Sunday, December 29, 2013

On Baseball Gods and Metaphors

The biggest fallacy of the Hall of Fame vote is trying to apply one argument to all players, which is what the steroids question has become. Doing this ignores how baseball has intertwined with US history when the moment is right, a tradition that should continue - and it would continue if the current class of journalists could just connect the dots.

The "blanket argument" is the steroids debate: should a player who used/is suspected of using steroids be allowed into Cooperstown? What isn't taken into account with this argument is the motives of the individual players, though - and motive makes a difference. Let's say, just for sake of the argument, that Jeff Bagwell took steroids for a couple of seasons. Whether Bagwell used can never be proven (and I don't believe he did), but some baseball writers believe he cheated during his career year. Fine. The next question to be asked should be "What was his motivation for cheating?" Only when you ask this question can players be judged on an individual basis.

If Bagwell cheated, he may have wanted to boost his numbers for a couple of seasons. Maybe he wanted a larger contract. This motive is common, and universally shared by all baseball players. Bagwell didn't want to become a baseball deity.

Let's pose the same question of motive to Barry Bonds... And now we see how two supposed cheaters look completely different. Barry Bonds had a God complex, something he wasn't shy about expressing. Bonds put Babe Ruth is his sight lines and set out to destroy his legacy. Bonds doesn't want you to talk about Babe Ruth without expressing first reverence to Bonds' career. That was Barry Bonds' motivation to cheat.

Whether a Hall of Fame voter sees a moral difference in the motivation of players like Bonds and Bagwell is up to them, but players should be judged upon their individual motivation and not a blanket judgement.

If I were a Hall of Fame voter, I'd bring US history into the equation when judging the motivation of a player to cheat. This is where Barry Bonds wanting to become a baseball deity should be seen as highly insulting, and his behavior should be used against him when considering his case for Cooperstown.

Anyone can tell you that Bonds deserves to be in Cooperstown because he was good enough before he cheated. When Bonds was young, he hit for average and power; and he had speed. He was a run producing machine, and if he just aged without wanted to become the great home run hitter ever, he would be remembered as a player with a really good eye at the plate and stats worthy enough to get him into Cooperstown. Bonds wouldn't have been Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle, but he would have a place below them.

This wasn't good enough for Barry Bonds. He wanted to be the greatest player ever. Period, end of story. And he wanted to be the greatest during an unfortunate chapter of American history.

When Babe Ruth became the greatest player in baseball history, America was riding a wave of prosperity. We came out on the winning side of the largest war in history, we weren't mired in trying to keep a crumbling empire together (see Britain, France); and we weren't castigated with punishments meant to cripple a nation (see Germany and the former Ottoman Empire). The stock market was up, Americans were earning higher incomes, our country's place in the world was rising, and Babe Ruth helped to symbolize all of this with his larger than life style of playing baseball. The feats of the United States and Babe Ruth went hand in hand, and Ruth became a metaphor for the Roaring 1920's.

Barry Bonds, on the other hand, tried to become a baseball deity by cheating during a time when banks were cheating the economy. Banks were signing up new homeowners despite knowing that these people didn't have enough income to pay the bills on these new mortgages, then packing these crappy mortgages into securities, giving them an AAA bond rating, and selling these securities to investors. It was false prosperity. And, like a steroid abusing baseball player who suffers from injuries later in his career because his muscles grew to a point where his body could no long support them, the mortgage backed securities collapsed - they almost bought the whole economy down with them.

It is merely a coincidence that Bonds cheated during this particular time in US history, so does he deserve to be punished for it? Yes, absolutely, 100% yes yes yes. Bonds tried to become Babe Ruth, so he asked to be compared to Babe Ruth. What Bonds doesn't understand, though, is that Babe Ruth is more than a baseball player - he's a historical metaphor. Thinking about "Babe Ruth" brings us back to America's glory years. And thinking about Barry Bonds brings us back to, well... It was only a few years ago, I think you remember.

Barry's surname is "Bonds," and those mortgage backed securities were, essentially, bonds. I mean, the metaphors should write themselves here.

Should a player who can become a metaphor for everything wrong with America be enshrined in the Hall of Fame? No, because that player is definitely no Babe Ruth.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Ellsbury Paradox

Jacoby Ellsbury has gotten himself into a fucked up situation by going to the Yankees. By going for the big money, Ellsbury (who will now, and forever, be known as "Ell$") has placed himself in a position where there's a good chance he'll tarnish his entire career. Here are four reasons why:

1) When the Yankees give you a big contract, they expect results - not just individual results, but world championships. But the Yankees are a total shitshow right now. Mariano is gone, Pettitte is gone, Jeter will be gone soon, nobody knows what's happening to A-Roid, there's a huge hole at second base if they can't pony up $200+ million for Cano; Sabathia and Teixeria look like they're declining, and the rest of the team sucks. By signing Ell$ and McCann, the Yankees sacrificed their first two picks in the 2014 draft - so getting prospects to come to the rescue will be a challenge. And if the Yankees have $100+ - $200+ million commitments to Ells$, A-Roid and Cano, then spending money to build right now will also be difficult. 

In short: the Yankees are in quite a bind, and they have to feed a relentless fanbase. Blaming Ell$ for the Yankees' future failures is unfair, but NYC isn't known for being "fair." Ell$ willingly placed himself in this situation, so he'll have to reap it. 

2) Ell$'s game primarily consists of being a speedster on the basepaths. Right now, he's the best leadoff hitter in baseball - but he's 30. Speed declines with age, so even if he has injury free seasons from now until the end of his contract (assuming the Yankees exercise their 8th year option on him), he'll be 39 with his speed declining each year. Elite sluggers like David Ortiz are able to weather the effects of age and still play at a high level, but speedsters cannot do this. So Ell$ is already setup to fail. 

3) And Ell$ has an injury history. Avoiding injuries as he ages is something even the best of players have trouble doing. The first time Ell$ hits the disabled list, he is going to feel the hatred of the rabid Yankees fan base. 

4) By going for the money, Ell$ burned all of his good will in Boston. 

Considering the situation Ell$ has placed himself in - possibly audacious bad press, hated by fans, little possibility of earning another World Series ring - how will this look on Ell$'s resume for Cooperstown? 

That resume would have looked a lot better if Ell$ took a hometown discount to continue playing for the Red Sox. Ortiz took a hometown discount, made it to another World Series, and he not only earned another ring but he placed himself in the "Best Postseason Hitter Ever" argument. Pedroia took the hometown discount and got himself a second ring. Both players have earned the love of the Boston fan base, have (or, almost in Ortiz's case, has had) secure careers, and all of this will look favorably upon them five years after each of them retire and find themselves on the ballot for Cooperstown.

Ell$ went for the money, but I doubt he comprehends the magnitude of his decision. Two decades from now, if he's a middling HOF candidate with little chance of being enshrined, I hope Ell$ is still enjoying all $153 million the Yankees paid to buy off his potential immortality. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sabermetrician Douchebags (cc: @keithlaw)

It's awards time for baseball, that time of year when hardware is handed out to players and managers while Sabermetricians threaten to go on a five state killing spree if they don't get their way. I got tired of writing about this before the 2013 season and don't wish to start over again - hey, I need time to write a post about Mike Napoli where I eat some crow.

But I can't let this awards season pass without pointing out how pompous the Saber-douchebags are.
Keith Law's tweet encapsulates the attitude problem that Sabermetricians have: they're pompous, smug pricks. They won't listen to any voice outside of their echo chamber because they just assume they're the most intelligent people ever.

Blame can be applied to all parties for the pissing matches that happen during MLB awards time, but the lion's share of the blame must be given to Sabermetricians. Talking about baseball would be a lot more enjoyable if these douchebags got a fucking attitude adjustment.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On the Braves move, civil rights, and what baseball represents

Yesterday, regarding the Atlanta Braves announcement that they will move out of downtown Atlanta and into the suburbs, Grantland posted a map of the Greater Atlanta area that shows where Braves ticket buyers come from. Give it a look:

Braves Map

As you can see, Braves ticket buyers are coming from the north of the city of Atlanta - the suburbs. Not the generalize, but the suburban areas surrounding a city are usually pretty white in racial make up.

Looking at this map, I can't help but think of the bittersweet irony with the Braves organization wanting to move to Cobb County. Strictly as a business decision, does the move make sense? Yes. Despite the Braves currently playing in a relatively young stadium, they don't own it or control the surrounding area. Nor is the stadium close (relatively speaking) to where its fan base is located. That fan base, as you can generalize from looking at the map, is pretty white. But that's not what the Braves have traditionally represented.

The Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966, and they took Hank Aaron with them. This was a big fucking deal. Think of the social landscape of America at that time. The Civil Rights movement gained steam in the 1950's and getting into even just the summaries of landmark events of that movement would lead to an incredibly large blog post, so mentioning a couple of the remarkable names will need to suffice: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X just to scrape off the top of the list. The South was fighting against desegregation, which led to George Wallace's run for president as a third party candidate in 1968 with a racist platform and won most of the South - Georgia included. This was an explosive time in American History, yet in the middle of it, the South - the Deep South, not just some Mason-Dixon border city near the North - got its first Major League Baseball franchise. And it came with an all star player who was black.

