Tagged: buchholz

2011 Is Finally Here

Baseball.

I’m watching opening day. Wonderful.

I’ve been meaning to write a “here comes 2011” post for weeks now; I guess late is better than never. Most of what I have to say has been said in one place or another.

I’m optimistic about 2011 for the Red Sox, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried about the pitching staff. I read a provocative question regarding the Sox staff somewhere this Spring: “Is the Red Sox staff good, or merely deep?” It strikes me as a legitimate question.

#1: Sure, Lester is an ace. No questions there.

#2: Buchholz is the poster child for sabermetric regression. Virtually every advanced metric last year (especially BABIP, xFIP, K/BB. K/9and strand rate) suggests that Buchholz was exceptionally lucky, and that his 2.33 ERA was something of a mirage. He won’t suddenly sink, but don’t be surprised to see an ERA closer to 4.00 than 3.00 this year. That’s good, not great.

#3: Beckett. Sigh. Entering the first year of a 4 year, 60 million dollar extension, one really has to wonder how much Beckett has left in the tank. This spring was not reassuring. When healthy, Beckett has a wicked curve and a nasty fastball. When not, his back injury flattens out both pitches and wrecks his control. Fingers crossed that we get more Dr. Beckett, and less Mr. Hyde.

#4: Lackey. I wasn’t a big fan of this signing last season, and I wasn’t surprised to see Lackey put up mediocre numbers last season. The guy is a horse, and he’g likely going to pitch his 200 innings. But they won’t be great innings–expect another 4.50 ERA.

#5: Dice-k? Wake? Doubrount? Player to be named later? Its hard to guess who will finish the year as the #5. Certainly, Dice “I can’t throw a ******* strike” K will be in line for the job, given his $10 million salary.

The bullpen should be outstanding. Any potential struggles by Papelbon should be absorbed by Bard (who will certainly be the closer after Papelbon departs for the Yankees this offseason). Jenks and Wheeler give nice 7th and 8th inning depth. I am a bit surprised that perennial prospect Michael Bowden didn’t make the team.

Obviously, this offense is ungodly. The Sox boast a potential all-time 1-6 with Ellsbury, Pedroia, Crawford, Youkilis, Gonzalez, and Ortiz. I mean, JD Drew isn’t an all-star anymore, but its pretty scary when he’s your #7. The Sox will score runs. And, assuming Youkilis holds up at third (and I think he’ll be ok in terms of zone rating), they can field the ball, too.

The big question for me centers around Josh Beckett. I think that will determine whether the Red Sox win 95 games (and perhaps the division) or 90 games (and perhaps miss the playoffs).

The Yankees figure to be very good. There offense might come down a bit (Jeter, A-Rod, and Posada are all getting older), but I think their gamble on veteran, back-end starters is likely to pay off. I figure the Yanks can win 95 games.

I think the Rays are in trouble. Yes, they have the best starting pitching in the loaded AL East. And, yes, traditionally starting pitching wins in the regular season. But the AL East is a different beast–and all the other teams have very strong lineups (even Baltimore). I’m not sure starting pitching is enough, especially since the Rays bullpen got raped in the off-season. You can’t seriously start Dan Johnson at first base and hope to compete in the AL East. I figure, given their pitching, the Rays will win 90 games.

The AL Central has a few top contenders, and a few real stinkers–so I wouldn’t be surprised if that division put up two 94 game winners. And, since I think all five AL East teams are strong, I would be surprised to see three teams equal the win totals of the top AL East teams last season. In other words, I’m not convinced that the wild card will come out of the East–it certainly could, and probably will, but I don’t think it is the given that it has been lately.

So, here’s to hoping that I’m wrong about the pitching staff. That Buchholz is an ace. That Beckett is still a potential 20 game winner. That the Lackey who lived in LA will finally arrive in Boston. That somebody translates “contract year” into Japanese. Because, otherwise, this great lineup might sit home and watch the playoffs. Again.

Advertisements

Reviewing Spring Training Red Sox Story Lines in September

Back in April, I wrote a list of Seven Red Sox Story Lines for 2010. Let’s see how they played out.

