Monday, December 29, 2014

Thoughts on Lester and the New Rotation

I decided to take a lot of time to think about Lester going to Chicago and what it means for the Red Sox. Especially because my gut reaction was "Lucchino is an idiot."

I still feel that way to a degree, because in the end one deal wasn't dependent on the other. The Sox could have re-signed Lester and still brought in Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson. And having those three guys with Lester at the top of the rotation...I think most Boston fans would feel good about that.

But after Lucchino essentially blew off Lester with that pitiful offer in the spring of 2014, it was going to be an uphill climb getting him back here. And that ended, as we all know, with Lester going to the Cubs for an average of a little over $24M a year over six years with a $25M team option in 2021. The odds of which being exercised are slightly greater than me ever wearing a Yankees hat.

Boston would never have paid him that no matter what, a price that makes him the second highest-paid pitcher in the majors behind Clayton Kershaw. And this is where it gets weird with Lester.

Lester was Boston's ace, but he has never pitched in the regular season like an ace. He has never won 20 games in a season. He has only had a season-long ERA under 2.50 once. He has never led the league in innings pitched, strikeouts or ERA. He has never won a Cy Young, or been a runner-up. And I say this as someone who loves Lester, but it's hard to look at that and then justify paying him $24M into his late 30s. $18-20M I can see, and here's why.

Look at his comparables. The top three similar pitchers to Lester (thanks to the awesome baseball-reference.com) are Jered Weaver, John Tudor and Tim Lincecum.

Lincecum is hard to compare to Lester because of his transcendent first three seasons and then his fall to mediocrity over the last five. Lester has been a much more consistent pitcher. Tudor...different pitcher, different time. Weaver is the interesting one. He has one 20-win season under his belt and led the AL in strikeouts and WHIP once. But that aside, they are very similar in makeup and production. And right now Weaver is making 18M this year and 20M next year at the end of his current deal. And that is where Lester's value lies. Paying out $24M a year...it's a stiff premium.

Similar pitchers through the age of 30? Top three are Tim Hudson, Jack McDowell and Andy Pettitte.

After age 30, Hudson averaged a 12-8 record with a 3.36 ERA (117 ERA+). McDowell barely pitched after hitting 30, starting only 24 games over the last three years of his career. And Pettitte...he pitched another 10 years, averaged a 13-8 record with a 3.77 ERA (116 ERA+).

So going forward, if Lester averages between 12-14 wins with an ERA between 3.30 and 3.75 (his career average is 3.58 right now)...is that worth $24M a year? I think it is hard to argue that it is.

So Lucchino's screw up was in the beginning. I think a fair offer (6, 120M) might have gotten Lester to the table to sign up. But once that window was lost, the Sox were right not to chase the dollars that the Cubs were willing to give Lester. $4M may not seem like a lot in baseball, but that is how you sign key bench players and live arms for your bullpen. That $4M can be the difference between success and failure.

Of course, that leaves the Sox without a top starter. And that brings us to the other deals.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Bumpy Ride

Just when it looked like the Red Sox had figured everything out, it turns out they haven't figured out much of anything. Losing four in a row and five of their last six has dropped them into fourth place once more, three games out of first.

Dropping a 10-inning game to the Twins followed by a 1-0 loss to Scherzer and the Tigers was tough but not inexplicable. Scherzer is 6-1 now and one of the best pitchers in the AL. Lester would have to have been at his absolute best to out-duel him and he simply wasn't. It happens.

It's the next two losses that were a bigger problem. Because in those two games the Sox looked borderline inept.

The starting pitching was atrocious, with both Lackey and Peavy giving up five earned runs while not getting past six innings. The Tigers got 26 hits in two games while the Sox only managed 13. Boston was only 1-9 with runners in scoring position over the two games. That is bad not only because they got only one hit but it means they couldn't even get people into scoring position to begin with.

It was a bad home series. And it continued a disturbing trend where the Sox do not play well against good teams. They are 0-6 against the Tigers and Brewers, both of whom lead their respective divisions. If you add the Yankees in the mix, that record becomes 2-11.

Do the math. Take those three teams out of the picture and Boston's record is 18-12. The fact that Boston is still in the AL East race has more to do with the mediocrity of the overall division than it does with the Sox being a solid team.

I said earlier that maybe 2014 will be the bridge year we all thought 2013 would be. A year where the Sox never hit great heights but never really plummet either. They are beating the teams they should beat, for the most part. But they struggle with the leaders like the Tigers. It feels more like a 84-78 season than a 96-66 one at this point.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number 10

The '9' jersey was easy to write about. Out of circulation for some time and worn by one of the greatest players ever makes for an easy entry. Then you have the '10' jersey. No less than 30 players have worn this number since 1931. The '10' may have gotten around a lot (worn by Andre Dawson, Luis Alicea, Lee Tinsley and Scott Hatteberg in successive seasons) and doesn't have the most impressive pedigree (who can forget the immortal Mike Brumley?) but some fine players have worn this number.

5. Coco Crisp (2006-2008) - The starting center-fielder for most of 2007, what Crisp brought to the Sox more than anything else was stellar defense. He was flat-out robbed of a Gold Glove at the end of 2007, a season where he made insane catches look routine. 2007 was a good season overall for Crisp. He did rank in the Top 10 in the AL for doubles and triples, and was 9th in the AL in stolen bases with 28. Add that to his excellent glove (ninth in Defensive WAR in the AL | Led AL CF in range factor for 2007) and you can see why he was solid trade material at the end of 2008. It's just a shame that the player the Sox got back was Ramon Ramirez.

4. Gerald Moses (1968-70) - A lot of you are probably going "Who?" and no one could blame you. Moses was a back-up catcher for the Sox in 1968 and 1969 before becoming the starter in 1970. That year he went to the All-Star game, his sole achievement of note in the major leagues. That fall he was traded to the California Angels. I know some of you will say "Why isn't Coco fourth?" All-Star games matter, my friends. Moses went to one and Crisp didn't.

