Friday, May 27, 2011

Um, you 'member when? 28 runs edition

Um, you ‘member when the Red Sox offense was among the worst in baseball, Carl Crawford didn’t know a breaking ball from his asshole, and all hope seemed lost? Ya, me neither. 28 runs in two days tends to have the effect of the MIB standard issue neuralyzer. It also serves as an awesome event for me to use my new favorite toy,’s Play Index. So here we go with my new gimmick, “Um, you ‘member when?” in honor of the late great Chris Farley

Um, you ‘member when the 1993 Detroit Tigers scored over 14 runs in 3 consecutive games (15, 15, 17)? This Tigers team was still being led by should be Hall of Famers Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker, each in their 17th seasons and still producing like young men with an On Base Plus Slugging (OPS) over 30% better than league average. On August 2nd against the Baltimore Orioles, one day after mustering just 1 run in a loss, they erupted for a 15-1 win over former number one overall pick, Ben McDonald. The next night, the Tigers scored 5 runs off uber annoying broadcaster Rick Sutcliffe in just two thirds of an inning en route to a 15-5 win. Finally, in the conclusion to the series (yes, these all came against one team) Detroit sent Fernando “Fernandomania” Valenzuela packing after allowing 7 runs in just two thirds of an inning on the way to a 17-11 win. The Orioles actually battled back in that game and Fernando did not take the loss. If you are scoring at home, the Tigers did this against the former number one overall pick and 2 former Cy Young Award winners. But as is usually the case, the Tigers were not the first team to accomplish the feat of scoring 14+ runs in three straight games. The 1928 Pittsburgh Pirates and 1930 Chicago Cubs were the trailblazers for this record.

Um, you ‘member when scoring 14+ runs in consecutive games was a regular occurrence? Besides the aforementioned three game streaks, scoring 14+ runs in consecutive games has happened 82 times since 1919 (as far back as the records go) which averages out to less than once a year. However, from 1994-2008 (basically the “Steroid” era), this happened 27 times, almost twice per year! In those 15 years, the Phillies pulled this off an amazing 5 times including twice in 1999. In 2000, five teams did the double 14.

Um, you ‘member when scoring 14+ runs in consecutive games never happened? It has been three years since the last team did this (the Rangers in 2008), but this isn’t even close to the longest drought. On July 1 and 2, 1964, the Minnesota Twins scored 14 and 15 runs, respectively, and then no team did the double 14 until May of 1976 when the Cincinatti Reds scored 14 on back to back days. Unsurprisingly, this dearth covered a dominant era for pitchers including the true year of the pitcher, 1968.

Um, you ‘member when Carl Crawford couldn’t hit? Off to the worst start of his career, Crawford looked to be the latest in a recent string of failed big free agent signings by the Red Sox (Matt Clement, Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo). A trio of game winning hits and his second home run of the season were the first promising signs that he was starting to remember who he is. Then, over the last two days, Crawford went 8 for 9 with 2 doubles, 2 triples, a home run and 5 RBI. He raised his batting average 32 points and his OPS 103 points. Some fun facts about Crazy Carl: in 2 games, Crawford had half as many extra base hits (5) as he had in the previous 48 games (10)… Crawford has had 31 four hit games in his career, but this was his first time back to back… In 2010, Crawford had 8 four hit games to lead baseball, but in 2008 he had none…Crawford has never hit for the cycle, but if you traded one of his triples on Thursday for one of his doubles on Wednesday he would have had 1 cycle and 1 near cycle… As it is, Crawford has been a double short of a cycle once, a triple short five times, and a homer short four times… During Crawford’s career, there have been 39 cycles…Thursday, Crawford had 2 triples in a game for the 8th time in his career. During this span, no other player has had more than 6 (Jose Reyes)...The career record for multi-triple games is 10 by Hall of Famers Arky Vaughan and Willie Mays...John Kruk has more multi-triple games (2) than Ichiro Suzuki (1).

Um, you ‘member when the Red Sox were doomed? Two weeks ago today, their record sat at 17-20, 5 games out of first, and they were about to head into a 3 game series against the second place Yankees in New York. They had been outscored on the season by 15 runs. They had the 9th most runs scored in the AL and allowed the 11th most runs to score. Since that time, they have gone 11-2 and have outscored their opponents by 46 runs. They have now scored the 2nd most runs in the AL and have allowed the 8th fewest to score. They have scored 14 runs or more as many times (3) as they have scored 3 runs or less over that time. Best of all, they are tied for first place in the AL East, right where they belong. That was awesome.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What is the best outfield in Red Sox history?

Sexy Boston Sports Senior Ideas Man Joe Black gave me a mountain of post ideas yesterday. One he suggested was to compare the Red Sox current outfield of Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew to past Red Sox outfields like Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Trot Nixon. With Crawford hitting so poorly right now, there isn’t much sense in using the current outfield as a basis for comparison. So after talking more about it we decided to find the best Red Sox outfield in history.

