Saturday, December 20, 2014

Red Sox Off-season Review: Beware Worms

On December 10, 2014, the Boston Red Sox had the following rotation: Clay Buccholz, Joe Kelly, Ruby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo and Allen Webster.

On December 11, 2014, the Boston Red Sox had the following rotation: Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Clay Buccholz, Joe Kelly, Justin Masterson.

The pitching staff on December 11 is better than the pitching staff on December 10. Analysis over. Article over.

Ok, since you all paid good money to read my thoughts (oh you are here for free?), I will dive a little deeper. The thing is, the analysis of the rotation as it stands right now is really that simple. The three players that the team acquired on 12/11 are better and more reliable than the players they replaced. At the heart of any transaction that a competitive team makes, the goal should be to get a player that is better than the player he is replacing. In these transactions, the mission was accomplished.

Let me get one thing out of the way real quick. I already discussed this in the Jon Lester piece, but when evaluating these deals I really only want to look at what happened and not what people think could have happened. If you want to say they should not have traded for Wade Miley because he had a down year last year and he may not be that good, that is ok. If you want to say they should not have traded for Wade Miley, they should have traded for Jeff Samardzija instead, that is not ok. I'm sure the Sox made an offer to Oakland, but Billy Beane decided he liked the White Sox package centered around a young, MLB ready middle infielder. The Sox have two guys that fit that profile in Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, but I hope none of you think trading either those two for Samardzija would be a smart move.

Since each of these players is an individual, let's take a look at each move individually before discussing the rotation as a whole (if you want a quick analysis just skip to the end)...

Rick Porcello

I will address the other side of this trade (Yoenis Cespedes) when I talk about the offensive additions. For now, let's talk about Porcello, who I think is now the team's "number one" starter. Some people will think calling Porcello our number one is depressing. In his career, he has had an ERA better than league average twice in six seasons. He typically strikes out less than 6 batters per nine innings. His career high in wins is only 15 (you all know I think pitcher wins are as valuable as an asshole on your elbow). Since Porcello has reached the big leagues, he has been nobody's idea of a number one starter, let alone an ace. But he is right now the best pitcher on the Red Sox, and I don't think that is a bad thing at all.

I am very optimistic about Porcello this year. The number one reason is Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. These strapping young men were the third and first basemen, respectively, protecting Porcello's myriad of ground balls in 2012-13. Both men should probably be DH's and that's been true for at least the last 3 years and yet they were being relied on to field behind an extreme ground ball pitcher. This, predictably, led to Porcello surrendering a lot of baserunners which in turn led to a high ERA. In 2014, the Tigers removed Fielder and moved Cabrera to first base, instantly improving the infield defense. Guess what else instantly improved? If you said Porcello's ERA you are right! Well now Porcello is going to a team with a Gold Glove second baseman and two very good defenders at third and first. If all he does is repeat what he did last year in front of a strong defense, then he's a very good pitcher.

Which leads me to my second point and that is the fact that I think Porcello is going to be even better this year. Porcello is going to be 26 years old this coming year and yet this will be his 7th full season in the bigs. All the pitchers that were on the roster were the same age or slightly younger and had between one and two seasons in the majors. These are all players we viewed as prospects, but Porcello is already fully realized. If we were hoping for those other guys to be a little better this year, couldn't we also make the same assumption about Porcello? Players tend to peak in their mid to late 20's so it is entirely possible we still haven't seen the best out of this guy.

It sucks that we only have him under contract for one season, but Cespedes also only had one season left so it seems like a fair swap. If he pitches really well this year and prices himself out of the Red Sox budget, then we will get a first round draft pick for him. However, I think if he pitches well here, the Sox will try to extend him and he will accept. Because he is only 26 years old, the team will feel much more comfortable giving him a 5 or 6 year deal that takes him to his age 32 or 33 season.

Bonus fun fact: He's a handsome dude. Also, he and his dad are supposedly building a cabin in Vermont (do they allow father-son marriages now too?), so I guess this means he is even more likely to sign here long term.

