Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reflections of the First Game and a Half

Okay, I got a few things to say about the first game and a half, including some Cervelli stuff, some stuff to address Wednesday's fantastic comments section, and treading on a comple of third rails.  That's DV.

1.  Let's start with Cervelli.  The fantastic Twitter handle "@SoreGloveHand," in between blatant rips of the overarching attitude of Tufts University, made the comment that if 46 had been thrown at every single time he did that insufferable "one clap after modest accomplishment" bit, his ribs - front AND back - would have more dents in them than the green monster.  That said, he should have been thrown at for doing what he did.  That also goes for Marco Scutaro in 2007 and for 46 whenever he acts like an idiot.  Unlike others, I think a well-placed beanball is, and should be, a part of the game.  I think both parties acted appropriately after Cervelli pulled the "one clap after modest achievement" act at home plate.

1a.  Then again, I'm sure if Jarrod Saltalamacchia read that paragraph, he'd call me a hothead (Goodfellas term) half-Mick, half-Guinea.  Adding the part about Cervelli and Latin players was probably not a great idea, although there is a certain truth to the fact that a lot of the more emotive players are Latin American.  As they should be.  For a lot of them, baseball is very important because baseball took them out of the hood.  We've been there before when discussing steroids.  In a term paper somewhere around the year 2006 I had to write about and defend the "hothead Latin player" stereotype, which really originated in 1965 with the Juan Marichal/Johnny Roseboro bat-as-a-weapon incident.  I'm surprised that someone born in 1985 would say something like that, and I wonder if that comment makes anything awkward in the Red Sox' clubhouse.  If so, this further demonstrates the importance of someone like Mike Lowell in a clubhouse.

2.  The CC Sabathia workload issue.  As Bandi said in the comments section, people have continued to talk about CC being overweight.  You know what?  At some point, yup, he'll probably break down.  Probably not going to be this year, though.  I don't blame Girardi for leaving Sabathia in there at all.  First of all, each game this series has more at stake for the Yankees than it does for the Red Sox.  Better to have your best guy out there.  Plus, if a bullpen guy blows this lead, the talk is all about how Sabathia was inefficient, couldn't get out of the sixth, blah, blah, blah.  Sabathia's not JD Drew.  He cares about doing well, and six innings was probably best for his psyche.

3.  Gunn's comments about Lackey and "bend-don't-break" being effective because the team scores ten runs in each of his starts really manifested itself on Tuesday night.  I heard a comment on the radio about Lackey "pitching to the scoreboard," which is simultaneously frustrating (why don't you always pitch like it's 0-0?) and understandable (I've let off the gas when blowing out the fields in certain races).  Agreed on the fact that his stuff is not as good as Bedard's.

4.  Speaking of stuff, Beckett's continues to be quite good on probably about nine out of ten pitches.  The Yankees are certainly taking advantage of the tenth pitch, which is commendable.  Like last night (and it's the sixth inning), this Yankee team seems to prioritize winning these games quite a bit, and will try to grind out a win by any means possible.  I think the Cervelli incident helped the Red Sox turn the switch on, at least in terms of their approach.

5.  Last thought:  There are certain miniscule things in a baseball game that occasionally literally keep me up at night, irrespective of the amount of caffeine I have.  The way Cervelli was pitched to in his first at-bat is one of those things.  We're talking about a weak-hitting backup catcher who got thrown at last night and had to talk about it.  He's obviously thinking about it.  On the first two pitches, breaking balls from Beckett buckle his knees and end up in the strike zone.  He Jetered out of the way of each pitch.  What should pitch three be?  a) behind Cervelli, b) high and tight, c) low and away.  There was a man on second and one out, so a) was a bad option, so b) would be the obvious one.  You don't want to advance the runner, you got the guy on the ropes, you got a pitch to waste, and you got a batter who crowds the plate.  Go for the K in two pitches.

Unparalleled genius Jason Varitek who knows more about every pitcher and hitter in baseball history, so much, in fact, that he'd be invaluable even if he hit .130, goes with option c).  A hotshot to first that was hit squarely by an unintimidated hitter advanced the runner.  It's baseball fundamentals.  The play ended up inconsequential, but it will still keep me up all night.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Grinding A Win

There will likely be a lot of chatter about what this particular win means for the Yankees. Is this the one that gets them over the hump, stuff like that. Most of it will be overstated. It's one game, let's see what the Yankees do with the next two. One thing I will say is I like the way the Yankees are playing the Red Sox. This really started last series. As much as it stunk to lose that Game 3, and thus the series, the way they did, they were playing good, tough baseball. Not as much of the sloppyness and meltdowns they were displaying vs. the Sox earlier in the season. There was more of a grind it out, find a way to win attitude. Tonight was more of the same.

Leading that charge was C.C. Sabathia. His start tonight was the epitome of grinding out a win. He had really good stuff (10 strikeouts), with a strikezone that could generously be described as tight. But the Sox were working him (10 hits, 2 walks, 128 pitches) the same way he was working them. Considering the way Sabathia has pitched against them this year, these teams' places in the standings, and the pitching matchups the next two nights, the Yankees just needed to find a way to win. And that is exactly what Sabathia did. When runners got on, he got nasty, as the Sox were 3/16 with runners on base.

I talked a lot after C.C.'s last start about how the Sox were all over his fastball. And I still see that as true. But Francona talked in the pregame about the way the Sox have been able to make him work, and there strategy in that respect was never more obvious than it was tonight. You almost feel, at times, that the middle-back of the order is less concerned with getting on base and more concerned with making Sabathia throw as many pitches as possible before the at-bat is over. It's almost like reaching base versus making out is secondary. Great strategy, and maybe that's why C.C. has cracked late in the game after being dominant early in 2 of his previous 4 starts against them. Tonight he stood up, emphatically ending 4 of the 6 innings he pitched with strikouts, and giving the Yankees 6 big innings on a night their bullpen was short (no Robertson) and his pitchcount wasn't really in a place to give them 6 innings on most nights.

The offense followed suit. It wasn't necessarily pretty. Jeter, Granderson, and Teixeira were 0-12. But they put a lot of balls in play, got guys on, and found ways to get guys home. They also got the big solo homer from an unlikely source, and even though it was a monster shot it felt scrappy because it came from a guy with only 1 homer on the season.

On that point, I don't blame Lackey/Boston for being ticked about Cervelli stomping on homeplate and clapping. If a Red Sox player had done that, I'd have been ticked too. But you have to find a better time and way to retaliate than giving the Yankees a free leadoff runner with the top of the order coming up in a 4-2 game in the 7th. As Girardi said in the postgame, every run in that park is huge, and that was a gift run for the Yankees, one they probably shouldn't have gotten. If it holds at 4-2, that changes the way the last two innings get played. Big difference between having a chance to tie every time a runner gets on base versus needing two runners on to tie. Also allows you to manufacture a run and be one solo homer away instead of two. Can't retaliate in that spot.

9 big, scoreless outs from the Yankees' bullpen tonight. Good spot out of them.

Now it's on the Yankees to find a way to win one of the next two games. This was a big win tonight, because it ensures that they leave Fenway no more than 2 back in the loss column. But it will be a bigger win if they find a way to win one of the next two, and get out of there in first place. Maybe one of the next two starters has a night where it's all clicking. And maybe they have a night where they need to dig down, find a way to win, and just grind it out. The way C.C. Sabathia and the offense did tonight.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Observations from the Oakland Series

The Red Sox/A's three-game series was a game of three lopsided games.  There are a few things that I'd like to briefly discuss before we get into another Red Sox/Yankees series with first place on the line.

1.  Should Billy Beane be on thin ice yet?  The sabermetric/Moneyball genius burst onto the scene when hired as A's GM in 1998.  Between 1999 and 2006, the team strung together eight consecutive winning seasons, six of which were 90-win teams and two of which were 100-win teams.  Since 2006, however, they have hit .500 once (2010).    With the resounding failure of Moneyball II (defensive prowess as the next undervalued commodity) and the outing of the secret of Moneyball I (on-base percentage as the first undervalued commodity), how much longer is Beane's shelf life?  Was the Michael Lewis book his downfall, as it popularized OBP and SLG, making it no longer undervalued?  Will there be anything as undervalued as those two statistics were in Beane's first years now that sabermetrics is the hobby of legions of nerds?

Whatever.  I'm looking forward to the movie, too.

2.  Can't feel bad for Tim Wakefield this time around.  In attempt #6 he got lit up, plain and simple.  With a 2.5-game lead on the Yankees, however, it's not time to force him into early retirement.  Let's just hope he's not stranded at 299 a month from today.

3.  Did Erik Bedard make a pass at Tim McClelland's daughter or something?  We know about the slew of unwarranted balls called against Bedard by McClelland a couple of weeks back.  He was squeezed pretty badly in Saturday's Game 2 as well.  What did Bedard do to piss off McClelland and his staff? 

4.  Good for McClelland's crew and the Red Sox' grounds crew for doing all they could during a less-than-ideal situation in the rain on Saturday.  The rain started in Boston earlier than I expected it to, and conditions were downright miserable for both games.  Making sure the field was playable enough that injury risk was minimized was a huge thing, and it was accomplished.  It was important for both teams' September schedules (and probably TBS's broadcasting schedule) that these games were fit in, and everyone involved should be commended.  I wrote this in the comments section yesterday, but I feel like thumbs-up from me are rare, and this one should be put out in the spotlight a little more.

