Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blown Responsibility

(Before we go into full blown playoff coverage next week, another post DV prepared before he left for vacation. At this stage it will be tough for the Yankees to win the east, but it's not impossible. We'll see what happens this weekend in Boston as well as with Tampa Bay and Kansas City. Everybody have a great weekend.)

Over the past four baseball seasons, Pat and I have both gotten on umpires for a lot of things. General blown calls have taken a back seat to umpires with oversized egos, thinking they're the ones people are showing up to see, as of late. But a few weeks ago (and this is one of the archived thoughts, obviously), when Adrian Beltre got tossed from a game by a AAA umpire, I learned something completely asinine:


Major league umpires can go on vacation. During the baseball season.


Not only this, but in addition to the built-in vacation of, you know, November through March (or at least February), an MLB umpire, who makes $84,000-300,000 a year, gets FOUR WEEKS of in-season vacation. What a freaking country. Is this Europe?


I'm generally anti-vacation. As you guys know already, the one-week vacation that is now underway will be my first absence of more than two days since I started working at this company two years ago. I am using up my two weeks of 2009 time. Also, not surprisingly, I'm not entirely thrilled that I'm just going to abandon my responsibility as a consultant to visit Ireland and find my inner NESCAC graduate by drinking at local establishments and coming back home to brag about how freaking cultured I am.


My mantra professionally is to do the exact opposite of what JD Drew and 46 do. And both of those guys take vacations and let Darnell freaking McDonald and Daniel Nava pick up the pieces.


Apparently the MLB umpires and their union don't care about their own responsibility to make sure major league baseball games are officiated effectively. They can instead import overabitious adolescents from the Pacific Coast League to officiate games and throw out Adrian Beltre for no reason. But the thing that boggles my mind is the fact that their roughly 150 built-in vacation days outside the baseball season are not enough to placate these people. Instead they can take an additional month. This means that the guys who don't do playoff baseball only have to work five months out of the year. I mean, is six too many? It's not like these guys are being paid peanuts - even 84 grand is a lot of money to make. It's not like they're completely abandoning their families. I bet every major league umpire can drive their kid to school and to hockey practice every day in December. So four additional weeks of vacation is downright disgusting.



Does anyone on the comments section with real jobs have four weeks of vacation? Pat and Kaplan, neither of you count. I only get two a year, and that includes sick time as well. Before this week, I was at 11.5 missed days in the last two years. Good for me? No. Responsible for me, and lucky for me for recovering from sports hernia surgery as quickly as I have.


Seriously, these umpires, who obviously take themselves extremely seriously, should have some kind of pride in their job. If they think they're the reason people show up to the games, they should likewise take the responsibility to actually show up themselves all year.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Josh Beckett: Philanthropist?

(A lot of Yankees so far this week. Enjoy a Red Sox post that DV prepared before leaving for vacation.)

It is probably good that I'm on vacation, because I feel like I will probably get crushed for this conspiracy theory.


But all winter last year we heard about how Josh Beckett's salary benchmark STARTED at the amount of money John Lackey got. Not sure why that was the case, but it was the general consensus that a player who had been much less consistent was going to make at least as much money as Lackey, provided he had a good season.


Well, he didn't. I'd still argue that 2006 was his worst, but this one is in the same category. He has not been on the field much, but when he has been on the field, he was almost as disastrous as he was in '06. Bad luck?


It probably was just bad luck. From everything Beckett has done regarding contracts, he seems like the kind of player who would rather get the crap finished quickly and get back to competing. He's never come within a year of free agency. This is probably why. Either that or he's risk-averse, willing to take less money just in case he had a year like this year in a contract year.


The real conspiracy theory is, though, does Josh Beckett know something about his health that the Red Sox don't know? Is his back issue a chronic problem that's not getting any better? For many pitchers it has been, historically. Does he have a bad rotator cuff? Elbow? Is Josh Beckett anticipating a career-derailing injury? It would make taking the money a year quicker in a bad economy make a bit more sense. I'm not a full believer in this, but I know a few people who do believe this theory.


It's already been well-established that the competence of the Red Sox' medical staff is dubious at best. Forget 46 - think about Jason Bay's contract situation, Mike Lowell's trade situation, and think back to Curt Schilling's 2008 season he didn't play due to injury. Consider the following two situations:


1. Beckett really is injured, the medical team misses it, and the player makes a ton of money.

2. Beckett really is not injured, the medical staff would have said he is this winter, and the player can't sign anywhere because the Red Sox' medical team has initials at the end of their names.


So let's not write this all off as a player taking a hometown discount. The Josh Beckett signing-in-advance seems to be a calculated - and smart - business decision. Beckett is risk-averse. If you had his injury history, wouldn't you be, too?

Never Gets Old

I heard Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher say it after the game, and I'm sure a lot of other guys would too if asked. The Yankees clinching a playoff spot never gets old. If it doesn't for the players it sure shouldn't for the fans either. I'm not one of those fans for whom winning the World Series is the only thing that matters. That's too all or nothing for a sport that has 162 regular season games across six months. It's also why I think there is something special about winning the division even if you have the Wild Card to fall back on. I enjoy the process. Making the playoffs is the only thing that really matters in terms of regular season results, no matter how you do it, as you have to be in the dance to win it. The baseball playoffs is also the toughest to make out of the four major American professional sports, so I view it as an accomplishment all on its own. That the Yankees have made it 15 out of 16 years really is impressive, and as I mentioned it will not get tiresome.

I'd be remiss not to mention C.C. Sabathia tonight. This is just another example of him being in that elite percentage of athletes that have an extra gear that automatically kicks in on the big stage. At the first sign of panic that the Yankees might possibly collapse, he goes 8.1 innings allowing only one run on just three hits and two walks while striking out eight. Against a good hitting team, he completely squashes it, one of his most dominant starts of the season. We saw this from him last year, and we've seen him from it again this year. He has that gear that very few have. Michael Jordan had it. I'm not equating these two athletes in total obviously, but I use Jordan as the ultimate example of someone who was just wired to take over when it was winning time. That is what C.C. Sabathia does, and it is really pretty rare. I have a great admiration and appreciation for this.

Now all that remains are answers to a number of questions regarding the playoffs. The first is will the Yankees be playing at home against the Rangers as the champion of the East or on the road against the Twins as the Wild Card? This is an interesting question. With the way the Yankees have played lately, it just seems like they will be the Wild Card. But they are only 0.5 games back with four games remaining, 5 for Tampa. With the Yankees being on the short side of the column that matters (the loss column) it won't be particularly easy considering Tampa Bay has the head to head tiebreaker, so the Yankees have to be a game better to win it. If the Yankees go a very good 3-1, Tampa Bay would have to go 2-3 or worse for the Yankees to win. If Tampa goes 3-2, which is at least what you'd expect them to do, the Yankees would have to go 4-0. So it's possible, but it would take some help. I would say the one place you don't want to get caught right now is in a middle ground. That would be not resting your guys and not lining up for the playoffs to the extent you'd like in an effort to win the division, and not win it. You either want to win the division or have your guys rested and lined up for the playoffs. Considering the uncertainty involved with winning the division and the benefit received if you do win it, it will be interesting to see what Girardi does here. My guess is that he gets the guys rested who need to be rested, lines things up for the playoffs the way he wants it for the ALDS, but still goes after every game with the guys he is playing that day. We'll know a little bit more from tomorrow's lineup. Usually the day after you clinch is an off day for almost everyone. With the division still on the line, if Girardi does that then we'll know he's opting for rest and lining people up and the Yankees will only win the division if it falls in their lap. If we see a semi-regular lineup than maybe he's going for it a little bit. (Note: Girardi just said in the postgame that Pettitte will not start tomorrow as scheduled. This makes it pretty obvious that they will not be going all out for the division. To what extent they will or won't still remains to be seen, and again we should find out more tomorrow).

After that the question is playoff roster. And the Yankees really have some decisions to make here this year. I won't go into it in detail now, keeping the focus on clinching and the division race for tonight. But what they are doing with the rotation is a huge question, not just in terms of who pitches when but who comprises it. Who fills out the bullpen an who is on the bench are also key questions, especially if they decide to go with a three man rotation again, or a hybrid version of one, which I think is a distinct possibility. That will impact how many arms you take in the bullpen versus bodies on the bench. Neither of which is trivial, pinch hitters and pinch runners are far more important in short series than they are over the course of the regular season. So these will be big decisions, and I will cover them in more detail before next Wednesday.

