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.
I thought I might take a few minutes and review my pre-season expectations as we wind down to the post season. Below are my picks from Spring Training.
NL EAST: Phillies
I’ll admit, I really hope I end up wrong on this one. It would be a nice story if the Braves could win one more for Bobby Cox. As of last night, the Phillies have taken over first place in the NL East by 1/2 game. I’m not sure the Braves’ offense, sans Chipper Jones, has enough to retake and hold the lead against a healthy Phillies squad down the stretch.
NL CENTRAL: Cardinals
Here’s another one where I’m happy to be wrong–I like to see an underdog win (especially given baseball’s extremely uneven playing field). Votto is for real, and the Reds won the all the games they needed to win (even if they tend to struggle against the upper-echelon teams). I think there starting pitching is too thin for the playoffs, but they are a great story.
NL WEST: Giants
As of today, the Giants are two back in the loss column to the surprisingly good Padres. I do think the Giants will take them–but this in large part relies on what the Padres do with their young stud Latos. I’ll assume anyone reading this knows the Verducci Effect. Latos threw 120 combined minor league and major league innings last season. He’s already over the Verducci guideline–throwing 160.2 thus far in 2010. History would advise the Padres shut him down now. Chances are, given the economic situation in San Diego, they will pitch him into the ground over the next month. I also think he should be a frontrunner for the NL Cy Young, but I’ll save that for a future post.
NL WILDCARD: Braves
Yup. If the season ended today, then I would have called it. Again–I’d rather see them win the division and secure home field.
AL EAST: Rays
Please, Tampa, please–don’t blow it. You are pretty much my only hope.
AL CENTRAL: White Sox
I originally liked the Twins in the spring–but I drank the White Sox kool-aid and bought into the possibility of a resurgent Jake Peavy. I thought the White Sox could win 90 games–and it looks like they will. What’s unexpected is the Twins winning 95 or 95 games. I thought the central would be a stronger division (what happened to the Tigers? Oh yeah, injuries).
AL WEST: Angels
I didn’t like any team in this division–and I’m happy for the Rangers for the same reason that I’m happy for the Reds. I also wonder how this pitching staff will hold up in the playoffs against high powered offenses; thier pitching numbers get padded in an offensively challenged (read: historically inept) Al West. Any chances the Angels had broke with Morales leg.
AL WILD CARD: Red Sox
I have already cathartically released my disappointment for the Sox this season–but it wasn’t meant to be. Now the Rays will likely win the Wild Card, and the Yankees the division. The Yanks are relatively healthy this year, like last year; even if Pettitte can’t contribute in the playoffs, I think the Yankees have to be the favorites. Oh sweet baseball gods, what have I done to deserve this two years in a row?
Anything but the darkside. Looking at the calendar, September is upon us. The Sox are 7 games out. Nothing against Al Michaels, but, generally, no–I don’t believe in miracles. So I am changing alliance for the rest of the season from my beloved rebellion to this upstart movement in opposition of the dreaded empire.
In other words, go Rays.
Back in May a few people mocked me for dismissing the Sox’s chances after a terrible April start (11-12). So, like, not to say “I told you so” or anything. But, um, well…
Of course, on top of that inexplicable slow start, this year’s club was decimated by injuries. Hence the 12-13 July. But had the Sox put up an 18 win April, like their May and June (when they were somewhat healthy), they would be 7 games better than there current 74-58 mark. Hey, seven games? Isn’t that precisely how many games they trail the Rays and Yanks. Funny stuff, this life we live.
If any team in baseball lost their #1, 2, 3 and 4 hitter, then they probably wouldn’t be 16 games over .500. Add to that the fact that the Sox were without there #1 starter (at least in name), starting center fielder, back-up catcher and you really have to give credit to Francona for keeping this team alive. Although I think he rides his starters a bit too long sometimes, I have really come to appreciate Francona as a manager.
I think its time to stop rooting for the Sox and start rooting for whoever is playing the Yankees. It is an emotional moment. Of course, there is still some hope left–but ultimately I’m already in mourning for the 2010 season. Here’s to hoping for a Ray of hope to crush the evil this October.
I’m a bit worried though. The Rays have great pitching, but too streaky of an offense. The Rays struggle to score runs against strong pitching (they are something of a whiff factory), and that could kill them against the Yanks. The Rangers look outstanding, but they are a young and largely unproven team; and it remains to be seen if they can score runs once Josh Hamilton gets walked every at bat. I don’t take the AL central too seriously this year–the very fact that the White Sox are still in it speaks to the division’s overall mediocrity.
