Tuesday, October 30, 2012

You're out of your fuckin' League, son

Before the premature ending to the World Series because of the Tigers general fuckery, I was going to write a post regarding the attitude many Red Sox fans have about long term contracts, since I've heard countless times that "WE SHOULD SIGN PLAYER XYZ! ... But ONLY to a one year deal!" 

I would have gone into detail about the new television contract money flowing into the coffers of MLB teams, and how the trade for Adrian Gonzalez and the contracts for Votto, Pujols and Werth are not out of the ordinary -- they are becoming baseball's new ordinary because there is so much new TV deal floating around on the market. 

Instead, I'll just let the latest free agent signing speak for itself:
The Dodgers have re-signed reliever Brandon League to a three-year, $22.5-million contract, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
Having trouble recalling who Brandon League is?  Probably because he only had 15 saves last year; and he blew 6 saves, to boot.  This piece of crap has a multi-year deal making $7.5 million per year, given to him by the team that just bloated their payroll with Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett to sit atop of their contract to Matt Kemp.

So.  Somebody be the next person to tell me that the Red Sox can get a one year deal for Mike Napoli.  Go ahead, I dare you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The 2013 Starting Nine [Part 2/2]

Picking up where we left off in my first post on this topic, after placing Middlebrooks fifth in my 2013 Red Sox batting order, my defense for the rest of my choices will be more ... creative.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Ryan Lavarnway Platoon, expected 2013 stats: 

Salty (should he get more than 400 AB):
.230 BA/.281 OBP, 20 HR, 59 RBI, 19 2B, 53 R

Last year, Adam Dunn led the American League in strikeouts with 222, Curtis Granderson was second with 195 strikeouts, and Salty was 17th with 139 Ks.  But let's look at the at-bats for this trio: Dunn had 539, Granderson had 596, and Salty had 405.  Dividing at-bats into strikeouts to get the K:AB ratio, Adam Dunn had 2.42 AB per K, Granderson 3.05 AB per K, and Salty had 2.91 AB per K.  It would take real sorry ass talent to strikeout more than Adam Dunn, but Dunn also knocked 41 balls out of the park last year compared to Salty's 25 homers.

Salty strikes out almost as much as Adam Dunn, and he doesn't give you nearly as much power or ability to create runs.  This strikeout total is also indicative Salty's inability to put the ball in play to at least move runners along the base paths, force a fielder to commit an error, or at least try to get on with a single or something.

So, what's our other option?  A total wild card.

Ryan Lavarnway's 2013 performance is unpredictable.  After tearing the cover off the ball at Pawtucket in 2011 -- 18 homers and 55 RBI in 227 at-bats, with a .357 average -- Lavarnway hit a total of 10 homers in 472 at-bats between the AAA and MLB levels.  Only two of those homers were for the Red Sox, where he batted an Iglesiasian .157 with a .211 OBP.

Lavarnway's extended cup of coffee at the big league level was nothing short of horrible, and he did absolutely nothing that wouldn't make a sensible major league team say "We're putting you back in the minors to start 2013."  But Salty isn't the future catcher of the Red Sox.  Should the team stick with a catcher who's good for a homer every 3-4 strikeouts, or go with the player who's talent level is more promising but he seems to have trouble staying focused?

I'll leave that question just dangling there as I move onto the bottom third of the order.

Mauro Gomez, expected 2013 stats:
.298 BA / .340 OBP, 23 HR, 70 RBI, 29 2B, 65 R

Everyone will say this prediction is nuts.  Gomez will be 29 in 2013 and he reached MLB level for the first time last year.  He's only had a couple months of big league experience, and he's too old to be a prospect.  How can Gomez possibly become a threat at the Major League level?