Justin Masterson

I'm not incredibly excited about Masterson, but he is only signed to a one year deal and he is likely a better bet to be serviceable than the De La Rosa/Webster/Ranaudo trio. I do think it was a good gamble on someone who has produced very good seasons recently in the majors.

In 2013, Masterson was a really good starter. A pitcher who has always been a ground ball machine (his career rate of 56.6% ground balls would have ranked third in the league last year among qualified starters), he took his strikeouts to a whole new level. For most of his career to that point he struck out about 17% of the batters he faced. In 2013, he upped that to 24%, which ranked 15th in all baseball. The main change in his approach that season was an increased reliance on a nasty slider that was nearly unhittable. The performance earned him his only All Star appearance and at just 28 years old he looked like a young pitcher hitting his prime.

Then last year he crashed back to earth. An early season knee injury evidently lead to altered mechanics, decreased velocity on the fastball (over 3 MPH), and a diminished reliance on his dominant slider. He was still a groundball machine (his 58.2% rate was the second highest of his career), but the strikeouts fell back and the walks increased. Players seemed to be able to lay off the slider more this year because they could just wait on the hittable fastball. With more balls in play and a questionable infield defense (former catcher Carlos Santana started the year at 3B and played 26 games there), his ERA sky rocketed. An in-season trade to St. Louis proved not to help either.

So why am I slightly optimistic about Masterson? First, he claims to be healthy again. If he is able to get his fastball up to 93 MPH and the coaching staff can get him to rely on the slider again, I don't see why his high strikeout rate won't continue. The second reason is the same reason that I am optimistic about Porcello (and Wade Miley) and that is the infield defense. Despite the injury, Masterson still got hitters to pound the ball into the ground a lot last year and that should continue. And if Masterson can't return to what he was in 2013, this is only a one year deal and he could have value as a bullpen specialist against righties. There is still enough rotation depth to replace him if he struggles.

Bonus fun fact: He was born in Jamaica.

Wade Miley

This seems like a good time to explain a stat called FIP: Fielding Independent Pitching. This is based off a theory developed years ago by a writer named Voros McCracken (sounds like a Bond villain), where he realized that pitchers only have so much control over what happens once a ball is hit. They mostly control strikeouts, walks and home runs, but once a ball is put in the field of play they can't really dictate what happens (later people realized that different pitchers have control over ground balls and fly balls at least).

If you think about it, and if you've been following my analysis of Porcello and Masterson, this makes sense. If a routine ground ball is hit to Derek Jeter's left, it's likely to get through the infield for a base hit because Jeter, like another Derek, Zoolander, can't go left. But if that same exact ground ball is hit to Andrelton Simmons, it's an easy out. In those situations, the pitcher did nothing different, but in one situation he gave up a hit and the other he came one out closer to getting out of the inning.

FIP strips away the majority of balls put in play and focuses mostly on strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed and produces a number that is scaled to look like ERA. FIP is particularly useful when trying to determine whether a player who had a bad ERA will bounce back the following year, or if a player with a great ERA will collapse. If your ERA is higher than your FIP, you probably had an unlucky season. If you subtract FIP from ERA, you can see who may have had the most unlucky season.

In 2014, Wade Miley had a 4.34 ERA and a 3.98 FIP. The difference of 0.36 was 17th in baseball among pitchers with at least 162 innings pitched. Oh by the way, number one on that list was Clay Buccholz with a difference of 1.33, yet another reason for optimism this year. Also, Masterson would have ranked number one if he had enough innings with a difference of 1.34.

Ok, this makes sense at a certain level, but does it actually hold true? Do starters with an ERA higher than their FIP correct themself the following year? Well, while one data point doesn't prove a theory, we don't have to look farther than our own Rick Porcello to find a correlation. From 2010-2013, Porcello had an ERA of 4.64 and a FIP of 3.95. In 2014 when he had a better infield to pitch in front of, he had an ERA of 3.43 and a FIP of 3.67. For pitchers that put a lot of balls in play, a good defense is so important.