1. John Lackey‘s health

Lackey remained healthy all season, unfortunately those sub-par career numbers in Fenway Park weren’t just the result of a small sample size. Although, to be honest, his Home/Road split this year is nearly identical. You’ve got to wonder why Lackey put up the worst WHIP and K/9 of his career this year. Given that its the first year of a questionable contract, I am concerned. Let’s hope that uncharacteristically high BABIP is an aberration (especially on a team built for defense), and that he can knock a run of his 4.50 ERA next year. There is hope here, since his FIP is 3.88.

2. Can Defense Really Win?

OK, was that great defensive team ever on the field together? Ellsbury was out most of the year, as was Cameron. Fangraphs shows the Red Sox’s team defense numbers as mediocre–right in the middle of the league. Of course, the way this team hit for much of the season, they were able to win with offense. The loss of Youkilis (on top of Pedroia) is what really did this team in–they are 3 games over .500 without him.

3. Does This Team Really Have a 4th Starter?

Holy crap they do. Clay Buchholz has been the best starter on the team this year. I’m not sure who the #5 will be next year, but you have to feel good about a rotation of Lester, Buchholz, Beckett, Lackey, and any one else.

4. Can This Team Score Runs?

Here’s the questions I aksed in order:

  • Which David Ortiz shows up? One who can hit .250 with 30 home runs or one who can hit .200 with 15 home runs? Or one that hits like Pat Burrell (ewww….)? Answer: The good Ortiz. Eventually. A big question for the Red Sox this off-season will be what to do with Papi. I’ll save that for another post.
  • Is Scutaro a one year wonder?Answer: Yes. I wrote in another post that the Red Sox needed last year’s Scutaro–the one who walked 90 times to push his OBP to .379. They didn’t get that guy. Scutaro is back to his career averages this year, which means a .331 OBP.
  • Will Cameron have more hits or strikeouts? (Hint: the last time he had more hits than k’s was 2000).Answer: 14 BB, 44 K’s, and only 48 games.
  • Can Drew repeat his stellar 2009?
    Answer: No. This is one of the worst seasons of Drew’s career–his OPS is below .800. Its too bad he’s slated to earn 15 million plus for one more year.
  • Will Ellsbury continue to grow or has he plateau-ed?
    Answer: Oh the injustice of it all.

/

5. Will Josh Reddick Break Through this Season?

I wrote this post after Reddick finished his second straight insane Spring Training. But that seems to be the only place that Reddick shines. Reddick struggled through a terrible season at Pawtucket and has a .630 OPS in 53 PA this season. We did have a few great call-ups this year: Darnell McDonald has a .779 OPS (that’s .011 less than Drew for about 14.5 million fewer dollars), and Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish surprised in flashes. Any of those guys could be a 4th outfielder next season.

6. Adrian Gonzalez (?)

Who would have thought the Padres would be contending for a title this year? Gonzalez should be an MVP candidate, and the Red Sox will likely have to wait and see if the Padres give him the Mauer treatment this off-season.

7. Will Josh Bard Develop Into the Next Papelbon (Literally)?

I thought this was from left field, but I was right! Bard is every bit the stud he was advertised to be, and should be the closer opening day 2011. I don’t know if Paps will be traded or not, but Bard is clearly the future at the back of the Boston pen.

Make Way for Reddick? And a Few Other Early Season Thoughts

Lunch break on a Friday, so I’ll throw up a few responses to the early Sox season. Its too soon for any real reflection, so these come more in the form of questions.

Are You Nervous About Big Papi?

I am, and not necessarily because of his low starting numbers. I am more concerned about his lashing out at the media following questions on his low starting numbers. That lash out speaks to me–it tells me that the normally easy-going, gregarious, and confident Papi is sensitive. Last year, of course, Papi was one of the best hitters in the league after June first. He was also one of the worst before then. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait until June 1st this year.

Is That Josh Reddick I See?

So Cameron looks to be out for at least a week, if not three, and Ellsbury is still a bit dinged up. Bill Hall showed yesterday that center field is really not an option. It looks like the Sox will have to make a roster move with a call-up. Right now, Reddick, who was real hot in Spring Training, is struggling early–hitting only .137 (4 for 29). In my 2010 Sox Season Storylines, I mentioned that Reddick is likely to compete for Drew’s job after 2011, and I’m hoping, despite his slow AAA start, that he gets a chance to swing with the big club for a week or two.

