Friday, July 30, 2010

Only B****es Talk S***

Over the past nine years, the Red Sox' only center fielder/fast guy/leadoff hitter who didn't suck was this guy.
Don't hate Johnny Damon for leaving. Hate Johnny Damon for going back on his word. Hate Johnny Damon for running his mouth for four years and running himself out of town. Remember?
Eric Wilbur is the only Boston media guy interested in keeping it real.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

This Is Why I Don't Get Worked Up

My co-author chided me for not caring about issues affecting the Yankees two weeks ago. A.J. Burnett was in the midst of a massive cold streak, and he wanted to know why I wasn't giving it more attention. One reason, of course, is that a lot of it is about timing. As I said at the time, if the Yankees weren't winning, everybody's - not just Burnett's - struggles are magnified.

Another reason is that after going 0-5 with a 11.35 ERA in June, he is 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in July. As Gunn and I said at the time, A.J. Burnett is who he is. The only way you are really going to be disappointed is if you raise expectations above what you should. At this stage he has 1704.2 career innings, he is what he is. You can't get too excited about the highs or the lows. Chances are both are going to be short-lived, as we saw in June. Not many pitchers can go from an 11+ ERA to a 2 flat seemingly overnight. That is what A.J. does.

The key for me goes back to something I said the day the Yankees signed Burnett. The biggest advantage to having him is that, despite being so up and down, his ups are as big as anyone's in baseball. This is evidenced by the fact that he leads baseball this year in scoreless starts with seven. When he's on, he takes care of the game all by himself. Very few pitchers can do this as often as he does. You live with the down starts to get these immense high end starts.

And no team is in more of a position to maximize this than the Yankees. I don't pretend for a second that more than a handful of other teams can pay that kind of salary for a player that - again for that kind of money - would have to be fronting their rotation. He is too inconsistent. But the Yankees are deep enough to somewhat hide his cold streaks, and thus get the most out of him by riding his hot streaks. It's really a perfect marriage.

What's more, the guy flat out wants to win and he's a great teammate. It all makes him very easy to like, much like the rest of the team. Do I wish he could find his curveball more consistently, which he admits is really the key to him having success? Of course. When he doesn't have his curveball, it's usually because he doesn't have his release point, which means it's going to be tough to locate his fastball. All of that spells some really tough starts to watch. But I'm more than happy to deal with those starts to get the one's when he does have his curveball, which means he has his release point, which means he's going to locate his fastball to both sides of the plate. Because all of that spells getting one of the best pitchers in baseball for at least half his starts all year. For the Yankees, it's better to have a player like this than someone who arrives at similar numbers to him by plodding along at a consistently above average rate all season. It's better to have the takeover potential. Few can takeover like Burnett, so I'm not going to get worked up about his cold streaks, especially because I know they are as inevitable as his hot streaks.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Thought You Were Gonna Ask Me (Vol. 4)

Just a few tidbits so that we can keep score here. Friday look here for an overall evaluation of whether the Red Sox' West Coast road trip was a success. To sum it up in one word, yes. You can't sum it up in one word though.

1. Need to make sure we have the injury pantheon fully documented and updated for that time around Christmas 2011 when I want to look at all the injuries JD Drew had during his Red Sox career. He's missed two games with a sore left hamstring, a hamstring he was reportedly icing on Monday when he very well may have saved the Red Sox season with his wall-ball in the late innings. As always, you kind of have to wonder whether he's really hurt or if he's just longing to take a vacation to Arizona for a month or two like his boy 46. Nine weeks until bowhunting season in Kansas, where JD owns a lot of land according to Bowhunting Magazine (thanks to my man Nick for that tip).

2. On a completely related topic, good for Victor Martinez for refusing a minor league rehab, fitting his catcher's mitt with some cast-like reinforcements, and minimizing Kevin Cash/Dusty Brown at-bats. Some guys just understand that no matter how sore or injured they might be, having them in the lineup is more productive than having a waiver wire guy.

3. Tony Massarotti got into a fight with Dan Roche on the radio today, pretty much at the same level of me vs. Pat since the Yankees World Series victory, over the value of 46. Something that pissed me off about it is the fact that 46 was labeled as a "young" player with a lot of "potential," like he were a member of the Wilmington HS girls' track team. He has power potential, he has more average potential, he is young. Really? Guy's turning 27 years old in 46 (literally) days. Isn't 28-33 the peak of a player's career? How much better is he going to get? Well, I guess he's going to be so well-recovered from his rib injury that he'll hit .353 again when he comes back around September 20th.

4. Are you guys down with a Red Sox trade? Would it be for a bullpen arm? Would you do a fire sale? I'm curious how you guys feel. I'm curious to see how the NY people feel as well. A popular opinion on the radio yesterday was that they have to either buy or sell, not just sit. Maybe it's because I thought this year was a punt to begin with, but I'm okay with sitting. Michael Bowden is my trade-deadline bullpen addition. We already went over this a little bit several days go.

5. Tomorrow I will be 3 weeks removed from my sports hernia surgery and I am almost completely healed. I have not yet lifted, but I have run 78 miles since the surgery already. Best seventy-eight miles since literally November 2009. People might fault the Red Sox' medical staff on not MRI'ing 46, but the real crime is the fact that Cameron didn't go under the knife in April.

6. A few words of gratitude to the Boston Sports Pulse, who devoted an entire post last week to How Youz Doin Baseball, saying that Pat and I write "creative blog posts and nothing more." The author Chris also gave love to the Weak Ground Ball Counter, so I think at this point I might have to start calling it the "Critically-Acclaimed Weak Ground Ball Counter." While I've been ripped by the fantastic Rays Index blog and we're on the blogroll for a few big Yankee blogs, I think these folks are the biggest Boston outlet to notice us. Maybe it's our persistence, maybe it's the fact that we write stuff worth reading (debatable), and maybe it's point #7 (keep reading)...but I speak for both of us by saying thanks for the shoutout.

7. Lots of talk about how ratings and interest in the Red Sox are way down in 2010. I think the bottom line is that the Pink Hats are finally crawling back into their caves, deciding to train for marathons so they can brag about it in their alumni magazines, or are taking two-month vacations to Arizona for no apparent reason. The only Red Sox fans left anymore are the ones who were staying up for West Coast games all along or remember the Shea Hillenbrand era. You can tell on the radio: Between 2003-2009, you got crushed if you decided to say a bad word about Damon, 46, etc. Now people are taking aim like they're JD Drew in Kansas come October 2nd. People are back in the business of keeping it real, and I can't be any happier.

8. Enjoy the "46's Heroic Comeback from Sore Ribs Watch." He will remain 46 until he plays his tenth game as Number Two. And, of course, enjoy yo day. No Sox, but yes Jersey Shore tomorrow night.

Yankee Doodle Grandy

Of the nine Opening Day starters in the Yankees lineup, six have either exceeded or been somewhere around expectations. The three that have not are Nick Johnson, Derek Jeter, and Curtis Granderson. Nick Johnson is injured, nothing more to say about that. Although he's more important to the team because of who he is and where he bats in the order, Jeter has not only been less disappointing but you feel better about him turning it around and doing it when it matters most because of, well, who he is. He might not, but it's difficult to bet against him.

Granderson is more of an unknown. His career trajectory has been unusual because he goes up and down in different statistical categories every year. He is clearly immensely talented in almost all facets of the game, but after two huge years he hasn't been able to put it all together at once the last two years. Which is fine, even though you'd obviously like him to, because few players put it all together and you can still get a lot of production from someone who is doing certain things well. The problem this year is that, outside of some decent defense and some big hits early in the season, Granderson hasn't really been doing much of anything well on the baseball field.