So, in conclusion. Darn it. Wasted Opportunity. Somebody beat those Damn Yankees.
Ok, so I opened last post saying how I prefer stories to predictions. And I offered some stories. But that doesn’t mean I am immune to the case of prediction-itis so contagious this time of year. I’ll keep it short, at least.
NL East: Phillies
Great pitching and a deep line-up. I don’t think their potential bullpen struggles will keep them from winning an improved division. 95 wins (+2 over last year).
NL Central: Cards
Albert Pujols might produce more runs than the Pirates. A strong rotation and capable bullpen should translate into 90 wins (-1 from last season) in a rather weak-pitching division.
NL West: Giants
Most of the experts are picking the Rockies–and I do like Jiminez and that rotation. But, if Aubrey Huff and Edgar Renteria can be better than terrible (and I think they can/will), then I believe the Giants offense will be improved enough to win 95 games. They can pitch. Well. 91 Wins (+3 over last season).
NL Wildcard: Braves
So I’m leaving the Rockies out of the playoffs. The Braves had a lot of issues last season, and still managed to win 86 games. This off-season, they added some nice pieces to give Bobby Cox one last run at a second ring. If everyone stays healthy, I like their chances [note: I acknowledge that as a super-tremendous “if”] to win 91 games (+5) and win the wild card.
AL East: Rays
Yes. You read that properly. I think the Rays will be motivated this season (i.e., many contract years) and that their young pitchers will produce (well, I’m not sure about Wade Davis, but the other four should be good). A deep starting pitching staff and dynamic offense will put up somewhere around 95 wins (+12 over last season).
AL Central: White Sox
Hey did anyone else notice that this team got Jake Peavy? As in, the Jake Peavy? The really dominant guy who pitched in the middle of nowhere for half a decade? Yeah, they got that guy. 90 wins (+11 over last season).
AL West: Um… Angels or Mariners? Maybe the Rangers? Oakl… nevermind, the A’s Stink
Ok, I know I have to pick one. But this is an ugly division. Even the Rangers could win–although I don’t think they can survive the heat (literally, it just wears them down). I really like the Mariners, but Cliff Lee’s early injury has me concerned. Ultimately, I think the Mariners make for a good story, but the Angles have the better, more experienced, and more consistent roster. Even without Lackey, they find a way to win 89 games (-8 games).
AL Wild Card: Red Sox
I think the new rotation will hold up, and that the bullpen will be stronger than many realize. The offense is not as light as people think. The real issue here, of course, is that I am leaving the Yankees out of the playoffs. I’ll make a case that this is not merely wishful thinking. The Yankees keep getting older. Last year no one thought the Yankees’ pitching staff could survive 162 games. I know they added Vasquez, but he comes with AL question marks (and comes from one of the lightest hitting divisions in baseball last season). Just because Pettitte and Burnett made it through a complete season last year doesn’t make it more likely that they will this year. Very few people in the professional media are willing to bet against the Yanks. I am. Injuries hurt their rotation. Red Sox 93 wins (-2). Yankees 92 (-11) wins. The AL Beast should provide one hell of a show.
So I suppose I should write a quick something about who will beat who in that other season after the real season. Hmm. AL: Red Sox beat White Sox. Rays beat Angels. Red Sox beat Rays (Rays have more quality starters for the regular season, Red Sox have more horses built for the playoffs). NL: Giants beat the Braves. Phillies beat the Cards. Giants beat the Phillies [blue plate upset special].
World Series: Red Sox Beat the Giants
Now that would be a nice story.
Lunch break is over–off to grade some papers (while I listen to some baseball). Apologies to Cubs fans.
Please excuse the Metallica reference in the title
As I talked about awhile back, I don’t think the Red Sox have as strong a rotation as we expected. I wanted Halladay or Lee before the deadline, and am truly concerned about our starting pitching heading down the stretch. Right now we echo the 1948 Braves’ mantra from the days of Spawn and Sain–Beckett, Lester, and then pray for rain.
