Friday, June 30, 2006

Psst. Psst. Inside words from a Mets Insider

A colleague of mine (I'll call him Joe) had dinner the other evening with an individual from the Mets' organization. Joe loves to talk baseball and got a few opinions out of the Met representative. I'll list the significant ones and examine them.

First, the Red Sox infield defense is overrated and they have limited range. They catch what they get to.

Let's look at the range factor and zone ratings for them and where they stand and see whether an outsider's perspective is true. Range factor is the number of chances (putouts plus assists) times nine divided by the number of innings Played. "Zone Rating is the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive ‘zone’, as measured by STATS reporters."
----------------Range factor(rank)--------Zone rating(rank)
Youkilis 9.46(8) .843(7)
Loretta 4.67(8) .803(6)
Gonzalez 3.95(11) .876(2) Jeter 10th and 9th
Cora 4.56 .767 (not qualified by chances)
Lowell 3.15(3) .868(1)
AVERAGE 7.5th 4th

Delgado 9.09 (9) .866 (6)
Wright 2.24(13) .727 (12)
Reyes 3.96(14) .878(2)

Although they aren't at the top of the heap, the Red Sox appear to be in the upper half of the AL overall, and relatively at least equal to the Amazing Mets.

Second, the Met said that he was glad the Mets had a big lead in the NL East because he had concerns about their pitching.

As of today, the Mets had allowed the third fewest runs in the National League, and had the second best E.R.A. Looking at my favorites, the WHIP ratio and the K/BB ratio (the best predictor for future E.R.A.) the Mets were second in WHIP and 4th in K/BB. So, allowing for the fact that they play without the DH and in what most feel is currently the weaker league, their pitching looks solid.

Maybe that's the difference between analysis of objective data and one's "lying eyes", as we see what we believe.

As for tonight's Jason Johnson work so far, it looks like there's a reason Cleveland dumped him.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Leather-Necks Stop Mets

The Sox have done it a lot of ways recently, but none sweeter than tonight, as the speed of Coco Crisp with a manufactured run, and a diving, sprawling catch by Crisp defeated the Mets 4-2. The Mets, advertised as the best of the NL, went home with their tails between their legs as the alpha males known as the Red Sox whacked them.

Curt Schilling got the win after three no decisions, to earn his tenth win, and Mike Timlin and Jonathan Papelbon finished, the latter tying the Sox rookie save record, recording his 24th save before the All-Star break.

The signature moment was the bottom of the seventh, when Crisp led off with a bunt single, stole second off Aaron Heilman, and moved to third on an Alex Gonzalez sacrifice. Kevin Youkilis, a notorious first ball watcher, then swung at the first pitch and delivered a sac fly into the left field corner.

The Mets two runs in the top of the sixth came on Carlos Beltran's 22nd homer.

The Sox now have won an even dozen in a row, the most since 1995, and the third longest streak in team history.

The team heads to Florida to meet the young, low budget Marlins, and greet former Sox phenom Hanley Ramirez.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Business Decision

Here's something that I wrote a couple of years ago for Barry Roos and the good folks over at

I recall reading long ago in the Boston Globe, 'there is nothing cheaper than free advice, and there is nothing easier than spending someone else's money.' I'm not sure that Pedro Martinez was reading the paper that day.

Pedro Martinez has been one of the most accomplished pitchers in Major League Baseball history. He has won three Cy Young awards, including having won one in each league. He has won twenty games twice, led the league in E.R.A. on 5 occasions, allowed the fewest hits per nine innings five times, and dominated the league in strikeouts on three occasions. He has also been handsomely paid for his labors, earning over 15 million dollars last season and over 17 million this year. His arrival launched the Red Sox into perennial bridesmaid status.

Pedro moved on with much fanfare and didn't leave a dollar on the table. Having been raised in abject poverty, and done much for his community with his wealth, Pedro had plenty of reasons to make his choice. The Red Sox also had reasons for their decision, including Martinez' gradual decrease in dominance and the clear distinction between the Peak Pedro and the Off Peak Pedro. That isn't to say that the aging Pedro isn't a valuable pitcher, just that he may not be worth as much to the Red Sox as to the Mets at this point in the evolution of the franchises.

Former Sox pitchers (Arroyo 1, Martinez 7, and Lowe 12) rank high in the NL ERA race. This certainly reflects their collective ability, but also the relative disparity in lineup strength in the National League. NL hurlers come in to face lineups packed with hitters from 1 to 9. The Red Sox for example have a .300 hitter (last year) in the eight hole (Coco Crisp) and even Alex Gonzalez has shown an offensive spark recently.

The Red Sox, even with one of the largest payrolls in MLB must decide where to allocate capital, who stays, who goes, and how to balance low-salaried younger players with peak performers at high salary, and sometimes aging stars with marquis names and equivalent pay. Every team will have overachieving bargains and underachieving drags on payroll. Sometimes they surprise you, with major contributions from Lowell and Gonzalez, bargain bustouts from Youkilis, Papelbon, and Lester, and disappointment from Clement. This shouldn't come as any surprise.

Round and about. Don't forget the ladies, who can play some pretty mean ball, too. The New England Riptide, playing softball in Lowell and residing online at are battling for a playoff spot in the National Pro Fast Pitch League. Your daughters and sons can check out some exciting athletes from the distaff side playing a national schedule, with athletes from all over the US.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Get Well Peter Gammons

The Red Sox passed on the word that Peter Gammons suffered an intracranial hemorrhage (brain bleeding), presumably from an aneursym. All of Red Sox Nation wishes Peter to recover.

