Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dan Shaughnessy rejects talk of blackmail*

*All interviews and subjects in this article are completely fictional and fabricated, even those based on real people. This is in response to his interview with David Ortiz on May 8, 2013 where he blatantly accuses him of cheating without any evidence. I won't link to the article so you will have to find it on the Net.

"Were you abused as a child, scared to smile, they called you ugly?"
Nas, "Ether"

Writing is not this difficult. Writers don't have to get worse as they age (Peter Gammons still going strong). Baseball writing has been peppered with awful writers for the last 20 years. The bad writers always seem to get more press than the good writers. A number of writers from the Boston Globe have been accused of plagiarizing. Continued employment despite lack of skills is often tied to blackmailing. It is not natural for someone with that face to appear so frequently on TV.

So Dan Shaugnessy knows. He knows he is untalented. He knows the majority of people who read him think he is a hack. His name appears frequently on sites like Awful Announcing and Fire Joe Morgan. And what he just did to David Ortiz should be the final straw.

When you blackmail people for personal gain they tell you to not try to shoot for the absolute top of the pantheon to make it look less fishy. Shaughnessy can't even seem to do that. He just keeps appearing on all of Boston's beloved sports media (Globe, 98.5, NESN) spewing false bile. Shaughnessy extended his streak of awfulness and borderline libel (his only true talent seems to be not going so far as to get sued in his baseless accusations) with his column about Ortiz and steroid use on May 8.

This is a ridiculous and fake topic, and since I can't get face to face out of both a lack of access and fear of turning to stone, I made up an interview with Shaughnessy to discuss his years of blackmailing people in power to get where he is. I told him he looks ugly.

Do you read the comments and emails saying you must have "naked pictures of all your superiors performing Un-Christian acts"?

"No, not really," Shaughnessy said. "Why?"

Because there is no other explanation for why you have a job let alone three of them.

"I have editors that review my columns some of the time," he said. "They make me change about 90% of what I try to write when they actually read my stuff. Luckily, this year I'd say I've only been edited about 5 times, so most of my good stuff gets out there untarnished. They don't warn you when they'll review you though. They just edit."

What does it feel like to have everyone know you have no talent and for them to tell you that?

"I don't think I have no talent," he said. "Nobody comes to me and tells me, 'You have no talent and the world would be better off if you just locked yourself in a tower for the rest of time and never communicated with the public ever again.'"

But they do. Bloggers write entire posts about you. I have emailed you to tell you that in so many words. You work for the Boston Globe where a lot of bad writers and plagiarists have worked. You are an older writer getting worse as you age like Murray Chass. You've written columns consistent with libel. You show up on all these sites about horrible writing. You fit all the formulas.

"Shit, I'm a human being like everyone else (ed. note: no you aren't)," said Shaughnessy. "You can blackmail or you can get fired. One or the other."

But in 2009 you plagiarized your own bad writing. Now this baseless accusation of Ortiz. You are like baseball writing's Freddy Krueger. What's the difference?

"Well in 2009 I didn't really understand the breadth of the internet," he said. "In 2009 I thought I could get away with just repeating the same old bullshit that I did years earlier. Once I learned my lesson, I remembered that to keep my job I would have to blackmail people and write the most outrageous shit that popped into my poorly sculpted skull. It's not like this is the first time I've written such an awful attack piece and gotten away with it."

But it's like at some point with this much awful writing and lack of TV or Radio presence you have to start getting fired from jobs you have no right holding.

"Where are you trying to go with this? That's my question. If you've held a job for over 30 years aren't you just supposed to be able to keep it no matter how terrible you are?"

No, people get fired or let go all the time even holding jobs for more than 30 years. Teachers, factory workers, CEO's, policemen all lose their jobs if they aren't performing or blatantly walking the tightrope with the law no matter how long they've been entrenched.

"Real jobs that actually benefit people aren't the same," said Shaughnessy. "I don't forget about causing outrage. I go up there," - he points to the Globe's head Sports Editor's office - "and show him all those naked pictures I have of him. Every other day. If I don't do it, he might forget that he should fire me for my incompetence, and I don't want to have to release the pictures if I can avoid it."

"I don't like to talk about this blackmail thing because then people know my secret of career immortality."

But how can your professional opportunities continue to grow when all you do is get worse? How do you do that?

"I don't get worse," he said. "My writing has been this destructive since the day I got here."

"I just don't want this blackmail thing getting out there, cause I have pictures of you and I don't want to have to use those either."

But writing is really not that hard, how can you be so awful at it? You've been doing this for over 30 years. You write for one of the most renowned sports sections in the country.

"It isn't hard, bro. But getting every person to know your name is. On my good day I enrage millions of people in print, on the radio and on TV. It's pretty easy. It just happens."

"I work consistently to get my name on the lips of other people (ed. note: gross). I don't write a scathing column weekly, I don't accuse people from afar, I don't remind my bosses of the naked pictures to be a good writer. If I want to be a good writer, or not hated, then I could actually learn more about the sports I cover and write interesting things breaking down what happens on the field and write compelling stories about how the top athletes in the world have persevered to reach the tops of their industries."

"No, I write sludge every time out and I go on TV and make it worse. One day I'll die, probably, and then I'll stop, probably."

Do you understand why people hate what you do?

"I don't care what people think, bro, only that they know my name. People don't feed my ego. I feed my ego."

"I am never going to be a good writer, bro. That's the bottom line. If I write something nice and fair, it's bad. If I write something scathing, factually inaccurate and borderline illegal, it's bad, too."

"I don't care. I've got something to hide, bro. Firing is not my problem. Being fired - I write stuff that begs to get me fired. I got no problem with that. I can't screw anything up with my career because I have what it takes to keep my job, naked pictures. That's not gonna happen."

"If I don't want to keep pissing people off and falsely accusing good people? I go home. But not because I got fired for being unethical."

"I guarantee you that later, you are not going to find out that I was fired for gross incompetence. It's not happening. Guaranteed. Guaranteed. Because I have naked pictures of all my bosses."

Again, can't stress enough, this was a made up interview.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

October 20, 2007. Game 6. Boston. The Boston Red Sox are now down 3-2 in the ALCS to the Cleveland Indians after winning Game 5. The Sox need to win Game 6 to extend their season and capture their second World Series Championship in 4 years.

It is the bottom of the first inning and the first three batters reach base against Fausto Carmona (now known as Roberto Hernandez). Fausto had a dominant 2007 in his first full season as a starter finishing in 4th place in the Cy Young voting. But in the first inning of this game he was already in trouble. The next batter was Manny Ramirez, but Fausto struck him out. He was followed by eventual World Series MVP Mike Lowell, but Fausto got him to fly out weakly enough where the runner on third could not score.

Next up was Boston's favorite whipping boy, J.D. "Nancy" Drew. The majority of Red Sox fans hated Drew because he was paid a lot of money, had a lot of injuries (though over his first 4 years in Boston played more games than the "gritty" Kevin Youkilis), didn't hit for a high average or with a lot of power, took a lot of walks and a lot of strike outs looking, was such a great and effortless defender that it looked like he was dogging it, and basically played completely even keeled so it looked like he didn't care. He never cheated. He never assaulted a woman. He never got a DUI. And yet, he was completely hated. And here he was with a golden opportunity to erase that hatred. As he was known to do, Drew worked a 3-1 count, a true hitter's count. The next pitch he deposited deep into the center field seats for what would become the $14 million grand slam.

This was all I could think about last night when J.D.'s younger brother, Stephen went 4-5 with the game tying home run and the walk-off base hit against the Minnesota Twins. Stephen has spent the majority of his time trying to distinguish himself from his brother. Despite similar plate approaches, quiet demeanors, sharing the same last name, batting from the left side, starting slowly, and wearing the same freaking number, ya, J.D. and Stephen are nothing alike. Regardless, Stephen wanted us all to know he wasn't his brother.

Stephen has had an awful start to his season. He missed the first week suffering post concussion symptoms and almost got Wally Pipped by Jose Iglesias. He then hit .154 with a .517 OPS in April with no home runs and 17 strikeouts. His defense was strong as always, but when you don't hit, fans rarely notice your defensive contributions (or managers for that matter; check out past Gold Glove winners and almost all of them had a great offensive season in the years they won the award). Then on May 1 he hit his first home run and his first multi-hit game. Finally, last night he hit the $9.5 million home run and walk-off.

The other star of the night was Clayton Mortensen, the current long reliever for the Sox. With Clay Buchholz leaving too many pitches in the zone, and short starts in the Texas series from every starting pitcher, the bullpen was taxed. They really only had 5 available pitchers and when the ninth inning rolled around they were down to just 2 with a one run lead. The way last night's game slogged along you just knew Joel Hanrahan was not going to protect this lead.

