Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saturday Stuff

Michael Bowden made his MLB debut tonight and didn't disappoint. He walked the leadoff hitter, but no more, and held the potent White Sox to two runs in five innings. Yes, he got away with some pitches, but he showed a willingness to pitch the right-handed hitters inside and had a nice change with some good movement down-and-in to the right hander. Obviously he still needs work on the breaking stuff but he had good poise and a live fastball.

Dustin Pedroia continues to drive the Pale Hose batty with his hitting, defense, and baserunning, with a brilliant slide to 'steal' a double. Oh yeah, and Dustin hit cleanup.

You ask why Mark Kotsay is hitting fifth against Buehrle, and Kotsay promptly delivers a pair of doubles. There's that stat prep thingy...

Stuff you never see: Terry Francona came out to argue a safe call (to the Sox benefit).

Oh, yeah! Lou Merloni correctly points out on the pre-game show that replay will become more controversial when its absence blows a critical call.

Daisuke Matsuzaka's 16th victory tied Hideo Nomo for the most wins by a Japanese pitcher. Nomo won 16 three times. Hideki Irabu won 13 once for the Bombers.

A-Rod has one RBI in the ninth inning this season, so they say.

Jeff Bailey hit his first major league homer tonight.

Jermaine Dye made a web gem last night up against the fence in right to rob a homer. Tonight, he looked like he was wearing roller skates going after a Jason Bay double.

For all the Bay doubters, he has 29 RBI in 26 games so far with the Red Sox. Look out Hack Wilson?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dustin The Winner

Dustin Pedroia has had a phenomenal season for the Red Sox. As terrific as he has been this season, far exceeding many observers expectations, how does his season rank within the best players in the American League?

Win Shares model overall contribution to a team's winning, and serve as excellent comparisons between players and also allow for trending. Bill James created the multifactorial model, and the data is regularly updated on The Hardball Times.

As a reference, a season total of 20 equates to "All-Star" performance and 30 or more represents MVP type seasons.

The Rangers slugging second baseman Ian Kinsler leads the AL with 28, followed closely by Justin Morneau of Minnesota and Grady Sizemore of Cleveland. Kevin Youkilis leads the Red Sox with 24, tied for fifth in the AL, and Pedroia is tied for 18th, heady stuff for a guy who really struggled early as a rookie. Pedroia also leads AL second basemen in fielding Win Shares.

Not too shabby.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dog Days, Dog Eared?

As the Red Sox turn into the home stretch of their playoff run, what do we see? In head-to-head matches in the division, where would you rank the Sox? This is not ranking the Sox versus the rest of the league, just in divisional play.

Off the top it feels like:
  • Tampa
  • Toronto
  • New York
  • Boston
  • Baltimore
The reality of intra-divisional play?
  • Tampa 28-19
  • Toronto 24-22
  • New York 26-24
  • Boston 24-25
  • Baltimore 20-32
So, mirabile dictu, the 'feel' matches the fit. Unfortunately.

A theme for the season has been "play better". And so it is. The Sox have overachieved at several positions, particularly Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. Since the All-Star break the Red Sox are seven in OPS and ninth in runs/game in the AL. Jacoby Ellsbury and Coco Crisp together in the outfield haven't produced a lot of pop, which means Coco now delivers a home run.

Yes, injuries do matter (Lowell, Drew) but other teams have injuries as well, most notably the Rays without Crawford and Longoria.

As currently constructed, the Sox have the talent to compete perennially for the postseason. Whether they have what it takes (a long stretch of great baseball) to win the whole enchilada again remains questionable unless something changes, be it health, performance, or consistency.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Passing the Buch-holz

Few professions expect the youngest members to be at the peak of their craft. Is baseball so different?

Clay Buchholz achieved baseball immortality with a no-hitter in his second start, but Great Expectations haven't achieved fulfillment in year two. Yet the day after Clay gets relocated for more seasoning at Portland, the United States mens' and womens' 400 meter sprint relay teams BOTH drop the baton in the semifinal heats. Move over, Clay.

