Dear Mariano – I’m doing everything I can to work you into the ground. Love, Joe.

August 16th, 2007 → 10:36 am @

2006: Mariano Rivera shut down for most of September after experiencing elbow problems.

Spring training, 2007: Joe Torre says he’d prefer not to bring Rivera in to a game before the 9th inning to protect the 37-year-old reliever’s arm.

Rivera’s game logs since last Sunday:

August 12: 1.1 IP, 3H, 1R 1R 30 pitches. (For the ninth time this season, Mariano is asked to record more than 3 outs. He’s brought in in eighth with the Yankees on top by a score of 5-2, 2 out, and runners on first and second. He hits Ryan Garko with a pitch to load the bases before getting a force out to escape the inning. He starts the 9th with a 3 run lead and allows to singles and a double before recording a single out.)

August 13: Blown Save, 1.0 IP, 3H, 1R, 1R, 19 pitches. Gave up three singles in the 9th to allow the O’s to tie the game; Melvin Mora thrown out at plate to help snuff Baltimore’s rally.)

August 15: Blown Save*, Loss, 1.0, 3H, 3R, 3ER, 1HR, 27 pitches. (Brought in in a tie game in the tenth at home; gave up two doubles to start the inning and a home run on the fourth batter of the inning. Fourth HR of the season; he hasn’t topped 3 since 2001.)

You want more? OK: Taking out his rookie year, Mo’s opponent’s batting average, OBP, SLG, and OPS — all of which remain impressive — are the highest of his career’s. They’re also higher than Beckett’s, Okajima’s, and Papelbon’s. Even Manny D. has better numbers in everything except OPB, where Mo edges him, .290 to .294. His ERA stands at 3.46; it hasn’t been above 2.00 at season’s end since 2002. Since 2002, the latest in the season his ERA has topped 3.00 was August 11, 2002.

Now, I know I’ve been harping on Joe Torre’s bullpen use all season. But I’ve had good reason. (All of this raises a question: why aren’t we reading any of this info in our daily sports sections? Just wondering.)

* Brain fart: since Mo came in in a tie game, he took the loss, but that’s obviously not a blown save.


I know it’s been a while, and I don’t want to disappoint those folks who expect me to be constant hawking my wares, so here goes: Don’t yet have your copy of Feeding the Monster, the Boston Globe and New York Times bestseller that’s been called “Red Sox porn”? Well, now’s the perfect time to buy your copy (available from Amazon for only $10.20 (cheap)…and you can even get your copy inscribed with one of these free, signed, personalized bookplates. They’re really nice. Seriously: ask anyone you know who has one.

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Joe Torre & Mariano Rivera & Yankees

How’s that for a roller-coaster ride? From Gagne to Lester to Lowell, oh my…

August 15th, 2007 → 9:12 am @

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.)

5. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love Coco.

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…

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Coco Crisp & Eric Gagne & Joe Torre & Jon Lester & Oblique References to American History & Oblique References to Merle Haggard Songs & Yankees

Shine on me crazy lady luck

August 6th, 2007 → 2:08 pm @

For folks interested in how the Yankees are now just a half-game behind Detroit in the Wild Card, let’s look at what’s been happening over the last several months. Since July 1, New York has gone 23-10, good for a .700 winning percentage. (For the record, that’d be good for a season total of 113 wins, just off the record of 116 set by the (19)06 Cubs and the ’01 Mariners.) Add in June, and the club’s record is 39-21, which works out to a .650 winning percentage. To do this, they’ve averaged about 800 runs per game over the past several weeks.

The Sox, meanwhile, have gone 19-13 since July 1 (.593) which is still good enough to lead every division in baseball. (They’ve gone 32-27 since June 1, for a .542 winning percentage, which would only bring them to the top of the heap in the NL Central.)

So: are the Sox lucky to have a 7 game lead, or are the Yankees lucky to have gone through this torrid hot streak? The former, actually. The Sox’s Pythagorean W-L is 69-42 (they’re actually 68-43), while the Yankees P W-L is 68-42 (they’re actually 61-50). (The Baseball Reference link above explains P W-L, which is “an estimate of a team’s winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed,” a stat developed by Bill James that uses a team’s runs scored and runs allowed.)

That doesn’t mean that entire seven-game lead can be attributed to luck; one thing the Yankees’ record shows is the importance of a bullpen. And Torre’s continued abuse of his pitchers wouldn’t inspire much confidence in me if I were a Yankees fan (which, of course, I am not). Exhibit A: Mariano was called on yesterday to, for the eighth time this year, record more than three outs…this after Torre said in spring training that he wanted to limit the 37-year-old Rivera — who strained a muscle in his right elbow last September — to pitching in the ninth: “I’m not of a mind to use him in the eighth inning.” What’s that saying about best laid plans?

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Bill James & Oblique References to Pink Floyd Songs & Red Sox & Yankees

With 64 games remaining…it’s coming down to the wire

July 23rd, 2007 → 11:33 am @

So: there are 64 games left in the season, the Sox are within a whisker of having the best record in baseball (.602 winning percentage vs the Tigers’ .604), they’re 7.5 games up on the Yankees, they’re fourth in the AL in runs scored, 3rd in OPS, and 2nd in OBP. Their pitching staff has the second best ERA, the second most K’s, and the second best batting average against.