3. Rich Gedman (1981-1990) - Geds had the utterly unenviable task of taking over for Carlton Fisk after management completely fucked up his contract signing and split time with Gary Allenson for a couple of years before the Sox finally went with Gedman full-time in 1984. What people seem to forget about Rich is that he wasn't a bad catcher. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1981, losing out to Yankee pitcher and Sox torturer Dave Righetti (as if 8-4 is some big deal.) He did win The Sporting News Rookie of the Year honors, however. Gedman went to two All-Star games (1985-86) and finished in the Top 25 for AL MVP voting in 1985. Plus, he was a local kid from Worcester and that was always a cool thing to see. Unfortunately, after 1986 Gedman had a lot of injury problems and was never a full-time catcher again for the Sox. In 1990 he was dealt to the Houston Astros for the proverbial "player to be named later."

In a cool turn of events, Rich Gedman is a hitting coach with the Sox Double-A affiliate in Portland, ME. I got to meet him at a Sea Dogs function and basically act like a six-year-old, stammering about how I saw him play for Boston's AA affiliate in Bristol, CT in 1979. He was gracious and genuinely appreciative that I remembered something like that. Bottom line: Rich Gedman is awesome.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Starting to Roll

On May 4, after losing a 3-2, 10 inning heartbreaker to the A's, the Red Sox were 15-17. They sat two games out of first in third place. They had two games at home against the Reds before going to Texas for three games, a place they tend to struggle.

Today they are 19-18. They are still in third place and still two games out of first. But the vibe around this team is quite different than it was only a week or two ago.

Boston has four of their last five games and six of their last eight. Two weeks ago you'd have seen Mike Napoli leading most every major batting category. Now we are seeing Big Papi and Pedroia starting to show up as leaders as well. Their on-base percentage as a team has shot up to third in the majors. Their team OPS is a more modest 12th, but that is far ahead of where they were in April.

Their pitching has remained relatively solid. The staff has 25 quality starts, fourth in the majors. Their team ERA is 14th in the majors but fifth in the AL. Boston's save percentage of 79% is best in the AL. But they have seen a dip in their staff WHIP and their staff OPS is starting to rise.


You could argue Lackey is Boston's best starter.


Now, you combine those two things and you get a team that can hold their ground but that's about it. I think the critical element to Boston's improvement has been in the field.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Surviving the Grind

Starting April 18, the Red Sox played 13 games against AL East opponents and another three against the Oakland A's, a team they could potentially be fighting with for a wild-card spot come October.

Over those 16 games, the Sox went 8-7. And yet somehow they went from last place and three games out of first to third place and 1.5 games out of first. Though since they are tied with Tampa and Toronto at 15-17 you could say they are still in last. But let's say third instead.

And while the Yankees are in first you could argue that the cracks are starting to show. 4-6 over their last 10 games. Their -19 run differential is tied for second-worst in the AL. And their pitching is starting to lag. Only 15 quality starts and a staff ERA of 4.31 is not the foundation for a playoff run.

But enough about the Yankees. Let's focus on Boston for a moment.

Last Saturday, Jon Lester reminded everyone that he has a hell of a lot of talent in that left arm of his. He put on a straight-up pitching clinic. Eight innings, one hit, 15 strikeouts.

I have said here before that Lester is a #2, that the Sox don't have a true ace. And I still believe that - Lester can be a little inconsistent. But being able to do what he did against the A's...maybe he is more like a 1.5. A very good pitcher who can reach great heights but not with consistency.


Lester was outstanding against Oakland


Which is frustrating. Especially when you look at his post-season numbers. 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA and a 1.043 WHIP. Never mind the World Series where he becomes Pedro-esque: 3-0, 0.43 ERA, 0.762 WHIP. If Lester could be that pitcher in the regular-season, we wouldn't even be wondering if Boston would sign him to an extension because it'd have been done a long time ago.

Lester is the best lefty the Sox have had since Bruce Hurst. You could argue that he is the best left-handed starter for the Sox since Lefty Grove, although I think Mel Parnell fans may dispute that idea. And good left-handers are a rare commodity. Which is why at the end of the day I think Boston pays up to keep Jon around. He's the best pitcher with a 3-4 record in the game today, because he should be 6-1.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Slowly Gaining Ground

If you are a fan of the Red Sox, the 2014 season thus far has been a work in progress. One that demands almost a zen-like patience as Boston finds their footing and tries to move up the AL East standings.

But they are slowly getting there. After their series with Toronto Boston is now in fourth, 3.5 games back of the Yankees. Coming off of the series with Baltimore last week, this was how they ranked in major team hitting categories:
OPS: 21st
Runs: 20th
Extra-base hits: 23rd
And here is where they stand going into tonight's game against the Rays:
OPS: 16th
Runs: 17th
Extra-base hits: 10th
More importantly, over the past week they have been in the top 10 in all of these categories. And that can get lost in the overall picture. It may be hard to see the improvement, but it is there.

That patience is also necessary when looking at the pitching for Boston. There was a semi-major freakout in the wake of Jon Lester losing 7-1 at Toronto and going to 2-4 on the season. At this point talk-radio became a swamp of people talking about Jon Lester not even deserving a contract extension at all, let alone a big one.


Regarding this guy: Everyone chill the Hell out


But look at this:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Putting the Pine in Pineda

What we should really be talking about this morning is the awesome pitching performance of John Lackey. Last night against the Yankees he went eight innings and gave up just one run on seven hits. He struck out eleven batters and walked none. Of his 111 pitches, he threw over 75% of them for strikes. A dominant outing for Lackey, and one that propelled the Sox to a 5-1 victory.