5.  Same thumbs up go to the Red Sox.  I have given them a lot of heat for bilking the fans on a lot of things over the years.  Justifiably so.  They don't need to be enumerated here, but I will say that Linda Pizzuti Twittering a rainout 20 minutes before it was announced was probably the most heinous of all.  Saturday does not make up for it, but it was a good gesture letting fans with Game 2 tickets show up for the end of Game 1, and letting anyone from the street sit in the rain (or under a grandstand) for free is something that goes against the way this team has been run, both since 2002 and especially before.  They strike out a lot, but they got this one pretty well.

6.  Playing baseball on a losing team...in an empty park on the road...in a driving rainstorm...twice in one day is miserable.  The entire A's team made that abundantly clear by the way they went about playing in Game 2.  I don't really blame them.  If they were the Red Sox, however, this would be a senior thesis.

7.  Thursday is the first day of school for JD Drew.

8.  I hope this time around nobody says "this is a big start for John Lackey."  News flash:  Every start right now is a big start for John Lackey.  Though he's the anti-Burnett (in other words, he's "bend-don't-break"), he's been short of awful but short of good since the July 4th meltdown.  Every start is big because he's competing for 3rd-spot job against Bedard.  He's on thinner ice than Bedard because he's been more prone to the meltdown.  But he's also more likely to throw a seven-inning, one-run gem.

There are still a lot of interesting things going down in the last month of the season.  Even though it looks like both of our teams will be playing beyond September 28th, there is an awful lot to watch.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

You Won't!

Rumor has it that Theo Epstein is intrigued by a potential job opening in Chicago as president of the Chicago Cubs.  This is something that was originally reported by Yahoo Sports and then was elaborated on by Buster Olney.  Once Olney picked it up, everyone picked it up.  It's an interesting topic, as college-aged baseball sycophants looking for an internship that will land them in Theo's job by 2045, females, sabermetricians, freelance private investigators, and those who don't think Julio Lugo is a borderline major leaguer are pretty much convinced that Theo Epstein will be in that position forever.  But there are many things, many of which Sean McAdam picked up on Thursday, that would lure him elsewhere. 

Lucchino's probably not going anywhere, as he's made too many enemies to become baseball commissioner.  He's already done all he could do with the Red Sox.  The Cubs job would technically be better than a lateral move.  And according to McAdam, he's a competitive guy (the broken chair incident over Jose Contreras would corroborate this) and rebuilding a franchise without the $170 million to f*** up with (or play with) would be a new challenge.  Of course, on the other hand, going to a non-competitive division like the NL Central would have an opposite effect.  So, as I like to have a little fun on Friday, I have ten reasons Theo Epstein should try his hand in Chicago.  These are, obviously, all with a certain degree of sarcasm, and it's up to you to interpret how much is in each thesis.

1.  There's already a baseline for the worst move he could ever made.  Brock-for-Broglio in 1964, when the Cubs traded Lou Brock to the Cardinals, is considered the worst trade in baseball history.  $36 million for Lugo pales in comparison with this one.
2. Fukudome, Soriano, Derrek Lee, and Big Z are some of the big, underwhelming contracts the Cubs have accomplished in recent years. Without any sarcasm, their prolonged stagnation is not completely unlike the Red Sox in the decade before the boy wonder's arrival.
3.  Theo's great at putting together a bullpen full of guys who can throw strikes.  His contract's up after the 2012 season, so it would be his job to put together the 2013 Cubs.  I heard there's a lefty pitcher from Chicago (actually a White Sox fan) who can throw a mean strike, as evidenced by his first pitch thrown at the All-Star Game.  Somewhere around January 20, 2013, he'll be a free agent.  Upon the signing of Obama, Theo will be the second most irresponsible spender on the squad.
4.  Due to Lebron James's stock taking a hit, John Henry will not be up 20% again this year.  Maybe Ricketts will be.
5.  He sees the writing on the wall, and he knows someone will take the blame on 46 leaving Boston after 2013.  He doesn't want to be that guy.
6.  Chicago has a really patient fan base who enjoys drinking Kool-Aid and listen to Theo whisper sweet sabermetric nothings into their ears.
7.  The Cubs have an uber-talented shortstop in Starlin Castro who could either win an MVP someday or could be traded to the Marlins for an injury-prone starting pitcher and a third baseman who hit .235 in the previous season.
8.  Theo and friends have a good track record with players who have instigated fights and intra-clubhouse drama, such as the Kevin Millar dog-crap incident and the Manny-Youkilis fight.  Carlos Zambrano will be a breeze.
9.  The smaller payroll won't magnify the free-agent blunders that can be hidden in Boston.  They will only magnify how much of a boy wonder Theo is.
10.  A Red Sox World Series and a Cubs World Series on the resume would qualify Epstein to puff out his chest about his own genius without citing mediocre players' OPSes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Burnett, Revisited

My father is a big Yankee fan. A lot of his childhood and college friends are Yankee fans. I will often end up on e-mail chains with them about the Yankees. One of the interesting things about talking Yankees - and really baseball in general - with them is the different way we view stats. The grew up on wins, batting average, home runs, and RBI. I obviously grew up in a very different era. They have definitely caught on to a lot of the new metrics, and place a good deal of value on them. But they still like the stats they grew up on.

Two of those in particular - batting average and pitcher win totals - have become obsolete on account of better ways to evaluate performance in those areas. But my father and his buddies largely stick by them. My father and I went back and forth on batting average for a number of years. At the height of my sabermetric schooling, 5 or so years ago in college, I was adamant that batting average just wasn't that important. My father's position wasn't that it was the most important statistic - he recognized the merit of the new evaluation metrics - but rather that you needed a balanced lineup, including some guys who hit for average in addition to your OPS/plate patience/HR guys. As I've come back from the sabermetric extreme, I couldn't be more in agreement with him. I still prefer the new-age approach, but I recognize that if your lineup is all that kind of guy you become somewhat one-dimensional. I'm very pro-balance, and that includes having a few guys who can rack up hits with a high average.

I was never against wins, I just recognized it wasn't one of the best ways to evaluate a pitcher. You had to look at the context. That pretty much remains true for me. One of my father's buddies has always been of the belief, however, that Burnett stinks because he should be able to get more wins on a team that scores so many runs, has such a good bullpen, and wins so many games. Whether you think wins really matter or only matter in context, the case against Burnett on this front is really growing.

I had this post in mind since Burnett's abomination against the Twins on Saturday (a team the Yankees had beaten 21 times in their last 24 games against them, and he couldn't get out of the 2nd inning, with 7 runs ultimately being charged to him total). But in today's Post, Joel Sherman took a very similar angle, and did it superbly.

In sum (with some of my own additions), the Yankees have scored the most runs in the majors, and their bullpen has the lowest ERA in the AL. Burnett is 9-10, the only of their 6 starters who is under .500. Since the Yankees signed Burnett prior to the 2009 season, the Yankees have won 275 games, most in the majors over that span. Burnett is 32-34 as a Yankee.

At some point, these win totals - or lack thereof - really tell a story. Especially as the sample size grows and grows. All the Yankees have done the last three years is win baseball games, and Burnett can't join the party.

I detailed last week how Burnett's overall numbers really aren't as bad as they seem. Despite the atrocious ERA - that is mostly the result of a few terrible starts - and he has mostly kept the Yankees in games. But at some point a lot of that has to go out the window. Burnett does not find a way to win games with the team that it is easiest to win games for.

We can develop all the new metrics that we want, but sometimes it's hard to argue against basic longstanding outlooks. In this case, this longstanding outlook regarding wins certainly isn't very helpful to Burnett.

What's interesting is that last week I defended Burnett and still concluded he should be the one removed from the rotation when the time comes. This week I'm not defending him, but I'm less sure that he should be the one removed. The way Colon has started to tail off (5.21 ERA in his last 9 starts, although he was at 4.33 across the first 7 of those), the way Colon's great fastball and control might play nicely out of the bullpen, and the way Burnett's stuff might not play so well out of the bullpen makes it a continually tough decision.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Uggla Effect

If it were another player (perhaps Jayson Werth), the vitriol coming from How Youz Doin Baseball would have been steady, tedious, and deafening at this point.  It's the end of August, about 80% of the way through the baseball season, and the new big-money acquisition has still yet to get out of this funk he's in.  They're turning on him on Twitter, and they're turning on him on the radio.  They respect the well-traveled rumor that he's still working his rear end off in preparation for games, but this is not working.

I'm writing, of course, about Carl Crawford, who momentarily looked like he was going to revert to the old him the last weekend the Red Sox and Yankees played (he's hitting .302 since August 5th), but that was short-lived (he's hitting .196 since August 8th, think about that).  It's been confounding all year, and I've been taking in information from many places to try to find the silver lining on such a good player playing so poorly for such a long period of time.

The snarky question to ask would be why Theo's hired private investigators couldn't have seen this coming while they were tailing Crawford last fall.  But when this season's over, you can say definitively, what a 14% disaster (he'll be 14% of the way through the length of his contract).

