“This season, seven Red Sox pitchers have started more than five games. Six of them have ERAs below 4.20. The seventh, Clay Buchholz, pitched a no-hitter last season and currently has a 2.45 ERA in five starts since returning to Triple-A Pawtucket. Buchholz is 23, and going through the sort of thing that 23-year-old pitchers often go through.” – Rob Neyer
What Neyer is talking about: in 8 starts this year, everyone’s favorite 23 year old righthander that dates Victoria’s Secret models and Penthouse Pets had surrendered 49 hits and 3 homers over 42.1 IP. For those bad at math, that’s a 10.42 H/9. Not strong. Also not strong were the 20 BBs in those 42 and change innings. Not what was expected of the quote unquote best pitching prospect in the minor leagues.
Clearly, some adjustments were in order. As Neyer puts it, the kind of adjustments that most 23 year old pitchers have to make.
And to his credit, the pitcher understood this. In some candid comments following a Pawtucket start, Buchholz had the following to say about the areas on his report card marked Needs Improvement:
“The number of fastballs I was throwing was really low because I fell in love with off-speed stuff because I had success with it early,” he said. “But big league hitters catch on to it. They have video just like I have video. It’s easy to see what kind of routine somebody gets into regardless of if it’s hitting or pitching.”
Personally, I’m fine with all of the above. Particularly because, as mentioned before, the Red Sox know far better what’s good for the kid than yours truly. If they think he needs better fastball command, then he probably needs better fastball command.
But I’m worried. Not because of his performance: most young pitchers go through this, as discussed above. But because there’s nothing in his minor league history to indicate a problem with command, fastball or otherwise.
In 301.2 minor league innings, Buchholz has walked 87 guys – roughly 2.6 per 9. That’s a good number. More impressive, he’s struck out 370 guys in those 300+ innings – 11.06 per 9. That’s a really good number. Freakishly good, in fact.
Certainly it’s possible – even likely – that Buchholz didn’t need his fastball as much in the minors given the quality of his offspeed stuff. It’s just as likely that he will, in fact, need it in the majors. What worked for his no hitter was never a guarantee to work indefinitely. Still, there’s nothing to indicate numbers-wise (I don’t have PitchF/X data for him), that command was the issue.
The additional minor league seasoning I can live with, here’s my real concern: the Red Sox are reportedly tinkering with his delivery. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Sox “want Buchholz to move his arm slot away from his head, an adjustment they believe will increase the movement on his fastball.”
Again, I’m fully aware of both my lack of credentials and the Sox’ track record when it comes to managing the development of their young pitchers. Number of pitchers successfully developed by me? Zero. Number of pitchers successfully developed by the Sox? Papelbon, Lester, Masterson and if we’re being charitable, Hansen and MDC.
But still: altering his delivery? The kid has a career 11.06 K/9 and 2.60 BB/9 in 300+ minor league innings. And the Driveline Mechanics guys, in particular, love his delivery (though they do admit to preferring a high 3/4 slot). Whatever happened to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Isn’t this the kid what tossed a no-hitter?
Frankly, however, these concerns may be academic. Whatever changes they’ve made, they appear to be working: Buchholz has given up a total of 2 runs in his last four starts. His last outing? 5 IP, 1 H, 6 Ks.
So while I’ll trust that the Sox know best (pipe down back there, Meredith), I hope they don’t screw with this kid too much. Whatever he’s been doing to date has worked well; well enough that the numbers say he can star in the majors, delivery changes or no.
Why this video? Because now that the meaningless games are officially out the way, that’s what I want: an Encore.
And yes, I know this is two weekly features back to back. So sue me.
Anyway, this week’s edition of In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events, such as it is, comes to you from the road. Where the road equals Georgetown, ME. While tomorrow will see me journey to yours and my favorite city, it won’t be until next week that I actually catch a game live.
That’s right: should I be able to wrangle the travel – and I think I’ll be able to – next Wednesday night I’ll be seeing the good guys take on the Tigers. Whose lineup, frankly, is just unfair. But we’ll get there.
In the meantime, here’s what I’ve got for you.