Pretty amazing. Baseball meant a lot more to American culture (not to mention peace, harmony, and unity) back then.

Other cities in the South could have tried to get a franchise. In this age, we think of Atlanta as a major city but that wasn't the case in the 1960's. Political leaders in Atlanta at that time realized the city's potential for growth if it got with the program of embracing, instead of rejecting, culture; and they brought the Braves to town. This attitude shift in the politics of one city in the Deep South caused it to grow. Atlanta's population in 1960 was around 487,000 - now the population of the Greater Atlanta area is over 5,457,000.

Conversely, let's look at another Deep South city: Birmingham, AL, had a 340,000 in 1960. While not as large as Atlanta, it definitely had the potential for growth. But Birmingham didn't grow. The city's population has dipped to around 212,000; the Greater Birmingham area has a population of 1,136,000.

Birmingham faced the same choice that Atlanta had in the 1960's: accept normative cultural standards and be embraced by America or stay the same. Birmingham made their bed, and I'm sure you know how the cliche goes from there.

This is why the Braves moving away from the city of Atlanta is sad. In the 1960's, the Braves represented the best of America; what America was capable of achieving.

And now? Now they represent the cultural phenomenon of "white flight." When the Braves open their new stadium in Cobb County, it won't just be a sad day for Atlanta; or for baseball - it'll be a sad day for this country. That isolation you feel - be it culturally, socially, or politically - it's represented in this Braves move away from Atlanta. The Braves moving to the urban core of a Deep South city in the 1960's represented America going in the right direction, but this move reflects a cultural shift of present day America going in the wrong direction.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lynchpins of the Lineup

I don't need to tell you that the Red Sox scored a bazillion runs last season. At first, I didn't know how to gauge the strength of Sox hitting by their runs scored since they teed off on bad pitchers spectacularly well but good pitching could stop them cold - a trend which continued for about 16 innings into the ALCS (and two near no hitters) before the Sox turned it around for good.

Can the Red Sox hit this well in 2014? Probably not. Why? Jacoby Ellsbury.

The beautiful thing about the 2013 Red Sox is that every player stepped up: Gomes, Nava, Victorino, Iglesias (remember when he batted .400 for a couple months?), and Salty all made contributions that nobody was expecting. Iggy is gone but couldn't be expected to repeat his performance anyway. Gomes, Nava and Victorino will be back, so why not bring Salty back? That's been a hot conversation topic lately.

Better options for catcher exist on the market right now - and that's discounting Brian McCann, who wants a big contract but has big attitude problems - but if everyone thought that Ellsbury was coming back then I'd lean towards the position that bringing Salty back isn't a huge issue. Salty will never be a middle of the order hitter, and he probably won't put up his 2013 numbers again at the plate; but he's definitely one of the better bottom of the order hitters in baseball right now. The Red Sox had a strong batting order from top to bottom and you don't want to disturb that.

Unfortunately for Salty (and for us, as Red Sox fans), Ellsbury's contributions at the top of the batting order are far more important. Ellsbury is not replaceable; and with him leaving, the Red Sox need to shore up their fielding.

And Salty just can't fucking field his position.

This doesn't just come down to close plays at the plate in the World Series - Salty was horrible throughout the 2013 season. He has difficulty performing basic tasks behind the plate, like quelling the opponent's running game. Salty allowed 89 stolen bases in 2013 (most in MLB), and he had the most baserunners try and steal off of him, too. Comparing Salty to an average catcher like A.J. Pierzynski (which is not only being generous to Salty, but rings with some irony since the Sox are talking to Pierzynski), A.J. had a 33% caught stealing percentage and allowed 49 stolen bases in 2013. Salty allowed 40 more stolen bases; coincidentally, he also hit 40 doubles. Since a stolen base is essentially a double (or more, in some instances), you see where Salty's defense really does negate his contributions at the plate.

Pierzynski provides better hitting and fielding than Salty. Alternatively, Dioner Navarro doesn't have as much gravitas at the plate but he has sure hands behind the plate. Even Ryan Lavarnway looks like a better option than Salty.

Lavarnway threw out 40% of baserunners in Pawtucket in 2013; and he hit .299 in 77 AB for Boston in 2013. It's worth remembering that many of Lavarnway's at-bats were against staff aces; and with a cold bat, since he went days between playing in games. Lavarnway got hits off of pitchers like David Price, James Shields, Justin Verlander, and Mark Buehrle (the Buehrle whose second half ERA was 3.18, not the sucky Buehrle at the beginning of the season). Farrell was wise to rest Salty on days when the Red Sox opposed a staff ace, but worth noting that Salty's hitting stats might be worse if he had to face the pitchers they forced Lavarnway to hit off of - and Lavarnway ended up hitting .299. That's a pretty good argument against everyone who says that Lavarnway isn't ready.

The argument about which catcher would be a better fit could go on until Christmas, but it doesn't take away from the Red Sox needing better defense behind the plate. The loss of Ellsbury will be a hit to the lineup that the Red Sox cannot recover from; the 2014 lineup will not be as strong as the 2013 one. That being the case, acquiring a catcher who may only hit .240 with little power but can hold off the opposing team's running game would make the Red Sox better than they would be with Salty behind the plate. The Red Sox won't have the excess hitting in 2014 to cover up for Salty's lack of ability to field his position.

I know the pink hats might bust out in tears. I know I've never been the biggest Salty fan. But, you have to admit, this is a pretty objective case for letting the Salty Era in Boston end.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Communiqué from the Pompous

Dear baseball fans who are not Red Sox fans:

Sorry. For them winning. Truly.

I'm sorry I can publish tweets like the one above. Just being able to say this stuff makes me feel like a total asshole.

I'm sorry the Red Sox make a lot of money for being a middle market team. What's that, you're screaming? Something about the Red Sox being a "big market" team? Whatever the fuck that is. Speaking strictly in terms of population size, there are larger markets in America: Dallas, Houston, Philly, DC, Miami, and Atlanta to name a few. Phoenix and Detroit aren't far behind Boston, either. I'm sorry that the Red Sox decided to expand their market by placing A, AA, and AAA farm teams within a hundred miles of Boston. That's an erudite marketing strategy for an erudite city.

So, you know, sorry.

I'm sorry that the Red Sox have had to maximize the revenues they can generate from a ballpark built in 1912. They didn't have the benefit of receiving public financing to build a new ballpark - like The Mets, Brewers, Reds, Cardinals, Padres, Phillies, Twins and Marlins all received in this young century. The Red Sox didn't receive the benefit of having the government shove tens of millions of dollars its way so it could still make excuses about being a "small market" team? Gee, sorry.

I'd like to offer a special apology to the Minnesota Twins. The Red Sox didn't mean to sign David Ortiz and see him have a hall of fame career after you released him for absolutely no compensation at all. Ortiz wanted a couple million after hitting 20 home runs and 75 RBI for you in 2002. Most organizations would consider that to be a steal, but you're "small market" so I understand. You had better places to spend money, like securing public financing for a new stadium; then seeing the I-35 bridge collapse because of desperately needed infrastructure repairs.

Sorry. Totally our fault.

I'm sorry that I think the media is biased against Boston. We only had to hear about how the Cardinals received a "fair" obstruction call a couple days after the media decided to run with wild accusations that Jon Lester doctored the ball in game 1 from a credible source - a 25 year old Cardinals A ball pitcher. Such an expert.

I'm sorry some feel like Boston's victory is a result of a conspiracy because of the Marathon Bombings. And I'm sorry to have read some of your bombing jokes - which were all insipid, unoriginal piles of shit, by the way. I play an insult comic on Twitter, so I think I can reasonably judge what jokes are and are not good. Your bombing jokes fucking bombed.

I'm sorry that the anti-Boston media bias forced some journalists to question the meaning of the Red Sox World Series victory. I'm sorry that I had to publicly take one of you to task; which resulted in launching a conversation among New Englanders that was honest but, unfortunately, not unique given the circumstances. I'm sorry you don't know how we feel. I'm sorry that you never asked us.

I'm sorry. Truly. Please accept my humble apologies, and I'll try to be less pompous the next time the Red Sox win. And yes, there will be a next time.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Missing the Point [Updated]

Regarding game three last night, Red Sox fans can do a lot of second guessing regarding how Farrell managed the game, why the hell did Salty attempt that throw to third base, etc. But all of that guessing misses the point.

The point is to have the game be played and officiated fairly. Period. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. 

When umpires blows call, that's a bad thing - could be a stupid, dumb luck bad thing, but its still bad. What makes the "obstruction" call on Middlebrooks worse than a blown call is that the home plate umpire chose to make it; it was an opinionated judgment call. The rule for obstruction states that if a fielder continues to lie on the ground after attempting to field a ball then he's guilty of obstruction. That sounds cut and dry if you completely discount the fact that Middlebrooks was clearly trying to get up from being on the ground. He wasn't trying to obstruct the play; Craig didn't even trip over Middlebrooks' feet, he tripped over the back of a player clearly trying to get up. 

The umpire didn't have to judge this as obstruction. Additionally, I'd love to see a time during the regular season where that is called obstruction. Joe Maddon has his Devil Rays infielders block second or third base from a baserunner all the time (as I pointed out on October 9) and they never, ever call obstruction on it - and that's intentional obstruction that the Devil Rays start teaching their players to perform when they are still in the minor leagues. So Maddon can issue a strategy to intentionally obstruct baserunners, but when Middlebrooks tries picking himself up off the ground after diving for an errant throw, then the umpires call obstruction? In a pivotal game of the World Series? Really?

