Friday, January 25, 2013

Highway 2011 Revisited

One thing that doesn't surprised me about Dan Shaughnessy's book on Terry Francona's years as the manager of the Red Sox is that it doesn't answer the question of why the 2011 collapse happened, and perhaps that's the point.  I doubt that Shaughnessy made a conscious effort to push this point across since, after trudging through what he likes to define as "writing", I'm surprised that Shaughnessy is literate. Regardless, we should keep in mind that the 2011 Red Sox collapse was part reality and part media creation.

It's undeniable that a collapse happened, just look at the standings from 2011 and the drama/torture porn surrounding the last games of the regular season.  And Shaughnessy, like everyone else, just throws a smattering of reasons against a wall for why this collapse happened without advancing beyond those arguments.  His book, essentially, is a rehash of those arguments and he never explores them.  Shaughnessy does get a few telling quotes simply due to the fact that he was in the right place at the right time, which I'll touch upon later.  

Getting back to the 2011 season, though, it's easy to point to all of the arguments presented and say "That's the reason!"  But we need to compare arguments against a control subject, which nobody really does.  I'm not quite sure how you can do it...  Get the same inside stories about, say, the Kansas City Royals clubhouse?  What would be a "neutral" team to compare the 2011 Red Sox to?  Does one exist?  I doubt it. 

So pointing out the supposed flaws of the 2011 Red Sox team in retrospect really doesn't answer any questions.  Indeed, saying that the 2011 squad lacked unity is easy to do now, but if the 2004 Band of Idiots ended up being swept by the Yankees in four games because the ump blew the call on Dave Roberts' steal, we all know what headlines would have filled the sports pages for the next decade: "RED SOX HAD A MIDGET IN THE CLUBHOUSE! THEY DID SHOTS OF JACK BEFORE THE GAMES! THIS TEAM WAS TOO LOOSE! TOO UNPROFESSIONAL!" and blah blah blah.  All the things that we love about The Idiots now and fondly remember them for, if one or two cruel twists of fate happened and they lost, then the media would have turned all of those positive aspects of the 2004 team into supposed flaws.  

It's good to keep that situation in mind when assessing the current state of the Red Sox, because it's easy to blow supposed team flaws out of proportion when, if one or two things went their way before the end of the regular season, they would have made the playoffs.  Of course, they probably would have lost in the ALDS, and much of the blame would be been placed on the starting rotation, but that would have been the extent of it.  The 2011 Red Sox wouldn't have become this epic shitshow of a story about the collapse, the horrors of chicken and beer, how the team was full of assholes, etc.  Of course, it doesn't help that the organization itself freaked out in 2012 and blew everything up. 

So, how do we measure what happened?  What factors played a role in eroding the quality of the Red Sox organization? 

As I previously mentioned, Shaughnessy stumbled upon a couple of things while interviewing Tito and Theo for his book.  He doesn't do much to explore these issues, he just reports everything that his interview subjects tell him and leaves every point they mentioned dangling there for a second before using a crappy segue to start another paragraph.  He's like an archivist who is lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, but is too daft to notice such before moving on.  

In my opinion, leading upto 2011 there were parts of this organization rotting from the core, with the rot creeping outward: 
  • Ownership's push for consistently increasing profits
  • Failures of the medical staff
Let's look at the medical staff, first.  This is the best quote that Shaughnessy got out of Tito: "Our medical was all fucked up.  There were more egos on the medical staff than there were on the team."  Tito goes on to note that Dr. Larry Ronan kept the medical staff together, saying "People don't know how many fires we put out there."  A couple of paragraphs beforehand, Shaughnessy detailed departures from the medical staff since 2004, including Head Trainer Paul Lessard at the end of 2009 -- a departure that Tito was none too happy with.  

Indeed, after Lessard left the Red Sox had an injury filled 2010 campaign, and in 2011 it looked like some of the pitchers gained weight as the season went on.  Physical conditioning suffered after Lessard left. 

Additionally, Shaughnessy rehashes how the medical staff fucked up their diagnosis of Jacoby Ellsbury's injuries in 2010, causing him to lose faith in the medical staff in 2010 and 2011.  More importantly for the 2011, though -- since the starting rotation was their biggest problem -- Tito admits that everyone on the team knew that Lackey's throwing arm was hurting due to his need for Tommy John surgery.  Yet nobody ordered Lackey to undergo such surgery before the season was over.

This pisses me off.  The fact that Lackey needed Tommy John surgery itself doesn't piss me off, but the fact that the Red Sox organization left him out there to make starts in that condition...  I mean, I thought the point of putting together a Red Sox team was to win games.  In the book, Tito makes to clear that he didn't feel empowered enough to pull Lackey from the rotation because everyone on the team was pulling for him.  To me, at that point, it says that ownership or the General Manager needs to step in, take the blame off the manager, and place Lackey on the disabled list to A) Get a healthy pitcher on the roster, and B) Not leave fans with a sour taste about Lackey in their mouths.  Bottom line is that this organization's field management, ownership and medical staff knew that Lackey needed surgery, and they left him out there to hang in the middle of a playoff race.  You can't blame Tito for that, you just can't.  How Sox ownership tried burying Tito at the end of the 2011 season, while leaving Lackey hanging out there injured during the season, is just despicable.

Worse than this was the fact that Carl Crawford was offered a contract after his physical.  Crawford was uncomfortable in his first season as a Red Sox player, and I suppose that is a matter of clubhouse culture which should be discussed.  But after 2011, Crawford become a walking injury.

