The J.D. Drew files: Fenway Fans Fail in Fall

October 27th, 2007 → 1:17 pm @

It was mid-September when I first pointed out that fans were booing Drew unfairly; he responded by going on a mini-tear for the rest of the month. He’s only heated up since then. In the last five games—the three elimination matches with Cleveland and the first two games of the Series—Drew has gone 9-for-17 with 8 RBIs, 5 runs, two doubles, and a homer. (That’s good for a line of .529 BA, .579 OBP, .842 SLG, 1.421 OPS.) And a good number of those hits have been important ones. There was, of course, the dagger through the heart grand slam against the Indians. There was also his line drive single into right field in Game Two which was the first hit of the game for the Sox and also set up the game’s first run.

And yet…and yet. Despite optimistic articles proclaiming Drew a fan-favorite, he was greeted was as many muffled boos as anything else during Game 1; his hits, meanwhile, seemed to inspire confusion as much as anything. (Slate’s John Swansburg noticed much the same thing during Game 2, which he happened to witness from the vantage point of my seats along the first-base line.) I obviously love the Red Sox; I also love Boston. Sox fans, however…well, let’s just say I don’t always love them quite so much.

Post Categories: 2007 World Series & J.D. Drew & Red Sox Fans

The game’s on the line. Who do you want at the plate, Varitek or Drew?

September 16th, 2007 → 12:35 pm @

Two games at Fenway left me with one sleepless night, one satisfying TKO, nine hours of sitting on my ass in my wooden seats in Section 17, and one excruciating backache; seriously, I haven’t hurt this bad in a good long time.

It also left me a new appreciation with the strange plight of J.D. Drew. Drew had ten at-bats in the two games, going three for eight with three singles, two walks, and two RBIs. (He also reached base on an error.) He had some hard-hit balls that didn’t get through—a shot down the first-base line in the first inning of yesterday’s game stands out—and several critical at-bats: his six-pitch walk led off yesterday’s four-run, five-pitcher seventh inning, and his leadoff single in the ninth inning of Friday’s game made him the first Boston batter to reach base on a hit or a walk since the sixth inning. Think about that for a moment: after the Yankees’ seventh-inning blitzkrieg, the Yankees retired nine out of ten batters, which obviously includes Pedroia, Ortiz, Lowell, Youkilis, and Ellsbury (who struck out on three pitches to end the game). The only rays of hope were when Lowell reach on a passed-ball K in the eighth and when Drew singled off of Riviera to start the ninth.

All of which is fine and good; what struck me, however, was how many times Drew came to bat with two outs and men in scoring position. Take a quick guess. OK, time’s up. I bet not many of you guessed five. That’s right: fully fifty percent of the time, Drew was at the plate with two outs and RISP. Out of those five at bats, he was two-for-four with a walk (for you statheads, that’s an OBP of .600). And yet? Drew was the only member of the team I heard booed at Fenway. You know who didn’t get booed? The guy with the next highest number of two out at-bats with RISP: Cap’n Jason Varitek (rapidly becoming the Sox’s own Captain Intangibles—because, you know, he calls a great game even if he’s batting .253, is ahead of only Lugo and Crisp in OBP, and isn’t great at throwing out runners). Tek went 0-for-8 with a pair of walks in the series’ first two games. He came to the plate four times with 2 out and RISP and went 0-for-4 without ever getting the ball out of the infield. (In yesterday’s game, Tek grounded to first on two pitches with runners and second and third in the first and popped up to second on two pitches with the bases loaded in the third; at that point, Wang had walked the previous three batters, included the previous two on a total of 10 pitches.)