First, we have to define what we are talking about. By best Red Sox outfield in history I am not talking about which left, center and right fielders are the best in the team’s history. That would be too easy (Ted Williams, Tris Speaker, Dwight Evans). What I want to look at is which season the Red Sox had their best outfield top to bottom. Since defensive numbers do not accurately go back very far we are going to have to limit this to a look at the best hitting performances from a Sox outfield. To do this we are going to look at a player’s On Base Plus Slugging (OPS) relative to the league (for example, currently Crawford has a .599 OPS which is 36% worse than the league average). And in order to rank the outfields we will look at who is the best worst hitter of the group because, as the cliche goes, you are only as strong as your weakest link (obviously you could do this in different ways like highest total number or best outfielder but i want to know who had the strongest weakest link).

The Red Sox have had some fantastic outfielders in their history. Ten Hall of Fame outfielders (including Babe Ruth) have worn the red “B” (though 4 of those only played 1 season) and 2 others (Evans and Ramirez) should be in the Hall of Fame. The team is particularly famous for its string of Hall of Fame leftfielders that includes Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and should be Hall of Famer Ramirez. They’ve also had a lot of All Star quality players patrolling the Fenway greens including Evans, Tony Conigliaro, Reggie Smith, Dom DiMaggio, Fred Lynn, Mike Greenwell, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, Jason Bay, Drew and Damon. Before I dug into the numbers, my guess for top outfield would be one of the Rice-Lynn-Evans years or one of the Yaz-Smith-Conigliaro years. Well, as usual, I was wrong.

When Senior Ideas Man Joe Black gave me this idea, I thought it would take some serious research. I knew that I could pretty easily see hitting stats for every season in Sox history dating back to 1901, but that is 110 seasons of data to click through and I would have to write down all the strong candidates for best Sox outfield, which we already see there are a lot of. Fortunately, has something called the Play Index (paid subscription required) that basically makes it so you can find almost anything that ever happened in baseball history in less than 5 seconds. For instance, you want to know which player 5’10’’ or shorter had the most home runs from 1970 to 1977? That would be the 5’7’’ Joe Morgan with 151 over that span. The other thing the Play Index can do is show me which Red Sox outfields were the best ever. So without further ado, the top 5 in reverse order.

5) 1979 - Jim Rice (OPS 54% above league average)/Fred Lynn (76%)/Dwight Evans (15%): One of my guesses for best outfield turned out to be fifth by my criteria. The year after Bucky Dent, this talented young trio did everything they could to erase this memory but could not overcome a dominant Orioles team. If we were including defense this group would rank much higher as both Lynn and Evans won Gold Gloves (probably deservedly so) that season. This group also had the most home runs by quite a bit of any of the outfields with 99 combined. Two seasons later, this group was broken up when the Red Sox stupidly didn’t send Fred Lynn his new contract in time to ensure that he wouldn’t become a free agent.

4) 1902 – Buck Freeman (OPS 31% above league average)/Chick Stahl (17%)/Patsy Dougherty (21%): The year before the Red Sox, who were known as the Americans at the time, won the first official World Series, they ran out their fourth best outfield of all time. Of all the groups in my top 5, this one definitely has the weakest strongest link and is the only one without a Hall of Famer or should be Hall of Famer. If you wanted to boot them for a Ted Williams led outfield just to acknowledge his greatness I really couldn't argue with you. But I like to set my criteria first and then let the chips fall where they may and not tweak the standards to make the list look better. Freeman was a very good player for the Boston club, never having a below average season. In 1902, his 11 HR were second in baseball and he would go on to lead the league in homers the following year with 13. He also led the league in RBI both seasons. With a longer career (he really only played 8 full seasons) I wonder if Freeman would have been in the Hall of Fame.

3) 1911 – Tris Speaker (OPS 57% above league average)/Duffy Lewis (21%)/Harry Hooper (23%): Three seasons in and we have yet to have one of our top outfielders lead Boston to the playoffs. Three seasons in and we have another team one year removed from a post season birth, as the 1912 Sox also won the World Series. This is not to take anything away from this group though. With Speaker and Hooper, this is the only group on our list featuring two Hall of Famers and also the only combination of Red Sox Hall of Fame outfielders that ever played in the outfield together besides Ruth and Hooper part time. They were also the youngest group on the list, with all three just 23 years old. Speaker seems to be a player that is slowly being forgotten by most baseball fans, but, according to Baseball-Reference, he had the 7th most valuable career of any position player. Ever. He is also 5th on the all time hits list with 3,514. As diehard a fan as I am, I know I always forget about Speaker when talking about the all time greats, but that is clearly a huge mistake.

2) 1968 – Carl Yasztremski (OPS 70% above league average)/Reggie Smith (26%)/Ken “Hawk” Harrelson (54%): This is probably the most interesting collection of players on this list, and the fourth group that missed the playoffs and was one year removed from the post season. Yaz, naturally, is the second greatest Red Sox of all time. Reggie Smith is one of the more underrated players in history. He ranks 12th on Baseball-Reference's career value list for all eligible position players not in the Hall of Fame. “Hawk” Harrelson finished third in the MVP voting this year, his only All Star season. “Hawk” is now known more for being “The Worst Announcer in the History of Announcing Things”. More importantly though, “Hawk” was necessary as a replacement for phenom Tony Conigliaro. Tony C was beaned in the face during the 1967 season and missed all of ’68. He was one of the best young players of all time, and though he made a comeback in ’69, he was never the same again. If we used Tony C’s seasons from ’66, ’67 or ’70, my earlier prediction of Yaz/Smith/Conigliaro would have been right, but it wasn’t meant to be.

