Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Managing Expectations

Alright, I'm getting interested, with the season virtually upon us.

There'll be no "managing expectations", as the media is trying to reload the monkey on the Sox' back, making them the consensus favorite to win the World Series, if not the intergalactic championship should baseball-loving aliens arrive in 2011.

Name some reasons why the Sox could underachieve, and what the likelihood of that is.

  • Injury. Who thought that the Sox would lose critical parts of the team (V-Mart, Pedroia, Youkilis, Ellsbury) for substantial parts of the season. Sure the Red Sox are viewed as innovators and leaders in sports medicine, but that doesn't prevent fluke injuries...or injuries to key players. 
  • Statistical randomness. This can work in either direction for the Red Sox and for their opposition. For example, Mark Belanger was a career .228 hitter, who hit .287 in 1969. Dwight Evans, a .272 career hitter, hit .242 or less three times during his career. Guys have bad years. Even Teddy Ballgame hit .254 in 1959, admittedly at age 40 with 331 at bats. Also, outcomes in close games can also make a huge difference. 
  • The "Tigers Effect". IIRC, in 1984, the Detroit Tigers won 35 of their first 40 games, ran away and hid from the field.
  • Breakdowns from key players. Last year Jonathan Papelbon had his ups and downs. Will the real Pap please stand up? The trend isn't good, with rising WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) and falling strikeout to walk ratio (9.63 in 2008, 3.17 in 2009, and 2.71 in 2010). Red Sox data has shown that K/BB ratio predicts ERA better than prior ERA itself. 
  • Chemistry breakdown. Certainly rumors abound about a pitcher sent out of town for ECA (extracurricular activities) and a position player who crossed certain lines never violated. 
Despite the Sox hype about winning more than a hundred games, I don't expect that to happen with a much improved AL East including the ever potent Yankees and the underrated Rays. 

Do I have any "surprises" for the Sox this year?  
  1. I think that the biggest surprise will be that Daisuke Matsuzaka will be better than the 'consensus'.  Of course, I don't think that consensus view is much above .500.
  2. I think that the right-handed duo of Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald will prove to be a lot more productive than is generally perceived. With the Sox so 'left-handed', getting these guys in the lineup (e.g. RF and DH) may be the smartest move that Francona can make. 
  3. Jed Lowrie will get a lot more at bats than currently expected. Marco Scutaro is a 'nice' player, but Lowrie has a higher ceiling. Will Scutaro's injury recur and will the manager just rotate in Lowrie to allow for optimal rest and recovery.
  4. Clay Buchholz will end up being the 'best' Sox starter. Simply, Buchholz has hellacious stuff, with two good fastballs, and two excellent complementary pitches, including a dynamite changeup. What made him so effective last year was the evolution of his cutter, which gave him another weapon against lefthanded batters. I saw him outduel Greinke in a 1-0 Fenway classic last year, and he was dynamite. 
Play ball. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Okay, Okay Already

I can't get overly worked up about Spring Training...especially compared with: 1) my youth basketball coaching, 2) March Madness, and 3) a vacation in the Bahamas. It's not that I don't care about Drew Sutton or Nate Spears, but really. Still, there's a time to spout off.

Buck Showalter. First, Showalter has been a pretty effective manager over the years, with a pair of AL Manager of the Year awards under his belt. Showalter has a rep as a "tough guy", in the cycle of 'player's manager' and authoritarian, also known as 'task-oriented' versus "relationship-oriented". He felt it necessary to diss Derek Jeter (so what?) and Theo Epstein, hinting that being a GM with tons of money is easier than being a GM of a financially challenged franchise. Hey Buck, with the Yankees, your managerial record was .539, and your career managerial record is .517. Did you turn down expensive players when you managed the Bombers?

Daisuke Matsuzaka. No matter what we might think of Matsuzaka as a pitcher regarding consistency, his 1 million dollar donation to Japanese relief says a lot about Matsuzaka the man. Sox fans ought to think about sending something their way as well...

Josh Beckett. Beckett came in good shape and hasn't gotten very good results so far. As I mentioned earlier I'm not that excited about Spring Training. So I'll give Beckett the benefit of the doubt.

Jonathan Papelbon. See Beckett.

LOOGY. Lefty one-out guy. Looks like Dennys Reyes has made almost 9 million dollars playing professional baseball, which is way more than I'll make as a career physician. I guess the argument Babe Ruth made when comparing his salary to the President's, "what kind of year did he have?"

Tim Wakefield. This is a tough call, the sentimental favorite, good soldier, who has the capacity to contribute occasionally, but who is slowed by age and some health issues. Wakefield has also been a great communit guy. Some pitchers, to borrow a Warren Buffett phrase about Mickey Mouse, are like oil wells, where you get to pump the oil out, and the next day, it's back in the well ready to be pumped out again. At this point, you pump a lot, and most of the time, there's not so much in 'dry well'.  Maybe it's the Mo Vaughn "it's not about the money" thing. Is Wakefield better than Okajima at this point, or Albers, or Aceves? Somehow, it just feels like Wakefield's time has passed. Just saying.

Net worth. So the Red Sox are worth 900 Million dollars now, or at least that's what I heard somewhere. And all this time, I was thinking that John Henry was worrying about where his next meal was coming from. Really, I mean, who's watching the Polk County Championship deciding game tonight, besides me?  Don and Jerry have totally degenerated into "Inane Banter", while Dan Wheeler gets beaten up more than a rented mule.

Scutaro versus Lowrie. "It's not about the money." Says who?

Salty Peppering. Well, once again there's that "it's only Spring Training" thingy. Saltalamacchia has thrown the ball no worse than recent incumbents, and looks like he's got a reasonable stick. Maybe the curse of unlimited potential won't devalue him after all.

Favorite player. I can't help myself from finding Darnell McDonald the guy I root hard for. And with the Sox expecting to see a heavy diet of LHP, Mac may get more at bats than you think.

All that being said, the Notre Dame women looked pretty strong today as they manhandled Oklahoma. And how many coaches go from High School to coaching a powerhouse D1 school? That's what the OU coach Sherri Coale did. March Madness, women's division.