I'm going with my gut on Gomez.  Given the lack of good free agent options this offseason, I have the liberty to go with my gut here.  And Gomez -- the International League MVP last year -- doesn't have any other place to go.  He's conquered the AAA level, mashing 24 homers in 506 AB at Gwinnett in 2011 then upping his game at Pawtucket with 24 homers in 387 AB last year.  Along with increasing his power at the plate, Gomez has shown an improved eye by increasing his OBP due to a decreased K:AB ratio (K per 3.86 AB in 2011, 4.39 in 2012).  And Gomez's extended cup of coffee last year wasn't that bad, hitting .275 with a couple homers.  He had bad Sept/Oct numbers, but so did Cody Ross.

If any player has earned the right to be an old rookie, it's Mauro Gomez.  The Red Sox could grossly overpay some crappy veteran mercenary for marginally better numbers or give a dirt dog with something to prove a chance.  There's no better baseball story than the unknown, underrated underdog overachieving.  Mauro Gomez has all the tools to be one of baseball's best stories in 2013 -- give him a shot.

Ryan Kalish/Ryan Sweeney, expected 2013 stats:
Not going there.

I had to look up Sweeney's first name before writing this post, so that's what I think of him.  As for Ryan Kalish, the last time he had more than 400 AB combined in profession baseball leagues was 2010.  Yeah, Kalish is still young, I know.  He had that backflip catch in 2010, I know.  Kalish showed some power at Portland in 2009, but it seems like he hasn't encountered an injury that he hasn't fucked like 1:30am scraps at the townie bar.  I'm not impressed.  If any spot in the Red Sox offense is ripe for a free agent intervention, Right Field is it.  But if the Red Sox are stuck with Kalish and Sweeney going into spring training, then the Right Fielder's spot in the batting order needs to be the forgotten spot of 8th, where the weakest hitter goes in AL line ups.

Pedro Ciriaco, expected 2013 stats: 
.290 BA/.320 OBP, 7 HR, 55 RBI, 40 2B, 45 SB, 80 R

Before the Farrell trade, I wanted slot Ciriaco in the nine hole at shortstop.  I think we all know that Iglesias will be SS, but let's pretend for a minute...

Two biggest arguments against Ciriaco: limited time at MLB level, and an inability to get on base that's revealed in his low walk totals and OBP.  Indeed, between his .293 BA and .315 OBP for the Sox last season, Ciriaco gets on base purely through hitting -- if/when he goes into a slump, then he's not getting on base at all.

And Ciriaco's upside?  When he gets on first, he'll take second and place himself in scoring position. He had 16 stolen bases and 33 runs scored in a third of a season in 2012.  That's pretty promising. If you project those numbers out over a whole season, Ciriaco becomes the kind of player you can slide nicely into the nine hole as a replacement leadoff hitter.  You can't trust him to get on base that much, but it would be nice to have Ciriaco stealing second with Ellsbury at the dish and Pedroia on deck.

I'll dedicate a post to the shortstop position, comparing Ciriaco to Iglesias, for a later time.  But it should be noted that Ciriaco plays adequate defense, gets on base a little more than 30% of the time, and will swipe a bag.  Even if Aviles was still around, I'd pick Ciriaco over his .282 OBP and 14 stolen bases over a whole season.  Ciriaco is the kind of player who can get on base and create runs.  And Aviles, for his part, isn't even being considered for the starting SS or 2B job in Toronto right now.

The Costas/Cupid Teabagging Extravaganza

Between Costas's softball questions and Cupid's contrived stories and total fabrications that he used in response, it's difficult to pick out one thing to be most angry about as NBC Sports Network let the two botox phonies switch positions teabagging each other every couple of minutes last night.

Of course Cowardly Bobby wasn't going to face the Boston media, which is why he choose to goto a softie like Bob Costas.  But I think I'm most insulted at NBC postulating that Costas is in any way, shape or form a "journalist".  After the interview-cum-unquestioned statement to the press Costas gave Cupid a forum for last night, NBC Sports should have immediately placed him on probation for not asking any tough questions.

For example, Cupid took a shit on David Ortiz.  Big Papi, the Clutch King, Mr. 2004 ALCS, the one Red Sox hitter who has meant more to this organization than any other position player over the last 15 years.  And here Cupid was, on national television -- disgraced as former Red Sox manager -- taking a massive shit on David Ortiz.

