Hello, I must be going

December 14th, 2006 → 9:10 am @

I know — the second time I get to reference that album! If I wasn’t dashing to catch a flight, I’d even find a link. So here’s a quick rundown: yup, as some of you know, I need to get to Boston to take a physical; if not, Simon & Schuster might not agree to release the paperback of Feeding the Monster. Oh, and also, I’ll be signing books at the Prudential Center B&N today from noon until 2; after that I’ll be running around to Boston-area bookstores signing their stock, so if you don’t make it to the Pru you’ll still have a chance to get an autographed copy. (I’ll post a full list of those stores later.) And, of course, there are those book plates

Post Categories: 2007 Offseason & Coco Crisp & Curt Schilling & Honeymoon & Jacoby Ellsbury & Kevin Youkilis & Mike Lowell & Phil Collins

Back on the grid…

September 27th, 2006 → 9:41 am @

Four days off the grid…and I didn’t implode. (In fact, it was surprisingly pleasant.) But I know the group of people who want to hear about how I spend my off hours includes my parents and…well, that might be it. So let’s get back into it, shall we?

There are four more games left in the season; it looks unlikely that David Ortiz will top Ruth’s or Maris’s 60 and 61 home run seasons, respectively. But if he gets to 58 (he sits at 54 currently), he’ll tie Hank Greenberg and Jimmie Foxx at 58, which would put him fourth on the all-time list (behind Maris in ’61 and Ruth in ’27 and ’21) of people who weren’t publicly shamed at last year’s Congressional hearing on steroids. That’s reason enough to watch the remaining games. (There’s also the mini-drama of whether the Sox will finish above the Jays in the rankings…)

One other quick note: after Schilling’s win last night — and how gratifying is it to see him end the season on a high note? — the verbally expansive righty was his usually classy self. When discussing the season he put the blame on his shoulders by saying, “I should have won a lot more. I should have pitched better.” That’s a little like Ortiz saying he should have hit for a higher average.

I’ll have lots more in the coming days, including season-ending report cards on players, executives, the front office, and much more…

Post Categories: Curt Schilling & David Ortiz & Red Sox

And then there was one: Boston Red Sox, Job edition

August 30th, 2006 → 4:41 pm @

As in: one position player playing where he played on Opening Day. That’s right, folks: Coco injured himself last night on that diving catch. So maybe we don’t want him to make quite so many great plays in the outfield after all. Let’s hope no one else joins the ranks of the walking wounded today; there’s only one guy — and that’s not a misprint — on the bench: defensive specialist, er, immobile catcher Javy Lopez. (There are only 20 guys total in uniform today (21 if you include Coco), with Wells sent back East to “prepare” for his “start” and Papi, Manny, and WMP making appearances at Boston-area hospitals.) If anyone else goes down, we might see a Foulke to Beckett to Timlin DP combo by the end of the afternoon.

(But hey, Schilling did make it to 3000 K’s, although he whiffed Nick Swisher and not Milton Bradley as I’d predicted. I’m glad he got that, because it sure doesn’t look like he’ll get the win: the Sox are trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the third, and with three players in the lineup hitting below the Mendoza line, I can’t imagine these guys are up to making up any big defecits. Or any defecits, for that matter.)

Post Categories: Coco Crisp & Curt Schilling & Injuries

Take a deep breath (Searching for positives edition)

August 30th, 2006 → 12:19 pm @

Well, it hasn’t been a good month. For real. To wit:

* The Sox record of 8-20 is the worst single-month record since John Henry and Tom Werner bought the team.
* The team has lost 12 of its last 14 games on the road, the worst stretch since 2001. (You remember 2001, right? Jimy Williams, Dan Duquette, and Carl Everett? Good times.)
* They Old Towne Team has lost 13 of its last 16 and 18 of its last 24 games. August is only the second time the Sox have lost more than 20 games in a month since 1966, and the first time the team’s had three losing streaks of five or more games in a single month since 1985. (On the overly optimistic side, that means that if precedent holds, Boston should be back in the Series next year.) Needless to say, the team has the worst record in baseball over the last month.
* August breaks a streak of 13 straight months of over-.500 ball.