The silver lining comes from three different places - one is looking at recent baseball history, one is looking at the numbers, and one is looking at the player like a jeans salesman (if you don't get the reference, go read Moneyball again).

The part about recent baseball history is what inspired the title.  Dan Uggla this winter signed a big contract and on July 4th, he was hitting .173.  He had an okay 12 home runs, but was OPSing something sub-.600 and was apparently swinging at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone.  He was pressing, and at some time this summer, he admitted to everyone how much he was pressing.  This admission coincided with, of course, his hitting streak which has upped his batting average to a still-rough .233.  But the story about players signing big-money contracts and trying too hard to live up to the dollars is real.  You might be able to say the same thing with Josh Beckett's machismo coming out too much in 2006, where he threw one pitch (the fastball, of course) and surrendered a hellacious 36 home runs.  If Uggla can come out of it, Crawford can come out of it.  There have been very brief flashes of this guy being the player they paid for. 

With Uggla, a lot of sabermetricians looked at some of Uggla's peripherals.  As you guys know, as of September 30, 2009 sabermetrics and I have had our relationship terminated due to our irreconcilable differences.  I don't even know where you can find any kind of Pitch/FX on the location of whatever pitches Crawford is swinging at.  What I'm interested in, however, is the kind of pitches Crawford is NOT swinging at, and I have seen a number indicating that some of the pitches he had previously knocked around are pitches that find the catcher's glove. 

Historically, Crawford had been an impatient hitter, frequently among the league leaders of the LEAST pitches seen per at-bat.  As he became more of an established dangerous hitter, that number inevitably rose, as he got fewer pitches to hit.  However, in Boston, he is not the most feared hitter - even theoretically, he might be the 3rd- or 4th-most dangerous hitter in his own lineup.  Pitchers can nibble around Gonzalez, Ortiz, and Pedroia, NOT Crawford.  You'd think that number would decrease as he got more pitches to hit.  Wrong.  He's seeing 3.82 pitches per at-bat, a career high by a sizeable margin and in the top 40 of American Leaguers.  Is this because the Red Sox are teaching him the "system" of plate patience?  I sure hope not.  Because the pitch to hit is sometimes pitch 1, 2, or 3 of the plate appearance.  The old Carl Crawford hit that pitch.  Is the new Carl Crawford taking it in the name of the Red Sox' system?  F that.  Just be yourself.

Finally, and this goes back to the "pressing" issue, the eyes are telling me Crawford is tired.  He's looking like Varitek has looked in a few recent Augusts.  He's kinda trotting around, and I'm wondering seriously what he's doing before the game.  At some point, an extra swing or an extra rep has diminishing returns, and therefore at another point, those diminishing returns become negative returns.  My father has said for years that Ray Allen takes too many shots in practice and therefore shoots himself out of hot streaks.  Is Carl Crawford BPing himself out of hot streaks and into exhaustion? 

Just some things to think about before you burn him at the stake.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Who Has It Better/Worse, Yanks or Sox?

Let me break down the 2011 AL East for you:

Yankees play Red Sox. Red Sox beat Yankees senseless. Red Sox take two game lead in division. Yankees and Red Sox go play other teams. Yankees beat every other team senseless. Red Sox beat every other team not as much as Yankees beat them. Yankees re-take lead in division. Rinse, wash, repeat.

In this most recent cycle, completed last week when the Yankees re-took the lead in the division last Tuesday, got me thinking: who has it better/worse?

On the one hand, the Red Sox are 10-2 against the Yankees. On the other hand, the Yankees are 75-38 against everyone else, while the Red Sox are 67-47 against everyone else.

Which one speaks louder? You could certainly make arguments on both sides. One is that the head-to-head matters most, and the Sox turn it on when they need to, meaning that they often have it off sometimes against everybody else. Two is that the record - against a near identical schedule - against everyone else is more telling, because the Sox just happen to have the Yankees number in a small sample, no different than the Angles having the Red Sox number, the Yankees having the Twins number, whatever it may be.

I tend to think that neither is the case. I like to look at the biggest picture available, and that picture right now is 77-48 against 77-49. The interior components of those records, as many as they are, don't matter as much as that total number. Anybody who has been reading here for a while knows that I don't view run differential as more telling than actual record, but rather just one thing to consider in analyzing records. When two teams are as close as these teams seem to be, this is a place where it could be useful to find some sort of delineation. For those interested in such things, the Yankees are at +188, best in baseball, and the Red Sox are at +144, 3rd just behind the Phillies.

But again, I'm a total record guy. 10-2. 2-10. +37 against the rest of baseball. + 20 against the rest of baseball. I don't really think any of that matters that much. 0.5 games. 37 and 36 games to go respectively. Should be a fun race to the finish in the AL East.

Go Yankees.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Vote for Us

Okay, so we were nominated by various members of the Vassallo family as one of the best Boston blogs.  This is reasonably unfair because half of this blog (perhaps slightly less in the summer) is centered around New York and their American League team.  However, if you do think How Youz Doin Baseball has enhanced your baseball-watching experience over the last five seasons, feel free to give us a vote by following the link:

http://boston.blogger.cbslocal.com/most-valuable-blogger/vote/sports/

We might not use any graphic design programs more sophisticated than Microsoft Paint, we might not like songs about 11-year-old girls that have the lines "touching me, touching you," we might actually say a couple of negative words about Jacoby Ellsbury and/or Johnny Damon and say a few good words about Coco Crisp, so we're probably not going to win.  Hey, at least we're not showing any naked pictures of Tom Brady's kid.  I feel like as far as this vote goes, having us there is like having Walt Weiss on the Hall of Fame ballot.  Any votes would be a nice gesture.

Also, as promised, I'm going to re-post some of the best comments.  Many of these have come right around this time of the year:

Ross Kaplan on 46 and Pat's dual absences in 2010:
I'm guessing that [Pat] is in Cork, which as we all know is on the Jersey Shore of Ireland just fistpumping his days away on the Irish coast.  Of course you all could accuse me of having disappeared from this blog and baseball for that matter during this summer, but between my bar preparation followed by a trip to the Grand Canyon, I have been indisposed for most of the summer. Then there is also the fact that Pat writes on the blog about as often as Jacoby has played this season there is just nothing for me to comment on.

The Gunn, on pink hats in 2010:
I don't want to go back to the 1990's....If winning means obnoxious fans and overexposure, then so be it. That what winning breeds. It's natural.  Go take a look at some of those crappy indie bands that everyone in college likes. They're cute and fun and their fans are proud that only a small group of people follow the band. But here's the real question--Are those bands making any money? Are they selling gold records? No and no. I want the Red Sox to be Van Halen or Bruce Springsteen. I don't want them to be The Band That Nobody's Heard Of But Is Well-Liked By It's Tiny Fan Base. The Sox had those days. It was called 1919-2003. I want the Sox to make a ton of money, spend a ton of money, and most importantly, win. 

Pat F's "DV-level analysis" of JD Drew versus Chris Woodward in 2009.  He had posted a comment at 3:55 AM on a Thursday night, I ragged on him for that, and then I asked him, assuming he had Friday off, whether he would be better than Woodward as a fill-in.  This is his response that has spent two years on my cubicle wall:
i would. but i'm not jd. which is why i don't get why he is involved in this discussion (i totally get pedroia's absence being questioned). yes, drew *might* hit a groundball to the right side. he does that a lot. and yes, that may have been more productive than what woodward can do. but he also strikes out a lot. this doesn't get nearly enough play. hE wAlkS a LOt!!!1!! he also strikes out too much, especially this year, where he is on pace to set a career high. not only does this negate some of the positive of him walking a lot, but it is also relevant to this conversation.

let's consider the three things jd drew does a lot, they are:
- ground out to the right side.
- walk
- strikeout

now let's rank them in terms of productiveness, most to least:
1. walk
2. ground out to the right side
3. strikeout

now let's apply that to the situation yesterday. he had an off day. it seems like he likes off days. it also seems like he doesn't like be asking to play when he's given an off day. so presumably he wouldn't be too happy about being asked to pinch hit. when someone isn't in a positive state mentally, they are unlikely to be at maximum productivity at the work place. that likely eliminates walking. further, they are unlikely to be productive at all. that may eliminate grounding out to the right side and moving a runner over. being upset about being asked to work on an off day often leads to minimum productivity, which means striking out. which renders him perhaps even less useful than woodward, which eliminates him from the francona conversation. maybe tito had it right.

this was dv level analysis from me if there ever was any on this blog.

As we move toward the end of the season, I will do my best to look back for some of the best stuff.  We would have been out of the blogging world a long time ago if we didn't have our small, but loyal, fan base.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Thome Appreciation Post

This is the first of about three "Appreciation Posts" I will be writing between now and this fall's conclusion of the How Youz Doin Baseball experiment.  This comes shortly after Monday's Jim Thome milestone, as he hit his 600th home run.  As Jason said in a comment the other night, does anyone care that the guy hit 600 home runs?  The answer is largely a "no."  But I care.

