Thursday, April 26, 2012

Round 1 Predictions

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

Prediction for tonight:

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

Bobby's Boners 4/25/12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bobby's Boners: 4/24/12

Welcome to a new column gimmick called “Bobby’s Boners” where I chronicle the obvious (to everyone but Bobby V) boner moves that the new Red Sox manager makes. My goal here is not to say that Leatherface is the sole route of the team’s malaise. This team has problems that run much deeper than its sun-kissed skipper. My goal is also not to be nitpicky. Managers, broadcasters and fans all have different opinions on certain situations and often times there is no one right answer or no one wrong answer. I won’t be calling him out for a slow hook on a pitcher (unless it is wildly obvious like when he left Daniel Bard in too long against Tampa after 8 straight balls) or for ordering most stolen bases. But in the short 16 games he has managed this team and the 5 months he’s been a part of this organization, Bobby has had more boners than a Tijuana gang bang. Last night's boner came in the form of a sacrifice bunt.

It was the top of the second inning. Twins starter Nick Blackburn had already issued 5 hits and 3 runs in the first inning and was sitting on a 3-1 defecit to open the second. The first batter, the number 9 hitter Kelly Shoppach, doubled to deep right field. Man on second. No outs. 3-1 game. Top of the second inning.

The next batter was leadoff hitter Mike Aviles. In the 8 games since Aviles took over the leadoff spot, he was hitting .333, with a .371 OBP and .576 SLG thanks to 2 HR and 2 doubles. He opened last night’s game with a double to deep center field. In his subsequent at bats he had 3 hits including another double and a home run.  Only David Ortiz, who is hitting .444, is more locked in at the plate right now.

So the team’s second hottest hitter comes to the plate with a runner ALREADY IN SCORING POSITION and no outs. A single (or better) to the outfield will score him. A grounder to the right side will move him over. A fly ball to the outfield will move him over. A strikeout will still give the next 2 batters the opportunity to drive him home. All 4 options will at least give the team a fighting chance to not concede an out in a situation where they do not need to concede an out. So what does Leatherface do? He has his leadoff man and second hottest hitter concede an out. 

“Here you go Nick! I know that we’ve been destroying you all night already and you haven’t really gotten Major League hitters out at all this year. And I know it’s the second inning and we are winning 3-1 and a big inning could put this game away. But what if I told you I would give you a free out to move my runner who is already in scoring position to a DIFFERENT scoring position, meanwhile taking the bat out of my second best hitter’s hands, AND playing for a one run inning that will keep your team within striking distance for another inning. Is that something you might be interested in? If not, how about a wrap?”

Leatherface had the opportunity to go for the jugular with the top of his order coming up against a weak pitcher. He employs one of the top offenses in baseball and has already had no problems scoring runs. He also employs the worst pitching staff in baseball so it would behoove him to get as many runs as possible. Instead, he employed some pussy small ball tactic that has been proven with mountains of data to be the wrong move unless you absolutely need to play for just one run (like in the 9th inning of a tie game). While the team ended up piling on the runs in the 3rd and 4th inning anyway, to me this just justifies how completely boneheaded it was to call for a bunt in that situation. This isn’t Japan or the National League or the 1980s. We are the Red Sox of the new millennium and we hit the piss out of the ball. Do not deprive the players of that ability. 

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

Monday, April 23, 2012

On Schedules and Turn Arounds

Through 14 games, the Red Sox stand at 4-10. Through 14 games last year, the Red Sox stood at 4-10. Though those records are identical, all 4-10 teams are not created equally.

This team just seems like it’s in more dire shape than its counterpart from a year ago. Though I’m sure none of this is a surprise, here are some of the sad realities that make this year’s team seem worse off than last year’s:
  • The scar from last year’s collapse has made an already cynical fan base even more cynical
  • The new imposed budget means an impactful upgrade is not walking through the door
  • 2/3 of the starting outfield is on the DL
  • No true relief aces (like Pap and Bard) to right the sinking bullpen ship
  • Even though Bard and Doubront have pitched better than Lackey and Dice-K did last year, people somehow just assume they will implode
  • Youkilis is teetering on the verge of a major decline
  • Mike Aviles is the leadoff hitter and Cody Ross has hit cleanup
  • Let me repeat that last one: Mike Aviles is the leadoff hitter and Cody Ross has hit cleanup
  • Leatherface
With all of that I can understand if nobody has any optimism left. If you come by the Fenway neighborhood at 5:30 PM each day this week you just might find a wild eyed fan with a Yaz tattoo picketing Yawkey way for Leatherface’s head on a platter (and yes, I know he is not the main problem, but he is absolutely not a solution and you can’t fire players). With all that has gone wrong with this team since last September, things look as bleak as the coming winter in Westeros (happy Sarah? A nerdy Game of Thrones reference). But, just like last year, I am here to provide you with that one tiny silver lining. One glimmer of hope. One beacon on the horizon. The schedule.

