Monday, November 21, 2011

Looks Great: Game 10 vs. the Chefs

I'm going to get this out of the way quick; like pulling off a band-aid:

The Patriots haven't played Kansas City since opening day 2008 when......eughhhhh. Damn you Bernard Pollard.

We've all heard the Chiefs dubbed "Patriots: West" or some other stupid monicker
to acknowledge the connections between the franchises. This has always slightly annoyed me. The most obvious of these connections is of course the architect - Scott Pioli - who together with Belichick built the foundation for the most successful franchise of the century. Another well known tie is K.C. Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennell, who served in the same capacity in New England. Romeo had a brief stop as head coach in Cleveland between N.E. and K.C. - where he didn't yell, smile, blink, nod, move or possibly even breath once while on camera. Of course there was Matt Cassell as well, but he got hurt last week and is likely to miss the remainder of the season. Those are some strong connections - GM, starting QB and D.C. - but I never thought it warranted the nickname, until I read how deep the ties are between the two teams. Seriously? 12 people with significant roles on both teams, including the one and only O.T.I.S.? I remember loving Otis Smith as a kid because of his gangsta introduction and continued on after his huge INT in the first Super Bowl vs. St. Louis (in his hometown of 'Nawlins). Anyway, after reading that article I came to appreciate just how much the Chiefs are Patriots West. And that doesn't even take into consideration Brian Waters, who played 12 years with K.C. and is now dominating opposing D-linemen for the Pats. Ok, enough about that, onto the game.

I suppose that with Pioli running the show, it's no surprise that Kansas City is home to many of my favorite non-Patriots in the league. A brief run down on some of them in no particular order:
  • CB Brandon Flowers: In my opinion Flowers is the most underrated corner in the NFL. He has the skills to shut down the best receivers in the game and big play ability. Look for him to be matched up on Welker for most of the game Monday (although he has been limited in practice with a back injury)
  • OLB Tamba Hali: He will be the most important player on Kansas City tonight. One of the best pass rushers in the league, and a scary scary man to have chasing Tom. The only thing against him is that he is a Penn State alum. If he gets caught "bear hugging" Brady tonight can we add that to the charges against Sandusky? Let's just hope that he didn't learn too much from Jerry and keeps his clothes on. And that it's not in the shower...Too far?
  • S Eric Berry: Last years First Round draft pick had an outstanding rookie year, creating an elite tandem with Flowers - but is on IR this year, so we won't get to see him tonight.
  • RB Jamaal Charles: Possibly the most explosive RB in the NFL and a legitimate threat to score every time he touches the ball. He runs with a similar patient style to Chris Johnson, you know, back when CJ2K was good. Also disappointingly on IR; although I'm very happy the Pats D won't have to worry about him tonight
  • Sabby Piscitelli: I don't know much about him other than that he has a kick ass name
  • Not among my favorites, but two other players of note: LB Derrick Johnson has upped his level of play over the past few seasons, showing the talent that made him the Chiefs #1 pick back in '05. Also DE Tyson Jackson plays very consistently on the edge. He was Pioli's first ever pick with K.C. and fits the prototypical DE mold of Ty Warren/Big Rich.
When healthy, this K.C. defense is loaded with talent and when matched with Romeo's coaching can be a formidable foe. Fortunately they're pretty banged up tonight, which should make Tom & Co.'s job a bit easier. The Pats have been a bit sluggish in the running game over the past few games, so lets hope they jump out to an early lead and get Benny and Ridley back on track.

Offensively, Kansas City will be led by the one and only Tyler Palko. Some of Palko's career highlights include: playing in the UFL and CFL, and
once upon a time being cut by a team named the California Redwoods. No word from my research team yet if he played in the XFL to complete the trifecta before his NFL debut tonight. Of course he is going up against the banged up (as if they weren't struggling enough already) Pats secondary, so we may be comparing Palko to Joe Montana come tomorrow morning. His one claim to fame is that he beat out Joe Flacco for the starting job at Pitt, leading to Flacco's transfer to Delaware. I'm not all too concerned about this match up, but the Chiefs do have some good receivers - Dwayne Bowe has been a beast the past few seasons and rookie Jonathan Baldwin has looked impressive of late, with catches like this.

One area not to overlook is the return game - Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster are big play threats and could be the equalizer that K.C. needs to stay in the game tonight. The Patriots have a mind boggling 18 players on their injury report this week; many of them key special teams contributors - so this bears watching. Although, they did hold the Jets top ranked return team in check last week, so maybe I just don't know what I'm talking about.

This game has all the makings of a traditional "trap game" - coming of a huge road win against the Jets and looking forward to a tough match up at the Eagles. Excitement amongst fans seems to be lower than normal, and a win assumed to be assured. But this is where Belichick shows why he's better than all other coaches; keeping his team focused against an inferior opponent and not letting an opportunity to get a firm grasp on the AFC East slip away. The defense should continue to improve against a struggling Chiefs offense, and New England will look to re-establish their ground game in what should be a relatively easy victory.

Oh, also that is not a typo in the title - just homage to one of my favorite commercials from when I was a kid. Every time I see K.C., I can't help but think of that commercial and laugh.

Patriots 34 - Chiefs 17

Hello New Friend: Third Base

Mike Aviles - Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals
NOTE: The views expressed in this post are almost entirely my own opinion and are not based on any rumors or reports of the team's actual intent.

Red Sox fans got down on Theo Epstein for some of the high profile moves he made in his tenure in Boston. I don't need to run through the list because Dan Shaughnessy has used the list in each of his last 59 columns about the team. These free agent busts don't bother me so much because the team has the budget to absorb these contracts while they were also turning out high impact prospects. Two transactions that I want to focus on as Theo settles into the friendly confines involved the same player: Adrian Beltre.

