Mathematical proof of what we’ve always known: the Sox really are the nicer team

May 17th, 2007 → 9:48 am @

A recent SI survey asked almost 500 major leaguers who were the most and least friendly players in baseball. Four of the top seven friendliest players were on the 2004 Red Sox: Papi, Dave Roberts, Damon, and Millar. The least friendy list included one current Yankee (A-Rod, who came in in fourth place) and one Yankee of recent vintage (RJ). The only mar on the survey: Johnson tied for least friendly with his old Diamondback teammate…Curt Schilling. Still, no matter how you slice it, the Sox are a friendlier team: if you only consider players on the current roster, the Sox come out at 0 (Papi’s +4 and Schill’s -4 cancel each other out), while the Yankees come out at -10, with Damon’s +2 barely mitigating A-Rod’s -12. If you consider all players that’ve played for one of the teams in the past four years, the Sox come out at +8 (+4 for Papi and DR, +2 for JD and Kentucky Fried Kevin, -4 for Curt) while the Yankees weigh in at -14 (+2 for JD, -12 for A-Rod, -4 for Randy). My only question: Schilling tied with Johnson? I know he’s not always the most popular guy, but c’mon…

Post Categories: Red Sox & Sports Illustrated & Yankees

Torre, Theo, the RS bullpen, and the black plague

May 2nd, 2007 → 11:52 am @

Like I said below, I’m going to be getting to some things a bit late…

A month into the season, we’ve seen a bunch of interesting things.

* The Yankees have been sucking. They also appear to have picked up the pesky black plague bug that infected the Sox last August.

* There’s going to be lots of talk about whether or not Joe Torre should be fired as long as the worst $200 million team in history stays in last place. Or third place. Or second place.

* Last night notwithstanding, the Sox’s bullpen has been lights out.

* Hideki Okajima is a stone-cold stud.

* Despite some disappointing performances at the plate — i.e., everyone in the starting lineup save for Youk, Ortiz, Drew, and Lowell — the Sox are, overall, doing fairly well offensively.

* This whole Schilling-Beckett-Dice K thing could work out pretty well.

And now for some quick thoughts on the above:

* Brian Cashman is getting some heat for the Yankees roster and it’s age/failure to produce. That’s not entirely fair (although not entirely unfair, either). The injury thing is hard to predict — Mussina is getting on in years, sure; on the other hand, but Wang could have reasonably been expected to stay healthy. And while Cashman has exhibited some creativity/flexibility in jettisoning some of his overpaid veterans, he’s still saddled with guys like Jason Giambi — and Giambi, at least according to almost everyone surrounding the Yankees — was one of those Steinbrenner “I have to have him RIGHT NOW” players that Cashman seemingly had little to do with.

* The Torre defenders out there are right when they say there’s only so much he can do — he’s not out on the field. But — and this is a big but — two areas that Torre most definitely can effect are a) bullpen usage and b) keeping a bunch of spoiled brats (er, I mean athletes), focused and motivated over the course of a long season. In regards to a), Torre has a Dusty Baker-esque tendency to abuse his bullpen, a practice that cost the Yankees at least one trip to the World Series (in 2004, when the Yankees had to depend on the ghost of Tom Gordon) and could very well lead the team down the road to ruin this year. As for b), I’m a firm believer in the notion that sometimes good managers need to go just because a team needs a change. Torre’s been very good at keeping a highly efficient and generally successful team on course. His laconic style might not be so good for a team in crisis. (Quick digression: I also put some of the blame on Captain Intangibles, who, much like Jason Varitek, seems to view his role solely as someone who sets a good example on the field. Jeter could, and should, have stepped up any number of times this year. Take spring training: the best things he could have done for the team were defend Pavano when Mussina was whining and embrace A-Rod to quell the ongoing talk about conflict there.)

And…I gotta run. Looks like I’ll have to address the Red Sox part of this equation later on.