For now, congrats to the Yankees on clinching a spot in the 2010 Playoffs. That is an accomplishment in itself, and more importantly, is step one towards winning the World Series. Teixeira said in the postgame that he and Swisher have a saying they've been using all year. "Two times." Last year they did everything once, now they want to do it all again twice. I love it. Let's go Yankees.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thankfully, We Have Nick Swisher

(This post was written a few weeks ago, but didn't get posted for a variety of reasons. However, it is probably only more true now. Quick not from tonight: the Yankees only have themselves to blame if they don't make the playoffs or win the division. Tampa Bay and Boston have not played good baseball and the Yankees have just played worse. Most recently they've lost 5 of 6. Their magic number in the Wild Card is 1 and they are 0.5 games back in the division. If they had played just two games better and gone 3-3 in this stretch they'd have clinched a playoff spot and been 1.5 up on the division with 5 games to play, 6 for Tampa Bay. Terrible.)

The Yankees have Nick Swisher, this we know. But the question you have to ask is, where would they be in 2010 if they didn't?

At age 29 Swisher is so far having the best year of his career. If the season ended today he'd set career highs in average, slugging, OPS, and OPS+. His walk-off homer yesterday was just one in a season full of a hits in big spots. In high leverage situations this year, Swisher is hitting .329/.400/.605/1.005, all numbers that are better than his season averages. Clearly he's been at his best when it's mattered most, which is saying something considering how good he's been on the whole.

It's not just that the 2010 Yankees have Nick Swisher, it's that they have THIS Nick Swisher. The pre-2010 version was a very good and productive one. But this one is a star. His .886 OPS is 21st in all of baseball. He's been one of the better bats in the game this year, better than he's ever been before in large part because he worked his tail off last winter. He spent time with Yankees' hitting coach Kevin Long revamping his swing, and has implemented those changes. He lost weight so that he would be better in game and better prepared for the long season. It's always great to see hard work pay off.

Nobody has benefited more from this version of Nick Swisher more than the Yankees. I'm not about to go out and say that they would be much worse off with the old one instead of this one. But I am going to say that I don't think they'd be in exactly the same spot. I'm not sure what the numbers say, but while Rodriguez wasn't himself, Teixeira wasn't hitting for the first two months of the season, Jeter was having the worst year of his career (by far), Posada was injured, Granderson was off to a slow start and then injured, and Nick Johnson was injured, Nick Swisher just kept on raking. As great as Robinson Cano has been this year, and he's been the other rock in this lineup along with Swisher, he's had the standard cold stretches. Swisher has been so consistent he hasn't really even had that. From May 3 until today, a period of over 4 months, Swisher's average has been somewhere between .287 and .318. A majority of that time was spent just below or above .300. This from a player who is know for anything but his batting average. Brett Gardner has been good as well, but he's more of a role player and has had some more extreme cold streaks.

With all of those injuries and underperformances for stretches of the season, I'm not sure where the Yankees would be without Nick Swisher this year. I'm just glad we don't have to find out. This is a general sentiment I've heard from a number of other fans, and rightfully so, he's having an outstanding season. To top it all off, he's providing all of this production, stability, and reliability for the bargain price of $6.85 million. The Yankees get a lot of attention for all of their big-money spending. But Swisher is a bigtime value play, and he's one of the biggest reasons they are where they are this season.

Outplayed

Normally, this post would be about how Alex Rodriguez has done one of the bigger 180's in recent sports memory. He's gone from someone who you were surprised when he got the big hit to now being someone who you're surprised when he doesn't get the big hit. He went from the guy you didn't want up in the big spot to the guy who all you want to do is get the bat in his hands when it matters most. He used to look tight and tense in a big spot and now he laughs at opposing dugouts after taking a nearly game ending strike three, then hits game winning three run homers on the very next pitch (last weekend in Baltimore). He used to worry about stuff and now there's nobody in the game who is more confident or operates with as much mental toughness as he does when the game is on the line. Maybe as much, but not more. The results are too overwhelming. I'm not sure of the exact stat I saw, but he now has more go-ahead or game tying homers after the 7th inning than any player in the game over the last 4-5 years. You could use a ton of examples (last year's playoffs being most notable), and tonight was just another one. He is beyond clutch, and it's pretty funny to say that thinking back to where he was in that regard just a few years ago.

Normally, this post would be about the entertainment value in watching live as Jonathan Papelbon melts down in all sorts of fantastic ways.

Normally, this post would be about watching live as Josh Beckett turns a 10-1 laugher into a tying run at the plate game in the 9th by holding his own version of Home Run Derby.

Instead I'll keep them each between a sentence and a paragraph, because none of those things are the main point. The main point is that the following players are the only players on the Red Sox who competed against the Yankees this weekend that I can be sure are both A. established Major League players (as in more than one year in the bigs) and B. productive Major League players (as in you are marginally concerned about them beating you):

1. Jon Lester
2. Victor Martinez
3. David Ortiz
4. Adrian Beltre
5. Daniel Bard

I don't say this to be patronizing. I don't say this to be a jab at the great Red Sox fans we have reading this sight everyday. I mean that as a complete and utter insult to the team that this group took 2 out of 3 from this weekend, which is exactly what this post is all about. In fact, I give the Red Sox a lot of credit. They're injured. They have had a lot of key underperformances. And yet they just keep plugging away. They didn't always play well, but they played loose, they played hard, they played with nothing to lose, and they played better than the Yankees for about 90% of this weekend. The Yankees should be embarrassed by that.

It starts at the top. I understand a magic number of 3 to clinch the Wild Card with 10 games to play (including 6 against the team you are competing with in the Red Sox) looks good on paper. That is no reason to start lining up your playoff rotation for a spot that doesn't exist. You lock the spot up as soon as possible, then you start making those arrangements. It's not just about the physical decisions (like lining up your starters), but the message that it sends. The Yankees have been playing bad, sloppy baseball for pretty much the entire month of September. That's not the time to send a message of complacency, take things for granted, or look past opponents in a rivalry where really wild things have happened. I commend Girardi for going back to Hughes tonight, and for having a plan in place in case the magic number didn't get reduced as quickly as they hoped. However he's been smirking his way around the whole division, Wild Card, locking up a playoff spot for a few weeks, managing his bullpen at times like everything is already set. Well it isn't, and the Yankees came one Papelbon implosion away from making this thing way more interesting than it still is. Had they lost tonight, it would have taken a scenario that I would have put at about 50/50 from the game next Friday night in Fenway mattering. Giving the Red Sox that type of opportunity would have been a disaster. They still might get it, but the probability was a lot higher before the second comeback tonight. Girardi has not done a good job managing this situation. At all.

Of course the players are not blameless. The play has been, as I mentioned earlier, bad and sloppy amongst other things. There is too much stuff to go through one by one, and most of I've already covered this month anyway as the same issues seem to resurface over and over for this team. The biggest thing that stands out right now is that they just don't finish games. And when I say that I don't mean at the very end and in traditional ways. I mean from the time they should reasonably be expected to win a game more times than not and in all kinds of different ways. Just look at tonight. Once Rodriguez hits that go-ahead homer bottom 7 that game has to be over. They don't just blow it, they blow it by allowing third base to get stolen TWICE in the bottom of the 9th. That's not paying attention to detail, that's being careless, that's a lot of things But it can mostly be summed up by saying they just aren't finishing. Which does not bode well if they are fortunate enough to get to October.

The solution is as simple and obvious as it gets. The players they rely on have to play better, and they have to finish. Very few of them are right now. That is why a group that is not nearly at full-strength was able to come in, outplay them for most of the weekend, and take a series from them at home late in September. The talent is there. When determining things like "if this team has it or not", it's not any more complicated than if that talent does what they are capable of.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ball.

Tomorrow night might be my last opportunity to see Mike Lowell live (on TV, that is) as a major league baseball player. After all, I'm taking an extended JDcation starting this weekend, so whatever you see on this blog next week is pre-canned stuff. Not to say it's bad content. But it's not current.

But next Saturday the Red Sox will be paying tribute to Lowell, who finished a very interesting and eventful major league career there.

He started with the Yankees, drafted there and being taught apparently-controversial baserunning skills - something that almost blew up when he railroaded Robinson Cano ten years later to break up a double play. Guy played hard pretty much always. Lowell technically got a World Series ring with the 1998 Yankees, as he was on that roster for a little while before being traded. So in the midst of the last baseball dynasty, Mike Lowell was there.


Then he was traded to the Florida Marlins and was almost immediately diagnosed with testicular cancer. Three months after surgery, he decided cancer wasn't as serious as 46's sore ribs and decided to start playing baseball again. That takes ball.

By the time he approached age 30, he momentarily put up crazy numbers. He never hit .300 in Florida, but he did rock 32 home runs and led one of my fantasy teams to total domination a few years ago. Of course, his 32 home runs didn't land him in the top 20 in the majors that year - something that may have proven how f***ed up the baseball world was in 2003. At this point, he was 29 years old. Then two years later, he hit rock bottom. I don't know what the deal was - maybe it was a roid thing, but hitting 32 home runs at age 29 contrasted to the rest of his career doesn't seem too unfathomable - but the guy was absolutely terrible. He sabotaged the 2005 "Can I Write A Check?" fantasy team and looked like a guy who was done at age 31. Steroid rumors, whether fair or not? Mike Lowell was there. He said it himself: He heard them. Instead of ignoring them or searching for the real killer like David Ortiz, he faced the sitution.