Since just before the All-Star Break, this has started to change. People are just starting to talk about it the last two days because he hit two homers Sunday, and followed that up with a go-ahead, game-winning, two-run homer in the 8th on Monday. Rightfully so, because those types of performances stand out. But he has been sticking the baseball pretty consistently for most of the month. Despite the small sample, when a player as talented and as capable of going on a hot streak as Granderson is was as cold as he was for most of the first half, you take notice.

All that matters is what Granderson does from this point forward. The overall totals are unimportant. The last few weeks are a good start, and I think Granderson can really build off of it, especially the last two games. I don't think we are dealing with someone who is scared of New York. He seems to be a very comfortable guy, and has gotten a number of massive hits late in games for this team, which is usually a sign of someone who does not lack confidence and is not afraid of the the bright lights. We also have to remember that he missed an entire month, which can interrupt your rhythm.

It would be much easier to be even more positive that Granderson was poised for a big second half had he not had the last year or so that he's had. Prior to that, you had an All-Star caliber player on your hands. If you're the Yankees, you're hoping that the last year was the outlier and that the player he was before that - the player we've seen the last few weeks, playing great defense and crushing the baseball all over the field with good power - is the player he is going to be moving forward. The Yankees have had the best offense in baseball thus far. Some players might regress a bit. They might not. Either way, Jeter and Granderson having big second halves will either help offset those regressions or push this offense over the top. Both of those would be good things. You feel good about Jeter. The last few weeks, in conjunction with his pre-2009 stat line (and even in 2009 he hit 30 homers), have given you reason to feel very good about Granderson too. Let's hope it continues.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Angels Acquire Pitching

Looks like the Angels started Tony Pena today and had Tony Pena come in as a reliever. However, this one has "blown save #16" written all over it.

It is debatable whether the members of this team not moonlighting as an investigator of why he tested positive in 2003 can actually hit off of a batting practice pitcher who was last in the majors as a catcher in 1997. Quite a game by Buchholz tonight though, in all seriousness.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Balls

Say what you want about Julio Lugo. And I have. I've said he was a head case. I've said he was a bad baseball player. Before he played a single game in a Red Sox uniform, I called him a "borderline major leaguer." He was 34% of what was wrong with the day December 6, 2006. But at least Julio Lugo had balls.

There have been no "Julio Patrick Lugo" posts on this blog, decrying the fact that he decided to pop off to the media and say that he didn't suck. (Ian Kennedy, 46, Jon Lester, John Smoltz, Paul Byrd, Theo Epstein, JD Drew, and Jonathan Papelbon have all had this dishonor.) Because every single time Lugo blew a game (often), he was 100% accountable for it. He said he sucked. He took full responsibility for sucking.

And tonight we gotta give some minor props to perhaps the worst free-agent signing of the Theo Epstein era (but perhaps not even the worst free-agent signing of December 6, 2006). Because he did it and he had balls to say what he said: That he sucked. That he made mistakes. Even Arod over the years said he made mistakes and held himself accountable for it. Not with 100% success, but he's done it. He even said he'd be at the ballpark early to answer to people criticizing him for sucking. So good for Arod.

On the other side of the coin, Hideki Okajima has no balls. Blew off English speaking reporters last night. Blew off Japanese speaking reporters last night. Guy apparently didn't want to take responsibility for the fact that he held the ball for slightly longer than Drew Bledsoe under Pete Carroll...or slightly longer than Johnny Pesky with Country Slaughter rounding third base. It might be coming from the wrong source because it's pretty clear that Pete Abraham likes Okajima about as much as he likes the Neil Diamond song about an 11-year-old girl - but according to Abraham Okajima also blew off his teammates and has been doing so all season. Doesn't talk to anyone.

Talking to teammates is easier to do when you're winning, but it seems like Okajima is working through adversity just about as well as Scott Nicholson, trust fund child whose parents are paying for his rent in Boston while he finds an employer who feels the same way he does - because he worked hard at Colgate University, he deserves a $75K/year job without working up the corporate ladder. Kid turned down a $40K job, tried to join the Marines, hit a speed bump when it was discovered he had asthma, and then decided to quit that too because the "sheen was gone." Coward. Okajima's the same way.

The fact that he gave up five hits without recording an out is inconceivable (if you take an average pitcher with an average hitter, the chances of this happening is roughly 0.4%, less if you're talking about the pathetic Mariners lineup). The fact that he regularly walks guys on four pitches when he comes out of the bullpen - indicating that the guy can't focus - and the fact that the no-focus theory is corroborated by his inability to figure out where the F to throw the ball with a bunt are also deplorable, but this is a complete different story.

Look, I'm glad Okajima's pouting is happening. It proves he actually cares about the fact that he sucks and the fact that his 1.97 WHIP with a team that can't hit is producing the error for which there is little margin. But take accountability when you suck. Arod had the balls to. Julio freaking Lugo had the balls to. Even Eric Gagne, whose spectacular steroid use probably left him with no literal balls, had the figurative balls to admit he sucked and apologize for sucking as bad as he did.

Speaking of balls, the ironman #46 played a rookie league game in Florida today after his contract holdout, I mean, his sore ribs, took him to JDcations, I mean, medical treatment in Arizona and Florida while Eric Patterson was letting triples and the wild card race go off his glove. What a gritty player who truly cares about winning. Jeremy Hermida missed 44 calendar days with broken ribs. It has been 63 days since we last saw 46 in the lineup. Actually, you know what? It might be time to add a second sidebar to HYD Baseball to commemorate the two injuries. Good job 46.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lightning in a Bottle

One of the more popular topics on both sports talk radio stations in Boston this baseball season has been bullpen help. That is, of course, because the Red Sox need some. Big time. Should the Red Sox be going out to other teams and giving up a mid-level prospect - someone like Josh Reddick - for a rental on a middle reliever? Personally, I think no because after they split with arguably the worst team in the AL while their manager and third baseman are getting into fistfights in the dugout, it's pretty safe to say the season is over. Pathetic.

But let's say the Red Sox did sweep this weekend or may some time in the next week get back into semi-contention. Should they go get a bullpen arm? Craig Breslow? The answer is still no. Because we've seen this, both before seasons (Matt Mantei) and during seasons (Gagne, Sauerbeck, et.al.), bullpen acquisitions are completely hit-or-miss. Over the course of two months, a guy can completely get hot or completely get cold.

The fact that Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront, or anyone else currently in AA or AAA can get just as hot or just as cold (and without much of a scouting report!) means that they should take that chance without giving anyone up instead of taking the same chance while giving something up. There are very few situations where you can find a sure thing (see Rick Aguilera, 1995). Otherwise you're just trying to catch lightning in a bottle. And this could come from anywhere.

More thoughts on this bullpen, many of which were inspired by Delcarmen, Delcarmen, and Okajima imploding this weekend, include the following:

If Daniel Bard is to blow six saves and have a 5.50 ERA from here on in (definitely a possibility given his workload), whose fault is it? Is it Francona's, only trusting Bard and Papelbon when it counts? Or is it Theo Epstein's, giving the team no other commodities in that bullpen so that Francona HAS to rely on Bard?

It's gotta be some kind of combination. Bard has pitched in blowout games this season (this is without a stat check). But guys like Delcarmen, Schoeneweis, and now the newly-figured-out Okajima can turn three-run leads into tie games in six minutes. Making Bard necessary anyway.

