December 4th, 2007 → 11:17 am @ Seth Mnookin
Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been strangely quiet as of late – and that silence has continued even after my return from a glorious, two-and-a-half-week trip to Southeast Asia. (I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: nothing says romance like reading a bio of Pol Pot on your honeymoon.) I’ve avoid my usual laundry list of excuses.
I will, however, say this: I’ve always been reticent about jawing off when I have no real idea what I’m talking about…and such is the case with all of the sundry Santana trade permutations. I don’t mean the specifics of a possible trade — no one knows those except for Theo, Bill Smith, and Brian Cashman. I mean that I don’t know enough (and what’s more, haven’t done the work) to be able to make any kind of responsible or intelligent observations about whether this or that scenario makes sense. I don’t have the drilled-down numbers on Jacoby; I haven’t run the projections on Santana; I sure as hell don’t have any sense of what the pool of pitching talent is like in next few amateur drafts; I don’t know where else the Sox (or the Yankees) would spend that $130 mil or so it’ll likely take to lock up Santana…well, you get the idea. And even if I did have all of this info and even if I had done all of this work, I still would be so many light years behind where the Sox front office is in terms of brainpower, man hours spent hunched over spreadsheets, cumulative knowledge, and on and on, that it would be silly for me to start soapboxing about why this or that scenario makes sense.
Which leaves me with…emotion. Emotionally, I don’t want to lose Jacoby, and this is even after the wife grew besotted with him after a recent lunch they shared together. Emotionally, I’m in love with homegrown teams. Emotionally, I want to go into battle with a roster that includes four homegrown players (Youk, DP, Jed Lowrie, and Ellsbury), two guys that the Sox should rightly get credit for growing (Tek and Papi), and a couple of hired guns (JDD and Manny). Emotionally, I want Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz and Papelbon and Manny DC and yes, even Craig Hansen to round out a rotation that’ll be anchored by Beckett and Dice-K for the next half-decade or so. Emotionally, I’m nervous about paying a premium for a pitcher’s post-30 years. And, dare I say it, emotionally I find something a little, well, gross, about the prospect of the Sox going out and buying the best left-handed pitcher in the game to augment what’s arguably already the best rotation in baseball.
But the Sox front office doesn’t get paid to traffic in emotion – and thank goodness for that. Emotion would have ended up with Nomar and Pedro still collecting paychecks from Yawkey Way and, in all likelihood, with a 90-year championship drought.
At the moment — at 10:02 am on December 4 — it sounds as if the Sox are actually close to a deal, one that would keep Ellsbury in Boston and send Lester, Lowrie, and Coco to Minnesota. (Sigh. Coco. I still love the guy.) If it happens, it could be a great deal. And if it happens, it’ll be worth paying attention to what happens to Lowrie down the line. Plenty of times, those third names that no one has ever heard of end up turning into pretty good players. It was Lester, after all, who was headed to Texas four years ago as part of the aborted Manny for A-Rod deal…
Anyway, if that deal does go down, the Sox will have to be the pre-season favorites…through, say, 2010. As an NL exec told Jayson Stark, a rotation that consisted of Beckett, Dice-K, and Santana, to say nothing of Schilling and Clay “Oh No-No You Don’t” Buchholz, “might just be the best team in the history of the frigging universe.” It would also complicate Tito’s job. Seriously: which of these guys do you sit down to tell he’s going to be a fifth starter?
November 9th, 2007 → 9:54 am @ Seth Mnookin
I know…this is my second reference to the same Phil Collins album in a year and a half! Incredible. (Somehow, I didn’t make it to the Genesis reunion tour. I did see the Police last week at MSG. Not so good. But I digress.)
Anyway – I’m heading to Hong Kong. And Cambodia. And Vietnam. Not for an investigation into the state of semi-pro baseball in Asia; I’m actually heading out on my delayed honeymoon, which will keep me offline until after Thanksgiving… which means I won’t be able to opine on the Sox’s re-signing (or non-re-signing of Mike “Lunchpail” Lowell (nickname courtesy of reader Scott Laton), or on the anti-A Rod sweepstakes, or on Murray Chass’s ongoing effort to write the stupidest column in the history of the world. (Seriously – I have no idea where to even think about beginning with today’s effort. Every time I think he can’t get any dumber he writes something that impresses me anew.)
In the frenzy of planning, I also haven’t had a chance to congratulate the Gold Glove voters on getting at least one position right this year (Youk at first) or castigated them on ridiculously blowing what should have been a no-brainer (Coco in center). (Another aside: if, indeed, Coco ends up patrolling center for some other team next year, which wouldn’t surprise me, I will, as most of you likely know, be disappointed. I really love watching that little dude patrol the outfield…and I still think he made a huge difference this year. And I’m not just saying that because the wife had lunch with Jacoby yesterday and came away cooing about how “nice” and “smart” he is.) I also haven’t had a chance to voice my respect for the deal Curt took to stay in Boston. I know – anyone making $8 mil a year isn’t exactly roughing it – but Schill clearly could have made more on the open market. It’s rare these days that an athlete says “it’s not about the money” and means it; here was a situation in which one actually did. And despite my efforts to be clear-eyed about this whole business of baseball thing, I’m glad #38 will be retiring in Boston uni…and I hope when he gets elected into the Hall (and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no longer any real question as to whether he should make it) he’ll be wearing a Sox cap.