1) 1988 – Mike Greenwell (OPS 59% above league average)/Ellis Burks (31%)/Dwight Evans (35%): Surprised? Me too. Because Greenwell and Burks both flamed out fairly early as elite players, it is easy to forget how great they were as young players. Some notables about the best Red Sox outfield (by my metrics anyway) in history: only one of our top 5 to make the playoffs; had the youngest (Burks, 23) and oldest (Evans, 36) players on the list; Evans is the only player on the list more than once; this group would have made the list for 1989 as well, ranking third, had  Burks gotten enough at bats to qualify for the batting title; Greenwell finished second in the MVP voting to Jose Canseco and has since demanded that the roided up Canseco give the award to him (Evans finished 9th). It’s a real shame that this team couldn’t capitalize on this incredible collection of outfield talent. Even when Evans stepped aside, the Sox got strong contributions from Tom Brunansky and then Phil Plantier and still couldn’t get over the hump. There must have been some pretty enormous expectations at the end of the 80’s for this Boston team with these outfielders, not to mention Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens and everybody else. Too bad they all came up empty.

For those wondering where today’s outfield would rank, it’s not even really worth looking at. Ellsbury is the only guy who would even crack one of these five outfields at this point. With Drew on the decline and Ellsbury with a limited ceiling, I wouldn’t expect an outfield featuring Ellsbury, Crawford and whoever takes over for Drew cracking this list unless that player is a bona fide All Star. That is not to say that the Sox do not have a good outfield right now, but it is a testament to how strong the Red Sox outfield has always been in their history. Any list that Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez do not make must be a pretty tough list to crack.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Can't Pitch 6 innings? How about 1?

Rich Hill - Boston Red Sox v Seattle Mariners
Last night, Rich Hill came into the game for the Red Sox in the bottom of the seventh with runners on first and third and two outs. He struck out Jack Hannahan to end the inning, then worked around a leadoff walk and a wild pitch to finish the eighth with the Sox' 4-1 lead safe and sound. In and of itself, the performance was nothing special. Hill came into a semi-difficult situation and got the job done. But it’s not what he did that I want to look at, it's where he came from that is the focus of today’s post. Time for my favorite game, Player A vs. Player B (or in this case Group A vs. Group B).

Group A: 23 games, 20.1 IP, 23 Runs, 4 HR, 11 BB, 23 K, 31 Hits, combined $9 million this year and $6 million next year

Group B: 20 games, 24.1 IP, 9 Runs, 0 HR, 10 BB, 28 K, 19 Hits, combined around $1.5 million this year, arbitration eligible next year

Group A consists of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, the two big offseason bull pen signings that were supposed to give the Red Sox a shut down reliever for every inning 6 through 9. Group B consists of Rich Hill and Matt Albers, two former starters picked off the scrap heap in the offseason for less than a million each who are actually giving the Red Sox a shut down reliever for every inning 6 through 9.

Before I get much further into my analysis, I need to say that analyzing bull pen pitchers through 20 appearances is pretty pointless. For all I know, come the end of the season, Wheeler and Jenks could be out pitching Mariano Rivera while Hill and Albers could be in AAA or released. What I’d really like to look at is where relievers come from, why it is really dumb to give big long term deals to relievers unless they have “Rivera” (and possibly “Papelbon”) on the backs of their jerseys, and how to build a bullpen. It just so happens that on this date, the Red Sox have 4 perfect examples of what I am talking about.

Bobby Jenks was drafted out of high school by the Angels as a starting pitcher. After 5 years in the minors in which he never had a season with a walk rate lower than 5.3 per 9 (very bad), the White Sox claimed him off waivers, converted him into a reliever, and his career took off. In his second year in the big leagues, he assumed the closer role for the White Sox and earned consecutive All Star births.

Pride of Providence Dan Wheeler was selected by the Devil Rays in 1996 in the 34th round as a starting pitcher. In the minors, he started 136 of his 171 appearances posting a 4.48 ERA (which would be higher if you strip his relief appearances). In the majors he has started just 9 of his 542 games and posted a 3.96 ERA, while being death to right handed batters (.219/.270/.370).

Matt Albers was a starting pitcher in the Astros minor league system and put up solid numbers. Through 107 starts over 6 years, Albers posted a 3.63 ERA with a strong strike out rate against a slightly poor walk rate. One of the centerpieces of the Miguel Tejada Baltimore-Houston trade, Albers was immediately converted to the bull pen where he struggled the last 3 years. Since joining the Sox, he has flashed the strong strike out with iffy command profile that he had as a top prospect with the Astros.

Rich Hill came up as a starter in the Cubs system and was the darling of the stats community. A lefty with a giant looping curve ball, Hill struck out 11.7 batters per nine innings in the minor leagues, but his walk rates were concerning. Sure enough, when called up to the Majors, the walks remained high while the strikeouts dropped to about 8 per 9 innings. Some decent ERAs masked a starting pitcher who couldn’t command his pitches. After failing to regain footing with the Orioles two years ago, Hill changed his arm angle and became a relief pitcher and is thriving in a short stint with the Red Sox.