I think it was in the Red Sox Reader that Gammons revealed that his father had given him a deathbed promise that the Sox would win in Peter's lifetime.

Gammons has contributed immensely to baseball reporting, and for the most part done so bereft of the effete negativity so rampant in these parts.

Great to see the 1986 Sox recognized for their achievements. It was an another 'close call' for the Sox. Oil Can looks as lean as ever, Bruce Hurst doesn't have a gray hair, and who can't wish that Dave Stapleton had been out there at first base at the end of Game 6.

Young pitchers bring genius and its polar opposite - madness - to the game. Alay Soler had a forty plus pitch first with the Sox doing their strike zone control, and Jon Lester has alternately been brilliant and tentative tonight. Soler is a younger version of Rick Reuschel, with all kinds of offspeed stuff around the corners, while Jim Rice compared Lester with the young Frank Tanana.

As for the current Sox, can anyone believe that they've committed 23 errors so far this season. It's easy to imagine Gold Gloves at both third and short, and both Lowell and A-Gone have outperformed expectations with the stick as well.

Stat Geek update:

Team offense: the Sox are now fourth in runs scored (with higher runs/game than Cleveland at three) and have moved up to second in OPS.

Pitching: the Sox are sixth in runs allowed, eighth in ERA, and third in K/BB, which correlates best with future ERA.

Individual offense: Four Sox are in the top 15 in OPS, Manny, Ortiz, Youkilis, and Nixon. Youkilis leads the Sox in runs scored at 52, and although the Sox are high in this category, Youk is 14th. Ramirez, Nixon, Youkilis, and Ortiz are all in the top 20 of Runs Created/27 outs.

Individual pitching:Schilling and Beckett are tied for 2nd in wins at 9, and Schilling and Wakefield check in at 14 and 17 in ERA. Papelbon leads the AL in saves. Papelbon has a microscopic OPS allowed at .417, but BJ Ryan has an astonishing .336.

Monday, June 26, 2006


I was going to tell the story of Big Papi and the Beanstalk, but maybe we'll save that for another day.

Philadelphia came to town with some pretty good talent, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, Aaron Rowland, and Ryan Howard. They decided to play Monopoly with the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Style.

Game 1 of the series was pretty much one of those contests when the Phillies just kept landing on 'Chance' and paying 15 dollars to the Red Sox for every house they own. And when you consider the money these guys make, that can set you back.

Game 2, the Brett Myers game, was more complex, but Myers landed on the 'Go to Jail' square, had no get out of jail free card, and in fact, not only did not pass go, but had to pay 200 dollars to get out of jail. Big Papi pretty much ruined their day by constructing a hotel near Park Street station.

Game 3 was even stranger. The Red Sox raced out and put houses all over the place, only to have a furious rally and tie the game. The Red Sox put the Community Chest guy out there at the end to close it, and amazingly Papelbon's magical suit came off and the Phillies sent it into extras. The Phils went ahead in twelve, and the Sox needed the Phils to keep rolling doubles to land on Sox property, then go to jail, then blow it. Mirabile dictu, Forrest Gump style, 'it happens' as once again Big Papi walks off with a game winning hit, his 10th as a Sox.

Craig Hansen couldn't prevent an inherited runner from scoring, but Coco Crisp's leadoff double, a Youkilis two-out single, and Papi's latest heroic produced Monopoly Magic. If Brett Myers arrest and 'embarrassment speech didn't inflame Phillie Phandom, then the sweep surely would. About the only Boston domination not seen was Wally cuffing around the Phillie Phanatic like a rented mule.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Cheating or Trying?

Sports as societal microcosm becomes a favorite theme. What constitutes cheating versus playing hard and within the rules?

Let's look outside the lines first. The motivation behind cheating doesn't stretch the imagination- power, greed, or both. With electoral politics a driving force, politicians of both stripes have crossed the line, from phantom votes in Chicago's Cook County in 1960 to the voting machine issues and voter registration intimidation of the 2000 presidential election. Political strategists and handlers become more important than honesty and integrity. The massage outshines the message. The massive fraud seen on Wall Street from Enron to Worldcom has yielded to a new generation of malice - backdated options and yet more insider trading to enrich management at the expense of shareholders. Mine safety violations frequent the news. Comedians lament the 5 percent of honest lawyers who make the other 95% look bad. Medical researchers fabricate data and pharmaceutical companies withold negative product safety information. Freakonomics shows how schoolteachers have cheated to improve tests scores with merit pay on the line, and realtors work to get better deals selling their homes than their clients. Ordinary citizens scheme to defraud the internal Revenue Service. We can go on and on.

Some sports "cheating" is part of the game. Groundskeepers water the basepaths to slow opponents' runners, vary the length of the grass and adjust the consistency of the dirt in front of the plate to favor the home team. The Red Sox complained about cameras in centerfield at Jacobs Field . Hitters may try to 'peek' at catchers' signs, at the risk of getting chin music. Jim Fregosi of the Angels was a master sign stealer, kicking second base to confirm the sign, and looking left or right to show fastball or breaking stuff.

Although the spitter is gone, we've seen the Vaseline Ball of Gaylord Perry and others, the emery board from Mike Scott, and Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra combining to scuff the ball in myriad ways. Cooling the baseballs in the pre-game freezer might cool off the visitors bats.

The motto goes, "if you aren't cheating, then you aren't trying." Aside from corked bats, we have corked players, with everything from anabolic steroids, growth hormone, amphetamines, and drugs designed to avoid detection. Lance Armstrong, did he, or didn't he use erythropoeitin to increase red blood cell mass and oxygen carrying capacity? NASCAR teams have cheated with illegal carburetors, illegal engines, oversized gas tanks, and other aerodynamic modifications designed to overcome 'skill factors'.