This season the Red Sox have (unofficially) played the most difficult schedule in baseball. They have faced the three teams most “experts” project as division winners (NY, Texas, Detroit) and two other division rivals who project to be in the wild card race the whole season (TB and Toronto). While you’d like to see better success against these teams, the truth of the matter is that even the best teams typically have a losing record against the other best teams over the course of the season. Last year, the Yankees were 6-12 against Boston, 9-9 against Tampa, 3-4 against Detroit, and 7-2 against Texas. Texas was 6-4 against Boston, 5-4 against Tampa, 2-7 against New York, and 3-6 against Detroit. The winning teams beat up on each other, there is no way around it. It may not sound as romantic, but playoff teams earn their spots by beating up on the bad teams.

Luckily for the Red Sox, they have bad teams lined up for as far as the eye can see. Starting today, the Red Sox play the following teams: Minnesota, Chicago (AL), Oakland, Baltimore, Kansas City, Cleveland, Seattle. That’s a stretch of 22 games against teams that all should finish under .500 this season. Meanwhile, in that time the Sox should get Carl Crawford and Dice-K back (I know they sucked last year, but if anything this will help the bullpen and lineup depth considerably) and see if Marlon Byrd (and Youk) have anything left. Even without the returning and new players, I would suspect the team will have “turned it around” by that point if for nothing else than the incredibly weak level of competition especially relative to the first 14 games. If the Sox are not hovering around .500 at that point we can all officially storm the gates. But I would bet we won’t have to. 

If you want some evidence of scheduling playing a major role in a team’s “turn around”, look no further than last year. As the Sox stood at 5-10, their next 22 games were against the following: Oakland, Los Angeles (AL), Baltimore, Seattle, Los Angeles (AL), Minnesota, Toronto. In that time they went 12-10. Not great, but good enough to get within shouting distance of .500 and change the mood from one of impending doom to wide-eyed optimism. The only downside I see here is that when they do “turn it around”, Leatherface’s job will most likely be saved. If only we could get him to admit he admires Fidel Castro, Sadam Hussein and Roger Clemens…

Friday, April 6, 2012

Hasty Predictions After 1 Game

It was a very strange Opening Day for me. I am an unabashed score checker. If I can’t watch a game live, I am checking the score on my phone or computer every five minutes like pretty much every stereotypical man from a commercial in the last 5 years. But yesterday I decided to put aside my primal need to know, record the first official Red Sox game of 2012 and watch it after work. For 2 hours and 55 minutes I did an incredible job avoiding my phone, Facebook and any baseball site that may have a live scoreboard. Then, at 3:55 I got this text from a friend who we’ll call “Mrs. Black”: “Papi J”.

Sheeeeeiiiiiitttttt! I looked at the time again and realized that 2 hours and 55 minutes is about how long it takes for a game to finish the top of the ninth inning. An inning where “Papi” (David Ortiz to the lay women) could easily generate an emoticon. I couldn’t be sure about this, but I was pretty positive that the Sox were winning this game. So I got home and watched the Sox and Tigers trade zeroes until the 7th inning when the Tigers broke through for 2 on Jon Lester. Was I worried? Not at all, I had “Papi J” on my side. 

The Sox went down in the top of the 8th with nothing more than a whimper and I became a little concerned. The Sox were down 2 going into the top of the 9th and Papi was due up third. Could he really have hit a 3 run homer to take the lead against the Tigers closer that was 49 for 49 in saves last year and all I got was one “Papi J” text? The inning started and Dustin Pedroia led off with a double. Hmmmmm. Ok. Next, Adrian Gonzalez laced a nice little opposite field single and Pedroia moved on to third. Suddenly, I was back to being very confident in “Papi J” and started looking forward to seeing our new closer, Alfredo Aceves, shut the door on this game. It took the Sox 7 games to break the ice last year, but we were going to get it out of the way early this year. Of course, Papi hit a sac fly to score the runner from third. The Sox were still down.