Roger Kahn's "The Head Game" reviews some of the great pitchers through time, and the title is no accident. A great career requires unusual health, superior ability (the stuff the make people miss), and consistent attack of not only the strike zone but hitters' weaknesses.

Left-handed hitters often have a 'blind spot' down and in (note Jacoby Ellsbury), as they become accustomed to seeing right-handed pitchers whose 'natural corner' is down and AWAY. Right handed hitters often struggle with hard stuff up and in, and breaking stuff down and AWAY. If a hitter is up on the plate, he is confident he can handle the inside stuff (remember Carl Everett?), and batters who stand far away from the plate always seem to be handle the outside pitches as they usually DIVE INTO the pitch. In generally, lefthanded hitters prefer the ball down, relative to right-handers, although there are exceptions, guys like Hafner and Thome who can drive the stuff upstairs.

The best pitchers can control BOTH SIDES of the plate. Jon Lester's success evolved not only through health, but with control of his cutter where he can attack right-handers down and in. With the southpaw's NATURAL movement down and away to right-handers, they have to respect the outside fastball, leaving them vulnerable to the hard stuff in. The Yankees' Ron Guidry had particular dominance down and in.

All of which brings us back to Buchholz. Everyone knows about his secondary stuff, the 12 to 6 curve and the terrific change. But Clay hasn't been able to control the strike zone with his fastball, and also has not maintained his composure in the midst of 'luck'. Last night Jay Payton hit a dribbler that Buchholz couldn't corral. That led to an Oriole uprising that was the beginning of the end. Previously, the White Sox had a couple of Texas Leaguers fall in, before titanic homeruns.

What we can all hope for is a mature and professional Buchholz, who realizes that his work ethic on the side, weights, running, and film study will bring him long-term success. Ability seldom suffices in competitive professions. Perspiration and desire can bring Buchholz back to prominence, if he wants it enough.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Posse

The current version of the Red Sox reminds me of the movie 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'. Unfortunately, the Sox aren't Butch or Sundance, but the relentless posse chasing them. "Who are those guys?"

Three quarters of the way through the season, we're trying to figure out who this team really is.
The heart of the team (David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek) has struggled with injury and offensive inconsistency. A pair of younger players (Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia) have become the soul of the team, with a dogged determination that makes every at-bat Armageddon. The corner outfielders are solid and at times have been spectacular. The other two kids, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie have been polar opposites. Ellsbury, cursed by unlimited potential, has not met the fans' expectations while Lowrie has overachieved from day one, supplanting the high-priced shortstop du jour, Julio Lugo.

The pitching staff likewise has turned inside out. Cy Young runnerup Josh Beckett struggles to stay over .500, the inscrutable Matsuzaka has an unorthodox approach (pitching away from contact) but keeps winning, and the Comeback Kid, Jon Lester has simply been special. Tim Wakefield has pitched better than his record, and nobody has claimed and held the fifth starter

Similarly, the bullpen regularly puts out Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde performances. The closer, Jonathan Papelbon, remains near the top of his game, and after that, who does Terry Francona REALLY trust. If you had to get out of a jam in a close game in the seventh, do you go with Okajima who has come on, Masterson who can be nasty, or simply roll the dice with any of Delcarmen, Aardsma, or Lopez, who all pitch trick or treat? Does Mike Timlin have something left in the tank?

So parts of the team have the NFL conundrum, the clash of ability and durability, while others have the ability but not the consistency to carry the team.

If the Sox get 'hot' and healthy, it wouldn't be hard to imagine them running the table, especially if Beckett 2008 became Beckett 2007. But if the Road Worriers meet Mr. Injury Bug, then even the deepest Diehards wouldn't be surprised to see the Angels, Rays, Chisox, and Twins in the postseason. And you don't have the feeling that Mssrs. Epstein and Francona can do much to change that.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Bay Bombers Blast Baltimore

After a big weekend thrashing at the hands of the Jays, Sox fans enjoyed a plucking of the Orioles, highlighted by a pair of homers by Jason Bay, who had four RBI and a stolen base.