Miley, like Porcello and Masterson, generates a lot of ground balls (51.1% last season). Like those two guys he has also had a really strong season in his past (his rookie year in 2012). The significant differences with Miley are that he's a lefty and he's under team control for 3 more years. Lefties can struggle in Fenway because of the short porch in left, but with his ability to keep the ball on the ground, I think Miley will be comfortable here.

One thing to note about Miley is that he saw an uptick in strikeouts in 2014. Like Masterson in 2013, Miley started throwing his slider a lot more. Sliders are really difficult to hit for same handed hitters because it starts off looking like a fastbll, but once you realize it's a slider it has started darting far, far away from you. It appears this is a swing and miss pitch that should help Miley get out of situations with runners on base if he keeps it up.

Bonus fun fact: The D-Backs tried to get him to stop eating gluten and he told them to fuck off. He's going to love the North End.

Final Thoughts

The Sox had a clear Plan B when they lost out on Lester and there are some themes shared by the players they acquired.

  • Each player is in his 20's. The team is trying to avoid commitments to pitchers in their 30's.
  • Each player has had at least one strong season in the majors. The trio of De La Rosa/Ranaudo/Webster all have promise but none of them have translated that to Major League success. It was clearly important to find guys that have done it before.
  • The Sox must believe they have a strong infield defense. Joe Kelly gives up the fewest ground balls in the rotation at about 48% (still well above average), so the infield is going to get a workout. These days, pitchers with high strikeout rates are all the rage, but if you have the right players you can find value in guys who generate specific kinds of contact.
  • The goal was to find players better than the players they had on the roster without dipping into their pool of top prospects. They dealt from a position of strength in getting Porcello and offloaded a couple young pitchers they no longer wanted to get Miley. Masterson only cost money.
  • The rotation overall may not be elite but it will be deep. Each pitcher has a high likelihood of being at least average. Combine an average start with an elite offense and the team should win a lot of games.
  • If any of the new or incumbent starters are hurt or ineffective, the team still has Ranaudo, Workman, Wright, Owens, Rodriguez and Johnson to step in. Or, they could dip into that depth to acquire any number of other pitchers mid-season.
  • If a trade for an "ace" does present itself, any of these guys can be bumped from the rotation. If Ruben Amaro lowers his demands, the team will have no problem sticking Masterson or Kelly in the bullpen or trading away Buccholz or Miley.
Bottom line, the moves improve the team. I think there is a lot of upside with these guys and Ben Cherington did a great job to pivot so quickly when they lost their number 1 target. There is still a lot of off-season left so the rotation could change, but if the season started tomorrow (now that Rondo is gone baseball can't come soon enough) I would be very comfortable with this crew.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Emotioal Mark v. Rational Mark: Rondo Traded

In honor of Stephen Colbert's final show, I am going to try a new gimmick inspired by his "A formidable opponent" gimmick: Emotional Mark v. Rational Mark.

The first topic my duality will tackle is the trade of Celtics star Rajon Rondo. For those who don't know the details, Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell were traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, a protected 2015 first round pick (likely to be received in 2016), a second round pick and a $12.9 million trade exception. I apologize in advance for Emotional Mark; he's got a dirty mouth.

Rational Mark: This is the best the Celtics could get for Rondo. Let's look at how the rest of the league views Rondo at this point. He is a free agent after this year and expects to be paid a max contract. He does a lot of things really well, but he also does a lot of things really poorly. These things include shooting from the foul line, shooting from the three point line, and this year (not in years past) shooting from mid-range. He's also not quite the defender he used to be (though he is better than he has gotten credit for this year). He definitely chases stats. There is nothing quite like realizing he is within a few points/assists/rebounds of a triple double and watching him literally chase rebounds or pass up open shots for a pass or take contested shots instead of pass. He also may or may not have a bad attitude. I tend to think that trait has been overblown, but it certainly could have driven down his market value. So adding all these factors up, it's not terribly surprising we couldn't get much back.