With the fortune and fame available in society, it's not hard, it's impossible to imagine a trend change. Political dirty tricks, financial shenanigans, fraud and deception outside the lines is mirrored by players and teams seeking to avoid a level playing field. You may want a better mousetrap, but remember the rats will do anything to get the cheese.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Common Cents - Sports Civility

The sports world may be a microcosm of society, but first and foremost, college and professional sports are businesses. We can argue fashion and taste, but role models or not, team representatives from managers to players sell the product.

Businesses want to sell as much product as they can, and garner as much market share as possible. No, you can't sell feminine hygiene products to most of the pro sports demographic, but I'm sure the management would love to have more women there. Offending a woman, minority, Libertarian, or shaman is just bad business.

I don't know the origin of political correctness. Anita Bryant was a second runner-up in the Miss America pageant and pitch person for Florida orange juice. Her opposition to gays got her bounced from the OJ promotional business. Gays drink OJ, too, and Florida orange growers don't oppose them drinking OJ. John Rocker was as much a loose cannon off the field as he was on it, and his Don Rickles act, along with his ineffectiveness, was the beginning of his end.

Toyota, Microsoft, Walmart, and Goldman Sachs want your business, your dollars and yen. Pro and college sports aren't different, selling season tickets, clothing and memorabilia, cruises, and fantasy camps. Teams covet sales and repeat customers, not drug users, paternity suits, or spouse beaters.

Whether ordering a beanball has become an anachronism can be argued, especially for those who remember Tony Conigliaro or Kirby Puckett. Ozzie Guillen didn't sin against a sportwriter. He flamed corporate culture, the culture of courtesy, civility, and customer relations. Baseball can forgive a curse, but it won't forget damaging the heart of the game - cash flow.

Beckett Pounds Strike Zone, Myers Pounds Wife?

The Red Sox continued their strong play against the NL East and the 'Natural Rival' Phillies, with a 10-2 win over the Phillies. Josh Beckett worked eight quality innings, including retiring the first sixteen Phillies. Beckett complemented his 95 mph fastball with the overhand yellowhammer to baffle the Phillies.

Meanwhile, Phils starter Brett Myers was alleged to have struck his wife in the head and pulled her hair in what must have been a wild scene not far from Fenway Park. "Myers declined to comment."

Charles Barkley said, "I am not a role model." Evidently Myers is taking another former Philadelphia star far too literally. ESPN lists Myers at 6.4" and 238 pounds, which although not exactly the 800 pound gorilla in the room, brings Myers into that vicinity. Of course, that would be unfair to gorillas.

If true, it's hard to imagine what kind of extenuating circumstances exist in the Philadelphia ace's case. If he were intoxicated, that would only mean another problem for him. If he had used steroids and had steroid rage, then that would be a second issue. Nothing we've heard suggests that either malady exists. Of course, he could solely be a self-absorbed, wealthy (salary listed at 3.3 million) boor, in which case he'll be referred for anger management, likely at his insurer's expense.

No doubt we'll hear about the stress of playing in the City of Brotherly Love, and his attorneys can look for correlations between mental illness and ballpark dimensions. Surely, we'll be feeling sorry for Myers, either a victim of bad reporting, a tough upbringing, or the ragings of the paparazzi. What a country!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Day Off Better Than an Off Day

After a long road trip and road-heavy schedule the Red Sox have an off day. How do ballplayers spend a day off?

  • Some on the Bombers, especially the Juice Guys, probably spend some time looking for clean needles. Wouldn't want the growth hormone shots to be contaminated with hepatitis or AIDS. Health conscious means health safety.
  • First, in deference to Rabelais and the French philosophical novel, I'd guess some are playing the two-backed beast.
  • Manny Ramirez, believe it or not, is probably watching '24' reruns.
  • Trot's probably watching Disney Netflix with the kids.
  • Terry Francona, poring over the matchup charts for the Mets. I hope not, take a rest big guy.
  • Jon Lester must be pinching himself.
  • Could Kevin Youkilis be considering shaving off that stubble just below his lip? Don't do it, it's lucky!
  • Wake would be enjoying his new Bernie & Phyl mattress
  • Jon Papelbon might be breaking in that 'Hummer' from the car ads.
  • Al Nipper's getting ready to watch Roger get to work.
  • Relief Guyz that endz in Zs are checking the relief stats.
  • Willie Harris might be giving interviews about Chicago sportswriters.
  • Curt Schilling is dealing with the 'To Do' list.

A day off is a lot better off for them than it is for us.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mo' Lester the Better

Okay, I said I wouldn't do it, but I can't really help myself. Jon 'Mo' Lester has ten strikeouts through six innings tonight.

I'm not making the kid out to be Steve Carlton, Jerry Koosman, or even Bruce Hurst, but he can make people swing and miss, even if they are from the NL East (okay, I've said that, too). Very refreshing to see the Red Sox give youth a chance. I hope that they protect their investment (pitch count). Some will argue that's stupid, but recall the A's blowing out some young arms years ago.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (and I pitched, or tried), I was taught that you WANTED the hitter to hit the changeup, not miss it.

The Sox are trying to improve depth with Jason Johnson. Let's hope that he wasn't another doper who had a couple of decent seasons with the needle.

Kevin Youkilis remains a phenom at first base/leadoff, with his stats better than everybody at first last time I checked, except for Giambi, one of the Juice Guys, and Thome. Youkilis is yet another example of a guy finally getting his full chance, and making the most of it.