"How dare he" is one of the thoughts that should have occupied Bob Costas's vacant mind, but I guess years of botox treatment pushed out any knowledge about sports whatsoever.  Here, in front of Costas, was a disgraced Red Sox manager throwing the face of the franchise under the bus, and Costas doesn't think to drag this out for a few more minutes because, at the very least, it'll make damn good television?  Costas doesn't decide to use one or two methods to draw more Ortiz comments out of Cupid: either by playing Devil's Advocate or holding Cupid accountable for his comments by pointing out the extent of Ortiz's injuries?

And Costas is supposed to be a professional sports journalist who knows what he's doing in an interview?  NBC Sports should be embarrassed.  So should Cupid, but it's obvious after last night's interview that he's emotionally incapable is feeling embarrassment, nevermind his inability to push beyond his huge ego to experience a catharsis.

I hope NBC, Costas and Cupid had fun with their little circle jerk.  Fuck all of them.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The 2013 Starting Nine [Part 1/2]

Here's a first draft of the offense I'd like to see the Red Sox place in the field in 2013.  I made this line up out before Aviles was traded for John Farrell, so that's why he's not in here.  I'll expect this, along with my projected 2013 stats for the players (projections for 1-5 in the batting order listed below; I'm getting to 6-9) to start a lot of arguments, because I don't want Kool-Aid drinkers reading this blog.  So feel free to use the comments section to tell me I suck, I'm horrible, I'm a moron, and that we really need to trade for Hanley Ramirez to solve all of our problems.

1. Ellsbury, CF
2. Pedroia, 2B
3. Ortiz, DH
4. Ross, LF
5. Middlebrooks, 3B
6. Saltalamacchia/Lavarnway, C
7. Gomez, 1B.
8. Sweeney/Kalish, RF
9. Ciriaco, SS

Jacoby Ellsbury, expected 2013 stats:
.295 BA/.331 OBP, 28 HR, 96 RBI, 45 2B, 45 SB, 110 R

Ellsbury had a career year in 2011, and many players who have career years never quite reach those offensive stats during subsequent years.  So I adjusted Ellsbury's 2011 BA, OBP, homers, RBIs, doubles and runs scored down by 10%.  Since Ellsbury has stolen 70 bases in a season before, I think 45 stolen bases is a conservative estimate.

Remember, this is the penultimate contract year for Ellsbury -- this is the spot players dream of working their way to.  If he can stay healthy, I expect the first thing on Ellsbury's mind when he steps to the plate is "Where's my goddamn 8 year, $200 million contract?"  Ellsbury has bashed the shit out of the ball before, and he will do it again.

Dustin Pedroia, expected 2013 stats:
.302 BA/.380 OBP, 17 HR, 85 RBI, 35 2B, 20 SB, 100 R

Playing most of the 2012 season with a hand injury didn't to much to slow down Pedroia, given that he hit .290 with 15 homers and 39 doubles.  And Pedey is still improving as a hitter -- his doubles are lower because he's hitting more balls over, not off, the monster; and his OBP has remained steady despite a regression with his batting average.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Pedey hit more than 20 homers next year, but I'm trying to keep stat projections conservative.

David Ortiz, expected 2013 stats:
.310 BA/.407 OBP, 38 HR, 120 RBI, 40 2B, 90 R

Most players in their late 30s aren't in the shape to hit for the third highest slugging percentage of their career (.611).  Ditto for their on base plus slugging figure (1.026), which is helped with a healthy .415 OBP.  The OBP numbers are helped by that player striking out less, and if said player is a lefty who has a defensive shift named after him, it's also odd when they become one of the leagues best hitters against left handed pitching.