That’s not knocking Tek (although I wasn’t a fan of the four-year deal he got after the ’04 season, not so much because he was so overpaid but because it meant the Sox were committing to someone who increasingly seems overmatched at the plate through next season). It is trying to highlight just how hard things are for J.D. at the moment. He’s hitting the ball well, he’s getting on base consistently, he’s working walks, and the crowd still hates him. I know major leaguers are supposed to be immune to that sort of stuff. But it can’t help…

Post Categories: 2007 Season & J.D. Drew & Jason Varitek & Red Sox Fans & Yankees

Putting it all into perspective…

June 14th, 2007 → 10:55 am @

Several readers have written in to ask me why I haven’t used Tuesday’s typically ill-informed Murray Chass column as an excuse to take some more swings at my favorite punching bag. The story, “A Chance of Yankee Thunder at Boston,” posited that the Yankees could overtake the Sox before the All-Star break: “At the rate at which the Yankees are slashing into Boston’s lead in the American League East, they will pass the Red Sox in the standings by July 4.” To give you a bit of perspective of just how stupid a comment like this is, the Yankees were cutting into the Sox’s lead during a stretch in which they were undefeated and the Sox were playing below .500. That’s like saying after a night after a Devil Rays victory that Tampa should be projected to win every single game from there on out.

But logic has never been Murray’s strong point…and, indeed, after dropping another game at Fenway last night, even the natives are getting restless. The Sox are 5-7 in May, while the Yankees are 10-2, and are winners of eight straight. That seemingly impregnable 14.5 games is at 8.5 games; a hearty figure that would be cause for celebration any other season but now seems like reason enough to start gnawing those fingernails. And, indeed, expect to see plenty of stories (and hear plenty of the-end-is-nigh segments on the radio) in the days to come. (An aside: how is it that sportswriters are never forced to explain why they proclaim a team invincible and deeply flawed within a period of several weeks…when nothing has changed except for the vagaries of a long season? But I digress.)

So here’s a short list of reasons not to worry…

* Just as Okajima was not going to finish the season with a .0001 ERA, the Yankees pitchers are not going to keep on performing this consistently well. I remain convinced that Clemens is a #3 AL starter, and nothing in his first start made me think any differently. Pettitte has been pitching above his level, and I’d expect Mussina to resemble the 5-inning mediocrity much more than I’d expect him to keep on looking like an ace, as he did last night.
* There are several trends that are unlikely to be sustained. Posada isn’t going to end the season looking like Ted Williams (just as Alex Cora wasn’t going to hit .400 all year…and Pedroia wasn’t going to end up at .200). Manny isn’t going to end the year having remade himself as a singles hitter. And JDD — who’s been among the MLB power leaders for the last half-decade — isn’t going to look this anemic all year, either. (By the same token, I’m assuming Abreu has actually turned a corner.)

* Even Boston’s pitching staff falters a bit — and they will — the rotation looks to be strong and deep enough to end the year pretty near the top of the heap.

* Even the worst teams go on tears. Three years ago, the Devil Rays won 12 in a row. (Granted, 11 of those were against the AAAA-NL, but still.) The Yankees are better than they looked for the first third of the season; they’re not this good. Their rotation is too old; too many key players are scuffed up (Damon) or about to enter exile (Giambi). The next three-and-a-half months aren’t going to be a cakewalk. But this isn’t going to be 1978 all over again, either.

So gnaw those fingernails. Just don’t reserve a spot on the Tobin. You’re much more likely to need to keep October free…


Want to hear me discuss this, and much, much more? Head down to NYC’s Professor Thoms tonight, where I’ll be reading, talking, signing books, and encouraging copious consumption of alcohol in the hopes that that’ll spur book sales…

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Feeding the Monster Readings & Red Sox & Red Sox Fans & Yankees

Pap to the pen: A good move?

March 23rd, 2007 → 11:37 am @

So much for Papelbon’s short-lived career as a starting pitcher: yesterday, as everyone living within 500 miles of Boston undoubtedly knows, Jonathan Papelbon was named the Sox’s 2007 closer. At first blush, it’s hard to argue with this decision: Papelbon, a fourth round pick in the ’03 draft, was, for 5/6’s of the ’06 season, the best closer in the league. And lord knows I’m glad we’re not going to be watching Mike Timlin jogging out of the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth.

