Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Dombrowski In, Cherington Out

Less than two weeks after saying they weren't going to pursue hiring David Dombrowski, the Red Sox have hired Dombrowski as their new president of baseball operations.

The immediate impact of this hiring is that Ben Cherington is going to step down as general manager of the Sox. He was offered the chance to stay in the GM position by Dombrowski. But Cherington was never likely going to stay in what he (rightly) saw as a diminished role with Dombrowski coming on board.

This is the biggest front-office shake-up since Tito Francona and Theo Epstein left at the end of 2011. And with Cherington's eventual departure (he is staying to help in the transitional period) this marks the end of the Lucchino - Epstein Era in Boston (Cherington was heavily promoted by Lucchino and Epstein through the Boston ranks). With Dombrowski taking over, the possibility exists for massive change in the Boston organization.

Dombrowksi and John Henry have a history together. Dombrowski was GM of the Florida Marlins for a four-year period when Henry owned that franchise. So perhaps this signing isn't that surprising.

Dombrowski also has a reputation for making bold trades. He's the man who traded for Miguel Cabrera, David Price and Max Scherzer in Detroit. More recently, he's the guy who fleeced the Red Sox in the Rick Porcello trade. So the odds are likely that things will not remain the same in the Boston clubhouse over the next few months.

That likely will not extend to John Farrell. Despite back-to-back last place finishes (if things remain the same the rest of 2015), it would be bad form (and bad press) to can a manager who just started chemo for his cancer. You could also make the argument that Farrell has not been given the right players to have this team in contention. Health issues aside, I would guess that Farrell would still be given a season to prove he can win with Dombrowski running the show. I would guess that goes for his staff as well.

And just what will the Red Sox look like in 2016?

Here's the thing; everything is on the table. Dombrowski has no allegiance to any of these players. He didn't draft them or watch them come up through the ranks. He didn't trade for any of them. And that means that some players Red Sox fans consider untouchable may not actually be so.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Game Review: Out of the Park Baseball 16

I took control of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015, kicking Ruben Amaro, Jr. to the curb. The mandate from management? "Try to not suck."

By the spring of 2019, the Phillies had just finished winning back-to-back titles. Mission accomplished.

I took control of the San Diego Padres, kicking A.J. Preller to the curb. The mandate from management. "Try to not suck."

By the spring of 2022, the Padres had run off a string of five straight NL West titles and captured three World Series trophies. Mission accomplished.

Have you ever heard of the living legend Larry Townsend? He plays in the Four Counties League in Ireland for the Ennis Music. From Port Alfred Bagotville in Quebec, Canada, Townsend has won seven MVP awards in his 12-year career. The Music have brought home the championship eight times in the last 10 years.

This may be news to you since I created the Four Counties League and the Music, along with 15 other teams. I set up the rules and parameters, including how often foreign players became available through scouting, which is how L.T. came to be.

Three examples of what you can do with Out of the Park 16, the latest baseball management sim from Out of the Park Developments. This game is both deep and wide in what it brings to the table.

I am a big fan of sports management sims. To now my favorite has been Football Manager. But I think, for me, OOTP 16 surpasses it. Not only because it is a baseball sim, but because the versatility of the game allows you to indulge almost any baseball fantasy.

Want to take control of a franchise from it's inception to the modern day? You can do that. Want to do the same thing but allow for non-historical trades and signings so Babe Ruth stays on the Yankees? Or maybe have Ruth...and Ty Cobb...and Rogers Hornsby on the same team. Ladies and Gentlemen, your 1921 World Series Champion Boston Braves.

Or maybe you want to run a parallel league to the majors? You can do that. A small independent league situated only in Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas? You can do that. A massive international league that covers all of Europe? You can do that too.

OOTP 16 allows you to indulge almost any idea you want, small or large. You can do it as the general manager, controlling the high-level decisions, drafts and trades. Or you can be the manager, handling every in-game detail from lineups to whether you want your batter to bunt or swing away.

If there is one drawback it is that the learning curve can be a little steep. They have a good online manual you can access from the program but it still takes some trial-and-error to get comfortable. I also personally had problems with keeping a historical team from moving in a historical league, or replacing them with a different team. OOTP 16 would inevitably replace my custom team with the historical franchise when it moved. But that could have been me missing the how-to on avoiding that problem.

If you do play a historical league and allow for non-historical trades and player development, you can compare the player's career in your league to their actual historical performance.

For example, in my Boston Braves game, I signed a young man in 1914 by the name of Guy Morton from Vernon, CT. In real life he played for Cleveland. He had an average career, going 99-88 over 11 seasons.

In my game he is a monster. In 10 years he has a record of 204-126, a career WAR of 58.9 and looks like he isn't going to stop any time soon. It's just one more cool piece to a very fun game.