One last bit of housekeeping – any new commenters won’t be able to post until I get back. But by all means sign up and send those comments in; I’ll wade through them as soon as I pay my bills and get over my jetlag.
October 23rd, 2007 → 8:39 am @ Seth Mnookin
Several readers wrote in pointing out that Coco’s catch was, in fact, posted on the MLB site, although so far as I can tell you need to subscribe to the MLB postseason package to see it. Worth doing, though, for that alone.
And in case that’s not enough video highlight for one day, here’s JP’s latest audition for Alvin Ailey…
One more day till the fun begins.
October 22nd, 2007 → 10:33 am @ Seth Mnookin
2007 ALCS Stats
Player 1: .500 BA, .576 OBP, .929 SLG, 1.505 OPS, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 10 R, 1 2B
Player 2: .292 BA, .424 OBP, .542 SLG, .966 OPS, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 7 R, 3 2B
Player 3: .333 BA, .375 OBP, .519 SLG, .894 OPS, 1HR, 8 RBI, 3 R, 2 2B
Player 4: .409 BA, .563 OBP, .727 SLG, 1.290 OPS, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 1 2B, 5 R
It’s an enviable position to be in, for sure…but next weekend’s games in Colorado mean one of these big four thumpers is going to be riding the pine at any given point. If you were just taking a gander at these numbers, you’d figure either player 2 or player 3 would be the odd man out, right? That’d mean that you’d be benching either Papi (Player 2) or Lowell (Player 3). My guess is that player 1 – that’s Youk, for those of you who haven’t figured it out by now, with Manny being Player 4 – is going to be the odd man out, at least at the beginning of any given game, but there’ll be plenty of chances for him to get in (filling in after a pinch runner, defensive replacement, etc).
Just to be a mild contrarian, I think there’s a good argument to be made for Youk to be starting lineup, displacing the consensus ’07 MVP at third. Youk is a good hitter on a torrid streak, and worse hitters have stayed white hot at crucial times: Think Bellhornâ€šÃ„Ã®whom I would have named co-WS MVP along with Foulkeâ€šÃ„Ã®and his game-winning homer in Game 1 of the ’04 WS along with his .700 SLG/1.263 OPS, or Todd Walker with a line of .349, .400, .778, 1.178 OPS as 5 HRsâ€šÃ„Ã®out of 15 hits!â€šÃ„Ã®in the ’03 playoffs.
That’ll be one interesting thing to watch (along with the weather), when the Series gets to Denver next weekend. Another lineup development that should get some attention is situation in CF. I’ve been a fan of Coco’s all along, and the game-ending catch last night (I can’t find a pic or video clip, even in 101-page photo essay. Anyone else have any luck?) shows why. But Jacoby clearly is more comfortable at the plate, even if he’s not even close to comparable in center. (Check out the picture accompanying the story announcing that Jacoby would start Game 6 as evidence.) He’s good, to be sure…but we really have witnessed an historic defensive year from Covelli…if I was forced to decide, which, thank god, I’m not, I’d probably platoon them.
Lots of other things to discuss and mull over, of course, and hopefully we’ll all have time to do just that in the days to come. For now, congrats, folks. We’re going to the Series.
August 22nd, 2007 → 9:50 am @ Seth Mnookin
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):
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.
August 15th, 2007 → 9:12 am @ Seth Mnookin
Yeah, last weekend sucked. I mean, it really, really sucked. I had forgotten what a good, swift gut punch to the stomach felt like: on both Friday and Sunday, I went into the eighth totally sure the Sox would win. (I was once again reminded of the Celtics-Sixers game when Bird missed two free throws at the end of a game in Philly; the result was that the C’s lead remained at 2. Dr. J, naturally, hit and throw-up-a-prayer three to win the game.) Those blown saves, coupled with a still-sputtering offense, coupled with a Yankees team that seems incapable of losing…well, let’s just say even though I might pretend I like the excitement of a tight pennant race, I was really looking forward to nice, calm September.
So, to deal with all this, I took refuge, as I oft do, in the life of the mind…or, at least, the life of the procrastinator, and tried to figure out some lessons to take away from what will heretofore be referred to as the Great Gagne Massacre of 2007…
1. Gagne is still filthy; some of his 69 MPH curves last night looked downright unhittable. I’m not (that) worried about him not being a reliable 8th inning guy. No matter what, striking out the side is an impressive feat.