Then the Red Sox traded for him. People who knew me back then knew my reaction, and I'm sure anyone who knows me even now could figure out my reaction back then. Let's just say I went missing for about three hours the night Anibal Sanchez threw a no-hitter while Beckett gave up 36 home runs in a season, Lowell hit zero doubles for an entire month, and Hanley Ramirez won Rookie of the Year.

However, Fenway Park undoubtedly resurrected his career, and the friendly confines probably ended up being extremely lucrative for him in the long haul. He'd probably already be retired by now if he had never played at Fenway. But whether it was the park or something else, Lowell became a doubles machine, took the 2007 team on his back, and won the World Series MVP. He was brought back to Boston in an offeason when Alex Rodriguez was available. And everybody preferred that. But there he was, once again. He showed up big time in the clutch. He had ball.

His career hit an interminable rough spot when he tore his labrum in his hip. After that, it was more or less over and the Red Sox were trying to get rid of him. They were unable to. But he stuck around, once again because he had ball. And instead of whining, he minimized the distraction and most likely continued to do what he did culturally throughout his career, trying to unite the Anglo and Latin players.

Lowell was always outspoken about things, including his Cuban heritage. Half Irish, half Cuban, Lowell was born in Puerto Rico and was an outspoken opponent of the Castro administration. He once told the Boston Herald he hoped Castro dies. It takes quite a ball to do something like that. When you see that on the front page, it makes you buy the newspaper. The same summer, he crushed people who threw steroid accusations at him. And unlike other players, he handled himself with respect and ball toward the media and fans so frequently that when he decided to speak his mind about controversial subjects - like being basically benched this year - he didn't come off as a d-bag. Seriously, if you lose me in 2005 but win me back by May 2007, you have done something special.

But even at the end, Lowell handled himself with courage that you just don't see frequently in ballplayers anymore. He played with the torn labrum through the 2008 postseason. He played three months after having his testicle removed. And he played through a broken rib this year. Did he complain? Did he take a vacation? Did he go on the DL? No. Also, tying it into yesterday's conversation, he decided to stay away from bullcrap and contract disputes when he probably could have gone to Philadelphia for 2008 and beyond.

He may not have led the league in too many things over the course of his career, but he went through quite a bit and hammered through everything. Despite the fact that he only had one, Mike Lowell was always among the league leaders in balls.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How Wrong Was He?

Good wins for the Yankees the last two nights coming off of that miserable road trip. Against a team like Tampa Bay, that shows a little toughness. Of course, Girardi is in the middle of punting tonight's game. Just because there was a 2 hour plus rain delay does not mean the game needs to be decided by mop up guys. When it's the 4th inning, which is where Yankee pitching picked back up, sure. But after two innings it's late in the game. At 2-1 in the 6th, you can feel free to start treating it like what it is: an important game that is close and getting late. That means you can go to some of your better relievers. If you don't want to do that, it's September, there are about 91 pitchers in the bullpen. Maybe give someone new a chance. With David Price looming tomorrow (and I don't care that C.C. Sabathia is pitching, we saw how much his 8 dominant shutout innings got us last time these two faced off), I don't know why you wouldn't go after a one run game in the 6th inning all-out. Just because a rain delay makes the timing and general feel weird does not mean it needs to be managed weirdly. Splitting these last two games with Tampa would be huge in the division, and unless something changes the Yankees will have to do that tomorrow against David Price because Girardi opted to let Dustin Moseley and Chad Gaudin (no offense to either of them, it's not their fault, it's Girardi's job to use them properly, and they also haven't been pitching very regularly for a lot of the season) give up three runs combined in the 6TH AND 7TH INNINGS of a one run game. In late September. Against the team you are competing for the division with. With 91 pitchers in the bullpen. This makes sense. If you're going to run these pitchers out there, then just pull all the regulars and get them rested because obviously this is not a full attempt to win this game or the division. Especially Mark Teixeira, who has a broken toe and a bone bruise on his thumb.

Which brings us to the point of this post. Almost two years ago now DV went on a campaign against Mark Teixeira. Not just all the reasons why the Red Sox shouldn't sign him (which was at least debatable, even though he ended up being wrong), but all the reasons why he wasn't that good (which was not debatable, he was just wrong). It was sort of like when people try to tell you that Derek Jeter isn't that good, which has actually happened to me a number of times. You sit there and listen to their position, try to calmly explain to them that they are simply wrong, realize that there is no hope and just let them go.

That's pretty much what happened in this space from November 2008 to sometime in the middle of 2009. During this time DV called Teixeira a role player, said he was a stat-padder who didn't hit when it count, told us he wasn't the type of game-changing talent that would be worth the money. Despite none of this ever being true, he was further proven wrong immediately in 2009 on all counts, and apologized for it. Which is great.

But throughout all this, he basically implied that Teixeira was soft, at least mentally. Although he never said it, I'd say it's fair to say he was implying he was soft in total. If he didn't mean it, that's the picture he was painting, a picture of someone who is not tough, who is not a gamer.

This too is not accurate. Teixeira has been playing with a broken toe and a bone bruise on his thumb since the end of August. These might seem like minor injuries, but I've had a broken toe, and it is extremely painful. Think about trying to push off every step and bend something that's broken. Teixeira has said it stings with every step. I've never had a bone bruise on my thumb but I can't imagine hitting a mid-90s fastball is a lot of fun considering it stings to do so when one's hands are totally healthy. Teixeira's numbers since the injuries reflect this. The question could be raised how much he's helping the team right now, his presence in the lineup (for the benefit of the hitters around him) and continued defense weighed against the fact that he just isn't hitting, and hasn't for almost four weeks.

But that isn't my point here. My point is that he's out there. He refused to take a day off, playing 15 consecutive full games after the broken toe. Girardi had to force him to take two consecutive days off in Baltimore this weekend, and said Teixeira was not happy about either of them. Girardi and a number of the coaches have commented that while they have a lot of tough players on the team, none are as tough as Teixeira. Maybe as tough, but none tougher. If you think about some of the players the Yankees have on this team and what they've accomplished in terms of durability and willingness to play through injuries, that's saying something.

DV should have a particular appreciation for this. He's spent an entire season complaining about players who are just the opposite of this on his own team. Maybe he wasn't just wrong about the player he spent almost a year campaigning against. At least in terms of the way he plays the game and the seriousness with which he approaches his job, maybe Mark Teixeira is actually DV's kind of player. Given all we've been hearing from DV all summer on this topic in conjunction with what we are seeing from Mark Teixeira now on the same topic, it would be difficult for DV to contend otherwise.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hitting the Milestone In Style

Congratulations to #7 JD Drew, who followed up his most recent retirement comments with perhaps the most fitting performance in his Red Sox career. Guy went 0-4 with a ground ball to second base in each of his first three at-bats. Sitting at 99 weak ground balls to the right side on the season heading into the game, Drew hit triple digits for the second time in his Red Sox career and is well on pace to eclipse his all-time regular season high of 106 set in 2007 (he had another 12 in the playoffs).

Actually, let me re-think that most recent comment. Due to his sore ankle that sidelined him for a couple of days last week, Drew rarely plays full games anymore. As of tonight, he has played exactly two full baseball games since September 6th. His European workday has allowed him to work more productively, as he is hitting .320 over that stretch. Probably because he doesn't smoke cigarettes, watch soccer and drink beers six days a week with his boys, embrace socialism (obviously), or take naps in the middle of the afternoon like most Europeans. So maybe the Red Sox career high is safe.

Felger during the infamous "I thought you were gonna ask me" interview of September 30, 2009 said Drew recorded the "softest 140 I've ever seen." This year, it HAS been that soft. Out of his 131 games, he has either come in late or left early in 33 of those games - over a quarter (25.2%) of all games he's played this year. Drew has left or appeared as a pinch hitter in 15 more games than 46 has played all season. Unbelievable.

In the last full week of Red Sox baseball for me (I'm heading to JD-ublin), I'm trying to take a step back and look at some things on the absolute aggregate, trying to diagnose things that went hideously wrong for the 2010 Boston team. And I had a problem isolating JD as a problem. After all, he pretty much took the team on his back for May when it was winning.

Then I realized, he disappeared for the rest of the season. He's hitting .230 after the All-Star Break, and since he's been completely invisible, the team has fallen to pieces. Similarly, when he went Jon Lester on us and decided to treat April like spring training (hitting .198), the team struggled then as well. His OPS, like in '07, is below .800, and he's going to at least make a run at a career high in strikeouts. Not sure if you knew this, but Theo Epstein shouted from the top of a mountain that Drew had the second-highest OPS of all AL outfielders last year.