Beltre was brought in on a make-good-1-year-deal after a disappointing final season in Seattle. Despite his down offensive numbers in that last season, Beltre was one of, if not, the best defensive third basemen in baseball and there were good indications that his right-handed power would play much better in Fenway Park than in Safeco Fielld. The gamble paid off as Beltre turned in the second best season of his career, leading the league in doubles and playing his usual amazing defense. Then Theo traded for Adrian Gonzalez to take over first base and he had a decision to make: pick up David Ortiz's one year option and move Kevin Youkilis back to his original position or decline the option and make an effort to bring Beltre back and play Youk full time at DH. Well, those of us who watched the playoffs this year and saw Beltre smash 5 home runs on the way to the AL Pennant know how that turned out.

So now, Theo's replacement, Ben Cherington, is left with another decision: allow Youk the Incumbant (that'd be a cool name for a modern day politician, kinda like Alexander the Great or Attila the Hun) to hold down the hot corner or shift him to DH where he can rest his aging body.

To examine the options, I am going to compare the players to Saturday Night Live cast members. With Eddie Murphy's recent resurgence (which appears to be short lived after Tower Heist bombed and Eddie decided to pull out of hosting the Oscars) I have been watching a lot of SNL, especially old ones. I have come to realize just how unfunny a lot of those episodes were even at the supposed heights of the original cast and Eddie's peak. Maybe it's just a sign of the times, but the Phil Hartman and Will Ferrell led casts were much more funny in my opinion. Anyway, onto the third base options.

Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
The current star of the internal options, Youk may follow Chevy Chase in being a one-year wonder. Chevy left SNL after just one year to pursue a lucrative (if brief) movie career. Youk may be wise to do the same. I've discussed it before, but he has the potential to mirror Edgar Martinez's career path if he makes the shift to DH full time this year. I really don't think his body is in the position to handle the rigors of playing third base, but he can still be an excellent hitter and a big part of this team. If I am calling the shots, I am planting his ass on the bench when the team takes the field.

Jed Lowrie, Red Sox
Lowrie is another guy I have written about before. He may not have been the savior I was saying he'd be, but he is very useful. Like Dan Aykroyd, Lowrie will probably never be a star, but he has a set of skills that allow him to be very valuable. Aykroyd is one of the most versatile actors ever to be on SNL, but was always left in the shadow of Chase, Belushi and Murray. Lowrie is similarly versatile and also shadowed by home grown stars like Ellsbury, Pedroia and Youkilis. His defense may be stretched thin at short, but at third it could be an asset. He's got a little bit of power and some on base abilities. His biggest problem is staying healthy so he may not be an option as the full time starter at third. But with Youk still around and the next guy on the list possibly hanging around as well, Lowrie could take the majority of the time and receive some days off to preserve his health.

Mike Aviles, Red Sox
Aviles gets the unwanted mantle of the Garrett Morris of the internal options. Some readers may not even know who Morris is because he was never given much to do besides being the token black guy on a TV show that existed in a still racist TV landscape. But he wasn't completely without his uses, especially the "News for the Hard of Hearing" sketch. Aviles also has his uses, namely his speed, power and versatility. I would not want him as the full time starter, but if someone can teach him how to run the bases, he could be a useful guy to have around as a super-utility player.

Will Middlebrooks, Minor Leaguer
Murray was not an original cast member. He was brought in to replace Chevy, which he did better than anyone could have hoped. Middlebrooks really broke out this year, hitting 23 homers in just 439 at bats. He will be just 23 this season and struggled in a brief appearance in AAA. My guess is he starts the season there this year, but we could see him in September. He has some OBP issues and he strikes out a lot so he may never become a valuable Major Leaguer, but the power appears to be real so he is worth keeping an eye on. For now, he is a not ready for prime time player.

Aramis Ramirez, Free Agent
That picture is of Michael McKean. He joined the cast in 1994 after already having a long and well established career (Laverne and Shirley, This is Spinal Tap, Clue, Short Circuit 2). He was 47 years old when he became a full time player. Ramirez has had a long and well established career as well. The Cubs basically stole him from the Pirates as a 25 year old who already had a 34 HR season under his belt. For 8 years, he was one of the best hitters in the Cubs lineup and last year bounced back after a tough 2010. He could go on to have some good years in the twilight of his career (like McKean did with Best in Show and A Mighty Wind), but he seems too risky to me and his defense at third is very sub par.

Michael Cuddyer, Free Agent
That picture is of Harry Shearer (and Martin Short) in one of my favorite ever SNL sketches, the "Men's Synchronized Swimming" sketch. Shearer is even more versatile than Aykroyd because of his incredible voice. He is one of the main voice actors on The Simpsons and has partnered with McKean and Christopher Guest to basically invent and perfect the "mockumentary." But he is definitely not a well known star. I wrote about Cuddyer in my right field analysis and the same holds true here. Love the versatility, but I don't think his bat plays well in a corner position and I think he will be paid more than he is really worth. I also would not be surprised if the Sox brought him on board.

Martin Prado, Braves
Anthony Michael Hall had 4 successful movies (16 Candles, Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Vacation) before joining SNL at just 17 years old. Martin Prado has had 3 successful seasons (2008-2010 OPS+ 18% above league average) and is just 28 years old. Some similarities there, but the key similarity comes in the fact that Hall was a terrible fit for SNL and Prado would be an equally bad fit as the new Sox third baseman. Prado is a good player and he has that key word "versatility" I keep mentioning, but his career high in HR is 15 and walks is 40. This is not the profile of a third baseman for a top offense. He has been mentioned in a lot of trade rumors (not involving the Sox, though) and has plenty of experience at third, but I just can't see it. In fact, after his down season last year, he may follow Hall in another way: falling into complete obscurity.