Before Ortiz was injured last season, we witnessed a vastly improved hitter at the plate.  Ortiz isn't a threat to hit 50+ homers anymore, but when he's at the plate he can now slap a single to the opposite field, take a walk, hit it deep into Williamsburg, hit it off the monster, and do just about anything besides swipe a base.  It's only Ortiz's inevitable age-induced regression that serves as the real wild card here.  We've been expecting Ortiz's age to catch up with him for years, and it looked like Ortiz was done at the beginning of 2010...  But 2012 is a 180 degree turn from 2010 for Ortiz.  He made the conscious effort to improve himself, and that should be rewarded with a two year deal.  If he stays in shape, I see no reason to worry about age regression in 2013.

Cody Ross, expected 2013 stats:
.270 BA/.330 OBP, 26 HR, 90 RBI, 40 2B, 72 R

The last time Cody Ross had a season with 20+ homers, 30+ doubles, and 80+ RBIs was 2009, when he was 29.  Since 2009, he kinda of sucked until he realized that he had a love affair with hitting at Fenway.  Cody's numbers dropped off a bit because of a poor September -- he had a .277 batting average from April-August, but .229 in Sept/Oct -- but other hitters on the team lost focus at that point since they were out of the playoff hunt and Bobby Valentine was now obviously a lame duck manager.  I expect Cody's 2013 numbers to improve if he's focused for a whole season.

Will Middlebrooks, expect 2013 stats:
.270 BA/.309 OBP, 19 HR, 77 RBI, 25 2B, 68 R

In May, 2012, Middlebrooks stormed out of the gate with a .343 OBP, 6 homers and 21 RBI.  By July, he was down to a .314 OBP with 3 homers and 10 RBI.  Before taking a pitch on the wrist in August, Middlebrooks was hitting .194 with a .286 OBP, 2 homers, and 7 RBI that month.  After May, teams updated their scouting reports and started tossing Middlebrooks less fastballs and more breaking pitches that he was willing to chase.  Middlebrooks needs to improve his discipline at the plate before we can expect to see a 30 homer season from him.  While no longer a prospect, Middlebrooks still needs development as a major league player.

On the plus side, Youk's August on the South Side was only marginally better than what Middlebrooks was giving this team before his injury.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen Youk remain with the Red Sox for the entire 2012 season so Middlebrooks could have had time to go back down to Pawtucket and instructed to learn more patience at the plate...  Regardless, Youk wasn't returning for 2013 anyway, and nobody argues that a developing Middlebrooks at third isn't a step forward.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Napoli's bloated Fenway stats

One talking point you'll hear when the Free Agent Hot Stove heats up is Mike Napoli's numbers at Fenway. You'll see gaudy looking wRC+, wOPS+, WAR numbers and a host of other confusing crapola.  Here's the 3 things you really need to know:

  • Napoli feasts off Jon Lester.  He has a .600 BA /.636 OBP/ 2 HR/ 5 RBI career line off Lester.
  • Of Napoli's four homers against the Red Sox last year, two of them came in the 4/17/12 18-3 Texas rout -- the most horrible all around pitching performance by the Red Sox in recent memory.  Napoli homered off Lester and Padilla in that game -- and he got another homer the following day off  Beckett. 
  • Compare Napoli's 2012 stats against the Red Sox with 2010: 1 homers. And 2011: 2 homers. 
Napoli's numbers at Fenway against the Red Sox look spectacular, but if you take out the two game series from April 17-18, 2012, where Sox pitching was at its worst; as well as Napoli's favorable pairing against Lester, and the big gerbil starts looking more pedestrian.  I doubt this guy is going to take the wood to CC Sabathia or Felix Hernandez when they take the mound at Fenway.  Don't let an incredibly small sample size of 2 great games against bad Sox pitching make you think that Napoli is going to be lights out at Fenway. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Call to Bats (and Arms)

The Red Sox have a big challenge for the 2013 season: Build a team that can compete without support from a shitty free agent market.