The move, according to everyone from Papelbon himself to the ticket takers in Ft. Myers, came after Paps himself requested he return to the bullpen, which, on a certain level, makes the whole discussion of whether or not this is a good idea moot. (After all, when you have a young stud offering to fill the team’s most glaring hole, it’s hard to marshal a good reason to deny him his request.) But will Papelbon be more valuable coming on in the ninth than he would be if he’d taken the mound every fifth day? That’s a trickier question. There’s undoubtedly a big psychological boost that comes with having a lights-out flamethrower set to slam shut the door at the end of a game. But let’s say Julian Taverez — who’s more than a little nuts — fills the fifth starter role to the tune of, say, a .500 record and a 4.43 ERA. And, for arguments sake, let’s say Papelbon would have put up a 10-6 record with a 4.07 ERA.

Actually, that’s not arguments sake: that’s Papelbon’s and Tavarez’s PECOTA projections for the ’07 season. (You’ll need a Baseball Prospectus subscription to view those PECOTA links; for an explanation of just what PECOTA, or Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test, is all about, here’s BP’s PECOTA glossary and the PECOTA Wikipedia entry.) Those numbers are a bit off, because they’re assuming Papelbon would be in the starting rotation and rack up 147 innings, while Tavarez was projected to be in the pen and amass a mere 50 innings (and everything else being the same, more innings=more value). But those stats give Papelbon a 30.1 VORP (value above replacement player), worth 4.5 wins above replacement player; they give Taverez a 7.6 VORP, good for a 1.2 WORP.

Now let’s compare two closers from last year: Mariano Rivera and Todd Jones. Jones, finishing games for the pennant-winning Tigers, ended the year with 37 saves; Mo finished up with 34. But according to PECOTA, Mariano was a lot more valuable, with a 34.9 VORP, and a 7.1 WARP; Jones’s numbers were 12.2, and 3.2. (For those of you who are interested, PECOTA has Pap as more valuable than both of them, coming in at 38.6 and 7.3)

And this means what, exactly? Well, for one thing, it shows how mutable relief pitching can be. (Anyone who bets that Jones is likely to repeat his ’06 performance is likely to lose his money. Lest anyone forget, Joe Borowski looked like an elite reliever last year.) They also give an indication that Papelbon will be a more valuable closer than he will be a starter. But that doesn’t us a complete answer as to our question; for that, we’d need to subtract Tavarez’s value as a starter from Papelbon’s value as a starter and add that to Papelbon’s value as a closer subtracted from that of whomever would have been the closer (or closers) had Paps remained in the rotation. If that number ends up being positive, then Jonathan and the Sox made the right call; if it’s negative, they made the wrong one. (Actually, it’s even more complicated than that, because you’d need to figure out the PECOTA figures of the replacement closer(s) versus their PECOTAs when they’re not closing, and also predict the likelihood that Papelbon will get injured when starting versus reliever, and add in some projections as to whether Manny is more or less likely to be paying attention when his buddy Julian is on the mound, and then try to determine what Papelbon’s presence in the rotation would mean for, say, Lester and Clement, and finally throw in whether John Henry & Co. would be more or less likely to go after Clemens in each imaginary scenario…well, you get the idea.)

This, of course, is the type of hypothetical argument that takes place in a vacuum, and it’s the type of number-crunching exercise that makes Luddite’s like Murray Chass wince. But it’s interesting, and the fact that this kind of analysis is getting little (read: no) attention in what those kooky wingnuts in the blogosphere like to refer to as the MSM is indicative of the extent to which baseball reporting by the mass-market professionals lags behind baseball analysis by specialized writers and amateurs alike.

And to get back to the main point of this here post, it’s the absence of this type of discussion that helps show why precisely this is such a good move, numbers be damned. Even if Papelbon performed above expectations as a starter — say, 13-6, 3.60 — if the team’s closer(s) blew a handful of games, they’d be cries for blood. If, on the other hand, Tavarez goes 4-10 with a 4.79 ERA, there’ll be bitching about his performance…but precious little discussion as to whether the Sox made the wrong move by putting Papelbon back in the pen. Which means that Paps in the rotation has the potential to be huge distraction. And that would be bad for everyone.

In a couple of hours, I’ll offer up an historical example of just how distracting that type of situation can be. And — surprise! — Grady Little plays a central role in that tale.

(Update: the good folks over at SoSH have started a thread on the relative value of relievers versus starters thing; I’m about to run out so I haven’t had a chance to fully check it out, but it’s bound to be interesting.)