I know I am not blowing anybody’s skirt up by informing them that most good relievers are failed starters. Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner, Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage, etc. were all starters first that for one reason or another couldn’t handle the job. Moving to the bullpen allows pitchers to strip away extraneous pitches and focus on their two or three best (or in Rivera’s case, one). Fastball pitchers get a chance to throw their hardest for a short time knowing they don’t need to pace themselves. Junk ballers give hitters a different look from the starter that they don’t have a chance to get used to by facing the pitcher 3 or 4 times in a game. The creation of the modern bullpen has given thousands of pitchers a second chance at extending their careers.

So, knowing that solid relievers can be found in failed starters, why do teams give multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts to middle relievers on the wrong side of 30? Young, failed starters can be found almost anywhere. They can be throw-ins in trades, signed as major or minor league free agents to sub-million dollar deals or drafted in the Rule V draft. Pretty much any pitcher that has one excellent skill (keeping the ball in the park, throwing the ball hard, a lot of strikeouts, groundball master, lefty killer) can be converted into a one inning reliever. And yet, this offseason, look at the contracts that were handed out to middle relievers of at least $10 million, with their corresponding ERAs:

Joaquin Benoit, 3 years, $16.5 million, 6.62 ERA
Jesse Crain, 3 years, $13 million, 2.35 ERA
Scott Downs, 3 years, $15 million, 0.66 ERA
Brian Fuentes 2 years, $10 million, 5.06 ERA
Kevin Gregg, 2 years, $10 million, 3.93 ERA
Matt Guerrier, 3 years, $12 million, 3.28 ERA
Bobby Jenks, 2 years, $12 million, 9.35 ERA
J.J. Putz, 2 years, $10 million, 1.80 ERA
Rafael Soriano, 3 years, $35 million, 5.40 ERA

In that list you have 4 solid to great performances, one mediocre (Gregg) and  4 disasters. And these were all relievers who pitched really well either last year or the year before. If I'm spending $5 million on a player, I don't want a 50% chance of failure. 

The problem with relievers is that we do not know how they are going to perform from one year to the next, save for the select few (Rivera, Trevor Hoffman). The fact that they only pitch 50-70 innings on average allows for way too much variance in performance. If a one inning reliever allows three infield singles followed by a home run on a curveball that slipped (for a 36.00 ERA), it would take him 11 more appearances of scoreless work to get his ERA back to 3.00. With that kind of uncertainty, why commit the years and dollars to a pitcher who, on his own, contributes so little? Teams have even begun spending first round draft picks on relievers so they can fast track them to help out their big league bull pen, but as we have seen (Craig Hansen) this is not always a sound strategy.

So what constitutes a strong bullpen and how do you build it without going the expensive free agent route? For starters, I think it takes two relief aces (think Bard and Papelbon). These should be two versatile guys that can handle righties and lefties, generate strikeouts, limit walks and keep the ball in the park. This is where teams usually throw a lot of money around to get their 8th and 9th inning guys, but as is the case with the Sox, this is not necessary. 

A good way to find these aces is through your own farm system. Take a look at some of the pitchers you drafted in the first few rounds. Pick out the ones who have not established themselves as anything more than a number 5 starter. Then look at how hard they throw (92-94 in a starting role), their strike out rate and their walk rate. If the strike out rate is high (8 per 9 innings or more) and the walk rate is manageable (around 4 per 9 innings or less), give the kid a chance in the bull pen. A perfect example besides Bard (whose walk rate was astronomical in the minors) and Papelbon (who I still believe would have been a good number 2 or 3 starter), is Michael Bowden. Drafted in the Sandwich round (47th overall), Bowden (who averaged 92 MPH on his fastball as a starter) opened strong in the minors with a strikeout rate around 8.5 per 9 and a walk rate in the 2s. When he was given a look as a starter in the big leagues, he failed to maintain these rates and struggled. Now a reliever in AAA, Bowden is dominating hitters and looks like he could be a solid addition to the Sox bullpen at any time this season.

After the top two, I think it is good to fill out the next 4 spots with relievers who have one dominant skill. A lot of teams, including the Red Sox, seem to be of the mind that you now need a 7th, 8th and 9th inning pitcher. I think it is ok to assign an 8th and 9th inning guy as long as those innings are important and those 2 are your best relievers (and not just guys who have “done it before”), but I don’t see why there needs to be a 7th inning guy. Late game bull pen management  should be a game of matchups. Just because one pitcher is your 7th or 8th inning guy, maybe he struggles some against lefties and there are 2 coming up that inning or maybe he is a fly ball pitcher and you have a one run lead at US Cellular Field (a park where a lot of home runs are hit). In this case you want to have a variety of skills to turn to. For instance, keep around a lefty and righty that are tough on their similarly handed batters in the event a string of those batters comes up in an  important spot. It would be great if those guys could face both hands, but if they could they would be relief aces and thus, too expensive. 

