Destiny’s children, pt 2: Reading the karmic tea leaves

October 3rd, 2007 → 10:52 am @

If I was both a Buddhist (note: I am not) and a betting man (not: I am not), I would put a whole pile of money down on the Cubs. Why? Because 2007 seems, fairly clearly, to be a sort of total eclipse year in the world of baseball.

Don’t believe me? Check it out:

* The Mets just suffered through the fifth biggest choke in baseball history – and that’s including both playoffs and regular season. The odds of the Mets missing the playoffs were 499-1. On the morning of September 13, New York’s NL team had a 99.8 chance of making the playoffs. You get the point. (The Sox, it will surprise no one to find out, play a role in four of the top nine spots: the ’86 WS, the ’86 ALCS, the ’04 ALCS, and the ’03 ALCS.)

* The Padres, meanwhile, suffered the tenth biggest collapse. They had three chances to clinch a spot in the playoffs. In two of those games they had the lead during the opposing team’s final at bat, and both times they had baseball’s all-time saves leader the mound…a man with a better save conversion rate than Mariano Rivera. In one of those games, the son of perhaps the Padres greatest player knocked in the winning run. The Padres manager knocked out one of his best players when trying to stop him from attacking a lunatic umpire. And, as if all that’s not enough, the home plate ump blew the call that scored the game’s final run.

* In order to win the Wild Card, the Colorado Rockies became the first team in the last 42 years to win at least 14 of their last 15 games, and only the third team since 1900. (The ’65 Dodgers and the ’60 Yankees are the other two.)

* Which means, yeah, the Colorado Rockies are in the playoffs. Think about that for a few minutes.

* Three of the eight teams in the playoffs (the Cubs, the Rockies, and the Phillies), had 41-40 records at the season’s halfway mark. The Yankees were 40-41.

* The Red Sox spent more days in first place (150) than any other team.

* There wasn’t a single “Manny’s demanding to be traded” story all year.

Yes, indeed, it’s been a strange year. There’s a big part of me that likes rooting for the best story, and that part of me will be rooting for a Sox-Cubs WS (at which point, of course, I’ll be rooting for a Sox victory). I’m also a sentimental bastard, and Josh Byrnes is one of my favorite people in all of baseball, so that part of me will be rooting for a Diamondbacks-Sox series, which’ll feature all sorts of delicious current Sox baseball ops vs. former Sox baseball ops storylines.

Anyway. Buckle up. And hope that the gods of the diamond aren’t Buddhists. (Unless, of course, you’re a Cubs fan.)

Post Categories: 2007 Playoffs & 2007 Season

The game’s on the line. Who do you want at the plate, Varitek or Drew?

September 16th, 2007 → 12:35 pm @

Two games at Fenway left me with one sleepless night, one satisfying TKO, nine hours of sitting on my ass in my wooden seats in Section 17, and one excruciating backache; seriously, I haven’t hurt this bad in a good long time.

It also left me a new appreciation with the strange plight of J.D. Drew. Drew had ten at-bats in the two games, going three for eight with three singles, two walks, and two RBIs. (He also reached base on an error.) He had some hard-hit balls that didn’t get through—a shot down the first-base line in the first inning of yesterday’s game stands out—and several critical at-bats: his six-pitch walk led off yesterday’s four-run, five-pitcher seventh inning, and his leadoff single in the ninth inning of Friday’s game made him the first Boston batter to reach base on a hit or a walk since the sixth inning. Think about that for a moment: after the Yankees’ seventh-inning blitzkrieg, the Yankees retired nine out of ten batters, which obviously includes Pedroia, Ortiz, Lowell, Youkilis, and Ellsbury (who struck out on three pitches to end the game). The only rays of hope were when Lowell reach on a passed-ball K in the eighth and when Drew singled off of Riviera to start the ninth.

