Thursday, April 18, 2013

Three Strike Thursday

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

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

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Through the Margarita Goggles: Oh Joel

Ugh. Let's get right to it.

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

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Through the Beer Goggles: Home Opening Day

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

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

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Through the Beer Goggles: Opening Day

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

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