David Wright, Mets
As the best player on this list, I was tempted to give Wright the Eddie Murphy spot. But let's be honest, unless we are talking Mike Schmidt or George Brett, no third baseman can compare to Eddie's SNL stint. So instead we will go with the man who was rejected from SNL originally only to return almost 10 years later after a successful stand-up career and a star turn on Soap. For the first 5 years of his career, everything pointed toward Wright being an all time great. He hit over .300 every full season, increased his home run totals almost every year, stayed healthy and played excellent defense. Then, when Citi Field opened, he posted 10 HR in a full season. The next year, the power returned but the average and elite OBP took a tumble. The next year, the health disappeared as well. Now we don't know what to expect of this once steady and amazing player. With the Mets not bringing Jose Reyes back and facing financial issues thanks to the Wilpons and Bernie Madoff, Wright could be had for the right package. I'm just not sure the Sox would have what it takes to bring him on board. If the Mets get desperate I would definitely try to trade for him, but I don't know if that will ever come. My guess is any potential package would start with Jose Iglesias, but with the way the short stop market looks right now the team can't afford to give that up.

What to do, what to do?
Once again, I think the option is to stay internal (boring, I know). I really don't like the free agent options and I think Wright would cost too much in talent to bring on board. The best options as I see them is either give Youk one more chance to prove he can handle the position (I doubt he can though) or shift him to DH and let Lowrie and Aviles take the job. The position may take a hit on offense in that event, but the improvements that Lowrie and Aviles may offer on defense, plus a healthy and productive Youk at DH should make the move a net zero. We have to remember that this team should have won between 95 and 98 games last year, so we do not need to make big improvements. As long as we hold steady at most positions while improving some intangibles, those 95 wins (and thus a playoff spot) should still be within reach.

Here is a funny video from this past week's SNL with host Jason Seigel:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hello New Friend: Closer

NOTE: The views expressed in this post are almost entirely my own opinion and are not based on any rumors or reports of the team's actual intent.

"Shipping up to Philly" just does not have the same ring as "shipping up to Boston," does it? As most of you have heard by now, Jonathan Papelbon has taken that sweet Philly money to blow, I mean close out 1-0 gems spun by Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. For $50 million over 4 years, the Phillies are the latest team to gamble that their reliever will be the second exception (Rivera being the other) to the rule that signing relievers to long term deals is a bad idea. I have definitely advocated for the Red Sox to bring him back for 3 or 4 years before, but now that I see that contract in print, I think I may have had a momentary lack of judgement.

With his departure, there are two key questions that need to be answered. The second, which I will get to in a moment, is who closes for Boston next year? The first and most important is what local song does Pap choose as his new entrance music? One obvious choice would be Motown Philly by Boyz II Men, but that doesn’t seem to have the ability to pump someone up. Will Smith has a long and illustrious catalog (Boom Shake the Room would certainly get me going), but I don’t think even Pap would have the hubris to deface this legend. John Coltrane called Philly home, but I would guess Pap understands the intricacies of jazz about as well as he understands the intricacies of the English language. Patti Labelle and her heir apparent Jill Scott are options, but not realistic. Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John would be cool, but last I checked Elton was from somewhere east of Philly so it doesn’t follow the Dropkick rule. Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll could be cool, but Pap doesn’t seem the one to cross gender lines and seek equality. Hall and Oats is also an option, but in the homophobic culture of baseball, I don’t think Maneater would fly. So if he is sticking local, that really only leaves one option, though I really don’t like the song or the band: Bloodhound Gang’s Bad Touch

Now that we got that important decision out of the way, let’s look at who may be taking the mound in the mythical closer’s role this year. Since I am still celebrating Movember (donate here: I am going to break the candidates down into categories based on famous moustachioed men.

Tom Selleck: The Pantheon of Moustache

I only include this category to show off perfection and to explain that there is nobody available that is close to the pantheon of closers. The only closer of the last 20 years who we could comfortably compare to the Selleck Stache is Mariano Rivera (fittingly, his nickname is “Mo”). Even before Pap signed, I would not have put him in this spot. Closers not named “Mo” are extremely volatile, so even when you find one of the top ones of the last couple years, chances are he will have some ups and downs over the length of a long-term contract. Keep this in mind if your team signs a reliever for 3 years or more.

Ron Swanson: The Current Elite
Ryan Madson, Free Agent; Heath Bell, Free Agent; Daniel Bard, Red Sox

This group of pitchers has been consistently excellent over the last couple years and should have a few more years of effectiveness in them. Like Ron Swanson, they are not household names, but they do all the important things you need.

Bell has the most closing experience and is the oldest of this group (34). Since the Mets stupidly traded him to San Diego 4 years ago, he has been absolutely lights out. He has saved over 40 games the last 3 years, if you are into that sorta thing (I am not). There are a few big red flags here, however. In 2009-10 his strike outs per 9 was 10.6, but it dropped to 7.3 per 9 this year. Reports I have read say this is due to a decrease in fastball velocity. The other issue is that he likes to pitch up in the zone, a strategy that works wonders in the expanses of Petco Park, but may not fly in the smaller Fenway. I think he also wants to stay in San Diego so he would probably be expensive to pry away.

Madson became the odd man out when the Phillies signed Pap. This is what Keith Law (Insider Only), ESPN writer and former Blue Jays scout, has to say about Madson: 
I'd give him more money and more years than any other reliever on this market, and I think he has the best chance to defy the high attrition rates that characterize his brethren of the bullpen. He throws hard, misses bats with his changeup, pounds the strike zone (eight unintentional walks in 2011, 10 the year before) and is as good a bet as anyone on this market to avoid arm injury.
I fully agree with Law. People said that Madson "couldn't handle the job" because he had never done it before and then when he was finally given the opportunity he continued to be lights out. Another case of people overstating the value of the "closer" tag. Madson was reportedly close to a 4-year $44 million contract with the Phillies before they signed Pap. If it takes 4 years to get him done, I would avoid him, but 3 should be good.