Aside from his terrific defense, Alex Gonzalez has chipped in a lot of offense lately, too. Not too shabby.

Frankly, it's gotta be tough on the sportswriters not to have anything to complain about. Can we think about anything to complain about?

1. Terry Francona's smock (who cares)
2. Tina Cervasio's black dress last week (really bad look for her)
3. Chris Snow moving on to Minnesota and hockey. Stay home, Chris...and good luck.
4. Manny Ramirez's locks in the heat...makes me feel overheated.
5. The overshift on David Ortiz.
6. Doug Mirabelli at the plate, not behind it.
7. Not having Wily Mo to root for.
8. Trot not doing enough against LHP.
9. The unavailability of Monster Seats.
10.Red Sox Nation cards.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Cora, Cora, Cora!

He's never hit .300, scored or driven in 50 runs in a season. He's never stolen 10 bags in a year. His range factor and fielding percentage aren't quite at the major league average. The best he ever 'rated' was fourth, in hit by pitches in the NL in 2004. Ouch.

He's fairly versatile, playing second, short, third, and left field. His comps are guys like Glenn Hoffman, Luis Rivera, and Donnie Hill. There simply isn't anything remarkable about the thirty-year old from Caguas, Puerto Rico.

But he knows the game. He always seems to be in the middle of a rally, slapping a single between first and second, or laying down a bunt, or turning a key double play. That's Alex Cora, a guy who can simply play. You won't win with twenty-five of him, but you may win more games with him as your 25th man, because he produces.

He's Larry Izzo on special teams, or Bruce Bowen shutting down the star, a quiet lunchpail guy. I've heard that he's one of Terry Francona's favorite players, and that he's one of those players who are expected to manage someday. Although by far he's not the Sox best player, he's my kind of player. Here's to you, Alex. Cora, Cora, Cora!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Francona's a Genius, Really

"Terry Francona is experienced with the double switch having managed in Philadelphia," croons Fox's Josh Lewin. He reports this with the calmness that the Nobel Committee announced that Albert Einstein had won the Nobel Prize in 1921 for describing the photoelectric effect, having been passed over for the Theory of Relativity.

Certainly baseball managers have a variety of responsibilities, from strategy and tactics, teaching, player relations (parents sometimes call that babysitting), media massaging, and so forth. Sometimes their acumen gets raised to the level of "genius".

Tony LaRussa received acclaim for genius, although I always thought that Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Dave Stewart, and Dennis Eckersley raised LaRussa's IQ dramatically in those years. LaRussa managed the Oaklands from 1988 to 1990 with winning percentages of .642, .611, and .636 to three pennants and one World Series Title. Inexplicably, he became mostly stupid for the next five years, managing only two clubs with records over .500 and his career winning percentage is .537.

Why did LaRussa's genius disappear? In 1990 Dave Stewart and Bob Welch combined for 49 victories, and in 1991 they garnered 23. Dennis Eckersley had an ERA of 0.61 in 1990 and 2.96 in 1991. Did success suddenly go to their heads or drain from LaRussa's?

A great baseball game has flow. Tony LaRussa's greatest contribution to contemporary baseball may be the sabotage of baseball flow, with his incessant pitching changes, often based on lefty-righty strategy. LaRussa practically raised pitching switches to an art form, turning Monets into Picassos, and Renoirs into Jackson Pollacks.

Of course, matched up against Terry Francona in the 2004 World Series, LaRussa dueled the 'witless' Sox skipper who had a .440 winning percentage in four forgettable seasons in Philadelphia and who earned the moniker Francoma from Boston scribes. LaRussa's Cardinals went home with their collective tails between their legs, done in, of course, by pitching. Pitching, moreso than college or professional school education, Kaplan courses, or tutoring makes managers geniuses.

Genius of course, comes from sustained overperformance. Are Joe Torre and Brian Cashman geniuses manipulating a 200 million dollar payroll, while the Allard Bairds of the baseball universe confined to the dark ignorance of poverty? Jim Leyland once again became a brainiac with some live arms (and distant fences) in Detroit.

Of course, baseball needs some new statistics, for example a redefinition of the "hidden ball trick." The impact of steroids in baseball can't be ignored, especially with respect to the head circumference/testicular diameter ratio. I was cleaning out my desk yesterday and found two Pfizer baseball cards of Rafael Palmeiro. We should have known something was afoot when the slugger started hawking Viagra. A few years ago I did a study looking at the ratio between homerun leaders pre and post 1980, comparing their peak homerun season output to the average of their first five full seasons. Contemporary sluggers averaged over twenty percent higher peak to 'youth' ratios, and as I recall the number was around 1.8. Palmeiro's was off the chart, as he was at around 3, having averaged 15 homers for his first five and then hit forty-seven twice.

Growth hormone increases head circumference, too. Jason Giambi really bulked up while in the Bay Area (BALCO neighborhood), then turned into Twiggy in New York. Not to worry though, because he's big as the Incredible Hulk again, no doubt because of a fantastic work ethic and healthy eating. Whatever you do, Big Guy, don't hit me with your wallet. Obviously, baseball players are much smarter than you or I think. After all, what has your union or professional organization done for you or me lately?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Fortunate Sons

The Red Sox handed the Braves their 16th loss in 19 games and moved into a first place tie with the Yankees, defeating Atlanta 5-3 at Turner Field.