Just a quick aside. Hanrahan clearly did not have it last night and has not had it for most of the season. This is not entirely different from what he did last year though when he walked 5.4 per nine innings. What bothers me is he seems like a guy who makes excuses. This is now the second time he has come up with an injury after a bad outing despite there being no visual evidence. I hate hate hate it when writers call out athletes for not playing through injuries so I guess I am being a major hypocrite here. But we have all played sports with that guy who is having a bad day and then comes up with a mysterious hamstring injury while running out a ground ball so he can just give up or give himself an excuse. I should not be calling Hanrahan out for this, but I can't help but think of "that guy" when I watch him.

Any way, with Hanrahan leaving the game already giving up the tying run, the last man standing was Mortensen. Morensen is a pretty unremarkable pitcher. He doesn't have great stuff, not even averaging 90 MPH on his fastball. He's tall and gangly and has an odd delivery. He has a career 100 ERA+ (meaning his ERA is exactly average over his career). He was a strong addition to the team last year because he could be sent back and forth from Pawtucket when needed, but he does not have that option this year so I suspect he is only on the team until the rest of the bullpen is healthy. But last night he was the man and gave the Sox a chance to win. He got out of the ninth without further damage and then pitched two more scoreless innings working around 2 walks and a single. Then Stephen Drew did his work and Mortensen picked up the W.

It was an ugly game that lasted almost 5 hours and saw the top of the Red Sox lineup hit into 4 killer double plays. Buch scuffled after a week of cheating rumors. Pedro Ciriaco was thrown out trying to steal third with 2 outs in the 8th. Tuesday's starter Ryan Dempster almost had to come into the game in extra innings. But one of the great things about this team and what separates it from the last two years is its depth. Last night the number 9 hitter and the 12th man in the pen took care of business. Just like Ben Cherington drew (no pun intended) it up.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Thoughts I Think: Papi Hot, The Pitching Not

Since last night was one of the rare times where I'm not drinking beer during a Red Sox game, the title of today's post is "Thoughts I Think." I stole this from my talented girlfriend Sadie, who uses this "catch phrase" after she says something...profound about the world. If she ever starts a site where she shares these thoughts with the rest of you then she can have it back.

The Sox lost a rough one yesterday to the struggling Toronto Blue Jays, 9-7. Let's start with some positives though.

  • David Ortiz is out of his mind right now. Let's first remember that he is 37 years old and he just came back ten days ago from TWO injured heels. The first couple games back you could kind of tell he wasn't fully right as he wasn't really driving the ball, instead looking to get on base and help the team any way he can. But around his 4th game he started absolutely destroying baseballs and he hasn't stopped. He has hit safely in all 9 games this year. He has had at least 2 hits in 7 of the 9 games, and in the two he didn't he at least hit a double in one and a home run in the other. If RBI are your thing (they are certainly not mine), he already has 15 on the season, placing him 23rd in the AL in just 36 at bats. Travis Hafner has the next fewest at bats in the top 23, with 66. The home run he hit last night was an absolute bomb and if possible I think he actually hit that bases clearing double even harder. Papi shoulda been the hero last night.
  • Jon Lester wasn't actually that terrible last night. His pitches looked good and hard. He got some key strikeouts when he needed them. When he missed, he missed low for the most part. Even the home run to Encarnacion was a cutter that he just didn't quite get inside far enough. What really did him in was some bad luck finally catching up with him in the form of allowing runners on base to score (and Salty, but I'll get to him later). I pointed this out to Joe Black yesterday, but I read this sentence somewhere that said "Lester, Lackey and Buchholz, who have struggled at times with men on base, have set career highs this season while stranding (leaving men on base at the end of innings) 81, 86 and 90 percent of their baserunners respectively." Stranding baserunners is generally not a skill as most pitchers basically strand between 70 and 75 percent of baserunners over the course of the season. When you see that someone is setting a career high in something that is not a skill in April, you can expect them to regress towards that average. Last night, Lester regressed, allowing 6 out of 9 baserunners to score for a 33% strand rate.
  • Jacoby and Dustin had strong games last night, and though Daniel Nava didn't do much, those three guys are the real reason that Ortiz and Mike Napoli are both in the top 25 in the AL for RBI this year (23rd and 3rd, respectively). RBI is a context based stat and unless you are Justin Upton (12 home runs and 19 RBI) you need runners on base in front of you to accrue RBI. If the Sox had Stephen Drew and Will Middlebrooks batting 1 and 2, neither Papi nor Napoli would be racking up the RBI like they are because Drew and Big Willie don't get on base enough so far.
  • I love it when a platoon comes together! Mike Carp (lefty) started the game in left field with the right handed Brandon Morrow on the mound. In his second at bat he abused a Morrow slider to deep right field for his first home run of the year. Then in the 6th, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons brought in lefty reliever Aaron Loup so Farrell, recognizing that every at bat was important from here on with a 3 run deficit, countered by bringing in Jonny Gomes (righty) for Carp. Gomes crushed a fastball to deep left center for his first home run of the year. Platoons, when used right, can be a beautiful thing.
    • Gibbons horribly mismanaged his bullpen last night despite the victory. First he pulled Morrow after only 96 pitches and 5 innings. I understand pitch counts, but to that point he had already struck out Mike Napoli twice and he was the first batter in the sixth inning. He could have at least sent him out for one more batter.
    • Then he brought in a side arming lefty to face the righty Napoli. Also, besides Carp, there were no lefty hitters coming up again until the number 9 hitter, Stephen Drew. Loup was able to get through 7 batters before being pulled after his short stop committed an error to put men on first and third with one out in the 7th and a two run lead.
    • So Gibbons then brought in a right handed reliever Steve Delabar to face Pedroia and Ortiz. Delabar at that point had 12 walks in just over 14 innings, so he's not really a great candidate to put into a game with runners on base and less than 2 outs. Shockingly he walked Pedroia and then Ortiz crushed the double.
    • Finally, Gibbons brought in a second lefty specialist, the immortal Darren Oliver, in the 8th to face the bottom of the Red Sox order. If he had a second lefty specialist, why didn't he bring him in to face Ortiz with the bases loaded in the 7th inning when it really mattered?
    • One other ridiculous move Gibbons made was pinch hitting for Rajai Davis in the 7th inning after he had been on base 3 times in the game and had wreaked havoc on the base paths. Adam Lind, his replacement, struck out.
  • I love watching Morrow pitch. He doesn't really know where the ball is going, but he throws it really frigging hard and with a ton of movement. People have been waiting for him to emerge as an ace for years, but he just can't control his amazing stuff. His matchup against Ortiz in the 5th was a thing of beauty. After getting lucky with throwing a high changeup/splitter for a ball on the first pitch, he came back with two filthy splitters down in the zone that Ortiz swung through. Then on the last pitch he threw a 90 MPH slider in the same location but with the opposite break, completely fooling the hottest hitter on the planet. For a baseball geek it was like Princess Leia in a bikini.
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia. I will not mention how beautiful I think your swing is anymore unless you stop throwing the ball to first to pick off runners. You can barely throw to second or the pitcher for that matter, stop snap throwing to first. You have done this a few times this year already and luckily come away unscathed, but finally you were scathed hard last night and you deserved it. Stop it right now. I used to be a lefty catcher and it was always really hard for me to try and throw runners out at third because I would have to catch the pitch then awkwardly pivot my body. It's the same thing with a righty throwing to first. Unless you magically ingested the soul of Ivan Rodriguez, just stop.
  • Tough night for Junichi Tazawa. Still have lots of faith in him, but homers for him and Koji Uehara could prove to be a problem this year.
  • Joel Hanrahan, sucking my hat (that's what SMH means right? I seriously only know what LOL and BRB mean as far as computer talk goes).
  • Finally, Will Middlebrooks needs a rest. Or a hug. Or a sip from Jobu's rum. Poor guy is so lost right now. It's probably the wrist and a lack of plate discipline, but it just looks sad.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Three Strike Thursday

Here are three quick hits for Thursday (quick for me anyway):