Most people don't care because 600 home runs isn't special anymore.  Apparently 3,000 hits, as long as it's accomplished by Derek Jeter, is special despite the fact that it's been accomplished nearly thirty times in baseball history.  Six hundred home runs is something that has been accomplished eight times.  Three of the seven hitters in front of Thome have had their legacies tarnished by performance-enhancing drugs, and due to the fact that these three guys, as well as one seemingly-legitimate guy (Griffey) have crossed the 600 mark in the past fiveish years, the meaning of the milestone has been watered down considerably.

You can thank Bud Selig, Donald Fehr, and their complicit attitude toward the performance-enhancing drug trade that is ongoing for the fact that 3,000 hits now gets you the Sports Illustrated cover and 600 home runs gets you a minor comment at the end of an unrelated blog post.  But this is not where I want to go with this.  I want to go in the following two directions with this post:  1) Thome's legacy in my eyes and where it should be in yours and 2) Whether you can "believe in" the legitimacy of Thome's 600 home runs as ones hit without the use of anabolic substances.  Why not go backwards?

2.  You can believe in Thome's legitimacy.  First of all, 600 home runs over the course of 21 years in the big leagues is conceivable, especially if you escape injuries (which Thome has largely done) and are built to be a power hitter (46 and Brady Anderson do not count).  It's thirty home runs a year, which is not really eye-popping.  Thome has never hit 60 home runs in a year (his career high is 52 at the age of 31, which makes sense if you're the size of a house), which I guess was the retrospective gold standard of "are you an obvious drug user."  Also, in times of expansion, you get a lot of pitchers who would otherwise be minor league pitchers - you know, guys like John Wasdin.  Thome played through two expansion periods in 1993 and in 1998, where there was a watered-down quality of pitching.  (You can see the same with the elite pitchers, and you'd probably see that happen even without steroids.)  Thome also played when a bunch of new ballparks made the home run cool again, including his own brand new ballpark in Cleveland.  He also got to enjoy a couple of seasons in Philadelphia's new joke ballpark where Coco Crisp can homer twice in one game.  Bottom line is, people can hit 600 home runs, and even if you weren't on steroids, 1992-2010 were prime years to do so for the two aforementioned reasons.  I believe in Jim Thome.

1.  Jim Thome's legacy for a lot of us, especially the ones reading from New England, is the legacy of someone who you shouldn't F with.  He is a guy who could hit a lot of home runs, deserved to get pitched around, and hit a lot of those home runs at opportune times for his team.  There was a weekend series when he was with Philadelphia and I was going to about fifteen graduation parties.  I'm pretty sure he hit more home runs than I attended parties (a moderate exaggeration), and he probably was responsible for six of the eight (only a slight exaggeration) blown saves the Red Sox had that weekend.  He did pretty much the same thing as a Cleveland Indian, and it never really changed from the point that I was nine years old and Cleveland was making a serious run for the best record in baseball, through the point that I was graduating high school and he was hitting fifteen home runs in a weekend, all the way through now where we're getting post cards reminding us of our first college reunion year.

It's easy for those of you in Boston to appreciate Tim Wakefield, because his longevity has been thrown in your face for about five years.  Same with New York and the Five Rings crew.  But there's been another constant over all of that time, and that's Jim Thome knocking balls 500 feet.  It's something that deserves an appreciation post.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Getting 6 Down To 5

The Yankees are currently using a 6-man rotation. I don't think it was ever planned this way, but Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes, to their credit, have pitched their way into making it happen. The Yankees have stated that they are going to get back down to 5. It as been reported that they might get creative in the way they make that happen - like skipping one of Colon/Garcia every time through the rotation to give them extra rest - and I would not be surprised if they end up going that route. But they also might go a more traditional route and simply remove someone from the rotation.

If they do, there are basically three sub-tiers within their rotation. The first - where you'd try to move mountains to make sure they got the ball every fifth day - is Sabathia. The second - established in the rotation - is Colon, Nova, and Garcia. That leaves the third - candidate for removal - to be Hughes and Burnett.

Make no mistake about it, I don't think Hughes is a candidate because of the way he's pitched. He struggled in those first three starts of the season, but since coming off the DL he's gotten increasingly better. He's 3-2 with an ERA just over 4.00 in 6 starts since coming off the DL. But his last 3 starts are 6 IP/2 ER, 6 IP/0 ER, and 6 IP/2 ER. Small sample size, but that's what you're looking for. The reason I think Hughes is in the mix to get bounced is because he's probably the best candidate to transition smoothly to a relief role, because he was so successful setting up Rivera for the 2009 Championship team. I don't necessarily agree with it, short term or long term. Short term - if they can get him going he might have the highest upside in terms of being that number 2 behind Sabathia that they need. Long term - I don't know if him not getting innings, especially as his season was already shortened, is a good thing. I suppose you could make the same argument to the contrary, that since he's not going to get his innings anyway this year he can pitch out of the bullpen and start fresh the next year. Either way, my guess is there's a chance he could find himself in the pen.

That brings us to one of the hot topics in New York right now, A.J. Burnett. Based purely on overall numbers - 8-9, 4.60 - he'd be the one to get bounced. But as Cashman urged everyone to do in his defense of Burnett over the weekend, you have to look inside those numbers. It's easy to take those black and white numbers and just blast him - as DV and many others like to. And that's fine. But to see what his value has been for this team - good or bad - we have to dig deeper.

When we do so, it's not quite as bad as it seems. Burnett has made 24 starts this year. In 15 of them (62.5%), he's allowed 3 earned runs or less. In 6 more (21 total, 87.5%), he's allowed 4 earned runs or less. Now hold on one second. In all but 3 of Burnett's starts this year, he's given his team a chance to win. You may not see that as enough for what he's getting paid, but at this point what he's getting paid is inconsequential in terms of what his role is. They have him, and they are paying him the money, and now they have to do what is best for the team based on performance only. And his performance hasn't been that bad. He is 8-9 because he has the 28th worst run support of any starter in the game. If he was, say, 12-7 - not at all inconceivable given the numbers above - this may not be as much of a conversation even if the ERA remained unchanged.

That said, there have only been 5 starts all year (21%) where Burnett has been dominant. While he has only had 3 stinkers (12.5%), the problem is it seems like he is always one pitch away from having one. A lot of his 3-4 run outings seem and feel worse than they are because, after going 5 scoreless, he'll give up 4 runs in the 6th and surrender the lead (exactly what happened in his last start, against the Angels). I used to be able to live with this inconsistency better, because of what Burnett would give you at the high end. That is, he'd give you some stinkers, but he'd also give you the games where it was over before it started because he was so dominant. While he's limited the stinkers, the dominant performances have also shrunk. Given that he always feels like he's one pitch away, and that his 3-4 run performances can feel a lot worse, it's tough to trust him.

Considering all of this information, there is no easy answer. I'd prefer to see Hughes in over Burnett, but I don't necessarily want Burnett out. I could even make the case that while I definitely prefer Garcia over Burnett in the regular season, I prefer Burnett over Garcia in the playoffs, should the Yankees get there, because Burnett has more of a chance to shut a good offense down. There's also the issue of whether or not Burnett, with his control problems, can even pitch out of the bullpen. At the same time, maybe his stuff plays up and he can pound the zone more with his 4-seamer in short stretches, and then use his nasty breaking ball more selectively. You get my point here, there's no easy answer.

I'll be honest, before digging into these numbers, the answer would have been pretty easy for me - Burnett. If I had to make the call, I'd still probably go with him because of how on the brink he often seems of imploding, even when pitching well. I think this is especially the case for the regular season, but again my concern would be if you remove him now it's tough to get him back physically and mentally for a potential big playoff start, and I might prefer him to Garcia in that scenario. So again, really not easy, especially after looking at those numbers.

Should be interesting to see what the Yankees end up doing. It will also be interesting to see how Burnett's start in Kansas City goes tonight.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Putting It Into Perspective

A week ago tonight, as I've mentioned a few times now, I wrote a post indicting David Ortiz for crying about his contract in the middle of a Red Sox/Yankees series.  I had some good points, and these good points do not go away by any stretch of the imagination:

1. I compared him to Lebron, because he was someone who in 2003-2004 was wildly popular, then started talking and got embroiled in some controversy, and now only select sycophants continue to blindly fawn over him.
2.  Whining to ESPNDeportes about his contract in the middle of a Yankees series with first place on the line is exceedingly unprofessional and suggests that his less-than-stellar (.213) performance in the four weeks before the Yankees series is a product of lack of focus.
3.  It reeked of Manny Ramirez when "gas is up and so am I", Nomar after he turned down the $15 million a year, and Johnny Damon talking contract ten minutes after the conclusion of the 2005 ALDS sweep.

However, the following things happened and that put things into perspective:

1.  Carlos Zambrano.  The Red Sox have had some problems of their own the last few years.  Last year it was Front AND Back.  This year it's Ortiz whining about his contract.  But the Red Sox do not have their ace acting like a loose cannon nonstop for the past several years, throwing at the Atlanta Braves, and cleaning out his locker.  We can talk about that as a REAL problem.  We can talk about the Dodgers' situation as a REAL problem.  Ortiz is child's play compared to this.