Can Victor Martinez Catch?

I keep reminding myself that its very early. But I also questioned whether Martinez would be able to replace Varitek as the catcher for this staff. The early response seems to be “no”–but, of course, its way too early. Its early. Just keep telling myself that its early. Its early. Don’t compare their CERA from 2009 (which, by the way, is 5.22 vs 3.87)….

One more thing on Martinez–has anyone else noticed that, unlike Tek, he just can’t seem to keep his glove still? I want to start watching other big league catchers more closely to see if, like Martinez, they have difficulty offering an immobile target for pitchers.

Remember Dice-K?

It will be very interesting to see what happens with the rotation next week. Dice-K’s rehab starts in Pawtucket went very well (in 11 innings he hasn’t given up a run, walked only one, and struck out 5). I’d love to see the pitch count numbers on those games, given Dice-K’s efficiency problems. While I am a bit concerned to see he’s only struck out 5 in 11 innings against AAA competition, you have to wonder if he won’t get a shot in the rotation and send either Wakefield or Buchholz to the pen.

Well, so much for the lunch break. Enjoy the weekend.

Seven Red Sox Story Lines for 2010

I’m not necessarily a big fan of arm chair prognostication. I’m a much bigger fan of narration–and think that the most compelling sports analysis involves narrative arc. So, rather than offer a prediction, I’ll call attention to what I think are the most intriguing Red Sox story lines heading into the season.

1. John Lackey’s health

Of course, every team needs players to stay healthy. But the Red Sox are counting on their version of Maddux / Glavine / Smoltz this season–a three-headed pitching hydra poised to eat up innings and rack up wins. Lackey has missed 23% of his starts over the past two seasons. Put simply: missing 7 starts would be bad in a division that will likely come down to two or three games.

2. Can Defense Really Win?

This is a question posed by about every major media commentator [wsj.com]: the Red Sox’s turn toward defensive minded players. To separate myself a bit, I will point to the increased interest in defense in many of baseball’s “think tanks.” Seattle focused on defense as well this off-season–if the Sox and the Mariners do win their divisions, be prepared to become familiar with obscure terms such as RF and DE. I’ve been interested in these new defensive stats for quite awhile simply because they are so hard to quantify (and so few people will believe in the impact of something that cannot be measured). Rest assured, if the Sox win 100 games, you’ll see some theoretical-mathematical approaches to defense popping up on ESPN.

3. Does This Team Really Have a 4th Starter?

Those first three pitchers are incredible, and the team should benefit from increased defense. But can either Wakefield, Dice-K, or Buchholz maintain the Sox’s pitching advantage by consistently giving a 6 inning, 3 ER effort? The easy answer is “yes”–but last year’s struggles suggest that the Red Sox might actually have three number one pitchers and three number fives. I’m hoping Buchholz looks more like the pitcher of last September–a pitcher with top-of-the-rotation potential, than what he looked like at the beginning of last season or for most of this Spring.

4. Can This Team Score Runs?

This is an obvious question that has been covered elsewhere. Very simply:

  • Which David Ortiz shows up? One who can hit .250 with 30 home runs or one who can hit .200 with 15 home runs? Or one that hits like Pat Burrell (ewww….)?
  • Is Scutaro a one year wonder?
  • Will Cameron have more hits or strikeouts? (Hint: the last time he had more hits than k’s was 2000).
  • Can Drew repeat his stellar 2009?
  • Will Ellsbury continue to grow or has he plateau-ed?