The other two spots are good to fill out with relievers who specialize in a different type of batted ball. Relievers that generate ground balls are excellent commodities to have when you have runners at first and third with one out and a one run lead and need a double play. Fly ball relievers can also be valuable if you play in a big park and/or have a really strong outfield defense, because fly balls that stay in the park are the easiest outs to make. Luckily, both these types of pitchers can be found on the scrap heap with solid scouting and a quick check of the numbers.

Finally, to complete your 7 man bullpen, if you must have one that large, it’s great to have a guy like Tim Wakefield or Alfredo Aceves who can throw mop up duty and take the occasional start. Again, these are guys that can be found on the cheap and for short term deals.

So that’s how to most effectively build a bullpen for short money. Use your farm system, use your scouts and scour the unwanted pile of junk to slide guys into specific roles. Notice nowhere in there did I say go out and sign the best available free agent middle reliever. When put in the right positions (don’t let righties who can’t get lefties out face lefties), a lot of freely available pitchers can succeed. Not only does this help the team on the field, but it allows teams to allocate their precious funds to starting pitchers, position players, the draft and international signings.

This offseason, Theo made a couple signings that seemed out of character for him due to the disaster of last year’s bullpen. So far those signings (Wheeler and Jenks) have not lived up to their billing, but a couple pitchers pulled from the wreckage have filled in admirably. Luckily the Red Sox will never be hamstrung by spending too much on a reliever, but it is still good practice to focus on the rejects when filling out your pen. With reliever performance changing so much from year to year, you want to think like Robert DeNiro in Heat, "don't let yourself get attached to any [bullpen pitcher] you are not willing to [release] in 30 seconds flat if [they] feel the heat around the corner."  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Week 7 observations