Though they tied the game two batters later, they would go on to lose when the two headed puppy dog at the back of the bullpen could not keep the bottom of the Tigers lineup off the bases. So why am I telling you this story? Besides the fact that I want to rub it in “Mrs. Black’s” face a bit for getting my hopes up, it leads into my first hasty prediction after 1 game:
  • I will never watch a recorded game again. Between text messages, emails, sports websites and social networks, there are way too many places to learn about what is happening in a sporting event. What’s worse, if you accidentally get a small peak at some of this information, it can form a false sense of hope or doom that will hang over the game watching experience.
  • 2009-10 Jon Lester is not coming back this year, and may never come back. That version of Lester was a true ace and someone who could legitimately win a Cy Young. He struck out more than a batter an inning and while his walk totals were on the slightly high side, he seemed to walk people more because he was trying for strikeouts than because he was wild. There were a couple at bats yesterday where he just had no control of the ball at all. One in particular was in the 6th inning when he started Miguel Cabrera 0-2 or 1-2 and then threw 3 straight pitches up and away that were nowhere near the plate. This is what he was doing last year when he had the worst walk rate of his career. This doesn’t mean he isn’t still a very good pitcher, but after 2010 there was reason to hope and expect he would be on the level of Felix Hernandez and C.C. Sabathia. If he can’t get his control back, he will be something less than that this year.
  • Jose Valverde will finish in the bottom 5 for blown saves this year. After going a perfect 49 for 49 in save opportunities last year, Valverde blew his first chance this year (though he still “earned” a win. Anyone want to try arguing the merits of pitcher wins after this one?) By saying he will finish in the bottom 5 this year isn’t to say he will have a much worse season than he did last year. It is just a way to point out that it is nearly impossible to predict how a reliever, even an elite one, will do from year to year. On the contrary, it speaks more to the fact that Valverde is a good pitcher and entrenched in his role that he will be able to have enough save opportunities to finish in the bottom 5. The last pitcher to have a perfect save season with at least 40 saves was Brad Lidge in 2008 when he went 41 for 41. The next season? 11 blown saves.
  • Miguel Cabrera will lead the league in walks and Prince Fielder will hit less than 30 home runs. Cabrera already got off to a fast start with 3 walks in front of his new bash brother and I think this is going to be a trend. Fielder looks like he can be pitched to if you have enough left handed pitching. With teams having 7 and 8 man bullpens (including the Sox, who would have had Kelly Shoppach as their only bench player if the game went extra innings yesterday), most have at least 2 lefty relievers. Prince can be neutralized be a decent left hander and as soon as AL Managers figure this out (apparently Bobby V already has), Cabrera will be pitched around quite a bit. Welcome to the AL, Prince. 
  • Jacoby Ellsbury will finish with fewer than 20 home runs and a sub-.300 batting average. I was going to make this prediction before yesterday’s 0-fer. I see a big Willie Mays Hayes in Major League II year out of Jacoby. For those unfamiliar with this sequel, Hayes bulks up in the off-season and begins to think he is a power hitter leading to a lot of fly balls to the warning track and a slow start to the season. After Ellsbury’s 30 homer outburst last year, he no doubt views himself as a power hitter and will start to try and lift the ball too often. This will not work out well. On the plus side, it could lower his demands in a contract extension.
  • Michael Bowden will lead the team in saves. Alfredo Aceves is due for a huuuuuge regression this year after leading the league in relief innings last year. Add in the fact that he really has no out pitch and there is no reason to expect him to be able to close games. I bet he sees more work in the 6th inning as the 5th best bullpen pitcher than he does as the closer. Mark Melancon DOES have an out pitch (a pretty sweet looping curve), but he was “turtling” both literally and figuratively. When he goes into his windup his head retreats into the top of his body. Where the hell does his neck go? And then when he gave up that deeeeeep flyball to Ryan Raburn to open the ninth you could see the feces running down his pants. But at least he was smart enough to come out and criticize the new manager for his quick hook in an outing where he barely looked like a AAA pitcher. I fear this could be a Ramiro Mendoza repeat: a formerly successful Yankee pitcher who infiltrates the Red Sox in an attempt to ruin their season.

I was just about to cut this off after the last prediction when I realized they were pretty much all negative. So here are some quick hit positive predictions to close us out…Adrian Gonzalez will win the batting title this year…Mike Aviles will start  (and deserve to start) more games than any other shortstop in the organization…Including the Wild Card playoff game…Bowden will not only lead the team in saves, he will become a legit ninth inning guy…Franklin Morales is going to have a strong season as the lefty stopper…Papi will have one more “Papi J” season in him…Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz will combine for 48 wins...The Sox will win 93 games. Thanks for stopping by.