When Pedro Martinez signed a deal with the Mets after helping the Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years in 2004, it was generally understood in Boston that Pedro's rotator cuff was so damaged that he was on the last legs of his career, so it was OK to let him walk.  That notion was mostly true.  Pedro became a walking injury for the Mets, but ended up pitching in game 2 of the World Series for the Phillies.  He'd lost his fastball, and he didn't do well in his final World Series game, but you know what?  Pedro was so good that he made it to that point without his fastball, and perhaps some people saw Pedro becoming that pitcher. It wasn't worth the money to wait for that conclusion, though.

I've veered off point.  That's Pedro's fault, because I don't want to disrespect him when I discuss his legacy as a pitcher.  But, getting back to the state of the Red Sox medical staff in 2004, they were the purveyors of the thought that Pedro would blow his arm out less than 4 years after 2004, therefore you couldn't sign him to a 4 year contract.  And you know what?  The Sox medical staff was mostly correctly, and they prevented the organization from signing a legend, future first ballot Hall of Famer, to a large contract that he wouldn't have fulfilled.  That takes balls.

What happened to those balls?  They were absent after Carl Crawford's physical, a matter that Shaughnessy doesn't make an effort to explore.  Because Shaughnessy sucks.  Between the departures on the Red Sox medical staff and Tito's comments about the egos on that staff, I would think that the Red Sox recent free agent signings and their physicals would be a matter of discussion.  Crawford succumbed to two injuries in 2012, but what about Adrian Gonzalez?  Adrian was head and shoulders above 99% of other Major Leaguers even without his homerun stroke, but he seems to have lost that swing after the 2011 all star break.  Why?  Shaughnessy, of course, never investigates that issue.  I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Gonzo had a mystery back injury...  Players try to hide their injuries, though.  Just look at Mike Napoli.  Seattle and Texas knew Napoli had an issue with his hips, but he tried slipping that by the Red Sox for a big contract before his physical ruined his chances for such a contract.

Honestly, I hope that the results of Napoli's physcal -- which kept the organization from signing an injury prone player to a large contract -- signals a turning point for the Red Sox medical staff.  However, the fact that Napoli was offered such a large contract in the first place means that the ownership monster is still alive and well.

Shaughnessy catches Theo blaming himself for this "Monster".  In the book, the "Monster" generally comes to signify the pressure that Henry, Werner and Lucchino bring upon - and continue to impress upon -- the Red Sox organization.  As Theo defines it:
"They told us we didn't have any marketable players, the team's not exciting enough," Epstein recalled.  "We need some sizzle.  We need some sexy guys.  I was laughing to myself.  Talk about the tail wagging the dog. This is like an absurdist cmedy.  We'd become too big.  It was the farthest thing removed from what we set out to be.
That type of shit contributed to the decision in the winter to go for more of a quick fix. Signing Crawford and trading for Adrian Gonzalez was in direct response to that in a lot of ways. Shame on me for giving in to it, but at some point the landscape is what it is.  I didn't handle it well, but that kind of explains the arc of what we were doing." 
This quote says a lot.  Let's tackle it from the inside out before getting to the heart of the matter.  In the context of Theo being tasked with building a winning team immediately, I think he did a great job.  Adrian Gonzalez should have been a game changing player, someone you shape your organization around -- in fact, that's how the Dodgers saw Gonzalez when they choose to take on Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett's contracts just to absorb Gonzo.  Despite our (misguided) impressions of him in Boston, Gonzo is still very well respected around baseball.  Don't be surprised if he has 40 homers next year, and the fact that he didn't have that kind of power with the Red Sox is the organization's fault for giving up on him too quickly.

However, Gonzo was going to be a free agent in the 2012 offseason, so why give up prospects to sign him in 2011?  The simple, and only answer, is because Theo felt Henry, Werner and Lucchino breathing down his neck.

Fact is that John Henry doesn't have a grip on reality.  Henry has been running the Red Sox like a publicly traded company, expecting the organization to increase its profits every year.  When NESN ratings dipped in 2010, Red Sox ownership cracked the whip and told Theo to make the team "more exciting".  Theo claims that he failed to fight against this notion, but the fact is that Theo didn't matter.  Theo would have been fired if he didn't sign Gonzo and Crawford, and he got fired because he did sign them.

Henry put Theo into a no-win situation because he had wholly unrealistic expectations of what the Red Sox were.  Henry should be proud of the fact hat he owned a baseball team that commanded over a decade of unadulterated profit growth, along with two World Series titles.  This is an extreme rarity for any baseball team, and eventually a team reaches peak popularity and must move back towards its natural median -- which is what we've been witnessing with a change in the feelings of the Red Sox fanbase.  That explains why NESN's ratings have been dipping.  We love the Sox, but let's face it -- Fenway will have less pink hats over the next decade.  I don't mind this, however, those pink hats paid the salaries of good free agents that came to Boston.  Where is that money going to come from now?

Henry, Werner and Lucchino treated the Red Sox like they were a publicly traded company, and you just can't do that with a baseball team.  The Red Sox avoided a state of flux for a generation, but if you look at baseball in other cities, you understand that their teams have good and bad years.  Their owners rake in profits some years, and have shity teams in other years.  That's life, and that's baseball.  Henry, et al., tried avoiding this reality -- and they were successful for a while.  But this attitude of treating the Red Sox like a publicly traded company went too far.  When they threatened Theo and Tito with their jobs if the Red Sox didn't just win, but win in an "exciting fashion", that's when peak popularity with the Red Sox fanbase was breached.

This isn't a reality show for NESN, this is a baseball team. There are ups and downs.

Between the growth-at-all-costs organizational ethos instituted by Red Sox ownership and the depletion of quality in the medical staff, Theo and Tito were placed in an impossible situation.  It just happened to explode in 2011, but it could have blown at any time.  Throughout the 2011 offseason, and during 2012, Red Sox ownership fed countless stories to Shaughnessy and other members of the media that undermined the players of the Red Sox, and that's shameful.  Shaughnessy won't report this in his book -- maybe because, and I'm purely speculating here, he hasn't had a real job in his life -- but when you work for an organization closely tied to the attitude of the owner, it effects the entire organization completely.  And if those owners have a shitty attitude, everything else becomes tainted with shit.  That's not the fault of the players, that's the fault of John Henry and his acolytes.

