March 5th, 2009 → 1:06 pm @ Seth Mnookin
It’s been an eventful off-season: there’s the whole A-Rod ‘roid thing, the just-completed Manny negotiations, and the Yankees $800 trillion signing of Mark Texeria. In honor of all this, let’s–as Phil Lesh used to say–take a step back…and relive some moments from years gone by.
In honor of Scott Boras’s always-entertaining deal-making: an FTM excerpt about Johnny Damon’s dishonest decamping to the Yankees.
In honor of the ever-growing PED scandal: Bill James’s stance on steroids, the possibility of Jose Canseco being a great prophet, and the sheer lunacy of the MLB Players Association stance on drug testing.
And finally, in honor of the most entertaining third-basement playing today: the oft-overlooked connection between A-Rod and Jon Lester and the union’s stupidity vis-a-vis the 2003 A-Rod contract circus.
August 1st, 2008 → 10:40 am @ Seth Mnookin
Some quick thoughts on the biggest trade since…well, since as far back as I can remember. (This dwarfs the Nomar deal of four years ago. Dwarfs, I say!)
* After three straight years of 150+ games a season, Manny topped out at 130 and 133 in ’06 and ’07. In that time, he hit 1 HR per 17.3 ABs and had an RBI every 1.4 games; over 150 games, that comes out to 32 HRs and 107 RBIs. That’s an impressive season. It’s also significantly off what he was doing previous to that in Boston, when he averaged 1 HR per 15.3 ABs and an RBI every 1.15 games, which comes out to 36/130.
* His OPS last year was 120, the lowest since he played 91 games in Cleveland as a 22-year-old rookie. His slugging dipped to below .500 for the first time ever. This year, even at .529, it’s lower than any other season save for last year and his rookie campaign.
* Much of the commentary thus far has been along the lines of, “the Red Sox are a worse team today than they were yesterday. That’s true if you assume Manny’s in the game. As Peter Gammons pointed out recently, he’s shown a tendency to ask for some time off when the Sox are facing particularly tough pitchers: this year he’s sat against Verlander, Duchscherer, King Felix (twice), and Joba (twice). Against those four pitchers he’s 3/20 with 7 Ks and no extra-base hits. (Amazingly, he appears — at least according to ESPN — never to have faced Joba.)
* In 2006, Manny logged 28 DNPs over the last 36 games. At the beginning of that stretch, the Sox were 5.5 out. They finished the year 11 back and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002. That was the year, incidentally, that Papi broke the Sox’s all-time HR record, finishing the year with 54 round-trippers and 137 RBIs. There are those on the team that feel that Manny’s absence not only cost the Sox a shot at the playoffs but cost Ortiz the MVP award as well. I’m not one of them; I’m just throwing it out there.
Finally, despite the Sox’s valiant efforts to keep clubhouse disputers in the clubhouse, there are two incidents that couldn’t be hidden:
* On June 26, Manny shoved Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick to the ground when McCormick told him he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get him 16 tickets to an Astros game, shouting, “Just do your job.” Let me re-phrase: the 36-year-old Manny Ramirez, a professional athlete who is paid $20 million a year to lift weights and stay in shape, shoved the 64-year-old Jack McCormick, a traveling secretary who is paid to make sure the players make it on the team plane, to the ground.
* On June 5, Manny took a swipe at Youkilis in the team’s dugout…apparently because he didn’t like how seriously Youk took every at-bat.
On the flip side of things:
* If the Sox had been able to keep Manny on the field, they’d have gotten a draft-pick when Manny signed with another team in the offseason, and the Sox have a good track record of taking advantage of those compensation picks. (See: Buccholz, Clay and Martinez, Pedro.)
* Picking up the rest of Manny’s salary, giving up Hansen and Moss, and getting only Bay in return…well, it does seem like a lot. Even if Bay is signed for under $8 for next year.
There you have it. My somewhat random thoughts. Oh, one more:
* It’s going to be an interesting couple of months.
August 1st, 2008 → 9:38 am @ Seth Mnookin
Have you heard? Yeah – the Red Sox traded Manny. This may appear, at first blush, to be a near total refutation of my previous post, in which I accused Portfolio magazine of being full of crap for saying Manny wouldn’t be suiting up for the Crimson Hose next year.
In fact, it’s not…although I made the mistake of throwing in some opinions in a post that criticized another reporter as passing off an “experts” musings as if they were a reflection of what was going on inside the front office. (The difference here: I made the difference clear.) My beef, as I said, is that “neither I, nor Andrew Zimbalist [heretofore mentioned expert], nor Franz Lidz [author of said article], nor anyone else who isnâ€šÃ„Ã´t actually in the room has any idea whatâ€šÃ„Ã´s actually going on in the Soxâ€šÃ„Ã´s front office. To pretend any differently is, well, a load of crap.” It’s something we see again and again in sports reporting — one stray voice in the wilderness being quoted as if it represents a team’s view. We saw that being illustrated again and again (and again) over the last few days: just go back and look at how many reports cited a “senior level executive” or “a source close to the team” as saying a deal would not get done…or a deal with Florida was just awaiting Selig’s sign-off…or that the Sox would holding out for a package with a host of good young players.