If next season's team collapses like the 2011 and 2012 teams, the Sox risk toppling the first domino that could lead to others falling: Fans will lose the rabid interest in the team that they once had, which topples any remaining facade of a sell out streak.  NESN ratings will dip, as well, so the team won't rake in the revenues from the gates and TV like they used to.  The revenue domino stands precariously close to the domino denominating "Big Market Team" status.  If that falls, then the Red Sox will have to compete against teams whose revenues are increasing to sign players.

Biggest question is whether the Red Sox can compete in 2013.  I don't want to be too pessimistic before being realistic, so let's start with the positives:
  • Ellsbury enters a special contract year: He's playing for a multi-year, $160-200 million deal.  If he stays healthy, hits .300+ with 25-30 homeruns and swipes 50-60 bases, then he'll make himself a very rich man.
  • Will Middlebrooks should 30 homerun potential, and he will look nice hitting behind David Ortiz.
  • Felix Doubront gets another year to mature and progress towards being a good #2 or 3 starter.
  • With Junichi Tazawa, it looks like the sky's the limit.  Will he be the next closer?  Should he be converted to a starting pitcher?  For 2013, he has to be your 8th inning setup pitcher and backup closer.
The Red Sox biggest detriment, though, is the starting rotation.  Lester, Lackey and Buchholz -- we're stuck with'em starting 80-90 out of 162 games.  The Sox could have an offense of Babe Ruths with Rickey Henderson leading off, but if those three starters continue getting creamed yet stay in the rotation, then they will have no chance of competing in 2013. 

There's not much the Red Sox can do about the rotation.  Before discussing their pitching options, my next few posts will go over how the Sox can place a playoff-caliber offense on the field.  This should be easy, since the offense before Ben's deal with LA was scoring plenty of runs in 2012. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Abnormal Baseball

It's not 1967 anymore. It's not 1965, either -- but I'm wondering what's next.

Back in 1965, the Red Sox averaged merely 8,052 fans per game at Fenway. If you're a Sox fan under 40, I don't think you've ever seen Fenway have less than 20,000 people in it. But in the middle of the 1960s, the Sox hadn't won a pennant since 1946 and, well, baseball was dying in this town. The fact that Boston was two team town was still a recent memory, with the Braves leaving for Milwaukee in 1953. The Boston Braves' glory days had long since passed them by -- they won 8 pennants from 1877 - 1898, but after that they earned merely two more pennants (1914, 1948) before skipping town.

For the Red Sox part, the last World Series title they won was in 1918. After that series, they sold their star left handed pitcher to the Yankees. That pitcher was, of course, Babe Ruth. Since the era of Cy Young a couple decades earlier -- where those pitchers had fastballs so powerful that they prompted professional baseball to move the pitchers mound farther away from the plate -- nobody did more than Babe Ruth to fundamentally change the way baseball is played.  We're still watching the Babe's game today.

Before the Babe, scoring runs in baseball was all about playing small ball. But in the Babe's first season as a Yankee in 1920, converted to play in the outfield so he could have more at-bats, he hit an unheard of 54 homeruns. In 1921, in upped his game and hit 59 homers. Running in tandem with the beginning of the post-war Roaring 20s, Babe Ruth practically defined the era of prosperity in American history by creating the the most apt metaphor for America's explosive economic growth and its increasing presence as a global power, stepping out of the shadows of old, tired European empires.  America, in short, was hitting homeruns every time it stepped to the plate.

Imagine if Babe Ruth did all of this in Boston...

As for baseball in Boston in the post-Babe era, it included Ted Williams and the Red Sox pennant in 1946; and the Braves pennant in 1948. But both Boston teams lacked success in the 1950s, Ted Williams retired in 1960, and by 1965, perhaps Boston fans lost interest in seeing one losing team after the torture of seeing two competing losers. Baseball in Boston, down to one team, was able to muster an average of merely 8,000 fans into the stands per game. For all intents and purposes, Boston was the modern day equivalent of Kansas City in professional baseball.

Then, 1967 happened. I trust that I don't need to expound upon that magical season -- needless to say, it saved baseball in Boston.