We should be talking about the rock-star season Mike Napoli has delivered so far. The only hitter to be consistently good for Boston in 2014, he went 3-4 with an RBI last night. He has a .947 OPS and leads Boston in pretty much every meaningful batting statistic except for OBP, where he's second.

Instead, we're all talking about Michael Pineda and his terminal stupidity.

In case you forgot or missed it, there was a pine-tar issue the last time Pineda faced the Sox. Remy and Orsillo treated an image of something on Pineda's hand like the baseball version of the Zapruder film. And it allowed Boston fans to ignore the fact that Boston lost that game not because of Pineda's hand, but because Boston's hitting was pathetic in general at that point.

This time was different, in so many ways. Pineda came out clean to start the game. But after getting tagged for two runs in the first, he came out in the second looking like he smeared motor oil across his neck.


Seriously? You could at least try to hide it.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Standing Still

Not much changed for Boston after their four games at Fenway with the Orioles. They started out two games back from first and ended it 2.5 games back. They are in last but at this stage that (dis)honor means little. It's all about the GB right now and the only two teams in the AL that look like they could start playing golf in June are the Mariners and Astros.

That said, it is frustrating because the Sox could be at 10-10 right now if not for one bad inning from Clay Buchholz. The Sox played an all-around better game on Patriots Day but when your starting pitcher gives up six runs in one inning...you are making your team climb a tall hill from that point on. The fact that Boston almost won yesterday's game says something about how, finally, their hitting seems to be coming around a little bit.

The Sox outhit Baltimore in two of the four games, something they have had trouble doing this year. They hit .243 with runners in scoring position over the four games, much better than the .185 they averaged against Chicago. They left 30 men on base over the series, an average of 7.5 a game, compared with 9.3 a game with Chicago. They have gone from 24th in team OPS to 21st, 20th in runs (from 22nd) and 23rd in extra-base hits (from 26th). That still isn't great. Heck, it isn't even good. But it is an improvement and that is what has to happen for Boston to start moving up the standings. Every journey starts with a single step, right?

And let's hear it for Brock Holt, who actually stabilized third base and brought a functioning bat into the lineup. His OPS right now is 1.009. Yes, that is only over four games. But when you consider Ryan Roberts had just a .333 OPS over eight games (and .200 after four), I say we give a round of applause to Brock and encourage him to keep his bat moving.


Hallelujah, someone who can play third and hit


So for all that, it was a letdown to then see the pitching slip. We had Buchholz implode the other day. Someone on Boston.com said that Buchholz isn't an ace, but a wild card. And I think that is the perfect description for him. You never quite know what Clay is going to give you when he takes the mound. He has all the talent in the world. But some days you get a crap-bomb like yesterday and others you get a work of art like that game in April 2013 against the Rays when Clay went eight innings and struck out 11. The inconsistency is maddening.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sox Steal Two of Three in Chicago

Boston took two games in three from the White Sox this week. And I am not exactly sure how they did it.

Across all three games, the Sox totaled just 14 hits. That includes a 14-inning marathon Wednesday night. They left 28 men on base over all three games and went 5-27 with runners in scoring position for a whopping .185 average.

And yet somehow, they won two of three games.

Truth is, they probably should have won all three games despite their continuing hitting problems. But Game One got away from them on a bad throw from Xander Bogaerts. That is his second error of the year. He's still a rookie so it is not all that surprising to see a bad throw here and there. It was just really bad timing. And it wasted a solid outing from Jake Peavy, who went six innings and only gave up one run on three hits. He has a 1.93 ERA so far in 2014 and is looking pretty solid.

Then Wednesday night we had the 14-inning spectacular that saw Boston score only three runs over the first nine innings despite nine walks, four hits, a hit batter and a wild pitch. Both teams then added a run in the 11th before Jackie Bradley uncorked a two-run double in the 14th inning to get Boston ahead for good. That was Boston's sixth hit of the entire night.

Last night was Boston's best game of the series. Despite being outhit again (Chicago had more hits in all three games) they won 2-1 on the back of a lights-out performance from Jon Lester. Eight innings of one-run ball. Seven hits, nine strikeouts and no walks. He threw 67% of his pitches for strikes and threw a first-pitch strike to 70% of the batters he faced.


Even awesome pitchers need run support


But you can't allow yourself to look at these two wins and pretend that the Red Sox have gotten things straightened out. As I said before, their pitching is the only thing keeping them going right now.

For example, look at Chris Capuano. Here's a guy I was very skeptical about joining the team. All he's done so far is throw nine innings of relief, strikeout eight, allow no runs and earn two holds. Capuano has a 0.67 WHIP right now. And his 2.2 innings of scoreless, walk-free relief Wednesday night earned him his first win of the season. I was wrong about him. But Capuano is indicative of the overall quality of the Sox pitching staff. Sure, there have been hiccups here and there. But overall, a very solid start to 2014.

The danger here is that this pitching will mask Boston's atrocious hitting. And it is atrocious.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Boston's Bats Are the Problem

At 5-8, the Red Sox find themselves on the bottom of the AL East. To be fair, that is only two games out of first. Nevertheless, that is not a place we expected to find Boston in the latter-half of April.

When this happens, the impulse is to initially look for excuses. Especially when you drop three of four to the Yankees in the Bronx.

Sometimes, that impulse is just misplaced. As with Pineda and his dirty hand; that wasn't why Boston dropped the first game.

Sometimes, that impulse has a legitimate genesis. The umpires blew two reviews that went against Boston over the weekend. And while the one on Saturday didn't affect the end of that game, the inexplicable reversal on Sunday provided the difference in New York's 3-2 win.