Emotional Mark: This is the best the Celtics could get for Rondo!?!?!?! What is the fucking point then? These are not real assets. The players we got back are role players and the first round pick is likely to be in the 20's two years from now. You know what types of players get picked in the 20's? Fab Melo and JaJuan Johnson. Great work Danny, can't wait to see the next Fab Melo walk through that door. Why wouldn't we just hang onto Rondo through the rest of the year, let him throw beautiful entry passes to Tyler Zeller, perform his around the back fakes, post his triple doubles and then sail off into the sunset next year. Ya we would lose him for nothing, but we basically got nothing back. There is even the possibility we could have got a better offer closer to the deadline. I know the "experts" are saying this is the best we were going to do even if we waited, but so fucking what? This return is shitty. When you can eat shit now or eat shit later, why not just eat shit later if you at least get to watch Rondo for 3 more months? It's not like this was a deal we couldn't refuse.

Rational Mark: The return isn't so bad. Wright is a super efficient post player. The all time record for field goal percentage in a single season is 72.7%, held by Wilt Chamberlain in 1972. Wright this year is shooting 74.8%. Not many people can claim to hold a statistic better than Wilt. He does a lot of his damage on pick and rolls, a play set that Brad Stevens clearly wants to run more. He is also the mythical rim protector the team has been desperate for since they traded Garnett. Crowder is a good wing defender and can shoot threes. The less said about Nelson the better, but maybe he'll be an even better mentor for Marcus Smart.

The first round pick and trade exception are the real keys to the deal. The trade exception means that the Celtics can take on any contract or combinations of contracts up to $12.9 million in a trade even if they are over the cap. A large trade exception from the Paul Pierce trade was the only reason the team was able to get Zeller, Marcus Thornton and a first round pick. In a league often driven by financial decisions, the team now stands poised to absorb an undesirable contract from a team with the caveat they sweeten the deal with a first round pick and/or a young player like Zeller.

The first round pick may end up in the 20's next year, but it could also end up in the lottery this year or next year as well. Rondo will probably make the Mavs better, but he also may not. As we discussed before, there was a reason he was able to be had so cheaply. He could screw up what the Mavs have going right now. He could also get hurt as could Tyson Chandler or Dirk, who are both deep into their 30's, and torpedo that team. The Western Conference is an unforgiving bitch and just one injury on any of those teams could drop them right out of the playoffs.

Emotional Mark: Brandan Wright shoots 75% because he gets open shots because the Mavs have shooters surrounding him to space the floor. Who is spacing the floor on the Celtics? And who is going to get the passes to him off the pick and roll any way? I honestly sometimes mistake Phil Pressey for the ball boy and Smart can't stay on the court. Speaking of staying on the court, Wright has never averaged more than 18 minutes per game in a season. And oh by the way, Wright is a free agent after this year! This is one of the things that pisses me off most about this trade. Rondo is a free agent after this year so I get why you trade him so you don't end up with nothing. But Wright and Crowder are also both free agents so that counts for nothing. Nelson isn't a free agent, but that's not a good thing since he is just going to clog up the Celtics' cap sheet next year. The only long term asset acquired is a likely shitty draft pick to add to our "treasure trove" of other shitty draft picks from the Clippers and Cavs. If these assets had any real value, the Timberwolves would have traded us Kevin Love before the season started and we wouldn't be having this talk right now.

Rational Mark: Regardless of what you think about the assets the team has acquired, it was time to accelerate the rebuild. The Celtics right now were mildly competitive. They have lost a lot of close games this year that could easily have been wins. They aren't far off from the number 8 seed in the Eastern Conference (ya, the league is that bad once again). Keeping Rondo around could have made the team good enough to make that 8 seed. And while playoff basketball is great, getting swept in the first round isn't really that fun. Typically teams that hover around that 8 seed have a hard time progressing much further than that. It is pretty clear that Danny Ainge and ownership aren't content with challenging for playoff spots. They want to win championships. In making the team worse this year, they can improve their draft position and hopefully land their future superstar in the draft to go along with the other quality young players on the team.