People seem to be down on Bard because of the 9 losses he took on the season. His ERA also jumped from 1.93 to 3.33 from ’10 to ’11. This has led to questions about whether or not he can “close” and if he has the mentality for it. I think this is all a bunch of crap and don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be able to. If you look beyond losses and his ERA, his WHIP, HR/9, SO/9, BB/9 and SO/BB were all equal or better last year than the year before. I will admit that in pressure situations he was not as good as he was the year before, but the fact remains that he was excellent in these situations the year before. What this really shows is not that Bard can’t handle the job, but that relievers fluctuate greatly year to year with their situational pitching. The fact that Bard was able to maintain his talent level even though he didn’t maintain the performance in pressure situations is encouraging. If I were running the team, I would be handing Bard the ball in the 9th (well, if I were running the team, I would hand the ball to Bard in whatever was the most difficult situation in the game, like a tie game in the 7th with the bases loaded).

Carl Weathers: Underrated Group
Joel Hanrahan, Pirates; Huston Street, Rockies; Fransisco Rodriguez, Free Agent

I’m gonna get real with you for a second. Black men do not get their due for excellent moustaches. Look at Carl Weathers up there. What doesn’t he have that white moustache greats like Selleck, Swanson and Mercury do have? I admit that I am inherently biased towards white moustaches, but I don’t know why. Black men can sport a luscious mound of lip cover just as well as white men can and it is a damn shame they don’t get credit for this. We have a black president now, guys, we have to get with the times.

Hanrahan and Street are the most intriguing trade candidates. Hanrahan is a former high strikeout/high walk fireballer who changed his approach this year and became a much better pitcher. His strikeouts were down, but so were his walks and he learned how to keep the ball on the ground this year. He only allowed 1 HR last year, which isn’t sustainable, but I think he would be a great fit on this team and in this ballpark. The Pirates may be unwilling to trade him, though, because they have some (delusional) designs on contending this year.

If hitters who put up huge numbers in Colorado get instantly discounted for their work, why is it that pitchers don’t automatically get bonus points for surviving the mile high air? Street was traded to Colorado 3 years ago and has maintained the same excellent strike out to walk ratio he had in Oakland (he set a personal best last year with a 6.11 ratio). Where he has suffered is in giving up extra base hits. He went from one of the most pitcher friendly ball parks in Oakland to one of the most hitter friendly in Colorado and his ERA predictably went up. To me, he still seems like the above average closer from his Oakland days and would be a worthy gamble. Colorado appears to be shopping him as well so they could dangle a groundball specialist from the minors if they have one.

Rodriguez (formerly known as K-Rod) was one of the more recent closer busts. He suffered from injuries, bad behavior and a drop in velocity during his contract with the Mets, but bounced back to have a solid season last year. He no longer blows people away with his fastball, but he has found a good mix with his fastball and changeup to keep hitters off balance. Teams will probably be looking at him in a set-up role, but a 9th inning guarantee would probably put him in Boston. For a high value 1-year deal (maybe $7-8 million) I would give him a shot to re-establish his value.

Charlie Chaplin: Damaged Goods
Jonathan Broxton, Free Agent; Joe Nathan, Free Agent; Brad Lidge, Free Agent

Two controversial categories in a row! Chaplin represents the damaged goods group because of his style of moustache. Though he rocked this style first, it is forever condemned for obvious reasons. Michael Jordan (what the H?) has made a valiant effort to take the style back, but it is unclear whether or not the glory can ever be recaptured. Just like these former great closers who have suffered a string of injuries recently.

Broxton was fighting with Papelbon to be the heir apparent to Rivera just 2 seasons ago before injuries took their toll (volatility!). He only pitched in 14 games last year and walked over 6 guys per 9 before he was shut down for the season. He had surgery for bone spurs in his elbow, which is easier to recover from than Tommy John surgery, so he could bounce back a bit. He’s another guy who should have to accept a 1-year deal with some incentives built in. He may be open to working as a set-up guy behind Bard first to prove his health.

Nathan actually was the second best closer in baseball from 2004-09. He struck out a lot of guys, did not walk many, kept home runs down and was excellent in pressure situations. But he missed all of 2010 recovering from Tommy John surgery and missed time in the middle of last year. He was mostly ineffective last year and could be done as an effective reliever period. He did still strike out almost a batter per inning and kept his walks down, but he suffered from some serious gopheritis like never before. I would probably stay away from the 37 year old.

To me, Lidge will always be the guy who served up the 3,000 foot home run to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS. I don't know how he ever recovered from that. He also missed time last year with an elbow injury suffered in 2010. When he returned, he took his repertoire as a high strikeout/high walk pitcher to a new level. He struck out 10.7 per nine, a little below what he did in his prime, but he also walked 6.1 per nine in his 25 appearances. Yikes. He did have a strong September in 12 appearances so he may have gotten his control back under…control. I think he is the riskiest of all the Chaplin group and I would stay away.

Bobby Valentine: Closer Posers (rhyming!)
Fransisco Cordero, Free Agent; Octavio Dotel, Free Agent; Matt Capps, Free Agent

That's your potential new manager, Sox fans! Dale Svuem is looking pretty good right about now, no? This incident came back in 1999 when Bobby V was managing the Mets. He was ejected late in a game, but apparently was not ready to hit the showers. So he went to the clubhouse, grabbed a fake moustache (they have these just lying around the Mets’ clubhouse?) and sun glasses and returned to the bench. Unsurprisingly, he was caught and suspended. This group of “closers” are like Bobby V’s fake ‘stache: they have qualities of a moustache/closer (hair on the face/saves), but ultimately are not acceptable.