All of which is fine and good; what struck me, however, was how many times Drew came to bat with two outs and men in scoring position. Take a quick guess. OK, time’s up. I bet not many of you guessed five. That’s right: fully fifty percent of the time, Drew was at the plate with two outs and RISP. Out of those five at bats, he was two-for-four with a walk (for you statheads, that’s an OBP of .600). And yet? Drew was the only member of the team I heard booed at Fenway. You know who didn’t get booed? The guy with the next highest number of two out at-bats with RISP: Cap’n Jason Varitek (rapidly becoming the Sox’s own Captain Intangibles—because, you know, he calls a great game even if he’s batting .253, is ahead of only Lugo and Crisp in OBP, and isn’t great at throwing out runners). Tek went 0-for-8 with a pair of walks in the series’ first two games. He came to the plate four times with 2 out and RISP and went 0-for-4 without ever getting the ball out of the infield. (In yesterday’s game, Tek grounded to first on two pitches with runners and second and third in the first and popped up to second on two pitches with the bases loaded in the third; at that point, Wang had walked the previous three batters, included the previous two on a total of 10 pitches.)

That’s not knocking Tek (although I wasn’t a fan of the four-year deal he got after the ’04 season, not so much because he was so overpaid but because it meant the Sox were committing to someone who increasingly seems overmatched at the plate through next season). It is trying to highlight just how hard things are for J.D. at the moment. He’s hitting the ball well, he’s getting on base consistently, he’s working walks, and the crowd still hates him. I know major leaguers are supposed to be immune to that sort of stuff. But it can’t help…

Post Categories: 2007 Season & J.D. Drew & Jason Varitek & Red Sox Fans & Yankees

The key to the Sox’s OF offense…J.D. Drew

September 12th, 2007 → 10:51 am @

Last night might not have been the smoothest game ever played, but man, it’s fun to watch those wild and wooly slugfests. Anyway, my favorite part about last night was JD’s line: three-for-four, an impressive solo homer, and a ten-pitch walk. I’m not entirely sure why I’m rooting so hard for him — after all, it’s not like a guy with a $70 million contract needs my sympathy — but I am. His recent clutch-failings notwithstanding, Drew’s September has looked much more like what the Sox brass (presumably) expected when they signed him to a five-year deal: a .296 average, a .432 OBP, a .519 slugging percentage, and a .951 OPS. You wouldn’t be crazy to look at his year-long stats (.259, .362, .393, .755) and view the last nine games as an anomaly; in fact, they’re more representative of a schizophrenic season: mediocre April, horrible May, fantastic June (.305, .404, .558, .962), shitty July. Thus far, September is the first month in which Drew is threatening to put up back-to-back appealing stats (August line: .289, .366, .422, .888). He’s done so pretty much under the radar, due to any number of factors, including but not limited to Manny’s absence, Ellsbury’s explosion, DP’s ROY push, Dice-K’s meltdown, the Yankees’ surge…well, you get the idea. Another thing about JD that’s gone (mostly) unnoticed is his defense — along with Crisp, he makes up the best right-center Red Sox defensive combo since, well, since Lynn-Dewey in the late ’70s.

If JD keeps up any facsimile of his recent performance, and if Manny isn’t checked out when he returns, the Sox are going to have an enviable outfield rotation, with three offensive forces (Man-Ram, JDD, and Jacoby), three good-to-great defensive players (Jacoby, Coco, JDD), two speed threats on the basepaths (Coco, Jacoby), and one complete enigma (Man-Ram)…

Post Categories: 2007 Season & J.D. Drew

Jacoby Ellsbury: we will be seeing you in October

September 6th, 2007 → 9:21 am @

Scratch everything I wrote below; that applies to the old rules. The new ones say that any player can replace any other player that’s on the DL…which means Ellsbury can (and I’m pretty confident will) replace either Clement or Donnelly. Thanks to the Union Leader‘s Alex Speier for the clarification (and to reader Lenny Harris for prompting my query). For anyone interested in how Manny’s return (and Ellsbury’s surge) will play out, check out Speier’s piece on that very subject. I’d be shocked if Ellsbury took any serious time away from Coco, who I continue to view as the best center fielder playing right now. Drew (despite also turning in impressive performances in right) wouldn’t surprise me quite as much…