2.  He started hitting again.  Citing a .213 batting average over four weeks is not as compelling if those four weeks are followed up by a week where he hits .556, has an OPS of 1.747, and hits a double, three home runs, and records seven RBIs (exactly 1/3 of JD Drew's season-long total).  This is probably the best way to ensure a contract extension.

3.  Bob Ryan wrote a compelling article.  Ryan endorsed the re-signing of Ortiz for two years with a club option at $12 million per.  I would not go that high because no other team would conceivably do so.  I think Ortiz can be captured for 2/$20 because there is no market for aging DHes.  However, the point of the article that sticks in my head the most is the assertion that the player is going back to the way he was hitting in 2003.  He's not "hitting like a little bitch" (his term, not mine), but he's Adrian Gonzalezing around.  If they throw one in his wheelhouse, he's taking it 400.  If they're not throwing it in his wheelhouse, he goes with the pitch.  This is also the exact way he hit in 2007. 

In 2009 and 2010, Ortiz whined a lot about how he needed a power hitter in the lineup.  I thought it was crap because I thought (and still think) someone like Kevin Youkilis can suffice.  But when the squeaky wheel got his power hitter, look at this.  He can hit again.  Ryan is not always right, but his article in today's Globe was.  Perhaps when he was all alone as a power hitter in his own mind, he was pressing like Carl Crawford has done all season.  Whether he's ever baseball-referenced the 1998 or 1999 Yankees is kind of a moot point, as he apparently thought a team needs to have a 40-HR hitter to win, but the 2009 and 2010 seasons are over.  He's back to what he was doing.  Instead of crying to get his contract, he's hitting to get his contract.  Exactly the way it should be.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sacrilege

Brace yourselves, guys.  I'm gonna say something bad about Jed Williams.

I have serious doubts about his ability, even if he were to stay healthy for an entire baseball season, to be an everyday major league baseball player.

It is August 12th (Strike Day for those with Rain Man-level memory banks) and there are still two positional controversies in right field and shortstop.  Pat's all-time favorite Mariano killer Marco Scutaro has had the starting job for much of the season as he started with it, lost it when Lowrie hit .400 for a while, and then regained it when Lowrie got hurt.  Of course, JD doesn't play against lefties anymore, but he may have had his spot taken by a lefty RF in Reddick.  However, Reddick's career-long streakiness has called into question whether he can be an everyday player and replace Drew. 

Hate to say it, but you can say the same about Lowrie.

First of all, why does Lowrie hit left-handed, period?  I'm sure there are plenty of one-sided baseball players who have messed around from the other side in batting practice or in college, then revert back to hitting the natural way.  Lowrie should be one of those players.  Over his entire major league career, he has hit .218 lefty.  Think about that for a minute.  A .337 career hitter as a right-handed hitter, he hits .218.  Is it inconceivable that he could hit righties as a righty at a rate better than .218?  I'd hope so.

As far as consistency goes, though, he's just as streaky as Reddick's reputation is.  We can throw out 2009 completely, as he played about thirty games and hit under .200.  But we'll start with his rookie 2008 campaign.  Half of Lowrie's extra-base hits came in one torrent in August, and the rest of the time...eh.  In 2008, he hit .269 in 29 games, .373 in his next 17 games, and .193 for his last 34 games.  Is this something the Red Sox can count on?

Moving along to 2010, which was actually his most consistent season, he had two hot streaks and one cold.  His first 21 games, he hit .317.  His next eighteen, he hit .179 before getting it back together and hitting .364 for his last sixteen.  Which brings you to this year:  Since May 9, he's hit .202, which is offensive production you could probably get from friggin Jose Iglesias.

I'm sorry for the Jed Williams truth torpedoes here, but these are my concerns.  I guess when you're talking about your backup shortstop, there aren't too many other problems out there on a Friday morning.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Scouting Two Players Of Recent Interest

Two players' names have come up repeatedly in the last few weeks: C.C. Sabathia and Jacoby Ellsbury. I wanted to chime in on some of what I've seen. We'll start with Ellsbury.

People who have been reading this blog since 2007 know I was never overly impressed by Ellsbury as a prospect. Not because I didn't think he had tremendous tools, but because I thought he had too many holes in his game and didn't have the cerebral aspect of the game under control to the point where he could let his tools thrive.

For the first three full years of his Major League career, that analysis pretty much manifested itself to a T. Even in a decent 2009, he wasn't an impact player because you could get him out with hard stuff up in the zone and in, and soft stuff down in the zone and away. He posted below league average numbers in all three of those seasons, and at age 27 it looked like that was what he was. Robinson Cano is 11 months older than Ellsbury, so it was getting a little late for Ellsbury to be something else as he was already a year or two into what is typically considered the "prime" years.

But turn it around he has. A career 92 OPS+ player entering the season, Ellsbury has posted a fantastic 137+ so far this year. He's also flashing power relative to hsi position for the first time in his career. He's not just playing above average, he's playing great, a huge jump, and unusually late in his career to make such a jump. Why has he made the jump? In my opinion, it's because he no longer misses mistakes. Ellsbury is not one of those elite hitters who is going to hammer your best pitch. In fact, the two holes in his swing remain holes - you can still pound him with fastballs up and in because he's not strong enough to do anything with it, and you can still get him to reach and wave at stuff down and away (as Freddy Garcia showed all 3 times he faced Ellsbury on Sunday night).

But if you leave anything in the middle of the plate, he's going to hammer it. His double off the wall just left of center on Friday was a 2-seamer that Colon ran right back over the middle, and his homer on Saturday was a cutter from Sabathia that did the exact same thing. There is something to be said for this. Outside of the elite of the elite hitters in the game who can hit it and hit it hard no matter where it is, a lot of the "next level" guys make their living by not missing mistakes. This speaks to him making some adjustments on the cerebral front (although he's certainly not all the way there as he just does not lay off stuff down and the way, consistently expanding the zone, which is probably a big part of the reason he only has 31 walks, roughly one every 4 games, which is not good, even for a guy hitting .316). His pitch recognition appears to be plus, and when he gets his pitch he puts his swing on it. That is why he is flashing the increased power, which is really the main thing that has changed in his game. .316 is a nice batting average, but it's not wildly beyond what he's done before. He picked up 188 hits in 2009, and he won't be a ton above that unless he goes crazy the last few months, so that's not something we haven't seen before. The power is such an entity, and I think this is the reason for it.

On C.C., DV insists that this is a big deal. As I said the other day, I don't think it is unless it's in his head. Listen, we all know the numbers. C.C. has been, as he usually is, one of the five best pitchers in the game in 2011, and if you take out his numbers against the Sox he has probably been the best. He's 16-2 with a 2.11 against everybody else, and 0-4 with a 7.20 against the Sox.

So why isn't this a bigger deal? Because when you break it down by start, you see it's not like the Sox are all over him from the first pitch. In this last start, he gave most of it up in one inning, and he still struck out 6. In his start before that against the Sox, he went 6 scoreless allowing only 2 hits before having it unfold in the 7th on bloops to end all bloops. In his start before that against the Sox, he allowed 2 runs over 6 innings before allowing 4 runs in the 7th. In the start before that, his first against the Sox this season, he allowed 1 run over 5.2 innings, and you can do a lot worse than that in Fenway.

So across his first three starts, CC allowed 4 runs in the first 17.2 innings of those games. The big inning has got him, and listen the final result is all that matters. But if you only look at those final results, it's easier to say "the Sox are in his head" or something like that. If that were the case, I doubt he's dominate the first 6 innings of all but this last game.

Finally, C.C. is the kind of established pitcher that can turn these things in one start. The Sox aren't the first team to jump on him in a small sample size, I'm sure. What's more, in his first two years in pinstripes, he was 4-1 against the Sox with an ERA under 3 in 8 starts. The numbers this year aren't more important than the numbers last year, and vice versa. C.C. just needs to get them off his fastball (either by figuring out if he's tipping something or by simply mixing pitches even more than normal against them and then spotting the fastball).

After all, the Sox are the type of lefty-heavy team C.C. usually dominates. Lefties are hitting .200 off C.C. this year with 4 doubles, 1 triple, and 2 homers. 191 plate appearances against lefties, and they've picked up 7 extra base hits all season. I'm not sure about the rest, but I know the Sox have both homers (Gonzalez and Ellsbury) and at least one of the doubles (Crawford). That just doesn't add up. Could be a sample size thing, could be the fastball thing, could be something else. But C.C. is the kind of pitcher you trust to figure it out. Especially against a team for whom 5 of their best 7 hitters (Gonzalez, Ortiz, Ellsbury, Crawford, and Reddick - with Pedroia and Youkilis being the others) are lefties. If C.C. had more of a negative history with the Sox, then it would be a bigger cause for concern. But if you look at that history, the Sox have gone through periods of getting him (this isn't the first) and he's gone through periods of getting him. This isn't Beckett against the Yankees from 2006-2010 where he has a 5+ ERA over 5 seasons.

So for now, I don't think it's a huge cause for concern, and more of a start to start kind of thing. Obviously you'd feel better in his next start against the Sox if he had pitched well against them the last time, but that's how you're almost always going to feel. If that next start finally is that start, then this is no longer even a conversation. The sample size is bigger than these last four starts, and the data when you break down the starts isn't as bad as the final lines seem.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The It Factor Debate

First, a quick announcement:  Next week has historically been the week of the year where the best comments of the year come out.  I may re-post the two greatest hits that are currently occupying cubicle wall space, one from 2009 and one from 2010.