The Sox and Bombers improbably share the AL East division lead with 38-28 records. Why improbable? In 66 games, the Red Sox have scored 346 runs and allowed 328, while the New Yorkers have scored 386 and allowed 318. Applying baseball’s Pythagorean Theorem to winning percentage (runs scored squared/(runs scored squared + runs allowed squared) the Red Sox should have a winning percentage of about .527 and have won 35 games while the Yankees should have a winning percentage of about .596 and have won 39 games, in other words a four game lead. Toronto, leading the league in OPS and second in runs, has scored 375 runs and allowed 338, and more notably trails by 2 games.

New York is first in runs scored (despite missing Sheffield and Matsui for much of the year) and second in OPS, while the Red Sox are sixth in both runs scored and OPS. The Yankees are fourth in runs allowed, the Red Sox sixth, although the Red Sox are fourth in K/BB ratio the Yankees tenth, which may have more predictive value going forward.

So what’s the explanation? Winning percentage in one run games, which is often more luck than skill (as analyzed by Bill James), shows the Red Sox have won 10 and lost 6 and the Yankees are 10-10, accounting for exactly the four game difference from expected results by raw offensive and defensive figures. Obviously the success of Jonathan Papelbon, whose 22 saves leads the majors helps.

You can argue that the Red Sox improved defense could play a role, or argue that the Sox playing ten less home than road games also has contributed to their relative underperformance.

Our desire to simplify the complex notwithstanding, I’d say the Red Sox are fortunate sons to be clinging to a tie at this point in the season, relative to the purest measures of offense and defense, run differential.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Give a Man a Fish

"Give a man a fish, he eats today. Teach a man to fish, he eats every day."

Sports fans are fickle. We want veteran experience and leadership. We want youthful energy and exuberance. The grass is always greener on the other side. The backup quarterback needs a chance. Cinderella just needs a pair of new shoes.

Historically, the Red Sox training program for young pitchers hasn't borne much fruit. We've had the Boston Massacre with Bobby Sprowl, and a series of spot starts over the years yielding only bus tickets back to Pawtucket. But something IS changing. Jonathan Papelbon is the prime example, with save 21 tonight, and Manny Delcarmen has pitched creditably at times. But tonight was Jon Lester's road debut, with a crackling fastball and hard curve, picking up a victory with a one-run five-hit performance with five strikeouts and a quality start.

The Sox haven't thrived on Interleague play, absent the DH, and historically with a team built more for bashing than small ball. But times they are a changin', with the natural rivalry shifted to Philly from Atlanta, and the Braves struggling.

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back, Kapler. Good guy and talisman Gabe Kapler arrived back on the scene today, with the Sox placing Matt Clement on the DL. Kapler's known as a consummate clubhouse guy, a good addition for a team that looked like it had just lost their best friend in Minneapolis.

The Sox also released Mike Holtz after acquiring Victor Lopez for David Riske, and signing no-name pitcher Kyle Snyder from Kansas City. The Sox must have some super-secret information to add Royals' castoffs.

So, with a rotation of Schilling, Wakefield, Beckett, Lester, and ?, Sox fans are climbing back in from the window sill.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Wing Commander

Within every season, losing streaks are to be expected. A team with a .500 percentage would have a 3% chance of winning (or losing) 5 consecutive games if each game had independent and identical probability of a given outcome. Of course, injuries and slumps just happen in baseball and other sports.

Earl Weaver used to say that "momentum lasts as long as the next game's starting pitcher." And unfortunately for the Sox, with a few notable exceptions, the pitching staff has gone cold.

Learning the game of baseball involves more than showing up every day and putting in some time. We can only hope that Wing Commander Curt Schilling opens up the notebook to review the science and art of pitching with the Papelbons, Delcarmens, and Lesters of the organization. How does the hitter's stance affect his plate coverage? How does the game situation and count affect your pitch selection? What really makes the difference between winning and losing in The Show?

As a practical matter, you cannot replace everyone on the team, offensively or defensively, when the team struggles. All of which tends to make the manager the scapegoat. Unfortunately for the Sox, both the offense and pitching seem to have come off the tracks simultaneously.

What are the alternatives? Much like a military battle, you cannot deploy your best forces from one location to reinforce another without cost. Moving Papelbon just amounts robbing Peter to pay Paul. As is usually the case, production most commonly results more from players playing better than better players playing. The element of chance, along with fatiuge, and general psychology can't be entirely dismissed.

The best teams from management on down put the players in the roles that give them the best chance to succeed. Neither Francona or John McGraw would win without more reliable play from both sides of the diamond. Manipulating the tail end of the roster pales in comparison with the accountability and responsibility of the foundation of the team, the core that currently struggles, but so often has produced.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


15.4 hits plus walks per nine innings, 1.5 homers per nine innings, and an ERA approaching six. Julian Tavarez may or may not be a "demon", "beast", or nice guy, but he can't get people out lately.

It always comes down to money, doesn't it? If Tavarez were Manny Delcarmen, he'd be on the next bus out of here, but Tavarez has a track record, and although it's not spectacular, he stays, passes go and collects 200 dollars, about every tenth of an inning, for 162 games, if my math is anywhere near right.

Mind you, I don't begrudge him the money. He can sit on the bench, mop up, pitch BP, or do something useful until he can get himself straightened out. But asking Terry Francona to send him out there in key situations lately has simply been a mistake. Maybe he has a hangnail, or a splinter, or a headache, or maybe he just needs a bad case of Hellenic Flu, as they say in the NBA.

Or maybe JT can go toe to toe with Joey Gathright and get a longer suspension. It just seems that the NL to AL shuttle seems to stop off at Camp Ineffectiveness just a tad too long for my taste. Yes, I know I've accused others of being Mr. Whathaveyoudoneformelately, but enough is enough.