We don't even have to get into the stats against lefties for the $56 million (so far) platoon player.

He's been vocally unhappy this year about the strike zone expanding, thereby decreasing his ability to appear like a productive baseball player without taking the bat off his shoulder. He's also become JD Patrick Drew to a certain extent, talking about how much of a hero he is for appearing in the lineup when 46 and Mike Cameron haven't done so. But his rendition of showing up was kind of like the Red Sox showing up in the pennant race. Showed up in May, looked good by the all-star break, then went through the motions from July 15th on. The "games played" number is sort of like the Red Sox' "sellout streak."

I've said for three years that if Drew is playing well, the team wins. If Drew is trying to pull outside pitches and rolling balls over to second base - or if he's looking foolish against breaking balls (like he has for the last two months or so), the team does not win. That's what we've seen all year.

It's as if the guy's already retired.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Honoring Mr. Steinbrenner

The Yankees really got it right tonight. That was a classy, well-planned, touching tribute to one of, if not the, greatest owners in the history of American professional sports. From honoring his wife and family in person, to the ceremony in monument park, to his granddaugther singing God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch, it was phenomenal. The former Yankees players, managers, and coaches in attendance was as also outstanding, as was the entire team walking the Steinbrenner family around the stadium and out to center field for the unveiling of the monument. There was also something nice about the entire team being out there and not in the dugout. With all of the players, including September call-ups, and coaches out there in their home uniforms it seemed like their was a sea of pinstripes surrounding The Boss's family and his monument, which only seemed fitting. The image of Mariano Rivera staying behind by himself staring at the monument was a special moment. You could tell how much George Steinbrenner meant to him, and looking at the faces of a lot of other people all around the stadium, he certainly wasn't alone.

Of course, the Yankees won the game too, which also only seemed right.

But that was secondary, only a part of what tonight was about. Tonight was about George Steinbrenner, and celebrating everything he did as a person and for this organization. I discussed this in a post earlier this summer when he passed, but the amount of lives he touched through is own efforts and through his ownership of the Yankees' organization is incredible. Focusing just on what he accomplished with the Yankees, I thought Brian Cashman put it best during the video tribute. The heights that George Steinbrenner took the Yankees to from where they were when he acquired them was impossible. Yet that's what he did.

And it really is incredible. Through his constant drive to win and refusal to accept anything less the Yankees went from an organization with a lot of tradition of winning to an uber-organzation with an even greater tradition of winning. He continually pushed the organization to new heights, taking a team he purchased for $10 million in 1972 and turning it into a billion plus dollar enterprise over 30 years later.

Because of all of his efforts the Yankees continue to win more than any team in any major American professional sport. For that, I owe a lot of personal thanks to Mr. Steinbrenner. Sports is a great diversion in my life, a form of entertainment I derive a lot of joy from. It's my hobby that is really more of a passion. There is no team I devote more time to than the Yankees. If I calculated all of the time I spend watching, reading about, writing about, and thinking about the Yankees it would be a ridiculous number of hours per year. And I love it. Following the Yankees is a very enjoyable portion of my life. Thanks to Mr. Steinbrenner, I get to spend all of that time on a team that wins and wins and wins, which makes it all the more enjoyable. So thank you, Mr. Steinbrenner, for giving me and so many others the privilege of rooting for a team like this. He did a lot more important things for a lot of other people, but this was one big thing he did for many through his hard work and dedication to the Yankees organization. For that a lot of us owe him a lot of thanks.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thanks, John Lackey

At least during his Friday night shelling at the hands of Toronto, John Lackey didn't give the typical post-loss bit of "I thought I pitched really well today." He actually admitted that he sucked. Yeah. Eight hits, two walks, and three hit batsmen in 4.1 does suck. Which leads me to wonder, what the F is wrong with this guy? Why isn't he fooling anyone? Why can't he find the plate?

Is it a mental thing, a lack of concentration once things start to go wrong? Could be. It's nice that he cares, but maybe he cares too much. Gets too pissed off and pities himself of being victim of bad luck, bad fielding, or bad execution? Who knows.

Either way, look no further than this guy if you want to place on-field blame for the Red Sox' demise this year. They were spitting mad truth on the radio last week: If you are blaming the injuries on the failure of the 2010 Red Sox, that is a cop-out. The team was half a game back on July 3rd, a good week and a half AFTER the entire roster went on its backup generators in San Francisco. The fill-ins weren't tremendous over the course of the entire year, but they performed better than expected - and good enough to keep the team competitive, as evidenced by the July 3rd standings - and their real weaknesses weren't really realized until the regulars started to come back.

The failure of this team cannot be blamed chiefly on Papelbon, because when you have so many close games, you're bound to blow a few. You can blame 3-4 out of the blown saves on his incompetence. The rest of the bullpen you have to spread the blame around. You cannot fault the manager too much this year, and while you can certainly blame the general manager for spending $170 on bad players, we're looking for on-field blame.

Which brings me back to John Lackey. This guy is paid a lot of money to produce at least close to the way he produced in Anaheim. Using a rough stat, his ERA is 0.82 higher in this season than his aggregate ERA in Anaheim. He's walked an extra guy every eighteen innings, he's given up an extra hit every nine innings, and has struck out one fewer guy every nine innings. The best way to keep the ball out of your untrusted defense's hands is to keep the freaking ball out of play. Something Lackey has not done.

If Lackey were to pitch like an ace, if he were to pitch the way he's being paid to pitch, this following jaw-dropping statistic would not be true:

The Red Sox are 14-16 in games he's pitched.

If John Lackey did his job, the team would be roughly 20-10 in games in which he's pitched. A team should be able to win if they score the following totals, all recorded in Lackey starts in which they've lost:

4 against Baltimore
6 against Colorado
5 against Toronto
5 against Cleveland
5 against Toronto
9 against Toronto

The team went 1-3 against Toronto in his starts - Lackey himself went 1-2. But this should not be too much to ask. The guy's being paid eighteen million dollars this year. This should be good enough.

Convert these six losses into wins, and there you are two games back of New York and half a game back of Tampa in a race you're supposed to be in provided you freaking produce. There'd be no talk of bridge years. There'd be no talk of injuries. There'd just be talk about how all they need to do next weekend is win two of three against the Yankees.

And they wouldn't have just lost two of three to Toronto.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Reality Check

News flash: Four wins in a row is not a tear. A six game deficit with sixteen games to go is not something to get worked up over. I understand that the Yankees are in a bit of a slide, but the Red Sox just won three straight against perhaps the worst team in baseball in the Mariners (see Tuesday night's post). They are basically doing what they're supposed to be doing.

They also lost two straight - and a series - to the Oakland Athletics. And they got swept by the White Sox. You know, if they had actually executed instead of mailing it in against those non-contenders, maybe they'd be in some kind of pennant race. But they'd have to pick up more than one game every three games. Do the math. And expecting to go 6-0 against New York is something borne from Red Sox fans who have obviously not watched ANY of the 2010 Red Sox team.

Also, Francona's not throwing Lars Anderson and Josh Reddick out there if priority #1 is getting back into the Wild Card.

Other fun stuff:
-Notable to add just to keep track of the JD Drew injury pantheon: He has missed four straight games with a sore ankle. No word on whether the sore ankle was the reason he was dogging it on the basepaths and got thrown out rounding first base a few nights ago. I suppose Drew was fortunate that this fell into the "tree falling in the woods" category.
-Anyone who followed my writing before How Youz Doin remembers that I was a huge Dan Johnson fan for years, jumping on the bandwagon his rookie season when he hit like .450 for a month. Johnson and Nick Swisher were central offensive figures to the last night of the Oakland A's dynasty. It was bittersweet to see him sink the Red Sox season this year, as he never really panned out. It was sweetsweet to see him pummel the Yankees though.
-Pat's gonna hate me for even bringing up the issue, but y'all might want to talk about Derek Jeter's histrionics after not getting hit by a pitch Wednesday night. It was essentially the same as a basketball flop, a Tom Brady flop against the Ravens last year, and everything ever done by the Italian soccer team. Gamesmanship? Sure. Cheap. Sure.
-However, it was not a violation of the rules whether written or unwritten, unlike Arod's karate chop or Howie Clark incident. Umpire's job to get it right. He probably should have just kept his mouth shut after the game, though.
-A lot of this also has to do with reputation. Arod would have been crushed big time on that, but largely in Boston, at least, Jeter has been defended. That's because he's been doing everything right for the last 15 years.
-It reminded me a bit of when Pedroia was clearly tagged out but was called safe during a game in 2009, I think against Toronto. There's a pretty hilarious picture of him giggling while the second baseman was arguing with an umpire who clearly missed a call.
-Bottom line is that he probably should have just run to first base and let it be sorted out instead of engaging in what this was: an act of desperation to get on base.
-Already two posts ready in draft either for next week or for my vacation week. Exciting stuff.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lessons Learned

In a weird way I think this series was a positive. The Yankees lost the series, but they played playoff baseball in all three games, all of which were decided by one run. They did this without two starters in Swisher and Gardner, which left them very short, and I was proud of the way they played for the most part in light of that and despite the poor overall result. Had they not been playing absolutely horrendous baseball entering this series, I think their offensive woes wouldn't have seemed like as big a deal. Because the bottom line is that this is how playoff games get played. There's going to be 1-0 and 4-3 and games where you score early but then can't score late and need your bullpen to hold on until you can win 8-7. That's not an excuse, because this offense needs to do more, but we'll get to that.

