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.