Replay doesn't help if the umpire is still blind


Replay is useless if the umpires can't actually see what is - or isn't - on the screen. Last night, they overturned a 5-4-3 double play when no conclusive angle existed to do so. That gave New York a 3-1 lead. Without that screwup, it's 2-2 going into the ninth and who knows what happens.

But I digress. Because while that call was costly, the real reason for Boston's poor standing right now has to do with their lineup.

Boston is 8th in the AL with an OPS of .695, compared to their AL-leading .795 OPS last year. They are fourth in the AL with 110 strikeouts but ninth in walks. They have grounded into 17 double plays, leading the AL.

It's not their pitching. The staff has a respectable 3.76 ERA. Their nine quality starts is second-best in the AL. They are sixth in strikeouts with 104 and their 27 walks allowed is second-best behind Detroit. While the Boston staff has allowed the third-most hits in the AL (126), that hasn't translated into a lot of runs (seventh in the AL in earned runs allowed and overall runs allowed). As a whole, the Boston rotation and bullpen haven't been spectacular, but they have been solid.

It's the bats that are letting Boston down.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Pineda, Pine Tar And Why The Red Sox Lost

Let's get something out of the way right now. The Sox lost to the Yankees 4-1 because Michael Pineda pitched a very solid game. They lost because they went 0-5 with runners in scoring position.

They most certainly did not lose because Pineda had something on his hand.

Last night's broadcast on NESN turned into a late-night Alex Jones radio show, with Remy and Orsillo ruminating about a brown substance on Pineda's pitching hand. Was it pine tar? Was it dirt? It really doesn't matter, because unless Pineda has been pitching every game in every series in 2014 then Boston's problems go beyond last night's loss.


The hand that somehow makes Daniel Nava keep striking out.


They went 0-5 with runners in scoring position. On the season they are .202 with runners in scoring position. Boston has scored 36 runs so far, 12th out of 15 teams in the AL. Their 82 strikeouts are fourth highest in the AL. The Sox have grounded into 17 double plays so far, the worst in the AL.

Add to the above the fact that their fielding has been below league average so far in 2014. The AL team average is a .984 fielding percentage with five errors. Boston has a .979 FP with eight errors.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Disappointing Home Series for Boston

I am thankful I was so busy this weekend that I didn't have time to type about Boston's series with the Brewers until today. Because had I done it in the moment it likely would have been a ton of cursing briefly interrupted with sobs.

Dropping the home opener was something I actually expected. Coming off the emotion of the ring ceremony and raising the title banner, you can see that being a possibility. What I didn't expect was it to happen via the bullpen imploding in the ninth inning.

Edward Mujica simply didn't have the stuff he needed to get three outs. Only one batter went to four pitches, when Carlos Gomez hit a 2-1 pitch to drive in Overbay and increase Milwaukee's lead to 5-2. By the time the Sox brought Andrew Miller in, it was 6-2 and the game was effectively over.

It also didn't help that the Sox lineup only scratched four hits and two runs off of Estrada despite getting him to throw 102 pitches in 5.2 innings. It was a waste of a solid performance from Jake Peavy, who went six innings and gave up two runs on six hits. But the Sox went 0-6 with runners in scoring position.


They may as well have held their bats like this the entire series. Jared Wickerham | Getty Images


Game Two was a runfest that Boston had no business winning. Buchholz was bad, going 4.1 innings and gave up six runs on 13 hits. The Brewers' Wily Peralta was little better, with Boston scoring five runs in five innings.

But that parity disguised how much better Milwaukee was hitting. Boston had seven hits all game while the Brewers had 19. The Sox went 2-6 with runners in scoring position while Milwaukee was 6-23. If the Brewers had been a little more efficient this game would have been a wipeout.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Red Sox Trending Positive To Start 2014

The Baltimore Orioles were the only AL East team to have a winning record against Boston last year. The Sox were 8-11 against the Orioles with a .421 winning percentage. That was their third lowest win percentage against any team last year.*

One series, especially the first of the year, cannot be a barometer for the season as a whole. Just as one game doesn't define a series or a trend. But with Boston's 4-3 win last night, they start the season 2-1 against a team that gave them fits in 2013. And across those three games, you could see some commonalities.

Let's look at last night's starter first. Felix Doubront picked up the win with a performance that, although it wasn't a quality start, nevertheless got Felix his first win of 2014. He went 5.2 innings, giving up three runs on six hits. He struck out four and walked one.

And now here's a look at our first commonality with Boston's starters:
Starting Pitcher | Pitches Thrown | Strikes | % of Pitches Thrown for Strikes

Doubront | 76 | 51 | 67%

Lackey | 90 | 68 | 75.5%

Lester | 104 | 73 | 70.1%


All three starters were pounding the strike zone in this series, Lackey in particular. That is how you help your team wins games as a pitcher.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Red Sox Drop Their Opener

Going into yesterday's game against the Orioles, I said the Red Sox had to do two things: limit Baltimore's power and not waste their scoring opportunities. A brief lapse in the former and doing the opposite of the latter is why the Sox lost 2-1 yesterday afternoon to the Orioles.

Let's talk about the good first, because that is always more enjoyable. Even with the surrendered home run to Nelson Cruz in the seventh and getting the loss, Jon Lester pitched a solid game. It was a quality start, going seven innings and giving up just two runs on six hits. He struck out eight and walked just one. It was the kind of performance that will almost always get you a win. Except when you have no run support. The relief pitching was solid as well. Junichi Tazawa threw a solid inning with no hits and one strikeout. Overall Boston had a pretty good day on the mound.


Lester was solid on the mound - (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)


The fielding was solid as well. No errors and two turned double plays. And Grady Sizemore continued the feel-good story of the season by going 2-4 with a home run.

Now to the not-so great stuff.

Boston's batters did one thing well; they worked Chris Tillman and knocked him out of the game early. Tillman threw 104 pitches in just five innings, giving up seven hits and one run. Considering all the trouble he gave Boston last year, getting Tillman off the mound was the perfect set-up for a Boston win.

