True fantasy baseball

September 28th, 2008 → 1:15 pm @

Let’s say the Mets and the Brewers both win — or lose — today, and there’s one final regular season game tomorrow. The game goes into extras, as it should. In the top of the 11th, one in the endless stream of ineffective Mets relievers plunks Corey Hart to give the Brewers a man on first, no outs. Rickie Weeks proceeds to dump a bloop single into right field; with a hit-and-run on, it’s first-and-third, no outs, and nothing but the Mets bullpen to keep the Milwaukee from being three outs away from the playoffs. Except…Hart is sent home. And he’s thrown out at the plate. And the Mets win on a Reyes walk-off.

Sound crazy? Only for those folks out there who didn’t watch then-Red Sox third base coach and current improbable Brewers manager Dale Sveum lead three Red Sox to getting gunned down at the plate by the Rays’ Rocco Baldelli in the course of one week in 2004 — including two in successive at-bats.

(For the record: I always thought Dale got a bad rap. Which doesn’t mean the above scenario wouldn’t be a fitting end to the ’08 regular season.)

Post Categories: 2008 Playoffs & 2008 Season & Brewers & Dale Sveum & Mets

The boo-boo tally: Boston vs the Bronx

September 24th, 2008 → 12:58 pm @

Well, folks, it’s official – for the first time since 1994, the Yankees won’t be playing October baseball. Whatever you think about New York, it was an impressive run.

The Sox, meanwhile, will be going to the playoffs for the fifth time in seven years since the Henry-Werner-Lucchino gang took over, a stretch that includes the most exciting baseball playoff series in history and two world championships. (Read all about it in Feeding the Monster, the only all-access to the team’s current management and the ’04-’05 seasons. It’s available at Amazon for only $10.20 – cheap! And, as always, personalized, inscribed copies are still available.)

Plenty will be written about all of the above, of course. What I want to do is take a quick look at accumulated boo boos of the 2008 campaign. Everyone from Hank Steinbrenner to the sad-sack fans I work with have been whining about all the injuries those fragile souls in the Bronx have had to endure, and, to be sure, there’s a long list. But has it been all that much worse than what the Sox have faced?

Let’s go to the numbers.

The Yankees DL list includes, most prominently, Posada, Wang, and Joba, with Posada and Wang missing most of the season. They’ve also had A-Rod, Matsui, Damon, Pettitte, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy on the 15-day list and Brian Bruney out for 60 days. And, of course, there’s Carl Pavano. (Hughes’ and Kennedy’s problems weren’t due to injuries as much as to ineffectiveness.)

The Sox, meanwhile, have had five of their six pre-season projected starters on the DL: Schilling was lost for the year before the season started, Colon was on the 60-day, Daisuke and Buccholz both did 15-day stints, and Beckett has been out of commission twice. (As far as pitching goes, Timlin also did two turns on the DL, but that might have helped the team more than anything else.) Offensively, Lowell has been sidelined twice, Lugo was lost for the season, and Ortiz and Drew both did their time. (Casey – twice – and Cora also got banged up enough to move off the active roster for stretches.) Oh yeah: they also had Manny mope his way out of town.

Is that worse than the Yankees? You could make a case either way; what’s certain is that the Yankees’ haven’t been snake-bitten to an unprecedented, or even all that unusual, degree. Ortiz has been considerably more hindered than A-Rod, and the Lowell-Drew injuries have been more lingering than anything the rest of New York’s offense had to deal with. Wang and Posada are obviously enormous losses, but the Sox’s rotation has had to deal with more injury-related interruptions than the Yankees. And Tek…well, yeah.

So why were the Sox wearing their champagne goggles last night while Girardi had the distinction of being the first Joe not to lead the Yanks to the playoffs in well over a decade? In a word (or three), home grown talent. But that’s a subject for another day.

Post Categories: 2008 Playoffs & 2008 Season & Hank Steinbrenner & Injuries & Red Sox & Yankees

Papelbon’s September stats and closer fatigue

September 16th, 2008 → 11:28 am @

In case you haven’t noticed, the Sox’s most enthusiastic dancer has hit a rough patch the last week or so. (Papelbon himself has noticed–and he’s noticed that Eck and TC have noticed over on NESN as well.) In fact, according to Nick Cafardo’s piece in today’s Globe, hitters have a .414 BAA for Paps since Aug 28, and he’s seen his ERA jump from 1.71 to 2.11.

What else has happened in that time? Papelbon has been used a lot, and used on consecutive days a lot – on Sept. 7, 8, and 9, and then again on the 13th and 14th.

This reminded me of an essay on closer fatigue in The Bill James Gold Mine 2008 that looks at Mariano and his use over the years. There are lots of variables, and Bill, being much smarter than I am, figures out all sorts of ways to parse thousands of games worth of data, but the take-away is essentially this: for the Yankees, the difference between a rested and a tired Mariano has been the difference between a 103 win season and a 93 win season.