It's about time somebody wrote a book about the fall they should take.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hank Aaron & Economic Integration in the Deep South

Last year, Howard Bryant wrote a great piece for discussing the role that professional sports, particularly baseball and Hank Aaron, played in the Civil Rights movement.  Since today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, now is a great time to grab a coffee and revisit Byrant's piece.

Sometimes, I make fun of baseball for how it drapes itself in the pageantry of history.  Whenever baseball wants to say that they're performed a service for society, they start shouting "Jackie Robinson! Jackie Robinson! Jackie Robinson!" repeatedly until you just want them to shut up.  Bryant illustrates a different -- and, quite frankly, more productive -- view of Major League Baseball's influence on the Civil Rights movement by starting in 1963 with rumors that the Milwaukee Braves were going to move to Atlanta.

We hear about teams moving through the history of baseball: Boston Braves to Milwaukee, Baltimore Orioles to New York, St Louis Browns to Baltimore, Philadelphia Athletics to Kansas City, Washington Senators to Minnesota, etc.  So, when we remember that the Braves went from Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta, we don't think anything of it.  But notice how not one of the team moves I mentioned went to a Southern city?  I never thought about that until, in Byrant's piece, he brought up that, before the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta, the Deep South didn't have professional sports teams -- period.  You might be able to argue that the Houston Colt .45s (later Astros), formed in 1962, was the first professional sports team in the Deep South, but that was it.  Professional football wasn't there, ditto for basketball.

This forces us to remember the South that was during the beginning of the 1960s, when MLK marched on Washington for his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963.  America was changing, and Southern cities were faced with a choice to change or suffer from stagnation.  These days, we regard Atlanta as a world class city but back in the 1960s, you might be surprised at what cities Byrant points out that Atlanta was equal to:
"In Atlanta, we could've gone either way." [Said Andrew Young, Civil Rights leader and former Mayor of Atlanta.] "We had a choice to make: Did we want to be Birmingham, or did we want to be something different? In places like Little Rock, they tried to desegregate from the bottom up, starting with the schools. In Atlanta, we took a top-down approach. It was the business leaders, Coca-Cola especially, that decided that it would have been to our political and economic disadvantage to fight civil rights with fire hoses and dogs and more segregation, the way they did in Birmingham. Birmingham had the infrastructure to remain the region's economic powerhouse, but instead it became isolated. It was the symbol for our business community of what not to be. And it was the business and political leaders who believed that the one way to be a world-class city was to have sports teams."
Atlanta being equal to Birmingham, and Little Rock...  These seem like silly, silly notions today.  But that was the state of the world back at the beginning of the 1960s.  So, unlike countless other franchise moves from city to city, the Braves wanting to move from Milwaukee to Atlanta was a big deal.

Perhaps more importantly, though, was what the Braves' superstar outfielder thought of the move -- Hank Aaron.  A black man from the Deep South who didn't want to return there, but without him the franchise wouldn't be worth as much.

Anyways, I'll shut up because Howard Byrant's piece on how professional sports, and Hank Aaron choosing to go back to the Deep South, helped bring economic integration to the region, is better than my description of it.  Go read it.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Tyranny of Time

At an All-Star Game press conference three years ago [2003], Bonds said that he wasn't interested in catching Aaron as much as in passing Ruth. "I wiped him out. In the baseball world, everything is Babe Ruth right?" he said. "I got his slugging percentage and I'll take his home runs and that's it, don't talk about him no more."
I'm going to give Barry Bonds what he wants -- I'm going to equate him with Babe Ruth.  But Barry is not going to like it.

The argument that Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player who ever lived is undeniable.  He won 23 games with a 1.75 ERA in 1916, a year where he began his streak of 29 2/3 scoreless innings in the World Series with a 13 inning effort in game 2 against the Brooklyn Robins, propelling the Boston Red Sox to a 2-1 victory and a 2-0 lead in a World Series that Boston won a few days later.  And you thought that 10 innings from Jack Morris was an accomplishment, pshaw. Whitey Ford eventually broke Babe Ruth's scoreless innings record in 1961, in the same season where Babe Ruth's regular season home runs record of 60 was broken by Roger Maris.  No other player in history will ever be able to say that they carried notable records as a pitcher and batter for decades.

Had he remained on the mound, Babe Ruth probably would have been enshrined in Cooperstown as a pitcher.  Instead, he merely changed baseball and molded it into the offensive-laden game that we witness now.  To this day, we're still playing Babe Ruth's brand of baseball.

To understand Babe Ruth, though, you have to understand the time period when Ruth played.  In 1920, after the Yankees bought Ruth from the Red Sox, they converted him to an outfielder and he hit 54 home runs.  That was unheard of.  In 1921, he hit 59 homers.  Ruth had over 40 homers in 1923, 24 and 26 before hammering 60 home runs in 1927.  During a decade of Ruth's rampage against American League pitching, the post-war American economy recovered through the spread of electricity in cities, increased industrial production, and the introduction of automobiles, radio and motion pictures.

It was the Roaring Twenties and anything seemed possible.  Society and the notion of "modernity" changed rapidly, and Babe Ruth, amazingly, kept pace with the changing world.  Because of The Babe, the changes in baseball kept pace with the changes in society.

In this context, what we need to understand most about Babe Ruth is that he ceased being a person -- he became a metaphor.  A legend.  "The Roaring Twenties" and "Babe Ruth" are both synonymous with explosive progress, intractably intertwined into the American psyche.  Babe Ruth isn't the greatest baseball player ever simply because of his accomplishments on the field, but because of when achieved them.

