Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sox Trade Wade Miley and Aro to Seattle for Carson Smith and Roenas Elias

Let's play a quick game. I am going to put down two projection lines for two pitchers in the AL for 2016. The stats are from Baseball Reference.

Pitcher A

9-10 | 4.27 ERA | 177 IP | 145 K | 1.362 WHIP | 7.4 K/9

Pitcher B

7-9 | 4.02 ERA | 132 IP | 115 K | 1.303 WHIP | 7.8 K/9

Pitcher A is Wade Miley. Pitcher B is Roenas Elias. And this is why yesterday's deal may have been a steal for Boston.

I am not going to deny that I was hoping Miley would stay in Boston. He was the only free agent Boston signed last year to give the Sox exactly what they expected. He was a solid back-end starter who ate up innings. The only reason Boston's bullpen didn't completely burn out last year was that Miley averaged six innings a start.

But that also made Miley a valuable trade chip. He's cheap money for the next two years, reliable and under 30. So to flip Miley to Seattle for Carson Smith made a lot of sense.

Carson Smith has the potential to give Boston a 1-2 punch for the next three years like the Yankees had with Betances and Miller. Last year Smith posted a 2.31 ERA, 13 saves, 22 holds and a 1.01 WHIP while striking out 90 batters over 70 innings. And while that may not be how Boston starts the year (I can't see them kicking Uehara back as a 6th/7th inning guy yet) don't be surprised if it happens by mid-season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

David Price Joins the Red Sox - Breaking it Down

The bombshell in the sporting world last night was the news that the Red Sox signed free-agent pitcher David Price to a seven-year, $217M dollar contract. The premier free-agent pitcher on the market this off-season, Price gives the Sox the top-flight pitcher they were lacking last year. Between this and the trade for Craig Kimbrel, Sox GM Dave Dombrowski has solidified Boston's pitching to a large degree.

The details of the deal are pretty straight-forward. Price can opt out after three years (end of 2018 season). He makes $30M each year for the first three years, $31M in the fourth and $32M each of the last three years. So you can also look at this as a three-year deal, which changes some things we can talk about in a moment.

Lifetime, Price is 104-56 with a 3.09 ERA. He won the Cy Young in 2012 and finished second in 2010 and 2015. He has thrown 200+ innings in five of the last six years. He is without argument one of the best pitchers in baseball and gives Boston their first Cy Young winner in the rotation since Pedro Martinez left at the end of the 2004 season.

Lifetime at Fenway, Price is 6-1 in 11 starts with a 1.95 ERA and a 0.946 WHIP. He is 16-2 lifetime against the Blue Jays, 13-7 against the Yankees. Being a lefty in Fenway has not presented Price with many problems over his career and I don't think it will now, any more than it did Jon Lester. And he is solid against the big teams in the AL East.

Oh, and Price doesn't cost the Red Sox their first-round draft pick.

So based off of the above, this sounds like a great signing. And for the most part, it is. But there is one rather large red flag.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What will David Ortiz's Last Season Look Like?

The big news in New England today is that David Ortiz will be retiring after the 2016 season.

Ortiz will retire as the most beloved Sox slugger since Yaz hung up his cleats after the 1983 season. But if the first thought in Boston's fan is to be sad about his retirement, the second one is most likely "What kind of season will Papi have in 2016?"

Ortiz turns 40 today (Happy Birthday, Papi!). Not too many players have a career that goes into their 40s and stay productive when they get there. His last three seasons have been remarkably consistent, all with 30+ home runs, 100+ RBI and 500+ AB. He has stayed healthy and has contributed. But 40...things change when you hit 40.

Baseball Reference has this projection for Ortiz in 2016:

567 Plate Appearances | 130 H | 30 2B | 30 HR | 91 RBI | .863 OPS

That would represent his lowest OPS since 2009 and the first time he went under 600 plate appearances in a 100+ game season since 2008. That said, it would still be a pretty remarkable season for a hitter in his 40s. In fact, you could argue that it would be the best season ever for a 40+ hitter with 500 or more homers not named Ted Williams. Which either speaks to Ortiz's longevity or Baseball Reference being too optimistic.

If those stats held, here would be Ortiz's final career numbers:

10032 Plate Appearances | 2433 H | 614 2B | 533 HR | 1732 RBI

And for his career, here is where he would place all-time:

Plate Appearances: 82nd

Hits: 117th

Doubles: 11th

Home Runs: 19th

RBI: 21st (tied with Honus Wagner)

It is also worth noting that Ortiz would be one of only three players in MLB history to retire with 500+ HR, 600+ 2B and 1600+ RBI. The other two players are Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron. Which I think will make for some very interesting and volatile HOF arguments once Ortiz retires.