Fast forward to 2012. The Red Sox have won two World Series titles in the past decade, and enjoyed a period of success that's only been paralleled by teams like the Yankees. Young Red Sox fans cannot remember a time when their team perpetually sucked. They cannot fathom Fenway having under 30,000 cheering fans at any point in time. They can't imagine Fenway having just 13,414 fans in attendance in 1986 when Roger Clemens -- who looked like the best fucking pitcher in fucking history at the time (with a brief argument from Doc Gooden) -- struck out twenty Seattle Marines batters, setting a major league record for total strikeouts in nine innings that still hasn't been broken. Unlike Verlander, who stole the MVP honor from Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011, Clemens deserved to win the MVP award in 1986 after his 24 wins led the Red Sox to their first World Series berth since 1975.

After that, the Red Sox weren't that great until they signed Pedro Martinez in 1998 and Manny Ramirez in 2001. Since then, the Red Sox have been a perennial playoff contender and the average attendance in Fenway Park hasn't dipped below 30,000 fans per game since 1999.

This is not normal.

The Cincinnati Reds -- the oldest team in professional baseball -- haven't had an average of above 30,000 fans per game since 2000. And that's after they got a new stadium. The Detroit Tigers, another traditional team, only started averaging 30,000+ fans per game in 2006 -- before then, the last time they had an average of 30,000+ fans per game was 1984. That's the last time they won the World Series.  There's nothing wrong with this -- in fact, the Reds and Tigers have pretty normal attendance numbers for normal baseball teams that experience their ups and downs.

But Boston, after being saved in 1967, became a blessed baseball city since 1999. The Yankees have experienced the kind of success in attendance that the Red Sox have since 1999, but beyond them... Nobody has. No other teams have enjoyed the financial success that the modern Red Sox and Yankees have. And because of this, we've become spoiled fans -- we don't remember what it's like to, well, suck.

Then we come to 2012. After 13 years of dominance, recognized by Boston sports fans opening their fat wallets to buy tickets for Fenway, the 2012 Boston Red Sox sucked. And no matter how many times the Red Sox front office sent tickets to charity organizations to claim that they have sold out Fenway Park for a record number of consecutive games, everyone knows that people weren't going to games towards the end of the season. Nobody cared. And that's the first time we could say such for baseball in this city in a while.

Is this normal or abnormal?

Here's the current situation: Boston could become a "normal" baseball city again. It's possible -- look at the history of baseball in Boston that I detailed, and look at attendance numbers in other cities. But even with a slight dip of revenues, the Red Sox are no longer in a prime big market position to sign the best players because TV contract money has enriched more teams. The Reds signed Joey Votto to a $200+ million deal at the hint of getting a new TV deal. The Dodgers just took on Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford's contracts in order to get Adrian Gonzalez playing first base for them -- and across town, the Angels have Albert Pujols at first. That's around $50 million per year in one city for two teams to pay two first basemen. One position. Still think Boston is the biggest fish in the sea of big market baseball teams?

While the revenue of other teams grows because of TV contract money, the Red Sox own NESN and Fenway -- they're still tied into a revenue stream that could become less profitable while the revenue stream of other teams grows.  To stem the decrease of revenues, the Red Sox must pretend to be contenders in 2013 -- despite the fact that quality free agents just aren't out there to sign that would let them compete.

But if the Red Sox don't compete in 2013, then Boston could revert back to being a "normal" baseball city where Fenway isn't sold out every night. Since the field of big market MLB teams is flattening because of new revenue streams, a decline of Red Sox competitiveness in 2013 could pitch Boston farther down the path of becoming a city with "normal" baseball fans -- just like most other cities. This could lower the Red Sox from the big market into the class of middle market teams, making it more difficult for the organization to attract top talent and again become an elite team that competes for the World Series title every season.

How do the Red Sox avoid this fate and compete in 2013? I'll be discussing that on this blog. The Red Sox won't return to the dismal attendance levels of 1965, but the Red Sox organization stands on the precipice of holding or losing the attention of sports fans in Boston. So, 2013 will be a crucial year for the organization.