That's not fair. Period. 

The umpires chose to make this call; it was not a bad call that they missed. They chose to make a ruling that gave the Cardinals a victory in the World Series - thus tainting the marquee series of baseball. 

When will Major League Baseball fix this horrible, unfair, unbalanced officiating? The umpires have already ruined a perfect game, and they ruined an NL wild card game last season with the worst judgment call ever on the Infield Fly rule. Now the umpires have ruined a World Series. How far is too far before MLB finally fixes their umpire problem?

Update #1: Theh0pester points out that Allen Craig wasn't even in the basepath.

For those of you strict rule book types, MLB Rule 7.08 clearly states the following: "Any runner is out when -- (a) (1) He runs more than three feet away from his baseline to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball." Craig is more than three feet away from the baseline, tripping over Middlebrooks who isn't in the baseline.

Why was a silly judgment call on obstruction cited over this very clearly stated rule which requires no opinionated determination on what the fielder was doing? Why cite an ambiguous rule when an unambiguous rule will supersede it? 

Update #2: Joe Torre should be barred from Cooperstown. Since becoming VP of Baseball Operations after he retired from managing the Yankees, baseball's umpires have become insufferable. Why does Joe West still have a job? Why is CB Bucknor allowed to be a punk on the field? Why do I even know the names of these people - umpires aren't supposed to be part of the game! Joe Torre has refused to fix baseball's problem with the umpires, and he continues to let the problem fester. Placing a plaque for Torre in the Hall of Fame would be a disgrace to the sport.

Update #3: This claim by Crew Chief Hirschbeck about Craig establishing his own baseline is laughable: “Don’t forget, the runner establishes his own baseline. If he’s on second on a base hit and rounds third wide, that baseline is from where he is, way outside the line, back to third and to home plate, it’s almost a triangle. So the runner establishes his own baseline.”

Let's go through a lesson in basic math for the benefit of Hirschbeck, since it appears that he needs a refresher. If a baserunner rounds a base wide then he voluntarily places himself at a disadvantage by increasing the amount of distance between him and the base. Craig, however, did not round third base - he tried to give himself a path to home that's shorter than the one provided on the baseline by staying off said baseline; on the infield side of third base. Ironically, if Craig picked the longer path - the path that's actually on the baseline - Middlebrooks wouldn't have been in his way since Middlebrooks was not obstructing the baseline.

Why defend a baserunner who chose a shorter path to home that was offline the baseline, and in the path of a fielder who just dove for the ball? There's no logic in that.
Update #4: In my first update, the part of MLB Rule 7.08 that I quoted might not have been the best example since it discusses actions due to a batted ball. Let's look at the full text for Rule 7.08(a):
7.08 Any runner is out when—
(a) (1) He runs more than three feet away from his base path to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s base path is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely; or
(2) after touching first base, he leaves the base path, obviously abandoning his effort to touch the next base;
Craig's right to establish his own path to homeplate is a hot topic, but from the text of this rule, Craig only has the right to establish a base path when "the tag attempt occurs." Middlebrooks never had the ball so there couldn't have been a tag attempt; therefore the path to the next base must be the baseline. Why wasn't Craig called out for not being on the baseline? Did he intentionally choose to run off the baseline and trip over Middlebrooks to get an obstruction call? If so, then that's a pretty dirty way to play baseball.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An ALCS of Seeing Everything

Game two of the ALCS was a microcosm of the Red Sox season, featuring two themes I've mentioned throughout this season: their inability to hit good pitching and how they can hammer bad pitching.

Luckily for us, the latter won out as Leyland relied on his bullpen after the 7th inning the the Sox gritted out a walkoff win in a game where they couldn't touch the Tigers starter Max Scherzer. I hope Leyland doesn't decide to make his starters pitch complete games, because then the Sox might be in trouble - we'll see. And we'll see it at home, because this series is surely coming back to Fenway.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fraud Maddon

Joe Maddon is a fraud. Everyone in Boston knew this because we're intelligent baseball fans; we never bought into this "Joe Maddon is a genius!" crap that's been the autocratic diktat of the all-knowing baseball pundits for years. But after the last two games this week at the ugliest stadium in baseball, the façade is finally crumbling - Maddon's stash of gold has been revealed as a pile of pyrite. Maddon became a parody of himself, and no matter how many more "Dress like a Prep Boy!" clubhouse themed days he hosts, we know for certain now that the Emperor wears no clothes. (Take that figuratively please, because vom.)

The two pillars of Maddon's reign are cheating and outstanding pitching. Maddon has nothing without the Devil Rays' front office drafting well and stocking their farm system with Cy Young-caliber arms; conversely, you could make any monkey Tampa Bay's manager and they could win games with the starting rotations that Maddon has been given over the years.  The only thing this says about Maddon's managerial abilities is that he's a grade above Bobby Valentine and your average MLB bench coach.  That's not genius, that's just average.

What's brings Maddon to a new level of annoying - what the all-knowing baseball pundits consider to be "genius" - is the shitacular way Maddon plays baseball.  Simply put: he cheats. Maddon has his batters call time when the opposing pitcher is about to throw; cheating. Maddon has his infielders physically block baserunners from accessing a base; cheating. I could focus on his incessant pitching changes right now, but first let's look at the second act of cheating that I noted.

In a Red Sox / Devil Rays series at Fenway in 2008, one of Maddon's storm troopers physically blocked Coco Crisp from stealing second base by sticking his foot in front of the bag. Crisp sled head first and almost injured himself because blocking the base is a dick move. Crisp learned his lesson, and the next time he tried stealing second base he went in spikes high. The Devil Rays took offense (disregarding the fact that their action which preceded this event was more egregious) and Maddon ordered Crisp to get plunked. We all know about the brawl that happened next.

Crisp should have been called safe the first time he tried stealing second base because Maddon's storm trooper obstructed him. Maddon has grown used to umpires letting him cheat, which explains why every Tampa Bay fan (the true "162 Strong," since there's only 162 of them) flipped their shit when Quentin Berry was tagged by Zobrist before touching second base on Monday night, yet he was given the steal. Zobrist obstructed Berry and his cheating was called out - finally!

Remove one pillar and the house risks collapsing. With the cheating element of Maddon Baseball crumbling, the only thing this king of nothing has left to stand on is Tampa's spectacular pitching.

So what does the genius do? Instead of starting Matt Moore on short rest or using Chris Archer, he gives the ball to Jeremy Hellickson. This move is an apt metaphor for how empty Maddon's managerial style is. Hellickson was once one of Tampa's prized pitchers, with a deserved Rookie of the Year award to back him up. But this future Cy Young award winner derailed his career this season, posting a 5.17 ERA - and his ERA was above 7.00 during the second half of 2013. Maddon is nothing without the efforts of the pitchers he's been given, yet instead of relying on a better example of those pitchers, Maddon gives Hellickson the ball in one of the most important games in the history of this franchise.

What was Hellickson even doing on Tampa's playoff roster?

Predictably, hilarity ensued as Maddon was forced to use his bullpen in the second inning last night; then he kept making pitching changes last night. The more times Maddon waddled out to the mound, the more he became a parody of himself. Unable to cheat or manage his pitching staff, Maddon didn't know what to do. Here was Maddon the Genius, the second coming of Tony LaRussa, he who is surely headed to Cooperstown, one of the greatest managers in a generation - and he burned all of his options in an elimination game. Actually, let's not pussyfoot by saying Maddon had merely "burned" his options. No, it is more accurate to say that Maddon got a bucket of gasoline, summarily dumped it on all of his options, lit a match and exclaimed to himself: "This will work! It's foolproof!"

Geniuses leave themselves with a viable Plan B. Farrell's genius is yet-to-be-determined, but he limited his moves to later in the game.  When Farrell replaced Drew and Salty with Bogaerts and Ross, that move ended up being decisive in the Red Sox victory. Nobody is calling Farrell a genius because of this move, but he left himself with viable options late in the game and won.

Maddon mismanaged his pitching, Maddon got called out on his cheating, and Maddon lost. This man is not a genius - on the contrary, he just proved himself to be a total dipshit. If anyone who gets paid to write about baseball says otherwise, they should be immediately demoted to fucking Burger King.

The Red Sox are moving on because John Farrell is a superior manager. Suck it, Tampa Bay.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Finding Baseball

One thing that, at times, annoys me about myself is my ability to microfocus - I can pick a topic and harp on it until it's unbearable.  And I don't know if you've noticed, but I have a rather obsessive personality. I must focus on something; anything.  This year, I chose to focus on baseball.  This seemed natural for a couple of reasons: Sabrmetician bullshit and Red Sox bullshit.

The Red Sox bullshit started in 2011, of course.  That evil fucking year when the Red Sox were flying high and there was no conception of a September collapse where the Red Sox wouldn't make the playoffs. Whoops. Even though Game 162 of 2011 was played in the regular season, it should hold the same rank in the compendium of Red Sox heartbreak as Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, or Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Afterwards, the Red Sox fired Tito Francona, hired Bobby Valentine, lost stalwarts Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, and as the 2012 campaign progressed the Red Sox became easy to hate.  MARLON MOTHERFUCKING BYRD, need I say more?