My gut says that BR is being slightly optimistic. The past couple of seasons Ortiz has started cold and needed a scorching second half of a season to get his numbers up. Can he do that again at age 40? I think it will be a little harder to do. But I do think he will still reach 600+ doubles. So get those HOF arguments ready.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Kimbrel Deal Shows Dombrowski Means Business

It was just yesterday morning when I posted a piece talking about whom the Sox were most likely to move in any deal. Two of the three names in the minor league system were Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra.

Less than twelve hours after that, the Sox included Margot and Guerra in a four-player swap for Padres closer Craig Kimbrel. Also included in the deal were lefty Logan Allen and infielder Carlos Asuaje.

There is no sugar-coating that the Sox paid a heavy price for Kimbrel. Margot, Guerra and Allen were all top-20 prospects in the Boston system, Margot and Guerra top-10. But Dombrowski made clear that there were no sacred cows in the minor-league system. He drafted none of these kids, which makes him quite capable of moving them on for what he sees as a good deal.

And you can't argue against Kimbrel being a great pickup. Only 27 years of age, he already has 225 saves. A four-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year, he led the NL in saves four out of his five seasons and is a two-time Sporting News Pitcher of the Year. His fastball velocity has remained constant or improved his entire career. He is also under Boston's control for the next three years. Most importantly, he instantly improves a bullpen in Boston that was a disaster last year.

But I'd be lying if I said that moving some of these guys doesn't hurt. Margot especially; I watched him in Portland and you can tell he is going to be a good big leaguer. But the old saw that "You have to give talent to get talent" exists for a reason; because it's true.

Now, was it too high of a price? That depends on who you ask. Some people think it barely hurts at all. Others feel the pain is a little more palpable. Which I think reflects how Boston fans have viewed their minor-league system over recent years.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Who Will the Red Sox Trade This Off-Season?

So the 2015 season is over and all eyes in Boston turn to one man: Dave Dombrowski. The man who is known for wheeling and dealing will undoubtedly continue that tradition as the top man in Fenway Park. Heaven knows enough stories have been written about it over the past few weeks.

But whom exactly could Dombrowski be open to trading? Which young talent will be going out the door to fill a need? Or could it be a more established player? Let's look broadly at the major league level and then at the minors. We won't look at every single player; just the bigger names that could or couldn't be moving this off-season.

Major League Roster

Going Nowhere

Xander Bogaerts

Mookie Betts

David Ortiz

Dustin Pedroia

Rusney Castillo

Hanley Ramirez

Eduardo Rodriguez

Rick Porcello

Bogaerts and Betts are going nowhere. That is as close to a sure thing as you will find in your life.* David Ortiz is the heart and soul of this team and it would be career suicide for Dombrowski to cut him loose as one of his first acts, even if an argument could be made for it. Pedroia could be interesting trade bait but he is too popular and is a 10/5 guy this year. Castillo has shown flashes of the talent that brought him here which makes you want to see if he can build on that in 2016. Also, his $11M a year deal makes him a little hard to move. Hanley Ramirez is on this list because his contract is too big, almost as big as the disappointment we all felt watching him play last year. To move Ramirez would require Boston eating almost all of his contract AND finding a team stupid enough to take him in. Getting both of those things done is very unlikely.

E-Rod is going nowhere; he is the best arm Boston has in the majors right now. Porcello is going nowhere because he has the same combination of cost and poor performance that makes Ramirez unmovable. Although Porcello's performance at the end of the year was encouraging.

Unlikely to Move

Wade Miley

Pablo Sandoval

Jackie Bradley, Jr.

Blake Swihart

Brock Holt

Wade Miley was exactly the pitcher Boston thought they would be getting; an innings-eater who keeps you in games. You need guys like Miley in the back of your rotation and with an affordable two years left on his deal, Boston will want to hold on to him unless their off-season dealings leave them with no room for Miley.

Sandoval performed poorly and has a big contract. But he didn't play as poorly as Ramirez and is paid less. He is also younger and there is a legitimate chance that Sandoval will play better in 2016. He is also a very likable player and that gives Sandoval some value. It is unlikely that Boston will be able to move him but a team looking for a third base presence that is marketable (like San Diego) may be at least willing to talk.