There are lots and lots of arcane rules in baseball; the rules dictating playoff rosters aren’t even close to the weirdest or hardest to understand, but they’re what’s most relevant today…so in response to a query by reader Aaron Cohen, here’s my (undoubtedly insufficient) effort to explain just who can, and can’t, play come the playoffs.

The short answer is, only the 25 guys on the team’s active roster as of August 31, plus anyone who was on either the 15-day or 60-day DL on August 31…which would mean no Clay Buchholz, no Jon Lester, and no Jacoby Ellsbury. The longer answer is, well, almost anyone. Or at least anyone on the team’s 40-man roster.

Let’s back up. I can’t find anyplace that lists the team’s roster at as of last Friday, but I think it looked something like this, including guys on the DL:

Josh Beckett
Curt Schilling
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Tim Wakefield
Julian Tavarez
Jonathan Papelbon
Hideki Okajima
Eric Gagne
Mike Timlin
Manny Delcarmen
Kyle Snyder
Javier Lopez
Matt Clement (60-day DL)
Brendan Donnelly (60-day DL)

Kevin Youkilis (1B, 3B)
Eric Hinske (also can be listed as an outfielder)
Dustin Pedroia (2B)
Alex Cora (2B, SS)
Julio Lugo (SS)
Mike Lowell (3B)
David Ortiz (1B, DH)

Jason Varitek
Kevin Cash
Doug Mirabelli (15-day DL; activated on 9/1)

Manny Ramirez
Coco Crisp
J.D. Drew
Bobby Kielty

Since teams are allowed to replace anyone who is injured for the playoffs, that means that, assuming Clement and Donnelly remain out of action, the team has two pitching spots to play around with; both Lester and Buchholz are eligible for those spots (but, of course, that’d mean that one of the team’s 12-active roster pitchers would need to be left off).* There are also three catchers who are eligible for the team’s two catching spots.

You’ll notice that Ellsbury is not listed anywhere above, and since he’s not a catcher, that would seem to indicate his lack of availability for postseason play. This isn’t entirely true: if one of the five outfielders listed above (I’m including Hinske here, who can be listed as either a corner IF or an OF) gets hurt, or “hurt,” the team can use Ellsbury to fill his position. Barring an actual, season-ending injury, that makes Bobby Kielty the most likely candidate for a phantom pull/strain/etc. Now is that all clear?

(There’s more discussion of sundry roster rules in this Bradford Files post.)

* Playoff rosters can change series to series, a fact which is especially relevant when discussing someone like Buchholz, who is on a strict innings diet.

Post Categories: 2007 Playoffs & 2007 Season & Alex Speier & Clay Buchholz & Jacoby Ellsbury & Roster Rules

The ballad of Clay and Pedro

September 5th, 2007 → 10:48 am @

I tend to have inauspicious timing when it comes to taking time off: I was in North Carolina when the news broke that the Sox had won the Dice-K sweepstakes and I was getting married when Buchholz threw his no hitter. (Note: this does not mean that I will be on my honeymoon should the Sox make it to the World Series.) This deprived me of the chance to write many breathless posts about Buchholz’s composure, the fact that on a weekend in which Pedro returned to the mound for the first time in 11 months the most exciting baseball involving someone with “Pedro” in his name came from Dustin “DP” Pedroia, or how the past four-games have served as a good illustration of the Sox’s front office philosophy.