But I do want to address something that the Gunn mentioned during the series recap post two days ago, and that's whether the Red Sox have that "It" factor, some kind of intangible that makes you think they are the kind of team destined to not suck in the playoffs.  The 2004 Red Sox team had that starting in August, as did the 2003 team.  In my opinion, the 2007 Red Sox team did not.  The 2010 Red Sox did up until the series in San Francisco when the entire team got hurt, Buchholz pinch ran, and JD tried to ask out of the game after Buchholz pinch ran, prompting Francona to say "we just need a f***ing body out in right field."

Certain Patriots teams have, the championship Celtics team did, the 2009 Yankees did, and the 2011 Bruins inconsistently did, but obviously did when it mattered.

Something the Red Sox team has that the 2011 Bruins didn't have was superior talent over at least 28 teams in the league.  However, like the Bruins, this team has displayed some kind of "It Factor" on an inconsistent basis.  I can probably cite arguments on both sides.

No:
1.  The Switch:  I blame the 2-10 start on The Switch.  I blame the Pittsburgh/San Diego slump on The Switch.  But this team, as I said in a post about a month ago, sometimes turns it on and other times turns it off, playing sloppy, distracted, and bad baseball.  Sandwich series against SD and Pittsburgh because Philadelphia's coming up next?  I have no tolerance for that, because unless it's the NBA, the best of the best teams don't do that.
2.  "Yay." Just an exacerbation of the point illustrated above.  It's probably the first thing Pedroia has ever done that has rubbed me the wrong way.  We talked about it for a while on Tuesday, but I think any trivializing of first place is troubling.
3.  Contract-related distractions.  I still have the David Ortiz post in draft, but deemed it inappropriate after the guy raked last night.  I am troubled by his attitude, am cautious about Papelbon's, and worry about Crawford doing the Dan Uggla and continuing to press just to justify the dollars.  How about we just do a hitting streak instead.
4.  Personnel.  Every team has some sourpusses.  The Red Sox have a lot in Lackey, Bedard now, Jenks, and Drew. 
5.  Positional battles.  Will there be some awkward silences with the status of shortstop and right field STILL in flux on August 10th?  Only one of those four players would be okay with being benched and losing their position.

Yes:
1.  Certain wins.  Forget the walkoffs.  Games like last night's game (and there have been a few of them under these circumstances) are the ones that mean the most to me.  The fill-in starter was on the mound.  The team was tired emotionally and probably physically.  They clawed to an ugly win anyway.  Of course, the walkoffs are also factors.  And to answer some of yesterday's questions, yes, 10-2 does matter and CC matters more.
2.  Saltalamaggio, Aceves, and Reddick.  Three unlikely players are exceeding expectations dramatically after being left on certain scrap heaps.  Despite his one career loss, the Yankees gave up on Aceves.  Kalish had passed Reddick on the depth chart due to Reddick's inconsistency.  Salalamaggio had offensive problems, defensive problems, and mental problems.  And now they're right back on the impressive career tracks they were originally supposed to be on.  This is what Jeremy Hermida was SUPPOSED to be but wasn't.
3.  46's Inspiration.  Front AND back.  This guy is pissed about what happened and is on an "I Told You So" campaign.  I'm not faulting the player for that; I've been there before as well.
4.  Contract-related inspiration.  This is the flip side of the Papelbon and Ortiz problems.  They've both performed well except for Ortiz's last month.
5.  Turning negatives into positives.  The catcher controversy in May was responded to the right way.  The 2-10 controversy was responded to the right way.  This team could have turtled like the 2010 team did and like the Twins did.  The injury to Scutaro early?  Was turned into a positive.  The injury to Drew?  Has made the player completely expendible.  Benching Matsuzaka would have been a controversy; he instead got hurt and the team took off.  Even Lackey has responded well to a little bit of adversity.  Minimal feeling sorry for themselves with the Buchholz injury, just mobilizing and acquiring Bedard (for better or for worse).
6.  Winning for Wakefield.  This team seemed downright determined to not let the lead slip away during last night's game, because it's pretty obvious universally how much this player wants his 200 wins and his 193 Red Sox wins.  The way the sixth inning was played is evidence of it.  The way the seventh inning was played is further evidence.  And the way the last two Wakefield starts have been is even more.  They've almost felt like playoff games.

My conclusion:  The team has swagger that's been unmatched for a little while.  They just need to continue to have the switch on.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Missed Opportunity, But Not A Big One

One of the many things I will not miss when we no longer write this website is having to recap a Yankees/Red Sox weekend series the following week. We don't write on the weekends so it all goes into one post the following week and there is usually a lot to talk about, too much so for one post. Here's an attempt.

Going into the bottom of the 9th last night, either Rivera was going to get three outs before the Sox scored, or the Sox were going to score and extend the game or win right there. If he got those outs and the Yankees won, it would have cued the hyperbolic Yankees storylines. The Yankees own the Sox late in the season (They entered this series 27-14 against the Sox after August 1 since 2006). 1-8 doesnt matter, taking first place by winning a series at Fenway does. 67-34 against the rest of the baseball vs. 60-41 against the rest of the league is a bigger sample than the first 9head to head games.

Since the Sox won, it's their hyperbolic storylines. The Sox just LOOK like they are playing like they KNOW they are going to beat the Yankees. 10-2 says it all. Despite a one game lead in the standings, the Sox are just simply a better baseball team this year.

Seems like a lot of conclusions, no matter how the game turned out, for one half inning, right? Right. Marco Scutaro hitting a 260 foot pop fly that scrapes 15 foot up the monster certainly doesn't change much for me. And it sure wouldn't have changed much for me if Mariano Rivera had gotten those last three outs. It's one game, one series. That's likely exactly what Dustin Pedroia was referring to on Friday. These teams know that there are 50 games left and one game and a one game lead on August 7 isn't going to mean much in 7 weeks, no matter what the hyperbolic storylines are. If Mariano Rivera blowing a save is the Yankees biggest obstacle from winning two of three instead of losing two of three, that's an okay place to be. It would have been nice to take 2 out of 3, and it was a missed opportunity not to, but it's really not likely to have a big impact in the scheme of things. The Sox won the season series from the Yankees outright for the first time in 7 years, and that hasn't stopped them from having a lot of success in that time period. It's what these teams do from here, and it's what these teams do across 7 games if they get to and see each other in October.

On that front, I thought the interesting take away from this weekend was how these rosters are starting to shape up in terms of strenghts and weaknesses (especially in terms of a potential head-to-head matchup down the line).

The starting pitching is fascinating. On paper the Yankees should have the best starter and the Sox counter by having the next two before their is a fairly significant falloff in talent in both rotations so far in 2011. But what nobody talks about is that, with Buchholz out, the Yankees probably have the 4th and 5th best starters. After all, they won a Colon/Lester matchup and were a Rivera blown save away from winning a Garcia/Beckett matchup. Potential Games 3 and 4 could be very interesting. What this thing hinges on is obviously Sabathia. A lot of theories are flying around, but I don't think this is something that's in his head. It's four starts. He was 3-1 against the Sox with a near sub-2 ERA in 2009 and didn't lose a single game to them in 2010. This is purely conjecture, but I think the Sox may have something on his fastball. All but one hit on Saturday was off the fastball, and I remember a similar trend in previous starts this year. Maybe they have him tipping it. Because they have guys up their taking aggressive swings on fastballs, including lefties sending it for extra bases. And this is a guy who doesn't give up extra base hits to lefties at all, and a team that has maybe 1-2 true power hitters. If he's not tipping anything, then it's a matter of mixing it up more and making sure the fastball is down and to corners, because they are all over it. But I would not be surprised if he's tipping it, the contrast in his performance against them and against everyone else is too stark.

On that offensive front just mentioned, these are two different baseball teams. Playoff games swing on two things offensively: game changing homers and manufactured runs. Each team does one well and one not so well. The Sox have one player (Ortiz) in the Top 25 in homers, while the Yankees have two in the Top 4 and one of the games All-Time homerun leaders a week away from returning. The Sox hit a decent amount of homers as a team, but they don't really have a game-changing home run guy that you worry about hitting a homer every time up besides Ortiz, where the Yankees probably have 3. In a well-pitched game last night, the difference before the blown save was that the Yankees popped two solo homers, which sometimes is the only way you are going to beat a good starter. Conversely, the reason the save was blown and the game was ultimately won was because the Sox manufactured two runs (I'm not sure about intentionally walking a guy in Crawford with a .294 OBP, no matter how many groundball hits he had racked up in small sample, to get to a guy hitting .331 in Reddick, but what's done is done). This is something they do extremely well, especially late in games. This makes sense because they have a lot of high average guys. The Yankees do not have a lot of high average guys and do not manufacture runs well. Hence, as I said in my comment yesterday, the Yankees leaving men on 2nd and 3rd in every inning from the 3rd-6th, leaving the bases loaded in the 7th, and going 0-10 in RISP. The stats say they have the second best RISP average in baseball as a team, and I just don't know how. Beckett had one clean inning, and other than that the Yankees had baserunnres all over the place but couldn't get them in. I know the Sox had the same issue last night, but I think that is less consistently an issue for them.