To give you a sense of Babe Ruth's accomplishments, tell me how many home runs he hit.  Now recall from memory, immediately, how many home runs Barry Bonds hit.  Go ahead, I'm waiting.

Barry Bonds hit more home runs, but nobody gives a shit.  We know this is a fact, but we should ask why this is a fact.  That question would bring us to observe the current state of society.  We're not living in the Roaring Twenties anymore, and I don't think Barry Bonds wants to become the equivalent of Babe Ruth in the times that we live in now.  Not if Barry is smart.

It's really a shame that Barry Bonds had to become a steroids addict.  Before 1999, which is commonly agreed upon as the first year where steroids effected his stats, Bonds had a .273 batting average with 411 home runs and 437 stolen bases.  His batting average and home runs alone wouldn't have gotten him into the Hall of Fame, but those stolen bases really seal the deal.  Bonds was the complete player: Power, speed and defense.  This was a run creating machine.  In 12 seasons, beyond those 411 home runs and 437 steals, Bonds won 3 MVP awards and 8 Gold Gloves.  He was 33 in 1998, all he needed to do was play another 5 seasons averaging 20 homers and 20 stolen bases a season and he would have been a first ballot lock for Cooperstown.  He would have been remembered as one of the best players who ever played baseball.

Instead, Bonds took steroids and hit an unbelievable 292 home runs over the next 6 seasons, 1999 - 2004.  An average of 48.67 homers per season, and before 1999 his previous career high was 46 home runs in 1993.

The irony is that Bonds inflated his baseball statistics at the same time the American economy was being also being inflated to unrealistic proportions.  For the sake of brevity, the avoidance of politics, and the assumption that we're all well versed regarding the current state of our society, I won't expound too much on the American economy right now.  Just a couple of paragraphs.

Sticking to the facts, between Bonds' steroid years of 1999 - 2007, the American economy suffered the Dot Com Bust in 2001, then it rose on the Real Estate Bubble which was created and fed by large investment banks creating bonds out of bad mortgages (collateralized debt objects), which were "insured" by worthless credit default swaps sold by AIG.  Shortly after Bonds retired, all of this mortgage debt blew up in our faces and, without massive government bailouts, it almost knocked not just the American economy, but the whole global economy, into a depression.  We don't state such right now, but decades from now, history will likely view this as a complete failure of the capitalist system, because, well... It was.

Observing the state of the world outside of America since 2008 and the bailouts, the news gets worse.  The economy of Greece fell apart.  The European Union, and euro currency, teeter on the edge of a cliff.  Massive unemployment and lack of opportunity among young adults in the Arab world prompted the Arab Spring, causing the governments of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia to fall.  The protests in Egypt in Tunisia were benign compared to the civil war that Libya experienced; and the bloody civil war in Syria trudges into its second year unabated.  Meanwhile, back in America, the Real Estate bust has given way to the realization that our economic growth is stalling because we've saddled the latest generation with massive amounts of debt -- credit cards and student loans -- that they needed to amass just to get by.  During this time, China has turned to the Western world and said, "Hey? See our explosive economic growth?  Yeah, that's right, go FUCK yourselves."

It's difficult to condense the world we're living in right now into a temporal era without the benefit of retrospect that we won't experience until, at least, three to four decades from now.  But exactly how do you think future historians will classify the times we live in now, as happy fun time?  Hell no.  This, most definitely, isn't the Roaring Twenties.  Far from it.

So, the question that Barry Bonds wants to ask himself -- if he had two brain cells to rub together -- is if he really wants to become the face of baseball for this period of our country's history.  Babe Ruth became a metaphor because he represented a time period of unprecedented growth.  Does Bonds really want to risk becoming a metaphor for this time period?  This as of yet unnamed era of history that, surely, will not be remembered in the most grandiose of terms?  Does Bonds really want this to be his legacy?  Because if Bonds wants to be a Ruthian figure, he needs to understand that he'll be married to the era in which he lived.

Or does Barry want to apologize for his actions?

The choice is his alone to make.  For his talent and accomplishments as a player before 1999, Barry Bonds should be a lock for the Hall of Fame despite his nasty steroid habit.  But that's just not good enough anymore.  Bonds is not a normal player, and he should not be judged by normal standards.  Bonds wanted to be equated with Babe Ruth and -- congratulations! -- he accomplished his goal in the most grotesque manner possible.

If Bonds becomes a metaphor for America's hang over from the glory days, then I don't see how he deserves the honor of being in the Hall of Fame when he represents the antonym of fame: Infamy.  It was his choice to represent this ethos, and he'll need to suffer the consequences of his actions unless he repents and gives the fans he swindled an apology.  Only then could we consider bestowing the honor of fame upon him.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Final thoughts on the Napoli saga

The conclusion of The Mike Napoli Contract Saga leaves a plethora of compelling story lines for any narrative that suits your fancy. 

If you think it's prudent to get players on the cheap, then Ben Cherington might look like a genius to you right now.  If you think the Red Sox didn't go for the best player, then dicking around with Napoli negotiations for almost seven weeks while all other options on the market dwindled away might cause you to scream.  

If you like Napoli's power numbers at Fenway and against left handed pitchers, then you'll love to see him slotted for cleanup behind Ortiz.  If you're looking for a more durable option to play first base, then contract negotiations centered around Napoli's hip is unsettling (to say the least).  

Since Napoli wasn't given a qualifying offer by the Texas Rangers, you might think that team's front office are either a bunch of idiots for not placing themselves in line to get a compensation draft pick from the Red Sox, or pretty smart for not taking the risk of Napoli accepting the qualifying offer.  And if you want the Red Sox to keep all of their draft picks, then signing Napoli looks like a shrewd move. 