The reason they lost can be summed up in three words: zero for ten. The Red Sox went 0-10 with runners in scoring position, which is wasteful on a grand scale. Even converting just two of those runners would have given Boston the win. It was a waste of runs and of a solid pitching performance from Lester. A.J. Pierzynski was the worst in this area, stranding three runners in scoring position.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Red Sox Start Their Title Defense

Finally, the 2014 season is upon us. The real 2014 season, because who cares about the Dodgers.

The Red Sox are getting no favors to kick their title defense off this year. Baltimore gave them fits last year. They were the only AL East side to have a winning record against Boston, going 11-8. The Orioles have some solid pitching and a lineup that can mash the ball. To beat the Orioles you have to limit their power and not waste scoring chances. This isn't like playing Houston; leaving men on base against the Orioles is hard to overcome.


Let's make this happen again.


This is especially true considering whom the Sox face this afternoon. Chris Tillman came into his own last year, going 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA, a 4.4 WAR and his first All-Star appearance. He also flat-out owned Boston in 2013. He pitched six games against the Sox last year and went 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA, a 1.179 WHIP and a 3.08 K/BB ratio.

Yeah, this game isn't going to be easy.

The Sox are putting Jon Lester on the mound. The default "ace"* of the rotation, he saw a return to form last year going 15-8 with a 3.75 ERA. But against Baltimore he, like the Sox, struggled. In four starts against the Orioles Lester was 1-2 with a 4.70 ERA and a 1.478 WHIP. As well as Lester pitches against Toronto, that is how much trouble he has with Baltimore.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sizemore Starting in Center For Red Sox

Going into Spring Training for the Red Sox, most people were watching the left side of the infield as the place where we could see position battles. Instead, with Middlebrooks stroking the ball and Stephen Drew foolishly turning down his one-year qualifying offer the positions settled in. Boston may be a bit thin over there but Middlebrooks and Bogaerts are going to be the starters.

Where there wasn't expected to be a lot of competition was in center field. With the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury to the money-laden (if victory-bereft) confines of the Bronx, most people expected Jackie Bradley, Jr. to step in. What no one saw coming was a reclamation project by the name of Grady Sizemore making a solid case to be the starter. While Sizemore played solidly all spring, Bradley struggled at the plate.


Photo: Matt Stone, Boston Herald


Just 10 days ago when looking at this battle for center, I said the following:

The most logical choice (and as a Bradley fan, I can't believe I am saying this) is to start Sizemore. Provided that his production continues over the rest of Spring Training and he can handle the physical demands. The simple truth is that Bradley has two options remaining and the Sox can send him down to start 2014 with no risk. If Sizemore gets hurt or wears down (which is likely) Bradley can come right back up. If someone else falters, Bradley will be called right back up.

....

Releasing Sizemore or trading him away when he is playing this well wouldn't make any sense from an organizational standpoint. If he gets hurt or tired, that is when Bradley can come back and slot into center. It's all about depth in Boston, and starting Sizemore preserves that depth in the outfield. And at a very reasonable price.
Well, guess what happened today?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

David Ortiz Is Back In The Fold

Some dashingly handsome and clever blogger wrote about Ortiz's contract issues back in January. Said blogger was yours truly. At the time, I thought that no team would pay Ortiz over $15M a year to DH at age 38. My guess was that he would sign a two-year extension between $12-$15M:

So should Boston resign Ortiz to a multi-year deal? Yes. Will Boston resign Ortiz to a multi-year deal? Yes. But both Ortiz and the Sox will do their little dance before they get to where we all know they're going. My guess? Another two year deal between $12M-15M a year that brings him to age 40 in his last season. That would give him 20 years in the big leagues, the time to rack up over 1500 RBI and an outside shot at 500 HR and 2500 hits.

My guess wasn't too far off. He actually got $16M for 2015, which I will admit is a little surprising. That is a lot of money to invest in a 39-year-old DH. But with the intelligent management of Boston's finances by Cherington and company, it's doable. And it isn't a huge increase in the bottom line year-over-year.

It's the rest of the contract that is interesting. He actually gets two more years after 2015, but they are club option years that are built in a very clever fashion.

The new deal also created a structure designed to keep Ortiz in a Sox uniform for an additional two years, through the 2017 season. The deal calls for a club option for a $10 million base in 2016 that has escalating clauses that will automatically vest if Ortiz reaches a certain number of plate appearances.


So, for example, if Ortiz has a minimum of 475 plate appearances he'll make $12M that year. If he gets to 550, he'll make $14M. 600 plate appearances and over will net him $16M in 2016.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number Nine

Let's be honest...there's only one name that is going to appear here. Trying to pick four other guys to share this space with the greatest hitter ever is a waste of time. I will only note one interesting thing. The '9' was also worn by Bobby Doerr in his rookie year of 1937, which means two Hall of Famers wore the '9' and both had the numbers they were best known for retired by the Sox. I believe this is the only number to hold that distinction.

5, 4, 3, 2 and 1. Ted Williams (1939-60) - If baseball had given out the Rookie of the Year award in 1939, Williams would've had that honor as well. It's not every player that hits .327 with an OPS of 1.045, 31HRs and 145 RBI at the age of 20. So he just had to settle for fourth-place in the MVP voting (ahead of him were Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx and Bob Feller.) I don't think too many players had more nicknames than Williams. Teddy Ballgame. The Kid. The Splendid Splinter. The Thumper. But maybe a hitter as great as Williams simply can't be summed up with just one moniker.


Greatest. Hitter. Ever.


If I tried to break out every award and Top 10 finish Williams had in his career, this entry would be 10,000 words long. So let's just hit the highlights:

  • 17-time All-Star: And to note something else I didn't know, they actually played two All-Star games in 1959 and 1960. So Williams actually played in 19 All-Star games.