Finally, the bullpen. This is one place where I think the Yankees have established an edge. I thought Girardi was brilliant in going to his bullpen aggressively Friday, and the Red Sox didn't touch them for 4.1 innings when all they needed was 1 run. The back end was similarly untouchable Sunday, and Scutaro's fly ball against Rivera of all people isn't going to change that, even though it did obviously cost the Yankees the game. The Sox have Bard and Papelbon, and the Yankees have Soriano, Robertson, and Rivera. It's a numbers game. With the way the five of these guys are pitching, the Yankees can shut a game down one inning earlier. In a playoff scenario, this is huge, especially with the uncertainty of the starting pitching after Sabathia, Lester, and Beckett.

On the one hand there's 10-2. On the other hand, despite spotting them that 10-2 and 8 games in the standings, the Sox have a one game lead on August 8. As long as that 10-2 isn't in the Yankees head - and they certainly didn't strike me as a team playing this weekend like something was in their head, rather they looked like a team ready to take 2 of 3 before their most consistent player did something he inconsistently does - 10-2 isn't going to mean anything the rest of the way. All that matters is that 1 game lead, and I agree with Bandi that the division matters. The Sox have been a much more consistent home/away team than usual this year, but their offense is more worrisome at home. In addition, that the Angles and Rays are hanging around just enough that the Wild Card is not a foregone conclusion, especially if these teams starting beating each other up in the divison. On that front, the Yankees have an important week coming up with 6 home games against the Angels and Rays. There's a lot of baseball to be played, and it should be a lot of fun. This is the best time of the regular season baseball calendar in my opinion.

Series Reaction Thread

Okay, I had a post drawn up, but don't find it to be extremely relevant in the wake of last night's game and what was overall a pretty entertaining series.  Many things to talk about, including...

-Lester's one bad inning and why, for a brief moment of time, he reverted to the pitcher we were all skeptical of back in 2007 with all the walks.
-Why CC Sabathia can run up the score on the entire league except for the Red Sox.  Is this a sample size thing?  Is it mental?  Is it scouting? 
-The lack of the ability to capitalize on the big innings in games 1 and 3 for both teams.  Haven't looked, but the RISP numbers can't be too good.
-Josh Reddick's walkoff or the professional hitting (including even 46's bunt, no matter how bad it was) that made it possible in the ninth.
-46's Hall of Fame credentials after going 3-12 (.250) in the series.
-Whether John Lackey (as proposed on sports radio yesterday) is, in fact, an effective pitcher despite all the flaws.  Guy's got ten wins.
-Whether first place matters.  Dustin Pedroia said after Friday that if they won on Saturday, they'd be back in first place, punctuated with a sarcastic "Yay." Not sure if that's the attitude I really like in there.

You know me, and you know that I'm going to blow up big-time on David Ortiz's over-the-weekend comments after hitting .209 or so over the past month.  But I can wait a day to do that.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

More Indictments of the Red Sox' Doctors

As Nick Cafardo wrote in a Globe mailbag today that the Red Sox may have known about the Buchholz stress fracture all along, I'm going to call BS on that.  If they had known, they would not have done this comeback/flat ground/DL/flat ground/mound/flat ground garbage.  The last two months have been cluelessness.  Let's not kid ourselves.  Okay, on to the continuation:

Lowrie's Mono:  The first week, he started feeling fatigued.  The second week, it was a "mystery illness."  The third week it was mono.  This one is twofold:  The first is that it was a mystery illness for a while.  Behind pregnancy, mono was the most commonly diagnosed "mystery" illness at college because people in their 20s get mono quite a bit.  Shouldn't take a week to do a blood test and figure that one out.  The second indictment here is that four months later he resumed baseball activities.  I've never had it, but I know that mono can F you pretty bad.  But four months?  Even the mono-recovery plan they had at Colby College was more aggressive than that. This one is probably the least heinous of the indictments here, but it definitely leaves you scratching your head a little bit.  Guy's in big business making a ton of money and helping a team get to the MLB playoffs, but he can't recover from mono in four months?  Makes you either question the treatment or question how long it took to diagnose it before it got really bad.

Lowell's Hip:  Alex Rodriguez had hip labral surgery on March 8 or 9, 2009.  He returned almost exactly two months later.  Mike Lowell played through a torn labrum in his hip starting in late June or early July, 2008.  He made it worse, and then had surgery.  In August, it was diagnosed as a hip flexor problem.  Seven weeks later, it was revealed it was a torn labrum.  There's nothing I can write here that I didn't already write about Mike Cameron two nights ago.  But it cost Lowell production for more or less a half of a season.  I'm sure the player didn't cooperate much, because he didn't want to be told not to play, but it's another fishy situation among many others.  If either this or Lowrie were just isolated incidents instead of incidents that come alongside eight others, they would be non-stories.

You can also say the same about Josh Beckett's back injury last year, which, similar to Buchholz this year, was diagnosed with varying degrees of severity throughout the 2010 season.  I cannot in good faith blame the doctors much about JD Drew's back in 2008, because I think that's a situation where the player just didn't want to play.  However...

Curt Schilling's Surgery:  This 2008 battle royale was the incident that first made me question the Sox' medical staff.  Schilling signed a one-year contract and passed all of the doctors' physicals.  He revealed in February that he needed shoulder surgery, citing a need to continue the rest of his life normally.  The doctors said child please to the surgery, telling the player to suck it up and play through it so he could play baseball at 40% capacity.  There was a long battle between the player and the doctors (similar to 46 and Matsuzaka), and the player ultimately got the surgery.  But these guys clearly do not care about these people's quality of life.  Didn't know we were talking about the NFL or WWE.  By the way, that $8 million in guaranteed money could have been saved if their physicals were a little more thorough.  That also probably would have saved some embarrassment when Mike Lowell failed a physical when the Sox were trying to trade him to Texas.  Nothing like lazy, perfunctory work.

Matsuzaka's Surgery:  This is 2011.  Tommy John surgery is no longer experimental.  Big leaguers and little leaguers alike are having it all the time.  The player had a torn UCL.  And the Red Sox' doctors wanted him to rehab his torn UCL.  Really?  You'd be more successful using duct tape like Dr. Pappas did in the 90s.  This was Schilling all over again, just so he could play a little bit of terrible baseball at 40%?  Sorry.  I'd rather have Wakefield, Miller, or Bedard.  The fact that the Red Sox started to go to battle over this is downright repulsive, and the fact that it came on the heels of Schilling, Lowell, Cameron, and the infamous Front AND Back incident just sheds more light on the fact that these guys just flat out aren't getting it done.

Time to get someone new.  Somebody has to take the fall for it.  This is a long rap sheet, even if you take out the relative softies of the Lowell, Beckett, Drew, and Lowrie situations.  This medical staff has been pugnacious on the regular.  And they've been wrong in each of these situations.  Their job is to ensure the health of the Boston Red Sox players.  And some of their behavior over the last 3-4 years has indicated they're not getting the job done.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Offense Not What It Used To Be

When I look at the Boston Red Sox, I have no idea how they score runs. None. I look at the names in their lineup and I see an offense I expect to be in the middle of baseball in runs scored. I think their lineup is closer to "stinks" than "elite". And this is a team that leads the Majors in runs scored. By 29 runs over the second ranking Yankees.

The reason for this is that I grew up dealing with Manny and Papi in their prime. I used do deal with Bill Mueller leading the league in batting while batting 9th. In 03/04, I would start counting outs the second the lineup go past Manny cleaning up, because I didn't want the lineup to turn over and get back to them for three innings. I cringed every time they swung the bat.

Now when I look at the Boston lineup I see one superstar, who doesn't remotely scare me as much as Manny and Papi in their prime. His stats may be near their realm, but the fear factor isn't. I see two more players providing excellent seasons at premium positions (Pedroia and Ellsbury), but the truth strength of their seasons is found relative to their positions, at least in comparison to how it used to be. .300+, 20-25 homer guys would have to take a number back then in those lineups, no matter what positions they played. Same can be said, to a lesser extent, of the catcher position. Then I see two more players having typically very good but nothing spectacular type seasons in Youkilis and Ortiz. The rest of the lineup stinks.

And listen, one of the things that got me thinking about this is the way the Yankees lineup looks without Rodriguez. Compared to those lineups of 5-6 years ago, this Yankee lineup just doesn't look as scary. And that's with Granderson and Teixeira going bananas, hitting as many homers between them as the Padres have as a team.

These teams may still be scoring runs. And they may be the two best offenses in baseball. But in terms of fear factor, and how the lineups look on paper, it's just not happening. Gonzalez is one of the best players in the game, and Pedroia and Youkilis crush the Yankees, but I feel like I'm sitting on a beach chair relaxed as could be compared to those Damon/Ortiz/Ramirez at-bats of half a decade ago.

Offense is not what it used to be, at least in terms of perception even if the numbers don't reflect it. And I much prefer it this way. Fear factor during the Red Sox half of the inning at bat is way down, even when they are scoring runs.