No matter.  Like it or not, we're all stuck with Napoli for a season now.  You'll cheer for him, I'll cheer for him, and we all hope that we won't need to cringe. 

I'll credit the Red Sox Medical Staff for finally halting a potentially horrible contract.  After shuffling Carl Crawford onto the team right before he became a walking injury, and seeing all of the injuries suffered by Sox players last season, it reminded me that this organization is a long time removed from the 2004.  One reason why the 2004 Red Sox were so strong is because not one starting pitcher missed a start because of a trip to the DL.  Between that and fixing Schilling's ankle on the fly so he could pitch in the ALCS and World Series, you had to wonder if the Sox doctors were blessed by the patron saint of fucking awesome.  I'm not sure what happened to the docs since 2004 and 2012, but hopefully their examination of Napoli -- and how it saved the Sox from potentially losing tens of millions of dollars by investing in him -- signals an about face for this troubled unit of the organization. 

Anyways, everyone who's followed my tweets and this blog knows the narrative I've used for Mike Napoli, and it hasn't been the most positive one.  I'm just going to toss out a few more thoughts on the topic before moving onto bigger, better, more interesting things. 
  • Despite not giving Napoli a qualifying offer, Texas still gave Napoli a free agent contract offer that he turned down to sign with the Red Sox.  That contract as for more guaranteed money, too, but the Sox had a position for Napoli to fill whereas Texas was committed to a first baseman and catcher.  However, before Napoli signed with the Sox, Texas still had an opening at DH -- but they signed Lance Berkman to fill that for $10 million a year.  This is an interesting move, because Berkman is in his late 30's and, in 2012, he had a season that makes old players seem like they're finished: Berkman was on the DL four times before the end of the regular season, and he was too banged up to play postseason games for St. Louis.  Now, a qualifying offer to Napoli would have cost the Rangers $13.3 million for a season.  So, instead of signing Napoli for $13.3 million, they signed a banged up 36 year old journeyman who was on the DL last year for $3.3 million less.  If Texas wasn't willing to pay just $3.3 million more to make Napoli a qualifying offer -- and even setting themselves up to get a draft pick if he signed elsewhere -- then just how much of an injury risk is Napoli? 
  • Seattle made a trade with the Nationals for Michael Morse.  Looking at the cheap price tag for Napoli, the Mariners decided that it was a safer bet to trade away a couple of pitching prospects for a first baseman they only control for a year instead of signing Napoli for, say, $7 million a year with incentives. 
  • For anyone keeping count, the number burned prospects/draft picks for not signing Napoli stands at three, between two franchises. 
  • Let's not forget that ridiculous contract money flew around baseball this offseason.  Youk, Brandon League, Shane Victorino and others all had crazy paydays.  Teams are using the new revenues they are receiving from upgraded television deals, everyone in baseball is richer, and it even looked like Mike Napoli was about to cash in -- but he only walked away with a guaranteed $5 million.  Everyone else thought Napoli was too risky.  That makes a statement, and not a good statement. 
  • If anyone is wondering what happens to a hitter's power when his hips are injured, see these pretty before and after GIFs of A-Rod.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In defense of Gonzo, I don't know why he needs to be defended

Time to play everyone's favorite game of "NAME THAT PLAYER!"  Ready?

In 2012, this player had a batting average of .392 with base runners in scoring position.  Within the bounds of RISP, his stats get better: .434 OBP, 1.083 OPS, .413 batting average on balls in play.  Not bad.  For his position, he was ranked 4th in the AL for RBIs while batting a clean .300.  Sounds like the kind of player you would want with a runner on second, right? 

Well, these are the kind of players that some Red Sox fans and the Boston media run out of town, because both parties are certifiably out of their fucking minds. 

Those stats belong to Adrian Gonzalez.  Gonzo gave the Red Sox 86 RBI last season before getting unceremonious shipped off to LA.  That ranks fourth out of all the first baseman in the American League, a feat that's more impressive considering that three players higher than Gonzo played a full season for their respective teams. 

I know what you're mentally screaming at me right now: "WHERE'S THE POWER?! HUH?! WHAT HAPPENED TO GONZO'S MOTHERFUCKER HOMAHS?! CHRIST, HE SUCKED!"  Well, Gonzo hit 15 homers before the trade, had 27 in 2011; and he hit 40 in 2009.  Given that the ceiling on his potential was sky high, and he was batting in runs for the Red Sox on level with the other top performers at his position before meeting his potential, I'm still wondering what everyone's fucking problem was with this guy. 

Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster are great prospects, but they are still only that -- prospects.  Adrian Gonzalez proved that he could rake at potentially HOF levels in The Show.  Gonzo wasn't a prospect, he was a proven commodity.  Anybody who says otherwise doesn't know what the fuck they are talking about. 

So Ben better hope that De La Rosa and Webster pan out. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Many (Potential) Injuries of Mike Napoli

I've made a conscious effort to not make the primary topic of this blog "How Much I Want To Cockpunch the Mike Napoli Deal", but some news items I just can't ignore.  This info about Napoli's hip is one of those items:
A major league source said this about Mike Napoli’s hip condition: “It’s one of those things where it could go anytime or five years from now. Nobody really knows..."
To fully digest this news, let's go over a brief history of Napoli being a walking, talking injury:

  • 2003 - He injured his right shoulder in the minors.
  • 2007 -  Two injuries this year, as Napoli sprained his ankle before straining his hamstring.
  • 2008 - Napoli had shoulder issues, not sure if it's related to 2003 but I'm gonna take a wild guess and say yes, it is.
  • 2012 - Napoli's hamstring acted up again. This injury occurred after he played full time and injury free in 2011, but he broke down in August.