I want to go on record as saying that I really hope that Boston keeps Bradley. He showed what he is capable of in the last two months of the season. His batting improved and he is already one of the best outfielders defensively in the game today. But those same two things, along with his age, make him an asset. In the end I think they don't trade him because Boston's outfield is so dynamic with him in it. But you cannot ignore what he gives Boston in trade value.

Swihart is in the same boat as Bradley. He came on strong, showed his talent and value and is young. The difference here is that Christian Vazquez, who would have been the 2015 starter before Tommy John surgery, will likely start in Pawtucket to make sure his arm is 100%. That should ensure Swihart begins the season in Boston. But if/when Vazquez returns to Fenway, some decisions will have to be made.

Brock Holt is a super-sub and a newly-minted All-Star. That gives him value, both as a player and an asset. He is so good at what he does I can't see Boston moving him on but he could be a piece of a lucrative deal.

Don't Get Comfortable

Travis Shaw

Deven Marerro

Clay Buchholz

Joe Kelly

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Yankees: Heroes and Zeros



I did this earlier for the Red Sox. In that case, it was about finding the bright spots in a season that resulted in yet-another last place finish. In this case, with the Yankees, it's more about digging for the disappointments.

Make no mistake; this Yankee team over-performed relative to just about everybody's expectations. There were plenty of die-hard Yankee fans who looked at this team and thought third place would be doing well. But on the back of their most devastating late-game pitching duo since the late 90s and some productive years from aging veterans, the Yankees made it into the wild-card playoff game. And that is after leading the AL East for the majority of the season. All stats are courtesy of Fangraphs.

Heroes:

Didi Gregorius

Projected: 495 Plate Appearances | 132 H | 9 HR | 48 RBI | 35 BB | 95 K | .251 BA | .307 OBP | .369 SLG | .676 OPS | 1.8 WAR

Actual: 578 Plate Appearances | 139 H | 9 HR | 56 RBI | 33 BB | 85 K | .265 BA | .318 OBP | .370 SLG | .688 OPS | 3.1 WAR



Mark Teixeira

Projected: 377 Plate Appearances | 77 H | 17 HR | 65 RBI | 41 BB | 73 K | .236 BA | .326 OBP | .433 SLG | .759 OPS | 1.5 WAR

Actual: 462 Plate Appearances | 100 H | 31 HR | 79 RBI | 59 BB | 85 K | .255 BA | .357 OBP | .548 SLG | .906 OPS | 2.9 WAR



Alex Rodriguez

Projected: 407 Plate Appearances | 82 H | 15 HR | 57 RBI | 40 BB | 99 K | .229 BA | .312 OBP | .399 SLG | .711 OPS | 1.3 WAR

Actual: 620 Plate Appearances | 131 H | 33 HR | 86 RBI | 84 BB | 145 K | .250 BA | .356 OBP | .486 SLG | .842 OPS | 2.7 WAR



Dellin Betances

Projected: 4-1 | 2.39 ERA | 66 Game Appearances | 82.7 IP | 116 K | 33 W | 1.10 WHIP | 1.5 WAR

Actual: 6-4 | 1.50 ERA | 74 Game Appearances | 84.0 IP | 131 K | 40 W | 1.01 WHIP | 2.4 WAR



Andrew Miller

Projected: 5-2 | 2.59 ERA | 58 Game Appearances | 48.7 IP | 76 K | 21 W | 1.11 WHIP | 0.7 WAR

Actual: 3-2 | 1.90 ERA | 60 Game Appearances | 61.2 IP | 100 K | 20 W | 0.86 WHIP | 36 SV | 2.0 WAR



Nathan Eovaldi

Projected: 8-9 | 4.51 ERA | 28 Games Started | 159.7 IP | 121 K | 48 W | 1.37 WHIP | 1.6 WAR

Actual: 14-3 | 4.20 ERA | 27 Game Started | 154.1 IP | 121 K | 49 W | 1.45 WHIP | 3.2 WAR



As big a surprise as A-Rod was this year, I was blown away by what Didi Gregorius did for the Yankees. Viewed as placefiller for the retired Jeter, nobody was expecting much from Didi. The idea was his glove would be a little better but his bat would be worse. It would, in essence, be a wash.

So here's a stat to tell you what actually happened: Didi's 3.1 WAR is the highest for a Yankee starting shortstop since 2009. He performed so far above and beyond expectations that he is, to me, the MVP of the team. He is only 25 years old and all he cost the Yankees in trade is Shane Greene. Without a doubt, this is one of Brian Cashman's best deals in his career.