  • The starters need to start pitching deeper into games. Through 14 games, Sox starters have pitched exactly 5 innings 8 times (actually 7, in John Lackey's start he threw 4 1/3 but I'm going to count that). Eventually this is going to place a tremendous strain on the bullpen, even though it goes about 10 deep. The Red Sox rank an excellent second in starter's runs allowed per game at just 2.79 (behind Atlanta who is only allowing 1.93 runs per game!). They rank a respectable 16th in innings per start with 5.9 (basically because they have 0 disaster starts where the starter goes something like 2 innings and gives up 8 runs, like they did about 162 times last year in Boston). But where you see their struggle is in quality start percentage. A quality start is when a pitcher pitches at least 6 innings and gives up 3 earned runs or less. A quality start (QS) is not a great stat because a line of 6 innings and 3 runs is not exactly high quality. We could also get into the fact that the word "quality" does not measure anything (see this article by Joe Posnanski for a deeper discussion on quality starts), but this is supposed to be a quick hit. But to show that the Sox are not pitching deep enough, this works well. Through 14 games they have a QS% of 43% of games pitched, which ranks 25th in the Major Leagues. Aside from Buchholz, who has 3 QS, the starters are wasting too many pitches to get through lineups and they are forcing their way out of games. The team leads the league in strikeouts per nine innings, but if it wants to make it through the season with a healthy bullpen it is going to have to look to get some more efficient outs.
  • How about Mike Carp ya'll? Three for three with two doubles and a triple. When I saw he was starting last night I was not too excited, even with Jonny Gomes slumping. Carp bats left handed, but historically has done better against lefties, which is not what you would expect. Justin Masterson has an extreme platoon split (about .200 points in OPS worse against lefties) so the move made some sense, but given how bad Carp was in Spring Training and his opposite splits I didn't think much would come of it. I think at some point this year I will stop questioning John Ferrell because about 9 out of 10 moves he makes are right so far. Unfortunately I have some deep scars from Leatherface that may never properly heal even if Ferrell becomes my metaphorical Mederma.
  • Speaking of Masterson, most of you remember that he used to play for Boston and was the main piece in the Victor Martinez trade waaaay back in 2009, back when people actually liked baseball in Boston. Some people may look at how well Masterson pitched in 2011 and how well he has started off this season and the fact that Martinez is plying his trade in Detroit now and determine that the Sox did poorly in this trade. This would overlook two key facts. The first is that Martinez had a very good season and a half in Boston, equaling the output Masterson had in 2011. The second is that when Victor signed in Detroit, the Sox received 2 compensation draft picks in the 2011 draft. Those picks? Matt Barnes and Henry Owens, the consensus 1st and 3rd best pitching prospects in the Sox farm system.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Through the Margarita Goggles: Oh Joel

Ugh. Let's get right to it.

  • After the new Bash Brothers (Nava and Salty, more on them later) went back to back in the sixth to give the Sox a 2-run lead, I felt complete confidence. I'm pretty sure it was not my third homemade margarita. I'm pretty sure it was the four-headed bullpen monster the Red Sox assembled this offseason. Koji to Junichi to Bailey to Joel may not have the ring of Tinker to Evers to Chance, but after watching these guys pitch for a week now, I thought they would be the most effective bullpen lineup I have ever seen in Boston. Sadly, the shakiest member of our monster is the one who pitches the ninth, Joel Hanrahan.
    • Joel has flirted with disaster in his three previous save opportunities leading up to the big stink here. He needed 21 pitches to collect his first save in New York. He walked a batter in his second save chance that brought the tying run in the form of Edwin Encarnacion (who hit 42 home runs last year) to the plate. And in his third save chance on home opening day he allowed a home run and a long double to again bring the tying run to the plate.
    • This game was just an absolute mess.
      • The home run to Chris Davis was mildly defensible because he is hitting homers off everyone right now. However, on a 1-2 pitch, Joel left a breaking ball up and you just can't do that against major league hitters.
      • He made quick work of Weiters and Hardy, though Hardy really helped him out by swinging at some bad pitches. With two outs and the 8-9-shitty 1 hitters coming up my confidence had not been shattered yet.
      • He started Flaherty off well and had him right where he wanted him, but the pitch he allowed for a hit missed the catchers glove by about a foot and a half.
      • When he walked Reimold on 4 pitches I knew it was over. From here he really looked like he had no idea where the ball was going.
      • Immediately after loading the bases with a second walk, he threw his first pitch about 50 feet and it bounced so violently Salty had no chance to block it. With that, the game was now tied and you could just tell it was not going to stay that way for long. One more pitch and his night, and the team's night, were over.
  • Has Ryan Dempster reminded anyone else of Josh Beckett from the last couple years? When the Sox signed him, I thought we were getting one of those ultra efficient, quick pitchers from the National League that keeps the ball in the ballpark, keeps runners off base and has only a modest strikeout rate. So far he has been the exact opposite. He nibbles. He keeps the ball up in the zone too much but doesn't throw hard enough to live there. He strikes out a ton of batters. I'm already annoyed by that glove wiggle he does in the middle of his wind up. I'm definitely not ready to give up on the guy yet, but homeboy has a strong defense behind him (last night notwithstanding) and he needs to trust it. Keep throwing your splitter down and let the infielders carry you through the 8th inning like a majestic Nord God on the back of a flying white dragon (sorry, I've been watching too much Vikings and Game of Trones).
  • With 3 center fielders in one outfield there are going to be a lot of "Venn Diagram" plays that end in sadness. A "Venn Diagram" play, aside from being something I just made up, is a play where two fielders have incredible range that over laps and a ball falls into that shared space. With 3 guys used to being able to call off their teammates, the non-Jacobys are going to have to learn to trust Ellsbury in these situations.
  • Can someone please get Jackie Bradley a helmet that fits? He's been in the bigs for 10 days now (cough service time cough) and the clubbies can't find him the proper head gear? At least once an at bat he takes a swing and it falls off. Last night he was running to third and he was fucking around with that thing. I don't know if someone is hazing him by dipping his do rag in sex lube or if the thing is just too big, but someone please take care of the young fella. I'm pretty sure Crash Davis in Bull Durham said something like, "You know, you never handle your luggage in the show, somebody else carries your bags. It was great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains. And, oh yeah, they give you fucking helmets that fit!"
  • Mike Napoli has about 1 more week until the Curly Headed Boyfriend (Dan Shaughnessy) writes some bloated column filled with REO Speedwagon lyrics talking about how he "Can't Fight this Feeling Anymore" and "You Get What You Pay For". God, even my own fake version of his column annoys the shit out of me.
  • Offensive players of the game:
    • Runner up: Daniel Nava. Pretty soon I may start to believe that Nava is actually a cyborg built by Walt Disney and placed on the Earth just to be the subject of the greatest baseball movie ever made. Until then, I will just marvel at what this guy has done to turn himself into a productive ballplayer. He won't be a middle of the order force this year, but he will definitely show that he belongs on a Major League roster.
    • Player of the Game: Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Two player of the game awards in just 8 games? Holy cow! My Uncle Lonnie thinks I'm head over heals for Salty so I'll try not to gush too much, but just a stellar game from the big catcher. If Ferrell can limit him to only hitting against righties (.777 OPS against righties and .597 OPS against lefties) Salty should have a career year right as he hits free agency.
  • My Uncle should be more concerned about my love for Koji Uehara, as should my girlfriend Sarah. He throws every pitch with such precision. He comes off the mound after a successful inning like he's just won the World Baseball Classic for Japan. He high-fives his teammates like Brody and his crew in Point Break. When this season is over, I may flee to Osaka with him and buy a fleet of used underwear vending machines.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Through the Beer Goggles: Home Opening Day

As the Don Draper of the new millennium, my job provides me with a lot of perks. I travel to exotic locations (Baltimore is beautiful this time of year), get free booze at work whenever I please (we have a fridge full of Bud Light), and have a sexy secretary/account manager (he just happens to be 6'3", 250 lbs. and a he). To top it off, I got to take one of my clients to Red Sox Home Opening Day. After getting a good lube on (AKA pre-gaming) at a pre-game reception in the stadium, I took my seat in the Right Field Grandstand and here is what I saw.

