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.
First, as if in response to one of my questions from a few days ago, Buccholz has found a temporary spot in the rotation. I don’t know if Wake is really hurt or not–but this gives him a chance to rest up for a bit (he was clearly feeling his age at the end of last season–giving him, essentially, the month of July off is a good thing), and gives Buccholz an extended audition for the three spot in the rotation. I say three spot, because despite praising the pitching last week, I think you can see that the Red Sox have a number one starter, a number two starter, a number four starter (Wake) and then three number fives (Smoltz, Penny, Dice-K). We need a reliable third starter for the playoffs, and I don’t think we have that quite yet. (Smoltz might recover, Buccholz might develop, Dice-K might return to form, I might win the lottery).
Second, I am probably just pushing the panic button because the Yankees have just overtaken us for first place, but I want to propose the notion that the Red Sox should make a go at acquiring Halladay. He would become the ace immediately, and that would just make Beckett and Lester that much more effective come playoff time. I’ve been looking at the offers the Jay’s are hoping for (specifically the offer the Mets allegedly rejected) and think the Red Sox could easily put a package together. PS, if the Mets and the Phillies did reject the reported deals, then they must be smoking crack. The Jay’s asking price is quite reasonable for what might be the best pitcher in baseball. It is not a stretch-run rental–you get him for another whole season. While prospects are valuable–the Red Sox have shown that–you also have to realize there is a limited window to win. For the Mets and the Phillies, due to contract obligations too long to cover here, that window is likely next season.
Anyway, here’s my potential deal. In exchange for Halladay, the Red Sox exchange:
- Michael Bowden (BP’s # 31 prospect for 2009)
- Justin Masterson(BP’s # 53 prospect for 2008) [OR] Daniel Bard (BP’s # 97 Prospect for 2009)
- Lars Anderson (BP’s # 17 prospect for 2009)
That’s three highly scouted prospects (all have ranked in BP’s top 100). Bowden is pitching great at the AAA level. I covered how a little investigation shows Masterson’s numbers to be better than they initially appear last post. Bard is a flamethrower out of the pen, and could potentially replace BJ Ryan as closer for the rebuilding Jays. I see Anderson as the hardest to let go, only because in a year or two the Sox might envision Youk moving back to third and Anderson starting at first.
So, Sox fans, Jays fans, other fans, what do you think?
As I left my last post: the Red Sox have a gluttony of quality pitching right now, and it will be interesting to me to see how they handle the staff down the stretch. After thinking about it long enough to write this post, I think the biggest question concerns Dice-K. It is an understatement to say he has not been pitching well. Given his poor performance and injury concerns, I don’t see any kind of trade. I find it highly unlikely that he would get a minor league assignment.
Here is the Sox pitching rotation as of today:
And their talented bullpen:
At this point I would like to see Penny get traded–not because I don’t think he can handle the 5 spot in the rotation, but because I think Buccholz has learned as much as he can in AAA. His performance the other night–particularly his first strike % and overall control, shows he is ready for the major leagues. Additionally, the Red Sox top pitching prospect not named Buchholz and Bard is having a great season for Pawtucket. Michael Bowden [16 starts, 81 innings, 3.32 ERA, 1.242 WHIP, 54 K for the Paw Sox] could likely come up and start if necessary.
But even if you do move Penny, that still leaves the question of what to do with Dice-K once he gets back from “injury.” A minor league rehab assignment should bide some time. I just can’t see sending Masterson down to AAA (and, yes, I’m assuming that the only way Dice-K pitches for this team again this season is in long relief). Masterson’s 4.84 ERA might not seem impressive, but one has to factor in two absolutely terrible performances as a starter (12 earned runs in 12.1 IP) and two out of the pen (5 ER in 2 IP, 5 ER in .1 IP). Take away those four performances, and the rest of his season is stellar: 24 games, 52.2 IP, 14 ER, for a 2.39 ERA. Yes, he has two bad games out of 26 appearances out of the pen, but remember he is the long reliever. Often his job is simply to chew innings when a starter has an off night. With Masterson in the game, more often than not, the Sox have a chance to stage a comeback in those games.
So, any Sox fans out there, any thoughts on Dice-K (I’m hoping for a reaaally long rehab assignment… you know, until 2011 long).
I was only able to follow the game on the mlb gamecast, but it was a strong showing for Clay [boxscore]. Great start to the game–six first pitch strikes (and just missed getting a borderline call on the 7th batter), excellent command hitting the edge of the plate. Lived on the black in the first inning. Mostly fastballs and change-ups. Recorded first two outs on change-ups to Scutaro and Hill, and a curveball to Lind. All in all, a 15 pitch 1-2-3 inning.
He had two more first pitch strikes in the 3rd inning, and got a nice double play while down in the count 2-0 to Aaron Hill. His control faltered a bit in the fourth–he failed to get a first pitch strike on the first two batters, and then had his next three first pitches put in play. He escaped the inning giving up only one run. He came back and had a nice fourth inning, inducing two ground outs and a strike out.
He left a few on in the sixth, but had a great night overall, throwing 103 pitches, 66 for strikes. Word on the street is that he will be headed back to Rhode Island anyway, but its nice to know that he has really developed his location after his struggles last season. Whether it is for the stretch run later this season, or next season, Buchholz figures to be a strong addition to the rotation. The Red Sox will need to make some serious decisions soon, they are in the rare position of having too many starters:
A few of those names might not be too familiar to anyone outside of Beantown, but they all are potential starters for this team. I’ve got some real work to do this morning / afternoon, so I won’t be able to really think about my top five until later. Its a great question to ponder.