That said, nothing makes me salivate like a Red Sox / Yankee game. I had to explain this to a few students during our goodbye lunch Wednesday–that I respect and even root for the Rays. Despite their victory over us in last year’s playoffs, I hold them no animosity. They are like the little engine that could. They are like the little brother who always tries really hard to play with his older siblings. I find it difficult to rationalize the extreme hatred Rays fans seem to hold particularly toward the Red Sox. I want the Rays to succeed, for however short a window they have. Because, you Ray fans out there, celebrate as you will, but know this: the economic realities of playing in the AL East will catch up to you, especially in this economy. You will find it difficult to compete as players such as Crawford, Garza, and Zobrist reach free agency and when you are not drafting in the top five every year for a decade. We’ll see how things go this off-season, when Crawford exercises his $1mil buyout, becomes a free agent and fills the void of Johnny Damon in left field. Don’t alienate Red Sox Nation Rays fans. Sooner or later, you will want to join us in that purely Boston of anthems: “Yankees suck, Yankees suck, Yankees suck” (no lie, I have heard this at high school basketball games, shopping malls, and weddings).
That aside (directed to the local radio personalities than to any fanboys who read this blog), there is no limits to my completely irrational hatred of all things Yankees. And it pains me, greatly, to say: I think the Yankees are the clear favorite to win the World Series. I thought, especially after the collapse of Wang, that their pitching would deteriorate. But, unfortunately, Sabathia’s elbow doesn’t show any wear after all those innings last season and Burnett has found a way to stay healthy. Pettitt rolls along as he tends to do. Chamberlain has developed as a starter of note. This all spells trouble for everyone else in Major League Baseball because this offense is legendary. L-E-G-E-N-D-A-R-Y. 8 starters with an OPS+ over 118 and an OPS over .838. By comparison, the Red Sox have 2 starters over those plateaus and the Rays have 4. The Red Sox have a more consistent lineup than the Rays with only one hitter with an OPS+ under 85–Nick Green (72) while the Rays have three starters with OPS+ below 85: Burrell (84), Upton (79), and Navarro (52). If this team can pitch, then I fear there’s nothing to stop them from winning their first championship of this century. BOO!
After the two losses to the Rays, I am really hoping for a split with the Yankees. A victory by Smoltz tonight would go along way to that end. Both of our horses appear later in the series, so I won’t dismiss the possibility of winning 3 out of 4. Here’s to hoping that the Smoltz we see tonight proves those Sabermatricians, and their analysis of his incredulously high BABIP, are right.
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.
Quickly, I would point out that before his last start on July 23rd, Haren had gone ten straight starts allowing 2 ER or less and pitching at least 7 innings in all but one of those starts. Despite his statistical dominance this season, he has only 10 wins. I hope Cy Young voters don’t overlook him at the end of the season.
In other news, the Red Sox dealt Mark Kotsay today for the White Sox’s Brian Anderson. Anderson is a solid fielder, although barring injury I don’t see him with the big league club until the rosters expand in a little over a month. Kotsay’s playoff performance was so painful last year, I couldn’t look at him without feeling an odd mixture of anger, disappointment, compassion, and guilt. I wish him well with the White Sox. Needless to say, I’ll be more comfortable watching Red Sox games without him.
I root for the Rays 19 games every season. They lost one of said games last night. Let’s not make a habit of losing to the Yankees!
This is directed in part to raysfanboy, who dares to taunt the ghost of Pedro, but more to the local Tampa Bay sports radio commentators and callers, who disparage Red Sox nation at every turn. They tend to claim that the Rays are “all grown up” and have taken control of Tropicana Field. As a Red Sox fan who regularly attends games at the Trop, I watch Rays fans ring their bells with the same disposition that I watch my two-year old daughter almost color within the lines: “that’s so cute, its almost like a grown-up would do it.”
I will readily admit that Rays fans are showing up in greater numbers since the end of 2008, but let’s not forget that the the Trop was, and still in large part “is,” the house that Pedro built. As always, I decided to do some research.
First, my initial hypothesis: I expected to find that Rays attendance spiked significantly whenever the Northeastern Axis of Baseball came to town: that is, the Red Sox or the Yankees. I admit I was wrong. Over the course of the 2008 and early 2009 season, attendance consistently spikes only when the Red Sox come to town. And I do mean significantly.
Some numbers (to keep my calculator time to a minimum, I’m rounding off to the nearest thousand):
- Attendance for non-Red Sox/Yankee games: 1.323k, 21k a game
- Attendance for Yankee games: 183k, 20k a game
- Attendance for Red Sox games: 297k, 33k a game
How about some breakdown? Attendance for the first twelve games of 2008? 182k. Attendance for the three game series against the Red Sox? 98k. The opening game of the Red Sox series saw 30,290 fans–the night before a whooping 9,540 turned out to see the Royals. That 9540 was the biggest turnout for the entire series. The night after the Sox left town, hello 12,039.