I think this series was good for two reasons. First, as I mentioned, the Yankees played pretty good baseball. Their bullpen, which quietly has the best bullpen ERA in the American League, allowed two runs in 8.2 innings of work in this series. They got very big hits late in games in games 2 and 3 of this series. They got an absolutely dominant performance from their ace, and they got an extremely good and encouraging performance from one of their rotation question marks (Hughes) outside of two bad pitches, which we will also be getting to. While they lost the series they easily could have won all three games. The playoffs is all about being in close games and then making the plays and hopefully getting the breaks to win them. So if they pay attention to the second reason why this series was good, they can turn a negative into a positive.

This series was, I think, a good learning experience for this particular ball club. If there is anything that hasn't felt quite right this year at times is that this team doesn't have that little extra something that the 2009 team had start to finish. It's that something that special teams have and just very good teams don't. I realize this is one of the more anti-new-age baseball theory things you can say, but I really believe in it. Some teams know how to finish, others don't. I think the Yankees learned what finishing, having that little extra something that separates you at the end of games, is all about. At least they should have learned it, because they definitely saw it happen to them first hand. They were right there in position to do it, and I think were moving in the right direction to do it, but they just didn't. If they can walk away from this series knowing what those things are, then it can potentially be a good thing when it counts.

What are these things?

- Getting runners in from 3rd with less than 2 outs. This has become an absurd problem for this team. They left two runners in that situation tonight. They blew two chances to do it Friday in Texas. Two more Saturday in Texas. Chances are if they get these in they win 2 of those 3 games since all were decided by one run. You just can't do this, you have to get those runs in.

- Finding a way to score one run of elite pitching. C.C. Sabathia is an absolutely ridiculous starting pitcher. He's one of the best I've ever watched. The way he elevates his game as the spot gets bigger is amazing. However, he is usually matched up against other similarly talented pitchers. You can't afford to waste these starts because you can't score against that pitcher. The Yankees should be able to score against most anybody better than other offenses should be able to score against C.C. This also goes for the times when C.C. isn't pitching as well, you just have to be able to find a way to get that one run or couple of runs that you need. Monday was an embarrassment. This offense has to do more, especially against top flight pitching.

- Not letting role players beat you. To be fair, this was a problem for the 2009 team as well. Both last year and this year, the Yankees seem to handle the key hitters in their opposition's lineup. Then something happens and mid to bottom of the order guys are crushing them. No offense to Dan Johnson, but he should not be getting 40% of his season home run total (2 of 5) and 25% of his season RBI total (4 of 16) in one game to account for every single run the Rays score. No offense to these guys either, but the Yankees got beat on a homer by Reid Brignac in a game decided by one run on Monday and a homer by Matt Joyce on a game decided by one run earlier in the year against the Rays. These things are prone to happen more than the Dan Johnson situation, but it's not the individual instances so much as the trend that concerns you. They have to find a way to shut this down.

- Joe Girardi needs to get out of the mode he's been in the last few weeks and get back into mid-season this year mode or last October mode. He has been awful, from the bunting in a 3-0 count in Texas to the bunting in a 2-0 count in Tampa Bay to letting Tampa score 7 runs in one inning turning a 6-0 lead into a 7-6 deficit because he waited too long to lift a pitcher making his 5th Major League start. It's been covered in great detail all over the place, so I'm not going to go into it much further. It also isn't just me, pretty much everyone seems to be confused by what is going on here, as my phone has also been going off left and right with people questioning his decisions during games. In close games managerial decisions can be the difference. Not everytime, but sometimes. You have to give your team every advantage they can get. I'm pretty confident that with managing that was more sound the Yankees could have won 1-2 of their five losses in Texas and Tampa. Can't have that, Girardi needs to get back on track.

- Mental. Brett Gardner can't make the third out of an inning at 3rd base. Focus on lifting fly balls with runners on 3rd and less than 2 outs. Be tough enough not to let the other team score the half inning after you score (another major problem). This has been decent, but needs to be tightened up.

When I say "when it counts" in regards to this thing, I don't mean in the event that the Yankees make the playoffs. I mean starting Friday against the Orioles, a team playing very good baseball. It starts then because the Yankees are no sure bet to make the playoffs. They recently had a 10 game lead over Boston, and that has been cut by 40% in no time. A 6 game lead is not much at all, especially when you have 6 left with that team in addition to a tough schedule otherwise. The Yankees need to take care of business at Baltimore and with Tampa Bay at home next week before the Red Sox come in so that it isn't too close. And then they need to take care of business with the Red Sox too. Making adjustments regarding the above is a good place to start in terms of getting that done.

All in all, this was a very bad road trip. 1-5 against probable playoff teams is a disaster, especially considering that not only are the Yankees no longer in first place, but they have let Boston back in this thing in relation to them. With that said, they got to see the exact ways in which they are coming up short, particularly in close games. If they chose to learn from that, then it can really be a positive thing moving forward.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Another Thankful Day

Every time the Red Sox play the Seattle Mariners, I feel a little bit better about my life. Not sure if Mr. Sulktember feels that way as well with his team on the verge of its fifth straight loss and second place in a pretty inconvenient time. But I once wrote about the disaster that run prevention has been there, and I also wrote about how the Angels' season fell apart on a walkoff home run by Kendry Morales. But there's even more to think about. I'm having one of my boys, who is from Seattle, staying here tonight, so he has enlightened me with some of this knowledge.

-At least, when the Red Sox punted their season at the trading deadline, they got rid of Manny Delcarmen, a below-average middle reliever. The Mariners got rid of Cliff Lee.
-At least Bill Hall isn't getting into fistfights with Terry Francona. Chone Figgins and Don Wakamatsu got into an altercation earlier this year, leading to even more problems. The manager pretty much lost his players, something the Red Sox had never seen since Joe Kerrigan's short tenure. This led to the guy's dismissal.
-At least the Red Sox' run prevention jokes were tempered by the fact that their minor leaguers carried a halfway-decent offense this year. The problem with this team wasn't the offense. With the Mariners, it has been. Their only offensive star, Ichiro, is having a down year. Their cleanup hitter's OPS last night was below .700.
-At least JD Drew's .252 batting average isn't second best on the Red Sox' team. Figgins's .251 is the second-highest of all Mariners. That's making an out 75% of the time. Wow. When you see the stat box pop up when each of these guys come up, you see stats you expect to see out of September call-ups. But a lot of these guys aren't in that category.
-Former Red Sox bench player Casey Kotchman leads the team with 51 RBIs. Russell Branyan, who leads the team in home runs with 14, joined the team on June 26th.
-One of the relievers who came over in the Cliff Lee deal, Josh Lueke, has had a criminal record in which he allegedly went Jay Marriotti on a girl. The team has publicly said that they didn't know about this. When their pitching coach got fired along with Wakamatsu, he said the team did, indeed, know all about this and this trade was like saying "I have more sense than that" to their anti-domestic violence message. What is this, Frank McCourt's marriage? This is friggin ugly.
-Most importantly, at least the Red Sox' season started with reasonably low expectations. We heard "bridge year." But in Seattle, they were hearing about Cliff Lee and playoff contention possibilities because they are so far ahead of the field in terms of run prevention. But they have eclipsed the A's and Red Sox in a case study of why run prevention as a team compass is not a good way to do things - especially when the defense has been spotty at best instead of good as advertised. Jack Z absolutely deserves to lose his job. Hopefully Seattle fans like my boy will treat this franchise like big Bruins fans treat theirs - with skepticism unless there is a complete overhaul of the entire front office. Things are bad with the Red Sox, but this is much, much worse.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Quiet Man

Didn't think you'd get a John Ruiz reference reading How Youz Doin Baseball today, did you? Perhaps you'd think Pat would write about perhaps the most crushing loss in the Yankees' season...to a direct rival...with its ace throwing eight scoreless instead of following up Sore Ribs Summer with Sulktember? Well, this is just more proof that you never know what's gonna happen on How Youz Doin Baseball.

But tonight, as I go to bed in anticipation of a 5:00 AM wakeup call, an extended workday, and track practice, I see the Red Sox up 3-0 in the fourth. This is not a surprise. Mostly because the Seattle Mariners' run prevention model was a completely unmitigated catastrophe. But also because the real Quiet Man, Jon Lester, is pitching.