2. Speaking of a reliable 8th inning guy, I’m sure as shit glad that Okie from MuskaHokkaido is getting some rest. He needs it. (See: Proctor, Scott.) Despite the unfortunate results, last weekend’s — and last night’s — bullpen use by Tito made me glad, once again, that Torre ain’t in the Sox dugout. No team is going to succeed in the playoffs without a stable of relievers that can be relied upon, and if you want to rely on guys, you need to both keep them healthy and use them in enough situations to give them the confidence they can succeed when the game’s on the line.
3. Speaking of Torre, did anyone notice what Mariano has looked like the last few days? On Sunday, slow-and-steady Joe called on Mo to pitch an inning-plus for the ninth time this season. In the ninth, the great Panamanian One gave up two singles and a double, prompting Torre to come out to the mound to make sure the Greatest Postseason Closer in History (TM) wasn’t injured. Then, after throwing 30 pitches in that game, Mariano was called on again on Monday; not surprisingly, he gave up three singles in the ninth to allow the O’s to score the game’s tying run; if the O’s third-base coach hadn’t foolishly sent Mora home earlier in the inning, Baltimore would have gone into the bottom of the 9th with a 7-6 lead. That two-day sequence exemplifies Torre’s foolishness as well as anything: on one day, he’s worried he’s injured Riviera by riding him like an overworked hooker; a little more than 24 hours later, he throws him out there again.
4. Is there anyone else out there that would rather have Mike Lowell at the plate with the game on the line instead of Papi or Manny? (I know this is heresy, but I think right now, I might even prefer DP at the plate over the two Dominican sluggers. The world is a weird place.)
6. I also feel the man-love for Jon Lester.
That’s all for now. More on (He’s not Henry) Clay, among other topics, later…
July 12th, 2007 → 10:29 am @ Seth Mnookin
Some of you may have noticed that my postings have been a bit, well, nonexistent as of late. I won’t bore you with the vagaries of how I spend my days; suffice to say that I apologize. I’ll try to be better.
One thing I’ve especially wanted to do is provide some sort of midseason report card; if you regularly read the papers’ Sox coverage, it’s the type of thing you’ve been getting a lot of already. This is going to be a bit different; for one thing, I’m not going to evaluate each and every player (along with the manager, coaches, and members of the front office) — instead, I’ll just anoint the first half’s valedictorian. Another difference: it’s not going to be Okajima, or Beckett, or Lowell, or Youkilis, or even everyone’s favorite muppet, Pedroia.
Nope: it’s Coco Crisp, the man Tony Massarotti gave a D+ in his report card. Now, sure, a .322 OBP is not what anyone would want from someone who’s supposed to be a potent offensive weapon, to say nothing a .709 OPS. In fact, none of his offensive stats are anything to write home about (if, that is, we lived in a world in which people still wrote letters). There are signs, however, that he’s turning that around: he’s been on an absolute tear since the middle of June, and since that 3-HR series in Atlanta, he’s been arguably the Sox’s most potent offensive force.
But what’s made Crisp the first half’s MVP is what he’s doing on defense. This is something I’ve been paying attention to since May, when Bill James wrote that the Sox’s surge happened at precisely the same time that Coco became the best center fielder since Micky Mantle. As Bill wrote, “It seems to me that the BIGGEST factor in our teamâ€šÃ„Ã´s performance over the last week or so has been that Coco has been just unbelievable in center fieldâ€šÃ„Â¶heâ€šÃ„Ã´s just catching EVERYTHING that looks like it might be trouble. Thereâ€šÃ„Ã´s been no gap in right center, no gap in left center, nothing getting over his head and nothing has been landing in front of him.”
That stretch of defensive excellence didn’t let up, and there’s good reason to hope that Coco’s has discovered something (or made a Robert Johnsonesque deal with the devil) that’s allowed him to go from appearing lost to playing above virtually everyone else in baseball. This has been valuable for any number of reasons: first, and most obviously, because he’s saved a lot of hits. He’s also given the corner outfielders more freedom to cheat out. Finally — and this is crucial — he’s given pitchers the confidence to pitch to contact when need be; they know that if a ball is hit anywhere near to him, he’ll come up with it. My favorite example of this also came in that Atlanta series, when Hudson smoked a sinking line drive to left-center (an inning after Beckett had a shot of his own, incidentally). Coco seemed to materialize out of nowhere to snare the ball. It was a great play, obviously, but what was most telling was the fact that Alex Cora, playing shortstop, held up a congratulatory fist even before Coco had made the catch. That’s a kind of Bird-like confidence (I know the analogy isn’t exact). Afterwards, when Beckett told reporters he constantly had to re-evaluate which of CC’s catches were the most impressive, you got the sense that this is a guy who could be having a Lugo-like season at the plate and he’d still be valuable.
So there you have it. Call me crazy, but I’m handing Coco my 2007 first half MVP award. Congrats, you rascal you.