All of that’s good news, and (and yes, this has already become a very tired refrain) if anyone told any of you during spring training this is what the baseball universe would look like with a little more than a week left in July, you’d be ecstatic. If I was a betting man (note: I am a betting man), I’d put good money down on Boston to win the AL East.But since bloggers and sportswriters alike need something with which to occupy their time (and space, whether that be virtual or actual), let’s break down some numbers. Since the beginning of June, the Sox have been a .500 team (on the dot, actually, with a 23-23 record); during that same period, the Yankees have been a .640 team. That’s a good stretch of time; if those numbers were to hold for the remainder of the year, the Yankees, with 93 wins, would win the division by 2 games.

But wait! If you go back and count off 64 games (the number of games actually remaining in the season) and replicated those patterns, you’d end up with the Sox winning the East by…7.5 games, since both teams have put up 36-28 record in that time. And certainly you’d be more likely to expect the Sox to play at something closer to a .600 clip than a .500 clip, right? Because, really, how many good baseball teams play .500 ball for months on end?

How about the ’04 Boston Red Sox? (You had to have seen that coming.) Before running away with the, er, Wild Card in August, the Sox had a three month stretch — May through July — in which they played .500 ball (.506, actually; they were 41-40).

All of this still leaves me without any discernible point. Fear not; I actually have several.

1. It’s patently ridiculous for sportswriters to declare in May (or June, or July) that a race is “over” unless it’s actually, mathematically over. Nevertheless, that’s what lots of people were doing, from the folks over at “Baseball Tonight” to almost every newspaper in the greater New England area. (That tendency is excusable; it takes someone with a true dedication to stupidity to posit the opposite.)

2. The Yankees were never, ever as bad as they looked. They have a scary offense — as shown by the fact that they’re leading the AL in plenty of offensive categories. And their pitching staff is good enough to carry them along: Clemens-Mussina-Pettitte circa 2007 is a far cry from Clemens-Mussina-Pettitte circa 2003, but it’s not awful; throw in Wang and the potentially terrifying Phil Hughes and you’ve got yourself a rotation.

3. Inre #2: It is time once again to praise Joe Torre’s bullpen management. If — and this is an enormous if, obviously — the Bombers do make it to the playoffs, the combo of aging starting pitchers and a bullpen full of dead-arm relievers is going to be a big problem.

All of this, I suspect, will make for a fun couple of months. If I was being forced to guess (note: I do not need to be forced to guess), I say Boston’s division lead will be as low as 4 games and that they’ll ultimately end up winning the East by somewhere between 6 and 8. Oh, and I’d also guess that New York won’t be in the playoffs, A-Rod won’t be in the Bronx come next spring, and Joe Torre will wish he’d retired a year earlier.

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Red Sox & Sports Reporters & Yankees

Midseason report: it’s Coco in a landslide!

July 12th, 2007 → 10:29 am @

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 team’s performance over the last week or so has been that Coco has been just unbelievable in center field…he’s just catching EVERYTHING that looks like it might be trouble. There’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.

Post Categories: 2007 Report Cards & 2007 Season & Coco Crisp

Joe Torre: Secret Agent of the Boston Red Sox

June 25th, 2007 → 12:04 am @

This weekend’s games showed why, for the remainder of the season, the Sox should worry about almost anyone before New York. While Francona continued to manage brilliantly down in San Diego — I almost jumped for joy when I saw Beckett go back out for the eighth this afternoon — Joe Torre continued the ritualized abuse he’s been heaping on the Yankee bullpen for years, guaranteeing that, should the Yanks somehow make the playoffs, they’ll have almost no arms to lead them to battle. (I’ve always said that it was Torre, along with Schilling, Ortiz, and Foulke, that played the biggest role in the ’04 ALCS: had he not rode Tom Gordon that year like a cheap whore, Flash might have had an ounce or two of gas left in the tank in the eighth inning of Game 4.) The CW storyline coming out of this weekend will be how, once again, the Yankees’ bullpen failed when the game was on the line. But the CW is wrong. The story here is how Torre’s mismanagement is already crippling New York.

There are so many places to start this discussion, it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s Torre’s use of Mariano for five outs on Friday, the second time Genius Joe has pulled that move after swearing up and down in spring training he’d never use Mo for more than one inning. There’s his ass-backwards bullpen management last night, which pretty much guaranteed the Giants would break their eight-game losing streak. And there was tonight’s emergency relief appearance by Clemens (I’m just sure that’s what he signed up for), the first time in 22 years Roger’s come out of the bullpen.

But instead of harping on any of that, let’s just look at some numbers. The first one is IP so far this season; the second what that’s projected to over the full year.

Proctor, 41, 92 (Last year Proctor led all relievers in IP with 102.)
Vizcaino, 37, 81.2 (Pretty much in line with his career averages.)
Farnsworth, 32, 70.2 (Since becomming a reliever in 2000, he’s topped 80 IP only once, in 2001.)
Bruney, 32, 70.2 (His career average is 32.2.)
Myers, 29.2, 65.2 (The last time he topped 50 IPs was in 1998.)

Then there’s the Sox.

Okajima, 36.2, 80.1 (No MLB comps.)
Piniero, 30, 65.2 (He averaged more than 180 IP during his years as a starter.)
Papelbon, 27.1, 59.2 (He was shut down after 68 IP last year.)

I guess Torre figures that now that Dusty Baker’s no longer on the bench, someone needs to wrack up those pitcher abuse points

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Joe Torre & 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