The funny thing is, nobody's really talking about it. Sure, people are talking about how Lackey and Beckett have sucked all year. Maybe this says something about the state of Boston fans has changed and how we have reverted back to the late 1990s. However, this is even true on the positive side. People are talking about Clay Buchholz lighting it up with the exception of Friday, when Coco Crisp singlehandedly dismantled the entire Boston team. But nobody really talks about Lester. John Rish talked about how Lester "has had a good year" on the pregame show tonight.

"Good" apparently means his ERA since April 28 is 2.86 and he has held opponents to an OPS of .607, which is 65 points lower than Jason Varitek's 2008 OPS. It apparently means he's in the top five in the majors in wins, third in the AL in strikeouts, one of four AL pitchers averaging more than a strikeout per inning, and in the top ten in the AL in ERA, WHIP, and several other more-obscure stats. Cite the eight losses and I'll tell you he's lost 2-1 and 4-2 games this year, with the 4-2 loss being largely the result of errors. Yawn. That's just "good."

The only thing keeping this guy from the Cy Young conversation is the fact that he constantly forgets that the baseball season starts at the beginning of April, not the end of it. He's in spring training mode until the first 100-degree day, which is obviously frustrating. But since then, wow, has he been good. He's struck out ten in six different starts. He's given up a home run every fifteen innings pitched. But for some reason - maybe it's because he doesn't have a sexy curveball or throw 105 miles an hour - he's barely discussed around here. Myself included.

I think we might all just take this guy for granted, or we just see him at age 26 (younger than 46) at what he was projected to be: A middle of the rotation starter. But this year and each of the two years before, Jon Lester has given you 200 innings at an ERA of under three and a third.

Pat may have pulled his Nick Swisher gush-fest Monday morning. But I don't care if he's getting shelled right now, my Jon Lester gush-fest is staying up all day. Maybe it's not quite at Coco Crisp level, but it's about time Jon Lester got his due appreciation.

Bad News, Good News

There was a regularly scheduled Nick Swisher appreciation post set to go up today. It is still very much applicable to the 2010 season as far as Nick Swisher is concerned, but I didn't feel that a multiple paragraph complimentary session was appropriate for this team after the last week, particularly the last weekend.

After all the bad news is that the team that the only team in baseball who hasn't lost four in a row in 2010 has lost three in a row twice in eight days, and will take their second shot at staving off losing four in a row in nine days tonight. I'm not going to go into everything in great detail, because I already covered most of it in last week's post about the missed opportunity against Baltimore. Nothing has changed. One thing that continues to be beyond perplexing is the way this team cannot get runners in from third with less than two outs. They missed four critical opportunities to do so late in the games Friday and Saturday. Getting one in either day would have increased their chances of winning immensely as they lost both games by one run in walk-off fashion. They also don't keep the other team off the board consistently enough the half inning after they score. These are my two biggest pet peeves in baseball, so you can imagine how extra special these losses were for me this weekend. They left a staggering 32 men on base between Friday and Saturday. They followed that up with getting two-hit. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is this team is not winning tough games.

Related, the good news is that we will get an immediate chance to see them win the toughest of games this week in Tampa, as they open up a three game set with the Rays tonight. Sabathia vs. Price tonight. If this team were to make the playoffs, these are the types of games they will need to win. Their best is going to have to beat the other team's best, because the rest of their rotation after Sabathia isn't sure enough to be confident as of right now if they are losing behind Sabathia. We'll see if that changes when Pettitte returns, but for now that's how it is. What's more, this is a class gut-check. You've been getting out-played left and right for over a week. In September, in the middle of a pennant race. Now you have to turn it around against the toughest competition possible on the road. We'll see what kind of guts this team has.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Happy Birthday 46

Oh well. I wasn't able to post it the day of. But Saturday, Red Sox' overhyped outfielder 46 celebrated his 27th birthday. He is now, theoretically, in the prime of his career. The player and his sore ribs entered this world on September 11, 1983, just weeks after Dustin Pedroia did. It's astonishing how, even after 27 years, he scan still be such a freaking baby. Front and back.

I keep on hearing about how 46 is going to grow into his body and hit more home runs. I hear about how 46 is a young player and he's going to learn a lot of things when he gets older. How he's going to be a better baseball player than he's been. Can we really say that?

Just for fun, let's take a look at some baseball players who are certainly not seen as players who are going to be improving immensely but who are YOUNGER than this young prospect player with so much potential to not be a one-tool player.

Already-Good Players:
Jon Lester
Evan Longoria
Felix Hernandez
Clay Buchholz
Jon Lester
Matt Weiters
John Danks
Zack Grienke
Martin Prado
Hanley Ramirez
Josh Johnson
Prince Fielder
Ryan Braun
Tim Lincecum
Troy Tulowitski
Ubaldo Jimenez

Guys Who Have Been Around Forever:
Nick Markakis
Adam Jones
Fausto Carmona
Howie Kendrick
Brian McCann
Cole Hamels
Colby Rasmus
Matt Kemp
Jonathan Broxton

Over The Hill?
Scott Kazmir
Joba Chamberlain
Francisco Liriano

Triple Crown Candidate:
Joey Votto is one day older than 46. And people talk like this stiff is nineteen. Enjoy yo day.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Biggest Perk of Watching a Bad Team

By September first, if you're watching a bad team, the bad team is out of contention. Therefore, instead of seeing your pseudo-major leaguers (keep your eyes open for a post this weekend, by the way) light up minor league pitching while trying to capture a playoff spot, you can see your real minor leaguers perform against good teams. It does suck to know that the Red Sox' season is over in 23 days and I have to listen to nothing but football and hockey talk on the radio until Detox by Dre comes out.

In the meantime, I get to see a lot of the players that I haven't seen for a little while. I guess I'm in a bit of a unique situation because I was in the ticket office while some of these guys were playing at AA. I consider Rusty Masterson, Bard, Reddick, Richardson, and Lars Anderson to be my boys. So unless Scott Boras has a client opt out during the World Series and one of these guys decides to be the first one, these guys are going to have an especially-long leash. Dustin Richardson has struggled mightily this year, but opposing batters have been much harsher on him than HYD has been.

We also get to see guys who have shot through the system and come out of nowhere like Ryan Kalish and to a certain extent guys like Felix Doubront. If these guys play well on the major league level, even if it is against many other minor leaguers in September, it's at least something worth watching. If you've actually been watching any Red Sox baseball, you should be as excited about Kalish (or perhaps even moreso because he's more than a one-tool player) as you were about 46.

He plays hard, he crashes into people on multiple occasions instead of knowing his role as a minor leaguer, and he can hit for power and average. He can also steal bases, but as he rarely walks, Theo Epstein will probably trade him for a 36-year-old post-TJ surgery third starter. He also seems to be the kind of player who would play with sore ribs. I'd rather see him than see 46 play another game in a Red Sox uniform, especially if next year, as expected, is another "bridge" year. He's probably a more skilled major leaguer than 46, and he's five years younger.

As far as Doubront goes, he's also impressed as of late. He does not have the kind of stuff that players like AJ Burnett have (can't write a post without a knock like that), and he's not yet 23 either. He would prefer to be a starter, understandably so, but he also recently said he's okay with a permanent relief role. With Okajima very conceivably being non-tendered, he could be the lefty guy. But he could also fill a Ramiro Mendoza role if Wakefield decides to hang them up or if they do end up trading Matsuzaka.

The players with the most to prove this month are Lars Anderson and Josh Reddick. They both reached the Kalish-level velocity going through the minor league systems, but for some reason got stuck due to lack of adjustments at higher levels. Anderson had a better '10 than '09, but if he can really tear things up in the majors for the next 23 days, that would be a good way to at least bump him back up on the Baseball America charts. And Reddick should probably change his uniform number immediately.

Not that I'm complaining about watching the Vikings' quarterback fail to score a touchdown thus far - or about watching Jersey Shore - but for the remaining 16 days I'm in the United States, I'm looking forward to maximizing my time watching the Red Sox prospects make a difference.

I'm posting Saturday morning. Check out Baseball Reference to figure out why.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Seriously, this is your JOB!

Not that any of the last three games were even remotely close (perhaps this is too soon to call for the third game, as it's 11-5 in the seventh), but it's driving me crazy how the Red Sox are being plagued by stupid baseball. I've already written at least twenty posts about how bases-loaded walks are unacceptable and something that very rarely happens for pitchers who a) deserve to be in the major leagues, b) are capable of concentrating, or c) have any idea where the ball is going when they throw it. I haven't written about the team's 20 errors by pitchers, which is being harped upon by Pete Abraham and will be addressed later in this post.