Post Categories: Jonathan Papelbon & Julian Tavarez & Red Sox Fans & Sosh & Sports Reporters & Statistics

And then, at 11:18, Dustin Pedroia took a piss

February 26th, 2007 → 4:34 pm @

Hey, guess what: Manny arrived at the Sox spring training site in Ft. Myers. Here’s proof.

And here’s proof that Boston is, without a doubt, the city most in need of some perspective of the relative importance of baseball. Since this morning, the Globe and the Herald have combined for 12, count em, 12 blog posts on the situation down in Florida.

Here are a rundown of the Globe‘s entries:

Manny’s Here
Ramirez Ready for Work
Manny in the Cages
“10 bucks for a haircut”
Q&A with Manny’s agent
Q&A transcript
Manny vs. Dice K
Dice-K’s session
Manic Monday

And the Herald‘s:

Manny’s in the Fort
Manny’s agent, not Manny, speaks
Dice-K update

Contrast that to the three dailies in New York. The Times* insofar as I can tell, doesn’t have a Yankees blog. The Daily News has posted eight Yankees blog entries in the past week, and that’s a week that’s included Mo’s talk of leaving New York, the Bernie Williams situation, and the A-Rod/Jeter clearing of the air. The two Post blogs total 11 entries in the past week: seven in Joel Sherman’s spring training diary and another four in the tabloid’s catch-all Bombers blog.

It’s a suffocating situation. Just ask David Wells, who recently told the Globe‘s Nick Cafardo:

“‘It was the worst. You go to a mall with your kids and you have people always wanting to take pictures. They should call it ‘Picturetown’ not ‘Beantown.’ … Listen, I know the people are Red Sox-friendly. They love the Red Sox. I understand that. They have to understand that when we’re not at the ballpark, we’re not subject to autographs and pictures and we need to be able to enjoy ourselves. I don’t think they see that and don’t get it.’

New York, where Wells spent four seasons, ‘is a cakewalk compared to Boston,’ he said. “But you know what? Boston is a great town. When I was playing against them, it was great coming in. Great stuff in that town. Great restaurants and nightlife. Historical stuff.

‘But you have to be able to deal with it. That’s why Manny [Ramírez] is always a little loopy — because he can’t do stuff. If you want to be subject to that kind of stuff, God bless you. But as you get older, you want to relax.'”

Relax? As a member of the Red Sox? Dude…get a grip.

* And, as reader TPIRman points out…I’m wrong about the lack of a Times baseball blog. (Shoot, it’s not like I’ve written a book about the Times or anything.) “Bats,” the Times blog, has two-dozen posts up from the past week; that covers the Mets, the Yankees, and the rest of MLB (including everything from Ichiro to Bonds). And, naturally, there are three posts dedicated to the Red Sox included in there.

Post Categories: 2007 Spring Training & David Wells & Manny Ramirez & Red Sox Fans & Sports Reporters

For $18 (to $25) million, is all this sturm und drang worth it?

December 13th, 2006 → 12:30 pm @

ESPN says that the Herald is reporting the Sox and Boras are about $3 million apart — the Sox are at $8 million per, Boras is asking for $11 million per — on a deal that’s supposed to be in the four-to-six year range. (I can’t find Michael Silverman’s Herald report — although the Globe is also acknowledging Silverman in its latest dispatch — or I’d link directly to that.) At the high end (in terms of years), that’s a differnce of about $18 million; if you add on the luxury tax and assume that’ll be somewhere around 40 percent of the Sox, the total figure is a bit over $25 million. At most, this should figure to be about 2.8% of the Red Sox’s annual payroll (if you include the luxury tax, although this would also add some money to the projected $150 million payroll…but whatever. You get the picture).

There are lots of ways you could look at this. The Sox, as many people are sure to point out if the deal falls apart, paid the Braves more than $3 million a year to take Edgar Renteria off their hands. Three million is about a third of what Matt Clement’s making a year. It’s approximatelty 20 percent of J.D. Drew’s annual salary. Etc.