Best 1-2 Punch of the AL? Not in Boston
With all due respect to the Fire Brand of the American League’s Guest Columnist Bottom Line Rob, I could not disagree more with his assessment of the best one/two starter tandems in the good half of the league.
Nearly as I can determine, he seems to base it primarily on wins. The combination that I – and apparently MVN’s Tim Daloisio as well – would pick, Bedard/Hernandez from the M’s, is dismissed with the following:
Neither of these guys have come close to winning 20 games, but with J.J. Putz as their closer and a solid offense, both youngsters have the stuff to each that goal. That said, Seattle was 2nd to the Yankees with a .287 team BA last year, but they only scored 794 runs… and that makes it tough for any pitcher to earn the win.
Which may be true, but not at all how I’d judge the pitchers.
Let’s look at how his qualified pick – Beckett/Matsuzaka – fared against mine and Tim’s Bedard/Hernandez choice last seasion. First, Boston’s guys:
Not bad at all. Matsuzaka walks too many guys, and neither is a premium strikeout pitcher, but that’s a pretty good front of the rotation. And that’s without the improvement in Matsuzaka I expect to see this season, even if it wasn’t apparent in his first outing.
Now what about the Seattle kids?
For my money, better. True, the M’s duo is giving up 30 innings to Beckett and Matsuzaka, but I wouldn’t bet on that being the case in ’08. Bedard was sidelined with an injury not expected to affect him this season, and Felix is young. Like two years younger than Clay Buchholz young.
Looking at the numbers from ’07, Bedard more or less outpitched Beckett – who had a Cy Young quality season – numbers-wise, and Hernandez struck out one fewer but walked one fewer in roughly comparable innings relative to Matsuzaka.
As a 21 year old. Against major league competition.
So while I like our rotation as a whole against the M’s, I’m with Tim: if I had to pick between our front two and their front two, I’d take the latter. Though I’d want to get Beckett back once the postseason started.
Going or Staying: Kielty
When Kielty signed with the good guys this offseason, I was convinced that a Crisp deal was not only in the works, but in the books. Which shows you what my prediction skills are like.
The question now is what Kielty’s fate will be. The Globe is reporting that it’s dependent on demand:
Kielty said he plans to remain in LA for a couple of days with family while awaiting word on his job prospects. If another job doesn’t materialize, he’ll go to Pawtucket, which opens its season Thursday. (link)
As for the odds that another job materializing, one of the MLB Trade Rumors folks speculates as follows:
With all the rumors swirling recently about teams in need of outfield help, I have to believe that Kielty will land a major league gig. PECOTA projects a line of .253/.331/.418 based on 159 plate appearances and Kielty can play all three outfield spots. (link)
On paper, I agree with that assessment, but I think there’s more to the equation here. If not, why would Kielty have signed here in the first place? He must have known there would be demand, and yet he took a job here, presumably banking on the fact that one of Crisp/Ellsbury would end up gone. Which, frankly, was a reasonable assumption.
Anyhow, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Kielty. It’s not that he’s indispensable, but I think he is an excellent complementary piece assuming that Crisp eventually is traded. I’m not sure who’d serve as the fourth outfielder in Kielty’s absence. Moss is credible, but probably can’t handle center regularly as Kielty can.
In my perfect world, we extract something useful for Crisp, and move on. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
Pitch Counts and Injuries
There’s been a lot written about pitch counts and the risks to young pitchers the past few years. Witness this little tidbit from Neyer from a recent ESPN Chat:
As you know, the new paradigm suggests that young pitchers risk injury when their innings increase significantly from one season to the next. Carmona went from 103 innings to 215 innings. That doesn’t mean he’s going to get hurt, but it’s something worth worrying about.
That conclusion is even more interesting in light of Carmona’s playoff meltdown. But I also wanted to draw your attention to a recent piece on a very special – and very ominous – pitching club that one of our guys was on the verge of joining in ’07: the 3500 club. Here’s how Brett Greenfield describes it:
Certain pitchers exhibit warning signs from year to year. I’ve always wondered why certain pitchers’ careers take a turn for the worse. Some hurlers just throw too many pitches.