  • Five-time Major League Player of the Year (1941-42, 47, 49, 57): No other player in MLB history has won this award as many times as Williams. Only three players (Barry Bonds, A-Rod and Pujols) have won it three times. And check out that last date; Williams was 38 years old in 1957. He hit .388 with 38 HRs and 87 RBI. That is an amazing performance by a man just shy of 40 years old. And he did it clean.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Grady Sizemore is Making Things Interesting

In the wake of Jacoby Ellsbury leaving for a massively over-sized contract with the Yankees, the general consensus was that Jackie Bradley, Jr. would be stepping into the starting role. Even with a weaker bat, his sterling defense would mitigate his hitting. And it would be in step with Boston's organizational philosophy of building from within.

But then Cherington made an interesting move, signing Grady Sizemore to a one-year, $750,000 deal that could climb as high as $6M with incentives. Out of the game for two years, in his heyday Sizemore was a perennial All-Star with a great glove and strong bat. But surely, this was just to provide Bradley with competition, right? There is no way Sizemore could actually challenge to start in center.

Guess again, kids. Sizemore is playing like it's 2007. In seven games he has struck out only once and has an .838 OPS, which shows he is being patient at the plate and getting on base with regularity. He is also running into outfield walls making catches and diving for balls. His two years away from baseball to get healthy seems to have done wonders.


Photo: Matt Stone, Boston Herald


Bradley, conversely, is struggling. After his electric pre-season in 2013, he has an OPS of just .573 so far, and nine strikeouts against three walks. His glove is fine. But whether it is the pressure of being the incumbent starter or just the usual sophomore adjustment, his bat is not where it was last year.

And that creates a problem. There are expected to be five outfield slots on the roster. Three are locked down by Victorino, Gomes and Nava. Which leaves Bradley, Sizemore and Mike Carp for the last two.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Red Sox Bring Dynamic Ticket Pricing to the Monster. Money Saver or Money Gouger?

Red Sox fans are an opinionated bunch. We have differing opinions on all sorts of things. Should the Sox extend Ortiz? Should Jackie Bradley, Jr. start in center? Was Bobby Valentine the worst manager the Sox ever had?

Okay, that last question doesn't have a lot of people arguing in Bobby's favor. But you get the point.

One thing Boston fans have agreed upon, though, is that ticket prices have become too expensive for the average family, let alone the full Fenway experience. The total cost can easily run into the hundreds of dollars.

To address one part of this, the Sox introduced variable ticket pricing this past November. Simply put, they arranged the tickets into five tiers based on expected demand and then priced accordingly. This way, Yankee tickets were still high-end full-price tickets, while the Astros would be on the low end. I should say "low" end because it costs $28 for a bleacher seat against the Astros. Better than the $40 you'd pay now to see, say, the Yankees. But still much more than the $5 I paid back in 1995*. But I digress...

Now to add to that we have dynamic pricing for Monster seats. What is this new-fangled idea, you ask?

With this new pricing model, Green Monster tickets will increase or decrease in price based on demand and market factors such as the date of the game, opponent, and even weather conditions. Demand-based analysis will be provided by two companies, Qcue and tixtrack.


This could be...interesting. It sounds like something that could save money. If you decide to go to a Tuesday night game when it is expected to be 45 degrees and you are watching the Astros...the dynamic pricing model should noticeably lower the ticket price. To be honest, the dynamic model should be paying you money to watch that game. As opposed to the Yankees or Cubs, where I would assume the dynamic model will demand your first-born child.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number Eight

I think we all know who is going to top this list. But a surprising number of good players have worn the '8' for the Sox, including one player I had never heard of and has a decent case for a HoF bid.

5. Hal Wagner (1946-47) - Hal was a catcher for the Sox. He originally came to the team in 1944 but then had to suit up for the war in 1945. Upon his return he took the '8' and went back behind the plate. He went to the All-Star game in 1946 and was in the Top 30 for MVP voting that same year. He was also in the Top 10 for walks in 1946, which is surprising considering he only hit .230 that season. It probably didn't help him much that during the '46 Series he went hitless in 13 at-bats. So early in the 1947 season, Wagner was traded to the Detroit Tigers.

4. Birdie Tebbetts (1947-50) - And here is the guy Wagner was traded for. Born in Burlington, VT, raised in Nashua, NH and a graduate of Providence College (a philosophy major to boot), Tebbetts played 3 1/2 seasons with the Sox after being traded from Detroit, all at catcher and all wearing the '8'. While with the Tigers Tebbetts went to two All-Star Games. He went to two more with the Sox, in 1948 and 1949. Tebbetts also was in the Top 20 for MVP voting in both of those years. But Tebbetts was getting old by then; in 1950 he was the oldest player in the AL at the age of 37. He also slagged some of his teammates, calling them "moronic malcontents." So in the off-season the Sox sold Tebbetts to the Indians, replacing him behind the plate for one season with the immortal Les Moss before Sammy White took over for the next eight seasons. Tebbetts said of the sale that "I was sold for a dollar by one drunk owner to another." Tebbetts went on to gain more fame as a manager, even being named the NL Manager of the Year by the AP for getting the Reds into third-place in 1956.