Plus, there are so many close games with this team that putting in one of the Other Guys is asking for a blown save. Thanks to Francona's overreliance on Bard, this team has only blown 15 saves instead of being on pace for the preseason prediction of 37. To Francona's credit, he's done the best he can with this team and its bullpen. However, you have to worry a lot about how many bullets are left in that barrel this season.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Another Hint of Optimism from the GM

I'm taking a JD-cation to Ireland during the last week of the baseball season. I don't plan on missing any meaningful Boston baseball. I was actually going to write this post, citing some numbers on exactly why this Red Sox team is finished. During the Injury Stretch (the San Francisco series to the present), I was going to argue, the main problem with this team hasn't been the injured offense. It's been hideous underperformance from the reasonably-healthy major league pitching staff.

This is not the first time this has happened: I looked at the numbers and realized my thesis was incorrect. The problem with the team HAS been the offense. Their pitching, over the last 21 games since the San Fran series, has given up 4.52 runs per game, under the AL average of 4.54. Taking out the Matsuzaka/Garza implosion, Doubront's worst start, and Wakefield's worst start, they have averaged under 4 runs a game over eighteen games.

A major league lineup should be able to give enough run support to win games where the staff is only giving up four runs.

And the bottom line is, this team has done so on a consistent basis. They are still the second-best run-producing offense in the major leagues despite the fact that they have only scored 4.38 runs a game over the last 21. And also despite the fact that throughout the season, they have not had 46 or a healthy Mike Cameron.

But if Eric Patterson, Kevin Cash, and Bill Hall (who does get a temporary pardon) at-bats are minimized and are replaced by, oh, I don't know, Victor Martinez, Pedroia, a rested Varitek, Hermida, and maybe someday even 46 if he decides to a) play baseball and b) not take called third strikes right down the middle, you gotta think the team has a chance to score those four runs a game.

I don't think this team should go out and get a Craig Breslow - acquiring a reliever is contingent on that reliever having the hot hand, which is just as likely to happen if you were to get a guy from Pawtucket (this is a Felger idea first). But they're only four and a half behind Tampa - only four if they can hold a five-run lead. As Tony Massarotti beat the drum loudly about this afternoon, this team played .667 baseball over a seventy-game stretch earlier this season without all their major leaguers. Who's to say they can't do it again?

They don't even have to play .667 baseball. They just need to win four more games than Tampa. So as bad as this team has been, and it has been really bad, take a look at some stats. I did. If you find the right stats, a team that loses 4-10 for their last 14 looks like a contender. Not that I am worried about finding a place to watch baseball in Ireland. But it might not be as over as it has looked lately.

Plus, they're playing the Seattle Mariners, a perfect case study about how "run prevention" doesn't work. Ask John Lackey how it is.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Keeping It Close

DV is right when he talks about the importance of the Red Sox treading water during this period. I think 12-15 is what he said the goal should be. I'm not sure where that's at overall, but it's taken a hit recently as Boston is 2-5 coming out of the break. Not the start to the second half they were looking for, but those 7 games are over now. If they want to stay in the mix for a playoff spot, they need to put a stop to it right here and keep it close.

Just before the All-Star Break, I was thinking about how tough this division is and how close the top three teams are in talent. I remember thinking that the team (or two teams, if the Wild Card comes out of the East) that comes out on top will be the team that relies on its experience the best, both within games and from game to game. And I mean experience in the broadest sense of the term. Not getting too high or too low. Never giving away an at bat or an inning on the mound. Not getting caught up in the standings and focusing on what you can control, which is winning on the days that you have a game. It sounds simple, but that is the type of stuff that separates teams when the talent levels between teams is close. In terms of experience, the Yankees and Red Sox should have a leg up on the Rays, although after 2008 they aren't as far behind as you might think. Still, the Yankees and Sox have players that have been tested over the long season and in pressure spots repeatedly. This matters.

Of course there is health. But health and experience go hand in hand. Part of what experience brings is an ability to navigate injuries as a team. It's not the only thing that helps a team get through injuries. A depth of talent does too. In addition to their experience, that's what helped the Yankees get through their major injury bug back in April and May. However, even the ultra-deep teams like the Yankees have their breaking point too, where injuries would be too substantial for talent and experience to make up for it. For a slightly less deep team like the Red Sox, this is even more true.

The Red Sox are not at that breaking point. Yes, they have lost some key players. Yes, they have lost role players who would help offset the loss of those key players. It would be one thing if they were not going to get healthy, but they have guys coming back, and soon. So it isn't about making the playoffs with the current roster, it's about keeping it close until your regular roster, or something close to it, gets back so that you can make a move. Just like DV has been talking about.

The reason I bring it up now is that it has become slightly more pressing. They haven't played good baseball coming out of the break, and the season isn't getting any younger. But they have enough talent and enough experience to put a stop to it right here, and keep the division and wild card close. And while you'd love to catch lightning in a bottle with one of the replacement players - and that can really help - it really falls on the guys with the talent and with the experience. The core players. Both those producing, and perhaps more importantly, those who are not. DV talked about Lackey as a key, and he's perhaps the best example but he's not the only one. Getting those guys to step up is where the biggest impact can be realized in terms of playing better baseball and keeping the team right in the mix until they can get healthy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Circle Your Calendar

When we first started this site you didn't have to look very far to find something, anything, that had shared relevance for the Yankees and Red Sox. The did, quite literally, compete for everything, and pretty much did so alone. The emergence of Tampa Bay in 2008 changed that. That has it's pluses and minuses. It's nice to have a break from the constant Yankees/Red Sox tension. It's not so nice to have so much competition in the division for playoff spots.

Either way, it's still nice when we do come across something of shared relevance for the Yankees and Red Sox. That is what we have in the four game set coming up between the two teams at Yankee Stadium August 6-9. Not just because of the games either, but we'll get to the other stuff in a second, because the games are big. In three of the last four years ('06, '07, and '09) the Yankees have swept big August series against the Red Sox. They can ill afford to have that happen this year given their current position in the standings. Likewise, the Yankees have 10 games left with Boston, and they can't afford a letdown. Not only is it an ample opportunity for Boston to gain direct ground on them in the standings, but its an even better opportunity for Tampa Bay to move up if the Yankees get caught up with the Red Sox. 10 seems like a lot of games now, but 6 doesn't seem nearly as big in relation to any of these issues, and that's what it will be when this series finishes, which is why it is so big.

It's also big because we'll have a better idea of where both teams stand moving forward. The trade deadline will just have passed, so the teams they run out there for this series will likely be the teams they run with for the rest of the season, save injury considerations. Both teams have some deliberating to do between now and then, as both teams have needs. The Yankees are a pretty good team, but in a tough division have room to improve. If they make the playoffs, they have plenty of room to become more complete in terms of winning short series. Considering they should be thinking towards the playoffs whether they make it or not given their current record, they may make a move.

The Red Sox are on pace to win over 92 games, and as of right now that may not be good enough to make the playoffs. They are one big acquisition away from leap frogging both the Yankees and Rays, however, as that's how close these three teams are in terms of talent. That said, with their injuries considered, they need to decide if they want to go for it and give up prospects to make that move. Whether they do or don't impacts not only them, but the other two top teams in this division.

We'll have a much clearer picture regarding all of this when this series ends August 9. A few big weeks between now and then for both teams on the schedule. And then a really big series that weekend.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"The Godfather: One Of This Year's Ten Best!"

So it was between this obscure Field of Dreams reference and another Jay-Z reference/David Ortiz copyright infringement joke. I chose this one. This is what the theater marquee said when Ray Kinsella and Terrence Mann drove into Chisholm, MN and they realized somehow they ended up in 1972. This is how I feel right now. Sure, it's 11:24 PM and I'm watching the Red Sox and A's on my own large big-screen TV, the first game of a 10-game road trip. But I might as well be headed right back to the mid-1990s.