Ok, so I’m not optimistic about the answer to most of these questions…which leads to my next two storylines:

5. Will Josh Reddick Break Through this Season?

Only the die-hard Sox fans likely know who Reddick is. Last year, in Spring Training, Reddick hit .423 / .433 / .577. This season he followed it up with an even more amazing .404 / .426 / .702. That’s a 1.128 OPS from a 23 year old who can play all three positions. He had a rough trip up to the majors last September, going only 10 for 59 with 2 walks and 17 strikeouts. But, on the bright side, 6 of his 10 hits were for extra-bases. His major league service clock has been activated, so there’s really no reason to keep him in the minors any longer. He’s got a career .512 slugging in the minor leagues, and though he tends to swing (think Nomar), he could be the next big Red Sox wonder-kid. Here’s one prediction–if Ortiz struggles, then I think Lowell and Drew will platoon at DH while Reddick will come up from the Paw Sox to get a shot at RF everyday. We all know Drew is leaving after this season–Reddick is the best candidate to get his job. And getting Drew’s 15 million dollars off the book will give the Sox the option of…

6. Adrian Gonzalez (?)

Perhaps the Mauer contract will fool the Padres into thinking they can resign their local star. I doubt it. If anything, Mauer’s price tag probably emphasizes how little chance they have. The Red Sox gave Beltre a one-year deal in the likelihood that Gonzalez will be a free agent next year. Gonzalez at first, Youkilis at third… that would be quite nice. I have no idea if this will happen–but rest assured, if the offense problems in question 4 do materialize, then the Gonzalez to Boston rumors will continue to intensify.

7. Will Josh Bard Develop Into the Next Papelbon (Literally) ?

Ok here’s one from left field, so to speak. But Sox fans have to see the writing on the wall. All of the Sox home-grown wonder kids have extensions–Ellsbury, Pedroia, Lester, and Youkilis. Papelbon does not. And, if what I read is true, then its quite likely that he won’t. Papelbon wants to be the highest paid closer in baseball history, and the Yankees need a closer soon. Perfect match. The Red Sox will feel a lot more comfortable with the prospect of letting Papelbon go to free agency (Yankees, Yankees, Yankees) if and only if Bard realizes his 100 mph potential.

So there’s my 7 story lines for the season. I’ll add two minor league threads to pay attention to as well: the development of Lars Anderson (who, if he plays well, would be a nice chip in a possible Gonzalez trade) and shortstop Jose Iglesias.

Let the baseball begin.

A Taste of October in Early August

The next week will be a trial by fire for this Red Sox team as they face the Rays and Yankees six times. With the exception of Wakefield, the Red Sox find themselves at full strength. I will be paying close attention to the pitching match-ups the next six days, since, if you remember, I was most concerned about our lack of a legitimate 3rd starter heading into the trade deadline. Wakefield might be one of the best fourth starters of all-time (no exaggeration) given his consistent ability to deliver 6+ innings. You can plug him in near the end of the rotation and know that your bullpen will actually get some rest. That is invaluable over a 162 game season. But what you can’t count on him for is giving you quality innings. That isn’t too valuable in the hyper-shortened post season. Wakefield’s post season ERA with the Red Sox sits just south of 8.00. Let’s not forget that the most important start of Wake’s post-season career is the one he didn’t make.

Thus the question: will a legitimate third starter emerge on this team? I am hoping the quasi-playoff atmosphere of the next week will give some indication. Buchholz is probably the favorite–but his first-strike-percentage has been up and down. I think this is the key for him (as it is for any pitcher, but especially for the young Buchholz who acknowledges some psychological misgivings on the mound): throw those strikes. Anywho, here’s the Sox pitching match-ups for the next week.

Red Sox vs. Rays

  • Lester vs. Garza: I expect a great match-up, these guys are probably even. I’ll say pick’em odds on this one. Lester’s ERA is inflated due to a few early poor starts. Garza has been nothing short of electric against the Sox (he reminds me of Dave Stewart–a pitcher who plays his best against the best).
  • Penny vs. Price: These guys both struggle, so, while I’m close to another pick’em, I’ll give Tampa Bay and Price a small advantage. Price has a tendency to overthrow his fastball and loses control. Penny has a tendency to leave fastballs (a bit, um, underthrown) over the heart of the plate. The Rays all-or-nothing, strike-out-or-homer strategy means Penny is just the guy they like to see; Price’s control struggles make him an ideal target for the Red Sox’s general plate discipline. As if you can’t tell, I am suggesting you bet the over on this one.