  • I can't believe in 2013, those Grandstand seats exist as is. For the fortunate uninitiated, the Grandstand seats at Fenway have remained unchanged, or at least seem like it, since the park opened in 1912. They are made of petrified wood. The middle bar on the seat back protrudes about 1 inch from the rest of the seat, just enough to let you know it's there. I assume this is to promote people to get out of their seats and cheer? They are approximately 12 inches wide; great for the slender modern man of the 1910's, but not so much for the good ol' Obese of America of the 2010's. They also face anywhere but home plate.
  • Last post I mentioned how the game opened by panning the New York crowd to see the celebrities on hand and made a crack about the lack of typical star power in New York. Today, the same was done in Boston and the only celebrity shown was Mike O'Malley. Sorry New York, I take back what I said. Couldn't we at least have had Dennis Leary or one of Marky Mark's cousins?
  • Clay Buchholz took the ball today and was pretty good. Here are some thoughts about his performance.
    • When Clay is on his stuff is a thing of beauty. He has so much movement on every one of his pitches and when they stay down in the zone he is virtually unhittable. Aside from a couple deep fly outs early in the game, there were not a lot of hard hit balls given up by Buch.
    • Speaking of stuff, the best pitch of the day was the changeup he threw Steven Pearce in the 5th inning to strike him out. After throwing two 93 MPH fastballs, one for a swinging strike and one for a foul, Clay pulled the string on the third pitch, almost literally. Using the same release point and arm speed, he was able to throw the pitch identically to the two fastballs, only as the ball reached the plate it basically stopped and Pearce swung over it. A 15 MPH difference in your fastball and changeup is incredible and should generate a lot of goofy swings from batters. This is a big reason why Josh Beckett became so ineffective towards the end of his Boston run when his fastball started coming in at 90 and his changeup remained 84. There was just not enough change to fool anyone.
    • Buch was definitely not perfect as he gave up 4 walks on the day. Two were to the apparently-now-scary Chris Davis in his first two appearances, so maybe he was just being a little overly cautious.
    • We were also treated to some 2010 Clay in the first inning when Nate McClouth reached base to lead off the game. Clay fired over to first approximately 73 times before the inning ended. Apparently he did an profile for McClouth the night before and found that he was a distant relative of Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman, Usain Bolt and the Flash. His control of the threat was just such a pleasure to watch! (You all can sense sarcasm through a blog post right? Good? Ok)
  • Wei-Yin Chen stymied the Boston offense for the first 6 innings. When the team was assembled this offseason, Chen is exactly the type of lefty pitcher the team was supposed to destroy. We all had visions of Napoli, Victorino, Gomes and Middlebrooks blasting moonshots over the Monster, but that group went a combined 1 for 9 with 2 strikeouts and a double play in the first 6.
  • Victorino had the 1 hit in that group, but was erased trying to steal with no outs, a 0-0 score and the middle of the order coming up. Pedroia follwed that up with a walk, so if Victorino had just stayed put it would have been 1st and 2nd with no outs and Napoli coming to the plate. I get that Farrell wants to be aggressive on the bases and he was trying to start a little something here, but there were a lot of reasons for him not to send the runner here.
    • The Sox had 6 right handed batters (Pedey, Napoli, Middlebrooks, Nava, Gomes, Ross) all capable of hitting home runs to break open the scoring. Instead of playing for 1 run, Farrell should have trusted his offense and played for a big inning.
    • Though the game stayed scoreless until the bottom of the seventh, they had only played 3 and a half innings to that point. It is way too early to tell if this will be a close, low scoring game so you should not play as if it will be.
    • The few Sox baserunners were wary of Chen's pick off move all day. Every time he lifted his right leg they were dancing back to the base so this indicates to me that he has a good pick-off move. You should only steal against a lefty with a good pick-off move if you are 100% sure you will be safe.
    • Matt Weiters was 4th in all of baseball last year at throwing out base stealers. Good pick-off move and a great catcher is not a recipe for success.
  • Offensive star of the day: Daniel Nava. Who else? The only guy besides Mike Napoli to record an extra base hit provided the fireworks (and the winning runs) in the bottom of the seventh with a shot to left field off Chen. Nava also reached base (walk, single) in his previous two appearances, but was stranded each time. His homer broke a 0-0 tie and continued a special start to the season for a guy who wasn't even guaranteed a roster spot this year. Before the game I was a little sad that Nava got the start over Jackie Bradley Jr. because I wanted to see the rookie in action, but John Farrell clearly made the right call.
  • Can we all come to an agreement now that JBJ probably did not need to be on the Opening Day roster this year? I really like the kid and am excited for him to be a part of this team, but can't we now accept that 11 days in 2013 is not worth potentially missing a full year in 2019? Some facts to consider:
    • JBJ is currently hitting .143, with a .333 OBP and .190 SLG.
    • Aside from a great play in the first game, a game in which they won by 6 runs, the Sox have not needed a gold glover to play left field.
    • In the 4 wins that JBJ has played in, the Sox have won by a combined 24 runs. Even if JBJ had hit well in all those games, he would not have been irreplaceable.
    • The guy who JBJ has basically taken playing time from is Daniel Nava, who has a 1.672 OPS and did win the game for the Sox yesterday.
    • Though he seems like a great kid, smart and probably a future leader, he appears to be a quiet wall flower in the dugout right now. He's not exactly invigorating the players and a team with Gomes, Victorino, Pedroia, etc. doesn't need a rookie to do that anyway.
    • If the Sox waited 11 days to call him up and delay his service time, JBJ would be making his debut this Friday. See how quick 11 days is?
    • My point with JBJ is not that he is a worse player than Nava or that he is not ready to play in the big leagues or that he is or won't be an important part of this team. My point is that at this point in their careers, there is not a lot of difference between the two and over the course of 11 days Nava was just as likely to make a splash as JBJ was. After 8 days I think it is pretty clear that is true.
    • Of course, after saying all that I now predict JBJ will have walk-off homers in each of the next two games.
  • Joel Hanrahan showed mortality again giving up a leadoff homer to Adam Jones in the ninth inning and allowed the tying run to come to the plate after a two out double from J.J. Hardy. When Hanrahan was given the closer job over Andrew Bailey, part of the reason cited was that he pitches better in save opportunities because he focuses more. As a "stat" guy I call bullshit here, but a guy who comes out to a Slipknot song, maybe Hanrahan is one of those nut jobs who really does need added pressure to hone his abilities. I kind of doubt it, but that's a much less scary explanation for his shakiness.
    • Speaking of Hanrahan's entrance music, when he exited the bullpen the P.A. blasted the first three notes of "Shipping Up to Boston", Papelbon's old song and the crowd went crazy. The song shut off and he went all the way to the mound in silence before Slipknot started. Papelbon hasn't been on the team since 2011, so I'm curious how this happened. Do they just have a button that says "Closer" and they forgot to update it? Aceves must have had a song last year that would have forced them to update the "Closer" song button, right? Or did they simply have a button labeled "Asshole" for him?
  • $5 beers are a blessing and a curse. Those were some looooooong beer lines yesterday. Fenway really needs to go back to having beer men in the stands.
  • 5-2 and it feels so good.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Through the Beer Goggles: Opening Day

Winter is finally over (unless you are one of the many nerds in my life watching Game of Thrones like my beautiful girlfriend) and baseball is back! Let me repeat that: baseball is back! For two straight years the Red Sox, who many assumed were going to be a super team, limped out of the gates for a combined 1-11 record over the first six games of each season. And this year with expectations lowered to a point not seen since the days of Luis Rivera and Carlos Quintana, the Sox go out and put a hurting on the hurting Yankees. I had a couple of beers while watching the game on my DVR and these are my thoughts.