It’s not likely to get better anytime soon: there’s not a day off until September 7, and 19 of the last 30 games are versus winning teams. If only the Sox could limit their games for the rest of the season to NL teams. And the Orioles.

Let’s see, what else? Four members of the starting nine are on the DL, and another — who happens to be the best righthanded batter of the past decade — is in the hospital for tests. David Ortiz, the best thing to happen to Boston baseball in a long while, has spent two nights over the past 10 days in Mass General due to an irregular heartbeat. (As Mark Loretta said yesterday, “In all my years you’ve seen injuries and you talk about how every team has injuries, but we’re well beyond that stage.”) The team’s best pitcher over the last month has a body that resembles Bill James‘s more than it does Billy Beane‘s…and he might be traded in the next 30 hours. The active roster is almost unrecognizable. Kyle Snyder, Bryan Corey, Mike Burns, Javy Lopez, Dustin Pedroia, Carlos Pena, Eric Hinske…is this the Red Sox or a reclamation league?

Yup, it’s bad. I’ll take a deeper look at all of this in the next couple of days, but right now I need to head out to an Indian restaurant for lunch (which I’m sure will put me in an even better mood).

In the meantime — and I know, this will be hard — I’ll seek out things to look forward to. Last night, Coco made a helluva catch to rob former clubhouse snake Jay Payton of a hit, which was doubly satisfying; maybe he’ll have some more of these and less of these. I love watching Pedroia. When Carlos Pena fell, headfirst, into the stands in the early innings of his first MLB game of the year, I held my breath — please, god, not another guy on the DL — but I also was weirdly heartened by that type of effort. Hopefully Ortiz will be okay and we can go back to watching him obliterate Jimmie Foxx’s Red Sox single-season HR record (50, 1938). Regardless of whether he has a chance to notch up any more saves this year, Papelbon is a the best baby-faced bulldog anyone’s seen in a while. It’s an open question as to whether the Sox will have more hits than Schilling will have strikeouts in tonight’s game, but Curt will hit 3,000 K’s. And after holding things together with spit and luck, the Sox are, finally, a team with nothing to lose. (Except for games, I mean.) If they pull of some weird, total eclipse string of wins it’ll be a comeback of 2004 proportions. And if not, well, that’s pretty much expected at this point.

So for those of you going to Thursday’s game, do a solid and give these guys a standing O. You can’t blame any of the guys who’ll take the field for what’s been happening, from Cora to Loretta to Youks to Lowell. If Manny and Ortiz (and WMP) come back, you sure as hell can’t blame them, either. (Fine: Coco’s been a disappointment. But if you boo him he might cry. And you don’t want to see him cry.) (You can boo Mike Timlin, but only once, and only for blowing all those games and making those idiotic comments about the offense. After that you need to think back to what he did for this team in ’03, ’04, and ’05.)

I’m not kidding. Give them a standing O. Trust me, you’ll feel better, both about the team and about yourself. We can — and I’m sure we will — go back to complaining and analyzing what went wrong soon enough.

Post Categories: Coco Crisp & Curt Schilling & Injuries

Schilling’s thisclose to 3000 Ks: Random facts edition

August 29th, 2006 → 6:00 pm @

If there’s anything the last couple of weeks have taught us, it’s that it’s never safe to assume anything (tomorrow night, I wouldn’t be surprised if Theo and Larry Lucchino end up in the outfield). That said, it seems pretty likely that Schilling, with 2999 career strikeouts, will hit 3,000 tomorrow night, putting him 14th on the all-time list and making him one of four active pitchers to reach that plateau (Clemens, 4566; Randy Johnson, 4509; Maddux, 3148. Pedro, for those keeping score, will likely reach it after another couple of starts: he’s sitting at 2986).