I probably don’t need more evidence, but to be certain: the 2005 Rays (I picked this season at random) drew more than 20,000 fans to 14 games all season. They drew 30,000 plus fans 3 times all season. How did the Red Sox play into that? 7/14 and 3/3. Wait, did I really just say that they only drew 20,000 fans 14 times for an entire year? Don’t feel too bad Rays fans. The Sox had trouble drawing 20,000 fans a game. In 1966.
Some serious reflection–I think the argument that the stadium’s location hurts attendance is realer than people imagine. The Rays average significantly more fans on the weekends than they do during the week. Were the stadium closer to where people actually live (in Tampa rather than St. Petersburg), then I think they could significantly boost attendance. Another problem with the Trop is one that I don’t know how to fix: its in a rather unappealing area. Every major baseball culture I have known has a kind of cultural carnival surrounding their stadium. Cask and Flagon, Stan’s Sports Bar, Sheffield Grill; for those who haven’t visited: do you know what’s around the Trop? Parking lots and industrial plants and convenience stores so sketchy I find myself grabbing my wallet as I pass by… in the car… Addressing the location of the stadium, which will likely not happen until the current lease runs out in 2016, would drastically improve the appeal of Rays games. So then, they might not rank last in the AL in attendance for another 7 straight years. Sorry, sorry, cheap shot…
These issues aside, the Rays fan base is steadily developing. Even in a down economy this year, ticket sales are up over 20% at last glance. They’ve got fiscal control over plenty of young talent (but, fanboy, seriously, you have to come to grips with the fact that this is the Carl Crawford good-bye Tampa tour) and should, avoiding mismanagement, be a competitive force in baseball’s best division for at least the next five years.
But, let’s be frank. You don’t have to like the Nation, Rays fans, but you better respect us. Because the minute we stop coming to your stadium, you are going to have to start rooting for the Albuquerque Rays (“Oh, oh, so hard to resist. Mesquite-grilled onions, jalapeño relish … wait a minute, those are Southwestern ingredients. [the crowd gasps] Mango-lime salsa? That’s the kind of bold flavor they enjoy in … Albuquerque!” Hungry, Hungry Homer).
In the meantime, go ahead, ring your cowbells. Its ok, we give you permission, I mean, hey, we paid for the damn things anyway.
Carl Crawford’s epic all-star catch last evening has my friend Rob rightfully ringing his cowbell. But I thought two things as I watched the slow motion replay:
- Wow, that really saved Pap’s butt. Pap, despite strong numbers, has made Sox fans nervous on more than one occasion this season…
I thought the Rays made a solid decision holding onto Crawford this offseason and building the team for a championship run. But, with the kind of season he’s having (he’s on pace to top his career highs in hits, walks, runs and steals), I can’t see Crawford staying in Tampa without a big money contract extension after this season.
I know, I know, the club has an option to pay Crawford $10mil. But that option comes with a 1.5 million dollar buy-out. Crawford could have bought out of the contract after last season (for $2.5mil), but he chose to accept the $8.25mil instead. I don’t see lightning striking twice.
First, the free agent crop for outfielders is particularly weak next season. There’s a list of great names, but nobody there is in their prime, outside of Jason Bay. The Red Sox will want to keep Bay, and I expect them to make a hard push to keep their righthanded power hitter, though the fact that Youk and Dustin are righties, coupled with the decline of Ortiz means they could look at a lefty. Particularly a fast lefty? Couple to the Rays challenge to retain Crawford the fact that the Yankees will be losing Damon; they, too, could be interested in upgrading a terrible outfield defense and getting younger.
Hey, wait, a fast, left-handed, slick fielder with a buy-out option who just won the All-Star game MVP could become a free agent in an off-season in which the Sox and the Yanks will be bidding for a starting left-fielder? CHA-CHING!
I also think you’ll see speed coming back to a premium ahead, as the Earl Weaver “get a big guy to hit the ball really hard” (note: PG rendition) strategy will whither with homerun totals. All the unquantifiable dimensions of speed on the basepaths (i.e., the slidestep, the hesitation of middle infielders, the distraction on pitchers, the gift ball of a pitchout) will come more into play.
To be clear, I think Tampa handled this right. They are getting a great season out of Crawford- if they can pick up some bullpen help, and if their starting pitching holds together, and if their middle infield defense plays better, they have a great shot at a title again this season. They will likely loose Crawford this offseason, but unlike other sports, they won’t get nothing in return. Crawford’s departure will bring them draft picks as compensation–and its likely the picks are near equivalent to anything they might have brought in through an offseason trade (I mean, this is the team that gave up Jackson for Joyce…cheap shot, sorry, sorry).