I’ve compiled a list of pitchers who have thrown 3500 or more pitches in a single season since 2005. There only appears to be a handful of them each year. However, there are several recidivists.
When I display for you the list of pitchers who are on this list and you see how their careers have taken a turn for the worse because of overuse, you’ll know why nobody wants to be a part of this club.
The ’07 members? Dontrelle Willis, Daniel Cabrera, Gil Meche, CC Sabathia, Aaron Harang, Scott Kazmir, Jake Peavy, Carlos Zambrano, Dan Haren, Barry Zito, John Lackey and Bronson Arroyo. Great, you’re thinking: Matsuzaka’s not on the list. Well, I’ve got bad news for you: he just missed. Fangraphs has his total pitchcount last year at 3480.
Not convinced that he belongs? Well, Baseball Prospectus has him atop their Pitcher Abuse Points table, some 19000 points ahead of the #3 finisher, AJ Burnett. The other guys in the top 5? Zambrano at #2, Halladay at #4, and Harang at #5.
All guys that work a lot.
I’m not quite recanting my Matsuzaka improvement predictions, but I’ll confess to being worried.
I’m no great fan of predictions – actually, I actively hate them. You might have noticed given that I’ve done none myself (though I do think Verlander should be the favorite for the Cy) – but I’ve seen forecasts that are literally all over the map.
Case in point are the good folks over at Baseball Prospectus. The projected records have us finishing at 91-71, along with the Indians and Tigers, while the Yankees run away with the league at 97-65 and the Angels take the West with and 85-77 record. No word on who the wild card would be in such a scenario.
But at the same time, today BP’s Joe Sheehan projected us finishing ahead of the Yankees, strictly according to runs scored/allowed projections, at 96-66 to their 95-67.
Who to believe? None of them, as far as I’m concerned. As the Great Gammons says, any significant downtime to Beckett or Tek (yes, the same Tek who struck out 9 of 11 ABs in Japan – patience, people), and we are in serious trouble – projections or no projections. Hell throw Paps and Oki in there. Papi too.
You get the point: predictions are like battle plans. They never survive the first encounter with the enemy.
Terumasa Matsuo: Who is He, and What Can He Do?
Honestly, I have no idea. Backing up, for those of you who haven’t been keeping up with current events, we signed a 26 year old Japanese pitcher from one of their independent leagues. No scouter on him yet – I’m working on it.
In the meantime, here’s what Rotoworld had to say on the news:
According to Boston’s press release, the 26-year-old Matsuo was the Shikoku Island League MVP in 2007, when he led the league with 15 wins and 159 strikeouts. He had a 1.72 ERA and allowed 85 hits in 152 innings. In 2006, he had an 11-2 record with a 1.82 ERA, 134 strikeouts and 98 hits issued in 138 innings in 2006. Obviously, it’s not nearly the same level of competition as the Japanese Pacific or Central Leagues. He’s not someone to rush out and grab in keeper leagues. (link)
Normally, I’d be less optimistic, but we’ve shown some ability to scout Japan in recent years, so who knows.
More on him when I have it.
The Obligatory Crisp Update
Lastly, the news that I’m sure you’re just as sick of reading as I am writing: teams are interested in Coco, but no one’s shown any inclination to pull the trigger. The latest rumor, courtesy of the Globe’s Nick Cafardo:
The Cubs would still love to get their hands on Coco Crisp, but for now, youngster Felix Pie is their man in center. Sox assistant to the general manager Allard Baird spent a lot of time in Arizona last week scouting the Cubs, among others. (link)
Much as I love his defense – and I really love his defense – I’d almost trade Crisp at this point just so that I wouldn’t have to digest any further trade rumors.
If you’re craving reassurance with respect to the rough outings today from first Buchholz and then Hansen, well, you shouldn’t.
Repeat after me: it’s. their. first. outing. Against the pros, anyway.
But I was curious to see what – precisely – went wrong for the two on the day, because the box score doesn’t always tell the full story. Herewith is my quick scouter on the pair’s efforts today, which – considering that I’m completely untrained for the task – isn’t terribly valuable.