Additionally, the end of the 2012 season played into the rise of the douchebag Sabrmetcians due to the MVP WAR (I use this phrase with my tongue firmly in my cheek) over Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. Miggy won the hardware, but the Sabrmetcians say Mike Trout is the true MVP.  Despite the majority of MLB players saying that Miguel Cabrera really did deserve the MVP award, Sabrmetcians went as far as claiming that science was on their side in declaring Mike Trout the true MVP.  What a bunch of douchebags - who would take themselves so seriously over a game?

By the end of 2012, my reaction to all of this became one long, sustained verbal cockpunch.  I was just in that fucking mood.

Thus began my cycle of microfocusing on the 2013 Red Sox season.  At the beginning of this season, I started taking the Red Sox very seriously - too seriously. Watching every game, scrutinizing every play, eyefucking every pitch like it had double-d breasts. Being a total dick.

Lately, I've exited out of my microfocusing cycle.  Instead of watching every game, I'd listen to Sox on the radio instead and do other things - cooking, reading, drinking, picking out which one of my followers will be the next to receive a big green cockpic, etc.

Passively listening to Sox games reminds me that the national past time exists for passing time. Baseball isn't simplistic like football, where games aren't played often thus allowing all of the 'roided up concussions, brutality, and tiny prick chest beating to be digested over the course of a lazy Sunday.  Baseball isn't meant to be focused on 100% of the time - indeed, every team plays 162 games and it's impossible for anyone to focus on all of them - it's there to allow you to focus on something else while cheering for your team.  This fact makes me feel guilty, since I've made quite a few posts this season that have been disparaging to some Red Sox players when, truth be told, this 2013 team has grown on me. (Yes, even Salty.)  And isn't that the point?  Isn't that what they were supposed to do?

I had less fun observing baseball when I've visually observed it; watching every game.  Conversely, I've had more fun listening to the Sox while doing other things. I'm finding baseball again, and I love it.

Taking in baseball differently doesn't mean I'll have less to say about the sport.  It doesn't mean that won't freak out over the playoffs and want to watch every game, either - I mean, let's be normal here. It's the fucking playoffs. I don't think the opinions I've expressed in the past are wrong, either. But this isn't Bobby Valentine's or MARLON MOTHERFUCKING BYRD's Red Sox team anymore. Time to for me to focus more trash talk on the opponents.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pre-Playoffs Notes

In 2012, myself and everyone else on the planet predicted that the Blue Jays would win the AL East.  And I've been critical of a few players all season.

Heading into October: Red Sox are in first place, Blue Jays sucked, and despite some challenging times throughout the course of the year, players like Napoli and Salty have put in a decent season.

So, amends must be made.  People like myself must be punished.  Going forward, this means I won't be ranting about Napoli or Salty that much -- a fair punishment, because this takes away half of my writing topics.  I won't even point out Salty's question defense... He has been catching more baserunners lately, though I'm not sure how much responsibility he bares for the wild pitch that placed the eventual winning run on third last night.  I watched the pitch from the Bud Deck and can't find a video highlight.  I know it was scored as a wild pitch, but I didn't have the greatest view and wanted to see the TV shot.

Regardless, I'm punished so I can only comment on how I can't comment on that.  Like 2004, this 2013 roster has a lot of players turning in unexpected career years (Koji, Carp, Nava, the emergence of Iglesias; and hell, Gomes almost counts since he's had only two better seasons).  In spring training, nobody was thinking "Carp is gonna kill it!" when he finally won a roster spot over Lyle Overbay.  And nobody thought "Koji is going to turn in one of the best seasons a closer has ever pitched!" with Bailey and Hanrahan starting the season in the bullpen. These performances are largely based on luck more than anything else; and I wouldn't expect to see them repeated.

But there's nothing like getting lucky in October.  Let's hope their streaks continue.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Patience, grasshoppers

I've had a lot of criticism regarding the Red Sox this season.  With the team playing white hot baseball right now, I've been reluctant to write about it because, honestly, I don't want to jinx it. 

After getting rest (and slumping) in August, Mike Napoli has been one of the key players for the Red Sox this month.  His strikeouts are down -- way down -- and he has 21 homers with 87 RBIs.  He's stayed healthy and vested all contract options, earning him the full amount of his one year deal.  His fielding at first base has been above average as well; though I wouldn't claim it's worthy of a gold glove. (Only reason why I bring that up is because some ESPN analysts are saying Napoli deserves a gold glove.)

Guess that means I have a heaping helping of crow to fuck my face with, right?

Maybe.  There are some troubling statistics to look at, though, before considering whether Ben should give Napoli a multi-year deal. 

First stat: How many stadiums has Napoli homered in?  Six -- Fenway, Yankee Stadium, Rogers Centre, Dodger Stadium, Angels Stadium, and SafeCo Field. 

Second: Of those stadiums, Napoli has hit 9 homers a Fenway, 5 at Rogers Centre, and 4 at Yankee Stadium -- that's 18 of his 21 HR reserve to just 3 ballparks. 

Third: Overall, Napoli has hit 6 homers against both Toronto and the Yankees.  With 12 homers against two teams, Napoli has scattered his other 9 homers. 

Finally, fourth: The quality of pitching Napoli tees off against is still sub-standard.  This month, he's homered against a minor league call up (Evan Reed), another minor league call up (Brett Marshall), a bad journeyman with a 6.04 ERA (David Huff), and Boone Logan.  Logan is the only decent pitcher out of that bunch -- the Yankees also found out that his elbow is injured.  He's currently day-to-day and hasn't pitched in a game since Napoli homered off of him. 

So the fourth stat is filled with 4 bums.  Napoli has doubled off of David Price and Alex Cobb, great pitchers, but he's just not bringing it against great pitchers.  

Like I mentioned, Napoli is striking out less and having a great month of September.  I hope he's working his swing to the point where he'll damage great pitchers in the playoffs, but since his power numbers are greatly weighted to certain teams and bad pitchers, I'm feeling some trepidation.

We just have to wait and see. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Monster is Hungry

The main axiom we learned about the Red Sox front office deploying after the 2011 debacle is how they can no longer "Feed the Monster".  After the long term contracts given to John Lackey, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford (along with shorter, less costly contract extensions given to Beckett, Lester and Buchholz), the team hadn't been to the playoffs since 2009.  So, the new wisdom dictates that long term contracts don't produce the desired results; and henceforth, free agents will not be signed to long term deals.  No more feeding the "monster" -- that is, us, the fan base, looking for reasons to be excited by this team.

But the monster is hungry.  And if the morsels that fall off John Henry's plate don't fill our tummies, we will seek sustenance elsewhere.

As ardent fans, I know we're stuck in a Red Sox bubble wherein we microfocus our attention on the team.  But outside of our bubble, there's an almost palpable lack of enthusiasm  for the Red Sox.  Attendance is down, and the Sox are averaging 34,530 fans per game.  That's good for tenth in total draw in MLB, and a cool 3,000 fans down per game from last year's average.  And the 2012 team sucked.   It may be hard for us to imagine, but fact is many Boston sports fans aren't showing a lot of interest in this year's team.

The interest levels certainly aren't at the levels where they were in 2011, when Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford received mega-deals.  After the 2007 World Series victory, the 2008 team was one game away from going to another World Series; and the 2009 team made it to the playoffs.  Interest waned in 2010 as Sox suffered from an insufferable amount of injuries, and the front office fed the monster to renew fan interest in 2011.

After the collapse, the experiment to win over fans with Bobby Valentine failed (and "failed" is putting it lightly). The sell out streak was obviously a joke, with the front office giving tickets away for free just to claim that games were "sold out".  I went to a couple September 2012 games, and Fenway was half empty.  Nobody cared.

Perhaps Boston sports fans are still feeling a hangover from the 2011 collapse and 2012 debacle, but when reviewing the reasons for lack of fan interest in a Red Sox team that has been in first place for the majority of the season, historians (those self-important sports historian types; you know, assholes like myself) may include the teams moves in the 2012 offseason.

Think about it for a second.  After absconding large contracts, what did the Red Sox do?  Besides signing another member of the Drew family (who started the season on the disabled list), a back of the rotation starter, and a Flyin' Hawaiian, the biggest move of the offseason was acquiring Mike Napoli.  This was supposed to be Ben Cherington's proletariat coup after jettisoning Adrian Gonzalez -- Ben nabbed a first baseman who could rake for a quarter of the cost of that God-loving primadonna whose power disappeared when he arrived at Fenway.

But the contract negotiations dragged on.  And on.  And on...  A couple months passed before Napoli's deal was finally reduced to a minuscule one year, $5 million with incentives because of a degenerative hip condition.  Texas must have known about this condition -- after all, they didn't even give Napoli a qualifying offer that would have placed the team in line to receive a draft pick from the Red Sox when they signed Napoli.  Texas just wanted to get rid of this supposed power threat; a situation that I found very odd.

Or very telling.  How has Ben's coup performed this season?  Well, strikeout.  Strikeout.  More strikeouts.  Men on base?  Strikeout.  Ortiz leading the league in intentional walks?  Shocker, and strikeout.  Another whiff.  More strikeouts.  And on, and on, and on... How do you think this looks to other Boston sports fans?  It's a fucking embarrassment.