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Brian Cashman & Injuries & Joe Torre & Yankees

No atheists in a foxhole…

April 23rd, 2007 → 12:12 am @

I don’t believe in superstitions…although I do hit my dashboard when I go through yellow lights. And I don’t let myself to be separated by an inanimate object (street sign, tree, etc.) from someone I’m walking with. (Don’t ask — it’s apparently an old Mnookin family tradition that I don’t pretend to understand.) Oh, and during the ’04 playoffs I didn’t take off the t-shirt I was wearing during Game 4, which only became really problematic when I went to the gym.*

So…when I didn’t post after Friday’s game, well, that was it until the series was over (or until the Sox lost). (Also, I’m supposed to be moving — or at least completing the purchase of some New York City real estate — which is fairly hectic.) (Another aside in an already parenthesis-happy post: how is it people decide what they’re going to be superstitious about? I had no problem changing my underwear in ’04. And even though I saw Volver on Friday, I didn’t feel compelled to watch an Almodovar movie every day.)

Anyway. It felt like a damn good weekend.** Friday night was spectacular. Watching Manny punish a ball was a welcome sight. As was Drew, Lowell, and Varitek’s following rockets. As was the fact that the Yankees rotation is in shambles and that Torre’s being forced to abuse his bullpen even earlier than usual.*** As was Coco’s hot bat. As was Tek’s hot bat. As was Pedroia’s snag tonight in the eighth. As was Beckett’s performance, and his first four games (which are fundamentally different from his first starts last year; if you want to get all geeky about it, check this out). As does the emerging brilliance of Hideki “Darkman” Okijima (nickname courtesy of Peter Naboicheck via Gordo. As was…well, you get the idea.

Now everyone get some sleep. We’re going to do it all again next weekend.

* I wasn’t the only person who had some weird superstitions that October: John Henry and Larry Lucchino watched Game 6 in the living room of Lucchino’s Brookline house, and after they took a lead, no one was allowed to move.

** Still, let’s point out one tiny silver lining: the Sox had their three best pitchers and a fully rested bullpen. The Yankees had Andy Pettitte and a couple of Double-A schlubs. (And that’s only a slight exaggeration.) The series was at Fenway. And over three games, Boston outscored New York by a total of…four runs. Not much margin for error there.

*** I attribute the ‘o4 ALCS to four things: David Ortiz, Keith Foulke, Curt Schilling, and Torre’s Dusty Baker-esque abuse of Tom Gordon during the regular season.

Post Categories: Red Sox & Superstitions & Yankees

More news is…bad news?

January 5th, 2007 → 4:33 pm @

More activity from New York: as everyone now knows, the only man ever to slaughter an innocent dove in the middle of a major league baseball game is counting down the days, waiting for the time when he can get to Arizona. The details of the deal worried me at first: since I’m almost willfully ignorant about minor league prospects (especially in the NL), for all I knew Ross Ohlendorf was gonna win Princeton its first MVP award and Steven Jackson was on his way to being the second coming of Mariano Rivera. (Luis Vizcaino, while occasionally nasty, is also more than occasionally wild, so he wasn’t a huge concern. To me, anyway.)

Thankfully, Keith Law calmed me down a bit: he does know minor league talent and doesn’t think any of these guys are difference makers. Law, along with Bob Klapisch, also points out that RJ’s departure leaves a definite hole in the Yankees rotation…although I can’t imagine Cashman is anywhere near done for the offseason.

Still, as I said way back in December, a Johnson trade is nervewracking regardless of whom they get in return, both because it means New York is getting rid of another onerous contract and because it offers one more illustration that the charmingly insane George Steinbrenner is no longer running the show. (Said I: “Suddenly, the Yankees are shedding payroll like they’re the Marlins, and Brian Cashman looks determined to pick up young prospects and jettison the senior citizens collecting outrageous paychecks…”) Sure, it’s challenging when your competition raises its level of play, but I was just fine when Boston’s front office was executing a plan and the Yankees were indulging Cuddly George’s every whim.