So, before hearing about Napoli's hip issues, we already knew that he had recurring issues with his hamstring and shoulder.  Napoli's hip hasn't even caused him to go on the disabled list during his career, yet the potential for his hip to "go at anytime" is what's holding up his contract talks.  We're looking at a player who has three big injury issues that would cause him to lose a significant amount of playing time.

As far as I know, Michael Morse on the Nationals had lower back issues at the beginning of last season, but that's the only injury that has nagged him during his whole career.

Why, again, is Napoli supposedly the best option out there?  Because of his overrated statistics at Fenway Park, which no one has mentioned that poor Red Sox pitching may have caused?  Because of his high OPS, since the Sox want to pay millions more to a guy that has 18 more walks than Salty last year while posting the same power numbers?

What happens if any of Napoli's injury issues flair up in April?  Or Spring Training?  And if the Sox are looking at a hole at first base that just cost them $11-12 million in 2013?  What happens then?

There's a reason why Texas didn't give Napoli a competing offer so they could be awarded a draft pick when Napoli signed with another team -- they were afraid that Napoli would take that competing offer. Then they would be stuck with him.  Indeed, given how contract negotiations with the Sox have gone, Napoli probably would have accepted a competing offer from Texas by now if they had placed one on the table.  And it's not like Texas doesn't need power in their lineup, after letting Hamilton walk.  But Texas considered even one more year with Mike Napoli to be too risky.  If that doesn't make a statement about Napoli, than I don't know what will.

Red Sox need to step away from Napoli and focus on acquiring Michael Morse, if they want to make a splash in the headlines; or use Mauro Gomez.  Hell, Gomez is a better option than Napoli at this point, because you can't depend on a player this risky.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Overrated Roidhead or HOFer, I decide: Sammy Sosa

Sammy Sosa broke into the big leagues in 1989 as a 20 year old, and he didn't look like a slugger.

Judging from that photo, Sosa was destined to be a speedy outfielder type of player who provided a little pop at the plate, but when he was with the Cubs in in 1993, he hit 33 homeruns -- topping his career best 15 homers for the White Sox in 1990.  Then in 1996, Sosa hit 40 homeruns; following that up with 36 in 1997.  

Then, in 1998, he exploded: 66 HR, 63 HR in '99, 50 in 2000, 64 in 2001...  Just unbelievable power numbers that came out of nowhere.  We all know now that Sosa hit the 'roids, of course.  Players like Canseco and McGwire were always big, though, so it's worth comparing the size of Sosa's arms in the above photo to this one to remind ourselves of the extent of how much some players juiced: 

The dude fucking quintupled the size of his arms.  That shit's just ridiculous.  So how do we determine if this roid beast belongs in Hall of Fame? 

All Sammy Sosa has going for his HOF credentials are his homeruns: 609 for his career.  Some members of the 500 Homerun Club aren't going to be allowed in Cooperstown, but how can someone who hit over 600 homers be shutout?  

Sosa's game was one dimensional, though.  He ended his career with a .273 batting average.  Until he bulked up, he wasn't a gargantuan force at the plate, just an outfielder with 30+ homer power.  There are plenty of MLB players like that throughout history, and they don't deserve enshrinement in the Hall.  So how many homers would Sosa have hit without juicing up?

I'll be generous and put the line of demarcation at 1998, even though Sosa hit 40 homers in 1996.  From 1990 - 97, Sosa had six seasons with over 425 AB.  He hit 185 homeruns over these seasons, and that averages out to 31 per season.  Then, from 1998 - 2004, Sosa hit 367 homers, averaging an eyepopping 52 homers per season.  Replacing the juiced average with Sosa's for his natural power over those 7 seasons, 31 * 7 = 217.  367 - 217 leaves us with a difference of 150 homers that we can remove from Sosa's career total to see how many he would have without the help of steroids.

609 - 150 = 459. 

Knocking down Sosa's career average to .260, that leaves us with a career .260s hitter with 459 homeruns. That's a pretty good career, but it won't get you into the Hall of Fame under normal circumstances.  Unfortunately, we're gonna hear about Sosa for the next 14 years, so grab your barf buckets and hold on tight. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How to tell if a Roidhead is a Hall of Famer

If there's one thing professional, very serious baseball writers do best, it's throw hissy fits when shit just doesn't go their way.  So when the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot came up for debate, all these morons did was bitch and moan about how steroids ruined the previous era of baseball -- which stands in stark contrast to their willingness to take money to glorify baseball and ignore steroids during the mid-90s -- and instead of developing some sort of system to judge suspected cheaters, they just continued to piss and moan.

Since baseball writers have never actually created anything, this doesn't surprise me.

This problem is relatively easy to solve.  Use HOF standards of yesteryear and find a way to adjust the numbers of suspected PED users to see if they would have made it to the Hallf regardless of drugs.  Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, under those standards, would be (and perhaps should have been), first ballot candidates.  But what about Mark McGwire?

McGwire was always a power threat, slugging 49 homers in his rookie season, but his numbers really exploded in the mid-90s, and he ended up with 583 homeruns and a .263 average.  Let's assume he started 'roiding up in 1995.  Before 1995, when you take the homerun totals from McGwire's season when he had over 450 at-bats, that's six seasons and an average of 36 homeruns.  Then let's assume that from his peak period, 1995 - 1999, he hit 36 homeruns during each of those seasons because that's fair.  McGwire hit 284 homers in that 5 year time span, but since 36 * 5 = 180, let's say he shoulc have hit 180 homers.  284 - 180 = 104, so let's remove 104 homers from his career mark.

That would give McGwire just 479 homeruns over his career.  His career batting average would probably dip below .250, too.

Would you put a .250 hitter with 479 homeruns in the Hall of Fame?  Of course not.  Therefore, McGwire shouldn't be considered worthy of enshirement since the only reason he has HOF-worthy numbers are because of steroids.