Not a terrible outing, overall, Buchholz just got some balls up in the first inning and had some balls hit just far enough away from defenders to cause problems. More:
The NESN gun had his fastball between 88-92, and in his post-game remarks he mentioned that he sees himself sitting between 90-93 easy, with a couple extra available when he needs it.
Four seam fastballs that dominated the first IP were frequently up, which has been a bit of a problem in his “last two bullpens.”
Mentioned that he “might have been trying to throw too hard”
Great separation velocity-wise with his changeup: arm action is good and the gun had them generally at 78 with an occasional 75
Second IP was much smoother, primarily because he went to a two seam fastball that generated some quick outs on the ground
All three pitches – fastball, curve, and change – got hit, but all three looked good at times
First few hits came in two strike counts
Hansen’s outing was less promising than Buchholz’, primarily because his velocity crept down but his control – particularly of the slider – did not improve. Still, if the infield behind him had managed to turn a double play his line would have looked very different. More:
The NESN gun had Hansen’s fastball between 90-95, and his slider was fairly consistent at 83.
Fastballs were generally thrown down in the zone, but command within it was spotty.
Sliders were so-so on the day, with one or two good ones thrown against several way out of the zone. Remy’s characterization of the pitch was “flat”
Clearly had difficulty throwing strikes with either the fastball or the slider
Subtracting velocity did not necessarily improve his control: the third batter of the inning took four straight balls, which came in at 93-92-91-90
While several of the non-strikes were borderline pitches, several – particularly after runs scored – missed by a significant margin
Fastball showed good velocity to close out the inning (95)
When Daniel Bard was drafted out of North Carolina in the first round of the 2006 draft, the Red Sox almost certainly had visions of him as a starting pitcher. At least that’s what the $1.55M signing bonus he received would indicate to me.
As of last week, however, that plan appears to have been scrapped in favor of a relief role. Recognizing that the lack of a second pitch – Baseball America’s scouter: “he’s never has had a reliable breaking ball…his changeup is less dependable than his breaking ball” – the front office has decided to move Bard into the bullpen, according to Rob Bradford.
Keith Law, for one, would seem to argue in favor of the idea. We’ve already mentioned his feelings on Bard generally, but regarding the prospect of Bard in the bullpen specifically he’s said:
Paul (San Francisco): Will Craig Hansen or Daniel Bard ever make this list?
SportsNation Keith Law: Bard is much more likely. I’ve almost given up hope on Hansen. Bard in the pen could move quickly.
And given the requirements for success as a starting pitcher versus that of a relief arm, it’s difficult to argue with that assessment.
But just how quickly can Bard be expected to move? Bradford mentions his success as a reliever in the Hawaiian Winter League, saying:
Bard threw 16 innings over 16 winter league games, allowing four runs on eight hits while striking out 15.
Further, he quotes Bard as crediting the bullpen stint with a perceived improvement in his performance:
“Hawaii was the first time I have thrown out of the bullpen,” he said. “It’s a different mentality, but I threw pretty well out there. I was throwing one- or two-inning outings, just coming in and blowing it out and letting my stuff take over. To be honest, my command and stuff all jumped up when I was out there, whether it was a confidence thing or being more aggressive facing hitters. It’s something that was a lot more effective.”
All of which sounds great. The problem is that if Hawaii represented a “jump” in his command, it’s not a positive indicator for the future.
What Bradford declined to mention amidst the good news of his 1.08 ERA and 8 hits in 16+ IP in Hawaii was that in addition to the 15Ks came 15 BBs. And five hit batsman. That’s 20 guys on base in ~17 innings. Before hits.
As Project Prospect puts it, for all that Bard has a potentially dominant major league fastball, “he can’t reasonably hope to continue holding opposing hitters to the .140 BABIP he did in Hawaii, particularly if he’s walking over 8 batters per game and hitting over 2.5.”
It may well be that a shift to the bullpen allows Bard to focus more on the command of his fastball rather than the evolution of a starter’s repertoire, and it’s unquestionably true that his arm gives him the potential to impact the major league bullpen should his control prove even adequate.
But what I haven’t see yet are any indications that the control will evolve as quickly as some seem to think. Here’s hoping he proves me wrong, because I’d love nothing more than to see him and his electric arm breaking bats for the good guys sooner rather than later.
