 3 win player making $6MM for no return.” Which brings us to the real problem in this trade, Clay Mortensen, who is – at least on paper – the definition of no return.

Originally a product of the Cardinals system, Mortensen has put up middling numbers at multiple minor league stops – 5.26 ERA in 446.2 innings at AAA with a 6.5 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 – against even worse numbers in the majors. The Red Sox are likely to tout last year’s 3.86 ERA with the Rockies, but when you adjust that for fielding and things like BABIP you get a 5.34 FIP. His K/9 and BB/9 last year, respectively, were 4.63/3.70. Even if you don’t grasp the significance of strikeouts or walks per nine in the statistical sense, it’s easy to understand that it’s probably not good to be walking almost as many people as you strikeout.

Nor does his stuff allow for much projection. He’s 26, and it’s not like he has a big fastball which the Red Sox hope to better harness: his career average fastball velocity is 89.8. We’re told he’s a sinkerballer, which makes the fastball velocity less unfortunate, but his career ground ball to fly ball ratio is 1.61. Compare that to sinkerballers like Justin Masterson (career 2.07) or Derek Lowe (3.03) and you see the problem. Our own Daniel Bard – who is most certainly not a sinkerballer, in spite of the addition of his two seam fastball – put up a 1.68 last year. For a sinkerballer, then, he doesn’t get too many ground balls. And if you can’t break 90 on the gun and you’re not a real ground ball pitcher, well, what you are then is fringe.

And Scutaro is worth substantially more than a fringe asset.

Which leaves us with two possible explanations. One, that the Red Sox see something in Mortensen that no one else does. Or two, that they assessed the Scutaro market and felt that this was the best they could do. Having looked at the numbers in some detail, the former seems improbable. But if they assessed the market, and Mortensen was really the best they could do, was it worth it?

Even if this nets us Oswalt, it’s hard to defend this deal. We’ve given up three wins for which we were paying maybe 60 cents on the dollar in return for a pitcher whose career win total is -0.2. And yes, theoretically, the opportunity to pay a free agent premium for a pitcher whose averaged three and a half wins over the past four seasons. Oh, and was limited to 23 starts last season because of back issues. Even if the Scutaro deal and an Oswalt signing are dependent on one another, that cannot justify losing the first transaction so badly.

Oswalt or no Oswalt, this is a poor deal. I guess this is what you get when your GM went to Amherst.

[1] As noted on Twitter, ZIPS projections for Iglesias are .251/.289/.311. The career line of Rey Ordonez, the ultimate no hit shorstop who played most of his career for our new manager? .246/.289/.310. That’s too terrifying to contemplate.

Bailing on the Closer Market: The Andrew Bailey Trade

With good but not overwhelming numbers in the NL Central, it never seemed particularly likely that ex-Yankee prospect Mark Melancon (pronounced, mel-AN-son) would be the Red Sox closer next season. Which meant that there were essentially three options for the role. With all due respect to Alex Wilson, it wasn’t likely that the immediate replacement was in the minor league system, so the Red Sox were most likely to trade for a closer, sign a free agent or slide Bard into the role.

Signing Ryan Madson might in other years have been a good option for both parties, but with the Sox up against the luxury tax threshold and dollars at a premium, even a make-good Beltre-style one year deal probably wasn’t the best employment of our remaining resources. Why would you devote your remaining dollars to a reliever who’s going to throw maybe 80 innings with at least one and maybe two holes in the starting rotation? Or did you think it’d be worth Sox paying the “proven closer” premium for a Cordero and his declining peripherals?

In the wake of the Benoit and Soriano deals last offseason and Papelbon’s haul with the Phillies this, it’s been apparent that the market is overvaluing relievers relative to their actual, expected performance. Witness Tampa, who every year builds a Top 3 bullpen with castoffs like Farnsworth. Which is another way of saying that it was almost certainly going to be a.) trade or b.) Bard, and probably in that order.

Given that the Sox apparently believe that Bard can be a starter, then – a notion I am personally skeptical of – the most logical solution to our pitching needs was to trade for a closer. And with a front office highly focused on valuation – buying low and selling high – most likely a trade for a closer whose value was depressed by performance, health or both.

Hence, Bailey, a reliever limited to 41 innings last year and 49 the year before.

As has been well documented, Bailey is a not quite elite closer with significant health issues and problematic home/road peripheral numbers. We’re taking a flyer, in other words, on a kid who may or may not remain healthy but is likely to pitch adequately if he is. And the acquisition cost, while non-trivial – both Alcantara and Head are high ceiling, boom or bust type prospects, while Reddick is probably destined to be a fourth outfielder – is acceptable. In Keith Law’s words, the Sox are “giving up nothing they’re likely to miss,” at least in the short term. The short term that should be our focus, having missed the playoffs three straight years. Oakland, meanwhile, is right to pay the most attention to the long term, because their outlook this season is, well, bleak, having traded away Cahill, Gonzalez and now Bailey.

The net of this deal, then, is that we give up some high risk/high reward long term value for a short term gain while minimizing our present day dollar costs and thereby preserving financial flexibility. The focus on the dollar cost may or may not be appropriate in light of the post-CBA marketplace which is likely to shift resource allocation priorities away from the draft, but for right now, this deal makes sense for both clubs. Probably the A’s get more for him at the deadline if they held – the cost of reliever acquisitions goes up in season – but the risk that he’d get hurt prior clearly offset that marginally higher expected return.