Emotional Mark: I'm sick of the fucking draft, I really am. I played this game last year and I'm done with it. So what if we lucked into the 8th seed this year? That would be a huge accomplishment for these young players and it would have been an indicator that Rondo is a good leader. This has been a crazy fun team this year. The close losses suck, but the thing about rebuilding is that you don't really care about the final results. The Celtics haven't had a team this entertaining since 2009. Rondo is a huge part of why they were so much fun to watch. He does stuff on the court that I have never seen before. Not everything is necessarily the right move and he may not help the team win as much as it seems, but he's fun! Wins are great and championships are great, but fun basketball is just as great. If you don't think it's fun to watch Rondo than you are probably an old white Boston sportswriter named Dan Shaugnessy or Mike Felger or Gary Tanguay.

I also want to address this chase for the Championship. Winning the title in 2008 was amazing. I was there. It was one of the best nights of my life and I would love to get back there. The reality is that it is nearly impossible to win a championship in the NBA. In my 30 years on this earth, there have been 8 different NBA teams to win a championship. That means 22 teams have not won in that time. Almost every team that wins is anchored by a top 10 player and one or two more top 20 players. Getting guys like that is really difficult. I don't think Rondo is a top 20 player right now and I don't think he would help us land one. I also don't know that these draft picks will yield those players either.

My point in bringing all this up, is that it is more likely that the Celtics will not win a title in the next 30 years no matter what moves they make unless we luck into a once in a generation talent in the draft. So if we aren't going to win a title any time soon, why not just watch fun, unique, awesome players and teams? Trading Rondo makes me enjoy basketball less.

Rational Mark: You know what EM? You are right and surprisingly rational. This trade blows. What's the frigging point of watching basketball if teams are just going to consider the players a bunch of line items on a balance sheet? Basketball is a multi-billion dollar industry, but it's also a game. Games are supposed to be fun. Happy fucking holidays Boston, enjoy Jameer Nelson. It's 10:36 AM as I am writing this. Is that too early for a drink?

Emotional Mark: Not at all, RM. I'm already on my third. Let's go to whatever bar will have us and watch Rondo Youtube highlights.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Red Sox Offseason Review: Jon Lester

Repeat after me: Jon Lester is a Chicago Cub. Repeat after me again: Jon Lester was an Oakland A's free agent. Accepting these two basic facts is the first step towards understanding how the Red Sox were unable to bring one of the best left handed pitchers in team history back to Boston.

My simple analysis here is that I would have been happy if Lester had come back, even if the Sox were willing to match the $155 million contract he received, but I am not upset that he didn't return. I think there is a very healthy debate to be had over whether or not bringing him back on a six year deal was the right move at all, let alone one that will pay him over $25 million a year.

Since all the radio discussions have started/focused on the contract extension negotiations in March, I guess that is where I will start too. I will get this out of the way by saying that in making a 4 year $70 million offer to open negotiations, the team basically killed its chance at extending Lester for the notorious "hometown discount." I definitely don't think it killed their chances of signing him at all, but it meant he was going to test the waters to see what his market really was.

The thing is, in March 2014, his value shouldn't have been crazy high. Let's play a little game of player A and player B (granted I am cherry picking here; the analysis for long term contracts is much more nuanced here but it is illustrative of how the Red Sox could have started with 4 for $70).

From 2012 to 2013:

Player A: 24-22 record, 4.28 ERA, 418.2 IP, 97 ERA+*, 1.34 WHIP, 2.54 K/BB ratio
Player B: 25-24 record, 4.08 ERA, 390.1 IP, 95 ERA+*, 1.29 WHIP, 3.12 K/BB ratio

*ERA+ is a players ERA compared to his league average taking into account whether he pitches in a pitchers or hitters park. Player A is 3% worse than average; Player B is 5% worse than average.