Actually, that last point can be illustrated in a way that will encapsulate everything else I wanted to talk about. There were a handful of mentions over the last several days about just how Buchholz happened to arrive in Boston: he was the chosen with the sandwich pick the Sox got in the ’05 draft after Pedro signed with the Mets. At the time, Pedro was hailed as the savior of the Mets; over the next two years, as the deficiencies in the Sox’s pitching became more and more apparent, Theo et al were excoriated for letting the most exciting pitcher, well, maybe ever, decamp for Queens; they were also excoriated for any number of other supposed sins. (To quote one example, chosen at random: “…there have been many bad decisions since [the World Series] – letting Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon escape to New York…Matt Clement, Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez, and the long-term contract for puzzling Josh Beckett, for starters,” from Phil O’Neill’s Worcester Telegram piece, “Epstein to blame for Boston’s downswing,” August 27. 2006.)

O’Neill, needless to say, didn’t revisit this topic over the weekend; nor has anyone else, as far as I can see. (I also haven’t seen O’Neill revisit his labeling the Beckett signing a “bad decision,” but I haven’t looked all that hard, either.) If you’re interested in just how horrendous Pedro’s three-year, $40-mil contract has been thus far, consider this comparison: since arriving at Shea, Pedro has started 54 games (and 354.7 innings) and gone 25-16 for a .610 winning percentage. Matt Clement, surely one of the Sox’s most disappointing signings of the last several years, has started 44 games (and thrown a total of 256.3 innings) and gone 18-11 for a .620 winning percentage. Put another way, Pedro’s been paid approximately $1.6 million per win and about $113,000 per inning; Clement has gotten a little less than $1.4 mil per win and about $98,000 per inning. I’m not pointing this out to illustrate how great Matt has been but how piss-poor Pedro has performed. (I’ll avoid getting into this too much, but I do feel compelled to point out the following: Pedro’s arm injuries could have been predicted; Clement getting nailed in the head with a ball traveling well over 100mph could not have been.)

As I was saying, pretty much all of this backstory has been ignored as Boston has reveled in the afterglow of Buchholz’s no-no…pretty much, but not entirely. Take Rob Neyer’s piece on ESPN, which I’m pointing out for reasons other than the fact that he very graciously refers to the ways in which Feeding the Monster addressed just these very issues in a section on the non-signing of Pedro in December of 2004. Neyer may be the only writer to lay out in plain English the implications of not overpaying Pedro many, many millions of dollars: “Because the Red Sox ‘lost’ Martinez to free agency, they were were awarded the 42nd pick in the 2005 draft, and they used that pick to draft Buchholz. So for the Red Sox, the Mets’ profligate offer to Martinez was a wonderful gift, and one that should keep on giving for a number of years.” Indeed. In fact, I’d bet Clay’s a gift we’ll all be talking about long after most folks have forgotten why he ever put on a Sox uni in the first place.

If you, too, want to deepen your understanding of everything happening in Red Sox Nationa and don’t yet have your copy of Feeding the Monster, the Boston Globe and New York Times bestseller that’s been called “Red Sox porn,” don’t delay: Now’s the perfect time to buy your copy (available from Amazon for only $10.20 (cheap)…and you can even get your copy inscribed with one of these free, signed, personalized bookplates. They’re really nice. Seriously: ask anyone you know who has one.

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Clay Buchholz & Pedro Martinez & Rob Neyer & Sports Reporters & Theo Epstein

Dice-K: Get screwed by the Sox offense, local press

August 23rd, 2007 → 4:22 pm @

St. PETERSBURG, Fla. — This certainly isn’t what the Red Sox expected when they shelled out $100 million, give or take a nickel, to obtain the services of Daisuke Matsuzaka.

They didn’t expect him to be 13-10, just three games over .500 on a team that is 25 games over. And they didn’t expect him to be 1-3 against the Devil Rays, the worst team in the AL East, especially when the rest of the Boston pitching staff is 8-1 against Tampa Bay.

But this is the 2007 reality of Dice-K, who still has lots of time left on his contract, and who has really pitched a bit better than that 13-10 record indicates.”