In the age of interleague play and the unbalanced schedule, the dreaded extended West Coast road trip is largely a thing of the past. The Red Sox only play the A's seven times this year, and it's not very often that they go out to the West Coast and play three or four West Coast teams at a time. They did this twice a year back in the 90s and it was an event. The last time the Red Sox played three straight series in the Pacific time zone was in August 1998. I was thirteen and it was an accomplishment to make it to the end of East Coast games without falling asleep. Broken headphones with Castiglione and Trupiano were placed under my pillow on a nightly basis, and I usually made it to the seventh inning.

When this was a twice-a-season thing, at least one of the times out there decided the season. I tried to listen to the first inning on my headphones, but often had to settle for NESN Sportsdesk the next morning. It was there that I typically learned the team lost like 13-6, Mike Blowers went 5-6 with three home runs, Dave Stewart outdueled Roger Clemens (AGAIN), or the team got shut out by Mark Langston or Chris Bosio. Right around the time the west coast trip happened, it seemed like the pennant race was starting to fall out of the Red Sox' reach, and by the time the trip was over, the season was decided.

Usually in the wrong direction.

In 1993, the team knocked themselves out of contention on the West Coast by losing five games in the division after a hot start. In 1994, they lost three games in the standings within six days and knocked them out of pre-strike contention. In 18 extended West Coast trips during my first nine seasons of watching the Red Sox, they lost ground in twelve of them. The two most notable exceptions were the 1995 team (who gained six games in the standings at one point) and the 1999 team (gained four games) - both of whom went to the playoffs. Even the 1998 Red Sox lost 3.5 games in the standings on the West Coast.

Flash forward to 2003. The West Coast trip, though shorter due to Bud Selig-related meddling, took a new life as I lived a new life of burying competitors in races, watching every game, striking out looking with girls like Manny Ramirez against Mariano Rivera, and inviting friends over for the 10:00 games. Schedules are a bit different when you're 18. However, I remember vividly watching Tim Hudson throw a 2-hitter against the 2003 Red Sox with my boy Mr. H. The team may have eventually fared well, but during an extended West Coast trip, things seemed to be slipping away as the Sox were in the middle of a 10-15 stretch against some less-than-distinguished teams. Different stage of my life, same old West Coast road trip.

Now here we are in 2010, and despite the fact that I write here 3-4 times a week, my days of staying up until 1AM every night are over. I will try to not fall asleep on the couch, just as I tried to muster the courage to not strike out looking, and just as I tried to last until the second inning with the Walkman headphones under my pillow. The situation with the 2010 Red Sox is very, very similar to the very situations that did in several Red Sox teams in the 1990s. The two recent Tampa series have to make you uneasy. The Texas series has to make you uneasy. Even Tony Massarotti said last week that it's starting to feel like it's slipping away. Of course it's time for the West Coast trip.

Plus, the Red Sox have a bunch of minor leaguers and DFA veterans on their roster. This weekend my boy Marino and I went to a party at a friend's house I hadn't been to for a decade. The Red Sox are playing ten straight on the West Coast with bad momentum and the season in the balance. Am I going to see any "Re-Elect Clinton" posters while walking down the street? Am I going to bend over and see a "97" inspection sticker on my license plate? Am I going to hear that the Red Sox' new bullpen addition is Ricky Trlicek?

If we aren't back in the nineties this week, I don't know where we are.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

$4,125,000

What does $4,125,000 mean to you? A century worth of salary for many Americans, for sure. Well, this is also the amount of money AJ Burnout makes in a quarter of the season. Assuming the guy throws 32 starts, a quarter of the season would be eight starts.

In AJ's last eight starts, he is 1-6 with an 8.12 ERA. In 38 2/3 innings, Burnett has walked 22 guys compared to 29 strikeouts, and he has surrendered ten home runs. His stuff has been so electric that opposing batters are hitting .306 with a .965 OPS against him. We all know about the "electric stuff." Burnett is a talented player who only consistently has it all together. Part of it is mechanical. And part of it is mental. The fact that he's punching doors with his pitching hand is further proof that the guy doesn't have it together.

Look, people were questioning Burnett's mindset all the way up until the World Series last year. However, the guy performed and he gained Pat's undying adulation forever, as did Arod and everyone else wearing the uniform except for Girardi. That's why I'm taking over and calling out a guy whose inability to keep himself under control is preventing his team from twisting the knife and winning the division by ten games. Sometimes you gotta keep it real. As Pat said, at least he gives a [expletive]. At least he feels bad about the fact that the late Steinbrenner's electric bill since June 8th was over $4 million but has gotten nothing but brownouts. By brownouts, I mean Kevin Brown.

But last October, we thought we had seen a new AJ Burnett. A guy who cared but could channel his energy correctly. A guy who lived up to the hype, lived up to the money, lived up to the electric stuff. The stuff about how he's fragile physically and mentally and how, specifically due to that, the controversial $82.5 million signing was tremendously risky. Compared to this, the Javier Vazquez (which I really didn't consider a bad deal) signing is small potatoes.

But here we are. He hasn't performed since May. At some point, when you're making as much as Burnett makes, you shouldn't need Dave Eiland to hold your hand. If this were Vazquez in a slump this long, the only reason we'd be discussing it here is for the specific fact that it is fun to rag on Pat. This is bigger than that and, yes, the money and the years in the controversial contract are issues. This is a roster spot for a long time, and it's money that theoretically could be used to acquire Cliff Lee or another better free-agent pitcher.

This is more than just a slump: it's a quarter of a season. Pat not talking about this is like if I had not talked about Ortiz last year. Granted, the Yankees are 25 games over .500. But AJ Burnett pitching like what he's capable of would enable the team to twist the knife and make sure this race is over by August 15th.

The fact that he's losing fights against doors proves he cares. That's cool, I guess. But the fact that he's not telling the Yankees about it - and the fact that he hurt himself doing it - screams Kevin Brown. Pat's boy Joel Sherman of the Post said Burnett can't be trusted. That he's wasting his talent by failing to concentrate and keep it together. Bottom line:

It's the same old AJ.

Friday, July 16, 2010

This Is How An Option Works

David Ortiz really needs to realize when to shut his mouth. He should know better after seeing Keith Foulke, Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Jonathan Papelbon, and now 46 popping off their mouths to the media. It's like when he went 0-for-the spring in 2009, he changed forever and is much surlier than the old Ortiz. While we can debate when the Nomar moment was for Ortiz, there is no really clear answer.

Unless you dislike steroids, the HR derby story was a good one on Monday night. But then Tuesday came along and Ortiz decided not to have his performance dedicated to the memory of Jose Lima like he said. He instead decided to dedicate his performance to his lobbying job not for the Red Sox to pick up his option for next year, but to award him a whole new contract extension. To me, this was asinine and a display of nerve we've never seen before from this guy...except for when he crushed the media for his April performance, blamed the manager for not playing him, blamed the team for not picking up another hitter, blamed the media for his steroid use, and so forth.

Forget the fact that he was begging for an irrational extension from a GM he trashed for not picking up another hitter since Manny Ramirez ran himself out of town. Forget that the timing of it happening was after he proved he could hit home runs against Tony Pena. What we should really think about is how unreasonable of a request it is. Teams build in options for a reason - so that if a guy is inconsistent during the penultimate year of his contract, the team can get out of the last year so they don't have a brick on their roster and payroll, thereby preventing them from winning baseball games. By inconsistent, I mean if a player's numbers are about .170 with 2 home runs and 22 RBIs over three of his last nine baseball months.