  • All is right in the world. After a season full of disappointment and unfulfilled expectations, the Red Sox sit in third place in the AL East, a half game back of the Yankees and Rays. Most people expected the Sox to run away with the division, but those that respected the offense of the Yankees (1st in the AL in runs) and the pitching of the Rays (tied for 3rd in the AL in fewest runs allowed) and saw past the glamour of adding two $20 million players noticed that these three teams were still on fairly equal footing. Not to be forgotten, the Blue Jays behind the mighty Jose Bautista are just one game behind the Red Sox. With several underperforming offensive players, the Jays could also stay in this race all year. If the rain ever decides to let up this year, it should be a great summer for baseball in the AL East. Meanwhile, over in the AL Central…
  • The Cleveland Indians cannot be stopped. Their sexiest, I mean best, player, Grady Sizemore goes down again with an injury to his other knee. The rejuvenated Travis Hafner also goes down with an injury. Top soph Carlos Santana is failing to recapture the glory of his rookie season. Shin Soo Choo, fresh off the knowledge that he won’t have to go back to South Korea to serve in the military, is getting a little too comfortable in his American civilian life. The rotation features 3 below average starters and 2 more that were expected to be average at best. And yet, the team keeps winning with Asdrubal Cabrera taking over the reigns as the AL’s top short stop, timely hitting and a strong bull pen. Case in point…
  • Last night the Red Sox blew it. The Indians got their Asdrubal assist (3-4 with a homer and 2 RBI including the game winner), timely hitting (down 1 in the eighth scored two runs) and decent bull pen performance. But the Sox really blew it by only mustering 2 runs off Justin Masterson and not plating a run in the ninth. Masterson, traded by the Sox in the Victor Martinez deal, is having a terrific season as the Indians ace. He’s striking out fewer batters than normal, but still destroying right handed batters and inducing a ton of ground balls. But as good as he’s been, he still pitches with a MASSIVE platoon split. Righties this year hit .144/.245/.165 while lefties hit .302/.360/.416. And guess how many lefties the Red Sox ran out last night? Seven. And in 7.2 innings, Masterson held the team to 4 hits and 2 runs. The other missed opportunity came in the bottom of the ninth when Carl Crawford, who was having a good game until that point, came to the plate with runners on first and third and one out needing one run to tie the game. In this situation, the only thing you don’t want to do is hit a ground ball. Luckily for Crawford, closer Chris Perez was on the mound. Perez is a decent reliever and had a really strong year last year, but he is an extreme fly ball pitcher (over 50% of batted balls off Perez are fly balls) meaning Crawford had a better than 50% chance of lifting one in the air, a chance that increases when you consider the fact that he should be trying to put one in the air. Of course, Crawford grounded into a double play to end the game. Crawford is not the biggest goat of this game though. That honor belongs to...
  • Daniel Bard. Bard has given up 10 runs in 24 innings this year (he gave up 16 runs all last year) and already has 4 losses. A deep look into Bard’s performance shows that he is doing some things differently this year. For the second year in a row, his strikeout and walk rates have declined, but his K/BB ratio is better than ever. He is throwing his changeup more than normal (10% of the time) which is probably the cause of an increased groundball rate. His home run rate has increased, which is most likely due to small sample size, but I think it is also an indicator of a slightly larger issue with Bard this year. Though his line drive percentage is down, Bard seems to be giving up a lot more hard hit balls this year. He is allowing batters a .184 Isolated Slugging Percentage (SLG-AVG, which shows a hitter’s true power numbers minus his singles), which would rank a hitter in the top third of the league this year. The flukey home run numbers are part of this, but just watching him pitch a lot this year you can see batters making solid contact on him. Part of this may be due to his low first strike percentage. Bard is only starting batters off with a strike 50% of the time, which means in half of all hitters he faces he is starting behind in the count. Usually being behind in the count forces pitchers to throw more balls in the strike zone that a batter can hit. It’s hard to judge a pitcher after 24 innings, but this is just something to keep an eye on. ‘Round these here parts we know not to judge someone after a handful of games, right…
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia? The much maligned Boston starting catcher has been on a tear lately. His overall numbers are still depressed (.229/.282/.385) but hitting from AL catchers this year has been a pit of despair (.227/.298/.367), so overall Salty has been about average. But in the month of May he has been crushing the ball. Since May 6, in 11 games, Salty is 10-34 with 2 doubles and 3 HR. His strikeouts, though still high, have started to come down this year (unfortunately at the expense of his walks). He is probably never going to hit for much average or get on base a lot unless he can get his walk rate back up to his career mark of 8.6%, but there is a lot of power in his bat. As he gets more comfortable behind the plate, the Sox could have a solidly average catcher with above average power for a few years while they work on developing his replacement. Sometimes calling a player average sounds like a knock on him, but really what it means is that he is better than 50% of his competitors, which is incredibly valuable. Also incredibly valuable…
  • Solid Spot Starters. With Shuushou (Japanese for “agitation”) and Wilbur the Albatross (my new nicknames for Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey) conveniently heading to the DL in the same week, the Red Sox needed two saviors. As bad as Shuushou and Wilbur the Albatross have pitched, it is always hard to replace two fifths of your rotation in the same week. As I’ve said before, the fill in options are pretty much what you’d expect from 6th and 7th starters. But last weekend, albeit against a weak Cubs lineup, Alfredo Aceves and Tim Wakefield gave the Red Sox 11.2 innings of outstanding pitching, only allowing 2 runs for a 1.54 ERA. Wilbur the Albatross will probably come off the DL soon, but whichever of Aceves and Wakefield (probably Wakefield) keep Shuushou’s spot should prove to be at least as effective as Shuushou and Wilbur, if not better. Credit to Theo for keeping respectable backups in place…
  • Small ball. How about those throwback unis Saturday night at the Red Sox-Cubs game? Did the Sox unis remind anyone else of the uniforms that players wear when promoting non-league partners like Shaq’s purple outlined jersey in his Icy Hot commercials while he was a member of the Suns? And who are the “Ubs”?... I mentioned Jose Bautista earlier. Through the Blue Jays first 47 games (he’s played in 39) he’s hit 19 homers, has a .503 OBP, a .827 SLG and 1.330 OPS, which is .213 points higher than second place Lance Berkman. His OPS is 168% above league average. For comparison, through Barry Bonds’ first 39 games of 2001, the year he hit 73 HR, he had 15 HR with a .430 OBP, a .739 SLG and a 1.169 OPS. Wow…With interleague play and epic matchups like the Astros and Blue Jays usually comes talk of realignment because of the inequities of the interleague schedule. Most plans are pretty pointless and would not really solve any problems, but this is a pretty solid one I found last week…Check out this awesome video of Adrian Gonzalez swinging like Ichiro from the Sox game against C.C. Sabathia. As much as I don’t care for Ichiro, it’s kinda fun to swing like him and at least in Westboro men’s softball and apparently against C.C. it can be pretty successful…The Sox have series with the Indians and Tigers this week. It feels to me like Boston has played an inordinate amount of series against non-AL East teams so far this year and that we are going to be loading up on the division at the end of the year. Luckily, the internet shows me things and I can see that yes, in fact, in September the team plays just 3 games against teams outside the division. Woo boy that is going to be intense…With all the rain we’ve had, this quote from Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas is probably no longer accurate (probably more like 4/5), but it is still awesome, “Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water, the other one-third is covered by Garry Maddox.”

Friday, May 20, 2011

1918: No longer a four letter word (but still a four number number)

Tonight, X Mark, The Spot, Sexy Boston Sports correspondent Joe Black and his little brother Chris descend on Fenway Park to welcome the Chicago Cubs back for the first time since the final game of the 1918 World Series.

Most good Red Sox fans and spiky-haired, half-witted Yankees fans know that 1918 was the last time the Boston Red Sox won the World Series before completing the greatest comeback in sports history in 2004 on the way to their World Series sweep of the Colorado Rockies. What a lot of Sox fans do not know is that their opponent in the Series was their former brothers in losing, the Chicago Cubs. Unlike the Sox, the Cubs continue to lose. The team has not won the Series since 1908 and in most years since then has not been particularly competitive. During the Red Sox draught, they at least had many competitive teams and made the playoffs and World Series a number of years. It’s the classic argument of whether it is better to have love and lost than to never have loved at all.

Since we no longer have to shudder at the mention of 1918, I thought it would be fun to turn back the clocks (as the Sox will do tomorrow night wearing throwback jerseys) and look at the last game these two teams played against each other in Fenway Park. Thanks to the incredible database, we can go back and see everything we need to know about the Red Sox clinching 2-1 win over the Cubs in Game 6 of the World Series.