The Sox sent out a fact sheet about Schilling’s career K’s; it’s five pages long, so I won’t reprint it here. But the following are some of the highlights:

* He has 457 K’s as a member of the Sox.
* His first strikeout victim was Todd Benzinger…a member of the Red Sox at the time. (My bet for no. 3000 is Milton Bradley.
* He’s struck out 245 Giants, but only 16 Twins.
* He’s topped 300 K’s three times, in ’97 (319), ’98 (300), and ’02 (316).
* He has 279 strike outs at Fenway.
* He’s faced Jeff Fassero 6 times; every time resulted in a whiff.
* He’s faced three players more than 10 times without a single strikeout: Orlando Merced (20 ABs), Warren Morris (15 ABs), and the always-pesky David Eckstein (11 ABs).
* He’s struck out five Hall of Famers (Ryan Sandberg, Eddie Murray, Wade Boggs, Kirby Puckett, and Ozzie Smith), four members of the 500 HR club (Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Murray), three major league managers (Joe Girardi, Willie Randolph, and Mike Scioscia), and two members of the Sox front office (Bob Tewksbury and Craig Shipley).
* No wonder he’s a Republican: he has 1,520 strikeouts during the George H.W. Bush’s and George W. Bush’s administrations but only 1,479 during Clinton’s.

Post Categories: Curt Schilling

There’s too many of you crying: Josh Beckett edition

August 20th, 2006 → 12:12 pm @

Before yesterday’s game, one of the Yankees coaches came up to A-Rod as he was on the field during batting practice. “It’s 96 miles-per-hour,” the coach said. “And straight.” A pithy — and completely accurate — description of Josh Beckett’s fastball. I’ve said before that I think one of Beckett’s problems is that he can’t blow fastballs by hitters in the AL the way he could in the NL. So is the difference between a total disaster and a potential ace as easy as learning how to throw the splitter?

I hope so. And while the numbers aren’t encouraging, they’re not completely bleak, either.


In his nine starts since July 8 — roughly between a quarter and a third of a pitchers’ season — Beckett has lasted an average of exactly six innings. His ERA over that span is 6.83. In 5.2 innings yesterday, Beckett allowed nine walks, the most of any pitcher this season and the most of his career. He added to his baseball-leading HR total. Things have gotten so bad that people trying to make an argument that Beckett doesn’t blow are reduced to parsing out stats to the point of the absurd: before yesterday’s game, the Fox broadcasters were talking about how Beckett was 5-0 in daytime starts and had only given up 8 dingers at Fenway.

There’s no easy answer to why Beckett’s been so horrendously crappy as of late. Five of those starts came before Jason Varitek landed on the DL, while six of them came before Dave Wallace returned as pitching coach. Indeed, the only trend this year seems to be that when facing a winning team, Beckett becomes a loser: he has a 6.80 ERA in his 15 starts against teams over .500 and a 3.61 ERA against those below.

Put together, all of this doesn’t look good. A ruler-straight fastball combined with a horrendous record against winning teams does not a $30 million contract make.

But there is reason to think we’re right now witnessing the worst that Beckett has to offer.

There are plenty of pitcher who don’t have a whole lot of movement on their fastballs who are successful major league pitchers — like, say, Curt Schilling. And it’s not like Schilling doesn’t rely on the heat: he’s usually leading the majors in first-pitch strikes while throwing fastballs to start off hitters around 75 percent of the time. But overall, Schilling throws fastballs just 65 percent of the time, which makes it that much harder to sit on his 92-mph pitches; when he’s ahead in the count, that number is 56 percent; when he’s behind, it stays at 65 percent.

Beckett doesn’t throw an enormously higher percentage of fastballs — this season, he’s at 71 percent. But when he gets in trouble, that figure jumps to 78 percent.

After more than a month of throwing batting practice, it looked like Beckett took the mound yesterday running scared. He was nibbling, almost as if he was afraid to throw strikes (hence the nine walks). When he’d get in trouble, he’d either keep on throwing out of the zone or he’d try and whip one down the pike. The Yankees are too good (and too patient) a team for that kind of crap, and all afternoon they’d just wait for a ball in the zone and then smack it.

