Tagged: red sox

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.

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Crawford’s Stupid Contract. Stupid. Stupid.

I’ve been wanting to write this one for over a week now, but haven’t found the time. Here’s a quick take.

Crawford is Over-paid

First, I was waiting all fall to see who would overpay for Crawford. I did not think it would be the Red Sox. Crawford is an athletic talent–but there is no way a player with an OPS under .900 should cross the 15 million a year mark. Especially not a 29 year old player built on speed with questionable career plate discipline.

Go look at what an exceptional speedster like Tim Raines did after his 29th birthday compared to before: from 1982 to 1988 Raines hit .306 / .392 / .447 with 75 SB, 90 BB’s, and 285 TB per 162 games. From 1989 to 1995, Raines dropped to .284 / .378 / .406 with 42 SB, 92 BB’s, and 246 TB per 162 games. Cutting off his shortened first year, from 2003 to 2010 Crawford compiled a .299 / .340 / .448 line with 56 SB, 40 BB’s, and 293 TB per 162 games.

My point in showing these numbers is two-fold–first, obviously, I expect that Crawford’s production, predicated on speed, will diminish as he crosses 30. Second, to show that Tim Raines‘ production was amplified by something that Crawford has never displayed–plate discipline. Even in his last two “big money” seasons, Crawford has only totaled 97 walks, while striking out 203 times. During the second half of his career, Raines never walked fewer than 61 times (and the 61 was in a strike-shortened 101 game 1994 campaign). Furthermore, during the second half of his career Raines never struck out more than 68 times and averaged only 62 k’s per 162 games (thus far, Crawford averages 102 k’s/162).

And, oh, by the way, does anyone think that Tim Raines was ever worth 20 million a season? Because that’s what we just paid Crawford. I’m not sure if I think Tim Raines is a better player than Crawford–but one can legitimately raise the question. And the very fact that you can entertain the question suggests the Red Sox made a big mistake (it also, I believe, suggests that Jacoby Ellsbury‘s long-term tenure with the Sox is in question, since the two are such similar players–but that’s left for another day, another post).

I’m a pretty big fan of Baseball Evalution’s Stat Geek Baseball–and they valued Crawford similar to Shane Victorino, projecting a contract of 5 years and 60 million. Everyone knew that he would get more than statistical value, but the Sox nearly doubled their projection. Boo.

And a double-boo to paying Bobby Jenks 2 years, 12 million dollars the same day that Kerry Wood signs a one year, 1.5 million dollar deal with the Cubs. I would take Wood over Jenks straight up.

Finally, Gonzalez in Boston

For awhile now, I have been waiting for this. And I’m glad it came. I thought, after the Joe Mauer trade, that San Diego might have delusions of financial legitimacy in baseball’s ridiculously uneven financial landscape. No offense to Peter Gammons, but this wasn’t a “win-win” situation. The Sox stole the Padres blind. The Padres made the best of a terrible/terribly unfair situation. In case you haven’t heard, Gonzalez is in Boston (pending an extension) for three Red Sox prospects: Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Reymond Fuentes.

In an article today, Gammons claims that Rizzo and Kelly will both be in Padre–that seems overly optimistic to me. Rizzo maybe–he hit 25 home runs between A and AA last year (20 of them in AA); however, he also posted an OBP of only .334 and struck out 132 times. Kelly struggled pitching in AA last season, posting an ERA above 5.00 and WHIP above 1.6, though his K-BB ratio was pretty strong (81 k’s, 35 bb’s, 95 ip). Fuentes’ is only two years out of high school, but they’ve been pretty mediocre years (last year in A ball he hit .270-.328-.377, though he did steal 42 bases). Eventually these guys might develop. Eventually. But I feel pretty confident that the Sox gave up 3 players who aren’t Youkilis, Buchholz, and Ellsbury caliber. They might all be first round picks–something Padres’ and baseball-economic-apologists will highlight–but they aren’t necessarily great talents.

In Gonzalez, the Red Sox grab one of the best players in baseball. Period. He’s not yet 30. He put up a .888 OPS in an incredible pitcher’s park. And, true to Red Sox strategy, he devours pitchers and runs up counts.

I’m hoping to here the extension announced soon. And I’m figuring it will be colossal–something like 8 years 160 million sounds right (just about what they were going to throw Mark Texeria before he went to the Yankees). I am a bit nervous, given the Phillies insanity with Howard’s contract, that the Sox won’t be able to work out a deal with Gonzalez.

So, in short, sorry Padre fans. You didn’t deserve this. But Gonzo is going to look damn good in Fenway.

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.

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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.

So How Did I Do?

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?

I’m Not a Traitor; I’m a Realist

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.

Sometimes Its the Trade You Don’t Make

As a Red Sox fan, this is “kinda” a tough trade deadline.

The Yankees got better, but not that much better. Kearns is a quality reserve; his career .258/.353/.426 line pretty much screams replacement player. I’m glad to see them pick up Berkman, just because I think that tank is empty and that contract is large (though the Astros are flipping part of the bill). Its fun to watch the Yanks give up prospects and waste money. Wood is the big pick-up here, and the one that the Yanks got for nothing. If Woods underperforms, the Yanks can cut him. If he returns to last years form, then the Yanks grabbed a quality arm on the cheap for what figures to be a ridiculously tight August and September.

The Sox, on the other hand, were uncharacteristically quiet. Of course, the Sox expect most of their position players to return in the next couple weeks, so investing prospects for temporary replacements didn’t make sense. Yes, we acquired Saltimacchia. This would have been front-page news a few years ago. As my cousin Andy put it, The Paw Sox got a nice upgrade at catcher for their stretch run.

But we didn’t acquire the one thing we really needed: relief help. In fact, we gave up on one arm–Ramon Ramirez, acquired in the Crisp deal a few years back. This really surprised me–because although Ramirez has struggled a bit this year, he’s a proven guy. I believe I heard whispers that he wasn’t too happy with his role on the team, and this likely mandated a move. Because, while his stats aren’t quite as good as 2008 or 2009, they are still better than a lot of relief pitchers around the league.

While I am disappointed that we didn’t get a reliever, I’m also happy we aren’t the Twins. Minnesota gave up one of their best offensive prospects, catcher Wilson Ramos to rent Nationals closer Matt Capps. In 1519 career plate appearances, Ramos has a .283/.330/.426 minor league line. And he can catch well. Capps is a vanilla closer–he’s never topped 30 saves in a season, has a craptastic K/9 ratio, and an un-inspiring 3.47 ERA. Yahoo has a great post up with all the complaints of Twins fans for overpaying for Capps.

The Sox were supposedly in the bidding for Capps. And the whole situation stings my memory with a needle from 1990. Remember the ghost of Larry Anderson? The Red Sox traded a first base prospect with a career .321/.390/.436 minor league line to the Astros to rent a journeyman starter/reliever. Anderson pitched X innings and won Y games. That prospect, Jeff Bagwell, hit 449 home runs, drove in 1529 RBI, and retired with a .948 OPS. Oops.

So while we didn’t really get any help, we didn’t make a regrettable mistake. I generally like the Twins, so let’s hope they don’t regret this trade 20 years later.