There, we have a formula to determine what candidates are worthy. Wasn't that fucking easy?  Now maybe the professional baseball writers can stop bitching, get over their smug satisfaction over their perceptions of their own intelligence, and fucking do something for once.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Could there really be no toMauro?

With a picture of Mike Napoli's contract populating milk cartons across New England, it looks like the Red Sox are trying to expand the options they have at first base.  And the team must think that they have cast a broad net in their search, since they flew down to Venezuela to watch Bobby Abreu work out and take some grounders at first base.  Looking at Abreu's stats, it appears that he's never played a game at first base in his entire career.

That's "never" as in "never, ever", "never, ever ever" and "No really, Ben, why the fuck are you looking at outfielders to play first base?"

Especially an outfielder who will be 39 at the beginning of the 2013 season and is showing the obvious signs of decline. Don't get me wrong, Bobby Abreu has had a get career, amassing almost 300 homers and 400 steals while being incredibly durable.  From 1999 - 2010, Abreu's plate appearances didn't dip below 600 per season.  In 2011, he still had 585 plate appearances and 20 steals.  That's pretty good for an outfielder who was then 37 years old.  But last season, at 38, Abreu had just 257 plate appearances with a .242 BA and 6 steals.  With an OBP of .350, Abreu can still draw a walk, but he's going to be 39 and he's never played at first base.  I don't see how Abreu could be an option, beyond pinch hitting and replacing him with a pinch runner when he gets on.

All of this makes me wonder about the in-house option for the Red Sox, Mauro Gomez.  The Sox must not think much of Mauro if they think they are reduced to considering aging veterans like Bobby Abreu an option.  But why?

Much of my following analysis of Mauro Gomez was published this past October, so I'll be repeating myself a bit.  But since all options are on the table if Abreu is being considered as even a slight possibility, then let's consider all options.

Mauro's career cuts a strange path, starting as a Dominican player who wasn't drafted and started playing in Texas's farm system in 2004, when he was 19.  He spent 6 seasons in the Texas system and never rose above high A ball.  In fact, Mauro never even played over 100 games in a season until 2007, playing A ball in Clinton, where he hit 21 homeruns.  That earned Mauro a promotion to play High A ball in Bakersfield, where he had a disappointing 2008 (80 games, 8 homers).  Spending the next season in Bakersfield, Mauro turned things around by playing 124 games, and hitting .285 with 28 homers.

But Mauro was 24, mastering A ball and facing pitchers who were 3-5 years younger than him.  I don't know if Mauro had a history of injuries that stunted his development, but after spending 6 years in the Texas system, they sent him to Atlanta instead of promoting him to AA ball.

Texas may have made the wrong bet, because 2008 was the start of a great minor league career for Mauro. His games and plate appearance totals while playing in the Red Sox and Braves' systems show a player who hasn't been hindered by injuries, and 48 homeruns between 2011-12 in 893 at-bats at AAA ball shows some pop in his bat.  Mauro's batting average -- hence, how well he sees the ball when hitting, for all of the Sabermetcians reading and scoffing -- has improved at each level of his stay in the minors, too.  In High A, he hit .267; in AA, he hit .281; and at AAA, he hit .307. Mauro's improved ability to see the ball, get on base and hit for power are also reflected in the decrease of he K:AB ratio.  In 2011, Mauro struck out once every 3.86 at-bats; but he improved that to 4.39 at-bats in Pawtucket last season.

At AAA Gwinnett in 2011, Mauro hit 24 homeruns in in 506 at-bats.  At Pawtucket in 2012, he hit 24 homeruns in 387 at-bats.

There's a lot to consider here.  The knocks against Mauro is that prospects are expected to have conquered the AA and AAA levels of minor league ball by 23-24 years old if they are to be considered Major League ready with star potential, but Mauro was still playing in A ball when he was 24.  That's a red flag, but that said, there's a huge difference between the quality of pitching at the A and AAA levels, since A ball is where prospects are learning how to pitch, and AAA is like a quasi-senior circuit where batters see a lot of Major League players in the latter stages of their career, mixed in with prospects and other Major Leaguers who are playing rehab games to recover from injuries.  It's certainly not at the level of pitching regularly seen in MLB, but when a batter hits .310 with a .370 OBP and 24 homers in 387 at-bats against this level of pitching, then it's hard to say that they are not Major League ready with some potential to be in impact player.

Of course, Mauro did all of this when he was 27 years old, and some would say this makes him a "Four A" player.  Instead of having some impact at the MLB level, Mauro could be just another Izzy Alcantra-type of player who slams minor league competition but fizzles when he's in The Show.  I'm going with my gut feeling here, but I don't see Mauro as being this type of player -- I lean towards thinking he would become a good player for the Red Sox next season.  But is it a crapshoot?  Just a guess?  I hate to not sound confident but, uhm, kinda.

I'm confident, though, that placing a bet on Mauro Gomez would be safer than betting on Bobby Abreu.  That's an easy bet to make, though.  The real questions we want to ask is if Mauro is a player that we want over Mike Napoli or Adam LaRoche.

I laid my chips down in October, when I supported giving Mauro the starting job over getting a free agent like Mike Napoli.  I haven't been shy about my distaste for spending money to bring Napoli here.  That said, if  the Sox could sign Napoli for one year, $8 million, then great -- sign me up for the Napoli bandwagon at that point.  The Sox would be getting an often injured player with potential to hit for a lot of power at Fenway, and if an injury found him again (as they often seem to), then Mauro can come off the bench and play first until he returns.

But the Napoli contract mess has become a shitshow.  Napoli wants three years and nearly $40 million, and honestly, I can't fathom why a 31 year old, often injured, mostly part-time player with only one really good season under his belt is worth that much.  That's why I don't want Napoli in Boston.