Look, if Sean Casey got his own Q&A, I can’t very well not produce one for a pitcher that won the Cy Young three seasons ago, can I? Even if it’s a non-guaranteed, minor league deal?
Q: So what’s the deal with Colon? A: ESPN is reporting that the deal is minor league in nature, including no guaranteed money. Fire Brand of the American League puts the potential cash outlay should Colon make the major league roster at around a million.
Q: What kind of pitcher is Colon now? A: Colon came up essentially a fireballing workhorse. Though my 2004 Scouting Notebook lists him at 5 foot 11, it also lists his weight – conservatively – at 240. Earlier in his career, he essentially was a one pitch pitcher, pumping in high 90’s fastballs with good and occasionally exceptional control. For show, he’d also feature a changeup and a hard breaking ball, but Colon was a fastball pitcher most nights.
In recent years, however, all of the innings – he averaged 215 per for 8 seasons beginning in 1998 (a year in which he went from 98 IP to 204, interestingly) – appear to have caught up with the big righthander. Heading into last season, he was rehabbing a partially torn rotator cuff, and the results of that rehab were not promising. A 6.34 ERA in 99.1 IP for the Angels, during which he coughed up 15 HRs and 29 BBs, while striking out 76. The strikeout numbers aren’t terrible, and may indicate that he’s got something left. The problem is the batting numbers against, which are terrifying. Opposing hitters put up a .320/.366/.490 against him in 412 ABs. Essentially, every hitter in the lineup was Kevin Youkilis. Not good.
Also not good were the scouting reports from winter ball: Rotoworld reported that he was working mainly in the 88-91 range when giving up 2 runs in 4.1 IP against Venezuela. If you’re Pedro, you can make that work, but, well, you know where I’m going.
Q: How about the projections? A: They’re actually not as bad as you might predict. PECOTA sees him putting up a 4.77 ERA in 92.3 IP, striking out 62 and walking 26. Bill James calls for a 4.24 ERA in 20 fewer IP, predicting 51 Ks and 22 BBs in 70.0 innings even.
For what it’s worth, however, PECOTA was significantly optimistic last year. It forecast a 4.77 ERA in 121 IP. The actuals, again, were 6.34 in 99.1 IP.
Prediction is a tough science.
Q: So you’re against the trade? A: Not at all. Frankly, for a fifth starter, I’d be fine with even the PECOTA projection to slightly worse. And frankly, we could use 90+ innings of credible major league pitching.
Besides, with no guaranteed money on the table, it’s essentially a zero risk move for the club. So I’m positive on it.
Q: Why make the move? A: It’s a hedge against the Schilling injury, obviously. As Theo and company have said multiple times, no one was counting on Schilling for a 200+ inning season this year, but neither were they forecasting zero which appears to be a distinct possibility at this point.
While everyone expects both Buchholz and Lester to pitch and pitch effectively on the major league roster this year – and certainly I’d expect both to give us superior innings relative to Colon – the fact is that neither should be expected to give us a full starters workload. Buchholz and Lester both were around ~150 IP last year – 146.6 and 153.2 IP, respectively – and expecting them to take that to 200 is a stretch. Not to mention that it might compromise their playoff availability, should we be lucky enough to make it that far.
So in short, we need innings. The higher quality those innings the better, obviously, but we’re going to need innings.
Q: How do you expect him to be deployed? A: It depends on how he’s throwing, of course, but ultimately I think Evan Brunnell over at Fire Brand said it best:
Colon should be a safey net. If Buchholz or Lester completely blows up in April, you bring Colon up. If Colon is still with the club after May 1 (I’m assuming he has the standard May 1 opt-out clause if he’s not in the major leagues) and injury strikes, you call him up. If the Red Sox want to send Buchholz down in July just to limit his innings and Schilling’s not back yet, you call Colon up.
I expect the Sox to get him in to see what they’ve got, then use him tactically to control and keep manageable our young starters’ workloads.