But, unlike Matt Clement’s start against the White Sox in last year’s playoffs, Beckett didn’t seem as if he had no idea where his pitches were going to end up. And Beckett has shown he can throw knee-buckling curves to compliment his fastballs. Throw in a good splitter — which can be taught — and you’re back to an ace-in-waiting. And as much as Beckett’s recent struggles seem to have put him into a spiral, he’s shown that he can thrive off his own success.

I wouldn’t bet on a Beckett transformation this year. But he’ll have one more year working with Schilling, and three more years in Boston. There’s no need (yet) to think of the 2003 World Series MVP as a reclamation project. There certainly is cause to hope he learns how to become more of a pitcher.

EDIT: Monday morning thoughts. Last night, Papelbon showed how to use the splitter as an out pitch. Beckett, take note.

Post Categories: Curt Schilling & Josh Beckett & Oblique references to Marvin Gaye lyrics

This is what columnists do when they can’t think of anything to write. The difference is I don’t get paid.

August 4th, 2006 → 11:34 am @

How about you spend three nights in August on a nice, long vacation

The Cardinals have lost seven in a row and are 2-8 in their last ten games. I blame Tony La Russa. There are plenty of good reasons La Russa deserves some of the blame; mine, however, are fairly irrational. For one, I simply don’t trust a man who takes his fashion tips from Corey Hart. For another, I’m still shocked at how La Russa has managed to skirt responsibility in baseball’s steroid controversy. This is, after all, the manager who pretty much copped to the fact that he knew Jose Canseco was roiding up in Oakland; he then went on to oversee the Mark McGwire era in St. Louis. (And people wonder why there are those who think Albert Pujols should be under a bit more scrutiny.) Finally, any manager who finds a way to get swept in two World Series (with the A’s in 1990 and the Cardinals in 2004) has to be a bit of a dolt.

All hail the greatest hitter of all time

To put Ted Williams’s .406 batting average in 1941 into some perspective: during Chase Utley’s current 35-game hit streak (tied for the 9th longest since 1900), Utley’s hitting .405.

Irrational optimism
It hasn’t been a pretty week for the Sox. Theo Epstein stood his ground at the trading deadline; Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek both went down with injuries; Josh Beckett continues to get lit up like a rigged pinball machine; and the Sox have fallen a game behind the Yankees in the AL East. So let’s look at reasons not to despair. Tek and Nixon’s absence will hurt, but it’s not unreasonable to expect Wily Mo Pena–who is hitting like he has some kind of vendetta against the Wall–to outproduce Nixon–and it’s not like Jason Varitek was exactly tearing up the basebaths. This year, much like last season, has been a testament to the Sox’s depth: despite losing more than half of its starting rotation to injuries, Boston is on pace to win more than 95 games, and a playoff spot. The team isn’t far behind in 2004, when it had a starting five that didn’t miss a start, a healthy Keith Foulke, and an entire team that seemed to put up career numbers. The addition of Javy Lopez should help things behind the plate (or at least spare Red Sox fans the sight of Doug Mirabelli constantly looking in to the dugout because he has absolutely no idea what pitch to call for in any given situation). And the Yankees, while on a tear of late, can’t be expected to play like this for the rest of the year. Every team has hot streaks, and every team has funks. The mistake is assuming that means much of anything in the middle of a 162-game season.

Potentially rational pessimism, Mikes edition

On the other hand, Mike Lowell is hurt and Mike Timlin has sucked as of late.

The stopper

During Schilling’s two healthy years with the Red Sox, one of his most impressive stats has been his numbers after a Red Sox loss. Right now, Schilling is pitching in the rotation immediately after Josh Beckett. Looks like he’s going to get plenty more opportunities to staunch the bleeding.

Post Categories: Albert Pujols & Chase Utley & Curt Schilling & Javy Lopez & Ted Williams & Tony La Russa