Player A is Jon Lester; not exactly a great performance in the time leading up to the extension talks. Player B is Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco was a free agent after 2013 and he signed a 4 year, $49 million contract with the Minnesota Twins that off-season after posting very similar numbers to Jon Lester the previous two years.

Now, there are several differences that make Nolasco worse at that particular time than Lester. Nolasco was a year older (though when their new contracts start they would be the same age) and right handed. Lester had just had a dominant post season run while Nolasco pitched in one playoff game and gave up 3 runs in 4 innings. Lester also had many years of success prior to 2012 where Nolasco was below average most of that time. Nolasco pitched in the easier National League in a pitchers park while Lester was in the AL in a hitters park (though this is taken into account in ERA+). On the other hand, Nolasco was a free agent and free agent deals are always going to cost more than extensions before free agency.

I am not saying Nolasco is the equal of Jon Lester. In fact, offering Lester 4 for $70 shows that the Sox agree with that. All I am doing by pointing this out is that Lester's bargaining position wasn't as strong at the beginning of 2014 as people think. Until August 6, 2013, Lester had a 4.52 ERA before he got hot for 2 regular season months and one playoff month. With 2 years of data showing diminished performance and a much diminished strikeout rate, it was fair for the Red Sox to wonder whether it was smart to throw huge money at the guy for the next 6 years, all of which would be in his 30's when players typically decline. The team knew 4 for $70 wasn't going to get it done and maybe that was the point. Maybe they never really wanted him back, but I will get to that in a minute.

Lester headed into the 2014 season without a new deal. He bet on himself and it was clearly the right decision. By any measure (ERA+, WAR, FIP, ERA, K/BB) he had the best season of his career. The success seemed to show that maybe he made some kind of adjustment in his approach or mechanics in the middle of 2013 so this probably wasn't a fluke (seems like he ditched his changeup and threw his cutter more). Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Lester couldn't help the Red Sox score any runs so his success on the mound was completely neutralized. When the trade deadline rolled around, the team was faced with a choice: hang onto Lester and risk losing him for a late first round draft pick, or trade him for future assets. The Sox chose the latter and it was absolutely the right choice.

Some people believe that by trading him, the Sox hurt their bargaining position with him in free agency. I think this is completely false. Forgive me for temporarily speaking in hypotheticals and playing armchair psychologist, but by offering Lester 4 for $70, the team ended any hope they had in extending Lester or getting him for a major discount. Trading him at mid-season did not hurt their position whatsoever because he was not going to sign an extension and the Sox were going to be treated like any other team no matter what. If anything, the Sox did Lester a favor by giving him a chance to win another ring. This says nothing of the fact that the team traded 2 months of a player they had no use for for an extra year of a middle of the order bat plus a second round draft pick. It was a great trade for the Sox.

When the off-season started, the Sox began their pursuit of Lester pretty quickly. Reports said the first offer was 6 and $110 million, which seemed like another offer that meant the team didn't really want him back. But this wasn't a take it or leave it offer. When negotiating, one side offers low and the other side counters high. Eventually you meet somewhere in the middle. The Sox did nothing wrong starting at this level. They continued to increase their offer up to the end. John Henry flew to Lester's house to meet with him. These may have been PR moves, but at the end of the day the team made a pretty large offer to him and if he had accepted it then he would have been our Opening Day starter with no regrets. The Red Sox were one of two finalists for his services because Lester wanted to pitch here despite the low-ball March offer, the mid-season trade and the initial low offer to start the off-season. He was not insulted by anything the team did, nor should he be.