All that’s all valid, but it’s also kind of besides the point. That kind of thinking can rapidly lead to profligacy. One of the Red Sox’s models has been to decide what a player’s worth and not pay above that amount; if you give everyone a couple of million bucks more than you think they deserve, you’ll end up with an out-of-control payroll. (The A-Rod deal, after all, fell apart over a similar amount of money. Well, a similar amount of money and Larry Lucchino’s squabbles with the players association. If you want to know more…yep, it’s in the book.

On the other hand, the marginal value of any one player to the Red Sox is potentially more than it is to a team like, say, the Royals…who are about as likely to make the playoffs as Paris Hilton is to win the Nobel Prize in physics. A win or two could be the difference between an October full of playoff games and an October full of finger-pointing. What’s more, the psychological impact of going all out on RSN is huge.

If Boras is really asking for $11 million at this point — and who knows if that’s truly the case; he was said to be asking for $15-$20 million per — then I think more than ever it’ll happen. But if it doesn’t, I’m not sure where the public’s reaction will fall; already Bob Ryan is saying the Sox should know what they were getting into while Nick Cafardo says Boras is batshit insane. (That’s not a direct quote.)

When this is all done with, I’ll have some more observations about Henry’s, Lucchino’s, and Epstein’s negotiating styles…at least as I observed them last year.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Red Sox Fans & Red Sox front office & Red Sox ownership & Scott Boras

D-Mat in the house…

November 16th, 2006 → 7:04 pm @

I’m at Fenway (because nothing gets me on the Acela quicker than a good Bob Lobel-hosted fundraiser)…and D-Mat* fever is already a full-on reality. As I walked down Yawkey Way, there were two cabs full of what I later learned were Japanese reporters…and Matsuzaka isn’t even in town yet. The security guards are talking about Matsuzaka, the front office folks not in Naples are buzzing; hell, Fenway hasn’t been this electric in November since 2003. (And we all know how that worked out.) For what’s it worth — almost nothing, mind you — the perception here (and among some members of the Fourth Estate) is that the Sox will end spending that $51.1 mil…because Matsuzaka will be part of a Schilling, Beckett, Papelbon, Wakefield rotation next year.

Anyway. This morning’s post resulted in some quick (and snappy) comments; a chunk of them were along the lines of “this doesn’t change the economic reality of the Red Sox vis a vis the Yankees.” On one level, that’s obviously true. If I spend $500 on a shirt, that purchase doesn’t make me any better off. What it does do is give the people the sense that I have enough economic security so that it’s not an issue if I want to spend $500 on a shirt. (Don’t worry: my much-maligned pink shirt cost nowhere near that much.) Offering up a $51 million posting fee doesn’t change the fact that the Yankees play in a much, much bigger market, nor does it change the fact that their revenue streams are much larger. It does mean it’ll be harder for the Sox to argue — as they did on this year’s trade deadline — that they didn’t make such and such a move because it they couldn’t afford to do so (even if that’s true).

And that — that appearance/perception/whatever — could very well become an issue…especially if/when the Sox struggle and what’s increasingly becomming an instant-gratification fan base gets a little blood lust. Two thousand and six was a rough one; what would it have been like if the Sox had claimed relative poverty after shelling out $51.1 mil for the right to negotiate with D-Mat?

That said, everything I know about this front office leads me to believe that neither this move, nor future moves, will be made in reaction to public perception, which is why I disagree with gary’s comments (“I think the theo was stung by the notion that he didn’t do enough at the trading deadline, and this is the result. But it doesn’t mean this isn’t a blip on the radar” and “if they had lost out to ny again, hell would have been the result”). It’s my firm belief that Theo wasn’t stung by what people did or didn’t think about what happened at this year’s trade deadline, just as it’s my firm belief that if the Sox make a move with the Yankees in mind, it won’t be because they’re worried about what the ‘EEI response will be to any given signing/non-signing.

* Boras-san has dubbed Matsuzaka D-Mat, presumably figuring that a first letter, first name-first three letters, last name label landed A-Rod $250 mil…so it has to be worth an extra mil or two a year, right?

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Red Sox Fans & Red Sox front office & Theo Epstein