I don’t want to rain on the parade. But…

April 11th, 2007 → 9:54 am @

I was as impressed with Josh Beckett’s performance yesterday as anyway was. In fact, I was probably more impressed than people who were watching the game from the heated comfort of their own homes, because every eight-pitch, up-and-down inning he turned in seemed like a particular blessing to someone freezing his ass off in a wooden seat built for a guy who tops out at 140 lbs. But let’s wait a bit before we christen the Sox’s rotation as one likely to harken back to the glory days of the Orioles (for those of you younger fans out there, yes, the Orioles did have glory days) and post multiple 20-game winners. Beckett’s two starts this year have been against the Royals and a Mariners staff that’s been building snowmen for the past week. And he’s turned in precious few starts like this since moving north last year; indeed, as Jackie MacMullan inadvertently points out in her column today, Beckett’s moments of brilliance have come against less than prodigious lineups: there was last July’s four-hitter against the Royals, last September’s the-year’s-already-over six-hitter against the Twins, and yesterday’s game. I’m pretty certain Manny isn’t going to end the year with no home runs and a .280 slugging percentage. I’m also unconvinced that we’ve seen Beckett turn the page. Let’s see how he pitches when he gets in trouble, when he needs to rely on his off-speed stuff instead of having being able to play around with whatever he wants due to the freedom that comes with a 46-run lead.

Post Categories: 2007 Home Opener & Josh Beckett

Reader mail: Did Larry railroad the team into the Beckett trade?

December 7th, 2006 → 9:40 am @

Jenny — if that really is her name — raised a question in the Johnny Jesus post below. To wit:

“Seth, can you clarify the Josh Beckett deal for me? The way I understand what you wrote about it in the book, it was railroaded through by Lucchino in an attempt to shift media and fan attention away from internal problems in the wake of Theo’s resignation. This was done over the objection of several baseball ops guys, specifically Jed Hoyer. Given the close relationship between Jed and Theo and thus the probable similarity in their viewpoints, I have been assuming all year that had Theo still been GM, that trade would not have occurred. Is this your take? Every time I try to advance this view to others, they call me a ballwashing Theo apologist or something of that ilk. One sportswriter (Bill Madden?) even wrote in all seriousness that the trade was Theo’s fault because he was “in the building.” Some help here? I know it’s not Damon-related, but that section of the book was really self-explanatory.”

I’d say that’s an oversimplifaction, but an oversimplification that has some connection to what went down. I wrote in the book that “Hoyer, in constant communication with Epstein, had been wary about making the trade, but Lucchino had been eager to get it done”; I go on to quote someone with an ownership stake in the team to say that people with the long-term interests of the club were advocating holding off and people who wanted to shift focus away from the front office fiasco wanted it to go down.

And that’s all I said on the matter, out of both space concerns and because at the time I wrote that (back in April) it was unclear, to say the least, how that signing would turn out.* That certainly was true: Larry was the trade’s largest advocate; he got most of the credit; it occurred at a time when the daily headlines were full of “this is as bad as it has been since the days of the Duke” type stories. But there wasn’t a Larry camp that was completely gung-ho and a Jed-Ben-Theo camp that was completely opposed. Instead, it was more of a 60-40/40-60 deal, meaning those in favor of making it were in favor of it 60-40 and those opposed were opposed 40-60. What’s more, those opposed were more worried about Josh’s shoulder than anything else…and that turned out not to be much of a concern.

Hope that’s a little more clear.

* In speaking with a senior member of the baseball ops staff late in the season (i.e., well after the point at which it became clear that Beckett’s season wasn’t going to be all we’d hoped), said staff member said he wasn’t worried about Beckett’s long-term success because a. he’s young, b. he’s had big-time success before, and c. there’s a natural adjustment period for any young player. I don’t know as much about baseball as the baseball ops staff — to say the least — but I was concerned, and that was mainly because his fastball is as straight as John Wayne and he seemed perpetually concerned about throwing breaking stuff. But we’ll see.