Cordero just finished a 4-year deal with the Reds when they declined his 5th year option for $12 million. Though $12 million is a lot, if you have a strong closer and you are trying to contend, you can accept a few extra million on a 1-year deal. Red flag number 1. Cordero is basically riding off the shine of his high save totals. Over the last 4 years, he saved 150 games, 3rd most in baseball. So does that mean he is the 3rd best closer? Absolutely not. If you look at some of his other stats that relate to his actual talent level you see a middle of the pack reliever: Strikeouts 29th; Walks allowed 8th worst; ERA 42nd; ERA+ 41st; OPS allowed 59th; Strike out to walk ratio 280th (YIKES); WPA 33rd (a stat that measures performance in pressure situations). In addition, his fastball velocity has dropped the last 2 years and it’s movement has increased meaning it is harder to control (more walks). Also, he started throwing his slider more than ever last year, but it had the least movement on it in his career so it is becoming more hittable. He’s also 36 and will probably look for at least a 2-year deal and closing duties. No. Thank. You.

Dotel was excellent for the Cardinals down the stretch (despite not being deployed properly by Tony LaRussa in the World Series). He is a phenomenal reliever and I would love to have him on the Red Sox. But not as a closer. A closer needs to be able to dominate righties and lefties equally and Dotel has pretty extreme splits. Last season, versus lefties he allowed a .845 OPS; against righties it was .410. Definitely try to bring him to Boston but keep him away from lefties.

Finally, Matt Capps. I have heard rumors of the Sox being interested in Capps, though not as a closer. It’s not surprising that the Sox aren’t blinded by his save numbers from a year ago when he was hilariously an All Star. What I don’t get is why they would want to bring him in at all? The positives are that he is young (still only 28), gets a lot of ground outs and does not walk many. The negatives are that despite inducing ground balls he also gives up a lot of home runs, he doesn’t strike many people out, he may come expensively because of the “proven closer” label, and he doesn’t exactly dominate righties (though he is effective against them). So if they bring him in as a set-up guy he will probably be too expensive and as a situational guy he lacks any particular situation to be deployed in. Let some team like the Royals get starry eyed at his save totals, thank you very much.

What to do, what to do?
Give the job to Bard. That is how the team has been grooming him the past 3 years. He has youth, a blazing fastball, a strong slider and changeup and good numbers. The “closer mentality” is largely a myth and I don’t think he will have problems stepping into the role. Instead of spending big on Madson or Bell, I would take that money and spread it out over some guys on this list like K-Rod and Dotel to deepen the bullpen, because that was the biggest issue last season, a shallow bullpen. As long as the new manager is open to deploying his best relievers in the toughest situations and Ben Cherington supplies him with enough talent to mix and match, Bard should be a great option as the leader of the new bullpen. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mo' Star of the Day: Trot Nixon

Please don't forget to donate to prostate cancer research here:
I wanted to move away from those 80's Red Sox for a day (seriously, did anyone besides Roger Clemens not have a 'stache on those teams?) and bring this Mo' Tribute a little more current.

Today's Star is the original Dirt Dawg, Trot Nixon. Or, as Red Sox Nation likes to remember him as, the greatest right fielder Boston ever had because he came right before J.D. Drew. Trot was not a consistent wearer of the 'stache, usually clean shaven or be-goateed, but as you can see here, he did carry the Mo' Flame. Trot is rocking the handle bar moustache, which is often confused with the Fu Manchu. Yes, he does have a little soul patch, but this just confuses the issue more. A handle bar grows out of your face the full way down, while the Fu hangs down from the corner of your lips. The soul patch is inconsequential. Now that we got that out of the way, some fun facts:
  • Trot's moustache is actually not made of hair follicles. It is all the dirt he accumulated over the years that he absorbed into his skin, bursting back out into this bad-ass style.
  • Trot averaged 1.23 billion dirt particles on his uniform every year in his 12 year major league career. The only player since WW II to top that average with at least 50 games played per year was David Eckstein, who averaged 1.48 billion dirt particles per season.
  • Eckstein and Trot also went head to head each season for the most grit displayed by a major leaguer. Trot led the league in '00 and '01 with 49 and 52 grits, respectively, before yielding the crown to Eckstein in '02. They traded titles for the next 4 years before they were both usurped by 5-time-defending grit champion, Dustin Pedroia.
  • Other categories Trot led the league in at least once: skinned elbows ('01); skinned knees ('03); primal screams ('03 and '04); love of the game ('99); clubhouse presence ('05); right field fielding % ('05); dirtiest helmet (shared with Manny Ramirez from '00 to '06); most worn down patch of outfield grass ('99-'06); callouses ('02) (yes, I included fielding percentage in a list of absurd made up categories. I take it you can tell how I feel about fielding percentage based on this)
  • Trot was almost traded for Sammy Sosa back in 2000, but the deal fell through. If I remember correctly, the Boston media was against this deal despite Sosa hitting 66 and 63 homers the previous two seasons. Let's compare Trot and Sammy from 2000-2006, Trot's last year in Boston:
    • TROT - 843 games; 3350 PA; 475 R; 800 H; 180 2B; 23 3B; 118 HR; 25 SB; 400 BB; 542 SO; .278 AVG; .368 OBP; .480 SLG; .849 OPS; OPS+ 17% better than league average
    • SAMMY - 831 games; 3634 PA; 581 R; 891 H; 149 2B; 9 3B; 252 HR; 10 SB; 467 BB; 825 SO; .286 AVG; .379 OBP; .583 SLG; .962 OPS; OPS+ 47% better than league average
  • Trot had an unbelievable '03 ALCS against the Yankees, with 3 HR, .333 AVG and 1.179 OPS, including a 2 run HR in game 7 off Clemens.
  • 2003 was his best overall year, posting an OPS+ 49% better than league average (or basically what Sosa did in the final 5 years of his career). That '03 team finished first in baseball in runs scored and routinely had Nixon batting 7th and eventual batting champion Bill Mueller batting 8th.
  • Only eats meat. No carbs. No vegetables. No dairy. Only meat. That he has killed, personally. With his dirt.
  • A reporter once told Trot he was the Chuck Norris of the Red Sox. He laughed so violently at the absurdity of this statement that the dirt from his uniform fell off like an avalanche and buried the reporter, who was never to be seen or heard from again. Sadly, the reporter was not named "Shaugnessy."
Let's tip our glasses to the dirtiest dawg to ever patrol the Fenway diamond, Trot Nixon. Your handle bar moustache is truly inspirational.