If you're a lefthander (except Mike Holtz) and still breathing (Scott Sauerbeck), you can get a shot. God knows that we're bound to see the Alvarez's of the world pass through here (Bruce Chen?) on a regular basis.

So let's get Theo and Bill James, and the armies of servers, data managers, and techies to work on the bullpen, and see if they come up with anything besides OLD as a solution. "Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment." Well, the Jeopardy Category 'Ends With Z' has the answer, "what Red Sox reliever is killing us and needs some time off from pressure situations?"

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Handling the Truth

Tonight's game has been an old fashioned pitchers' duel - Koufax versus Marichal, Hunter versus Tiant. Johan Santana looked unhittable, and Curt Schilling nearly matched him, until both yielded two-out solo homers in the seventh inning. Both departed witht he score knotted at one in the ninth inning.

One reason the Twins' pitching has succeeded in the past is their stinginess with the base on balls. Tonight has been no exception. Meanwhile, Curt Schilling's 34 inning walkless streak stopped with the Twins' leadoff hitter tonight.

If David Ortiz is the greatest clutch hitter in Sox history, then who are our memorable opponents from the Twins. Most Sox fans will probably say Kirby Puckett, whose eye injury cut his career short, but the two most memorable Twins for me were Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva. Oliva had the sweet swing, three batting titles, and rotten knees that held his career back. Killebrew had 573 homers with that uppercut swing that generated backspin flyballs that seemed to carry forever. He also walked and struck out at least 100 times in seven seasons. From 1965 to 1972 he also received 123 intentional walks. A couple of other memorable Twins were Bert Blyleven (he of the curveball) and of course Frank Viola and Jeff Reardon, who both also wound up on the Sox.

What don't we see this year, so far? As terrific as Johnny Damon was for the Sox, he really struggled in domed stadia.

I'm reading a terrific biography that my daughter Julia, an enormous baseball fan gave me, The Mind of Bill James. Although I don't believe that numbers explain everything, there aren't many mediocre players with good numbers or bad players with great numbers. Sometimes there are valuable players who seem to outshine their numbers, like the Sox Alex Cora, but they're the exception.

In the world of classification, there are lumpers and splitters. I try to be a 'lumper' to make it simple. Baseball is about scoring and preventing scoring. Although there may not be a Holy Grail of baseball offensive statistics, I like OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) as simple and representative, and both K/BB and WHIP ratios (walks plus hits per inning pitched) concerning pitching. OPS reflects both plate discipline and power, and K/BB and WHIP correlate with the ability to make hitters miss and also the ability to keep them off base.

Coming into tonight, Curt Schilling (8.56) and Santana (5.69) were 1-2 in the AL in K/BB, and 4-5 in WHIP (Schilling 1.03, Santana 1.05). So as they say on Nitwit Radio, "you're making my point."

After being on call last night, and getting innumerable phone calls after midnight, I'm finding extra innings something of a challenge tonight...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Learning Curve for The Man

Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Yet somehow, some way, people continue to allow David Ortiz to beat them.

In a game that could only be described as plodding, the Red Sox got Big Papi into position in the ninth after Nixon and Crisp reached, watched him fall behind two strikes, battling back with a Carboesque* foul tip of an Otsuka slider. Number 34 then delivered a mind-numbing shot over the Sox bullpen to seal the walkoff, come-from-behind win.

Yastrzemski in 1967 delivered repeatedly to carry the Sox on his back to the pennant. And Ortiz has the duende to rise to the occasion, stand and deliver.

As a fan, or even just an observer of the baseball condition, you wonder how many times one man can come through. Ortiz simply defies analysis.

*For the uninitiated or just YOUNG, in 1975 World Series Game 6, Bernie Carbo meekly fouled off a Rawley Eastwick pitch with two strikes, then delivered a three run homer into the triangle seats to tie the game at 6 in the eighth inning. This set the stage for Carleton Fisk's classic walkoff homerun to extend the series to seven games.

The New Guy...and More

Rookie Jon Lester didn't get a win yesterday. Neither did the Red Sox. Lester wasn't great, overthrowing at times, but he wasn't as bad as he looked, as the defense was anything but spectacular behind him (Kevin Youkilis for example, turning a popup into a 'double'). Still, Lester had two things that we haven't seen from a lefthander around here in a VERY long time - a swing and miss fastball, and a hard breaking pitch. I'm not saying he's Steve Carlton or Ron Guidry, just that hitters can't go up there expecting the soft stuff.

Francona-like emphasizing the positive, a few guys are starting to swing the bat better, including Coco Crisp and Jason Varitek. On th other hand, David Ortiz, despite the 15 homers and 51 RBI, hasn't really hit his stride.
Manny Ramirez (.993), Youkilis (.943), Mike Lowell (.930), and Ortiz all are in the top 25 of OPS.

From a team offense perspective, the Sox are seventh in run (4th in runs per game) and fourth in OPS. They are third in wins in the AL, seventh in ERA, but third in K/BB, which often predicts future ERA better than ERA itself.

Where is the roster going? In other words, who's staying, who's going, and who's on the bubble in the evaluation (first third of the season), acquisition (second third), and stretch run perspective.

Catchers (2). Varitek and Mirabelli are staying.
Infield (5). Lowell, Gonzalez and Cora, Loretta and Youkilis.
Outfield (5). Crisp, Manny, and Nixon going nowhere. Wily Mo health dependent, with Kapler starting higher level rehab.
DH (1) - are you kidding?