Q: What is the value of Colon relative to some of the other available options? A: Significant. Unless you’re excited by the likes of Eric Milton, Jeff Weaver, Kyle Lohse, Rodrigo Lopez or Russ Ortiz – a few of whom might require not only guaranteed deals but multi-year ones at that – Colon is a good risk/reward play. The only other pitcher I would have been interested in from the list of rehabbing players would have been Freddy Garcia, who I think will make a contribution somewhere in the second half.
Should we expect much from Colon? Certainly not. But does he have some upside as a candidate for innings at the back end of the rotation? Sure.
Good news, everyone! I survived a weekend spent in an 8×6 shack on a frozen lake in sub-zero Minnesota temperatures with three other dudes. More or less in one piece.
Honestly, though, if there’s anything better than ice fishing for getting me ready for baseball, I’m not sure what it would be.
Peter Gammons: Every so often I’m surprised by age comparisons. Sometimes I’m more impressed with a player because they’re younger than I believed, others I’m less impressed because they’re older. Either way, it’s always interesting.
Gammons mentioned one today:
Remember that Jon Garland is six months younger than Bedard and has 52 more career wins.
In the immortal words of Carsenio, “I did not know that.” But the one that really put things in perspective for me?
Clay Buchholz will be 23 to start the season, while Seattle’s Felix Hernandez – you remember the one hitter last year, don’t you? – will be 21.
In the only slightly less immortal words of Stephen Colbert, “Think about that. I haven’t.”
Battle Royale in Bullpen
Amalie Benjamin: According to everyone’s favorite Amalie, the Sox will open with 12 pitchers on the roster rather than 11. With Papelbon, Okajima, Delcarmen, Timlin, and Tavarez all but guaranteed of spots if they’re healthy – whether it’s for contract reasons, talent, or ideally both – that leaves two spots up to the likes of Aardsma, Hansen, Lopez, Snyder, and the non-roster invitees in Michael Bowden, Lee Gronkiewicz, Hunter Jones, Dan Kolb, Justin Masterson, Jon Switzer and Michael Tejera. Unless – and maybe even if – Bowden and Masterson allow no hits and no walks for all of spring training, they’re ticketed for the minors. Jones too. The rest of the folks on that list are real long shots.
At the time [of Pettite’s return], there was elation all around, especially from Cashman, who used Pettitte’s “I shall return” proclamation as the incentive for walking away from a deal for the Twins’ Johan Santana – a deal he never wanted to make. With Pettitte taking up $16 million in payroll, the Yankees could no longer afford Santana, Cashman argued, and Hal Steinbrenner, Hank’s partner and the primary financial expert in the business, agreed.
“Take your choice, guys,” Hal reportedly told the group of Yankee higher-ups in a meeting on the Santana deal prior to Cashman’s departure for the winter meetings. “Pettitte or Santana?”
And then we have this bit from the great Gammons:
But if all the spotlight causes the respectful, quiet Pettitte to go into a shell and turn into a 35-year-old .500 pitcher, his grab for the $16 million that steered the Yankees away from Johan Santana may cost a few jobs. Which will not be fair.
Anyone care to give me odds that Cashman is one of those jobs?
Hansen, Hansen, Hansen – So Hot Right Now?
Speaking of Hansen, he’s received a lot of attention in the Globe. Granted, some of the coverage was for the novelty of the surgery he had to correct sleep apnea; in his own words, he used to snore like a 500 pound fat man. But he’s also being discussed almost daily by the beat writers as a legitimate candidate for one of the last spots in the pen.
Certainly, if he can throw strikes with a slider resembling the one he threw at St John’s, I’d bet on him for a spot. The kid throws hard, after all. Unfortunately, I’d put the odds of that precondition being met as long indeed. Keith Law is, if anything, even more convinced of this than I am. In fact, he’s gone as far as arguing that Daniel Bard is a better bet than Hansen, saying:
I saw Hansen again in the Fall League … it’s not there, at least not yet. I’d be more inclined to put money on Bard taking a step forward in ’08 than Hansen.
Given that Bard’s walked nearly 2 guys for every one he’s struck out as a pro (78BB/47K), and better than 1/IP (78BB/75IP), well, that can’t really be taken as a positive report on Hansen.