But, since the Red Sox didn't want to sign free agents who would cost them draft picks, it's what we're stuck with.  This strategy of not giving up draft picks, and shying away from long term deals, backfired when the Sox didn't pursue Anibal Sanchez.  Instead, Dempster was signed -- another coup, the front office assured us -- and Dempster has sucked.  So the Red Sox just traded one of their top prospects to acquire Jake Peavy.  Not giving up draft picks can be considered wise, but when weighed against trading a top prospect to get another back of the rotation starter since the other lackluster starter acquired during the offseason can't get the job done, the plan falls apart.

And Boston sports fans have noticed this.  Those little monsters are hungry, and they're about to jump on the Patriots bandwagon.  Cherington, et al., only have themselves to blame for the lack of interest in the Red Sox right now.

Perhaps it's time to adopt some new organizational axioms.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Who's the winner in the Red Sox/White Sox deal?

The Detroit Tigers, of course.

Detroit receives Jose Iglesias, a young shortstop who is a wizard with the glove and has shown some promise with the bat at the Major League level -- a point of much polarizing debate for many fans in Boston.  But even if he bats .220 for the rest of the season, he improves the Tigers' team fielding (which, surprisingly, hasn't been that bad this year) by taking over for an average Jhonny Peralta; who is just going to get suspended anyway.

With Iglesias at short, he makes up for some range lost by having Miguel Cabrera play third base.  This will improve Detroit's starting pitchers, who were already doing a decent job of pitching around their defense to get outs and wins.  Max Scherzer leads the AL with 15 wins, and only one Detroit starter has an ERA above 4.00.

The Red Sox get Jake Peavy, but they have opened up third base to be manned by a revolving door of minor league players.  If Stephen Drew suffers another injury, then both shortstop and third base will share that revolving door of minor leaguers.  Bringing prospects up has worked well sometimes for the Red Sox this season -- see, errr, Jose Iglesias -- but the Red Sox have placed themselves in a position where they are depending upon undependable wildcards at third base for the rest of the season.  This trade has the potential to blow up in Ben's face.

Peavy hasn't been that great this season, either.  It could be argued that Brandon Workman would have done a better job starting games.  We'll assume, right now, this strengthens the pitching staff by getting an experienced starter and placing a promising prrospect in the bullpen.  We're going to have to wait and see, though.

As for Chicago, they get three prospects that nobody really cared about.

To summarize the Peavy/Iglesias trade: Detroit fortified their team, Red Sox may have improved their pitching but left themselves a ticking timebomb at third base.  If the Red Sox make it to the ALCS, Detroit will likely be waiting for them.  I'd hate to see Iggy playing well in such a situation.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Should Buchholz be a starting pitcher?

Nobody ever questions whether or not Buchholz should be a starting pitcher.  It's a given that he's a starter, just like it's a given that Will Middlebrooks was going to be the Red ox starting third baseman for 2013 ... Errr, wait, that didn't work out. 

Sometimes, the role a player is thrust into isn't the best fit. 

Where Buchholz is concerned, first we should define what a "starting pitcher" is.  Since there are five pitchers in the starting rotation, what you want out of a starter can vary.  If a pitcher is in the bottom end of the rotation, you expect them to log 170-190 innings pitched and keep the team in the game for 65-75% of their starts.  But if the starter is a top of the rotation ace, then you must depend on them to pitch over 200 innings and keep the team in over 90% of the games they start.

Given these definitions, we can reasonably claim that a start should be reliable enough to pitch at least 170 innings a season.  Clay Buchholz has had five seasons to accomplish this most modest of goals for a starting pitch, yet he's only pitched over 170 innings in a season twice.  This season is Buchholz's sixth chance to accomplish this goal, but I'm doubtful he will do it. 

Observing this objectively, without bias, one can only surmise that Buchholz has not been a dependable starter for the Red Sox. 

We could ask "Why?" and partake in endless amounts of speculation regarding Buchholz's failure to be a normal starting pitcher, nevermind the staff ace that we all know he has the talent to be, but I don't see a point to undertaking that exercise.  We have to focus on what is and is not, and Buchholz is not a reliable starter. 

I'm not sure what role Buchholz should have for the Red Sox, but it must be one where he's not forced to try and pitch 170-200+ innings.  Should he serve as a longman/spot starter out of the bullpen?  Possibly, since that's a common position for failed starting positions.  Personally, I'd love it if the Red Sox experimented with making him a closer; especially since this organization has had so much trouble finding a reliable closer after letting Papelbon walk.  

Some off your will scream at this suggestion, pointing to the fact that Buchholz doesn't have a loss this season and his ERA is under 2.00.  The potential for greatness is there -- and I agree.  We've all seen it this season, just like we all saw it in 2007.  But Buchholz is still on the disabled list; a spot he occupied in 2012, 2011, and 2010.  Fact is Buchholz has not been a successful starter at the Major League level.  The Sox have a few pitching prospects who will be ready for MLB level soon, so the time for the Sox to define what Buchholz's role is -- and whether he'll ever become a dependable starter -- is now. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Defining Middlebrooks

What is Will Middlebrooks: a major league player or a prospect?  More importantly, why isn't anyone asking this question?

It is assumed that Middlebrooks is the first option, a big leaguer.  Discussion about Middlebrooks and his "recent" struggles are done under the terms that, somehow, Middlebrooks is a semi-veteran player who just needs to stay in lineup until, as I heard on NESN before one game, "his swing comes around".  This discussion is framed around the assumption that Middlebrooks is on the level of veterans like Pedroia or Big Papi, who have produced after periods of struggling at the plate.  

But, if Middlebrooks is actually a prospect, would that change the whole tenor of the discussion around his struggles at the plate?  Perhaps the framing of this discussion should be adjusted. 

To the statsmobile, Batman! 

Here are a couple monthly stat lines for Middlebrooks:

Month #1: .194 BA, .286 OBP, 6 H, 0 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 8 K
Month #2: .194 BA, .223 OBP, 19 H, 4 2B, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 32 K

So, what months did I pull these stats from?  These are reflective of Middlebrooks' "recent" struggles, so both of these months have to be from 2013, right? 

Wrong -- Month #1 is Middlebrooks' stat line from August 2012, before he broke his wrist.  Looking at that stat line, nobody can say that Middlebrooks wasn't struggling then; and he's still struggling now.  Therefore, his struggles are hardly a recent occurrence.  Middlebrooks isn't mired in a slump that he can swing his way out of, something else is going on.  

Month #2, by the way, are Middlebrooks' numbers in April 2013.  If you want to bring his latest numbers into the mix, you'll find that he's batting .138 with a .194 OBP this month.  Since returning from the disabled list, Middlebrooks has managed to drop his batting average from .199 down to .192. 

If a prospect is called up to fill in for an injured player and he catches on fire for a couple months before teams adjust their scouting reports and learn how to pitch against him, is he now a major league player or still a prospect that needs development?  To me, this is a rhetorical question.  Middlebrooks does not have the major league experience under his belt to make the assumption that he'll get out of this slump like any other veteran; he just continues to sink.  
In some small market organizations, letting a prospect struggle at the major league level is part of the development process.  The Royals called up Alex Gordon and let him suck for a couple of seasons before he finally started producing.  The Red Sox, though, spend big money and they have never been apt to give a prospect development time in the starting lineup.  Those players are sent to Portland or Pawtucket and told to keep improving as a player and wait their turn. 

Why is Middlebrooks treated differently?  Why is he this golden boy born as a big leaguer? Why hasn't reality seeped into the conversation about his struggles-cum-development?  And to continue treating Middlebrooks like this when the other option to play third base is hitting over .400 with a 23 game streak of getting on base, and he only has one fielding error at third compared to Middlebrooks' 8 errors?  Honestly, I just don't get it. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Napoli and the Mask of Overachieving

Guess what?  It's time for me to bitch about Mike Napoli again.  I know, I know.  I should get a life, right?  Or find something else to talk about?  Hell, maybe I should comment on how well the Red Sox are doing instead of always looking for something negative, right?


One positive aspect of the Red Sox loss against the Rangers last night was that that the game was close, and it felt like the Sox might be able to pull off a come from behind victory at any time.  Lackey had a great start, as well, limiting the Rangers' playoff-caliber hitting to a run over six innings.

Jose Iglesais continues to place himself on the short list for Rookie of the Year candidates by getting a single in the 7th, extending his hitting streak to nine games while moving a baserunner to second.  The Sox didn't score, unfortunately, but one must wonder if Iglesais could help drive in runs if he was hitting second instead of ninth.  Either way, with Middlebrooks being told that his stay in Pawtucket will be extended until he shapes the fuck up, the front office seems ready to adopt the ethos of placing the best team on the field instead of using players that gross money from Pink Hat merchandise sales.  Now, if Salty could only be moved to place Lavarnway in the lineup...

The bad part is that you could see this loss coming from a mile away because Alexi Ogando was starting for the Rangers, and the Red Sox have a tough time winning against pitchers who have an ERA under 3.00.  Some of you might have questions when I point this out, such as: "What's the big fucking deal?  Doesn't every team have difficulty against good starters?  Isn't that baseball?  Don't you realize that the Red Sox have the most runs scored in the Majors right now?  What the fuck is wrong with you?"