$135 million over 6 years is a lot of money and you can easily argue that is what Lester is worth. You can also argue that he is worth $155 million over 6 years. You can also argue that no pitcher in his 30's should get a 6 year deal. All arguments would be valid. Different teams have different methods of evaluating talent and all the wicked smart people in the Boston front office determined that Jon Lester was at most worth $135 million over 6 years. You could say that $155 million is only an extra $3 million a year so why not just give it to the guy if that's what would get it done, but where does it end? A team has to trust it's analysis and set a ceiling for what it is willing to pay. It is possible that the team knew that $135 million was just enough to be competitive but not actually get the job done, but that's a dangerous game to play. If you don't want a player for that much money you shouldn't offer it just in case he accepts.

Let's also be clear about something: this is a crazy risky deal. Pitchers are so unpredictable because of injury. Most pitchers get injured, even ones that looked durable when they were younger. CC Sabathia was a better and equally durable pitcher when he signed his big contract at age 28. The first 3 seasons of that deal worked out well, but then he under performed greatly in season 4 and was injured in season 5. He still has 2 years left and is going to be 34 next year. I think there is a much greater chance that Lester is bad for the last half of this deal than he is good, though some people seem to be ok with that. But why? Why just accept that for 2 or 3 years of a contract you are going to burn $25 million per year and it won't matter? It will matter! That's still a lot of money that you can't just ignore. Look at the Yankees this past year. They had all those expensive arms that were hurt or not effective and there was nothing they could do to fix it. Teams do have a limit on what they can and want to spend.

This is the problem with getting hung up on any one player. Yes, Jon Lester would have made the Red Sox a better team next year. He was the second best pitcher available in free agency and far better than any pitcher the team had under contract at the time of the negotiations. But he was not the only pitcher available and he was not the only pitcher that was better than what the Sox had at that time and signing an "ace" (which is still debatable whether he even is one) is not the only way to make your team better. You can improve the offense (which the team did), the bullpen (which is still possible) or the rest of the rotation where you have crappy options (which the team did). You can also realize that it is only early December and there is plenty of time to make other moves.

In sports, players are really assets to the front office. It's weird to say because as fans we love the human element. It's what brings us to the ballpark. The thrill of victory and agony of defeat. But when you are building a team, each player is essentially a number on your ledger of wins and losses. If you get hung up on specific players rather than the wins and losses you end up overpaying in dollars or prospects when you could have shifted strategies to improve your team just as much in another way. The Sox missed an opportunity to improve their roster at that time with just one player, but, as you will see, they have since found other ways to improve in 2015 and maintain a more flexible future.

We will all miss Jon Lester. He helped bring 2 World Series to Boston. He recovered from cancer to become one of the best pitchers we have ever seen in Boston. He helped bring chicken and beer to the clubhouse (oh wait, we are supposed to hate him for that right?). He was a very intense competitor. He threw a gorgeous cut fastball. He was a three time All Star. He has an outside chance at the Hall of Fame. The Cubs got an excellent player who should help accelerate their bid for contention. But in the long run, I think the Boston Red Sox will be better off.

Red Sox Offseason Review: Preface

I was driving on the Mass Pike this past Friday around 4 o'clock in absolutely brutal traffic. I guess people, myself included, don't work until 5 on Fridays anymore? Any way, I was having a bad time. Maybe it was the bad time I was having, the flurry of Red Sox moves made this week or the fact that I had already listened to my Presidents of the United States of America CD two times that day, but for some reason I decided to flip on sports radio for a bit to see what they had to say about the moves. If any of you have listened to Boston sports radio, you can imagine what the hosts and callers were saying. The team is too cheap even though they have the third highest payroll! How could you sign Justin Masterson to replace Jon Lester? Why would you spend so much money on two guys who aren't even that good and will probably get hurt? Let's talk about what happened last March! 2013 was just lucky and an aberration!

It was all so predictable, uninformed and short sighted that I felt it was necessary to say something. Before I get into the individual moves, I wanted to go through some common themes that have come up through their moves and in all the moves of the baseball world this offseason.