To conclude, here is a great clip from an episode of Seinfeld when Jerry, George and Kramer all have 'staches because George suggests they, "take a vacation from themselves." Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mo' Star of the Day: Luis Rivera

Please donate to prostate cancer research here: 

I wanted to do a basketball player today, I really did. This site is not just called "Sexy Boston Baseball" and there are certainly some great Celtics' staches to choose from. But in light of yesterday's news that the union is going to decertify, almost ensuring the entire season is canceled, I just can't do it today.

So instead, in a panic move, you get Luis Rivera. From that same late 80's, early 90's Red Sox as Mike "Gator" Greenwell, Rivera manned the short stop position until John Valentin ascended. For some reason, Rivera has always stuck out in my head, maybe because he had a similar look to X Dad in the 80s or maybe he used to make some highlight real plays. Looking back on him now, though, it is pretty sad, because he was pretty terrible. Some fun facts (if you find bad baseball fun; I probably have a Pirate or Royals fan out there right?):

  • Signed as an amateur free agent out of Puerto Rico in 1981. Puerto Rican players are no longer eligible to be signed as amateur free agents; since 1990 they have been subjected to the June draft just like American and Canadian born players.
  • Was traded with John Dopson to the Red Sox for Spike Owen in 1988.
  • Was a TERRIBLE hitter. In a season in which he got at least 50 plate appearances, his highest ever average was .258, OBP .318, SLG .384, OPS .702, OPS + 10% below league average, HR 8, RBI 45, walks 35, hits 107, stolen bases 4.
  • He has the 46th worst OPS of any short stop since World War II with at least 2000 career plate appearances.
  • As bad a hitter as he was, he may have been a worse base runner. In his career, he stole 20 total bases. But was caught 22 times. Even David Ortiz has a better success rate, with 11 steals and 7 caught stealings.
  • So we've established that he can't hit or run, but what about fielding? Well, over his career he was both below average in traditional fielding stats (fielding %) and some advanced ones that we have data for (range factor). So, what would you say ya do here? He must have been a great people person.
  • Despite a career that spanned 11 seasons, he only earned over $1 million in 2 of those.
  • After his 1994 season with the New York Mets in which he received just 49 plate apperances, he toiled in the minors for 3 seasons before working his way back to the big leagues with the Astros for a 15 plate appearance cup of coffee in 1997. He finished his Major League career in 1998 with the Royals, the place where short stops go to die.
There's not a whole lot else to say about Rivera's playing career. Sorta inexplicable how he received so much playing time and was able to hang around until he was 34, but I guess the times were different. Depressing career for a depressing day in my sports world.

Still have no camera phone to show my own Mo Progress, but it is definitely coming together finally. You can even see it from relatively far away! I have shifted my goal from Tom Selleck to Ron Swanson after seeing last week's Parks and Recreation where Ron looks into the camera and says, "I have to file my toe nails every three weeks because they are too strong for clippers," and then gives a proud smirk. My hero.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why the Patriots will win the Super Bowl, Game 9 vs. the Jets and some other ramblings

A few weeks back I wrote that the upcoming stretch of games (Pitt through Philly) would be the stretch that tells us what we have for a Patriots team and what we can expect the rest of the season. Well so far they have failed that test pretty handily. After one of the worst performances in recent Patriots memory against the Steelers; the Patriots followed up by ending their 20 game home winning streak against the hated New York football Giants. While many Pats fans are all gloom & doom, doubting if the team will make the playoffs and even questioning if Belichick has “lost his touch” (blasphemy) – I see things a bit differently. While the Pats may have last the past two games, I saw some promising signs.

In the Pittsburgh game – the Pats came out and let the Steelers march down the field on the opening drive as if they wanted them to score and never recovered. Regardless – as poorly as they played, on the road against one of the best teams in the AFC – they still had a chance to win the game on the last possession of the fourth quarter even after the worlds’ worst attempt at an onside kick. Continue on to last week’s frustrating loss against NYG – New England had four turnovers, didn’t look good in general and still managed to be one defensive stop away from pulling off a win against another top tier NFL team. It’s not often that a team can turn the ball over four times in a game and still be within 90 seconds of getting a W. The last drive by the Giants, as depressing as it was, was more of a function of too many simultaneous injuries at key positions to get that do-or-die stop. Chung went out with an ankle injury only to be replaced by Sergio Brown who picked up that atrocious pass interference penalty on the goalline to set up the Giants winning score. Couple that with the loss of both Brandon Spikes and Gary Guyton leading to career special teams ace Tracy White being thrust into action at LB on the most pivotal drive of the game. While White may be an excellent special teams player, a good Linebacker he is not. White was in coverage on both catches by Giants TE Jake Ballard (the long catch down the seam on the crucial 3rd down, and the TD pass to end the game).

As frustrating to watch as the two losses may have been here is what I saw: I saw a team that can play far below their ability level against two of the better teams in the NFL, stand little to no chance of winning, but yet had the mental toughness to battle through their mistakes and stay competitive for all 60 minutes and still manage to give themselves a chance to win games that they didn’t deserve to. And while it’s easy to be discouraged at the recent results, the mental toughness and competitiveness of the team has me very optimistic for the Patriots in the 2nd half of the 2011 season.

Many of the complaints you hear about this team is how bad their defense is, and critics are quick to point to New England’s last ranked Pass Defense as the main reason they can’t win the Super Bowl. If you were to ask anyone that follows football closely who they think the current Super Bowl favorites are; the majority of responses would be the Green Bay Packers – and justifiably so. However, if you were to ask these same fans what team ranks 31st in pass defense; I doubt very few would correctly guess the same Green Bay Packers. New England gives up just over 17 yards passing per game more than the undisputed Super Bowl favorite Packers.