Even if Ortiz was hitting .400 with 30 home runs right now, all the guy should get would be the extension. If he did that, it wouldn't change the fact that he's overweight and 35 years old, indicators that it might all be over. Why would the Red Sox turn down an extra year at a low cost? Seriously. Other than goodwill toward the player who has bashed the GM for not trading the farm system for Adrian Gonzalez, why would the Red Sox ever do something like that? I think Ortiz needs to find out how a team option works. It's called negotiations. He did it several years ago and the team built this in to cover their rear ends.

The real issue at hand is not the player's inability to understand basic contract provisions. The issue is whether the team should actually pick up the player's option for next year. I feel like they should not extend Ortiz, specifically because I feel that the player is unaware that the baseball season starts in April, not on May 15th, and he's doing nothing but causing problems for six weeks every season.

This is, however, only providing that the team can somehow replace him in the lineup. Do they give Lars Anderson a chance at first, pick up Beltre's option, and do a three-man platoon between those three? Are they willing to pick up a DH in the free agent market at a better rate than the value of the Ortiz option? Honestly, I have not done this research yet. The first impression says no. But there might not be any other options.

All I know, however, is that if the Red Sox decide to drop the option and negotiate an extension with David Ortiz, they're either 1) putting value in the fact that he can hit 5:00 PM home runs or 2) they're more interested in keeping names than winning baseball games.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tom Verducci and the Year of the Pitcher

One Tuesday morning in November 2006, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci didn't know it yet, but he changed baseball. Possibly forever.

On November 28, 2006, Verducci published this article, which goes into the Year After Effect and its correlation with a lot of top-line young starting pitchers flaming out. This theory, which Verducci tracked with Oakland A's pitching coach Rick Peterson for over a decade, suggested that pitchers under 25 whose workload (including minor league, major league, and playoff innings pitched) increased by more by 30 innings in one season were at the highest risk of flaming out due to injury, fatigue, or general ineffectiveness.

The more hardcore sabermetricians have long disputed this effect, which is now named the Verducci Effect, by saying that on the aggregate, this effect is purely anecdotal.

Problem is, the anecdotes seem to be the flashiest ones. So people started to listen to the Verducci Effect after ten of his seventeen named players flamed out in 2007. This is the time that the "Joba Rules" took effect. This is the time that Clay Buchholz was shut down and Eric Gagne was put into the Red Sox' World Series bullpen instead.

The year 2008 happened and Buchholz, after the innings increase in 2007, flamed out big time and ended up in Portland, Maine on the one-year anniversary of his no-hitter. He was not the only one. And the names were big.

So in the last couple of years, there were teams other than the A's, Red Sox, and Yankees who started to protect their pitchers like prized assets. And now here we are in 2010 and people can't hit the baseball anymore. The young pitchers who have been babied through the minor leagues and the first few years of the major leagues are blowing up like nitro. Even the ones like Ubaldo Jimenez, Felix Hernandez and Buchholz who had flamed out at one point, have been babied back to health and dominance. Phil Hughes has been tremendous. And these are just a smattering of examples.

People can talk about steroids all they want, but steroids didn't only produce players like Barry Bonds and David Ortiz who could hit the ball a mile. They also produced guys like a certain 4A starter in the Dodgers organization who could suddenly throw the ball 105 miles an hour and save 83 games in a row. So don't say that the Year of the Pitcher is because the steroid era is dead.

Another factor in the Year of the Pitcher is along the same lines of the Verducci Effect being listened to. It's the fact that in the minor leagues, it's the pitchers who are being offered the foremost medical treatment, the ones whose plugs are being pulled at the first hint of an injury. Highly-rated position players might also get the first-class treatment, but it seems like the pitchers' workload is being monitored to a much larger extent. People aren't monitoring the number of ground balls Lars Anderson is taking, but people are certainly monitoring how many pitches Casey Kelly is throwing. Nature of the beast.

But whether or not you believe in following the Verducci theory strictly or if you're into treating every minor league pitcher like you treat a painting in an art museum, I feel like the dominance of pitchers will last for a long time. As silly and as over-the-top as I think it probably is, I feel like it has been effective. Nobody's throwing 225 innings at the age of 21 anymore.

Moving forward into the future and looking at the way baseball as a whole has followed the Verducci model, it should be supremely interesting to see what happens to pitchers with a Texas Rangers uniform on. This one organization, led by a guy who pitched for 26 years, is all alone in the pursuit of building pitchers by having them pitch a lot. Personally, I'm rooting for them because I'm pro-not being a baby. But let's face it: The people being treated like Phil Hughes are having a much better season than the people treated like Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lucky

Sad day for baseball today as George Steinbrenner passed away this morning. I've been a baseball fan for less than half of Steinbrenner's ownership tenure, but you don't have to be one for long to know just how much he meant to the Yankees' organization, to the game, and to all of professional sports. He is, without question, one of the greatest owners in sports history.

From a baseball standpoint, my uncle summed it up about as well as you can. He's been a season ticket holder for over 20 years, and a Yankee fan for the entire Steinbrenner era, so he has all the context that you need to fully do so. When the sad news was spreading, he texted me, "we are lucky that he loved the Yankees as much as we do."

That's close to as big of a compliment as you can give an owner of a sports franchise. Related to the team, there is nothing you'd like to see more than an owner who cares about the team's success the way the biggest fans do, who wants them to win as much as the biggest fans do. George Steinbrenner redefined the concept. You felt like he wanted it even more than you did, and that's because he did. As a fan, that is a truly tremendous feeling. Yankees' fans are lucky to have had that feeling for so long.

It is for baseball that he will likely be most remembered. In many ways, rightfully so. His approach to ownership, his personality, the many ways in which he helped to advance baseball into the powerhouse we all enjoy today, and of course the 7 World Series' rings and 11 American League Pennants have made him an icon, a Hall of Famer, someone who will be forever named amongst the games greats, players included. No matter what you thought of the way he ran his team, all baseball fans are lucky for his contributions to the game.

But there are many others, away from the game, who are lucky for George Steinbrenner. He received a lot of criticism for the way he conducted himself in running the Yankees. Outside of his baseball life, though, he was much different. If you've heard any of the stories, you know that. You may not have, however, because if you heard what Bobby Knight has to say today he mentioned how quiet The Boss kept his generosity, inferring that he didn't do it for any other reason that because it's what he thought was right. As an example, I'll share one story that I've heard. There is a burger joint right near the Yankees' Spring Training complex in Tampa that Steinbrenner frequented. One day he found out that one of the waitresses there was battling cancer. He immediately picked up all of her medical bills. That is what being a human being is all about, especially one who had experienced the success and prosperity that he had. Being one way related to something as non-serious as baseball is one thing, but being that kind of person for the things that count is what is most important.

I hope that George Steinbrenner is remembered for all of these things, and that anyone who cares about this game takes a minute to acknowledge how lucky we were that he was a part of this game for so long. I wish his family, friends, and all that knew him the best. May a great baseball man and an even better person rest in peace.

Finishing The First Half Strong

With six games left until the All-Star Break, the Yankees are 20 games over .500. You'd like to see them go no worse than 3-3 in those final 6 games, closing out the road trip at 4-3 to be an even 20 over at worst at the break. Considering two of those six are another serving of Lee and Felix, 3-3 would be finishing strong.

I'd like to finish the first half strong too, writing my last post before the break about my favorite topic thus far this season. Since getting his turn skipped in the rotation right at the beginning of May, he's made 10 starts and a relief appearance, roughly 1/3 of a season's worth of work. He's 6-4 with a 3.05 ERA. Very good, but certainly not good enough that the naysayers can't find ways to write it off. What can't be written off is that for two months, which is twice as long as he struggled, he's held Major League hitters to a .189/.261/.335/.596 line. He's given up 43 hits in his last 65 innings. There's absolutely no way that can be qualified, it's too dominant for too long. It doesn't matter if you're in the AL, NL, whatever, if you're facing people who know how to hit a ball with a wooden bat at a high level then that's serious pitching.