Good Times, Good Times
Steve Buckley: I don’t think this qualifies as throwing your teammate under the bus simply because it’s high comedy, but, well, you make the call:
“Last year after we won it,” [Papelbon] said yesterday, “I was in a hotel room partying, and Ortiz was there trying to show me how to do the breakdance. And he fell over, and he didn’t know what he was doing. Either that or he was just too drunk. I don’t know.”
The good folks over at Surviving Grady are absolutely right: Papelbon must be miced 24/7/365. That would be the first and only reality show I’d ever watch. Unless someone sticks a camera on Marissa Miller (sorry, Amalie).
Rest as a Trend
Rob Bradford: It’s clear from Rob’s latest and some of the other commentary leading up to and follow last year’s playoffs that enforced rest may become a prescribed part of the Red Sox pitching management strategy. As an aside, I was a bit surprised – and pleased – to see Beckett recognize the benefits of the approach, given that it is at odds with the Herschiser like ideal that starting pitchers are a horse to be ridden until they die.
What I’m curious about now is whether or not this strategy of enforced rest will be emulated more broadly within the league. Certain factors – the lack of starting pitching to support the approach, the lack of intelligence within some front offices, or incompatible pitching management philosophies – are likely to limit the spread of the tactic. But baseball front offices are smarter and more creative than they were even a few years ago, and even the conservative clubs are willing to try and emulate what’s been successful for Word Series winners.
Taking One for the Team?
John Mazor: Fortunately, I don’t need to take apart this crime against sports journalism, because the pros at Fire Joe Morgan have already done that for you. Nor do I have to explain why Jeter is not a pre-eminent or even average shortstop, because the Penn researchers Mazor is trying to slag have explained that in sufficient detail for all but the most ardent homers.
For an article that bases much of its argument on the fact that Jeter has won three Gold Gloves – in spite of the fact that that award means nothing (disagree? then explain how Palmeiro won it for 1B in ’99 while playing only 28 games at the position) – I find it surprising that Mazor fails to mention that the two Gold Gloves that Rodriguez wore came in his last two years as a shortstop. The years, put differently, before he moved to third base to accommodate the statistically and observably inferior shortstop. As one of the researchers put it, “The Yankees have one of the best defensive shortstops playing out of position in deference to one of the worst defensive shortstops.”
Is Jeter an excellent player? Indeed. But is he the leader, and the Cap’n Intangibles, that Yankee fans believe him to be? I’m not sure how you make that argument. To me, a real leader would have done what was best for the team: let the best shortstop man that position.
But frankly, as I used to tell my Yankee friends, I’m just as happy that that didn’t work out. Can you imagine a world in which the Pinstriped ones could throw A-Rod and Jeter at short and second, then find power bats for the corners? It’s too terrifying to even contemplate.
In discussing the news that Joba Chamberlain will begin the season in the Yankee bullpen, in a plan aimed at keeping him available while not overextending him innings-wise, Rob Neyer wrote the following:
This is simply where we’re at now, with young starting pitchers. We are not going to see Joba Chamberlain throw 180 innings in his first season as a major league starter, and we are not going to see Clay Buchholz throw 180 innings in his first season as a major league starter. What makes this even trickier, for the Yankees and the Red Sox, is October. They have to plan for seven months of high-intensity baseball rather than six.
Emphasis Rob’s. Forgoing the cliche about great minds – as I’m about 12 mentally – Rob and I clearly think alike. I said the following, after all, a week ago today:
Nor can, in my view, Buchholz be expected to shoulder a Schilling-like role at his age and experience level. The guess here is that Buchholz will be capped in ‘08 to ~165 IP, meaning that a year long starter role in the rotation would be problematic, even without the complication of potential playoff innings. If I had a gun to my head, I’d predict the Sox would begin the season with a rotation of Beckett, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Lester, and Tavarez, and integrate Buchholz down the stretch after some seasoning in Pawtucket or the Sox bullpen. And I don’t know about you, but that prospect doesn’t do much for me.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I see that John Farrell taking the over on 165. From the Boston Globe:
“We had a target number of innings before the season started last year, which we’ll have this year,” Farrell said. “It’ll certainly be an increase over the 150 innings that we targeted last year. I think it’s a reasonable number to think that Clay is going to be in line for 180-190 innings, in that range.”