Jon Lester raised his record to 12-4 while lowering his eighth place ERA in the AL to 3.18 with seven innings of one-run ball. Manny Delcarmen helped bring the Orioles back with 8th inning inconsistency, with a pair of two out walks leading to an Orioles comeback to 4-3.

Sox fans are frustrated by the inconsistency day-to-day, with erratic pitching ranging from the bullpen, and recent struggles from the back end of the starting rotation.

The constants have been Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, the latter the Red Sox MVP this season so far, and the former largely a model of consistency for the past few months. David Ortiz seems to be gathering himself down the stretch, with his post-All-Star game splits showing improving OPS. And Jed Lowrie has shown himself to be a worthy replacement both offensively and defensively, ranking in the top 10 percent of all MLB shortstops defensively.

At the other end of the scale, Jason Varitek broke out of his slump with a long homerun tonight, as he works through the season-long struggle at the plate and personal issues going into his contract stretch drive. Jacoby Ellsbury continues to struggle with the hard stuff inside, and he'll need to keep trying to downsize that hole in his game.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Soul Survivor: Where Do We Stand?

Where is the soul of Red Sox Nation? Recent events encourage examination and questions about where we stand?

Above all, the Red Sox are a business, a very successful business, on the field and at the box office. A pair of championships in four years after a lifetime of almost mythical disappointments testifies to the success of baseball operations. Revenues and 'value' among ticket prices, seating capacity expansion, NESN, and other revenue generating operations (merchandising). MLB generated 6.08 billion dollars of revenue in 2007, with the Red Sox reporting 234 million dollars in gross revenue in 2006. The Red Sox approach an All-Time record for consecutive sellouts, which any economist would tell you means that ticket prices aren't maximizing revenue.

The team has increased seating capacity within the tiny footprint at Fenway, and worked to improve the venue as a site for concerts, fund-raising, and private events.

Baseball operations has strengthened productivity (work smarter, not harder) via the rational employment of Bill James and sabermetrics and enhanced the drafting and development of young players. In addition to a ripening crop of minor leaguers, the Sox have developed a new generation of young players and pitchers, Youkilis, Pedroia, Lowrie, Ellsbury, Lester, Papelbon, Buchholz, Masterson, and Delcarmen to name some. "Price is what you pay. Value is what you get." Low-salaried young talent has allowed big-market teams to 'overpay' for established stars.

The recently successful Jimmy Fund telethon helps show the important role of the Red Sox in community action. The two day event raised over four million dollars for research and treatment of cancer in children. The Red Sox boast a pair of cancer survivors in Mike Lowell and Jon Lester. The Red Sox foundation describes its mission: Our primary focus is in serving the health, education, recreation, and social service needs of children and families in need across New England.

But seldom does any business enjoy universal praise and problem-free operation.
Aging veterans have often departed amidst rancor, bitterness, and controversy. The 'entitlement mentality' becomes pervasive in the narcissistic world of entertainers. While some say "it's not about the money", Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and Mike Greenwell all left under something less than mutual satisfaction. Others will surely follow.

Ramirez' exile in particular deserves discussion. Absent the Sox' willingness to exercise his option, Manny wasn't Manny, he simply became either scarce or a rock in the shoe. We'll never know whether he went on strike against Mariano Rivera, but we all saw him sit out critical games, and perform with low intensity at times on the bases and in the field. An honest day's work for a king's salary simply became meaningless. He then had the unmitigated gall to criticize the organization, suggesting an organized smear campaign against him.

If you work in a business whose most productive employee simply chooses when, where, and how to work, morale and overall satisfaction necessarily declines. Jason Bay's arrival coinciding with the Sox' improvement represents addition by subtraction, regardless of the professional stature of the former leftfielder.