It is also customizable. I downloaded a mod that had MLB quality logos and uniforms for over 1000 potential teams. There are others that modify teams, rosters...anything you can think of. OOTP 16 allows you to alter existing ballparks or build new ones. You can fire and hire managers and staff for not only your team, but your minor league system. Jack up ticket prices, rename end-of-season award, give each player a nickname...if I listed every thing you could do to with this game I would be here for weeks.

In the end, OOTP 16 is just a lot of fun. Controlling a franchise, watching the seasons unfold, celebrating a division title and then crying as your star pitcher blows out his elbow before the World Series (it happens). You can download it for purchase directly from OOTP or on Steam. If you do download it on Steam, it will let you know how may hours you have played the game.

I am currently on hour 165.

I love this game.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Boston Needs to Ask Just One Question

Can the Red Sox leap over four other teams?

That is what this all boils down to as we approach the All-Star break. It's not about being 6.5 games out. It's about being in last.

If the Sox were in second place and 6.5 games out the calculus changes. You are only focused on one team. You have to outplay that one team and if you do, you are in good shape for the post-season.

But the Sox have to outplay the rest of the entire A.L. East. It's not about hoping the Yanks play .450 ball the rest of the year. It's that not only do the Yanks have to play .450 ball, but so do Tampa, Baltimore and Toronto. And the Sox can't play .500 ball. They have to, at a minimum, play .560 or better.

Does anyone believe that is possible with this team? True, over their last 15 games they are 10-5. But that is a statistical outlier over the course of this season. Boston has been a mediocre team at best in 2015 and nothing has happened to really change that.

I waited a long time before writing this because it was, frankly, becoming a chore to write the same story over and over and over again. Of untapped potential and short-circuited comebacks. The truth is this; the way this team is built is not conducive to Boston being competitive this year. And I would love to be wrong about this but I don't think I am.

There are some good things about this team. Bogaerts has broken out this year; he is arguably the best SS in the American League right now. His exclusion from the All-Star game is a joke. Mookie Betts has a WAR of 4.2 and is one of the best CF in the AL right now. Eduardo Rodriguez? One of the best rookie pitchers in the AL this year (5-2, 1.3 WAR). And don't forget Brock Holt, the super-utility player who has broken out this year and rightfully earned his first trip to the All-Star game.

It doesn't take a genius to recognize that one thing all these guys have in common is that they are young. The oldest is Holt at 27. And maybe that is where Boston's focus should be going into the second-half of 2015.

This isn't to say that the Sox should jettison every last veteran. Any 2016 team needs veteran leadership. Pedroia is going nowhere. Holt could be a good, young leader. But Boston has to start asking some tough questions with clear eyes.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Thoughts on the Sox and Yanks

I've decided I have no idea on what to make about Boston's rotation at this point.

I looked at Porcello in mid-May. He was 4-2 and had thrown four straight quality starts. I thought - and said - that he had turned a corner.

Well, he sure did. He just went in the wrong direction. He has since lost six straight starts and given up four or more runs in five of them. For the month of June he is 0-4 with a 6.20 ERA. Ugh.

Wade Miley looked cooked after giving up five earned runs against the Rangers at the end of May. But, aside from his debacle in Baltimore, he has won three of four starts in June. His ERA is a respectable 3.42 for the month of June and he currently has a winning record for the first time this year (7-6).

The cold, simple, truth is that there is no consistency to this rotation. Trying to guess what a pitcher will do from one start to the next is almost impossible. You'd have as much luck reading tea leaves or chicken bones as you would using statistics to determine what will happen over the next couple of months. Did you know Clay Buchholz hasn't given up more than four earned runs in a game since May 4th and has a 2.81 ERA for the month of June? I didn't, and it may not even matter since he could easily go out and stink it up for the next three or four games.

Consistency matters and right now Boston doesn't have it on the mound.

Batting, however, is a place where Boston may actually be finding their footing.

All year, Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts have produced for Boston despite what talk-radio may tell you. Bogaerts in particular; he has the best WAR for a shortstop in the AL as of this morning. The negativity sent his way on the radio baffles me, to be honest.

But now Mookie Betts is stepping up as well. His June splits are phenomenal (.375 BA / .412 OBP / 1.068 OPS). His monthly totals have improved each month, which is an encouraging sign as well. His 2.8 WAR is fourth for center fielders in the AL.

Betts is demonstrating growth at the plate, which is a good sign that his career arc at this point in his development is extremely positive. Many first and second-year players have a lot of trouble hitting in the majors but Betts is working through it.

Having a legit third producer in the lineup makes Boston's hitting better all-around. Add to it Brock Holt hitting the cover off the ball* and we may see a resurgence in Boston's production.

That hasn't been a problem in New York, where the Yankees continue to exceed pre-season expectations. And they got to celebrate A-Rod's 3,000th hit as well.