  • Baseball is back!
  • The game opened with a shot of some of the many New York celebrities checking out Ben Francisco and Jayson Nix. The first three they showed: Steve Schirripa (Bobby Bacala from Sopranos), Matt Laurer, and Joe Piscopo. Looks like the celebs are as down on this Yankees team as I am.
  • One thing I love about seeing the Yankees is seeing all the new veterans on the team with their clean shaven faces. Youkilis, Ichiro, Hafner and Wells have all had facial hair in their career and now they are smoother than Lee Feingold's ass. These are grown ass men and some guy is telling them they can't have a beard. It is hilarious and ridiculous and outdated and it leads to that monstrosity of a mustache on Joba Chamberlain's bloated grill. Of course the counter argument is the small dog on Jonny Gomes' face and the awful soul patch that Will Middlebrooks is rocking.
  • Jon Lester pitched and was pretty mediocre. Some observations about his performance:
    • Giving up 2 runs and 2 walks and striking out 7 is very good even though it only came over 5 innings.
    • Giving up 2 runs and 2 walks and striking out 7 is less good when you consider that Eduardo Nunez (.695 career OPS) batted second and Ben Francisco (49 homers over 7 years in the majors) was the DH.
    • Lester's best pitch yesterday was the 4 seam fastball and I wish he used it more. He located it pretty well, especially when he threw it inside to lefties, and even when he didn't keep it down in the zone, it had enough zip (93-94 mph) to get by the Yankees weak lineup.
    • Lester's worst pitch was definitely the curveball (though the changeup looked iffy as well). He threw 8-10 of those and at best they were show me pitches. He threw 2 for strikes, one on a first pitch to Youk, who Lester probably knew would not swing first pitch, and another to Vernon Wells that he crushed down the line for a double. That would be Vernon Wells who set the record for worst on base percentage in the history of the sport by an every day player in 2011.
    • His first couple innings were vintage Lester as he kept everything down, even when he missed. But as the game progressed he left a lot of his pitches up, especially his beloved cut fastball. I didn't take the time to slow the game down and really look at his mechanics so I don't know if he was reverting to his old habits, but often times when pitchers get fatigued they start to lose all the new things they learned in Spring Training. Hopefully as he builds up strength this year he is able to hold his mechanics.
    • I would really like to see what he can do against an actual Major League lineup. 5 days from now the Blue Jays will be happy to oblige my wish.
  • That was not a Major League lineup that Lester faced.
  • Baseball is back!
  • Offensive players of the game (normally there won't be this many players to honor but it was a great offensive day against the Yankees' best player, C.C. Sabathia):
    • Honorable mention: Jonny Gomes. With Jackie Bradley Jr. threatening his playing time for the season, Jonny came in and showed why he will be a valuable asset to this team. If he wants to play semi-regularly when Ortiz comes back he is going to have to hit. A 2-4 start with a sac fly and the best baserunning play (coming around from second on Ellsbury's infield single) of the day is a great way to start.
    • Second runner up: Jacoby Ellsbury. Healthy for the first time since the first week of last season, Ellsbury had all of his talents on display. He drilled a nice triple (which would have been a double for most) to the gap in right and legged out an infield single in the ninth (which may have been an error in Fenway, Cano really shoulda made that play). This is his walk year and big things could be around the corner.
    • First runner up: Jackie Bradley Jr.: Three walks and an RBI groundout that could have been a hit had it not hit the mound and a great play in his first ever game in left field to boot. I disagree with the call to bring him up because of the service time, but the kid is clearly mature enough to handle the spotlight. It will be interesting to see what they do when Ortiz comes back.
      • Two fun facts I saw on Twitter about JBJ's performance. After 1 game, he has the same number of walks that Carl Crawford had all last season in 31 games.
      • After 1 game in the Majors, JBJ has just 1 fewer 3 walk games than Carl Crawford has had in his entire career (I still love you Carl!).
    • Player of the game: Jarrod Saltalamacchia. A double and 3 walks! Salty is going to hit home runs for this team. At 6'4'' and 235 lbs and with a gorgeous swing, his power will never be in doubt. But the guy had a .288 OBP last year and even with the power, that is not acceptable. This is probably a fluke game, but if he figured out how to take a pitch he will be one of the best 5 offensive catcher's in baseball. And in line for a massive contract this offseason.
  • Salty's defense is another story. He really botched the strike 3 to Cano in the first inning and was crossed up by Lester a few times. I would bet he does not catch too many more of Lester's starts this year.
  • How did the new guys do on offense? We talked about JBJ and Gomes, but there were 2 other guys making their Sox debut yesterday as well.
    • Shane Victorino went 2-6 with a couple singles and a couple RBI. I think he is going to do pretty well this season as he really only had a bad second half last year. Today's performance was nothing special but after how some other guys have debuted here over the last couple years, it's good to see a controversial signing break the ice early.
    • Unlike Mike Napoli who was 0-5. His bat looked a little slow against some slow fastballs from Sabathia (since when does he throw 89-91? Yikes). He did have a deep flyball in one of his at bats that could be a wall scraper at Fenway and he did not have a full Spring Training to shake off the rust. I just know how brutal Sox fans and especially the media, who already deride his signing because they are no talent ass clowns themselves, can be so I want all new guys to start strong.
  • How did the old guys do on offense? We touched on Salty and Ells, but how about the rest?
    • Dustin Pedroia looks like this is game 101. He is dirty, he is hitting and he is hustling. Enjoy one of the greatest Red Sox I've ever seen in the middle of his prime.
    • Will Middlebrooks had a tough day, going 0-4, but he did draw a walk (the Yankees issued 8 walks yesterday). If anyone on this team is going to fail to meet up to expectations this year it's going to be Will, unfortunately. Wrist and hand injuries are a bitch to come back from. We may not see his power come back until next year.
    • Jose Iglesias looked like a completely different hitter, except for his last at bat. For one, it looks like he added 20 pounds of muscle. Second, it looks like he actually has a plan when he hits now! It's easy to forget that he is only 23 years old and is still learning the nuances of Major League hitting. If he can become a guy with a .280 average and .320 OBP, he will be one of the best short stops in the Majors. Having said all that, he had 3 infield singles so let's not get too excited. I fear that some people (Dad, I'm talking to you) will see a performance like this and hope Stephen "I'm not J.D." Drew never plays an inning for this team. His defense was amazing though. I can't believe how quickly he gets the ball out of his glove.
  • Koji Uehara is my favorite player on this team. 5 pitches in about 13.3 seconds to get through the inning. Wow.
  • Junichi Tazawa is my second favorite player on this team. 96 mph fastballs for strikes.
  • I'm going to start a contest for these guys this year where I count the percentage of strikes thrown and total balls. Winner gets to sleep on my couch for the rest of eternity. After one game, the standings are:
    • Strike percentage: Uehara 100%, Tazawa 89%
    • Balls thrown: Uehara 0, Tazawa 1
  • Baseball is back!
  • Andrew Bailey looked pretty filthy to his one batter. I hope Ferrell does not neglect this guy because when he is healthy he is one of the best relievers in the game.
  • Joel Hanrahan looked decent and I sure do love a 98 mph fastball from my closer.
  • I have to give a shout out to home plate umpire Ted Barrett. That was one of the best called games I've ever seen from an ump. There were a lot of close pitches that Lester, Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain wanted, but he held firm with a really consistent and accurate zone. Nice work.
  • Ok, is there anyone else on the team or in the organization I didn't cover??? Oh, right, the manager! I just went through about 346 bullet points and only mentioned John Ferrell once in passing. Last year about 30% of these bullet points would have been consumed by Bobby Valentine, now it's almost down to 0%. The best managers are like men with HPV, you don't know it's there and it doesn't cause you any discomfort. Valentine was more like AIDS mixed with herpes and gential warts.
  • I'll say it one last time, baseball is back! Enjoy the season. I know I will.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Path to The Playoffs

*Warning: This post is completely based on Wins Above Replacement. If you hate this or don't understand the concept then I understand if you want to skip this one, but I plan to keep this at the most basic levels of the concept.

The Boston Red Sox were a long way away from a playoff spot last year. In fact, they finished closer to the worst record in the league (the 55-107 Houston Astros) than they did to a playoff spot. At 69 wins, the Sox would have to realistically add about 21 wins to their roster to get back to the playoffs. Though Baltimore and Texas tied at 93 wins apiece last year for the two Wild Card slots, I would guess that most years, 90 wins would be enough to claim the final Wild Card spot. So how do the Sox get those 21 wins and head back to the promise land? It’s all about being average and avoiding terribleness.

Before we get into how the team will get there, let’s talk a little bit about Wins Above Replacement (WAR), specifically the concept of a replacement player. The replacement player is not tangible. According to Baseball Prospectus (one of the earliest proponents and creators of the concept), “replacement-level players are of a caliber so low that they are always available in the minor leagues because the players are well below major-league average.” Sources differ on this, but most say that a team full of replacement players would win about 50 games in the Major Leagues (only slightly worse than the Astros last year and actually better than the Detroit Tigers in 2003). So when a player has a WAR above 0 they are incrementally improving that hypothetical replacement team by that many wins. 

A great illustrator of this concept is last year’s Red Sox. Using Baseball-Reference (this site and are the two main sources of WAR, but they differ because each uses different defensive stats for the final tally. WAR is far from perfect, but it gives a good data  point and it is a good tool to use in discussions like this) we see that the Red Sox got 18.9 WAR out of their roster last year (17.7 from the offense and a putrid 1.2 from the entire pitching staff. Yikes). If you round that up to 19 WAR and add that to the 50 win baseline you get 69 wins, or exactly as many as the team won last year*.
*Please note that this does not always work out so nice and tidy. WAR is a number assigned to an individual performance, not divided up by how many wins a team has at the end of the year. A lot of factors go into a team's wins and losses that are beyond an individual's control, so most of the time team WAR+50 does not equal the actual win total.

There are a lot of ways to go from 69 wins to 90 wins. One is to add significant top line talent like the Blue Jays have this year. The Jays one just 73 games last year, but when they looked at the rest of the AL East and AL in general, decided that there was a path to winning enough games to make the playoffs if they could add top line talent. They imported Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, Josh Johnson, Melky Cabrera and R.A. Dickey and now Vegas is listing them as the World Series favorite.