But for probably the third time this season, I am flabbergasted with the Red Sox' inability to run the bases. Tonight's incident at third base involving Eric Patterson and Victor Martinez is the latest egregious offense. With the infield in (and this might have caused some of the franticness and confusion, but still no excuse), there was a ground ball to second by Ortiz - shocking, I know. Patterson got caught in a run-down as Martinez took third. Patterson somehow made it back to third and the Rays tagged both runners. Going by the basic rule of baseball, the lead runner has the base. But for some reason, Patterson thought he was the one who was out, and walked back off the base, only to be chased and tagged out, for a double play.

Unbelievable. I mean, if your career is chiefly as a fifth outfielder or pinch runner, isn't this a rule you should know? That's like being a writer and not knowing how to use a semicolon: Not the most important thing to know, but if it's your freaking job, it might be something you should pay attention to. Seriously, when this guy sits on the bench for a week and a half at a time waiting for a night where JD wants to pad his "games played" stat but doesn't want to play the whole game, what does he think about? Maybe not obscure baseball rules. But when he's in the game, he should have a fully functional brain. In a situation like that, both players are supposed to stay on the base and get tagged, then continue to stand on the base until the confusion is cleared up. You don't saunter off the freaking base. Seriously, baseball's been your life for the last twenty years. You're not very naturally talented, so you gotta rely on smarts. Get a freaking clue.

Also from the "get a freaking clue" category, as previously mentioned, what the F is the deal with the pitcher errors? I love Dustin Richardson probably MORE than the next guy, but why on earth is he doing a Nomar throw over to first base under any circumstances? This entire pitching staff is either careless, clueless, or both when it comes to throwing the ball around. You learn in Little League to minimize throwing the ball around, because you can't throw the ball away when you don't throw the ball. These guys maximize that. The Buchholz error on the REAL worst loss of the year (the Dan Johnson/JD Drew game). Okajima's bunting mishaps on another top-five loss. And now Richardson's Nomar throw to tear a game open. Seriously, this is baseball fundamentals.

Contrary to Abraham's constant lamentations about how more work and less golfing should be going on in Fort Myers, Fort Myers stuff isn't going to be helping you in August or September. Making defense a priority as a habit - ESPECIALLY for a team priding themselves on "run prevention" - is something that should be stressed or worked on. At least starting pitchers, what do they do on days they a) don't pitch and b) don't throw bullpen sessions? Sleep the hangover off? Let's get some of these idiots in for fundamentals. This year it doesn't matter and they might as well protect their AL lead in errors by pitchers. But next year? If it means saving the team two or three games? Might be worth thinking about.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Wasted Opportunity

Given that the Rays last 10 games are against Baltimore, Seattle, and Kansas City, there has been a lot of chatter about the Yankees needing to be out in front heading into that last stretch to win this division. While anything can obviously happen, that seems very likely. The Yankees have a much tougher schedule the rest of the season. In addition to the head-to-heads with Tampa, the best time for them to create some space on paper was this 10 game homestand against Oakland, Toronto, and Baltimore. The consensus seemed to be that you'd be happy with 7-3 and really would like to see 8-2.

The Yankees looked to be in great shape at the start. The carried the momentum of winning the last two games in Chicago into the homestand, winning their first six games. All they had to do was go 1-3 to get to 7-3, 2-2 to go 8-2. It was an ideal situation. Split four games at home with Toronto and Baltimore and have an awesome homestand to start a closely contested stretch run.

Since then they have lost 3-0 and are asking a rookie making his fourth Major League start to avoid making it 6-4. 6-4 would have been slightly disappointing before the stand started. Considering that they won the first six, it would be a complete waste.

What compounds this is the way the Yankees have played. Coming off the eight game winning streak where they played great baseball, they took a nosedive and started playing miserable baseball overnight. No transition period, no easing into it. Great baseball 180'd into awful baseball. Not getting runners in from third with less than two outs (something that, in fairness, happens all the time even when they win big they are so bad at it), giving up 0-2 hits like it's in every pitcher's contract that they had to do so, giving up 2 out runs like it is similarly contractually mandated, letting the other team score the half inning immediately after scoring themselves, putting runners on second base with no outs and not being able to get them in, everything like that. They caught a lot of bad breaks tonight while the Orioles seem to catch every break, which will happen, but they just did not play well. And haven't for three games. Normally this would just be part of the flow of the season. And in reality it still probably is. But it shouldn't be. Not in September, not against these teams, not in this kind of race for the division.

What makes it even worse is that Girardi has decided to go into one of his little slumps at the exact same time the team isn't playing well. This also happens. Sometimes you push the right buttons, sometimes you don't. But the inconsistency with which he pushes these buttons will just drive you crazy. Last Friday he masterfully handles the bullpen, pulling Nova after just 4.2 innings to let Logan go get a lefty against a team in Toronto that is one of the best in the Majors against righties and one of the worst against lefties in total. When asked about this move after the game Girardi correctly points out how sometimes the biggest spot in the game is not at the end of the game, and you have to go to your best relievers based on situation not just inning. Something like that. Beautiful stuff. THE VERY NEXT DAY THE EXACT SAME SITUATION PRESENTS ITSELF. Two outs in the 5th, 2 run lead, 2 runners on. Lefty at the plate (who this time had already homered earlier in the game). Does Girardi go to Logan again employing the same philosophy he used and explained the day before? Of course not. He goes to right-handed long-man Dustin Moseley, who gives up a game tying double on the first pitch. This is really the height of confusion for me with Girardi. Not just does he do something, he talks about how and why it works. Then he does something different the next day. I understand circumstances change. Maybe Logan wasn't available or something. But there are other relievers he could go to before Dustin Moseley in such a high leverage spot.

Same thing with bunting. Monday he bunts Brett Gardner, who at .392 has the 7th highest OBP in the AL, down multiple runs, with Derek Jeter, who is having a terrible season, on deck. Today he won't bunt Curtis Granderson, down multiple runs, with Alex Rodriguez ready to pinch hit (which he did). Granderson isn't as productive as Gardner this year, and Rodriguez is more likely to do damage than Jeter. It makes no sense. Now I understand down multiple runs it makes sense not to bunt Granderson because he has an ability to hit one out, so you're giving yourself an extra chance at a three run homer. I'm not lamenting this move, it was the right one. I'm lamenting doing it one day and not the next, because it didn't make sense the day before either. Gardner is one of the biggest on-base threats in the game this year, and is also not a very good bunter. Down one run or in a tie game, okay. But down multiple runs, let him try to get on in front of the big run producers in the order. It's the inconsistency that gets me.

Hopefully the team goes back to playing well and the manager goes back to managing well all in one swoop tomorrow. What's done is done, they wasted an opportunity to really have a bigtime homestand. Now they need to make sure they save 7-3 so that the homestand isn't a wasted opportunity in total. Getting swept at home by Baltimore in September is really not a very good option.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Is This Keith Foulke Level?

The most recent devastating loss the Red Sox suffered at the hands of Chicago (who's second in the Wild Card right now, yo!), contrary to what the sensationalists say on television, is NOT the most devastating loss of the season. The Buchholz/Drew/Atchison/Dan Johnson game eight days ago was devastating, preventable, debatable, and was the point where it officially became over. However, the Chicago game Sunday afternoon was plenty bad. It was another game when they fell behind and came back, an admirable trait that has pretty much been characteristic of this team (and part of why this team is not "boring").

But the biggest issue with this one is the same as the issue on six other games this year. It's further evidence that Jonathan Papelbon is mediocre at very best. He leads the league in blown saves and has 1/3 of the team's 21 blown saves. (Bard has six, for the record.) But the guy is just no longer a good relief pitcher. Sure, he should probably play out the rest of 2010, because these games don't matter anymore. But Bard should probably get a chance. And Papelbon very well might be an appropriate candidate for being non-tendered next year.

We've already gone over the number stuff, and there's no reason to discuss the exact same stuff. But now he's very easily a below-average closer. Do the Red Sox really need to pick up his last year, or would they rather spend that $10+ million on a player who doesn't suck? He is not fooling anyone anymore. He is giving people free passes to first base on the regular, something he didn't do at all during his heyday. He gives up a home run every ten innings, making him just short of Scott Atchison.

But on August 12th after the Papelbon blown save against Toronto, I wrote the following:

"Who should be the closer? This could further put chemistry in jeopardy. I'd say stick with Papelbon, because promoting Bard (unless Papelbon literally goes Keith Foulke, Johnny from Burger King and everything) would result in Papelbon saying F it and JDing the rest of the season. The first time Bard blows a save or has a shaky save, there would be calls to put Papelbon back in. The way I see it, changing would create even more havoc than there already is in that bullpen. If they're going down, they should be going down with the best setup man in the game and the twelfth-best closer."