Postscript: I’ve never been a Randy fan, but I do hope he does well in Phoenix, if only because that gives the Diamondbacks — currently run by former Red Sox asst GM Josh Byrnes, one of my favorite people in all of baseball — a chance to win a pretty weak division.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Keith Law & Oblique references to Public Enemy lyrics & Randy Johnson & Yankees

Let’s all join together and pray for Steinbrenner to start exerting his will…and quick

December 26th, 2006 → 7:10 pm @

Yup: three full days without a post. I’m pretty sure that’s a record. For that, I’m sorry. I know people need to get a break from their families. (Believe me, I know.) And there’s been precious little baseball news out there to serve as a distraction. (No matter how you try to spin it — the impact on the Zito sweepstakes, the NLCS MVP leaving the Cards, whatever — Jeff Suppan signing with the Brewers does not count as news.)

There is, however, one development that shook me out of my holiday stupor, and, I’m sorry to say, it was a distressing one: the confirmation that the Yankees and the Diamondbacks are discussing a deal that would send Randy Johnson back to Arizona. New York’s signing of Johnson was exactly the sort of boneheaded, reactionary move that has defined the Yankees of the modern era (read: since 2000). The Johnson acquisition came about immediately after Schilling had helped lift the Sox to their Series win, a fact which reputedly caused the Boss tell his minions he wanted a “warrior” of his own. He got one — an over-the-hill, overpaid warrior with a crappy attitude and a bad back — when he could have had someone like, say, Carlos Beltran…and that would have made the Yankees frightening.

Those days appear to be over. Suddenly, the Yankees are shedding payroll like they’re the Marlins, and Brian Cashman looks determined to pick up young prospects and jettison the senior citizens collecting outrageous paychecks.

This doesn’t mean the Red Sox and the Yankees will have anywhere near equal payrolls, but it does seem to indicate that Steinbrenner (and his Tampa-based suckups) are no longer making baseball-related decisions. If that’s true, it’s bad news for Boston (and everyone else). A senior member of the team’s baseball ops staff told me last year that the only reason the Sox had a fighting chance against a team with $80 million more in payroll was because New York made such stupefyingly idiotic moves. If that’s not going to be the case anymore, it means the Yankees and the Sox are going to be operating more and more on the same plane…not because, as some would have you believe, the Red Sox have become the Evil Empire II but because the Yankees are starting to act (and yes, it hurts to say this) intelligently.

Gulp. Two thousand and seven, here we come…

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Brian Cashman & George Steinbrenner & Randy Johnson & Yankees

Other people report (on Andy Pettitte); you decide

December 7th, 2006 → 9:50 am @

Apparently, Andy Pettitte is close to signing a one-year deal with the Yankees for somewhere around $14 or $15 million. Speculation is that if Pettitte ends up in New York, Roger will too; indeed, the Times pretty much says that if Andy jumped off a bridge, Roger would too. (They do look awfully cute together.)

That might be true — I honestly have no idea (although I do know that last year the Rocket was deciding between the Sox and the ‘Stros; the Yankees weren’t really in the final picture). So for argument’s sake, let’s assume that it is, and let’s assume that a season of Andy and a half-season of Roger is going to cost somewhere north of $53 million ($14.5 for Pettitte, $18 for a half-season of Clemens, a bit north of $20 million in a luxury tax hit). Good deal for New York? Last year, Pettitte’s WHIP was higher than it’s been since 2000 and Roger is, after all, 44. (At least he’s not in Orlando, pathetically trolling for a job.)