Another way is to replace terrible with average, and that is just what Boston is doing. Let’s start with removing terrible. In 2012, the Red Sox employed 12 pitchers who combine to provide negative 7 wins to the team (Beckett, Padilla, Thomas, Carpenter, McDonald, Bailey, Melancon, Bard, Stewart, Aceves, Cook, Matsuzaka). This means that these guys performed worse than an average minor leaguer would have. In 2011, it was even worse as the pitching staff had 12 guys combine to post negative 11 wins, thanks mostly to Lackey and Tim Wakefield.

Having terrible on the team is unavoidable, especially on the pitching staff. Every year a team is going to suffer injuries or ineffectiveness, but the key is minimalizing it. In the years the team was successful they were able to limit their negative wins on the pitching staff to around 3. With the team getting rid of 9 of the 12 players on that list (and potentially 11 if Bard and Aceves fail to make the roster) the team is off to a good start.

The next step the team is taking is adding a lot of average players. Assuming Mike Napoli signs, the team has added 8 players this off season, none of whom would be considered a super star (though about half have had super star seasons in the last three years). It is reasonable to expect that they will all be average this season given their recent performances and age.

Last year I wrote a post talking about league average hitters. I argued that being an average player is not a bad thing at all and that the word “average” carries a negative connotation. I wrote that “a hypothetical team with perfectly average hitters and pitchers would be in playoff contention every year.” In 2013, it seems like the Red Sox are putting that theory to the test.

Boston has a very few players on their roster that could post a true super star season. Pedroia, Ellsbury and Lester are the most likely and you could envision a scenario where Middlebrooks, Victorino, Napoli or Buchholz do the same. A super star season usually means about 5 WAR. All of these guys, though, are more likely to post average seasons, or about 2.5 WAR. But if all of these guys do just that, the Sox will be in great shape in 2013.

Ok, time for a quick back of the napkin math section. If you have stuck with me this long then hopefully you won’t mind this too much. Let’s start with the starting the lineup as it is likely to look right now. I am going to assume that just about every regular player in the lineup will post an average season, and that any platoon spots (LF and C) will combine to produce an average season. Based on recent track record, the major stretches here are that Stephen Drew will be average and that Pedroia won’t be well above average.

Ellsbury – 2.5 wins
Victorino – 2.5 wins
Pedroia – 2.5 wins
Ortiz – 2.5 wins
Napoli – 2.5 wins
Middlebrooks – 2.5 wins
Gomes/Nava – 2.5 wins
Drew – 2.5 wins
Salty/Ross – 2.5 wins
TOTAL - 22.5 wins

Now we get to the rotation, where we have to do a little bit of wishful thinking, though not a lot. I will assume that the top 3 (Lester, Buch, Dempster) will be average this year, though I do think Lester and Dempster will be better than that and Buch a bit worse. Lackey and Doubront are the tricky cases where we have to dream a bit. Before Lackey’s miserable 2011, he posted consecutive seasons of about 1.5 wins. I am hoping that 2011 was so terrible because of the arm problems he spent 2012 recovering from and that he can return to the pitcher he was in ’09-’10. Doubront was exactly replacement level last year (0 WAR), but he was just 24 in his first time as a rotation pitcher and showed good skills so I am going to assume he can improve some this year with the experience under his belt.

Lester – 2.5 wins
Buchholz – 2.5 wins
Dempster – 2.5 wins
Lackey – 1.5 wins
Doubront – 1 win
TOTAL – 10 wins

This leaves us with 82.5 wins (50 for the baseline, 22.5 for the starting offense, 10 for the rotation) before we consider the bench and rotation. Since I have already included 2 key bench players in the projections (Nava and Ross) for the starting offense, I will only add 1 more win for whoever makes up the rest of the bench. If Ferrell can manage left/right matchups and defensive replacements properly then this should be easy to achieve. For the bullpen, I expect it to be above average, but for the sake of this exercise, let’s consider it to be average. If we speculate that the rotation will average 6 innings per start (probably a stretch, but we will use it as a round number) that leaves about 500 innings for the bullpen to handle. A starting pitcher is expected to throw about 200 innings per season, so for 500 bullpen innings we can consider that 2 and a half starters. If we multiply 2.5 starters by 2.5 wins, we get just over 6 wins.

Bench - 1 win
Bullpen - 6 wins
TOTAL - 7 wins

That covers just about all of it. There are other factors like the manager, mid-season trades and prospect call-ups that can affect the final tally, but to keep it simple we end up with 39.5 wins above replacement, or 89.5 total wins. I set out looking for the team to get to 90 wins and it looks like they are reasonably set up to get there. For a team of average or worse players, it is easy to see how they can make the playoffs. In a division that looks to be more vulnerable than at any point in the last 10 years, the Sox have as good a shot as any besides maybe the Blue Jays to contend for the playoffs. When you hear people lament the fact that the team added a lot of average and mediocre players, be content in knowing that this has a strong chance to be a winning plan.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Going Dempster Diving

The Boston Red Sox have signed free agent starting pitcher Ryan Dempster to a 2 year, $26.5 million contract, marking the 4th contract this offseason they’ve given with an average annual value of approximately $13 million (if I was an insane person, like Dan Shaughnessy, I might try to connect this to some mystical curse, write a book about it and then go on every TV and radio show that will have me and present it as a fact). After dedicating their offseason shopping spree almost exclusively to the offense, Ben Cherington finally addressed a pitching staff that allowed the third most runs in the American League in 2012. Let's take a look at Dempster before we get to whether Cherington made a good deal or not (do you feel the suspense? That's how you keep people reading!).

Dempster has had a really interesting career. He was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the third round in 1995, but traded the next year to the Florida Marlins for old friend John Burkett (ironically, people are trying to compare Dempster to Burkett, who signed with the Sox when he was 36 as a softer throwing righty at the end of his career). In his first 6 seasons with the Marlins and Cincinnati Reds, Dempster was an ineffective starting pitcher. He had decent strike out numbers, but walked way too many batters and gave up a lot of home runs. The Reds released him after just a season and a half. At just 27 years old, it appeared Dempster’s career as a starter was over.

He latched on with the Chicago Cubs and transitioned to a bullpen role. His strikeouts remained steady and his walks actually ticked up, but he was able to cut his homeruns by 2/3 and was suddenly a very useful pitcher. After just one season, he became the Cubs closer, where he would remain until 2007. In that season, his home run problems started to come back and his ERA suffered. Heading into the 2008 season, former phenom Kerry Wood was finally healthy after years of injury issues and the Cubs decided to make him the new closer. With Dempster’s job no longer available, the Cubs decided to give him another shot in the rotation.

Because baseball is ultimately completely unpredictable, Dempster, now 31, responded by setting career bests in ERA (2.96), walk rate (3.31 per 9) and strike out to walk ratio (2.46 to 1). He basically became a completely new pitcher, focused on throwing strikes to keep runners off base. He stopped inducing as many ground balls as he was as a reliever and his home runs rate hovered around league average, but with less runners on base, the home runs did less damage. For the next 5 years, Dempster averaged more than 3 Wins Above Replacement (according to Baseball-Reference) and was one of the better starters in the National League. But with the Cubs out of contention in 2012, they traded him to the Texas Rangers for his first taste of American League action.

At the time of the trade, Dempster was among the NL leaders in ERA. So what does he do in his first 3 starts in Texas? Allow 16 earned runs (19 total runs) in 17 1/3 innings for a 8.31 ERA. It appeared like Dempster would fail where so many other NL pitchers have over the last decade making the transition from the NL to the much tougher AL. However, as he has done so many times before, he fought the perception and pitched really well in his last 9 starts posting his highest strike out rate (9.4 per 9 innings) of his career and a better than average 4.01 ERA. Because the Rangers shit the bed, he was unable to continue this success in the post season. Now, at 35 years old, Ryan Dempster will pitch a full season in the American League for the first time in his career.

So what did the Red Sox get with Dempster, a man who seemingly reinvents himself every 4 or 5 years?

Most importantly they got a durable pitcher. Since he returned to the rotation in 2008, Dempster has thrown more than 200 innings in every season but last, when he threw 173 innings. He had 2 separate unrelated DL stints last year, but neither were for serious injuries (strained quad and a strained shoulder). Now the caveat that he is an aging pitcher coming to a team with a questionable medical staff apply here, but his recent track record shows a pitcher who will take the ball every fifth day. More than anything, this is what the Red Sox have lacked the last two years. In 2011 and 2012 the Sox had just 1 pitcher pitch over 200 innings, and that was Jon Lester’s largely ineffective innings last season. Most playoff teams in 2012 had multiple pitchers throw 200 innings or more than 30 starts. The Reds had 5 starters make 30 plus starts and 4 starters throw at least 200 innings. If you want your team to win over 90 games, then you want at least your top 4 starters making about 75% of your teams starts. If the Sox can get 30 starts out of Dempster, Lester, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront (or if they sign someone like Edwin Jackson) this season, they will win 90 games. That is a Sexy Guarantee.