Leaked from Newport Beach, CA

The interns are working feverishly on this one while 46 hits walkoffs every night.



Too bad he's going to be high on his performance for the next week and will swing for the fences until roughly August 12th.

Five Indictments of the Red Sox' Doctors

Guess what - this is part one of a two-part series, because in their six-year reign of terror, there have been at least ten incidents tying Dr. Thomas Gill and his underlings in the Boston Red Sox' medical staff to lack of effectiveness.  The Clay Buchholz incident this year, when a suspected stress fracture went completely undiagnosed by these clowns for four freaking months, is the last straw for me.  This goes beyond the fact that I once called them for my own injury and the phone rang off the hook.  It's time for a senior thesis. 

These are in no particular order of severity; only in order of the ones I can easily remember.  The next post will go into the incidents I need to research more.  It's not unlikely that my volume of research could be in more depth than the time they took to figure out what was wrong with these multi-million-dollar human assets who need to be healthy to play good baseball.

1.  We Don't MRI Bruises.  I blame 46 about 60% for the crap that he went through last year.  Sore ribs do not require five years of heliotherapy in Arizona.  At least not in 2010 it doesn't.  But the quote "We Don't MRI Bruises" effectively sums up the Gill & Co era in Boston in one line.  Arrogant, lazy, and clearly ineffective.  I've heard the Red Sox were up 20% last year from John Henry.  You can't spend another $300 to MRI 46's back?  At what point is it okay to MRI his back?  After he misses two months?  Three?  Four?  Or not until he writes out note cards and reads them to Heidi Watney?  This medical staff is too stubborn, pompous, and pigheaded to "MRI bruises," but they will...

2.  MRI Both of Manny's Knees.  In July 2008, the Red Sox' Dominican outfielder decided it was time to perform his annual "don't feel like playing for a little while, so I'll fake an injury" stunt.  (If it sounds like I'm insinuating that the Red Sox have a white American outfielder who does the same thing but gets a fraction of the hate until this year, you're absolutely right!)  He was claiming that one of his knees was barking at him, but allegedly forgot which knee was hurting him on the way to the MRI exam.  So the Red Sox footed the bill for that extra MRI.  This incident in isolation is not that bad.  But it IS that bad when you are willing to MRI left and right, but are NOT willing to MRI, in 46's words, "front...AND back."

3.  Buchholz's back.  This one's fresh in my mind, and it's one of the most irresponsible of all this medical team's follies.  It's not like Gill and friends are in a private practice in Chisholm, Minnesota stuck in the year 1972 here.  It's 2011 and you're in freaking Boston.  Diagnose an injury.  I haven't been JDing in medical school the last seven years, but I cannot fathom an injury being undiagnosed and misdiagnosed so many freaking times.  It's also not like we're talking about some schmuck whose back isn't important.  It's not like we're talking about a marginal runner with a full time job and a sports hernia here.  Last year Buchholz emerged as one of the legitimately elite pitchers in baseball.  His presence would have been a pleasant reinforcement to the Red Sox, I don't know, maybe winning the World Series this year?  But because these guys absolutely SUCK at their jobs, the player's been jerked around from May until now, Andrew Miller has been pitching meaningful games, and the season rests on Erik Bedard's shoulders.  Fan-freaking-tastic.

4.  Mike Cameron's tenure as a member of the Boston Red Sox.  I've gone over this one a few times, because I had the same injury Cameron had (on only one side, however, while he had it on both).  A sports hernia is hard to diagnose, but once diagnosed, easy to treat.  Surgery, couple of weeks, start back up again.  The most painful part of my sports hernia AFTER I got the surgery was sitting on the couch high on Vicodin watching that prick from Canton make his decision to take his talents to second place in the NBA Finals.  Meanwhile, the Red Sox diagnosed Cameron's sports hernia in March, let him play center field like Lt. Dan Taylor (in other words, without any legs) for four months, and THEN, after the season was lost, give him the surgery.  When playing, he undoubtedly picked up bad habits and probably compensation injuries - all things that could have been avoided by getting surgery in March.  That's garbage.

5.  Dustin Pedroia's foot.  The real challenge would be to find an injury that has been handled appropriately by these guys.  After missing 44 games with a foot injury suffered in San Francisco, Pedroia came back for a two-game cameo in August.  He reaggravated the injury and never came back.  That's good, though.  Let's play a game called "F With The Injury That Cost Yao Ming His Career."  Tom Gill, you go first.  We're not talking about putting a player out there with sore ribs just to have him bellyflop in the outfield.  A completely different situation and one that was possibly handled worse than the 46 injury.  As you will recall, it took Pedroia a good eleven months to recover from the foot injury.  And these clowns thought he could come back after 44 games.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Yankees Starting Pitching Really Isn't That Good vs. The Yankees Need A Starting Pitcher

There are a few layers to this and I've been out of the game for a while, so bear with me. Let's start with some stats.

10-7, 3.14
10-7, 3.22
8-6, 3.30

The first player is Cliff Lee, the second player is Freddy Garcia, anbd the third player is Bartolo Colon. I'm not going to pretend like the peripherals are close, because they aren't. I'm also not saying that I'd prefer Garcia or Colon to Lee, because obviously I don't. But I'm also not pretending that these numbers don't exist in the context of AL vs. NL (making the latter two all the more impressive), and what I AM SAYING is that these numbers are close enough where you can make a comparison between Cliff Lee and Freddy Garcia/Bartolo Colon in 2011. We are 2/3 of the way through the season, and being able to make such comparisons is a good thing for the Yankees.

9th - where the Yankees 3.64 rotation ERA ranks in baseball. 20th - where Boston's 4.11 rotation ERA ranks in baseball. 1st - where the Yankees 3.08 bullpen ERA ranks in the AL. 6th - where Boston's 3.44 bullpen ERA ranks in the AL. These teams have the two best records in the AL and the 2nd and 3rd best in baseball, respectively. Boston is currently two games ahead of the Yankees despite - clearly - not getting the quality of pitching the Yankees are getting.

I use Boston as a measuring stick here because they have the best record in the league, and to this point they, along with the Yankees, are the class of the league. I have heard people say "the Yankees starting pitching really isn't that good" or "they don't have enough quality arms in the bullpen". If that's the case, what does that make everyone else's pitching?

Clearly, the Yankees starting pitching is good, even if the names don't impress you after Sabathia. So the question becomes, do the Yankees need a starting pitcher. This is a different question. You can have a good rotation and still need a starting pitcher. I have little doubt that the Yankees rotation, if it stays healthy, is enough to get them to one of the best 162 records in the game. They probably have the deepest rotation in the AL, as not many teams have someone who is 9-4 with a 4.01 (Nova) in his rookie season without a guaranteed rotation spot. What isn't as certain is do they have someone who you'd feel comfortable starting down 0-1, on the road, in Game 2 of the ALDS. That is where the "need" question/distiniction comes in.

The answer to that question, for me, is yes. The talk about the Yankees not having starting pitching is nonsense at this point. The conversation about them not having someone you can trust in that spot is a totally legitimate one. Is it possible that between Colon, Burnett, Garcia, Hughes, and Nova they could get someone to step up and pitch that game? Of course. But you certaintly aren't counting on it. And that is where the issue lies.

The flip side of that coin is I'm just not sure that player was available at the right cost this deadline. If this were the 2010 market, I would say the Yankees would have likely ended up with one of Lee, Oswalt, or Haren. They basically need Andy Pettitte, and Andy Pettitte wasn't available. DV ran through the list last week and yesterday, including Ubaldo, and it just doesn't seem like that guy was out there. At least not at the right price. So it's difficult to do that analysis and then get on the Yankees for not making that move.

You could make a case for Bedard, but I don't think he gives you anything beyond what the guys they already have offer. It would just increase the amount of "upside guys" they have behind Sabathia from 5 to 6, and while there is something to be said for strength in numbers (thus increasing the liklihood that one of them is going to pan out) there is only so far you can take that argument. I'm sure the Yankees would like to have 10 such guys but it isn't realistic. The Sox, with the uncertainty around Buchholz, needed Bedard far more than the Yankees needed him.

What the Yankees needed didn't seem to be out there at the non-waiver deadline. I would have liked for them to have added someone, but it's tough to add something that didn't seem to be there, so I certainly can't get on them for that. Now they have to see if they can use the waiver wire - something they can do with their financial might - to find that guy. It's also possible that the market will become more fluid over the course of the next four weeks. There has been a lot of parity this year, and a lot of teams are still hanging in, if only on the fringes. Chances are a number of those teams will drop out by the end of August, and might be more amenable to shedding some salary.

If that starting pitcher still doesn't appear, they will have to make due with what they've got. And what they've got is pretty good. It's not that the Yankees have bad starting pitching, it's that the way their roster is built they could really use a starter for the playoffs if they get there. But if they have to find one guy between Colon, Burnett, Garcia, Hughes, Nova, and now Banuelos (who was just promoted to Triple-A), at least they have a lot of guys to choose from, and they have a strong bullpen to lean on as well That's a lot of pitching, so if they can't get that one guy, at least they can throw the kitchen sink at you in a short series.