Intuitively, this makes sense, and I assumed that if I went back and looked at Pap’s game logs for this year, I’d find data that mirrored what we’ve seen in the past week or so. I was wrong. From April through August, Papelbon pitched on consecutive days 13 times – and didn’t give up an earned run on the second day once. (Interestingly, on the first day of those pairs, he’s given up 4 ERs and 7 runs total, which translates into roughly 41 percent of his total runs and 36 percent of his earned runs in 22 percent of his games. (Keep in mind: This is pre-September stats only.))

Does this mean fatigue doesn’t have anything to do with Pap’s 6.0 September ERA, or his 1.83 WHIP? Well, no, not necessarily. If you dig a little deeper, you find that Papelbon entered September with 58 innings pitched, well over the 47.1 he’d amassed through August 31, 2007. In fact, Papelbon’s total innings last year, playoffs included, was only 69 innings, which is just five innings under where he is now. (In 2006, Pap pitched a total of 68 innings…and was shut down for the season after he gave up 2 hits and a run in a third of an inning on Sept. 1.)

I’ll be curious to see how Papelbon is used for the rest of the year. I, for one, was mildly surprised that he was brought in with 1 out and a man on in a 7-1 game back on Sept. 7, (although it’s true that he hadn’t pitched in six games at that point, and the 2 hits he gave up could have been as indicative of some rust as anything). And I’m obviously in favor of pretty much anything that keeps Mike Timlin out of all games in which the Sox are neither winning nor losing by a minimum of ten runs.

Post Categories: 2008 Season & Bill James & Closer fatigue & Jonathan Papelbon

Dear Jim Palmer: There is not an incendiary device at the end of my last name.

June 1st, 2008 → 5:36 pm @

Love, Jonathan Papelbon.

Post Categories: 2008 Season & Broadcasting & Jonathan Papelbon

Required Reading: U-L series on Sox farm system

March 30th, 2008 → 11:15 am @

Lord knows Boston sports fans have plenty of options when it comes to reading about Ye Olde Towne Team — I’d bet there’s more available information floating out there than about any other professional team in history. Much of the time, this means there’s a lot of redundant stories out there: the same Sox notes columns with the same quotes and the same observations.

A lot of the reason for that is systemic: if you’re covering the Sox beat and your game story is missing a quote that’s in every single competitor’s piece your editor is gonna be on your ass. It takes a lot of work, and a lot of smarts, to put together something that’s interesting, comprehensive, and new. That’s what makes Alex Speier’s new series in the New Hampshire Union-Leader so impressive (and enjoyable). It’s about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: the Sox player development system, the way the team has emphasized building–and keeping–young talent even when it means dealing with the wrath and scorn of the instant-gratification hoi polloi.

Today’s piece is the first in a six-part series. Those words–“first in a series”–usually serve as a cure to the most stubborn insomnia. Not this time. Do yourself a favor and skip the stories about Colon pitching the PawSox season opener and savor this instead. You’ll be glad you did.
(As an aside, Speier’s work also shows why the current evisceration of the country’s press corps so upsetting. Are there a lot of redundancies? Yes. But redundancies are necessary to make sure everything out there gets covered. Take the WMD controversy – it wasn’t the Times, or the Washington Post, that did the most important work when this story was in its early stages; it was Knight-Ridder’s Washington Bureau. A bureau that, along with Knight-Ridder itself, no longer exists.)

Post Categories: 2008 Season & Alex Speier & Sports Reporters

DirecTV, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

March 25th, 2008 → 6:53 am @

I’m visiting my in-laws on Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and I wake up at 5:30 to watch the game. I have the coffee all ready to go, my bowl of Cheerios in front of me, and nobody trying to snag the big leather recliner. I fire up the TV, flip through all the 800 other ESPNs, and get to ESPN2…where there is no reception. Not snow, not a blurry screen, not a fuzzy picture…nothing. After 25 minutes I get through to the nice folks at DTV and…they’re aware of the problem, and if it makes me feel any better, it’s happening everywhere in the country, but if I call back in a GODDAMN HOUR OR TWO they might have some more information.

I thought nothing could be worse than Cablevision. This is worse than Cablevision.

Oh, and, MLB Audio is “currently performing maintenance operations,” MLBTV is telling me that the Outer Banks of NC is apparently included in their blackout zone, and Dice-K is trying to remind everyone in Japan that he’s capable of throwing 180 pitches…without making it out of the sixth inning. Sigh.

Post Categories: 2008 Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka & DirecTV & Japan

Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be Yankees fans (The 2008 Maple Street Red Sox Annual, Part 2)

March 24th, 2008 → 12:47 pm @

This is the second half of my essay in this year’s Maple Street Press Red Sox Annual (published on conjunction with the good folks from Sons of Sam Horn), which is currently available for the low price of $12.99 (cheap!). For lots more inside dope on the Red Sox, circa 2000-2005, check out my New York Times bestseller Feeding the Monster, which you can get for the even lower price of $10.20 (cheap!). And, as always, it’s never too later to request your signed copy of FTM.