Of course throwing 200 innings can only happen if they are quality innings. Luckily, at least for 2012, I would expect quality innings out of Dempster. I would predict that Dempster will be average or better this year because he has been so good ever since returning to the rotation. His strikeouts have remained steady over the last 5 years and his walk rate continue to be good, which limits the damage from his occasional homeritis. He also gets a healthy amount of groundballs, which will be great in front of an infield defense that features former Gold Glover Dustin Pedroia and the second coming of Ozzie Smith at short stop. 

The other great thing about this signing is that it is for only 2 years. At Dempsters age there is a decent chance that he either falls off a cliff in his abilities or injuries start to take a toll and he spends some time on the DL. The risk of this happening would only increase after 2 years. If Dempster can make it through 2013 reasonably healthy and effective, I think he will have satisfied the needs of the team. By 2014 I think the Sox will have another 1 or 2 young starters ready to join the rotation and if Dempster starts to slip then, the team will be covered. Also, he could head back to the bullpen and prove useful there as he has in the past.

Of course there are risks in signing any pitcher, let alone one towards the end of his career moving to a tougher league. Someone once said that once you’ve displayed the ability for a skill then you own the potential to repeat that. In Dempster’s case that can be a good thing as he has had many good seasons, but it could also mean that he reverts to the wild tendencies of his youth. If you combine his previous high walk rates with his high home run rates, you get a pretty bad pitcher. Dempster also has a fairly large platoon split in his career, giving up an .807 OPS against lefties compared to just .701 against righties (this split may be muted this year though as he pitches more in Fenway, a tougher place for lefties to hit, and he added a cut fastball in 2012 aimed at neutralizing left handed power). In Yankee Stadium with the short porch against guys like Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, this is a scary proposition. He also continues to lose velocity on his fastball, from an average speed of 91.1 MPH in 2008 to just 89.7 MPH in 2012.

The final verdict is that this is another strong signing by the Red Sox. They haven’t landed any superstars this offseason, but they have filled some obvious holes on the roster with solid players. The offense has a mixture of power and speed and a handful of guys who can grind out at bats (though at present is very right heavy). The rotation now has a durable innings eater to join the upside of pitchers like Lester, Buchholz and Doubront along with some top pitching prospects in the high minors to provide depth should any of these guys get hurt. I would expect this closes the book on the major moves the Sox make for the rest of the offseason. I think they will continue to monitor the market for a Jacoby Ellsbury trade and there is probably a 10% chance they still sign Nick Swisher and a 25% chance they add another starter. More likely we will see them add another left handed hitter that can play outfield and first base and then make a trade to clear up the catching and reliever log jam. There is still too much offseason left to judge how my buddy Cherington did, but at this point he is heading for a solid B+/A-.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


The Boston Red Sox signed Shane Victorino, 31 year old switch hitting outfielder, for 3 years and $39 million yesterday. The Boston Red Sox confused the shit out of me yesterday. Victorino is not a bad player and has a lot of positive qualities including the ever important "intangibles", but this type of money for this player in the role he looks to be fulfilling right now is baffling. Let's take a look at all the reasons this deal made me hope it was April Fools and then I will close with what few positives I can find.


Victorino was not a good player in 2012, statistically or visually. He had career lows in batting average (.255), OBP (.321) and slugging (.383) and a career high in strikeouts (80). He was a below average offensive player for the first time since 2007. If you want to say that he suffered from some bad luck, then I wouldn’t say you are completely wrong. Victorino’s batting average on balls in play (BABiP) was .278 on the year, which is below his career average of .296 and MLB average of about .300. BABiP is a good measure of whether a player had a lot of “atom” balls (balls hit well right at the defender) or a lot of seeing eye singles. However, going beyond the stats we turn to former Toronto Blue Jays front office man Keith Law of “his bat speed was noticeably slower in 2012, especially later in the season.” So this makes me think that this is not just a bout of bad luck, but a decline in skills.

The Future
Despite what the Mayans claim, we can’t predict the future. 3 years from now (assuming the world doesn’t end on December 21), Shane Victorino could go down as one of the most beloved members of the Red Sox of all time. He could be a high performing mentor for the wave of young talent set to come to Fenway. He’s a dynamic personality with a great  nickname and he was a really really good player in 2011 so it is possible that this becomes a completely moronic post (wouldn’t be the first). More likely though, is that he follows the career path of players who had similar careers up to their age 31 season. lists the top 10 similar players for Shane Victorino and it is not an inspiring group (see the list here). Crisp and Dejesus are still playing so we can’t tell much from them, but that leaves 8 players with which to guess how the next three years might go for Victorino. Landreaux, Skinner, Bradley and Gonzalez were either out of the league or done as full time players by the time they reached age 34. Winn was an average hitter who actually maintained his value on defense (this is what I would say the Red Sox are expecting, and it would validate the contract they gave him). Kelly and Finley started to show some decline in their hitting and a significant decline in fielding. Then they joined new teams in the late 90s and saw a big jump in offense. These teams (Texas and Arizona, respectively) had noted steroid cultures and lots of veterans with late career spikes. The final player is Jose Cruz, who maintained offensive and defensive value until he turned 38 and is by far the best case scenario; however I don’t know if I would compare Cruz to Victorino as Cruz is a much bigger guy whose body could hold up better over time. I am not sure if this list is all that instructive since we have to remove 2 active players and discredit 2 potential steroid users, leaving us with only 6 players: 1 really good outcome, 1 average outcome, 4 scary outcomes. But if there is even a little predictive power in this list, we should all be very nervous. 

Right now it appears Victorino is set to be the Red Sox’s every day right fielder. I will talk about the positives in this positioning later, but since people know me as a negative person, let’s start there. Right field is a position where I look for my team to get at least good offense. Cody Ross, J.D. Drew and Trot Nixon (the last 3 regular right fielders for the Sox) all provided above average offense for the majority of their time with the team. They either had 20+ home run power (Ross), the ability to get on base (Nixon), or both (Drew). Victorino has never hit 20 home runs (he tops out at 18) and while he has a decent walk rate (about 8% in his career, just slightly better than Ross), he’s not the type of guy to work deep into counts and keep a pitcher working (he ranked 105 out of 143 in pitches per plate appearance last year). Offense is down around the board in baseball, but I still would have preferred a guy with some pop in right field. Another smaller qualm with his position is that he can only play outfield. I was looking forward to the team signing Nick Swisher (which I'll discuss later) who could play outfield and first base so the team could mix and match players a little more and allow Mike Napoli to catch more frequently.

Jose Iglesias
Why am I bringing up the Red Sox short stop in a post about Victorino? I believe that if the team is serious about playing Iglesias at short stop this year, they have to have no holes at any other spot in the lineup. Iglesias is most likely going to be a terrible hitter, not much better than a pitcher. He is going to make outs in close to 75% of his plate appearances. If Victorino repeats what he did last year, this offense will be really shallow. I really like Will Middlebrooks going forward, but I would not be surprised if we see a slight step back this year and he is not someone who gets on base a lot anyway. I like whatever group of catchers the team ends up with, but they can definitely be pitched to. In my opinion there are only 4 sure thing hitters on this team right now: Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Napoli. Even among that group there are significant injury and age risks. I was really hoping the team would sign someone that they could count on for offense and lengthen the lineup some to make up for the black hole at the bottom.

Switch hitter in name only
Victorino takes at bats from both sides of the plate. Notice I didn’t say he “hits” from both sides of the plate. In his career, from the right side against left handed pitchers he has posted an .881 on base plus slugging (OPS) and from the left side against right handed pitchers he has a .732 OPS; over the last three years this has dropped to .701 (thanks again to Law for this stat). The guy can’t hit right handed pitching and is getting worse. If this were reversed and he couldn’t hit left handed pitching I would not be so worried, but last season the Sox faced right handed starters in 69% of their games. This means that Victorino will be a well below average hitter in over 2/3 of games for the next 3 years. And for those of you who say he should just stop switch hitting and only hit from the right side: in 91 plate appearances from the right side against right handed pitchers, Victorino has a .563 OPS.