The Mitchell Report by and large gave the Red Sox if not a free pass, then a discount rate on their role of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. The front office acquired Eric Gagne amidst suspicion of substance use, and fans' indifference to Gagne related to underachievement not juicing. The Sox recently acquired Paul Byrd, whose acknowledged use of HGH "wasn't intended to cheat." If not, then what was it? While we vilify the Jason Giambis of the world for their juicing, we prepare to scream our lungs out for a new and fungible piece of the pitching puzzle.

We live in a society where "if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying." In the wake of Enron, Worldcom, and the collapse, we have overleveraging, Bear Stearns, the auction rate security scandal, and hedonics. "Whatever it takes" means just that, win at any cost. Even in a sport whose hallmark is individual achievement, teamwork and chemistry matter.

Can fans 'demand' an ethical business, based on competitive practices, honesty, and competence? Whether we can, we probably won't. Warren Buffett has reminded us that the key elements to success are intelligence, energy, and integrity? He notes that without the latter, the former are dangerous. We cannot and must not embrace business practices of low ethical character. Do we win with character or characters? We can not accept winning without professionalism or tawdry ethics within the franchise. That's never a way to run the Nation.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Avert Your Eyes?

What can you say about last night's game? Ugly? Horrible? Spectacular?

The greatest deficit I remember the Sox overcoming was an 8-0 game in 1967, which I believe Jerry Adair capped off with a game winning homer. I definitely could be wrong about that, since it happened over 40 years ago.

The Red Sox have found new ways to frustrate us, even in the wake of a pair of World Championships. You can never have too much pitching. But the staff falls apart with season long injuries to Curt Schilling, mostly hurt Bartolo Colon, and what seems like a Clay Buchholz badly in need of a sports psychologist. The Byrd Man of Cleveland can bring even a semblance of sanity to the back end of the rotation (an ERA under 5), that would constitute an improvement.

And then there's the bullpen, which like the little girl with the curl, has been very bad when bad. Again, as I've repeated over and over and over, maybe better pitching means more than better players.

The centerfield camera (Direct Vision) has returned for tonight. Where did it go?

The serial injuries to Mike Lowell prove what? That players named after cities (Wakefield, Lowell) are injury prone? That signing older players increases risk? Are injuries random or does age contribute in a 'measurable' way. Joba Chamberlain is a kid, and he's on the Yankee DL.

Do we have a better vision of who the player Jason Bay is? Earlier I noted that his similarity score to J.D. Drew likely isn't accidental. After watching Bay for a couple of weeks, doesn't he remind you of a righthanded hitting Drew? He's a capable outfielder, runs fairly well, and has decent, but not outstanding power.

Where do we stand on the Varitek watch? With his average among the lowest of players with at least 300 at bats, can we view Varitek as unlucky, declining, indispensible, or problematic?
Varitek's strikeout percentage (26%) is the second highest on the team (after Cash) and his OPS is a paltry .650. The good news is that it hasn't gotten any worse since the All-Star break.

As for the shortstop job, if Jed Lowrie stays healthy, he has to be the shortstop. In fewer than half as many at bats as Julio Lugo, Lowrie has more RBI (26-22), an OPS almost 100 points higher, and in twenty-three games at shortstop he has not received an error (jinx!). Sometimes you can see a lot by just watching!

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Pitching seemed like the Red Sox strong point. And maybe it still is. But with Tim Wakefield headed to the DL and Clay Buchholz in FUBAR mode, the Sox have to retool.

What are the options? The top of the rotation with Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Lester isn't the problem. Where they go from there, anybody knows. Bartolo Colon isn't ready, and the best free agent available could be Freddy Garcia, who has a dozen teams looking at him.

Pawtucket has David Pauley (pitched Saturday), Devern Hansack (pitched the 7th), Charlie Zink (the knuckleballer, pitched the 8th) and Michael Bowden (last pitched August 5th), who has already thrown 126 innings this year. The question is whether the Sox will reassess the innings count with their prize prospect. Colon pitched three innings today.

