Credit where credit’s due

October 30th, 2007 → 9:46 am @

Out of all players to have moved through Yawkey Way over the past four years, I’ve probably been hardest on Mike Timlin. It was exactly one year ago today that I bemoaned the Sox resigning the aged righthander; that came several months after I eviscerated Timlin for his performance in the ’06 Boston Massacre; then, just for good measure, I tried to bury the guy last May.

He came up big in the Series; in fact, despite playing a negligible role in Sox victories before Sunday night’s clincher, Timlin was, arguably, the Sox’s most reliable postseason reliever who’s not know for dancing around in his jock. He pitched a perfect 8th in Game 2 of the ALCS (otherwise known as the Gagne debacle) and added on another 1.1 perfect innings (with 2 Ks) in Game 3. That was it until Game 3 of the Series, when he finished up the sixth for Dice-K before giving up a pair of singles to start the seventh; “Darkman” proved his mortality by allowing those two to score when Holliday smacked his first pitch into dead center.

Then there was game 4. In the bottom of the seventh, the Sox were cruising—at least to the extent that a three-run lead can be considered cruising in Denver. After Mini Manny gave up a four-bagger and a single (sandwiched around a walk), the towel-waving Rockies fans had gotten back into the game…and then Timlin came in and notched two quick punchouts to end the inning. Okajima made things interesting in the eighth, but I’m half convinced that was just so Papelbon could have his moment in the spotlight…

So a tip of the cap, Mike. To borrow an overused phrase, you were a true pro. This fall, we were lucky to have you on the team.

Post Categories: 2007 World Series & Mike Timlin

Darkman and Gagne and Paps, oh my

August 2nd, 2007 → 10:18 am @

Despite the blatherings of some folks on sundry Yankee boards, Eric Gagne did not, as the entire world now knows, end up in the Bronx; instead, he now makes up a third of the best back-end bullpen in baseball. Lord knows we all love Papelbon, but there’ll definitely be days when it’ll be better for everyone to have Hideki “Darkman” Okajima or Eric “I can once again break Hefty trash bags with my fastball” Gagne on the mound. (Despite his recent disappearance, even Mike Timlin has been pitching well — much to my surprise.)

Plenty of ink has already been spilled about this deal, so I’ll keep my thoughts brief. To wit:

* Unlike many folks, I wasn’t overjoyed about this deal when I first heard it. Trading prospects for half-season rentals oftentimes doesn’t work out — the team giving up the young guns is more likely to be on the Bagwell-to-Houston side of things than the Tek-and-Lowe to Boston one. But — and this is a big, big, but — the Sox are going to get two compensatory draft picks if Gagne goes somewhere else in ’08 (and you can bet your ass Boras will make sure he closes in ’08 and beyond) b/c EG is a Type A free agent. (If that was all gibberish to you, here’s an explanation.)+ The Red Sox have developed among the best, if not the best, group of talent evaluators in baseball, and I’m 100 percent confident those two picks will be put to good use.

* Most crucially — to me, anyway — is the fact that this deal is a clear indication that Theo, Jed, John, Larry, and the rest of the Sox’s front office fully believes this team is good enough to win a championship. At last year’s trade deadline, the absence of any moves was justified, unconvincingly, by Theo crying poverty. He said that because there was no way he could go public with the truth: the ’06 Sox weren’t ever serious contenders and it didn’t make any sense whatsoever to sacrifice prospects (or cash) for a half-season rental just to appease some instant-gratification addicted fans. Gagne’s contract isn’t prohibitive, but Gabbard and Murphy are two legit prospects, the kind it’s only worth dealing if there’s a clear and obvious reason for the person coming over in return. The Sox shelled out a lot of money this offseason, and they’re still adding players. The last time we saw this kind of outlay? Before the ’04 season, when Theo & Co went all out to get Schill and Foulke on board.

* Another crucial aspect of this deal is the protection it gives to Red Sox arms. Tito has been excellent in his bullpen use this year; that said, Okajima has been in a lot of games and there have been times when Papelbon hasn’t been in enough games. (This is two sides of the same coin: the Sox are understandably worried about JP’s arm and want to keep him available whenever he might be needed, which has resulted in both other reliable guys getting thrown out there a lot and Papelbon not getting as much tune-up work as he would ideally have.) One more ace will make it a lot easier to mix and match in the 8th and 9th.

* Gabbard, as we all saw over the last month, has a chance to be a good major league pitcher, and lefty starters don’t grow on trees. That said, the Red Sox still have the best collection of young pitchers/rising prospects in the game: Papelbon, Lester, Delcarmen, David Pauley, Clay Buccholz (who some members of the Sox FO think is the best of them all). (Yes, Craig Hansen, he of 4.47 Pawtucket ERA, is not included on this list.) Likewise, Murphy will likely have a healthy major league career…but in addition to the still under-market salaries of Youk and Pedroia, the Sox had Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, and Jacob Ellsbury, a trio of promising (and occasionally mouth watering) 23-year-olds. This is the best example of the ruling philosophy I wrote about in Feeding the Monster (available from Amazon for $10.20 – cheap!): the Sox want to hoard prospects not only so they can develop their own talent, but also so they a) can control high impact players before they hit the open market precisely so they can afford to shell out big bucks to difference maker free agents, b) will have a deep enough reservoir of minor league talent to have available trade chips when they have a chance to land a crucial piece of the puzzle.