Right handed pitching
This warrants two paragraphs. The Red Sox are going to struggle against right handed pitchers next year unless they sign or trade for some more left handed hitters. We already covered Victorino’s struggles there, but there are a lot of other right handed hitters on this team who also have decent sized splits:
Napoli (.911 OPS vs. Lefties/.845 OPS vs. Righties)
Jonny Gomes (.974/.715)
Middlebrooks (.906/.798)
Pedroia (.853/.821 not bad but much more pronounced in his last 2 seasons)
Gomes will not be playing against many righties, but that still leaves 4 players with worse numbers in 69% of games in addition to Iglesias who can’t hit anyone. David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury are going to need to really step up in these games.

Josh Hamilton and Nick Swisher
Basically this entire post could be reversed to talk about why the Sox did a great job signing Hamilton or Swisher. They both had strong seasons in 2012. They hit with power and get on base (Swisher especially so). They play good enough defense for the large Fenway right field and can fake it in center on a short term basis. Barring injuries, they are sure thing hitters that lengthen the lineup. They both hit right handers well (Hamilton really, really well). They project to age reasonably well (Hamilton’s case there is a lot of risk, but at least he has a higher baseline of talent so there is more room for him to regress). The only reasons I can think why the Sox signed Victorino instead of these two guys are price, length of contract and surrendering a draft pick. Hamilton is said to be looking for a deal for 7 years and around $25 million a year and Swisher is looking for something for 6 years and over $100 million total. I would not want to pay these prices either, but I think the team jumped the gun going for plan C here. I think both players will eventually have to drop their demand and end up being within what the Sox would be willing to pay them. As for the draft pick, the Sox would lose their second round pick if they signed either guy. I know they want to build through their farm system, but a second round pick turns into a big league regular less than 10% of the time and this is supposed to be a really weak draft, so this likelihood is even less. I am going to be really upset when Hamilton signs a 4 year deal somewhere.

That is a whole lot of negatives and a whole lot of words. I hope you didn't think that just because I haven't posted in a long ass time that I couldn't still fill it up. To spare all of you, I will bullet point the potential positives here:

·         Defense in right: Victorino’s defense in center has been about average lately, but a move to right (especially combined with Ellsbury in center) gives the Sox some good outfield defense. Despite his size, Victorino’s got a really strong arm that is made for right.
·         Ability against lefties: This team is going to murder left handed pitching and the AL East has quite a few lefties: CC Sabathia, Andy Pettite, Wei-Yin Chen, Zach Britton, Mark Buehrle, Ricky Romero, David Price, Matt Moore. That’s 2 per team, so the Sox may actually see more lefties this year than in years past.
·         Trading Ellsbury: I am not 100% certain that I want to trade Ellsbury, but he is unlikely to sign here long term so it would be smart to get something for him before he leaves. Adding Victorino gives the Sox the option to trade Ellsbury for pitching, an outfield bat, or both and slide Victorino to center.
·         Hamilton/Swisher: If the Sox trade Ellsbury for pitching, I would think this allows them to re-open discussions with Hamilton or Swisher, rendering the millions of words I wrote in this post moot.
·         Chemistry: Every player the Sox have added this year is supposed to be great in the clubhouse and Victorino is no different. I don’t place a lot of value in this, but given how the last two years played out, maybe I am not giving chemistry enough credit. I’d still prefer talent any day of the week, but Victorino’s attitude and hustle are certainly good things.
·         Value of a dollar: The value of a dollar in baseball is skyrocketing right now due to massive TV contracts bringing in more and more revenue. While $13 million seems like a ton of money, that is about the rate of an average player. It is not impossible to imagine Victorino remaining an average player, with his ability to hit lefties, field, run and throw, for most of this contract.
·         2007-2011: In these years, Victorino was really a very good player. He averaged 3.8 Wins Above Replacement (if you are into that sort of thing) including his best season in 2011. If you look at 2011 and 2012 as outliers instead of 2012 being his new ability, he maintains that 3.8 WAR average. If Victorino is even a 3 WAR per year player over the course of this contract, then it is a really good deal.

I still think the negatives far out weight the positives here. I also think the team could have either found better value for the dollar or waited a little longer for the market to play out. With the previous signings (Gomes, Ross, Napoli) I have been asking people to be patient and wait to see the rest of the moves the Sox make this offseason. It appears they have a plan and until Victorino I thought I knew what it was. But maybe for now I should take my own advice and wait and see.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Round 1 Predictions

This will be the shortest post ever because I have to run out to the draft party.

Prediction for tonight:

Trade up to get Brockers from LSU (ideally I'd say Barron, but I think it would cost too much).  Trade out of #31 for whoever wants to move up and get Fleener from Stanford.

Bobby's Boners 4/25/12

I promise I do not plan to make this a daily occurrence. I also promise that I don’t place the team’s near collapse last night on the manager even a little bit. Clay Buchholz has been brutal this year and when your second best bullpen pitcher is a guy who should really just be a lefty specialist (Franklin Morales), it is hard to critique bullpen decisions. But last night’s bullpen management in the sixth inning is another example of Bobby Valentine’s head-up-his-own-assness and adds to my nervousness over his ability to competently manage this team. So on to the mini-boner, the McBoner if you will (because Irish dudes are supposed to have small wangs).

After teetering on the edge of disaster all night, Buchholz entered the sixth with a 7-1 lead. After striking out the first batter, he allowed 2 singles (granted one was a bunt), a run scoring double and then a walk to load the bases with one out. Now 7-2, Leatherface replaced the starter with righty Scott Atchison to face lefty Joe Mauer. In a vacuum, this move is not awful. I happen to think Atchison should not be on a Major League roster and definitely should not be pitching in a big spot. But, as I mentioned before, this team is bereft of solid relief pitchers so Atchison is sadly one of the best options available in this situation. If Bobbo wants to let him work out of this jam and finish the inning then I can’t really blame him.

Of course, Senor Sandwich Wrap had no intention of letting Atchison finish the inning. He gave up a 2-run single to Mauer (guess what, a lot of people have given up hits to Joe Mauer) and that was the end of his night. And then his boner emerged.

Valentine’s next stroke of genius was calling on Justin Thomas. I’m not sure who saw what in this guy, but there is no way he should be anywhere near a major league roster. However, he is technically the “lefty specialist” until Rich Hill is healthy or Andrew Miller figures out how to pitch again. So while I do not want him on the roster, he is on the roster for a reason and that is to get lefties out. Coincidentally (yes, coincidentally, since it seems there is no rhyme or reason for V’s moves) the Twins had lefties Justin Morneau and Chris Parmelee coming to the plate next. So what’s the problem, right?

Well in case you weren’t paying attention, as Leatherface clearly was not, Joe Mauer is also a lefty. The Twins gifted the Red Sox with 3 lefties in the middle of the lineup last night and Bobby decided to use a specialist to face 2 of the 3. If he wanted to use Atchison to face all 3 lefties, I would understand that since even without the platoon advantage he is a better pitcher than Thomas. If he put Thomas in to face all 3 lefties, I would understand that since he is technically a lefty specialist. But having the righty Atchison face the lefty Mauer and then pulling Atchison for the lefty Thomas to face 2 more lefties makes no sense in any universe. And if you think that maybe Mauer doesn’t have any platoon split against lefties and righties because he is such a good hitter, you’d be wrong because his OPS against righties is .937 and against lefties it is .752. That’s a platoon split people.

Ultimately the Red Sox did win the game and it was only close because Buchholz, Atchison and Thomas did not do their jobs (Thomas allowed a double to Morneau and hit Parmalee). But the more that Leatherface puts the wrong guys in bad situations, the tougher he makes it for them to succeed. He needs to pick a consistent strategy and stick with it (ultimately the right strategy would be best, but at this point I just strive for consistency). If you want to use a lefty specialist, use him for ALL the lefties in a row. If you don’t think you need a lefty specialist and would rather just use your best reliever, use him for ALL the batters.

I’ll close with one more example of his lack of consistency that really shows how crazy this SOB is. In a game a week or so ago, I think it was the Yankee debacle, the Yankees had the bases loaded with 1 out and were down a run. Bobbo decides to play the infield in to cut the run down at the plate. OK. Fine. I would have played at double play depth to end the inning on a grounder, but whatever. So the Yankees get a couple hits, score a couple runs and load the bases again. With 1 out, still. Exact same situation. Bobbo plays the infield at double play depth. Wait, what? You just showed a couple batters before that you like to play the infield in and now you are playing them back in the same situation? What is going on in that ranch dressing filled brain of yours (a lot of wraps have ranch dressing in them I think)?

Mr. Valentine, your boner is showing. Please see yourself out.