On September 11, 1918, 15,238 fans turned out to see the Red Sox try and clinch their fifth World Series title leading 3 games to 2 over the Chicago Cubs. Starting for the Red Sox that day was 27 year old righty submariner Carl Mays. Mays was said to have such a pronounced submarine pitch that he scraped his knuckles on the ground quite frequently. In his fourth season, Mays was the ace of a great Boston staff with a 21-13 record, 2.21 ERA and 30 complete games (it was a different era). He was opposed by 29 year old New England native Lefty Tyler (guess which hand he threw with). Tyler, who won Game 2 of the series, came over from the Boston Braves that season and posted a 19-8 record for the Cubs with a shiny 2.00 ERA.

The Red Sox offensive attack was led by Hall of Fame right fielder Harry Hooper. Hooper was one of only two players on the team (we’ll get to the second one later) to post an OBP higher than .335 (.391) or a SLG higher than .346 (.405). He only had 1 HR, but nobody else, save for the mystery man, had more than 1 either. Again it was a different time (view this article for some of the differences in the game and in the country at the time).

The Cubs offense was significantly better top to bottom than the Red Sox. They had five regulars with an OBP higher than .335 and five with a SLG higher than .346. They also had 6 players with more than 1 HR, though none with more than 4. Their best hitter that year was 22 year old rookie short stop Charlie Hollocher, posting a triple slash line of .316/.379/.397. Hollocher was actually a fantastic hitter for the time, finishing his career with a line of .304/.370/.392, but he only lasted 7 years. According to Spanish reporter Wiki Pedia, Hollocher left the Cubs in 1923 due to severe depression. The depression would get the best of him 17 years later, when at the age of 44 he shot himself in the throat.

In Game 6, both pitchers traded zeroes through the first two innings. Then in the bottom of the third, Tyler ran into a bit of trouble. The pitcher, Mays, walked to lead off the inning and was bunted to second by the Sox best hitter, Harry Hooper. Normally a sac bunt by your best hitter in the third inning would give me an aneurism, but on a team where only one player hit more than 1 home run on the season it’s probably ok to do whatever you can to score just one run. Local boy Dave Shean drew a one out walk and he and Mays advanced on Amos Strunk’s groundout. With two outs and runners on second and third, cleanup hitter George Whiteman struck a ball to right fielder Max Flack that he misplayed leading to the Red Sox only two runs of the game. It’s very curious why Whiteman was batting in the cleanup position at all. While the Sox had few strong hitters, Whiteman was not someone you would consider one of their 3 or so best. In 1918, Whiteman was 36 years old. Before the start of the season he had played a total of 15 games in the Major Leagues. That season he played in 71 games for the Red Sox, but was hardly a regular starter let alone the cleanup hitter. And yet, in all 6 World Series game, manager Ed Barrow wrote “George Whiteman” in the 4 hole.

The real reason this was so strange? The man who hit cleanup and played left field for the Red Sox towards the end of the season was Babe Ruth, the guy I mentioned earlier who out hit Hooper on the season. Ruth started and won Games 1 and 4 for the Sox in the series, but for some reason never played left field in any of the other games except as a defensive replacement for Whiteman in the 8th inning of Game 6. Ruth frequently started in the field when he wasn't pitching so why didn't Barrow start his best hitter in every game in the Series?

The Cubs did not wait long to answer. Flack immediately atoned for his error leading off the inning with a single to center. Hollocher moved him up with a ground out to first. Mays hit the next batter, Les Mann with a pitch, but he was erased on a pickoff throw by catcher Wally Schang. With two outs, cleanup hitter Dode (Dode?) Paskert walked and Flack stole third. The next batter was Fred Merkle who singled, driving in Flack. Merkle was actually instrumental in the Cubs last World Series. Then playing for the New York Giants, Merkle was on first with another runner on third in the bottom of the ninth with two outs in a 1-1 game. The next batter singled scoring the winning run and everyone charged onto the field. The only problem was Merkle never touched second base. Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers noticed this and retrieved the game ball and stepped on second base. Since the play was a force out, the run didn’t count. The game remained tied and the Cubs and Giants made up the game later that year. The Giants would lose the game and the pennant to the Cubs. The play would be forever known as “Merkle’s Boner”. The mainstream media does a shitty job of nicknaming things these days. They just throw “Gate” after any controversy and call it a day even though “Watergate” was the name of the hotel, not two words where “Gate” meant scandal. Let’s start calling things boners again. At least that way we can chuckle a bit when talking about a controversy.

The Sox threatened in the bottom of the fourth, complete with 2 sac bunts, but came away scoreless. And that was it for the game. In innings 5 through 9 there was 1 hit total. The game ended when Mays induced a Les Mann groundout to second and the Red Sox, the premier team of the first 20 years of the American League, won their fifth World Series title. Little did they know this would be their last for 86 years.

Sayonara Oki, Bienvenido Morales

There was a lonely subject line sitting in my inbox this morning reading “oki” from my good friend Kati Welch. In it, she asks “Are we going to trade Oki”? Well not exactly yet Kati Welch.

