Monday, July 20, 2009

A Tale Of Three Pitchers...And No Hitters

Over the weekend, as the Sox dropped two of three to the Jays and saw their AL East lead sliced to a single game, we watched three pitchers linked together by trade rumors.

Friday night marked the return of Clay Buchholz to the major leagues. In his first appearance for the Sox since August 20, 2008 (a horrific 2.1 inning, five run outing against Baltimore) Buchholz showed some of the stuff he's been dealing out to batters in Triple-A. He stuck out three and allowed just one run on four hits over 5.2 innings in a 4-1 win. It was a strong outing for Buchholz, though not without it's warning lights.

The Beth Take

On the positive side, Buchholz threw a lot of strikes (roughly 66% of all pitches, 71% of first pitches). He was mixing in his curve and breaking ball with his fastball, and was willing to use any of them at any point in the count.

On the downside, Buchholz is still showing some signs of letting his emotions get the better of him. On more than one occasion, if he lost the count on a batter you would see him curse. Or take off his hat and wipe his brow. Or his shoulders would slump a little. It was as if anything that was less than perfect was unacceptable to Clay.`

Buchholz needs to accept the fact that no-hitters don't come every day, if at all (just ask Pedro). He needs to approach each batter as a separate event and not let one bad pitch break his concentration. That is going to be his biggest hurdle to overcome in reaching the majors. God knows he has the talent. But until Buchholz gets his head straight, that won't matter.

Then on Saturday it was Brad Penny. After watching the game my first thought was "Man, Penny looked tired." My second thought was "Maybe Buchholz shouldn't head back to Triple-A quite yet."

Penny looked ineffective, something we haven't really seen from him since April. He did okay in finding the strike zone (59% of pitches for strikes) but he could get anything by the batters. Of all the strikes he threw, exactly one of them was a swinging strike; the strike to end the fifth when Overbay struck out. Of course, by then the Jays were on top 6-1 and the game was all but over.

Penny's bottom line was 5.0 innings, eight hits and six runs. Not a good outing, and not good for the team if they are considering using Penny as trade bait. As a non-related good thing to come from that game, Justin Masterson threw two innings and gave up no runs and no hits. Good job by Justin and hopefully a sign he is getting back on track.

And so we come to Sunday, or as I call it "The Day Roy Halladay Finally Decided To Get His Shit Together." Since returning from surgery, Halladay has looked, to be frank, bad. He was giving up runs, losing two of his three last starts and struggling to some degree. Hell, Aviv and I wrote separate pieces on why we didn't want our teams trading for Halladay.

And then he goes and pulls this performance out of his hat. Halladay threw a complete game six hitter, giving up just one run and striking out seven. It was the kind of game he was throwing before his injury. And it's going to stir up a whole lot of trade talk. He made Lester look bad yesterday...and Lester didn't throw a bad game! Lester went seven innings and gave up three runs on five hits.Yes, his control was a little off (four walks against six strikeouts) but he never lost control of the game. But Halladay was so damned dominant he made Lester pale in comparison.

I haven't listened yet, but I guarantee you sports radio in New England will be filled today with cries to trade for Roy Halladay. Especially when you add in that Penny had a bad game and Buchholz looked good in front of the team that would be getting him should a trade go down. It's a perfect storm to push Theo towards making just such a deal.

And I have to say again, it wouldn't be a good idea. For two reasons.

First, all the problems in trading for Halladay still exist regardless of his performance. He is 32 years old. He is coming towards the end of a contract and will want insane money for his next deal (start at $20M per year and go up). Those demands will affect how the rest of the Red Sox staff would negotiate with the team (think Beckett) and would tie up a lot of money in one player. And it would deal away a lot of fine young talent the Sox have spent years developing.

The second reason is simple; pitching wasn't the problem this weekend. The problem was that Boston's bats went mute.

Anyone notice that J.D. Drew went 0-12 leading off in this series? Or that in 13 at-bats, he saw an average of 3.5 pitches per at-bat? That's more than half-a-pitch worse that his season average of 4.12 and indicative of a July where he is batting just .143 with a .582 OPS to go along with it.

Anyone notice that Jason Bay went 1-11 with one walk, one run and five strikeouts over the three game set? That is par for his July, where Bay is batting .178 and sporting a .695 OPS. It's not J.D. Drew bad...but it isn't good either.

Boston's lineup has started to struggle somewhat. The biggest problem has been a complete failure to find a consistent leadoff batter. They've tried Ellsbury, Pedroia and Drew and none of them have been consistent enough to hold the job. Ellsbury needs to become the leadoff batter but his OBP is only .343, and that isn't good enough. Of the three, Pedroia is the best choice with a .381 OBP so far in 2009.

And there is, to be honest, a bit of a power shortage. Only two batters have a slugging percentage over .500 (Youk is at .576 and Bay is at .516) and the third highest number (.473) belongs to Mike Lowell. Compare that to New York where four starters have a slugging percentage over .500 and no starter has one below .430.

Now, slugging is not the be-all and end-all of how to generate runs. Last year Philly and Tampa were 6th and 13th in the league in slugging and they played for the title. The Yankees have almost always been in the top four for slugging and haven't won jack squat since 2000. But it's an important metric and compared to their competition in the AL East, the Sox are lagging a bot.

Batting is what the Sox need to address at the trade deadline, not pitching. And what I would love to see is a bold trade for a young hitter who can get on base and provide a little power at the same time. I'd love to see the Sox go after Adrian Gonzalez in San Diego.

Gonzalez is a hard-hitting first baseman (24 HR and 52 RBI) but he is also patient at the plate (72 BB and 69 K). He's young (27) and has a good glove. He could man first and Youk could move over to third base. And yes, this move would necessitate the trading or benching of Mike Lowell. I like Mike Lowell a lot. He is gritty and tough and one of the finest men to ever wear the red-and-white at Fenway. But he is also 35 with a bad hip. We are told over and over again by players when they want big deals that baseball is a business. Well, that goes both ways.

With one move Theo could make the team younger and the lineup stronger not only in the short-term, but also in the long-term. What would it cost Boston? I think a package of Bowden, Lars Anderson and one other upper end prospect (Ryan Kalish? Mark Wagner?) would do it. Bowden is a major-league ready arm and Anderson is Boston's top position-player prospect. San Diego could pair Bowden with Peavy for at least part of 2009, have Anderson ready for 2010 and if they want Wagner, then they have a solid catcher as well. And the move would still leave Theo with enough chits if he felt like making another deal without making much of a dent in the farm system.

And to be blunt, maybe this lineup needs a little kick in the ass. Bringing in a new player can do wonders. It helped the Sox last year when Jason Bay joined the team. Why not do it again?

The Sox are still one of the favorites to win it all. But they need a little help right now. A trade for Adrian Gonzalez and moving Roy Halladay to the National League would be a great combination.

The Beth Take: Buchholz is still a head case. Penny looked old. Halladay dominated and will stoke trade talk. The problem for Boston isn't's hitting. Why not trade for Adrian Gonzalez and put some pep in the bats?


Aviv said...

One more complicating factor on a Halladay deal for both teams: If Halladay waives his no-trade, but doesn't agree to an extension, he can demand a trade during this offseason and if he isn't traded by March 15, can become a free agent. Talk about a tough spot for any potential trade partner.

One note to out loyal readers: I will have a post just a little later today. Started a new position at my job today that has radically altered my schedule. Apologies for the inconvinience.

Dave said...

Yes. We all should congratulate Aviv on moving into the web side of news. Especially as it will likely be the only side in five years. :)