Post Categories: Feeding the Monster reactions & Jed Hoyer & Josh Beckett & Larry Lucchino & Red Sox front office & Theo Epstein

More food for thought: the Rookie of the Year Awards

November 14th, 2006 → 10:52 am @

Yesterday, the Rookie of the Year awards were announced. In the AL, Jonathan Papelbon lost out to Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, which isn’t much of a surprise; Papelbon had a great year but also got injured, while Verlander will likely get some Cy Young consideration, pitched 118 more innings (186 to 68.3), and was a lychpin of a pennant-winning team’s rotation. (It’s interesting to note that Verlander was the second overall pick in 2004; Paps was taken in the fourth round of 2003.) Of course, that’s not all the Red Sox-related RoY news: former Sox prospect Hanley Ramirez won the NL’s award.

Hanley’s award isn’t going to dampen criticism of the front office. Ramirez, who was traded to the Marlins along with Anibal Sanchez for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, made $327,000 this year, while Sanchez made less; Lowell and Beckett combined made about $13 million more in combined salaries. I’ve relied on the Sox’s desire to both get younger and gain more flexibility as an argument in favor of all sorts of Red Sox moves (trading for Coco instead of finding a way to re-sign Johnny, for instance), and, on its face, this trade seems to be an example of the exact opposite strategy.

I’ve also argued that the unique pressures of playing in Boston make being a rookie in Florida a lot different from being a rookie on the Red Sox. Would Fenway have gone into revolt if Hanley had hit below the Mendoza line for a full month, as he did for the Marlins (.190 in June)? Would Ramirez, who hit .235 versus the AL East (12 for 51), had as much success playing in the exponentially more difficult American League? For that matter, would Sanchez, who twirled a no hitter, have had a breakout year?

In September, I took both sides of this argument on successive days. (Part one of that schizophrenic debate was an excuse to talk about the Sox’s scouting department, which has gone through a considerable makeover recently.) And today? Well…I’m not sure. I do think playing in Boston is unique; on the other hand, I also see merit in the argument that if a player can’t deal with some booing by the time he reaches the majors, he’s gonna have a tough time making it…an argument that more than one members of the Sox’s baseball ops office have made to me.

I still see the rationale for last winter’s trade, which at the time was said to be one of the difference-making moves of the offseason; I also remain resolute in my belief that whatever the Red Sox happen to be doing, they’re doing it for a good reason. (That said, the Beckett trade occurred during the peak of last year’s Theo’s-gone-the-Sox-are-in-total-turmoil period, which means that a) it’s hard to use it as being representative of what the baseball ops team would have done in a vacuum and b) the notion that the move was in part an effort to distract the locals from the controversy-du-jour has to be taken into consideration. I discuss this trade — and the various possibilities therein — in the book.) Still, the totality of the team’s moves — this trade, jettisoning Arroyo (and Andy Marte and Kelly Shoppach), losing out on Damon because of what likely was a lack of aggressiveness, undervaluing and overvaluing Doug Mirabelli in the same year — will need to be considered…at some point down the road.

And by down the road, I don’t mean next month. Pedro’s defection to the Mets is a perfect example of why it’s impossible (and sometimes dishonest) to make grand pronouncements about this or that trade or free-agent signing before the totality of the decision’s repercussions have been felt, which means, just like we’ll need to wait until 2007 to fully evaluate not re-signing Pedro (a decision which a looks pretty good right about now), we’ll need to wait until 2009 to make a full reckoning of this move.

That said, the early grades on this year’s Hot Stove moves would have to give the Yankees the edge, regardless of what happens with Matsuzaka: so far, New York has essentially gotten four pitchers for free: Chris Britton, who came to New York for the $4 million the Yankees would have had to pay to buy out Jaret Wright’s contract; and former Tigers pitching prospects Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan and Anthony Claggett, who will be outfitted in pinstripes after a smart option-and-trade of Gary Sheffield. (If the Tigers recent success in developing pitching talent is any indication, this could end up being a huge move a couple of years hence. And even if none of these three pan out, New York has restocked its minor league system.)