It's getting to the point where you don't even need to talk about what he's done after the struggles, you can just talk about the season numbers. Halfway through the season, he's on pace for 14 wins and has a 4.81 ERA. Not bad for a 4-5 starter, and not that far from what you'd reasonably expect from Vazquez. And that's despite pitching about as poorly as you can possibly pitch for a month. But wait, a player with 2,500 innings worth of data is pitching more like his career averages across a huge sample than his averages across a singular month? Who would have thought? And I'm not directing this at people who have been debating this on this site with me, including my co-author. This is a general comment on all of the chatter about him not being able to pitch for the Yankees or in the American league because of one pitch and one bad month and the fact that he pitched better in the NL than the AL (which most everyone does, just because you are a lot better in the NL doesn't mean you are useless in the AL). That kind of sensationalism might be fun to talk about but isn't backed by a whole lot. There was a great deal of data that pointed to things normalizing, which is exactly what they have done for Vazquez.

All this aside, the real point here is that Vazquez's season is just one example of the Yankees' biggest strength thus far this season: rotation depth. Very few pitchers are able to pitch to their ability for the entire season, all 30+ starts. Just like hitters, they get hot and cold, they have big games, they have bad games. If you aren't deep, you aren't as well equipped to absorb the down cycles for your better starters.

Despite having three starters on the All-Star Team, only Pettitte has been dominant all season. C.C. started strong, went through a period of just being good, and is now pitching like an absolute ace again. Hughes started about as well as you could have possibly expected, then was just good, and has really struggled of late. Burnett was dominant for the first quarter of the season, and has been largely awful the second quarter. Vazquez was really bad for the first month, and has been really good since. When you read all of that, it doesn't really sound like a rotation that would be one of the best in the league. But it is, because when you're that deep hot and cold periods offset each other and you're getting something close to the average ability of the rotation in total at most times. The average ability of the Yankees' rotation is really good. They just need to hope to stay as healthy as they were in the first half in the second half.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Steroid Era Is Over

The IWIwMUoV&S Era is ongoing. Thankfully, so is David Ortiz and new union boss Michael Weiner's investigation of what tainted vitamins and supplements erroneously landed the 2010 Home Run Derby champion on the List of 104.
I
Was
Irresponsible
with
My
Use
of
Vitamins
& Supplements


Great to see Dr. Charles Steinberg and Bud Selig hanging out together at the HRD also.

Some real analysis from Pat coming up in the morning.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Second-Half Key: John Lackey

The season is now officially, unofficially, statistically, and practically halfway over, and I think it's time to put Josh Beckett and John Lackey in the same sentence again like we did all preseason. Because let's face it: Lackey's transition to the AL East in 2010 is very similar to Beckett's transition to the division in 2006. Both have misleadingly-good W-L records over the first half of the season, but both have pitched as poorly as their ERAs would indicate. There are some major differences: Beckett had a home run problem, Lackey has a location problem. And both have been bailed out by the team's offense, receiving an inordinate amount of run support for some reason.

It is absolutely crucial that unlike Beckett, who replaced the home runs with walks the second half of the season as luck finally caught up to him, that Lackey makes the necessary adjustments the second half of the season. If he does not, the team will suffer a similar fate to its 2006 fate: Third place.

I don't know if we will ever see Lackey's numbers return to what they were when he was in Los Angeles, and I think that is because he is facing deeper lineups (i.e. New York and Tampa) a lot more often. He is no longer an overpowering strikeout pitcher, and he hasn't been since 2007 when he started to run into injury problems. That's fine--he can be crafty and still effective. He had been that way for three seasons. But the bottom line is, he's going to be giving up hits. You should not be surprised if you see seven hits over seven innings from John Lackey. He did this a lot over the last few years, and he's done it a lot over the 2010 season as well.

Facing good lineups instead of decent lineups in the West, however, Lackey will be seeing what he has seen: More of these hits. His H/9IP is almost at eleven, where it hovered around 9 the last few seasons. It's important that these hits are spread out over the innings, instead of seeing 3, 4, or 5 hits in one inning. We've seen a lot of that, and that's why he has straight-up not been effective this year. This is harder to do when you're facing lineups with fewer automatic outs, and there are fewer automatic outs in the East than anywhere else. But if you're making $82 million, you have to make the proper adjustments. Being a "bulldog" (my dad's sarcastic term) and lasting 6 innings giving up 5 runs on nine hits equates to being Tim Wakefield. John Lackey is not being paid to be Tim Wakefield.

Looking deeper into Lackey's numbers, there are two other things to be concerned about:
-Doubles. He's given up 33 this year; 34 all year last year. Some of these might be grounders down the line, but you don't need to watch every game to know that Lackey has gotten whacked for a lot of these doubles as well.
-Walks. Saturday's game is the most glaring example, but the guy has to find the strike zone. It doesn't look like he's going through the same thing at Matsuzaka, being afraid to attack the strike zone, but he has to make some adjustments. If he is giving up a hit or two every inning, having guys on base due to free passes when it happens is completely unacceptable.

John Lackey has excelled throughout his career because he's been able to make adjustments. He started running into injury problems in 2008, and that first year he was taken deep a career-high 26 times. In 2009 he curbed the home run totals. Now, somehow, Lackey has to make sure that if he's giving up hits, the damage caused by the hits is minimized. Get guys out. Don't walk guys. Make guys earn those hits, and make sure they're singles that aren't hit hard. And bear down when guys are already on base.

If Lackey can make the proper adjustments, this team can very well make the playoffs and he can very well win 18-20 games. If he does not, we might see a reprise of Josh Beckett 2006.

Other fun stuff:
-Sunday was a good win. Good to see Matsuzaka not dick around. They are now 5-6 since the San Francisco series when the whole team got injured. My goal was to have them go 12-15 between that series and July 31st. Now all they have to do is go 7-9 to keep them into contention when the major leaguers take over again.
-Getting no-hit through six by a guy with a 7.30 ERA is not a good thing, though. I think people might be figuring out the minor leaguers' scouting reports.
-If Beltre's hamstring is a major problem, I'm taking a three-month vacation from this blog.
-The comments made by 46 this weekend were very interesting. Not sure how much of it is actually true, but if the part about how the Red Sox didn't want to "MRI a bruise" is true, the team and its medical staff should be absolutely embarrassed. You sell freaking membership cards but don't want to shell out a couple hundred bucks to MRI one of your key players? What a joke. If I feel so inclined, I might continue on this topic a little more later on this week.

Y'all have a good all-star break. We will have some stuff up here all week. Being laid up on the couch reminded me how easy it is to write when you have nothing else to do. No wonder the NESCAC professors tell their English majors to not get jobs.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Thoughts from the Recovery Room

So as many of you may remember, I had my surgery on my sports hernia (same injury as Mike Cameron) today. I ironically put my "Drew Crew" shirt generously provided by John and Matt and got almost half a day of work in before heading to the hospital. ("he spends a lot of time in hospitals," I told a nurse). I was out cold for much of the afternoon, and when I woke up, a lot of the pain in my groin was gone. Seven hours later and no longer under the influence of narcotics, the pain my groin and lower abs are still nonexistent. Except for the incision sites, but that sort of makes sense.

By far the highlight of the day today was the fact that I had a picture from the laparoscopic camera outlining the size of the hole in my lower abdominal wall. It was nearly the size of a half dollar.