So I’ll leave it up to. Make your voices heard. I’ll tally at the end of the day.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Andy Pettitte & Roger Clemens & Yankees

More food for thought: the Rookie of the Year Awards

November 14th, 2006 → 10:52 am @

Yesterday, the Rookie of the Year awards were announced. In the AL, Jonathan Papelbon lost out to Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, which isn’t much of a surprise; Papelbon had a great year but also got injured, while Verlander will likely get some Cy Young consideration, pitched 118 more innings (186 to 68.3), and was a lychpin of a pennant-winning team’s rotation. (It’s interesting to note that Verlander was the second overall pick in 2004; Paps was taken in the fourth round of 2003.) Of course, that’s not all the Red Sox-related RoY news: former Sox prospect Hanley Ramirez won the NL’s award.

Hanley’s award isn’t going to dampen criticism of the front office. Ramirez, who was traded to the Marlins along with Anibal Sanchez for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, made $327,000 this year, while Sanchez made less; Lowell and Beckett combined made about $13 million more in combined salaries. I’ve relied on the Sox’s desire to both get younger and gain more flexibility as an argument in favor of all sorts of Red Sox moves (trading for Coco instead of finding a way to re-sign Johnny, for instance), and, on its face, this trade seems to be an example of the exact opposite strategy.

I’ve also argued that the unique pressures of playing in Boston make being a rookie in Florida a lot different from being a rookie on the Red Sox. Would Fenway have gone into revolt if Hanley had hit below the Mendoza line for a full month, as he did for the Marlins (.190 in June)? Would Ramirez, who hit .235 versus the AL East (12 for 51), had as much success playing in the exponentially more difficult American League? For that matter, would Sanchez, who twirled a no hitter, have had a breakout year?

In September, I took both sides of this argument on successive days. (Part one of that schizophrenic debate was an excuse to talk about the Sox’s scouting department, which has gone through a considerable makeover recently.) And today? Well…I’m not sure. I do think playing in Boston is unique; on the other hand, I also see merit in the argument that if a player can’t deal with some booing by the time he reaches the majors, he’s gonna have a tough time making it…an argument that more than one members of the Sox’s baseball ops office have made to me.

I still see the rationale for last winter’s trade, which at the time was said to be one of the difference-making moves of the offseason; I also remain resolute in my belief that whatever the Red Sox happen to be doing, they’re doing it for a good reason. (That said, the Beckett trade occurred during the peak of last year’s Theo’s-gone-the-Sox-are-in-total-turmoil period, which means that a) it’s hard to use it as being representative of what the baseball ops team would have done in a vacuum and b) the notion that the move was in part an effort to distract the locals from the controversy-du-jour has to be taken into consideration. I discuss this trade — and the various possibilities therein — in the book.) Still, the totality of the team’s moves — this trade, jettisoning Arroyo (and Andy Marte and Kelly Shoppach), losing out on Damon because of what likely was a lack of aggressiveness, undervaluing and overvaluing Doug Mirabelli in the same year — will need to be considered…at some point down the road.

And by down the road, I don’t mean next month. Pedro’s defection to the Mets is a perfect example of why it’s impossible (and sometimes dishonest) to make grand pronouncements about this or that trade or free-agent signing before the totality of the decision’s repercussions have been felt, which means, just like we’ll need to wait until 2007 to fully evaluate not re-signing Pedro (a decision which a looks pretty good right about now), we’ll need to wait until 2009 to make a full reckoning of this move.

That said, the early grades on this year’s Hot Stove moves would have to give the Yankees the edge, regardless of what happens with Matsuzaka: so far, New York has essentially gotten four pitchers for free: Chris Britton, who came to New York for the $4 million the Yankees would have had to pay to buy out Jaret Wright’s contract; and former Tigers pitching prospects Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan and Anthony Claggett, who will be outfitted in pinstripes after a smart option-and-trade of Gary Sheffield. (If the Tigers recent success in developing pitching talent is any indication, this could end up being a huge move a couple of years hence. And even if none of these three pan out, New York has restocked its minor league system.)

So, there you have it. A post without a clear argument on one side or the other. Like I said, food for thought.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Hanley Ramirez & Jonathan Papelbon & Josh Beckett & Red Sox ownership & Yankees