I could sit back and enjoy seeing the 2013 Red Sox run up 17-5 victories against shitty pitching while shrugging off close losses to spectacular pitching, but witnessing the latter reveals more than the former because it shows deficiencies with this team that will become more pronounced as their schedule becomes more difficult in August and September, with plenty of games against the Yankees, Rays and Baltimore; along with a series against teams with great starters like the Tigers, Diamondbacks and Dodgers.  If the Red Sox make it to the playoffs after all of that, most of the pitching they will face will make last night's starter, Alexi Ogando, look pedestrian.

What would bring the overachieving Red Sox hitting over the hump is another hitter in the meat of their order that can produce against great pitchers.  And that brings me back to Mike Napoli because, so far, Mike Napoli hasn't been that hitter.

How many home runs has Napoli hit off of pitchers who have an ERA under 3.00?  None.

How many homers has Napoli hit off pitchers with an ERA under 4.00?  Three, and two were against relievers.  The only questionably "tough" starter that Napoli has teed off against is Jeremy Guthrie.

Conversely, how many homers has Napoli hit against pitchers with an ERA above 5.00?  Four.

As I've mentioned before (and repeatedly) in tweets, 5 of Napoli's 9 homers have come against the Blue Jays.

The Red Sox don't have this problem with David Ortiz -- he has made a career off of hammering great pitching.  This year, we've already seen Big Papi rake against Yu Darvish, Matt Moore and Hiroki Kuroda.

Napoli has gotten some RBIs off fielder's choice balls and sacrifice flies against decent pitchers, so at least he can put the ball in play when runners are on base to make something happen.  And, as evidenced by his stats, Napoli has a big stick against bad pitching.

The question regarding Napoli, with a third of the season over, is whether he'll be able to step it up and rake against great pitching or is he just an overachiever?  The answer to this question may be the deciding factor in whether the Red Sox lineup can survive the final third of the season or regress to a .500 ballclub that doesn't make the playoffs.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Rot at the Top

Before this weekend, the Red Sox were 4-2 against Toronto this season; a team that Sox hitters happily used to pump up their stats.  Napoli had already hit 4 homers off Toronto pitching this season; Middlebrooks had 3 homers in one game against Toronto during the first week of the season.

As for Toronto's pitching coming into Fenway over the weekend, they weren't bringing their A game -- in fact, they brought their AAA and AA game.  Ramon Ortiz, the starter who lost to Lester on Friday, is a 39 year old whose last full MLB season was in 2007 and he's been a mainstay in the International League since then.  Chad Jenkins, who pitched Sunday, is a 25 year old prospect, first round pick, and we'll probably hear his name more over the next few years.  But he has under 40 innings pitched at MLB level, and he was recalled from Toronto's AA team to make his first major league start at Fenway.  And centered between these two question marks was Mark Buehrle, who came into Fenway sporting a robust 7.02 ERA.

Last week, I noted that the Red Sox hitters do well against bad pitching (and especially against Toronto), but have trouble against starters with an ERA below 4.00.  So this series should have been a cakewalk, right?


Let's start with the good news.  Shane Victorino had quite a series, and should continue to play well if he doesn't go on the DL.  He hit .400 and got on base half the time, with an OBP of .500.  Victorino did his job of getting on base supremely well, so it's not his fault that he only scored one run.

Pedroia had a great series, too: .500 AVG / .538 OBP, couple of runs scored, 1 RBI, and a stolen base.

For a lineup whose 2 and 3 hitters are getting on base over 50% of the time, you would expect more than just 3 runs from the pair, right?  Of course!  Except Big Papi had 1 hit in 7 at-bats, and Mike Napoli had exactly zero hits in the first two games of the series.  Napoli finally busted out in the third game with 3 hits and a home run -- against a pitcher making his first career start.  At least Napoli did well in one game, but he still has yet to step up against good pitchers.

And then there's Ellsbury.  It would help the lineup if the leadoff hitter wasn't practically an automatic out, but Ellsbury went 3 for 15 in the series -- a .200 batting average -- with no walks.  And, notably, no stolen bases.  Ellsbury's only shining moment was an RBI triple that he nailed off of 42 year old Darren Oliver, and nobody is sure why Oliver is still in the big leagues.

What's worse is how Ellsbury has played in the 9th inning.  During the last Twins game before the Toronto series, Ellsbury drew a walk to start the 9th inning.  He didn't make one attempt to steal a base before the next three hitters were retired in order.  It's Ellsbury's job to either steal that base, or get in the pitcher's head and make the pitcher more apt to throw either more fastballs to batters, or make a mistake on a pitch that the batter can crush.  Ellsbury is supposed to make the hitters behind him better by being a threat to steal bases -- that's his job -- and he's not doing it.  Ellsbury also came to the plate in the 9th during the final two games of the Toronto series.  On Saturday, with Middlebrooks on second base, Ellsbury swings at the first pitch and grounds out, ending the game.  On Sunday, with Drew on first base, he strikes out looking.

Baseball has a long season, and players get into slumps.  Terry Francona would manage these slumps by strategically not managing, simply keeping players in their usual batting order spots and usual roles and riding things out.  So, should Ellsbury be dropped from the leadoff spot?  No, not yet.  Besides, he's certainly not the only hitter in this lineup who is struggling.

I won't get into the 6-9 hitters because most of the runs are supposed to be generated from the 1-5 spots.  Looking at the performances of Victorino and Pedroia, things aren't as bad as they might seem (provided that Victorino doesn't go on the DL...), but the fact the lineup as a whole didn't turn their collective slump around against what was, ostensibly, some questionable pitching coming into Fenway this weekend shows us just how deep this slump is.  The Red Sox aren't just failing against good pitchers, but most pitching in general now.

With the Yankees taking first place, despite their assortment of replacement players filling in before stars like Jeter get back, this might be one of the worst times for a mostly healthy Red Sox team to slump.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Catching options: Lavarnway, Vazquez, Ross, and fuck Salty

With the Red Sox mired in a slump right now, one has to wonder if they are fielding the best team possible with the players they currently have in the organization.  And, since Jarrod Saltalamacchia is still on the 25 man roster, the answer is no.

It's tough to contextualize how bad Salty has been this season without wanting to add a number of adjectives and profanities before words like "bad", "abhorrent", "horrible", "atrocious", etc.; since that would make the writer sound ridiculous, and possibly biased.  But Salty deserves it.  Just look at his defensive numbers:

SB: 13 CS: 1 
Percent of runners caught stealing: 7%
Passed Balls: 3
Errors: 3

I'm actually surprised that he hasn't had more passed balls.  Two of his errors -- that errant throw to Napoli the other night, and a throw into right field earlier this month -- led to three runs crossing the plate.  One of those passed balls got a baserunner to third as well, and they later scored.  So Salty's defense has already cost the Red Sox at least 4 runs -- and that's before taking his atrocious inability to keep baserunners from stealing!  Salty has caught just 7% of baserunners this season.  Are you fucking kidding me?  That's horrible.  So it's reasonable, without bias or embellishment, to say that Salty's defense is atrociously, ridiculously, astronomically fucking terrible.

Salty's 4 HR and 9 RBI simply doesn't make up for his defense, either -- and don't get me into his fucking strikeouts.  He's averaging one K every 2.48 plate appearances.  Salty is just an all-around fucking bad player; and the longer he's on the 25 man roster, the more he's hurting the Red Sox chances of winning.  He's not even a suitable option to be a backup catcher anymore.

Who else can the Red Sox throw behind the plate?  Right now, David Ross needs to be made the primary catcher, but Ross has been a backup his whole career and he's an older player -- he can probably only be reasonably expected to play 60% of the time.  He's going to need an understudy, and the answer to who that player is should probably be Ryan Lavarnway; but let's consider another catcher in the system first.

Remember one of the Sox non-top prospect catchers who dazzled everyone with his defense in spring training games?  To jog your memory, the player is Christian Vazquez and he's catching for AA Portland right now.  His spectacular defense has continued to shine through in Portland, too:

SB: 17 CS: 15
Percent of runners caught stealing: 47%
Passed balls: 3
Errors: 2

With a tandem of Ross and Vazquez behind the plate, opposing teams would think twice about having baserunners challenge their arms.  With Salty, the only surprising thing is that only 14 baserunners have attempted steals with him behind the plate -- but as teams update their scouting reports and see Salty's deficiencies, expect the number of baserunners attempting steals to skyrocket.  Yes, as bad as Salty is, the situation can become much worse.

Unfortunately, Vazquez's hitting stats aren't upto snuff: .258 AVG / .405 OBP, 2 HR, 11 RBI in 85 PA at AA.  Vazquez gets on base a ton, and his batting average against LHP is a shade over .300 so maybe he could be used solely against southpaws, but it doesn't look like he's ready to hit at the MLB level yet.  Which is a shame, because his defense is probably MLB ready, and I wonder if there would be some benefits of having him receive tutelage from Ross instead of playing everyday in Portland...  But Vazquez is 22, had a great season at Salem in 2011 (18 HR, 84 RBI), so not rushing him to the majors is probably the safest bet.