Justin Masterson would need to be 'stretched out' if he were going back to the rotation, and we've seen how that worked out for Joba (the Hun) Chamberlain.

Here's guessing that they turn to Hansack for a spot start, and try to keep Bowden out of the majors. Let's hope they don't go into panic mode and trade Bowden for somebody ready to go on Social Security.

Statistically speaking, Double A Portland doesn't have anyone ready, with some really high WHIP ratios.

Farm League? Lars Anderson has a 1.021 OPS with 13 runs and 17 RBI in 21 games in AA. Anderson turns 21 in September.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


"Momentum lasts as long as the next day's starting pitcher." And so it was tonight as Daisuke Matsuzaka stopped the White Sox on one run through eight innings.

Of course, it's not only pitching that counts but timely hitting as well. David Ortiz led the fourteen hit parade with three hits and a three run double, and another key element was Jacoby Ellsbury with his seventh homer and three hits. Ellsbury's protracted slump seemed to coincide with what was the illusion of offensive stagnation.

But Ellsbury has now raised his average above .270 and has shown more pop with a pair of homers this week. Perhaps he's making adjustments, or pitchers aren't executing against his perceived weakness.

After last season's mediocrity, nobody knew what to expect from Matsuzaka, but he leads the team in wins (13-2) and E.R.A. (2.90) and has produced surprising consistency while going deeper in games lately. In his last six starts, he's averaged 6 2/3rd innings.

The Sox hold a 2 game lead (1 in the loss column) over the White Sox, and Jose Contrares returned only to rupture his Achilles tendon covering first base.

As for the extraordinary self-rendition of the former left fielder to LA, several ESPN Insider column suggest that as usual, the reaction from MLB will be nil, although M$nny the Malingerer got his way in the end.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Stuff You Never See, Karma.

Tonight's game has filled the inquisitive mind with trivial thoughts and pictures.

  • Jason Bay had a double off the centerfielder's glove that rolled about SIX FEET along the TOP of the KC wall before leftfielder Ross Gload kept it in the park.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury had TWO hits! And two stolen bases. As they say, you can't steal first base.
  • Mike Lowell just pains the consciousness limping around the bases.
Last night the Sox just couldn't make anything happen against Gil Meche after the first. Tonight the Sox got into the Royals bullpen and exacted a little payback.

Josh Beckett looks a little tired here in the seventh, with his front shoulder flying open, leaving his pitching arm trailing, and causing stuff to go up and away from lefthanders. Voila! Francona sees it, too, and Beckett is gone.

Joba Chamberlain has shoulder pain and needs an MRI and a visit to Dr. James Andrews in Alabama. I wrote to Andrews years ago and got a very comprehensive personal letter back. I was impressed. I'm a believer in karma, and if that's applicable, you have to wonder about the relationship between Chamberlain's inconvenient wildness in the vicinity of Kevin Youkilis' head. I wish him well, as well as professional maturity.

Obviously, I was never a major league pitcher (by miles), but pitched from Little League through Division I in college and in semipro and adult leagues and never came as close to hitting a righthanded batter in the head as Chamberlain has THREE times with Youkilis. And I doubt anyone thinks my control and command came anything close to Chamberlain's. There's NOTHING wrong with pitching inside. Headhunting deserves condemnation whether it's Red Sox or Yankee pitchers. Karma.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


Let's hope so.

Coming into tonight, Jon Lester has 48 career starts, with a remarkable 20-5 career record.

Last Word

"This is your team."

Job One: Back to Basics

Last night the Red Sox took a step in the right direction, playing good baseball. Pitch the ball, field the ball, hit the ball.

Not all of their efforts created runs, but the Sox executed better than they had in awhile. Jed Lowrie had a sacrifice fly and a sacrifice bunt. Jonathan Papelbon stranded a runner in scoring position in a critical situation. The oft-maligned bullpen held the A's down for the most part, including key efforts from Delcarmen in the seventh, Papelbon in the 9th and 10th, and Lopez and Timlin in the final two.