* The season, obviously, is still not over and there remain, obviously, some holes — most noticeably in right field. That said, if everything starts clicking at once, the ’07 Sox will be scary good. A fully healthy rotation of Beckett-Dice K-Schill-Wakefield-Lester and a back-end bullpen of Okie-Gagne-Paps has to be terrifying. (To put it another way, a starting five consisting of a fastballer with a 10-6 curve, someone who combines mid-90s heat with three other plus pitches (including a nasty change), a control and split-finger specialist, a knuckler, and a lefty…and a pen with a soft-throwing lefty with a baffling delivery, the man with the best change up of the last decade, and the original Baby Faced Assassin. That’s nasty.)

* At the beginning of the year, a member of the Sox FO told me he felt the team had had more difficulty putting together a bullpen than anything else. They finally seem to have figured it out, and now they look like geniuses. But they’re not — or at least they’re not because of the bullpen — and they weren’t morons because the pen didn’t work out in the past. Relievers, more than anyone else, are hard to predict. Obviously no one knew Okajima would be the Sox’s equivalent of K-Rod in ’02; if he, along with Joel “Wild Eyes” Pineiro, had both sucked ass, a lot of things would be different right now.

+ As Keith Law pointed out, we won’t know until the year if Gagne’s going to be a Type A FA, so the Sox actually aren’t guaranteed to two picks…but he’d need to pretty awful for that to happen.

Post Categories: and Mnookins & Denis Leary & Mel Gibson & Mike Timlin & Wrestlemania

Dice-K’s mediocre Saturday start…and this week’s readings

June 18th, 2007 → 12:16 pm @

Quick thoughts on this weekend’s Giants series, of which I attended games two and three:

* Saturday was most definitely not Dice-K’s best game of the season; it was, however, an illustration of one of my favorite themes: the need to consider process vs. results. At points he had trouble locating his curve; he went to three balls a number of times; and only threw seven frames of zeros because of a gift-wrapped strike zone. The sixth inning, in particular, was a classic example of what we’ve seen when Matsuzaka struggles: with Bonds up third, he walked a batter and gave up a hard single before K-ing Barry. Another hard hit liner by one of the Flying Molina Brothers was, fortunately, aimed directly at short. After that gift, Dice-K hit Nate Schierholtz — who has now amassed a total of 41 big league at bats — loading the bases. He then proceeded to walk in a run in a 1-0 game…or would have, anyway, if home plate umpire Charlie Reliford had had his eyes checked before the game. That’s not to say I didn’t like what I saw…but this game might have been a blowout had the Sox been playing an AL team.

* Terry Francona finally seems to have realized that you never want to pitch Mike Timlin in any game in which the Sox are winning or losing by less than five runs. (I pray I’m right on this one…)

* Manny’s two home runs were great to see, but even better was the authority with which he was swinging the bat. He was back to the showing off perhaps the most beautiful swing in the game. Historically, when he finds that swing, he doesn’t lose it for a while. Ortiz, on the other hand, still looks like he’s swinging from his heels too much, and he’s also beginning to look over anxious. Yesterday’s two ground-rule doubles were great, don’t get me wrong…but they weren’t the kind of majestic drives we’ve come to expect from Papi.
* JDD continues to miss badly on some pitches, but the balls he is hitting, he’s hit squarely and with authority. All season I’ve been a guy who’s preached patience with Drew; you don’t put up the kind of track record he does and suddenly forget how to play ball. Coco looks much more confident at the plate too, and he continues to play good-to-great center field. (Lugo is a whole other story; he looked desperate and confused.)

* Following Murray Chass’s logic, the fact that the Sox gained a game on the Yankees this weekend means they’ll end the season 35 games up. That, of course, won’t happen. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to think Boston’s lead will stay within the 5-9 game range through September, but it’s also not out of the realm of possibility to think it’s going to get much tighter down the line. Both of these teams are good. New York’s not half as bad as they were playing in May, and Boston’s not the historically great outfit their record indicated. If both teams stay healthy, it’s going to be an interesting — and hopefully fun — summer.


Want to hear me talk about all of this, and more? (And whatever else you want to know?) This is your lucky week: I have a series of readings/signings/q&a’s in Boston this week: tomorrow night (at the Boston Public Library, 6pm), Wednesday lunch hour (12:30, downtown Borders), Thursday night (Winchester’s Bookends, 7 pm), and Friday night (Porter Square Books, 7 pm). Don’t miss out.