Having avoided high dollar spending in the bullpen reconstruction, meanwhile, Cherington is now free to redirect his remaining dollars to where they are both most needed and where the valuations are not quite as absurd: starting pitching. Yes, the costs are high, but as starters can generally be expected to throw at least twice as many innings as a reliever, it’s at least bearable. Whether the starter is Kuroda, Oswalt, my pick Jackson or even Maholm, Saunders or Harden, isn’t really the issue: Cherington can let the market, to some extent, come to him. Which again, should keep the cost down.

In the meantime, we’re looking at a bullpen that will see two talented young controllable arms added for less than a third of what Papelbon will be paid by the Phillies. While I might argue with some of the valuations – Lowrie, in particular, seems to be have been sold low – that’s not too bad.

Maybe Cherington, in spite of having gone to Amherst, isn’t so dumb.

Sifting Through the Catching Situation

Made the mistake of listening to WEEI for an hour this afternoon driving down to Portland. One of the subjects of the day was the signing of Kelly Shoppach for short money – a million and change. Besides questioning the wisdom of signing a player with a career line of .224/.315/.417, Ordway and company took the opportunity to indict the incumbent, Jason Saltalamacchia. The silver lining was that the noise about Varitek’s inevitable departure was relatively minimal, aside from concerns about the impact to the pitching staff.

Because the radio guys apparently can’t be bothered to consider this more than superficially, some quick thoughts on the signing and the state of our catching corps.

Salty’s Not as Bad as You Think He Is

Granted, the kid isn’t the second coming of Fisk. But here’s the thing: no one else in the league is either. The average catcher in MLB in 2011 put up an OPS of .704. Salty? .737, good for 7th best in the AL amongst catchers with at least a hundred plate appearances. WAR has him as the sixth best catcher in the AL, in fact; fielding metrics liked him last year. So even before getting to the splits, we can conclude that according to the metrics we have, Salty is at a minimum better than average.

If you look at his splits, however, it’s possible to dream a little. His OPS by month: .547, .756, .945, .893, .749, .542. He bookended a solid season, in other words, with two months of absolute futility. If you’re optimisticly inclined, you might frame the narrative something like this: handed a starting job by a front office obviously committed to him, he pressed and was consequently terrible. The 2-10 start probably didn’t help. Given a chance to settle down, he warmed up, with an above average May giving way to a torrid June/July stretch. Beginning to wear down in August, he was finally out of gas in September and collapsed.

As I said, that’s the optimistic take. And, no, you don’t get to pick and choose the months you want to count towards your baseball card and discard the rest. The point is, however, that he had more good months than bad, and at worst is an average to above average catcher. Does that make him an offensive asset? Hardly. His strikeout rate is through the roof and virtually all of his value is in his power, because he doesn’t walk much. But in a league in which the average catcher is essentially a gray spot, he’s well above replacement value.

Not that I expect the talk show brethren to grasp that concept.

Heard of Platoons?

Maybe the most surprising thing I heard today was what I didn’t hear: the possibility that Shoppach is intended as a platoon partner for Salty. This was an actual line: “he hit .115 against right handers – .115! and who’s he going to face the most in this league?”

A few numbers (OBP/SLG/OPS):

Player A vs RHP: .304/.481/.786
Player B vs LHP: .344/.444/.788

Who are these mystery men? Our current catchers: Salty plays against right handed pitching, Shoppach against left. The result: a .787 OPS. Which is almost ninety points better than your average major league catcher. Even if you discount heavily because platoons are never that strict, that’s still a solid combination. Particularly if Shoppach can throw half as well as he did last year.

My question: how is that professional sports radio personnel don’t know all of the above? How is “platoon” not their first assumption to be checked? How do they not look any further than his career batting average?

All I can say is: thank the great spirit for Brian Kenny.

Larvarnway

The pride of Yale is WEEI’s preferred 2012 backstop, apparently. Does that make sense? Keith Law, for one, is convinced that he can’t catch, and even his defenders would characterize his defense as a work in progress. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that he sticks: can he hit? His minor league numbers suggest that, should he be able to catch, he’d be well above average for the position. In 43 at bats last year he put up a .231/.302/.436 line, which actually meant he was above average for the position. Scary, isn’t it? But what about the projections? Bill James loves him: .275/.351/.527. I’ll go on record right now as saying that he puts up anything close to that, he ends up the starter even if they have to play Pedroia behind him. ZIPS, however, forecasts a much more reasonable .243/.316/.405 line, which would make him a worse offensive option – assuming a platoon – than what we already have, with worse defense.

I like Lavarnway, and I’m rooting for the kid because how often do you see an Ivy league kid make the bigs. But I wouldn’t bet much that he’s the starter next year, and from the signing of Shoppach it would seem that the front office isn’t either.

The good news for Lavarnway fans, however? Shoppach’s not getting paid enough to keep the kid down if he forces their hand.

The Net

I wish Varitek nothing but the best; he’s taking flak from his inability to right the ship in September, but anyone who studies that understands that it was hundreds of individual things going wrong. Tough to blame the guy. My lasting memory of him instead will be his mitt in A-Rod’s face, much as he might hate to hear it.

In the meantime, I think this is a good move on Cherington’s part. Shoppach’s not a star and has many limitations, but deployed properly, can be useful. Here’s hoping that Valentine knows more about platoons than Ordway.

Postscript

It’s funny, but I had exactly the same thought that Chad Finn did when I heard the Shoppach news in the car: