Saturday, June 19, 2010

Five Swings: The One-Der of You

Beat LA! The Dodgers checked into Ye Olde Ballpark to face the tail end of the rotation in newcomer Felix (the Cat) Doubron and Tim Wakefield and the Sox have closed to within one game of a tie for the top of the AL East.

1. Revenge of the Turds. Not really, but his Manholiness delivered a Wakefield butterfly into the departed left field nets. Fortunately, like Manny it was a Solo Shot.

2. Did You Know? Tim McCarver played MLB for about a thousand seasons, but in one unglorious ended one for the Sox (1967), McCarver finished second in the NL MVP race, socking 14 homers and 69 RBI for the Cards.

3. Slugging fools.
The American League OPS leaders. The "run prevention" crew from Beantown has four members, including a trio in the top 12. Yankee third sacker A-Rod, sans steroids checks in at number thirty. The Yankees and the Royals both have a pair in the top seventeen.

4. All-Stars? Distribution requirements aside (at least one from every team, and the mandatory Yankee infield rule), the deserving Sox include Youkilis, Buchholz, Lester, Papelbon, Beltre, and possibly Victor Martinez or David Ortiz on the bubble. I don't see more than two Sox pitchers making it and two position players making it.

5. Inter-net? The Sox 9-2 Interleague record has been the difference along with generally playing better baseball. Today the "run prevention" approach fell down a little with some erratic infield arms (is Scutaro still hurt?), but the combination of solid starting pitching and leading the majors in runs scored produces predictable results. The Sox' ERA was 11th in the AL in April, 7th in May, and has shrunken to 4th in June.  Dramatically the Sox K/BB ratio rocketed from 1.82 in April and 1.73 in May to a much more palatable 2.26 in June.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Five Swings: Where Are We?

How negative can one be when the Red Sox have the third highest winning percentage in baseball and have moved within a pair of games of the leading Rays and Yankees?

1. Rohring Start. Slim lefty Felix Doubront started out strong, but a series of Dodger hits and Sox misses led to three tying runs. Doubront didn't make anyone forget Jim Kaat covering first base, and Mike Cameron did a Lonnie Smith imitation to make matters worse. Okay, so it wasn't a no-hitter into the ninth, but how much of a career did Billy Rohr have? Doubront has shown a live fastball, a willingness to pitch to contact, and an intention to try to control both sides of the plate with the fastball. Curveball? Not so much, so far. He has a rep of holding runners on, but looks to have a slow delivery to the plate.

2. Nava Ho! Daniel Nava came in hitting .444 in a small sample size. He may be getting even more PT, with J.D. Drew limping off after catching a sinking liner. Drew's Naehringesque health status has to worry Sox fans, but it may again open up the Chronicles of Reddick.

3. Catch of the Day. Jason Varitek got the start tonight, very understandable with a rook on the bump. Varitek has been terrific as the backup, and at this point in his career, the money's still good, so it should be 'all good' for the Captain.

4. Boomtown. The Sox had a pair of homers in the first, including an Ortiz blast that threatened the Jordan's Furniture signage. The promotion hasn't started yet, anyway, but just sayin'. J.D. Drew had about a four minute home run trot, because the refs missed the OBVIOUS homer. When a round object hits a flat object flush, it bounces back, whether or not you've even heard of Newtonian physics. The blue crew got it right after a replay. Now if Bud Light could only recognize the 21st perfect game in history...

5. Manny. I'd love to reveal some juicy Manny tale, but in the best interest of baseball, I won't. See Bud, it's not that hard. Ramirez returned as DH, along with Dodger skipper Joe Torre, oft architect of numerous Yankee-Sox battles.

Summary: Doubront shows poise and competitiveness, but his curveball needs a lot of work, at least if this is his 'generic' stuff. I saw highlights with a better one, so maybe it's an outlier....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How Good Is Kevin Youkilis?

Sometimes as a fan you have a player in your midst who you simply don't appreciate. Ergo, I ask the question "how good is Kevin Youkilis?"

Despite the Greek god of walks moniker, Youkilis isn't primarily a 'bases on balls' machine, although he does lead the AL in walks. Here are some statistics that might give you pause and some general comments:

  • I'll argue that Youkilis is the Sox best player and one of the top five in the AL. Why?
  • Youkilis has won a Gold Glove, although his fielding isn't his best attribute.
  • He has finished in the top 6 in AL MVP BOTH of the past two seasons.
  • He has been in the top 8 in the AL in "Wins Above Replacement" each of the past three years.
  • Among active players he is eleventh in on base percentage.
  • He has been in the top five in SLUGGING percentage in the AL each of the past three years.
  • He has been in the top four in On Base Slugging percentage (OPS) in each of the past three years.
  • He currently is third in the AL in OPS.
  • He leads the AL in runs scored.
  • In summary, as well as providing above average defense at first, he is among the top five RUN PRODUCERS in the AL. He gets on base, scores, has a high slugging percentage, and is recognized by TPTB as among the elite by virtue of AL MVP results and all-star selections. 
He might be the most underrated player in baseball, as I'd guess that most fans wouldn't view him among the most elite hitters (if asked to name the top five in the AL) around, but he clearly is. In "Moneyball" Billy Beane asked, "if he's such a great hitter, then why doesn't he hit better?" Youkilis does deliver and deserves more credit for what he does game after game, while not giving away at bats. I rest my case. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

40 Percent Solution

The Red Sox have more or less passed the first two-fifths of the annual regular season curriculum, trailing both the Yankees and the Rays by four games (five in the loss column).  Realistically, perhaps they deserve an "incomplete" more than a grade, because they've labored for most of the season without two starting outfielders and their erstwhile ace, Josh Beckett.

Writing about the Sox creates special problems today, as attending my daughters' college graduation this weekend kept me away from the action. Suffice it to say, it was another 'Meatloaf" weekend, as in 'Two Out of Three Ain't Bad."

The Sox have moved the "plus-minus" rating in the right direction, and the "Run Prevention" strategy seems to be working out better lately as well. They have lowered their team ERA to 4.36 (ninth in the AL) and despite early defensive woes on the left side of the infield, they are now fourth in the AL in both fielding percentage and fewest errors. 

Meanwhile, the "traditional" Sox are second in the AL in runs scored and lead the AL in OPS (.817). Among the regulars, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz, and Victor Martinez all have an OPS over .850, and J.D. Drew is not far behind at .819.

The season, which appeared to be on the brink, no longer is, despite the cast of fill-ins and sometimes misfits who fill the diamond settings. 

Needs? Yes, the Sox need a healthy and effective Josh Beckett, Dustin Pedroia in full health, and the continuing strength at the back end of the game with Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon. It seems as though they always need another bat, and overall they have to be disappointed with the production from the outfield, notwithstanding the destructive debuts of Darnell McDonald and Daniel Nava. Some have mentioned Rick Ankiel while perhaps their best hope comes just from getting healthy.

With the Celtics stealing the headlines, the Sox haven't done half bad...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Stonewall or Rock Head

Here's the extremely passionate response from MLB to an email I sent them concerning the Galarraga perfect game.

First paragraph, the commissioners statement (already read).
Second paragraph, "We will not issue further comments as of this moment."

It's a business, a multi-billion dollar business, and I am just one 'customer' with pretty much no impact on the business. If I had some wonderfully scandalous and ethically defective information about a player or a team, I wouldn't release it...naturally, "in the best interests of the game." Heck, baseball looked the other way about its problems virtually until Congressional inquiry (and concern over loss of exemption of anti-trust status?) supervened.

Just ignore the problem and it will go away...until it comes up in the final inning of the World Series?

Monday, June 07, 2010

As Easy as A or B

Pitcher A:

Pitcher B:

Probably the two most important categories are K/BB and WHIP ratio. Looks like Pitcher A has been more effective than Pitcher B. Just sayin'.

Pitcher A: Daisuke Matsuzaka (now with 5 wins)
Pitcher B: John Lackey

Defending the Status Quo?

The question of the use of replay won't seem to go away. The first question that has to be asked is "do you care about getting it right?" If you don't care, and you're a human error is an important, essential part of the game, then the discussion could end. Don and Jerry have had a logically inconsistent discussion about how you can't change, how it's difficult to call sometimes, and then talk about adding a fifth umpire (they could use a central location to reduce costs) and agree that college football seems to make the decisions quickly. It's the 'one-handed economist' argument, that there is no 'on the other hand'.

Meanwhile, back in Cleveland, the Sox have created some opportunities, big Papi beats out a double play grounder (no replay needed), and Josh Reddick seems to have come alive. Reddick has athleticism and a live bat, but will he hit enough?

Didn't J.D. Drew have his ALCS slam against Fausto Carmona? I think so.

Daisuke looks like Fausto Carmona and the latter is doing his Daisuke wildness imitation. Alternate reality, you gotta love it.

The Boston Globe reports that Jacoby Ellsbury is off to California for yet another opinion on broken ribs. He must not be arbitration-eligible? If he can't slide hard into bases or dive in the outfield, then he can't play. That's my opinion, no matter what his diagnosis. The Boof Bonser era begins and Jonathan Papelbon is on bereavement leave. That extends the Joe Nelson experiment or Mike Lowell's Red Sox career for a few days.

The MLB draft is up to choice 12 (the Sox pick 20th) and no surprise, power-hitting phenom Bryce Harper went to the Nats, who could get exciting pretty soon.

Yesterday's game left Sox fans with a sour taste as the Sox flopped to 1-7 in extra frames.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Asterisk Man, Commissioner "He Who Must Never Be Named"

It's a new week, and the world hasn't come apart because baseball commissioner* "He Who Must Never Be Named" refuses to acknowledge what the whole world knows, that Armando Galarraga pitched the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history. Or should we call it Major Denial League Baseball.

The commissioner's stubbornness casts a blight upon the game, in the same manner that performance-enhancing drugs (wink wink, nod nod) did. Failure to act can be a sign of strength, of commitment, or of principle. But equally, indifference to a wrong has the appearance of weakness and cowardice.

Adherence to tradition isn't anything new, and it took years for replay to penetrate other major sports. But technological advances, and widespread gambling on sports, forced recalcitrant ownership to reevaluate. And don't expect any to retreat from their adoption of 'getting it right'.

Hardcore baseball fans can simply recognize Galarraga's perfect game, in effect, ignoring the political indifference that brings only shame upon the commissioner. Wikipedia can recognize the perfect game, as could "reference" sites like baseball reference.

The asterisk belongs the commissioner of baseball, who had the opportunity to right a blown decision, and blew it.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

That Didn't Leave as Much of a Mark as It Could Have

Not many Sox fans would argue that the season so far has been anything approaching success. Yet throw away the angst and include the 6-9 mediocrity against the Yankees and the Rays and the Sox remain in striking distance.

Here's the AL team versus team grid.

The good has come from the outstanding (overall) pitching of Lester and Buchholz at the top of the rotation and the setup-closer combination of Bard and Papelbon. Adrian Beltre has overachieved, David Ortiz has outperformed expectations, and Kevin Youkilis remains one of the top players in the league. Jason Varitek has performed a backup role very effectively. Of the newcomers, Bill Hall has shown versatility and some pop.

Mediocrity has come from the entirety of the outfield, and Victor Martinez has turned his season around recently. John Lackey hasn't found a groove as his command hasn't been there, although most Sox fans probably expect him to rebound. Dustin Pedroia had a tremendous April and has struggled at the plate recently, but continues to excel defensively.

The ugly has reared its head with the injury bug, with the Ellsbury and Cameron duo combining for 13 runs, 5 RBI, no homers, and two stolen bases in a combined 25 games. Josh Beckett's injuries have rendered him either ineffective or absent and he won't be back for a month or more, considering his shutdown.

It's hard to even grade Theo Epstein with so many injuries. The organizational decision NOT to part with either Lester or Buchholz can't go unnoticed, and the disgruntled bus has too many players ensconced, with Lowell (.229/.316/.343/.659) and Wakefield (1-4,, 6.02) drawing a Shakespearean "methinks thou dost protest too much".

Is Terry Francona doing his best managerial job ever, with unhappy veterans, injuries, and too many at bats for guys named McDonald, Hermida, and Reddick?

So even though fans Stones-style can't get no satisfaction, we try and we try and we try.

Friday, June 04, 2010

50 Ways to Lose a Ballgame

Paul Simon had a classic hit 50 ways to leave your lover. The Red Sox have sought to establish 50 ways to lose a ballgame. I won't try to name fifty...this time.

  1. Fear Factor. The Bogar man. "Send him in Tim" Bogar might be the greatest guy in the world, but he's cost the Sox a couple of games already. 
  2. Collateral Damage. The collision between Adrian Beltre and Jacoby Ellsbury cost the Sox their leadoff hitter for the first half of the season. It happens.
  3. Year of Living Dangerously. Will Victor Martinez overcome a slow start?
  4. Pap-per Chase. A pair of Yankee homers in the ninth did Papelbon dirty.
  5. Wild thing. Daisuke Matsuzaka, a.k.a. 'The Nibbler' drives fans to drink. 
  6. "Jeremy." Like Michael Jackson, one wonders what the glove is for. 
  7. "Speed." The Sox mostly don't have it, with Ellsbury sidelined, with good baserunners including Pedroia, Drew, Youkilis, and Beltre. 
  8. The Running Man. Although it's gone better lately, opposing runners have run wild this season on the Sox. 
  9. Outland. Early season struggles at the plate for Drew, Ortiz, and V-Mart. 
  10. Eraser. What Jon Lester would do about his first three outings. 
Seriously, the early season "Misery" didn't result because of one guy, rather collective struggles in all aspects of the game. The Sox have time to recover, have played far better, led by the work of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, and the work (especially) of Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon at the back end. "It's About Time."