If you were to ask Bill Belichick what the most important stat in football is, he has frequently been quoted saying “Points”. In that regard, Green Bay and New England rank 15th & 16th respectively in opponents Red Zone scoring percentage, the most telling stat for Belichick’s ever important “Points”. So I ask you, why are the Packers viewed as such stronger Super Bowl contenders than New England? Obviously Green Bay’s undefeated record goes a long way to explaining this, and enforces the old adage “Winning is the best Band-Aid”; but it also will hopefully help some of you Pats fans ready to jump off the ledge take a step back and realize things aren’t quite as bad as they seem.

After the next 3 weeks (at NYJ, vs. KC & at Phil), the Patriots have one of the easiest schedules for the remainder of the season. As it stands, NE, NYJ and Buffalo stand tied atop the AFC East at the halfway mark of the season – essentially meaning these next 8 games are a new season in themselves.

Now in terms of today’s ever important game against the New York Foot-fetish Jets; I don’t know where to begin. After getting dominated in Foxboro just over a month ago, the Jets have turned their season around- reeling off three straight wins and fighting back to the top of the AFC East. Of course these 3 wins have come against the hapless Dolphins, San Diego (the game where Phillip Rivers decided to throw the ball away on 4th down with no time left), and the rapidly fading Buffalo Bills. The Jets have gotten back to re-establishing their trademark running game; against teams that rank 14th. 25th and 19th respectively in run Defense. The Patriots on the other hand rank 9th on run D and while I would normally feel good about this match-up, the absence of Brandon Spikes tonight has me very worried. Spikes’ top replacement at ILB is Gary Guyton; and if you’ve read anything on SBS in the past you know just have little faith I have in Guyton’s run stopping abilities. Also, not to be lost in the shuffle is this weeks (somewhat ) surprising release of Fat Albert Haynesworth, who clearly is an asset in the run stopping department. After reading comments from Haynesworth over the past week, it seems to be that he was getting frustrated at lack of playing time and the differences in the Patriots version of the 4-3 defense as opposed to the 4-3 he thrived in his time in Tennessee. While Fat Albert didn’t produce the large sack numbers that some expected of him when he was acquired by the Patriots, he had some strong contributions (when not limited by injuries) and opened up many opportunities for his fellow d-linemen.

Along with the concerns with the Pats usually stout run D, there is obviously plenty to worry about with the often ridiculed pass D. Safety Josh Barrett was placed on IR this past week, leaving an already thin group even further decimated. If Chung is at all limited or can’t go due to his ankle injury, this is an area of major concern, and should provide plenty of opportunity for the talented but underutilized Dustin Keller. The Patriots D made some significant progress last week against the Giants (save for that last TD drive), limiting the Giants on 3rd down conversions and fixing many of the errors that plagued them in Pittsburgh. The injuries have me plenty worried about our ability to stop the Jets and JV Sanchez, but hopefully they can put up enough resistance to give Brady and Co. a chance.

I'll need to write a dissertation on the offense later this week, but I think they'll utilize the running game that helped them thrive in the first match up between the rivals. Of course the Welker/Revis match up is on of the more entertaining ones you can watch as it is a top notch battle of of two of the best at their positions playing at the highest level in a pivotal game. If the Pat's D can fend off the Jets running game, the Patriots should be able to pull of a W in a hostile environment in the slums of North Jersey; but don't get me wrong - the injuries have me very concerned. Win or lose, I'll still remain in high hopes for the rest of the Patriots 2011 season and think they have all the pieces to win the Super Bowl and will do just that.

As for tonight - Patriots 24 - Jets 20

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mo' Star of the Day: Mike Greenwell

Ol' Greenie has sort of a Steve-Martin-as-Jacques-Clouseau-in-the-horrible-Pink-Panther-remake-look here. In other words, French. Still, despite the Parisian lip coiffe, he is worthy of being recognized as our second Boston Mo' Star. Some fun facts:

  • Was the heir apparent of the Red Sox left field mantle; below are the career WAR of Red Sox left fielders in chronological order (according to Baseball-Reference):
    • Ted Williams: 125.3
    • Carl Yastrzemski: 88.7
    • Jim Rice: 41.5
    • Mike Greenwell: 23.5
    • Troy O'Leary: 5.5
  • The only offensive category he ever led the league in was Intentional Walks, with 18 in 1988, for which he tied for the AL lead with teammate Wade Boggs. The players Greenwell most frequently batted in front of that year were Dwight Evans, Ellis Burks, and Mr. Most Feared Hitter himself, Jim Rice.
  • Went to High School in Ft. Myers where the Red Sox have Spring Training. I bet he saved some serious dough not having to find a rental for February and March every year.
  • Received 2 votes in his only year on the Hall of Fame ballot. Probably from a couple of moustache aficionados.
  • Was famous (infamous) for a penchant for sliding into first base on close plays. Anybody who understands basic physics understands that this act actually slows down a runner, making it less likely he would be safe on a close play. Of course, the extra speed generated by his 'stache probably made it a moot point anyway.
  • In 1988, Greenie finished second to Jose Canseco for MVP. At the time there was no dispute. Canseco led the way for the mighty Oakland A's, led the league in HR, RBI and SLG and had a little extra swagger with the Bash Bros routine. However, when Canseco admitted (bragged) to using steroids, Greenie became very vocal that the title should be stripped from Canseco and rewarded to him. Of course this ignores the fact that Boggs was probably the better choice all along, posting an OBP 60 points higher than Greenwell at .476, the 7th highest rate in the expansion era by anyone not named Barry Bonds.
So now you know a little bit more about Mike Greenwell and his French 'stache.