That leaves Willie Harris and JT Snow on the bubble at best.

Starting pitching (5) Health is always an issue, and it's not just physical health, but confidence that determines the long run. Schilling and Wakefield are the healthiest physically and psychologically. Who would have thought we would even consider Josh Beckett a question mark? I say Beckett regains his touch. Clement, Lester, and Pauley battling for the last two spots.

Closer (1) Papel-bon appetit. Could we ask for more.
7th to 8th (2) Timlin and Foulke both health risks now.
Middle (3) Ends in Z-squad. Seanez has pitched better than Tavarez recently, but both have performed as the same inconsistent guy. Both average about 14.5 baserunners per nine innings. Neither inspires a lot of confidence. Seanez' K/BB ratio gives him the nod. I believe that Delcarmen has better stuff than either of them, but it's hard to show it without work. Riske is risky and Hansen is frisky, and I like Hansen's chances of being there better than Riske's.

In other words, health-allowing, I like Papelbon, Timlin and Foulke (the designated lefty guy), Seanez, Delcarmen, and Hansen to be there. Maybe the Cardinals, Giants, or some NL team will take Tavarez back.

Growth Hormone. Excessive amounts of endogenous growth hormone creates a disease, acromegaly. Big hands, big head, and some problems like diabetes and eventually heart trouble. As far as I can see, neither the NFL or the MLBPA is interested in a level playing field. Rumors always had it that Michael Jordan's baseball experiment was a closet gambling suspension. Sometimes it's not what you know but who you hang around with. Roger Clemens has missed over 50 games for the Astros. Kinda makes you wonder, and I'm not the only one wondering. Probably not, because the MLB leadership reminds me of the Boneless Chicken Farm, spineless through and through.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Big Picture Thinking

It was the 'Revenge of Earl Weaver' night for the Red Sox as they combined pitching (Curt Schilling and Papelbon for exercise) and the three-run homer (Dr. Longball courtesy of Jason Varitek) to walkoff with a face saving 'must' win in New York. Jaret Wright had the wrong stuff, and the Captain delivered the Proctorology to seal the win and prevent an early 2 1/2 game deficit.

Meanwhile, on the human growth hormone front, I find it hard to believe that baseball cannot solve a problem simpler than the Riddle of the Sphinx. Rather the Players Union (pardon my snickering) considers blood testing an invasion of privacy. I'm wondering how many of these multimillionaires lack life insurance because they refused HIV blood tests or cholesterol screening?

We can't know who is using and who isn't. Jason Giambi went from the Incredible Hulk to Twiggy, and is back again, the Incredible Bulk. Is he on the needle, or just a finely tuned athlete at the prime of his career?

Nitwit Radio hosts made the argument today that it was somehow more innocent for marginal players to seek performance enhancement than stars. Clinging to the fringe of a dream through chemistry, mediocre players purse a noble dream. However, the Bonds and the Palmeiros of the world intrude on our sensibilities by cheating. Of course, that was Gerry Callahan's argument, undoubtedly fresh from a MENSA meeting.

The Sox continue their newfound consideration of their farm system, venturing into the unknown offering Jon Lester a start on Saturday. We shouldn't overestimate the portfolio of work of any player based on infinitesimal sample size. Let's hope that Lester can show the stuff and command that his resume has promised so far.

What seemed to be a potent rotation in Fort Myers (Schilling, Beckett, Wakefield, Papelbon, and some combination of Clement, Wells, and Arroyo) has morphed into a question mark. The best teams can find fungible pieces to develop a whole greater than the sum of the parts. Over the next few weeks the Sox may have more insight into who they are and what they might become.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Goliath Upsets David

Gnashing of teeth is acceptable. Kicking the dog is not. Punching the speed bag might help. Punching the wall will not. We recognize that baseball is a game of inches, and a Bucknerian groundball led to a Bomber run, and a terrific catch by Cabrera denied Manny's bid for a homer. Still, relievers have to come in and throw strikes and Seanez' walking in the winning run defines futility.

David couldn't quite overcome Goliath in Gotham tonight, despite a quality start by any means.

The bigger picture however, shows differences between the teams, with the New Yorkers averaging over six runs a game (the Sox at 5.5) and the ancient rivals with an ERA of 4.28 to the Sox 4.75.

The Pythagorean Equation of baseball assesses run differential and New York has outscored opponents by 77 and the Sox outscored opposition by 27. Only the magnificence (can you call it otherwise) of Papelbon (and New York injuries) have allowed the Sox to remain on the heels of the division leaders.

We can only hope that Pauley's performance tonight wasn't a fluke, especially with the recent struggles of erstwhile number 1B, Josh Beckett. Toss in the age of Schilling and Wakefield and Sox fans go on suicide watch.

Craig Hansen joined the parent club today, and every indication suggests that Jon Lester starts against Texas on Saturday. Lester has pitched out of trouble induced by walks recently, but the Sox willingness to give some young players a chance is refreshing.

Plodding relative to Crisp or not, Kevin Youkilis needs to go back into the leadoff spot until Coco gets it going. Man-Law.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Positive Thinking

Let's come up with some positives.

10. No major injuries tonight.

9. Early 'oiling' for the RemDawg

8. Rest for some regulars.

7. No blisters with 46 pitches.

6. Jon Lester threw four scoreless innings tonight for the PawSox.

5. Youkilis wasn't hit on the arm again.

4. No second-guessing any Francona critical decisions.

3. "A beautiful night for baseball."