Thursday, June 03, 2010

"Best Interests of Baseball". Money Talks.

Armando Galarraga lost a perfect game last night, what was the 21st perfect game in major league baseball history. Umpire Jim Joyce called a routine ground out a base hit, as though he were unaware of the historical significance of it all...or just oblivious. Joyce was man enough to acknowledge his mistake, apologizing to the Tiger pitcher after the game.

Commissioner Bud Selig has the power to change the error, using the best interests of baseball clause. What keeps him from doing so? Is it tradition, stupidity, possible testosterone deficiency, or fear of opening  Pandora's Box?

Tradition and racism kept generations of African-Americans out of baseball. The tradition argument falls apart when acknowledging baseball's current use of replay for determination of disputed home runs, introduction of the designated hitter, changing the field dimensions by lowering the mound itself, and other revisions that have occurred in baseball.

Stubbornness is hardly unique to Selig. Baseball protests about its integrity, yet dragged its collective feet for years regarding drug testing, maybe because "chicks dig the long ball" and their money rolled in. Perhaps baseball fears interminable delays about the purity of the grand old pastime. Has anybody watched a Red Sox-Yankees game lately? Often it's like watching the last two minutes on an NBA perpetuity. Some wanted to crucify Joe West for his keen sense of the obvious. Enforcing an "indisputable" standard works for the NFL, and managers could be given a finite number of challenges.

Are more nefarious forces at work? I doubt that, but if this were Yankee Stadium, and a right-hander named Phil Hughes had accomplished what Galarraga achieved, does anybody NOT think that Selig would be falling over himself to make things right?

I will always consider Galarraga's effort a perfect game. In fact, if fans wanted it to be so, they could simply vote with their wallets, targeting a future game day, let's say Sunday, to boycott MLB merchandise. Can you imagine owners calling Selig, demanding that he overturn the decision lest they lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue? Would you like to be a fly on the wall for those (expletive deleted) calls?

Baseball has an empowerment clause about the "best interests". Selig has the power to right the wrong that happened last night. Yet ironically only the fans can make that happen. Money talks...keep your wallet in your pocket, and make Selig squirm and Galarraga the legitimate author of perfection.

Contact information for MLB.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Five Swings: Tired Act

1. Tired Act. The play of the night, maybe play of the year comes as Armando Galarraga of the Tigers gets denied a perfect game on a blown call at first base. Hard to see what the umpire saw, as it seems the quality of umpiring reaches an all-time low. Yes, it's not the World Series, but an epic performance gets trashed by subhuman error. We can point out Jim Joyce (the first base umpire), but the umps are lucky they have replay to bail them out on homers, because they're overruled regularly. Joyce's best shot would be a tearful apology post-game...not happening. And no, I don't have a fantasy team.

2. Curling. The Matsuzaka "ups and downs" lives on as Daisuke allows three tainted runs in the first inning, aided by Jeremy Hermida's defense, only to get the Sox into the 7th inning with a 4-3 lead. If Earl Weaver became a "two pack" a day habit because of Don Stanhouse, then Terry Francona will be "Prilosec" as Matsuzaka gives him an ulcer. A 10-hit, no walk performance isn't the usual medicine from the enigmatic right-hander.

3. David is Goliath. David "Lazarus" Ortiz, drilled his 12th homer of the season to give the Red Sox a comeback lead in the sixth inning.

4. Bard all. Has Daniel Bard put himself into contention for an All-Star berth? Bard has five holds and a save in ten scoreless innings during his last ten appearances coming into tonight. Bard is tied for second in the AL in holds and has a WHIP ratio under 1 (walks and hits per inning pitched).

5. Top ten. Who are the top ten players, regardless of position in the American League? In other words, if you could take ANY ten players, who would they be?

  1. Evan Longoria, 3b, Tampa
  2. Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota
  3. Justin Morneau 1b, Minnesota
  4. Robinson Cano, 2b, New York
  5. Kevin Youkilis, 1b, Boston
  6. Jon Lester, P, Boston
  7. Felix Hernandez, P, Seattle
  8. C.C. Sabathia, P, New York
  9. John Danks, P, Chicago
  10. Phil Hughes, P, New York
Yes, you can argue for or against a lot of guys (age, experience, consistency, etc.) but you'd have a great nucleus with the above.