Red Sox vs. Yankees

  • Smoltz vs. Chamberlain: I read an interesting Sabermetric evaluation of Smoltz’s number the other day, suggesting that his FIP numbers (fielding independent pitching) were right on his career averages. In other words, that he has been the victim of statistical improbability rather than poor performance and that, in turn, Red Sox fans have room for optimism. To that I say “bunk.” Guys get old and leave pitches in bad places (funny thing: a commentator left such a remark on the forums, suggesting that the statistical evidence might fail to account for contextual factors, and the gallery near booed him from the stage. I like it when empiricist utterly disregard rhetorical factors. I makes me feel like my job really matters). Yankees and Chamberlain
  • Beckett and Burnett: In the battle of ex-Marlins, I am going with “big” brother. Red Sox and Beckett
  • Buchholz and Sabathia: Duh. Yankees and Sabathia
  • Lester and Pettitte: While Pettitte has been solid this season, Lester’s June and July have been fantastic (8 QS in 10 GS). Lester and the Red Sox

Again, an interesting week. I think the Sox will be satisfied if they come out of the road trip 3-3. To do that, they really need to split the series with the Rays. Here’s hoping Lester brings some of his magic tonight.

Martinez, Buchholz, and the Trade Deadline

I know Victor Martinez is a great player, and gives us depth at catcher, but I don’t see how this trade made us that much better if everyone stays healthy. Varitek, Lowell, and Youk have an OPS above their career average. LaRoche gave us insurance at first base. Given what Detriot gave up for Washburn (i.e., not much), I would have preferred the extra experienced starter.

Not that one game a sample size makes, but Buchholz isn’t having a great day today. I believe many people undervalue Jason Varitek’s ability to call a game. Few people grant to a catcher the kind of respect an offensive coordinator gets in football. But that’s what they are. Pitchers are quarterbacks. Some study film and come prepared (Tom Brady and Peyton Manning could win with me in the booth), others (say, Brett Favre) need someone to call the plays for them. Otherwise, they would chuck fastballs, err… deep posts… every play err… pitch. Mixed metaphors aside, catchers play an important, if non-quantifiable, role in pitching. And Varitek is the best in the business.

I commented on a post regarding this subject over on Statistician Magician a few weeks back. Here’s what I wrote over there:

Besides looking at the ho-hitters, look at what happened to the Red Sox pitching staff in 2006 when Varitek got hurt. He missed only the month of August that season. The Red Sox were 63 and 41 heading into that month. They went 9-21 in August without Varitek behind the plate. They recovered to go 14-14 after his return.

More pitching numbers from that season: in August without Varitek: BA .314, TB 548, OPS+ 131, and team ERA 5.81. The high’s from any other month: BA .282, TB 419, OPS+ 106, ERA 4.70.

The terrible swan-dive the team took in 2006 during Tek’s injury was why Epstein came to value Varitek to the extent that he does. In fairness, Wakefield was injured for that stretch as well. But that doesn’t explain why Schilling, Beckett, and Lester all had their worst months of the season in August. Lester pitched so poorly they sent him back down to the minors.

What I hope stands out is that, during his absence, the pitching staff stunk it up. Beckett and Schilling, great every other month that season, posted some of their worst totals in a Sox uniform.

I’m sure I’ll come to appreciate Martinez’s bat. I’m not saying I won’t. But I wonder (as I watch Clay struggle today) if sacrificing Varitek’s behind-the-plate magic (at least it sounds like voodoo to many fans of the contemporary statistical school) is worth the slight offensive upgrade Martinez provides.

Red Sox Halladay Offer

Last week I proposed the Red Sox trade for Halladay. Here’s what that offer looked like:

The Red Sox actually offer was leaked earlier today. It pretty close to my offer, with one major difference. Here’s what they put on the table:

  • Clay Buchholz
  • Choice of Bowden, Anderson, or Masterson
  • A lesser prospect [not a blue-chip]

The Sox put Buchholz on the table, which I didn’t think they would do. Notice that flamethrower Daniel Bard is off the table. Ultimately, this is likely all academic, since I don’t think that the Jays will trade Halladay in the division if they can help it. But it is nice to dream.