That leaves us with the enigmatic Ryan Lavarnway.  In 2011, Lavarnway looked like he was ready to clobber the fuck out of the ball at the MLB level.  In 2012, he came to Boston and hit under .200.  So, which Lavarnway came to play in 2013?  Here are his numbers at Pawtucket:

.311 AVG / .413 OBP, 2 HR, 15 RBI, K per 7.66 PA

You know, I think Lavarnway might finally be ready.  But what about his defense?

SB: 8 CS: 6
Percent of runners caught stealing: 43%
Passed balls: 8
Errors: 0

Lavarnway and Salty have each had 14 baserunners attempt steals off them, and the percent of runners Lavarnway has caught, when compared to Salty's measly 7%, just speaks for itself.  As for his 8 passed balls, that seems alarming until you remember that Pawtucket has knuckleballer Steven Wright in their starting rotation -- most of those past balls are probably knuckleballs that Lavarnway wouldn't have thrown to him unless Wright is optioned upto Boston.  Even then, his passed ball numbers when accounting for a knuckleball pitcher seem decent.

Bottom line here is, while Lavarnway's defense isn't as good as Vazquez's, there's no doubt that he would be a vast improvement over what Salty offers us.  And Lavarnway will probably be just as good of a hitter as Salty -- probably a better hitter, if comparing Lavarnway's K:PA ratio to Salty's horrible propensity to whiff means anything.

The time has come for the Red Sox to part ways with Jarrod Saltalamacchia - a failed prospect.  Offer him an assignment in Pawtucket if you want to keep him around for "depth", but Lavarnway is ready to play and Salty, well, just can't bring it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Hitting Funk

Since going to Arlington to play against the Rangers, the Red Sox have faced some very good pitching.  The only starter with an ERA over 4.00 that they faced was Vance Worley, who had a 7+ ERA before facing the Sox (he lowered it to 6.95).  Sox hitters only managed to get 3 ER off Worley in 5 IP.

But the other starters the Sox have faced have been more daunting: Darvish (2.56), Holland (2.74), Ogando (3.08).  Even Scott Diamond, the common card we saw pitch last night, came into yesterday's start with a somewhat high 3.97 ERA but got that down to 3.03.

And what exactly have Sox hitters looked like after they arrived in Arlington?  Let's take a look at the stats:

Ellsbury: .304 OBP, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R
Victorino: .294 OBP, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R

I'll go with average for the rest of the hitters, but the primary job of the 1-2 hitters it getting on base -- which they haven't been doing.  That partially explains why Ells hasn't scored a run, and Victorino's run scored was off his home run.  For the few times they have gotten on base, though, the meat of the order hasn't been able to drive them home:

Pedroia: .210 AVG, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R
Ortiz: .263 AVG, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R
Napoli: .111 AVG, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R

I'm not sure how much longer the Pedroia hitting third experiment can last for if he's not going to provide enough power at such an important position in the order -- but I'm not sure where else Pedroia could be placed in the batting order, either.  Ortiz would be the obvious choice to hit third.  And then there's Napoli... That batting average really just says it all right there. Pitchers hit better than that.

Looking at the rest of the main players, the only bright spot is Drew -- the only position player over the past 5 games who's managed to have a big day.

Middlebrooks: .142 AVG, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R
Nava: .181 AVG, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 R
Salty: .285 AVG, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R
Drew: .400 AVG, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R

Salty is hitting more than usual, too.  But the only run he's responsible for, last night's home run, is negated by an errant throw to Napoli at first that, after hitting the dirt and nearly going into the outfield before Pedroia blocked it, allowed a runner on third to score.  Salty, showing immaturity, then almost got himself ejected when he bitched to the umpire about the baserunner going to first -- sorry buddy, the baserunner didn't fucking throw the ball into the dirt.  You did.

I've detailed Napoli's problems hitting against good pitching (indeed, his issues are way more pronounced), but the rest of the offense is struggling, too.  Drew's spectacular night at the plate came during the game that Worley and his 7+ ERA pitching, so over the past few games there's hardly an example of a Sox hitter stepping up against a good pitcher.  Closest example I can think of is Ortiz homering off Darvish, but Darvish made him (and all other Sox hitters) look silly for the rest of the game.

Great teams hit don't let playoff-caliber pitching keep them down.  If the 2013 Red Sox want to think about making the playoffs, they need to start winning against good pitchers -- at the very least, start trying to work the count against these pitchers.  No more 3 pitch at-bats.  The Sox can't have a series against Toronto every week to pad the winning percentage -- the schedule is just going to get tougher from here on out.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Meet the Napolis

The Red Sox have enjoyed the services of Mike Napoli for about five weeks now, so what have we seen so far? Looking beyond the fact that Napoli can crush Toronto's horrible pitching -- 4 of his 6 homers have come against the Blue Jays -- let's split Napoli's stats by games against above and under .500 teams:

Against above .500 teams: .264 BA / .324 OBP, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 9 R, 22K (18 games)
Against below .500 teams: .272 BA / .298 OBP, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 8 R, 24 K (13 games)

The stat lines look pretty similar.  So we're looking at a player who performs equally well against all types of competition, and we don't have to worry about him getting beat by good pitching, right? 

Not really.  I'm going to take away 2 games from Napoli's above .500 teams stats -- one was against Cleveland, the other against Oakland.  The Oakland game was against A.J. Griffin, who had a bad start.  The Cleveland game was against Ubaldo Jimenez, who is just plain bad.  Have a look at Napoli's stats against .500 teams, minus bad pitching:

.237 BA / .307 OBP, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 6 R, 18 K (16 games)

Some might say that I'm being unfair by selectively removing a couple games against bad pitchers/pitching, but before Napoli came here he was known for having huge games against bad pitching that inflated his stats.  I want to see how Napoli performs against real competition and, looking at those stats, I'm not impressed.  The Napoli that hits 4 homers against Toronto doesn't look like the same Napoli that only got 1 hit in three games against Texas this weekend -- and that hit didn't produce a run.  The Sox don't play against Toronto, or pitchers like Jimenez, every other week; so Napoli needs to find a way to start producing against real competition. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Middlebrooks that we've seen before

Last season, ill-fated manager and Major League Asshole Bobby Valentine was visibly upset that he had to play Kevin Youkilis at third base -- Will Middlebrooks was the future, and Valentine wanted WMB at third base full time.  And after Youk got injured and WMB had his chance to start, it looked like Valentine had evaluated his level of talent well.  In May, 2012, WMB had 6 homers and 21 RBI with a .343 OBP.  Great!  Problem solved, right?  Ship Youkilis straight out of town, the future is motherfucking here!

Since then, nobody has regarded Middlebrooks as a "prospect" anymore.  Unfortunately for him, and for fans, this assessment is incorrect -- Middlebrooks is very much still a young, developing player.  A player who we've seen struggle at the MLB level in 2012, at a time when it would have been quite helpful to have kept Youkilis on the roster so Middlebrooks could be optioned back to Pawtucket to work on his approach at the plate before getting the full time job at third base in 2013.  So, thanks a fucking lot Bobby Valentine, you stupid piece of shit.

Even in 2013, we're still dealing with how horribly Valentine managed this team...  Sorry for the digression, but I still want to kick that motherfucker square in his pea-sized balls.

Anyway, back to Middlebrooks, let me drudge up his August, 2012 numbers so we can look at them side-by-side with his 2013 numbers

August, 2012: .194 AVG / .286 OBP, 2 HR, 7 RBI
Present, 2013: .195 AVG / .233 OBP, 6 HR, 12 RBI

Both stat lines look eerily similar, don't they?  Keep in mind that Middlebrooks had 3 homers and 4 RBI in one game against Toronto in the first week of April -- take that game away, and these stat lines are almost identical save for his on-base percentage, which is remarkably worse.

Why is WMB's OBP worse?  Well, let's look at a picture of a strike 3 that WMB swung at last night in the 9th inning.

Pardon the unprofessional appearance here; this is a screencap from my iPhone.  Someday, maybe I'll learn how to make fancy moving GIFs...  Anyway, we see two things happening here: 
  1. Rangers' Joe Nathan missed his spot with a fastball, throwing it high and away.  The pitch was so bad that it could have easily been a passed ball. 
  2. And Will Middlebrooks fucking swung at it anyway.
Here's a still Middlebrooks making contact earlier in the game, flying out to shallow right field with a runner on second:

Rangers' starter Ogondo threw a breaking ball low and away.  Middlebrooks started swinging at this slop last season and it would always lead to weak outs, and this behavior at the plate has continued.  

Like any hitter worth his salt, Will Middlebrooks can send fastballs flying out of the park.  Unfortunately, right now he can't hit anything else with authority.  Unless WMB stops swinging at the horrible pitches we saw in the first picture, or learning how to foul off outside breaking balls in the second picture, then he won't be able to work pitchers into a count where they need to throw him a fastball that he can destroy. 