That leaves us Adam LaRoche or Mauro Gomez.  As a player, LaRoche is a better option than Napoli or Gomez.  LaRoche has been a durable player providing power and a steady glove at first base, and giving him a deal similar to what Napoli was offered should be considered a no-brainer given the expense of free agents in today's market -- except, of course, signing LaRoche means giving up a second round draft pick.

So, what do you do?  If you think you're going to make a playoff run, then you get the best player out there and that's Adam LaRoche.  But if you're going to have a bridge season and want to keep the draft pick, then taking a risk with Mauro Gomez makes more sense unless you can acquire a better option via trade.   Given all of the expendable players on the Red Sox roster right now, I'm still expecting the trad rumors to start.

Personally, looking at Mauro's track record of constant improvement as a player since 2008, I think he's a safe bet to place at first base.  But the problem for the Red Sox is that first base has become the bellwether position that fans will look at to see if the Sox are making a serious attempt to win games in 2013.  Since Ben has committed the club to spend money and bring a power bat to first base, he's painting himself into a corner.

Unfortunately, first base is also a double-edged sword -- it serves as a bellwether before the season, but as a metaphor during and after the season.  When Adrian Gonzalez was signed in the winter of 2010, every Red Sox fan wanted to purchased 2011 World Series tickets in advance.  When Gonzalez was traded in the summer of 2012, the weight of the club's failures were placed squarely on his shoulders.

Maybe the Sox front office actually does see Mauro Gomez as a viable option in 2013.  Despite all of the PR they've pumped out through their usual mouthpieces in the Boston media about Mauro being low on the depth chart, they haven't booted him off the 40 man roster despite making a number of transactions that required roster moves.  But Mauro's biggest barrier to becoming the Red Sox starting first baseman isn't dependent on the quality of player he is, but the philosophical value of the first base position to this organization.

Still, let's not get crazy and place Bobby Abreu at first.  If the Sox options are whittled to that, then Mauro has to get the nod.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Revisiting Jack Morris

I've mentioned before that Jack Morris belongs in the "Dwight Evans" class of players -- they were excellent and very dependable ball players.  They excelled above the standards of what, with today's players, constitutes an "all star" but not somebody who should be considered a future Hall of Famer; like Torii Hunter.  And you don't want to insult the careers of the Dwight Evans and Jack Morris's of the world, but when considering their Hall of Fame candidacy... Well, you have to let the criticisms fly at that point.

For Jack Morris right now, that means his stats must be scrutinized.  To be fair, I'm not going to compare Jack Morris to a first ballot legend like Nolan Ryan.  Instead, let's look at how Jack Morris stacks up against Bert Blyleven, another borderline pitcher who spent over a decade on the HOF ballot before being inducted.  Blyleven pitched 24 seasons during the same era that Jack Morris pitched 18 seasons, which partially explains why Blyleven has 3701 career strikeouts compared to Morris's 2478 career Ks.  But Blyleven was dominant in most other areas, too.  Take a look at these stats:

Seasons with an ERA over 4.00:
Morris - 8
Blyleven - 4

Seasons with over 100 earned runs:
Morris - 8
Blyleven - 4

Seasons with an ERA under 3.00:
Morris - 0
Blyleven - 9

Taking into account the entire careers of each pitcher, including their latter years when they were old and kinda stunk, Blyleven's was more consistent.  Even given the fact that he played six more seasons than Morris, Blyleven still had less seasons with an ERA over 4.00 and earned runs above 100. 

That's what the stats of an ace, top of the rotation pitcher looks like -- and that's why Blyleven was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame.  He deserved it.

If Blyleven was a borderline candidate, than I don't see how Jack Morris can even be considered a Hall of Famer at this point.  These stats go beyond Morris's 3.90 career ERA, which would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall if he's inducted.  Morris was a great pitcher for almost two decades, but he wasn't an ace.  He doesn't belong in the Hall.

Update: From the (lack of) page views received by posts where the topic is Jack Morris, I can tell nobody cares.  But since this is my blog and I don't give a fuck, I'll drone on some more.  I kinda have to after what Muarry Chass wrote to defend his HOF ballot, where he only voted for Jack Morris.
I know the stats zealots don’t think Morris is a Hall of Famer because his rankings in their new-fangled ratings fall below their standards. 
I stuck to old school stats and compared Morris with a borderline candidate who made it into the Hall, and Morris just didn't make the cut.  But Chass's reasoning continues to get worse:
But they don‘t have a formula for intestinal fortitude or determination.
Johnny Damon hit a grand slam in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, helping propel the Red Sox, from 3 games down, past the Yankees and into the World Series.  That takes "intestinal fortitude", right?  Fucking first ballot HOFer right there. Last season, all 5 feet and 6 inches of Daniel Nava grinded out an at-bat against Cy Young/MVP/King of the fucking World Justin Verlander, taking fastball after fastball until dumping one 100mph offering into the opposite field for an RBI single, chasing Verlander from the game and pinning him with a loss.  Intestinal fortitude!  Hallf of Fame right there!

Or, you know, not.

Then Chass gets to the heart of his argument for Morris, that game.  That 10 inning game: "Morris willed the Minnesota Twins to win Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, refusing to leave as long as the game was scoreless..." and blah blah blah for another six paragraphs.

Yes, the game Morris pitched was legendary.  But: 1) One game doesn't make for a whole career, and 2) If critical games like this mattered more than a whole career, why didn't Chass vote for Curt Schilling?  The man who one-upped Morris by pitching 7 innings on a bleeding ankle.  When Schilling got up that morning, he couldn't walk.  He had surgery before the game just to be able to push off the mound.  Say what you want about Morris, but he was 100% healthy when he pitched his legendary game.

None of Chass's arguments make sense.  But he gets payed the big bucks and I'm just joe-schome fan, so what do I know?