So, there you have it. A post without a clear argument on one side or the other. Like I said, food for thought.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Hanley Ramirez & Jonathan Papelbon & Josh Beckett & Red Sox ownership & Yankees

Cutting off your nose to spite your blogger

September 28th, 2006 → 9:04 am @

Look, Josh, I know it’s embarrassing to be outed as taking your pitching cues from me…but allowing the Devil Rays to blow open the game just to prove me wrong? That’s just childish. And now you’re going to need to live with your 5.01 ERA for the whole offseason.

That’s right: the $30 million dollar man finished his first year in Boston going 16-11 and an ERA that would get him bounced out of the starting rotations in a lot of teams. He topped 200 innings, sure…but man, some of those were brutal innings.

It wasn’t a good day around the rest of the league, either. At least for Sox fans. The Marlins, that other team from Florida, beat the Reds on the strength of 5 innings of two-run ball from former Sox pitching prospect Anibal Sanchez (bringing him to 10-3 on the season) and two home runs by former Sox shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez (one of which was an inside-the-park shot). In LA, former Red Sox playoff hero Derek Lowe won his seventh straight decision, bringing him into the league lead for wins (16); Lowe hasn’t lost since August 9. Oh, and former Sox All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra also rapped out three hits in the game, brining his average (.306) above every member of the Sox save for the MIA Manny Ramirez (.318). (Nomar also left the game because of lingering soreness from his strained oblique.) Finally, Pedro Martinez, the only former Sox player that virtually everyone in Boston wants to succeed, was rocked for the third straight time. Last night, Pedro didn’t make it out of the third inning, the second time this season he failed to record at least nine outs; previous to 2006, he’d gone 289 straight starts in which he lasted three innings or more, going back to 1996. That was the longest streak of 3-innings plus in eighty-seven years, since the Big Train did it for 313 starts from 1911 through 1919. Sure, this validates Boston’s decision not to give Pedro a four-year deal — right now it seems possible the Mets will end up paying him $52 million for a season and a half of regular season starts and 0 playoff games — but it hurts to see Pedro struggle so.

The good news — and yes, I’m reaching here — is that the Orioles are coming to town, and Baltimore’s one of the few teams that make the Sox look like they deserve that $120 million-plus payroll. And there’re three more games for Papi to add to his Red Sox-record 54 home runs.

Post Categories: David Ortiz & Josh Beckett & Pedro Martinez

It’s about time: Josh Beckett finally takes my advice

September 27th, 2006 → 5:50 pm @

For two-and-a-half months, I’ve been trying to tell Josh Beckett how to translate his remarkable skill into a remarkable record. I started back in mid-July, when I said that Josh needed to stop talking and start learning how to pitch. On August 4, I was even more forceful: “Beckett’s ego seems to be getting him in more trouble than anything else. As I’ve said before, the days of him being able to rear back and blow hitters away with his disturbingly straight fastball are over; this ain’t the NL East.” Finally, on August 20, I all but gave up, pointing out that in his previous nine starts, Beckett was posting an ERA of 6.83. That was immediately after his 5.2-inning, nine run, nine walk disaster of an outing against the Yankees. You remember that game, right?

Well, it seems as if Beckett’s finally listening to me, and all I can say is: it’s about time. I know bloggers have a reputation for sitting around in their bathrobes writing for a handful of similarly obsessed freaks, and I’m happy my work is helping to correct the record. For one thing, I work in my underwear. For another, at least two World Series MVPs are paying attention to what I’m saying (although I never did find out what Schilling thought of the book). Clearly there’s no other explanation for what’s happened to Beckett since that start versus the Yankees.

To wit: I said Beckett’s “ego was getting him in more trouble than anything else.” After the Yankees game, Beckett attributed his inconsistency to “stubborn stupidness.” If those two sentences were any closer Beckett would be nailed for outright plagiarism (and I could write about that, too).

And: since my August 20 post, Beckett, as the always-worth reading Alex Speier writes in today’s Union-Leader, has gone 3-2 with a 2.70 ERA and has coughed up just two homers over five starts; previous to that, he’d given up two or more homers in nine of his starts. As Speier points out, a big reason for that success is the fact that Beckett has begun focusing more on movement and location as opposed to velocity, using 92 or 93 MPH two-seamers that dive out of the zone instead of his ruler straight four-seamer that comes in at about 4 mph quicker…and leaves the park even faster than that.