Yesterday Hideki Okajima (Oki) was Designated for Assignment by the Red Sox. This means the team has 10 days to trade or release Oki and he is placed on waivers meaning any team in baseball (by reverse order of record) can make a waiver claim on him. If a team makes a waiver claim they get Oki for free. If, after 10 days, no trade or waiver claim happens, Oki can accept an assignment to AAA. The way Oki is pitching this year, the Sox probably do not need to even bring him to AAA, but for sentimentality may do so anyway. I would be surprised if any team makes a claim on him as he has been in decline every year since his rookie year.

2007 31 BOS 3 2 2.22 66 69.0 6 17 63 0.971 6.5 0.8 2.2 8.2 3.71
2008 32 BOS 3 2 2.61 64 62.0 6 23 60 1.161 7.1 0.9 3.3 8.7 2.61
2009 33 BOS 6 0 3.39 68 61.0 8 21 53 1.262 8.3 1.2 3.1 7.8 2.52
2010 34 BOS 4 4 4.50 56 46.0 6 20 33 1.717 11.5 1.2 3.9 6.5 1.65
2011 35 BOS 1 0 4.32 7 8.1 0 5 6 1.440 7.6 0.0 5.4 6.5 1.20
5 Seasons 17 8 3.11 261 246.1 26 86 215 1.246 8.1 0.9 3.1 7.9 2.50
162 Game Avg. 4 2 3.11 68 64 7 22 56 1.246 8.1 0.9 3.1 7.9 2.50
Generated 5/20/2011.

Oki served this team well for a couple years. His rookie year earned him a somewhat ridiculous All Star birth more from the narrative of one rookie Japanese pitcher on the Sox outshining the other rookie Japanese pitcher on the Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka) than from being one of the 30 best players in the American League. He actually was one of the best relievers in baseball that year posting a really strong 3.71 Strikeout to Walk ratio and stepping up as Francona’s security blanket throughout the season on the way to a World Series birth. He followed that up with another strong season, but his numbers were already starting to trend the wrong way. Things were at their worst last year when batters stopped being fooled by his splitter which led to a career high walk and hit rate and a career low strike out rate. His ineffectiveness held him to just 46 innings last year and in the offseason the Red Sox did not tender him a major league contract. Brought back on a minor league deal, Oki was called up in the middle of April and has since pitched 8 and a third largely mediocre innings. It is sad to see him go, but he was no longer being used by Francona in important situations so it was time to look for an upgrade.

That upgrade, so Theo hopes, comes in the form of Franklin Morales, acquired yesterday from the Colorado Rockies for a player to be named later. Morales was a former top prospect, ranking as high as 8th in baseball on the Baseball America Top 100 list in 2008. Morales made his Major League debut in 2007 at just 21 years old, starting 8 regular season games. After pitching pretty well in those games, albeit with a really low strikeout rate, Morales was added to the Rockies post season roster. He made a poor start in the first round (a Rockies win) and a pretty good start in the NLCS (another Rockies win), but was left out of the rotation in the World Series against the Sox, and for good reason. In 2 relief appearances and 3 innings, Morales gave up 7 runs to the Red Sox on the way to getting swept in the Series.

2007 21 COL 3 2 3.43 8 39.1 2 14 26 1.220 7.8 0.5 3.2 5.9 1.86
2008 22 COL 1 2 6.39 5 25.1 2 17 9 1.776 9.9 0.7 6.0 3.2 0.53
2009 23 COL 3 2 4.50 40 40.0 4 23 41 1.525 8.6 0.9 5.2 9.2 1.78
2010 24 COL 0 4 6.28 35 28.2 5 24 27 1.814 8.8 1.6 7.5 8.5 1.13
2011 25 COL 0 1 3.86 14 14.0 2 8 11 1.286 6.4 1.3 5.1 7.1 1.38
5 Seasons 7 11 4.83 102 147.1 15 86 114 1.520 8.4 0.9 5.3 7.0 1.33
162 Game Avg. 4 6 4.83 59 86 9 50 66 1.520 8.4 0.9 5.3 7.0 1.33
Generated 5/20/2011.

Since then, Morales has bounced back and forth between Colorado and the minors. A rough start to 2008 forced him out of the Rockies rotation for good. He has greatly improved his strikeout rate since 2007, but has also pretty much lost control of where his pitches go. Awarded with the closer role at the start of last year, Morales’ control problems reached their nadir, walking a whopping 7.5 batters per 9 innings. He has improved his control some this year, walking a still way too high 5.1 per 9, but his strikeouts have also come down as he focuses more on throwing balls in the zone.

While the numbers show a wild pitcher that probably should be finding his way in the minors, I like this deal for the Red Sox. I think it is always good to acquire players who were once considered top prospects as long as the price is right. At some point someone saw something in Morales. He has always had control problems but he throws hard (94 MPH on the fastball) and is left-handed, which are two very valuable commodities. He also used to start and I think the team may give him a shot in the rotation in the event Dice K’s injury is more serious than we know right now. It’s possible, even probable, that Morales will never be able to harness his considerable gifts. But with his pedigree as a top prospect, blazing fastball and awesome handedness, this is a great gamble for Theo with zero risk. Smart teams assemble fallen talent like this (the Rays were also in on him) as Theo has done this year with guys like Rich Hill and Andrew Miller and now Morales. Dumb teams add ineffective former famous names in panic moves when members of their rotation get hurt. Oh. Right.