3. Robert “Indian Bob” Johnson (1944-45) - Boston was the last stop for "Indian Bob" (which is now my new favorite nickname). After spending 10 years with the Athletics and one with the Senators, the Red Sox bought the rights for the now 38-year old outfielder. All he did was go to the All-Star Game in both years. He was Top 10 in MVP voting in 1944 and Top 20 in 1945 at the age of 39. (Maybe Clemens should've added this guy to his report.) He was 3rd in batting average in 1944 at .324 and led the AL that year with a .431 OBP and. He was 2nd in slugging in 1944 (.528) and 6th in 1945 (.425). Johnson was 2nd in the AL in 1944 with 106 runs scored and 106 runs batted in, a remarkable piece of symmetry. He was Top 10 in hits in 1944, Top 10 in total bases twice (1944-45), Top 10 in doubles in 1944 and triples twice (1944-45). He was also Top 10 in RBIs for both 1944 and 1945. After the 1945 season Johnson retired at the age of 39.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Tanaka The Real Deal? Maybe

I sat in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium on July 10, 1997, as George Steinbrenner unveiled his newest, shiniest imported phenom.

Hideki Irabu was set to make his Major League debut in front of an electrified crowd exceeding 50,000. The Japanese Nolan Ryan proceeded to to induce a grounder before striking out the next two in the first inning. He struck out two more in the second and with each succeeding K, the crowd grew louder and more intense.

The Yankees would go on to be the Detroit Tigers that night 10-3 as Irabu allowed two runs on five hits and four walks over 6-2/3 innings.

He also struck out nine and anyone who was there that night would have sworn that the Yankees had landed the real deal, a bonafide superstar ready to take the Major Leagues by storm and lead the Bombers to another World Series title.

The only thing is that's not quite how the story played out.

Irabu turned out to be nothing more than a mediocre pitcher, going 34-35 over six seasons.

And the lesson learned from that experience was to never judge a player based on a small sample size. Any player can have a great game. Heck, even Kei Igawa won a couple of games.

Yet here we are, 17 years later over-analyzing everything Masahiro Tanaka does, drooling over every strike thrown.

Masahiro Tanaka is looking good, but it's only spring training.

The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number Seven

The number ‘7’ has been seen on the back of quite a few players, 31 to be exact. Some of those players were excellent, some were good and some…well, Easy Ed Romero wore it in 1986. Nevertheless, some damn fine players for the Sox have worn the ‘7’, including one of the most beloved Sox players of all time.

Honorable Mention. Trot Nixon (1996, 1998-2006) - I really considered leaving him off the list. He is a beloved player to be sure, but stat-wise he didn’t overwhelm me. He never led in a single category and never made the MVP voting list. But Nixon was here for a long time. Nixon was 9th in Rookie of the Year voting in 1999. In 2003 he was Top 10 in the AL in OBP (7th - .396), Slugging (5th - .578) and OPS (4th - .975). Nixon was a gritty player, always leaving everything he had on the field.

5. Dick Stuart (1963-64) - Stuart came to Sox in a trade with Pittsburgh in November of 1962. He left almost exactly two years later in a trade with the Phillies. But in between, he was a monster at the plate for Boston. His two-year average:
608 AB | 164 H | 38 HR | 116 RBI | .822 OPS | 122 OPS+ |
His glove? Not so much. He led the AL in both seasons in errors committed at first. But his bat propelled him to being in the Top 30 for MVP voting in the AL both seasons. He also led the AL in total bases (319) and RBI (118) in 1963.

Stuart also had some of the best nicknames in the game. His poor fielding at first earned him the legendary nickname "Dr. Strangeglove" even before he came to Boston. Once there, his struggles in the field earned him another name; "The Boston Strangler". Had the DH position existed in the 60s, Stuart could have possibly been a legend.

Monday, March 3, 2014

What Have We Learned So Far in Spring Training?

Well, the Sox have played three games so far in spring training against fellow MLB teams. So, as usual, it is time to completely over-react about pre-season performances. Because as we all know, the pre-season is a strong predictor of the regular season. Which is why Kansas City won the 2013 World Series and Houston played close to .500 for the season.

Oh, neither of those things happened? Of course they didn't. Because using Spring Training to predict anything in the regular season is a fool's task.

Spring Training is about getting in shape, working on your swing or your out pitch and getting your mind in the right spot. And if your team goes .500 in the process, who cares?

Nevertheless, we got some time to kill before Opening Day...about 27 days worth of time. So is there anything worth talking about with the Sox?

  • Jake Peavy should stay away from fishing knives during the season.
  • Allan Webster did not look sharp while Anthony Ranaudo did in the two games with Minnesota. And that is something to watch as Spring Training progresses. I said last month that Ranaudo was a wild card to make the roster in the wake of Dempster taking the year off. Signing Capuano makes that less likely. But if Ranaudo keeps this up, it will make it hard for Boston to ignore him.
  • Felix Doubront looked good in his game against the Orioles. He went two innings and struck out three against the Orioles the other day. Now, that isn't a big deal in the context of Spring Training. But if the sports media is going to gush over Masahiro Tanaka doing the same damn thing, then Felix deserves a little love as well.

    Oh wait, Felix was even better because he only allowed one hit.


    Better than Tanaka. Cheaper as well.


  • Will Middlebrooks is still hitless. Yeah, I am being ridiculous. He will undoubtedly get a hit or two before April comes around. But third base is the big question mark with the Sox right now. And Middlebrooks is under a lot of pressure to show that he has it under control. Getting a few hits and showing that power of his would be a good way to do just that.
And...that's about it so far. But just remember:
  1. The record never matters in Spring Training. Never.
  2. Pay attention to the deeper stats. For pitchers, how many strikes are they throwing? How deep into the count are they going? For hitters, are they working the count? Are they getting on base? Don't concern yourself with wins and losses or home runs and RBI right now.
  3. At some point, some reporter will try to create some controversy because there isn't enough news otherwise to report. There is a 99% chance this reporter will be Dan Shaughnessy.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number Six

The Number 6 went out of circulation since 2000, when Gary Gaetti wore it. It was retired in 2008, and rightly so, for a man who may have made the Hall if World War Two had taken three prime years away from him.