Sox leave ’em stranded
By Bill Balou
August 23, 2007
The Worcester Telegram & Gazette

“A bit better”? Let’s go to the tape.

D. Matsuzaka 2007 stats

IP: 170.0, tops on Red Sox, 9th in AL
K’s: 172, tops on Red Sox, 4th in AL (Kazmir, currently third with 176, has started one more game)
K/9: 9.11, tops among Red Sox starters, 3rd on team (trailing Papelbon and Gagne), 4th in AL*
WHIP: 1.16, 2nd among Sox starters, trailing Beckett’s 1.10, 15th in AL*
ERA: 3.76, 2nd among Sox starters, trailing Beckett’s 3.15, 16th in AL*

So on a team with the second best ERA (1st in AL), the 3rd best BAA (1st in AL), and the 5th most strikeouts (2nd in AL), Dice-K is, without a doubt, the team’s 2nd best starter (in addition to being an inning eater). I’d agree that this certainly isn’t what the Sox expected; in fact, I’d guess that they expected he’d end the year with something like 14 wins and an ERA hovering around 4.

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Sports Reporters

Me and Julio: the 2nd half drags on the offense (it’s not who you think)

August 22nd, 2007 → 9:50 am @

It’s been a curious season…to say the least. While I know I remain in the minority in claiming that thus far this season, Coco has been the team’s MVP — and as far as I’m concerned, it’s really not even that close — there are likely a much higher number of folks who share my sentiment that Hideki “Darkman” Okajima and Mike “Don’t Call it a Comeback” Lowell are the next two most valuable members of the Crimson Hose. (Why Okie and not Paps? Well, Papelbon was expected to dominate; Okie has saved the bullpen time and time again, and more than a few times has enabled JP to be in a position to get that save in the ninth. As for Lowell, well, he’s picked up an oddly anemic offense.)

But the fact that I consider a center fielder who was almost booed out of Boston a linchpin of the team doesn’t begin to describe the oddities we’re witnessing.To show you just how weird, here’s a quick pop quiz:

Who’s been he worst offensive player on the Sox since the All-Star break?

Nope, you guessed wrong.

And wrong again.

And wrong again.

The correct answer? Kevin Youkilis, who’s put up a .210 BA and a .653 OPS. The only other regular player that comes close to this level of ineptitude has been V-Tek, weighing in at .229 and .669. Here’s the rest of the starting nine (post AS-break only):

Papi: .326, .982
Man Ram: .302, .914
Lowell: .345, .901
DP: .338, .830
Julio “Down by the Schoolyard” Lugo: .326, .810
CC Rider: .290, .774
JDD: .271, .735

So what does this mean? Well, for one thing, it might mean that Youk — who’s been striking out and swinging at bad pitches more than I’ve seen in the past — was talking to himself more than Dustin when he warned of the exhausting rigors of a baseball season. (Seriously, can you imagine wind-up Pedroia ever running out of gas?)

It also shows something interesting about the nature of baseball fandom. My purely unscientific poll shows that some large majority of Sox fans view Julio as the biggest drag on the offense, followed by Coco and Drew; in fact, Lugo is handily topping Tek and Drew in a lot of offensive categories — including RBIs — and is only two ribbies behind Youk (61 to 63) even though he’s hit in the 1 or 9 spots 93 percent of the time; Tek, meanwhile, has gotten 81 percent of his ABs in the 7 spot; Youk has had 85 percent of his in the 2 or 5; and Drew has somehow racked up 73 percent in the five hole.

The moral of the story? If you’re gonna suck, do it in the latter half of the season. By that time, your numbers have been seared into folks brains, and your season-long averages won’t ever look truly atrocious. Maybe next year, Julio. Maybe next year.

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Coco Crisp & Hideki Okajima & J.D. Drew & Julio Lugo & Kevin Youkilis & Mike Lowell & Oblique references to Simon and Garfunkel songs