July 25th, 2008 → 1:02 pm @ Seth Mnookin
This morning, Portfolio magazine — a Conde Nast business title, for those of you not living in the Manhattan media echo chamber – published a report with a juicy sub-hed: “Red Sox appear increasingly likely to let Ramirez go in 2009.” The magazine has had some buzz-worthy sports stories in the past, notably last year’s dispatch in which Franz Lidz gave the best evidence yet that George Steinbrenner is no longer all there (before this year’s golf-cart trip around the field during the All-Star Game, that is).
Lidz is the author of the magazine’s Manny column as well. Unfortunately, it amounts to — to further a metaphor that Lidz labors over in his lede — an overflowing toiletbowl full of crap. There’s a drawn out anecdote provided by a “prominent relief pitcher” about how Manny refuses to use toilet paper that sounds an awfully lot like similar tales peddled to me back when I was with the team in ’04 and ’05, except the way I heard it, the overflowing toilet was in a hotel room, not the clubhouse. There’s a quote from an anonymous “fuming” member of “the Red Sox hierarchy” saying that Manny is “totally passive-aggressive.” (It took an anonymous source to figure that one out?) And there’s a rehash of the much-discussed incident in which Manny watched three of Mo’s pitches sail by him for a called K to end the ninth of a tie game in the Bronx.
Besides that, the “evidence” Lidz marshals is a series of quotes from Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College professor. Zimbalist has done some good work on the economics of sports, and has become a particular thorn in Bud Selig’s side in regards to his frequent, and frequently spot-on, critiques of MLB’s contra-logical profit-sharing system. But to say that he “has a pretty good idea what the Sox are thinking” is ridiculous; he has no better an idea of what the Sox are thinking than any stat geek with a well-thumbed collection of Bill James Abstracts on his bookshelves. He might, in fact, have a worse idea; Zimbalist’s conclusion is, according to Lidz, based on his belief that the team got “burned” when they signed Schilling to an $8 million deal and Zimbalist’s conclusion that Manny is an “adequate, injury-prone left fielder” with diminished sentimental value. Then, for good measure, Lidz reminds readers that the Sox placed Manny on waivers back in 2003, citing that as one of the “numerous occasions” that the team has “tried to bid farewell to Ramirez.” That’s like saying John McCain won’t carry South Carolina in the fall because he lost the state to George Bush in the 2000 Republican primary.
Back in 2006, I spent some time explaining why Manny would likely remain with the Sox and unpacking the extent to which the market has changed since 2003; these days, with low-revenue teams collecting more money from the rest of the league, it’s not as easy to spend $20 million on an immediate impact player as it once was. And the Sox are not, as Lidz quotes Zimbalist as saying, “very cautious about signing older players,” nor are they convinced that “performance peaks at age 28.” (See: Drew, J.D., signed at age 31 to a five-year, $70 million deal in 2007.) They are cautious — but they’re also cautious about signing younger players. And considering that Manny’s first year in Boston came when he was 29, he’s shown that players on the so-called downside of their career can do pretty well; in his seven full seasons with the Sox, he’s average 36 HRs and 114 RBIs.
This doesn’t mean that the Sox will pick up Manny’s $20 million option for 2009.* I could make arguments that would support either position, but at the end of the day, neither I, nor Andrew Zimbalist, nor Franz Lidz, nor anyone else who isn’t actually in the room has any idea what’s actually going on in the Sox’s front office. To pretend any differently is, well, a load of crap.
* It is worth pointing out that Manny is fourth in the league in OBP, tied (with Youk) for fifth in OPS, and ninth in RBIs. It’s also worth noting that while the last month or so worth of shenanigans are frustrating, they’re nothing the Sox haven’t dealt with before. Are there better players making less money? Of course. Are there better players that will be available next year for a one-year deal for $20 million? Unlikely.
October 27th, 2007 → 12:14 pm @ Seth Mnookin
Way back on Monday, I raised the question of which of the big four batsâ€šÃ„Ã®Manny, Ortiz, Lowell, and Youkâ€šÃ„Ã®was going to be on the bench when the Series moved to Denver. In 2004, this wasn’t a problem; as Bob Ryan put it, your Aunt Ethel knew to start Ortiz over Millar and Malphabet. This year, not so easy. Sitting Youk, as Francona has announced he’s doing, is without a doubt the easiest way out; Lowell’s a veteran entering into free agency; Papi has fully earned his reputation as one of the best playoff performers ever; and Manny is, well, Manny.