5. Vic Wertz (1959-61) - Vic Wertz is best known for "The Catch", the famous play by Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series. Wertz hit the deep fly in Game One that Mays caught on a dead run over his shoulder. Long after that, Wertz came to Boston via a trade with the Cleveland Indians in December of 1958. The Sox sent Jimmy Piersall to Cleveland for Wertz and center-fielder Gary Geiger. He played first base all three years, splitting time each season with one or two other players. But in 1960 he was the primary first baseman and turned in his best season in Boston. That year he hit 19 homeruns with 103 RBI while putting up a .796 OPS. Those 103 RBI were third best in the AL that year. And his HR total and OPS placed him just outside the top 10 in the AL for both stats. That earned him 14th place in the MVP voting that year. He was pushed out at first during the '61 season by Pete Runnels. The Sox placed Wertz on waivers late in the season and he was taken by the Tigers.

After he retired, Wertz raised millions for charitable causes like the Special Olympics and the Boys and Girls Clubs. He passed away in 1983.

4. Bill Buckner (1985-87) - We've all agreed to forget about the '86 Series, right? Three titles in 10 years have a way of healing old wounds. Plus, you can just get lost in those eyebrows... So let's look back at Buckner's career with a less jaundiced eye.

Buckner came to Boston in May of 1984 in a trade that sent Mike Brumley and Dennis Eckersley to the Cubs*. This was to solidify first base, which at that time was being manned primarily by Eddie Jurak**. And what got lost in the all the drama after the 1986 season is that Buckner helped put the team in a position to make it to the Series in the first place.

It was 1985 that was his best year in Boston, though. He played all 162 games. His .299 batting average was 8th best in the AL. His 201 hits were third best. His 46 doubles put him behind only Don Mattingly in that category. He knocked in 110 runs for 6th place in the AL. And his glove was solid too. His Range Factor per game at first was 9.68, 4th best in the AL. And yet he didn't make it to the All-Star game that year.

After the 1986 season, Buckner came back in 1987 but the mood had gotten ugly. He was constantly heckled, both by the hometown fans and on the road. In the end it was too much and the Sox released him that July. Thankfully, Boston fans got a chance to make things right in 2008 when Buckner threw out the first pitch at the home opener. They gave him a four-minute standing ovation. All's well that ends well.

3. Mickey Vernon (1956-57) - Vernon came to the Sox on the tail-end of a 20-season career through a trade with the Washington Senators. But he delivered two solid seasons for Boston while covering first base. In 1956, at the age of 38, he batted .310 with an OPS of .914 and made the All-Star game. In 1956 he was Top 10 in the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS and doubles. At the end of the 1957 season the Sox placed Vernon on waivers.

He went on to play three more years. In 1960, his last season, he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the first base coach but was activated during the September call-ups. That year he got the World Series title that had eluded him his entire career.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Larry Lucchino Gets the Better of Randy Levine

Well, I guess Spring Training was a little too quiet. So Larry Lucchino decided to stir things up a little bit by taking a couple of verbal shots at the Yankees

"We’re very different animals,'' the Red Sox CEO said of the Sox and Yanks. "I’m proud of that difference. I always cringe when people lump us together."

....

The Yankees, said Lucchino, "are still, this year at least, relying heavily on their inimitable old-fashioned Yankees style of high-priced, long-term free agents. And I can’t say that I wish them well, but I think that we’ve taken a different approach."


Heh heh heh.

It should be noted here that Lucchino, for once, is 100% right. The Red Sox and the Yankees have become two very different animals. With the changes to the CBA, how the draft now works with regards to bonuses, the enhanced value of draft picks and even the rules extending to international free agents, the Red Sox have adapted and the Yankees have not.

The Red Sox have been judicious in the free agent signings, making sure not to lock in for too many years. They have drafted smartly and used draft picks to restock the system. The Yankees have done the opposite. They have signed expensive free-agents to long-term deals and given up draft picks for the privilege of doing so. The smartest thing the Yankees have done in months is sign Gardner to that four-year, $52M deal. And that's about it. Even the signing of Masahiro Tanaka is a gamble thanks to the fat contract he was handed.

The result is that the Red Sox have won three World Series in the past 10 years to one for the Yankees. And it looks a lot more likely that the Sox will win a fourth before the Yankees win their second. That's just the truth of it.

So after Lucchino's broadside, Levine responded in kind:

“I feel bad for Larry; he constantly sees ghosts and is spooked by the Yankees," Levine said. "But I can understand why, because under his and Bobby Valentine’s plan two years ago, the Red Sox were in last place."

....

"[Boston general manager] Ben Cherington and the Red Sox did a great job last year winning the World Series," continued Levine, "but I’m confident [Yankee GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi] and our players will compete with a great Red Sox team to win a world championship this year."


Now, I will give Levine credit for the Valentine dig at Lucchino. Lucchino was the one who insisted on and got Bobby V here, and then ludicrously defended him the whole season. He went so far as to say that Valentine had done "a good job" in August of 2012. At that point the Sox were 55-57. So Levine isn't off-base on that statement.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Jack's Take: Gardner Gives Yankees Important Spark

Aviv's note: My son Jack has taken a strong interest in sports and writing (I have no clue where he gets that). He decided to write something about Brett Gardner's signing and asked to post it. Jack is 7 years old and in second grade, and because writing is a learned skill that requires a great deal of bravery to publish to the world, I decided to grant his request. Please encourage the effort, even if you disagree with the sentiments or strategy.


The Yankees are really in a bad situation with a very injury prone lineup and they really needed a boost and they got it signing Brett Gardner to a four year $52 million dollar contract.

So now they can have more of a chance to get extra base hits and stolen bases when the Yankees need them. And he's not injury prone. But the batting average could use improvement.

I say they should bat him in the middle of the order so they have room for power at the bottom of the order and good average at the top and the middle you need some speed and clutch hits most of the time.