  1. Money doesn't matter except when it does: The team clearly has a lot of money to spend. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval will make a combined $40 million this year and Lester would have added another $23 million. The team has already made it clear that they are willing to blow past the luxury tax threshold for THIS year. But one thing they don't want to do is go past it for multiple years because when you do that, your tax payments increase dramatically. So the team is fine with large payouts this year, but when they look 4, 5, 6 years down the line they want to maintain financial flexibility. This article shows the teams with the largest guaranteed payrolls in each future season for the next 13 years. In 2016, the Yankees already have $170 million committed to just 10 players including the no longer effective CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Martin Prado. So the Sox are fine with offering long term contracts to players, but if they want to avoid what the Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, Tigers and Angels are facing, they need to limit the total number of long term deals and the number of players over 30 years old that have them. In the short term, it is fine to spend a lot, but the money matters long term so they can continue to add to their team.
  2. Offense is more difficult to acquire right now than pitching: I will get into this much more in depth when I cover the additions of HanRam and Panda. The Red Sox pounced on these two very early in free agency even though they already had a strong lineup in place and a terrible rotation at the start of free agency. Offense is down around baseball and there were only a few legit offensive threats on the market this year, compared to a robust free agent and trade market for pitchers. I have a feeling like the Red Sox internally have a valuation that says offense is even more important than we realize. Which brings me to my next point...
  3. MLB front offices are smarter than me, you and definitely everyone on the radio: With the exception of Ruben Amaro in Philly and possibly whoever is running the Rockies these days, baseball front offices are smarter than they have ever been. There aren't many Woody Woodward's running around any more (the man who traded Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb). Sure, teams make debatable moves all the time and part of being a sports fan is arguing these moves. But one thing we have to admit to ourselves is that these people making the moves know more about stats, scouting, business, negotiation and player valuation than any of us. They have proprietary databases, financial experts and access to cutting edge data that none of us have even seen. If you think a player is worth $X and they think he is worth $Y, I am siding with them.
  4. Prospects matter except when they don't: Sorry for another confusing headline. Prospects are really important to fill your team with cheap, controllable players so that you can fill other spots with expensive players who are more likely to perform. However, aside from the elite, near major league ready prospects, every other one is expendable in a trade. The team saw last year that it is just too risky to rely on too many young players that aren't elite. Even Xander Bogaerts, who is absolutely still elite, went through some prolonged slumps. This is why the team can't get rid of their top 4 young players, but anyone else should be free to go. I will go much deeper into this in the pitching section. 
  5. Spring training doesn't start until mid-February: One thing the bitchers seem to forget is that there is still a LOT of offseason left. The team still needs more relief pitching, a backup catcher and they could use a better starter than what they currently have, not to mention they have too many outfielders still. People are acting as if the team is done. They are not done at all.
  6. There is more than one way to win: The team needs an ace! Where's our ace! Gimme an ace! Ok, it would be nice to have an "ace", it really would. But that is not the only way to win in this league. The Royals won with a dominant bullpen, contact hitters, decent starting pitching, defense and speed. The Giants won with a stars and scrubs lineup and rotation and a dominant "ace." Other teams win with slugging offenses. Other teams win with 3 aces. There is no one way to do this. The goal should be to find as much talent as possible and that's what the Red Sox re dong right now.
  7. Ignore hypotheticals: One of the most frustrating things this offseason, and probably every offseason, is how people just assume that the Red Sox can get any player they want with money or by trade. Why didn't we get Jeff Samadzija, we could have beat that offer? Maybe Billy Beane just really wanted Marcus Semien? If we had just matched the Cubs offer of $155 milllion we would have gotten Lester. Maybe he just wanted to go to Chicago for a new challenge? If we just offer Mookie and Xander to the Phillies we can get Hamels. Maybe that is dumb? I want to only focus on what the team actually did.
So over the course of the next couple weeks, I will dig into some of the major moves (and non-moves) the team has made so far. First up will be a review of the Jon Lester saga. Stay tuned...

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.