Is he being optimistic? Is it gamesmanship, for competitive or trade purposes? Or are the front office and Tito legitimately counting on Buchholz for 180+ IP?
Frankly, I haven’t the foggiest. But if I were a betting man, I still would not take the over on 170. 175, tops. Regardless of what Farrell may be quoted as saying to a Boston beat writer on the eve of spring training.
I have to be honest, when the Google Alert arrived saying “red sox trade for pitcher,” David Aardsma‘s not exactly who I was expecting. To say the least. But Theo and the gang saw something in him, so I guess it’s worth a brief Q&A on the trade.
Q: Who the hell is David Aardsma? A: A Chicago reliever, but you knew that. A Denver native – that you probably didn’t. As for the actually important stuff, he’s a former first pick of the San Francisco Giants, a 6 foot 4 Rice product. Regrettably, he appears to have been rushed, reaching the majors in 2004 after a mere 18.1 innings in the minors. The Scouting Notebook for 2005 (lord, how I miss those things) talks about him as a potential closer, but one suspects that such talk has abated in the wake of a couple of years of less than stellar performances. If my math is right, he’ll be 27 going into the season.
Q: What kind of pitcher is he? A: A hard thrower, both by reputation and – to a certain extent – by results. The book says that he’ll touch 96-97, and while the 2005 scouter had him throwing a hard breaking ball along with his fastball, last year’s Baseball Prospectus claims that he’d narrowed the focus down to pretty much just the heater. Depending on the command of and movement on that fastball, of course, a single pitch repertoire can be a serious issue – unless you last name is Rivera and you hail from Panama. Aardsma at least has shown the ability to strike people out, however, with a lifetime 8.44 K/9 which spiked at 10.02 per last year.
Q: So what’s the catch? A: Pretty much what you’d expect: control. Despite the attention to the fastball, Aardsma has yet to demonstrate acceptable control on a consistent basis. In 96 total MLB innings, Aardsma’s walked 55 to his 90 strikeouts. Not good.
Q: What did we have to give up to get him? A: Two non-drafted young pitchers, Miguel Socolovich (21) and Willy Mota (22). I don’t have much on either kid, but they’re not among the BA Top 30 prospects and neither has made it to AA. According to Kevin Thomas, “Socolovich pitched 11 games in low Class A Greenville last year (2-2, 6.65) and 14 in short-season Lowell (5-4, 3.56). Mota was an outfielder for four years before converting to pitcher last season (5-3, 2.60 in 17 relief appearances with Lowell).” While you never know, neither of these kids has exactly lit it up.
Q: Where does he fit in the bullpen mix? A: Presumably he’ll audition for a 6th or 7th inning role, with a theoretical upside of hard throwing right handed set up man.
Q: Anything interesting in his splits? A: Well, he came out of the gate quickly last year. In April, he held a 1.72 ERA, and had K’d 23 in 15.2 innings, only (for him) walking 6. They also tell us he shouldn’t be used against the Cubs: in 1.1 innings against them, they’ve hit .667 of his offerings scoring 9 runs in the process. Also of note: he was much better at home than away last year, 2.08 ERA/.210 BAA vs 11.40/.382.
Q: Is he more effective facing lefties or righties? A: Don’t have the career numbers in front of me, but last year it was six of one, half a dozen of another. Lefties hit him for less power, but got on base a ton (.448), while righties walked less but tatooed him to the tune of a .560 slugging percentage.
Q: All in all, what do you make of the trade? A: A fairly harmless transaction, with a modest
potential upside if Aardsma matures as he closes in on 30 as some pitchers do.
Q: Will it work out better than the last swap with the White Sox, which exchanged serviceable if burnt out David Riske for Javier Lopez? A: Who knows. It is worth noting, however, that while Riske has generally outpitched Lopez, he’s been better than four times as expensive. And that in an admitted 20+ fewer innings, Lopez allowed exactly the same BAA as Riske. The latter strikes more out while walking fewer, however.