I have been suffering from this injury since at least November, and perhaps as early as either June 2009 or even November 2007. Let's just go by the assumption that I didn't have a hole this size until November 2009. In the meantime, I ran a pair of 135-mile weeks, I ran a terrible 26-mile race in Houston, ran two mediocre 13-mile races in New England, and won $200 in various races.

I am also planning on returning to my day job in full capacity four days from now.

Meanwhile, 46 is still in Arizona resting his sore ribs that have kept him out of all games this year except for nine. And JD Drew sat out a game on Wednesday with a sore neck, two days before launching two home runs against Baltimore.

Let me just say that I'm not trying to go Lebron James on this, portraying myself as a hero. (On that tip, all I have to say is 1. I agree with whoever said the guy should have written a check if he wanted to help the B&GC instead of going into a three-hour celebration of himself. 2. Pat's post-Miami decision silence tells a whole new story. And 3. How can Pat worship a guy like Jeter yet still support someone like Lebron?) I'm just saying maybe I'm different because I feel some personal responsibility for the organizations I'm part of.

I raced 13 miles hurt, as recently as four days ago, because I have people relying on me to perform well for their teams. Just because I have a sore gut or a sore groin doesn't mean I'm going to bail on them. When I was too hurt to run in one of my Adidas team's races, I showed up to the race instead of chilling out in Arizona. None of my teammates are going to call me out like Youkilis called out 46.

And I'll be back in the office on Monday because I care about my job and I have people both within the organzation and in our customer base counting on me to get things done in a timely fashion. I make a lot of money, just about as much as JD Drew makes in six innings. And I feel like there is a responsibility to prove that I'm worth this kind of money. Not that players like Drew and 46 are blameless--one of my roommate's co-workers (he's a teacher) got rotator cuff surgery not during summer vacation, but five weeks before summer vacation so he could JD out and extend his vacation five weeks. I feel like that is tasteless and dispicable behavior.

I wrote about Drew's lack of responsibility for the organization cutting his paychecks a week ago. But the fact that he came back on Friday and hit TWO FREAKING HOME RUNS were further proof that the player's neck didn't really hurt that bad. The player just didn't want to play baseball on a Wednesday afternoon. The fact that the two other games I questioned were surrounded by the following events is further proof that this guy does not care about his job:

>In the Buchholz pinch-running game, AFTER Drew asked out of the game and Francona said no, Drew hit a home run to provide an insurance run.
>Drew's April 2010 "sore neck" missed game was on a Sunday. He allegedly suffered the injury on a plane ride on Thursday. He took a ball 450 on Friday. The guy wasn't hurt.

Look, there are plenty of people in the world who are great people but don't show any kind of interest in their company's success. But when you're JD Drew or 46, I find it completely unconscionable that they are so un-competitive and so disrespectful for the team that cuts them massive paychecks and defends them to a fault. I had a hole in my lower abs the size of a half dollar and I ran because I care about my team. When I take my shirt off now, I look like I've been shot three times, and I'm still showing up to work in four days. I don't consider this heroic; I consider it showing respect for my organizations.

JD Drew and Forty-Six have no respect at all.

P.S. Mike Cameron should have the surgery. My previously-injured area feels exponentially better already.

Overmatched

The good news: The Red Sox are only 3-5 in their last eight, so all they have to do is play .500 ball against teams not from Tampa Bay between now and July 31st to be able to go 12-15, the treading water mark I set on June 29th.

The bad news: Everything else. They were completely outmatched this week against Tampa. In game one, they were dominated by the Rays' friggin bullpen, who is apparently only good in even years (ironically, the opposite of when Josh Beckett is good). In game two, they were dominated by Jeff Neimann. And in game three they were dominated by David Price.

We can say that the theoretical Run Prevention Red Sox, overachieved offensively. But the new run prevention Red Sox are a bunch of minor leaguers. This team will not achieve offensively. Maybe there will be a short period where the opponents have no scouting reports on guys (hello Darnell McDonald and Daniel Nava!) and they will be serviceable. This is not a way to consistently win baseball games. And here you really cannot blame the general manager. Or the manager. Jeff Neimann and David Price are not just major leaguers, but good ones. Pitching against lineups that include Niumann Romero, Eric Patterson, and a JD Drew who doesn't want to play at this point of the season is like pitching a freaking rehab start. This should not surprise anyone.

Game one was the most maddening, because it was one of the team's real major leaguers who faltered. The minor leaguers went to work against Matt Garza and built a four-run lead. When the team pays $50 million to talk to you, you should be able to protect a four-run lead. This is not debatable. But Daisuke Matsuzaka is tentative, lacks urgency, and is just not that good. Say what you want about Josh Beckett (and I have), but the guy will sometimes know when to elevate it during a good game. Jon Lester did that the other day. And even the Beckett Implosion Game against New York, the guy got amped up. Probably a little too amped up. When the minor leaguers gave Matsuzaka a four-run lead, he pitched like a son of Joe Girardi, as if he had some cushion and as if the minor leaguers were going to blow the game open against a bad Tampa Bay bullpen.

Well, the minor leaguers couldn't hit the Tampa Bay bullpen, as it's starting to look like Randy Choate and Rafael Soriano have solidified this bullpen. I can't believe I just wrote that last sentence. Randy Choate. Jesus.

And Matsuzaka got blown away. Okajima and Ramram are also disastrous. For whatever it's worth, bullpen help is necessary, but I agree with the Felger theory that the best way to do so is to go to the minor leagues. Who's to say JC Romero, Eric Gagne, or any middle reliever will not just show up and implode. That's what makes them middle relievers. For every Scott Williamson there is a Scott Sauerbeck.

Nineteen games left in July. The team is reeling and is now 4.5 games back. If they go 9-10, they will be okay. Toronto is blowing up even harder than they are, so this would be a good opportunity for the minor leaguers - and gamers like Jon Lester - to come up big. I'm going to be couch-ridden for a few days, so they better give me something good to watch. As Peter Abraham wrote this morning, the minor leaguers can win. It is more probably against bad teams. Hopefully Toronto is bad enough for the minor leaguers to beat.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Apathy Litmus Test

Bottom line: Kevin Youkilis got screwed. This guy is hitting .299 with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs. When 35 home runs is a lot again. He plays tremendous defense and gets on base at a good clip. He's adjusted his game to his team's needs, and has invited the team to climb onto his back (until tonight, when he may have also gotten injured). As they were saying on the radio over the weekend, Youkilis is on the shortlist of MVP candidates thus far in the season. (Yes, we talked about this a bit a month and a half ago, but he's still there. Probably third now.) Guy should be an all-star, and there is a systematic failure from top to bottom if by Thursday afternoon someone else--sorry Swisher--gets that last spot.

Not that I think the system is bad. I don't think it's great, but I do think it's the best it can ever be. I certainly think fans don't know any better and will vote in undeserving players the first time around. Let's call it the Cal Ripken Effect. But they largely do a good job. I think the second tier with the managers and players is also effective, as they can counteract the fans' overall ignorance. Leaving the third control, or check and balance if you will, as the fans' final vote, is more insightful than gimmicky, as I have learned by now. It's a test of the fans, of their loyalty, of their knowledge, and their understanding of the game. I believe strongly that there will be players in New York and cities other than Boston voting for Youkilis this week because they know it's the right thing to do. And that's why I'm confident #20 will be there next Tuesday.

But this is a big test for Red Sox fans. They have voted in their guys in the Final Vote three times (speaking of which, a big YIKES for the fact that 2007 selection Hideki Okajima sucks so much!) in the last nine years. They also voted in a lot of the starters in those past years, and the talk on the radio pretty much all year has strayed from baseball. I mean, look at the quantity of comments on HYD. Way down. Red Sox fans, perhaps, have lost interest to a certain extent. The team, like many teams in other sports, will win 90-95 games and will have a shot to get hot and make it to the next level. Many people are yawning at this. While the social goals of being seen at a Red Sox game will help the sellout streak, people have cited late attendance, people leaving early, and people not voting for guys like Adrian Beltre for the all-star game. All fair.