As the stats from last August and this season show, the Middlebrooks we see playing now is someone we've seen before.  This is a young prospect who still needs to progress before he can achieve at the MLB level.  I'm not sure if the Red Sox intended to address this by placing the option/threat of sending him back to Pawtucket on the table, but it's an option that I wouldn't rule out if he continues to struggle with his approach at the plate at the MLB level.  Pitchers in the American League have adjusted to Middlebrooks, and he must learn how to readjust and get himself into hitter's counts. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Good Problems

I want to highlight problems that I see with this Red Sox team, but before discussing those problems let's place this conversation on a higher level: the problems I'm about to discuss are problems that other teams wish that they had.  For example, the Rays came into this season expecting their pitching to carry the team's weak offense.  They had 2012 Cy Young award winner David Price heading their rotation with loads of young talent behind him.  Well, Price's ERA after April is over 5; and Jeremy Hellickson isn't faring any better.  They traded ace start James Shields for "top prospect" Wil Myers, but Myers's numbers at AAA Durham show that he's not MLB ready yet.  Ironically, the Kansas City Royals have emerged as an early surprise as playoff contenders behind James Shields's strong arm.

The Red Sox have emerged as surprise playoff contenders this early in the season, too.  It's been a while since we've seen a Red Sox team at full strength, with minimal injuries.  Victorino and Andrew Bailey have been on the shelf this past week, but other than that this team has been at full strength -- which is a beautiful thing.

One also must wonder how long this lack of injuries will last for.

Injuries happen.  After the 2010 and 2012 seasons Red Sox fans are quite familiar with the ole injury bug happening to their team.  I'm sure this team doesn't sense this -- everyone thinks that they'll live forever.  But, one the best attributes I've seen from this Red Sox squad is their ability to stay in games and win.  They soaked up wins in April, which is not only a great display of positive attitude and teamwork, but those April wins might be crucial in a baseball world with the second wild card placing most teams in playoff contention for a longer period throughout the season.

To place some perspective on this: The Yankees have played well, too, and they have a ton of injuries.  If Jeter and A-Rod make it back to the roster, but then lose out to a playoff berth because the Red Sox soaked up April wins when they were at full strength, then we see the power of this Red Sox team playing all out throughout the season.

Who doesn't -- nay, can't -- like the winning spirit displayed by the Red Sox so far?  I love this team. Win or lose, I can only thing of a couple games that they haven't been in this season.  When this team loses, they're always threatening to win the game. They're the kind of time that you want to watch, because you never know what will happen.

So, with all of that said, I'll reserve a couple posts this or next week (no timetable, I'm lazy) to discuss problems I see with this current Red Sox team.  Every team has problems that should be discussed, but problems are smaller than those of other teams.

Monday, April 29, 2013

What happened to the Blue Jays?

Coming into the season, Toronto picked up the most recent NL Cy Young award winner, along with two starters from the Marlins -- all or which were decent bets.  Mark Buehrle has a career ERA of 3.85, pitched to a 3.74 ERA and a 13-13 record last year on a bad team.  Josh Johnson's 2012 ERA was 3.81, which is a spike from his career ERA of 3.23,  RA Dickey has had a spotty career, but has been one of the most consistent and best starting pitchers in baseball over the previous three seasons.

Currently, Dickey is 2-4 with a 4.50 ERA. Buehrle is 1-1 with a 6.35 ERA.  And Johnson?  0-1, 6.86.

Seriously, what happened?  Before the season, some said that these pitchers wouldn't adjust to the AL East quickly, but I don't buy that.  With the Braves and Nationals in the NL East, it's not like that division lacks offensive firepower.  Something else is up here, because the Blue Jays' hitters are dead in the water, too.

Like everyone predicted, the Blue Jays are getting their home runs in -- 33 homers so far, more than the first place Red Sox -- but their team batting average is .229; OBP .291.  The Red Sox have them beat by a mile, with a team batting average of .272 and OBP of .347.  The Jays' best hitter, Reyes, is on the DL.  He was hitting .395.  The team's superstar, Jose Bautista, has 7 homers but he's hitting a paltry .192; .280 OBP.

Toronto's bench players are doing worse, and one has to wonder why the DH combo of Mark DeRosa and Rajaj Davis hasn't been replaced by promoting Mauro Gomez from Buffalo.  Forget Gomez's AAA numbers, his MLB numbers with Boston last season beat the production that DeRosa (.161) and Davis (.267) are giving them.

As the Bobby Fuckin Valentine-led Red Sox taught us, when a team has a bunch of players performing well below expectations, the root cause of this problem might be the coaching staff.  And it looks like the Blue Jays have a mess at the top.

Manager John Gibbons, who looks perpetually drunk and out of touch, was Farrell'ed by the club in 2008 when they fired him and reached back dinosaurs and the Land of the Lost to bring back fucking Cito Gaston to be their manager.  After blaming their woes on John Farrell, the Blue Jays got rid of him and, shockingly, hired John Gibbons back.

After bring Gibbons back, they saddled him with a hitting coach, Chad Mottola, with no MLB experience coaching, and promoted last year's bullpen coach, Pete Walker to be their pitching coach -- and his only MLB coaching experience was spent answering the bullpen phone last year.  The Jays' old hitting coach was demoted to be their first base coach, so who knows if there's any resentment stewing there.

Toronto's version of "best team ever" sits 9.5 games back in the AL East and has the second worst record in the league, behind only the hapless Astros in that category.  It took the 2011 Red Sox until September to collapse, so all things considered, the fall of the Blue Jays right now is pretty epic.  If they continue playing like this, don't be shocked to hear that John Gibbons is fired in mid-July.  Maybe the Jays can bring Cito Gaston back again, because, well, I'm afraid that John Farrell will be occupied.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Quick observations after the first week of 2013

Well, look at what a difference it makes when an organization gets a manager who doesn't suck at life.  Going over .500 on a roadtrip is great at any point in the season, but going 4-2 on a season opening road trip after the way this Red Sox club has started the past couple of years, that's just cathartic.

And the Red Sox got on this roll when Jackie Bradley Jr. worked a walk against CC Sabathia in his first MLB plate appearance.  Ryan Sweeney, who the Sox cut to place JBJ on the team, wouldn't have worked that walk -- so I hope the debate of team control of a prospect over placing your best team on the field at all times is, finally, over.  If it isn't, just look at the Angels from last season: they brought up Mike Trout in May and got an extra year of control over him, but missed the playoffs.  If Trout was on the team in April -- especially given Pujols's early struggles -- they would have had a better chance of making the playoffs.

Major League Baseball is far removed from the days when each league had two division, those teams that won the division made the playoffs, and if you were too many games out by June then you could just call it a season.  With the expansion to two wild card teams, MLB has reached a point where every game actually does matter.  Therefore, teams that don't place their best team on the field at all times suffer -- just ask the 2012 Angels.  JBJ won a key match up against an ace and former Cy Young award winner, and even though it was the first game of the season, it matters and it is a big deal.

But I don't want to go overboard here, harping on the success the Sox have had thus far.  The Yankees lineup couldn't beat a prospect starting in the International League.  As for the reloaded Toronto Blue Jays, Jose Bautista is injured and RA Dickey hasn't been throwing his knuckleball well.  Besides facing Sabathia to begin the season, the only other real test the Sox have had was facing Andy Pettitte -- they failed that one.

And then there's John Lackey.  Lester and Buchholz look like dueling aces right now, Doubrant looks like he can provided decent starts, and Ryan Dempster is, well...  Yeah.  The Red Sox really need Lackey to step up to give the team four solid starters, but if he's going to face injury issues all season, then the Sox rotation consists of Lester going all year, Buchholz getting his yearly injury, Dourant being a back of the rotation guy, and two big question marks.

Given what we've seen so far, there's a lot to like with the Red Sox -- especially compared against the rest of the AL East.  But let's not get cocky yet.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Red Sox Press Release Monster Strikes Again (Updated)

Ahhh, sports journalism at its finest.

If PeteAbe has any opinions about the Red Sox that differ from whatever the team tells him to write in the Globe, tweet, or say on NESN, then I'm certainly unaware of it.  In the matter of Jackie Bradley Jr., a fan looking at this objectively would think that the logical reply to this Red Sox official's statement is "Why?"

At a very basic level, why would the team not want the best 25 men in the organization on its opening day roster?  Going a little farther, why would placing a talented prospect, who's ready to play in the big leagues, on a farm team be, in any way, good?  Is there a risk here of retarding a prospect's attitude when he plays as hard as JBJ has this spring training but Mike Carp is picked over him for a roster spot?

And, venturing into the realm of cognitive dissonance, for a team that has used its chosen mouthpieces in the press -- people like PeteAbe -- to say that they are changing the culture of the clubhouse, why wouldn't leaving one of the organization's best players off the 25 man roster effect the clubhouse culture?  This shows that the Red Sox front office is more concerned about making money rather than winning games.  If this is noticed by the players, how will it effect the attitude in the clubhouse?*

All of these are very reasonable queries that could open up some interesting discussions about the 2013 Red Sox.  But don't expect anyone in Boston's esteemed sports press corps to open up this conversation.  If they aren't just outright daft, then they're too busy making sure they don't say anything controversial since the team controls much of what they see in their paychecks.

* Afterthought - This situation isn't a hypothetical.  In Toronto, they demoted Ricky Romero -- and the $5 million he's going to make this season -- off to their High A farm team.  The example of the Dodgers not pinching every penny has been overused, but this Blue Jays move to essentially eat $5 million this season to keep a player who isn't good enough to play for the big club off the roster sends a message throughout the organization that they mean fucking business -- the objective is winning.  So if the Red Sox don't leave camp with Jackie Bradley Jr. heading for Fenway, what does that say?