Well, they have already gone down. If Papelbon gets demoted and pouts the rest of the year, the games don't matter anymore, so who cares? Putting Bard in there for a few reps would be good for the 2011-beyond Red Sox, because that's all that matters now. Papelbon would want out, and that's fine with someone with declining stuff and declining numbers and has previously said he should close an All-Star Game over Mariano at Old Yankee Stadium and should set the bar for all future closers. If he wants out, that's fine. Because the Red Sox probably want out too.

And Papelbon has come dangerously close to going full-out Keith Foulke, even down to saying bizarre things to the press. "I don't feel bad for my teammates after I put them in a bad situation?" I understand his points, but you don't say that. If I race bad, I feel bad for the freaking spectators because they saw a terrible product, nevermind the teammates who I'd let down.

By the way, also an interesting case will be Hideki Okajima, who is a) arbitration-eligible, b) going to be 35 years old, c) cannot throw the ball 90 mph, and d) sporting an ERA over five, qualifying him as the worst reliever on the staff. Also a non-tender candidate?

I hope y'all had a good Labor Day.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Should Matsuzaka Get Traded?

For some reason I don't want to write about Linda Pizzutti's Twitter account tonight. Maybe next week.

But tonight we saw pretty much another chapter of the same story of Daisuke Matsuzaka. He got through the fourth inning without surrendering a hit. Looked like Cy Young with his fastball in particular looking good. Then he got shelled in the sixth and Scott Atchison innings became meaningful innings. Good.

There's been a lot of talk about Matsuzaka being used as trade bait at the end of the season. The question I pose to you on a Friday is: Should he be? Let's take a closer look.

1. He has two more years of his contract. Look, the investment is done. Of the $103 million due to acquire the player in December 2006, only $20 million remains. He is actually a low-cost pitcher. Good for the Red Sox to keep if they're making a concerted effort to acquire a free agent or a non-free agent who requires a posting fee of prospects plus free agent money. But also good for a lower-budget team (there are 28 of them), especially in the NL, who could use Matsuzaka.

2. There have been flashes of brilliance. We have seen him take some no-hitters deep into games as often as we've seen him get shelled for a five-spot in the first inning. Ask Tim C - he has been studying this guy more than anyone, and he's puzzled by him. This brilliance is his ceiling, and I am not entirely convinced that he can reach this ceiling more often than, say, Josh Beckett can reach his or John Lackey can reach his. Most likely due to his stubbornness (which, as you know if you've been reading this blog for a while, I am sympathetic to because he sounds an awful lot like myself), I am confident that he has not worked much on his delivery. I can't imagine the hesitation can be efficient although it's the Japanese way. I'm also not sure if he's mechanically sound pitching from the stretch. Could explain the propensity to surrender the big inning.

Bottom line: I still think the guy, who will be 30, has untapped potential.

3. Who else would hold that position? Earlier this week I said no to Tim Wakefield. I'm standing by that. Felix Doubront? Maybe. But he's only 22, was not even on the radar a year ago, and has shown big-time inconsistencies at the major league level. Which is to be expected. If the Red Sox are going to give a half-assed playoff run in 2011 like the one they had in 2010, would they be better suited with Matsuzaka or with Doubront? That's what I thought. Casey Kelly is not ready. His minor league season, on a scale of 1 to Lars Anderson, ranked somewhere around a 7. Also 22, he might still be two years away. Which would give him the obvious nod - when Matsuzaka could potentially leave via free agency.

If you read the whole post, you'd know that I am intrigued enough by Daisuke Matsuzaka to not want to trade him. Can you really blame me?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

MDC stands for Memories of a Damn Champion

The MDC era is over. Manny Delcarmen was traded unceremoniously to the Colorado Rockies for a pitching prospect yesterday as the Red Sox front office gave a JD-level effort of announcing it's over by jettisoning some of its more expendible talent, shedding a player with little value outside of Roxbury for someone who, honestly, I don't know much about.

Feel free to share your favorite memories of Delcarmen. There are plenty to choose from, as he's been a typical middle reliever since the time he was actually a prospect until the time he was heralded as a prospect by many despite being 28 years old and just flat out not that good. Maybe your favorite memory is giving up five straight hits. Maybe it's a balk. Maybe it's a bases loaded HBP or a 475-foot grand slam.

Or maybe you can cherry pick one month here or there (and to his credit, these happened at least once a year) and use it as an argument that he was more than just a typical middle reliever who just happens to be from the Boston area.

IN OTHER NEWS, the fact that Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre are the two players who are playing like they want to still win a baseball game here or there is probably no coincidence, as they are both going to be free agents at the end of the year. September is a job interview, and it is pretty well-established that the Red Sox will have to choose between one or the other.

Or just suck big time in negotiations and let both walk. I thought you were gonna ask me about that.

So if you had one, who would it be? Beltre or Victor? They're both 31. They both have leverage, albeit limited. And they can both be somewhat-replaced by various roster moves. Who would you pick?

Despite my love for the one-knee home run, and my faith in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, it's gotta be Martinez. It would be Youkilis at third, Martinez most likely at first, Salty behind the plate, and possibly either Ortiz (on a one year deal) or someone like Adam Dunn at DH. I'll even entertain the fact that the team might decide Adrian Gonzalez is worth both the posting fee of prospects and the free agent money. I've lost so much faith in their free agent negotiation skills that I have determined a trade's the only way they'll get him. Pay Martinez at a catcher-like rate (there's a lot of money coming off of the books) but save his legs. Or use him as a catcher if Saltalamacchia keeps going Jed Lowrie on us. Pay him as a catcher and maximize his offensive production.

The way I see it, Beltre will use this year to justify the "Safeco Field Sucks" argument and milk a team for way too much money and way too many years. He's thirty-one, just as Martinez is, but that guy has almost as much mileage on his legs as I do: He's been playing in the bigs since nineteen. It also saves the hassle of more Boras negotiations, and there will be some team that will pay Beltre more money than whatever Martinez gets as a free agent.

I predict that this will happen, and I also predict that thirty years from now, we'll see someone hit a home run off of one knee and have trouble remembering the guy who made doing that into an art form.

Worth It

The Gunn posed an interesting question the other week in the comments section: if the Yankees don't win another World Series over the duration of their contract, will the Sabathia and Teixeira contracts have been worth it for just the one World Series?

I'll answer indirectly in a way that makes the direct answer obvious: the Burnett contract is already worth it.

I understand that Burnett is not signed for as many years or nearly as much money as Sabathia or Teixeira. But he also isn't nearly as important to the Yankees for the money he makes as either of those players are. If his contract is worth it, the Sabathia and Teixeira contracts are definitely worth it.

Digging a little deeper, I'll expand upon the way The Gunn basically answered his own question, which can basically be summed up by one question: why wouldn't the Yankees make these signings no matter what? The alternatives are for the Yankees to not spend money they clearly have to spend or to spend the money on players that aren't as likely to help the Yankees win a World Series. Because let's be honest, Sabathia and Teixeira are not only two of the best players in the game, but two of the best players to hit the free agent market in a decade. In the early-to-middle part of their prime no less. If they can't help the Yankees win it all, chances are very few can. What I'm basically saying here is that they would be worth it even if they never won one. I understand that then we'd be getting into a potential distinction between "worth" (as in return on investment) and "justification for signing them", but as The Gunn basically acknowledged in his own answer that blurry line is inherent to the question. Either way, certainly once they win one they've done exactly what they've been brought in to do.

Hence why Burnett is also worth it. I'm not at all a fan of the predetermined outcome. There is no absolute certainty that the Yankees would not have won the World Series without Burnett, or without Sabathia or Teixeira. But chances are very good that they would not have. As it was the Yankees went with a three man rotation. Who, exactly, would have been starting and going 3-3 in critical Game 2 (who many believe to be the most important game in a series) starts if not Burnett? Whoever it is, certainly that person is unlikely to have gone 19.1 innings and allow only 4 runs on only 10 hits while striking out 19 in those three Game 2 starts. You're brought into win a World Series, especially on the Yankees. When you were a positive part of bringing that result, you are worth your contract. This is exactly what Burnett did. Whatever happens from their is gravy.

And I think we can all agree Sabathia and Teixeira are completely different types of players than Burnett. Burnett is a piece. Sabathia and Teixeira are cornerstones. So if he's worth it, they're worth it. Burnett can really do one particular thing - he has the potential to dominate big games like very few in the game can. The rest is a big question mark from start to start. Sabathia and Teixeira do it all, and have continued to do so in year two the way they did all the way to the World Series in year one. Neither has any problem putting the team on their back for extended stretches, and they (along with Rivera, Cano, and Swisher) are the biggest reasons why the Yankees are where they are this year despite all of the injuries and underperformances. As long as they are healthy, if they don't win another World Series it is unlikely to have anything to do with them. It would have to be the composition of the rest of their team, the talent of other teams in the game, the crapshoot nature of the playoffs, or some combination of these. They go way above and beyond what they are asked. They were only asked to win one title, and they were already front and center in accomplishing that on their first try.