Please don't forget that these little moustache posts aren't for my health, but are to help improve the health of those suffering or at risk of prostate cancer. Please go to my Mo Page to donate anything you can:

Updates of my Mo progress are coming once I find a working camera phone. Sadly, it has come in a lot slower than I thought. The goal is Tom Selleck, but right now I look more like Harris Trinsky from Freaks and Geeks:

Monday, November 7, 2011


At the request of Sexy Boston Sports’ facial hairologist Robert Boucini, I am participating in “Movember” this year. For those who don’t know what “Movember” is, here is the explanation directly from the source:
During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces, in the US and around the world. With their Mo’s, these men raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men. Once registered at, men start Movember 1st clean shaven. For the rest of the month, these selfless and generous men, known as Mo Bros, groom, trim and wax their way into the annals of fine moustachery. Supported by the women in their lives, Mo Sistas, Movember Mo Bros raise funds by seeking out sponsorship for their Mo-growing efforts.
I have registered for Movember and anyone who wants to make a donation to prostate cancer research can do so at this link: Over the course of the month I will be giving updates on my ‘stache and money raised and find some awesome Boston sports moustaches to share. Today's 'stache belongs to feather haired fireballer, Dennis Eckersley.

Some fun facts about Eck:

  • Eck did 2 tours of duty with the Red Sox. Eck's first run with the Sox came when he was 23 and his second when he was 43 (in 20 years between debuts he appeared to age no more than a couple years because, as they say, Eck don't crack)
  • Along with John Smoltz, is the only pitcher in MLB history to have a season of 20 or more wins AND a season of 50 or more saves
  • Considered the first 1 Inning closer
  • A recovering alcoholic (not exactly a "fun" fact)
  • Was traded for Bill Buckner in 1984 (again, not a "fun" fact)
  • In 1992, won the Cy Young AND MVP Award as a reliever. As rare as this sounds, he was actually the third AL reliever to pull off the feat, all between 1981 and 1992. The voters must have been borrowing some of that sweet sweet crack from Paul Molitor.
  • Of pitchers with at least 50 games pitched in a season, he has the 1st and 2nd best strike out to walk ratio, 18.33 in 1989 and 18.25 in 1990
  • From 1989 to 1991 he struck out 215 batters and only walked 16, for a strike out to walk ratio of 13.44; if this were the rate for one season, it would still rank 4th best all time; for pitchers who have qualified for the ERA title (162 innings pitched; Eck threw 207 over these 3 years) it would rank first by 2.44
  • In 1990 he faced 262 batters and walked 4 of them
  • Still rocking the 'stache
So for me, Eck and the betterment of male health, please visit my donation page and give a little bit:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Game 8 vs. The stupid Giants

Midterm week for school and close week at work means I had no time to put together anything worthy of a SBS post. Instead I'll leave a few thoughts for today's game:

1.) I am in no way prepared to see all of the obligatory flashback clips that FOX will show today from "the game that shall not be mentioned". I may have to start drinking now to deal with it.

2.) The Giants will be without Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks and center David Baas. While Bradshaw and Nicks are much bigger names, Baas' absence may be most important. We've covered the importance of the center position in this space before, but the center is essentially the QB of the offensive line. Will Baas' absence lead to the Pats finally filling up the stat sheet with some sacks? No just QB pressures but some good old fashioned sacks? I think so.

Don't underrate the absence of Bradshaw either. Brandon Jacobs may be a well known name amongst fans, but the difference in skill between he and Bradshaw is about the same as downgrading from Leigh Bodden to Antwaun Molden. Oh wait; we saw how well that worked last week. Bradshaw is a far superior football player.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hello New Friend: Right Field

NOTE: The views expressed in this post are almost entirely my own opinion and are not based on any rumors or reports of the team's actual intent. Enjoy.

2012 marks the sad likely departure of fan favorite J.D. Drew. After 5 magical seasons, the Drewster is probably headed toward the happy hunting grounds (literally). From day one, J Dizzle endeared himself to Red Sox nation with his steely demeanor, keen batting eye, self preservation, and effortless grace in the outfield. Best of all, J to the motha fuckin D put to rest the horrible memory of his predecessor Trot "I am a crook" Nixon. The next player to man Pesky's Pole will have some massive shoes to fill on the field and in the hearts' of Red Sox nation.

Soooo, about the only thing true in that opener is that J.D. is on the way out. I know he was never a fan favorite, but I have shown before that he was actually pretty valuable to this team until 2011 both on offense and defense. His personality may never have been a fit for this town, but the J.D. Drew of 2007-10 will be hard to replace. Today, I'll look at these potential replacements compared to Right Fielders of Red Sox past. This is actually a fairly strong field of players in this year's weak market.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hello New Friend: The Red Sox Offseason Preview

Real quick post. I am going to write about the Red Sox’s biggest needs this offseason over the next week or so (hopefully they don’t sign anybody before my lazy ass gets these posts out). I am not writing these in order of biggest needs; I think it is clear that pitching is number 1 and then everything else is more of a want than a big need. I will do a position per post and in it I will talk about the options on the free agent market, trade market, and internal options. As a quick preview, here are the positions of need as I see them (nothing ground breaking, just giving you a heads up):

Starting pitching
Right Field
Third Base

You’ll notice short stop and manager are missing. I think short stop will be perfectly average this year with Marco Scutaro, Jed Lowrie, Mike Aviles, and (later) Jose Iglesias (does anybody else keep wanting to call him Julio?) around so this is not a need. For the manager, there are just too many candidates and we don’t know what the team is looking for or, really, what even makes a good manager so this would just lead to baseless speculation. I think a manager has limited effect over a team’s success anyway (unless they tinker too much cough Ron Washington cough) so I’m not going to waste your time or mine.

Since I’m still depressed about the September pitching, I’ll save the starters for last. Just know that you will not read the words "chicken" or "beer" in a post about pitching unless I am comparing the staff to my favorite Budweiser products or Chick Fil A menu items. Time to get over that ridiculousness.

Up first I’ll look at right field. Stay tuned…