But Youk is having one of those unconscious runs that deserves to play itself out. So what to do? The always insightful David Laurila made an interesting suggestion in a recent Baseball Prospectus piece: play Youk at short. Laurila brings up the ’68 Series as precedent, when Tigers manager Mayo Smith started centerfielder Mickey Stanley at short. Now granted, Stanley was filling in for Ray Oyler, a career .175 hitter who batted .135 in ’68; Lugo, for all his struggles, is a legitimate MLB hitter. But he’s not Youk, and he’s definitely not Youk when the Great Goateed Jew is on a hot streak.
There are good reasons not to do this; what’s disappointing is that outside of Laurila’s piece, the notion isn’t even being discussed. That’s indicative of the ways in which managing a baseball team has become more rote, which does leech a bit of the fun out of the game. At least for me, but I’ve always been someone who’s enjoyed a bit of bad craziness in his life.
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.
October 10th, 2007 → 3:29 pm @ Seth Mnookin
So writes Adam Robertson, who goes on to say, “I keep checking for updates and am always disappointed to see an old thread on there…a lot to get excited about right now.” (The rest of his note–”By the way, I read and really enjoyed both of your books”–warmed my heart.) Adam’s missive comes a day after Akiva Yasnyi was even more to the point: “It’s the postseason for god’s sake, blog a little.” And indeed, it’s been two days since the Yankees were sent packing, three days since the Sox swept the Angels for the second time in four years, five days since Manuel’s first-ever walk-off as a member of the Red Sox…and I haven’t written anything for a week. My excuse–too much to do, too little time to do it in–doesn’t cut it. I know. I’m sorry.
It is, unfortunately, true — honest. I haven’t even allowed myself to watch this season’s premier of the best show on television, and that unfortunate reality will keep me from writing anything too monumental (or at least anything that’d require hours or research). But there have been some thoughts swirling around in my muddled brain, and I’ll unload some about Game 2 here:
The Mrs. and I had the good fortune to be at Friday night’s game. Or most of it, anyway: despite leaving New York at 2:30 for what should have been a 3.5 hour drive, it took us a full seven hours to arrive in Boston, and we didn’t arrive at Fenway until the top of the third. That, it turns out, wasn’t such a bad thing: Most of Game 2 of the ALDS was pretty boring. Dice-K was off, and therefore not around for long. Neither the Sox nor the Angels put together any kind of real rally. There were no slap-your-head defensive gems. And Fenway was, for most of the night, slightly less electric than during a tight regular season game. (Example: the three mildly drunken guys sitting behind us had a lengthy conversation about MILF Island–Jack Donaghy‘s new NBC reality show with the tag line, “25 super-hot moms, 50 eighth graders, no rules”–and I followed along.) That all changed, obviously, in the ninth, when, as soon as it became clear that Ortiz was going to get a chance at the plate, everyone pretty much went apeshit. (Another quick observation: three years after the ’04 playoffs, the Sox are still playing “Lose Yourself” when they’re either tied or behind in the ninth. It is truly this generation’s “Eye of the Tiger.”)
That apeshitedness died down a little when K-Rod was ordered to give Ortiz an intentional pass, and not just because Senor Octubre wasn’t going to get a chance to add to his already jaw-dropping post-season legacy. It is because, as brilliant and majestic as Manny is, he doesn’t have much of a history of huge, late-in-the-game hits. (I was astounded when the Fenway scoreboard informed the hoi polloi that Manny had tied for the league lead in game-winning RBIs with 17…but only until I realized that a game-winning RBI can occur in the 2nd inning.) In fact, the man who still seems destined to break Lou Gehrig’s all-time grand-slam record had never had a walk off homer as a member of the Red Sox. (To put it another way: he has one less than Julio Lugo.)
That, of course, is no longer the case, which is cause enough for rejoicing. More exciting is the extent to which that ball was absolutely crushed. I’ve been at Fenway for almost 100 games over the past several years, and that was one of the three hardest hit balls I’ve seen. (The other two: another Manny bomb over the Wall and the rocket A-Rod launched off of Schilling in the ninth of the first game after the ’05 All-Star break.) It also was the type of swing that Manny unleashes when he is locked in and ready to roll, and I haven’t seen that happen since the waning days of 2005. (Indeed, I didn’t think the Sox had any real chance to go all the way that year, but I wanted to playoffs to go on as long as possible just so I could keep on watching him hit.)
Manny’s not the only one who seems dialed in, although Ortiz was pretty on the ball for all of last season. And having these two hitting at the same time is one of the things that, when it occurs, separates the Sox from other teams.
To be sure, they’re both going to be needed. If I wasn’t such a Sox partisan, I’d be tempted to say that the Indians are, pound for pound, the best team in baseball. I didn’t relish the idea of a Sox-Yankees ALCS not because I was scared of the Yankees but because as much as I relish beating New York, the whole Clash of the Titans thing is getting a bit tiresome. That said, I knew the Indians are a much better team. But not a perfect one, by any means, and the biggest weakness on their roster is Joe Borowski, one of those jokes of a closer who somehow amasses a large number of saves. If there’s been a team that good with a closer that imminently hittable, I don’t think I know what it is…