(Beckett’s not the only uniformed member of the Sox to take my advice; Terry Francona finally seems to be listening to me. “He’s trying to be more of a pitcher,” Speier quotes Francona as saying inre: Beckett. That sounds an awful lot like my saying Beckett needs to “learn how to pitch,” doesn’t it? Francona previously said that I’d upset some people with my book; I’m glad he’s finally come around.)

(And: I know I’m throwing caution to the wind by posting this a couple of hours before Beckett’s start tonight against the Devil Rays; if he bombs, I’ll look like an ass. But think of smart I’ll look if he comes up aces again!)

Post Categories: Josh Beckett

The wonder of it all

September 22nd, 2006 → 11:48 am @

Yesterday afternoon, I took advantage of the fact that I’m in Boston for a few days to catch up with some folks at Fenway. The conversation, as it naturally does, ended up on David Ortiz; I expressed some concern for how he’d fare against Johan Santana, a.k.a. the left-handed Pedro Martinez, circa 1999. (Going into last night’s game, Ortiz was 0-6 with 3 Ks against JS.) Not to worry, I was told: Papi has gotten so good at recongizing change-ups — and not swinging at them — that he’ll just lay off those and wait for something he can hit.

He got that something with the first pitch he saw, showing once again the extent to which Ortiz has become a smart hitter and not just a good one. He’s almost Williams-esque in his desire to wait for his pitch. (OK, fine: not quite Williams-esque. But very good.) He’s Bird-esque is his ability to rise to the moment. And he remains a stone-cold pimp; when talking with the guy who caught his #51, he inquired as to whether the dude was married. Told he was not, Ortiz said he’d soon have two girlfriends. At least.

As an aside, the at-bat that resulted in Ortiz’s second homer of the night — in the seventh inning, off of Matt Guerrier — reminded me a little of the at-bat in the 14th inning of Game 5 of the ’04 ALCS…you know, the one where he had a walk-off single off of Esteban Loaiza. Loaiza got ahead of Ortiz early on, while Guerrier started Ortiz off with three balls, but after swinging through on 3-0, Ortiz fouled off four straight pitches before launching his rocket to deep center. In one game, we got to witness history and also were given a clinic in the ways in which Papi has improved as a hitter: he can handle lefties and he can spoil pitches until he gets one he can handle.

The frenzied adulation of last night is why Fenway’s remaining five games will be electric and exciting: every night (or afternoon), fans have a chance to witness history. (And to compute the chances you’ll get a free, personalized copy of Feeding the Monster by winning the Big Papi prediction contest. Ortiz’s HR+RBI total is currently 184, and there are nine games left…) Even the Boston media is treating the games themselves as if they’re sideshows; in today’s Globe writeup, the game is barely described; Ortiz, needless to say, is given plenty of ink.

(Speaking of games getting short shrift, Josh Beckett has seen two of his better pitching performances of the year be relegated to second fiddle status: his 7 innings of 2-run ball against the Mets was overshadowed by Pedro’s return to Fenway, and last night’s 8-inning shutout was more or less ignored b/c of Ortiz.)

Post Categories: David Ortiz & Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett’s line on the night: 6+ innings, 70 pitches, 4 hits, 1 run, 2BB, 3 Ks…

August 25th, 2006 → 1:06 am @

…and one bloody finger. The good news? Apparently this isn’t the result of Beckett’s (in)famous blister issues.

(Also? I really hate the Angels broadcasters. And because I don’t want to be a hypocrite, I’ll leave it at that.)

(And: If you only watch one highlight from last night’s game, it shouldn’t be Big Papi’s homer or Lil’ Papi striking out the last two batters of the game. It most definitely should be Mirabelli’s deke to nail Juan Rivera at the plate in the bottom of the 7th. When I wake up, I’ll still have this same shit-eating grin on my face.)

(Finally: there’s something so satisfying about a visiting stadium erupting in rabid cheers when the Sox pull out a nailbiter. Shoot, they should just bring “Dirty Water” on the road.)

Post Categories: Broadcasting & Doug Mirabelli & Jonathan Papelbon & Josh Beckett