Post Categories: Daisuke Matsuzaka & J.D. Drew & Manny Ramirez & Mike Timlin & Oblique references to the Byrds & Yankees

Please, god…not Timlin

May 18th, 2007 → 9:55 am @

Hideki “Darkman” Okajima continued his otherworldly run yesterday, prompting this valentine from Jackie MacMullan. I agree with pretty much everything in there — how can one not have a man-crush on the biggest HO on the team? — except for this shout out to Mike Timlin: “In other years, a prolonged stint for [Timlin] on the disabled list would have been a daily cause for angst, or at least some serious hand-wringing.” It’s not that I don’t like Timlin (although I don’t, particularly) or appreciate what he’s done for the Sox…it’s just that I’ve always thought re-signing Timlin was a mistake. He’s one of the few heart-attack inducing guys in the pen. If his absolute suckitude during last year’s Boston Massacre didn’t give evidence that there’s precious little gas left in his tank, the sheer idiocy of blaming the team’s offense for the Sox’s ’06 woes demonstrated he’s not, um, the team player he’s always been made out to be.
The only Timlin related cause of angst that I’ll have is when he comes off the disabled list. You know I’m right: if last night in the top of the ninth you heard the shuffling strains of “Black Betty” coming through Fenway’s PA…well, you would have been worried.

Post Categories: Hideki Okajima & Mike Timlin

For those of you who think I’m a shill for the Sox front office…

October 30th, 2006 → 8:19 pm @

…here’s a move I don’t get: the re-signing of Mike Timlin. I know the guy has been a stopgap these last few years, but that’s sort of like saying the 2000 election fiasco was a stopgap to a Bush presidency; all it really did was delay the inevitable. I also know, as the Sox took pains to point out in their press release, that Timlin had a 1.40 ERA before he went on the DL at the end of May.

But man, did he ever look like a guy who’d fallen off a cliff when he came back in June (and if a lingering injury caused him to suck that bad, shouldn’t he have stayed on the DL?). You could make a pretty decent argument that it was the sheer awfulness of Timlin that was the turning point in the Sox’s season, more than the absence of Varitek, more than the absence of Wakefield, more than the death of Nelson De La Rosa. (I know he didn’t die until last week, but c’mon: you all know he wasn’t able to focus his full karmic energy on Yawkey Way.) Starting just before the five-game bloodletting at the hands of the Yankees, Timlin single-handedly blew enough games to send the Sox well into second place. And there was also that little matter of him blaming the offense for the Sox’s problems. For those of you who mercifully managed to miss that, I’m not joking.

The arguments for keeping Mike on board are that he’s been a bargain for the four years he’s been in Boston; he’s pitched well — sometimes very well; relief pitching is both hard to come by and hard to predict; it’d put a strain on the clubhouse to lose yet another veteran (and besides, who would lead chapel?); and the $1 or $2 million he’ll cost the team is peanuts relative to a $125 million payroll.

The arguments against re-signing Timlin are that you don’t pay for past performance; he hasn’t pitched well in more than half a season, and when he wasn’t pitching well it sure looked like more than a flukey, post-injury type of deal; he’s shown he has the potentially put plenty of strain on the clubhouse if he is around; and every now and then you find someone like David Ortiz for $1 or $2 million.

(Please note: if Mike Timlin comes back and has a season more in line with ’03 and ’04 and less in line with the second half of ’06, I reserve the right to make like one of those paid sportswriters and act like he’s been my favorite player all along and that re-signing him was one of the front office’s most brilliant moves.)

Post Categories: Mike Timlin & Red Sox front office

Speaking of Alan Embree…

August 27th, 2006 → 1:47 am @

Oops: got a little carried away there. (And really, that wouldn’t be fair to Embree — by the end of his tenure with the Sox, he wasn’t pitching in high leverage situations.) So let’s just say it: Mike Timlin is sucking ass. In the last nine days, Timlin’s gone 4.1 innings, coughed up 7 earned runs, blown 2 saves, and picked up 2 losses. (Take a deep breath before you read this next sentence. Ready? Here goes.) If Timlin had done nothing more than hold the line in the last week-plus, the Sox would only be 2.5 games behind the Yankees in the East. (It’s only because I’ve been over this ground before that I’ll resist going back to drink from that well.) (Oh, and remember: be nice. Or at least polite. Ish.)

Post Categories: Mike Timlin

Mike Timlin: Instant karma’s gonna get you

August 21st, 2006 → 12:38 am @

Not that Mike Timlin’s a guy who believes in karma, but its been five days since Timlin decided to blame the team’s woes on an offense that’s scored the third most runs in baseball: “We’ve been throwing the ball really well. I’m not calling anybody out, but we haven’t scored a whole lot. We’re pitching well, we’re holding teams down, and they’re doing the same to us.”

Since then, Timlin has faced nine hitters. Seven have reached base, on two singles, two doubles, two walks, and a hit batsman. He’s inherited three runners; all of them scored. And he’s giving up five earned runs. Tonight he put two men on with three pitches.

I’m assuming that Timlin doesn’t spend a lot of time hanging out with Jason Lee. But if he did, I’d bet he’d be looking both ways before he crossed the street.

Post Categories: Karma & Mike Timlin