We shouldn't rush to declare Jason Bay an All-Star based on one night, but at least everyone had their oars in the water. The Sox have enough good pieces to go deep in the playoffs, although as currently constituted, the Angels have to be the AL favorite.

Terry Francona's genius has always been the focus on winning today. Let's hope he can keep everyone left behind on board.

Never Confuse Brains with a Bull Market?

On Wall Street, the saying goes, "never confuse brains with a bull market." Baseball doesn't have an equivalent, although maybe Charles Barkley approximated it, "I am not a role model."

Baseball players get paid to perform on the field, not to sign autographs, appease sports writers, or give good interviews. Realistically, "you catch more flies with honey than vinegar", so accommodating the media and fans does provide linkage between pay and performance. But many talented players haven't enjoyed much of a relationship with their environment, from Ty Cobb to Steve Carlton, to Barry Bonds.

"Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan." Maybe had the Sox been playing well, the whole tirade could have been dismissed, but the volatile mixture of underachievement and constant complaints produced the expected result, CHANGE.

"No progress occurs without change, but not all change is progress." - John Wooden
Apply the lessons of the Red Sox to your own workplace. If you had an extraordinarily talented coworker, would they be allowed to disrespect the boss, physically assault company members, and work at their pleasure? Probably not.

Fans celebrate effort, a blue-collar effort, and appreciate concurrent grace under pressure. When Julio Lugo went through his travails last season, Sox fans were upset, but less so than Lugo, who looked as though he was at the brink of despair. Yet he had earlier counseled Dustin Pedroia just to keep battling during the second basemen's slump. The fans see everything, recognizing the intensity that the vast majority of the team brings.

Yes, players get big heads, exaggerate their importance, and sometimes mistreat the 'little people'. So do politicians, doctors, lawyers, Registry employees, and sportswriters. Of course, nobody wants our autograph, or uniform, or even an approving glance. Such is the blessing and the curse of the professional athlete. So maybe it's "never confuse brains with celebrity."

Friday, August 01, 2008

Out in Left Field

Okay, it's time to release the hounds, a barrage of cliche's worthy of grade B movies.

The Bay Watch has begun, with Bay's press conference today. Bay is certain to get the biggest ovation of his career. Terry Francona looked like the weight of the world had come off his shoulders. Francona is rumored to have lost fifteen pounds during the Dead Manny Walking crisis. The Sox finally extricated the sole survivor of the Isle of Manny by doing everything (as Jason Varitek said) "to get him out of town."

Nobody should feel that Jason Bay will produce at the level of a Hall of Famer. But the Sox have presumably solved their left field problems through 2009 and done so with an opportunity to put twelve million dollars together to address other weaknesses.

Bay will surely misplay some balls off the wall, strikeout in key situations, and leave runners on base. He will fail at times and at others he will succeed spectacularly. That is baseball.

How good is Jason Bay? Sometimes one can approximate using similarity scores from Baseball Reference. Who shows up on Bay's similarity scores? Somebody asked me for a comparison, and I said think about a right-handed hitting J.D. Drew.
And sure enough, who is on his similarity list?

The Sox still have issues, specifically consistency out of the bullpen, with erratic performances from Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima, Mike Timlin showing his age, and Javier Lopez losing some left-handed luster recently.

Meanwhile, across the country, Joe Torre has already beaten cancer, so the addition of a new left fielder (Manny of LA Mancha) shouldn't faze him too much.

Go West, young Manny. Ramirez joins Fenway West, following Derek Lowe, Bill Mueller, and Nomar Garciaparra to points west. We should always remember the joy and frustration that was Manny Ramirez, from his opening day homer, 500th homer, critical post-season homers, and maddening brain farts and indifferent baserunning. Tonight begins the P.M. (post Manny) era.