If Youkilis doesn't get in by a sizeable margin, even over Swisher, whose popularity in a big city with actually passionate fans and whose appearance on NPH and Band Camp Girl's show are all factors, it will confirm that Red Sox fans are a bunch of fat, happy, lethargic, apathetic, spoiled brats. I know he's not the most popular player on the team and that he turns a lot of people off (the player voting would indicate that he turns a lot of his peers off). But this is not about voting in your guy for the sake of doing it. It's about voting for the guy who deserves it, ESPECIALLY if it's your guy. If Sox fans don't get this done, they deserve all the crap they get from me and from the rest of the country. So cast your vote. Show the world that JD's Deepwater Horizon effect just affected the center fielder and not the entire fan base. And show the world you actually are somewhat smart.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Taking Care Of Your Own

For better or worse, the MLB All-Star Game counts. Typically speaking, since the All-Star managers are the respective League Champion managers from the year before, they have a vested interest in the game because their teams are likely in contention again, and they want to have home field advantage. As such I am of the mind that they should very much manage to win the game.

Part of that starts before the game even begins, when the managers select their portion of the rosters. The managers should obviously be looking to put together the best teams possible. Player appeal, and watching these players trying to put on a show for a night, is what the All-Star game should probably be all about. But that can't be a major consideration when the game is as important to these managers as it is. They have to take the players that put them in the best position to win the game.

The one exception to this is when it's close between a few players and one of them is on your team. Then you take your player, even if he's not absolutely the best option. While managers have to try to win this game for (hopefully) the ultimate benefit of their team, they have to worry about their own team even more than that. Home field in the World Series does you know good if you can't get their, and to get their you need all of your players performing at the highest level possible. While most players would likely be professional enough to handle not being selected by their own manager, and while it likely has very little impact even if they are selected, why not take your guy?

Even if it only helps a little bit, managers only have to worry about their players every day, not everybody else's. Everybody likes to be named to the All-Star Game, even those that have been their a lot. Everybody also likes to feel like their manager is behind them and feels they are better than the competition at the same position on other teams. Even for players at this level, it has to be a feel good thing to make an All-Star team, and managers should use that to their advantage at every opportunity within reason by naming piking their players. It's called taking care of your own. This isn't a kumbaya session where it's all about being fair. This is baseball where it's all about winning.

That's why I was thrilled to see Joe Girardi take C.C. Sabathia. Not just because he is deserving, but also because since he is pitching Sunday, it also gives Andy Pettitte the opportunity to go, and he is more deserving than the other two Yankees' starters named in Sabathia and Phil Hughes. Same goes for Alex Rodriguez. With 62 RBI's he's hardly an undeserving choice, but there are others that are having better seasons thus far. Who cares. If they want to go, they can win the World Series. Good for Charlie Manuel for taking Ryan Howard too despite there being players having better seasons.

Going back to my original point about the importance of this game, managers have to keep this within reason because you want to win the game. If it's not close, you can't apply this thinking. Even more importantly, taking care of your players regarding the roster is one thing, giving them overly preferential treatment in the game is another. You have to go with the best players at the appropriate times to put your best foot forward to win the game. If those are players besides your own, tough luck. Outside of that, you can't have time for any of that noise about who should and shouldn't go, there are always going to be snubs. So may as well take care of your players and your team so long as it doesn't detract from your chances of winning the game.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Like A Circus"

Terry Francona, August 14, 2009: "I said, 'look at the scorecard...We already put a pitcher in to run. That's all we got to do, put somebody out in f*****g right. It would have been like a circus."

This was when JD Drew asked Francona if he could skip the last two innings after injuries and weird circumstances necessitated Clay Buchholz pinch-running. JD's groin was grabbing at him.

Well, last night we got the circus. With two hours to go before the game, JD decided he didn't want to play baseball because he had a sore neck. Not sure if this sore neck injury has anything to do with the sore neck he had on April 14th due to the fact that he fell asleep on a plane ride. But that sore neck was questionable because the plane ride was on a Thursday, he hit a ball 450 on a Friday, and he JD'ed out of the game on Sunday.

I'd say it has a lot to do with the first one, because both of them are not serious injuries.

Clearly, JD Drew does not care about winning baseball games. I've said it for most of this season, the Second Highest OPS Of All AL Outfielders has contributed to winning quite a bit this year. The team is rife with injuries, as their center fielder can't run, their left fielder is taking the year off due to an equally-questionable injury, and their backup outfielder crashed into Adrian Beltre a month ago. JD had been reasonably healthy by his standards and was the only, well, real major leaguer in the outfield. A career minor leaguer and an independent league veteran are now in the outfield, and now Eric Patterson, an IF/OF who's hitting .208, had to play in the outfield Wednesday night.

An outfield of Patterson, Darnell McDonald, and 60% of Mike Cameron is not a good way to win baseball games. Especially against Matt Garza. Hey, Garza seems to be tough right-handed pitcher. It would be nice to have a lefty who can occasionally hit the baseball hitting against Matt Garza. However, the only capable outfielder who could do so was JD Drew. And he didn't feel like playing last night. Is it due to his semi-legitimate, documented injury in his hamstring? No. It's the same condition that kept him from playing a Sunday afternoon against Kansas City after he hit a bomb on Friday. In other words, it's not a legitimate injury.

The previous sore neck, Wednesday's sore neck, last year's groin, last week's refusal to play with a tight hamstring and cold temperatures, and his several battles with conditions like vertigo and sore glove hand are further indictments of how much Drew takes his job and showing up to his job seriously. I said last year that the guy should just go away. Retire. Take your $78 million (now we're at nearly $92 million) and give the job you hate to someone else. This guy is an absolute disaster to this team. I'm going to say it again: JD should retire today. I don't care if he has an OPS of 1.000: I don't want to watch a guy who would rather walk than drive a run in, a guy who for almost no reason at all sat out a game against a tough righty so that Eric Patterson and Darnell McDonald could play instead, a guy who does all these things and got a gift $70 million contract.

I may have implied this before, but tonight I'm going to go ahead and say it. If JD were brown and/or spoke Spanish, Boston would crush him like they crushed Manny Ramirez for dogging it, faking injuries, and taking a month off when he didn't feel like playing. But no, he's just the laid-back southern white guy who's stoic and really does care. He's a nice guy, says fellow white redhead Dan Shaughnessy.

And maybe he is. I'd love to go bowhunting with JD the second week of October when the season opens in Maine. But if you're a customer of a service company and one guy can get the job done in a slightly-above-average way, but without notice he decides to blow you off and send the intern to you instead, how would you feel about the guy who can get the job done but doesn't care about getting it done as much as you do?

JD Drew is that guy.

As much as I crush Jason Varitek--and rightfully so--at least he knows how to handle an injury correctly. Guy played at least a portion of a baseball game Wednesday night with a broken foot and without anyone knowing about it. Then he did a charity mini-golf tournament without acknowledging that anything happened.

Pain shoots through Mike Cameron's body whenever he runs, leads, swings violently, gets out of bed, laughs, coughs, goes to the bathroom, or raises his voice, and he's playing baseball. Dustin Pedroia is taking ground balls off of his knees. Curt Schilling had surgery so that he could play one game.

In a key game against a division rival where Francona might need a f***ing body out in right field, JD Drew has a sore neck and lets Eric Patterson face Matt Garza instead.