2. Second place allows us the 'we try harder approach'.

1. Wait'll tomorrow night with, er, David Pauley on the mound...I think I have some antacids in the cupboard.

Bonus: Those Miller Lite 'Man Law' ads are great.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Cat Scratch Fever

Mercifully, the graduation party season remains in full swing, while Jeremy Bonderman held the Sox to check swing. Whatever the postmortems may be after games like this, overcoming superior pitching simply doesn't happen with regularity. All of which is why the Tigers remain a force, although the loss of Mike Maroth certainly sets them back. Their staff revolves around power arms with the likes of Bonderman, Zumaya, Rodney, and Verlander, complemented by crafty veterans like Rogers and formerly Maroth.

Tim Wakefield remains in run support purgatory, and we can only hope the sports psychology world has found Matt Clement.

Aside from building a solid staff, the Tigers have built their team to their ballpark. While hitters' parks may be fan friendly, it's easier to attract and retain the essential ingredient, pitching, when the pitchers don't have to cower in fear. Don't expect the Phillies or Rockies to be able to compete with regularity in their bandbox/aerodynamics nightmares. Conversely, the former .406 club seems to have affected the aerodynamics on Fenway, such that it isn't the homer haven it once was.

From "Which parks have the lowest homer rates? Petco Park is the easy one, and it is the worst from both sides of the plate. For lefties, Petco is followed by Kauffman Stadiun (Kansas City), SBC Park (San Francisco), and Fenway Park (Boston). From the right side of the plate, Kauffman and SBC Park are again tough, along with Jacobs Field (Cleveland), Tropicana Field (Tampa), and Shea Stadium (Mets). Fenway Park and Jacobs Field are not generally thought of as tough hitters’ parks, but at least for homers there are significant platoon splits. Also, among the best pitcher’s parks for home runs is Washington’s new home at RFK Stadium. While there is not a full year of data yet, this park is proving to be one of the most difficult home run parks in baseball."

Wikipedia addresses another factor. After the BALCO scandal, MLB put stricter drug testing policies that went into effect in the 2005 season. The statistics also show a similar picture showing the effects of this policy. 2005 was the lowest season since 1997 season in terms of total home runs (5017 in 2005 compared to 4640 in 1997). The average homeruns per game were also lowest since 1997. 2.06 home runs were hit per game in 2005 compared to 2.05 in 1997. 2.06 homeruns per game was considerably smaller than the 2004 season which averaged 2.25 homeruns per game(see [1]). While this difference can be considered as a statistical fluke, it is a big coincidence that can taint the latest records' validity. shows graphical version of offensive and defensive efficiency, with winning percentage bands. Here in 2003 you can see the Sox production overcame lesser pitching.


As of today, the Sox are scoring 5.4 runs/game and the Tigers 5.0. The Sox are allowing 4.9 runs a game and the Tigers allowing 3.75. As of today, it's hard for me to argue that the Sox are a better team than the Tigers.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Litmus Test?

Tony Massarotti wrote a lead article in The Boston Herald today, decrying the newly minted Red Sox fans. occupying the Fenway seats of the faithful departed.

"And while the newbies prance around and act like they’ve never been there, the rest of us do the only thing we can.

We wait to get our seats back."

All one can ask is "who died and gave you keys to the ballpark?" What litmus test must be passed to qualify for "real fan" status? Did Tony watch Cleveland's Rocky Colavito at Fenway during Mr. Maz's childhood?
Does he remember Colavito's stretching routine before he batted? Or did he yell down to Amos Otis from the centerfield bleachers on those scorching summer days?

I never saw Ted Williams play in person at Fenway. Does that disqualify me? I have the bleacher ticket stub from Game 1 of the 1975 Series against the Big Red Machine. Jim Reinig, a Sox fan from South Carolina got me the ticket. Tony probably was there, too, because he's a genuine Sox fan, the equivalent of the DAR, baseball style.

If fans from Bangor to Block Island want to plunk down their hard-earned bucks to support the Sox, the product on the field, how is that depriving me? Maybe, I'll never be Maz's kind of fan, because I don't have season tickets, keep score in my box seat, and schmooze with Stephen King. Or maybe we can't match Tony's contacts, his chance to enjoy the aroma of freshly washed jocks in the clubhouse and swap stories with clubhouse shoeshine boys.

We don't travel on the road with the team, or eat breakfast with the team, or shake John Henry's hand. We don't know Larry Lucchino's cellphone number, or Theo's fiancee, or the peanut guy in Section 27.

Sorry, Tony, we'll never be real fans. We'll never be able to match your wit and wisdom, insight or prose. But thanks for putting us in our place.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Teach Your Children

I guess it all comes down to "what have you done for me lately?" Ultimately, we are all supplanted by a new generation of (fill in the blank), whom we hope can do the job more effectively, more conscientiously, and cheaper than we can.

Isn't that what 'outsourcing' is about? If we could outsource the DH position more cheaply and get more production, would the Sox have signed David Ortiz? The day the Jon Lesters of the world can get the job done cheaper than the Clements, then we toss them out and reinvest the difference in an outfielder, long man, or whatever.

On the wrong side of fifty, I've seen enough winning and losing to appreciate a modicum or grace, class, or duende that is sorely lacking in today's world. I also understand the business side of sports well enough, from Helyar's 'Lords of the Realm' to the converse, guaranteed contracts and the high price of mediocrity, to know that everything changes.

You pay your money, you have the right to heckle the talent. We can only hope that the flamboyant passion of the fans doesn't turn into the hooliganism of the English soccer fan, or worse. Didn't Crosby, Stills, and Nash write a song about it long ago, "Teach Your Children?"