Overfeeding the Monster: Entitlement and the Evolution of Red Sox Nation (Part II)

I went to my first Yankees-Red Sox game in the late ’70s, back in the days when Jim Rice viewed a base-on-balls as an affront to his manhood and Fenway Park still had its neuroses-inducing troughs. Over the several decades, I discovered a multitude of reasons to hate the Yankees: they were from New York, they had unceremoniously stomped on the collective heart of Red Sox Nation too many times to count, and their fans were obnoxious, self-entitled, uninformed, drunken louts. In contrast were the Red Sox’s partisans. I took pride in the fact that we were a stoic, loyal, and intelligent bunch. It was an important part of my identity at the time.Those descriptions, like all stereotypes, stuck because they had more than a bit of truth to them. Which is why I worry about our–that is, Red Sox Nation–current collective identity. In the years following the ’04 World Championship run, I’ve had more than one non-Bostonian complain about Sox fans and how they were assuming the sort of Yankees-esque sense of entitlement I’d grown up despising. I argue with these malcontents, of course, and point to SoSH, and the impressive number of stat heads and literati that follow Ye Olde Town Team.

But emails from those “Red Sox fan for decade,” as well as more than a few of the callers to ‘EEI, and yes, some of us knights of the keyboard have made these defenses more halfhearted as of late. There are times when it seems as if an immensely unappealing, I-deserve-what-I-want-and-I-deserve- it-right-now myopia has replaced the Calvinistic resignation that RSN personified for so many long years. To take but one example: a Worcester Telegram columnist actually put his name to a piece that detailed the “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.” (The headline on that gem: “Epstein to blame for Boston’s downsizing.”) As any sentient being can tell you, Josh Beckett, at $10 mil per, has to be one of the biggest bargains in the game. Pedro Martinez, who played in five games last year while collecting his $13 million paycheck, is not.

That story, of course, was written back in 2006, when a lot of those former Boston stalwarts who were allowed to “escape” looked pretty good. Pedro posted a 2.82 ERA his first year wit the Mets. With Derek Lowe’s ERA during his first year with the Dodgers coming in at least a half-run lower than any Red Sox starter that year, it was easy to forget that DL had been one of the worst starters in all of baseball in 2004. Orlando Cabrera had more than four-times fewer errors than Edgar Renteria, the man signed to replace him. And during his first year with the Yankees, Johnny Damon’s 24 home runs were more than everyone on the Sox save for Manny and Ortiz.

But taking on the Pedro Martinez of 2005 meant also having him for 2006, 2007, and 2008. Instead, the Sox got Clay Buchholz, the guy who was chosen with the sandwich pick the Sox got in the ‘05 draft in compensation for Pedro’s departure. For anyone who doesn’t remember, Buchholz, who costs around $12,700,000 less than Pedro per year, pitched a no-hitter in his second Major League start. And one of the guys the Sox got with Cabrera’s compensation pick was a left-handed outfielder named Jacoby Ellsbury. Maybe you’ve heard of him?


Baseball–real, honest-to-goodness professional baseball–isn’t like fantasy leagues, or Bill Clinton’s golf games. You don’t get to fix your bad moves 24 hours later, and you don’t get mulligans. (“Hey, Bill? It’s Lou Gorman. That Larry Anderson for Bagwell deal? Yeah, we’d actually like to take that one back.”) The best you can do is work hard, figure out the best approach, and trust that, more times than not, that’ll pay off. As we’ve seen recently, a lot of the times it does. In 2007, David Ortiz came to the plate 667 times and reached base on 297 separate occasions, good for a .445 on-base percentage, tops in the league. Included in all those hundreds of plate appearances were 35 home runs and 52 doubles. Those gaudy stats aren’t news — Ortiz accomplishments since he arrived in Boston in 2003 have truly been historic, and he’ll go down as one of Boston’s all-time great sports heroes, up there with Williams, Orr, Bird, and Yaz.

Ortiz’s year-end line also included 16 double-plays, which means that more than a dozen times he was an utter failure at the plate. And, of course, a .445 OBP means he didn’t succeed more than half the time. That doesn’t take away from the overall impressiveness of his accomplishments, just as the team’s ill-conceived moves, poorly executed trades, or poor signings shouldn’t obscure the fact that the Sox have been the most successful team of the 21st century. (There have been a few screw-ups, such as the four-year, $40 million contract the Sox gave to Edgar Renteria; the three-year, $25 million deal for Matt Clement; the panicked re-acquisition of Doug Mirabelli at the beginning of ’06; and, yes, this past year’s mid-season trade for Gagne, a pitcher who did his best to single-handedly sink the Sox’s chances.)

I say this not in defense of the team’s front office or the guys in baseball ops; they’re doing just fine on their own. I say this because I want us–the media and the true fanatics and maybe even some of the pink-hat bandwagoners–to look at the big picture, to remember that life isn’t perfect, to keep in mind that sometimes it takes a little while for dividends to pay out. I say this because, more than anything, I don’t want us to turn into Yankees fans.

Post Categories: 2008 Season & Maple Street Press Annual & Yankees