At the other end of the "unexpected production" scale are Teixeira and A-Rod. Both aging veterans, both with declining numbers, one injury-prone and the other coming off a year-long suspension...the expectation was that they would be average at best, being paid way too much for their production.

And while they may still be overpaid, they also both pretty much doubled their expected WAR. Even playing only 111 games, Teixeira gave the Yankees a year's worth of production. And Rodriguez may have unintentionally shown all of baseball that giving an aging superstar a year off to rest could be beneficial. All his PED baggage aside, he was solid this year and is one of the big reasons the Yankees even had a chance to make it into the ALDS.

But the main reason the Yankees made it that far was their 1-2 pitching punch at the end of the game. Betances and Miller reminded me a lot of the '96 Yankees with Mariano Rivera setting up John Wetteland. If the Yankees carried a lead into the eighth inning, or were even tied or just a run behind, they knew they had a good chance of winning with Betances and Miller pitching. That kind of support on the mound makes a good team better. And while they faded late in the season, there is no reason to doubt if they can do it again next year.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Heroes and Zeros: Red Sox



For finishing in last for the 3rd out of four years, there is a lot of positive momentum in the Boston franchise going into the off-season. With a young outfield clicking on all cylinders, a start shortstop in the making, a young catcher breaking out and a couple of bright spots on the mound, there is reason to believe that Boston can be a contender in 2016 with a couple of key moves.

But Boston being in last this year is also the function of a horrendous start and the failure of some key free agents. So let's look at projections from April and where some of the players ended up (all stats courtesy of Fangraphs) at season's end.

Heroes:

Mookie Betts

Projected: 582 Plate Appearances | 148 H | 13 HR | 80 RBI | 50 BB | 73 K | .289 BA | .350 OBP | .428 SLG | .779 OPS | 3.6 WAR

Actual: 654 Plate Appearances | 174 H | 18 HR | 77 RBI | 46 BB | 82 K | .291 BA | .341 OBP | .479 SLG | .820 OPS | 4.8 WAR



Jackie Bradley, Jr.

Projected: 116 Plate Appearances | 24 H | 2 HR | 11 RBI | 9 BB | 28 K | .234 BA | .302 OBP | .349 SLG | .650 OPS | 0.4 WAR

Actual: 255 Plate Appearances | 55 H | 10 HR | 43 RBI | 27 BB | 69 K | .249 BA | .335 OBP | .498 SLG | .833 OPS | 2.5 WAR



Xander Bogaerts

Projected: 552 Plate Appearances | 130 H | 16 HR | 63 RBI | 41 BB | 114 K | .260 BA | .320 OBP | .416 SLG | .736 OPS | 2.3 WAR

Actual: 654 Plate Appearances | 196 H | 7 HR | 84 RBI | 32 BB | 101 K | .320 BA | .355 OBP | .421 SLG | .776 OPS | 4.3 WAR



Blake Swihart

Projected: 92 Plate Appearances | 21 H | 2 HR | 10 RBI | 5 BB | 17 K | .245 BA | .288 OBP | .365 SLG | .653 OPS | 0.3 WAR

Actual: 309 Plate Appearances | 79 H | 5 HR | 31 RBI | 18 BB | 77 K | .274 BA | .319 OBP | .392 SLG | .711 OPS | 1.5 WAR



David Ortiz

Projected: 526 Plate Appearances | 126 H | 23 HR | 78 RBI | 62 BB | 88 K | .277 BA | .364 OBP | .492 SLG | .856 OPS | 1.8 WAR

Actual: 614 Plate Appearances | 79 H | 37 HR | 108 RBI | 77 BB | 95 K | .273 BA | .360 OBP | .553 SLG | .913 OPS | 2.8 WAR



Wade Miley

Projected: 11-10 | 4.16 ERA | 29 Games Started | 176 IP | 137 K | 59 W | 1.35 WHIP | 1.3 WAR

Actual: 11-11 | 4.46 ERA | 32 Games Started | 193.2 IP | 147 K | 64 W | 1.37 WHIP | 2.6 WAR



Eduardo Rodriguez

Projected: 1-1 | 4.41 ERA | 3 Games Started | 18 IP | 13 K | 7 W | 1.40 WHIP | 0.1 WAR

Actual: 10-6 | 3.85 ERA | 21 Games Started | 121.2 IP | 98 K | 37 W | 1.29 WHIP | 1.7 WAR

If you were alive in the mid to late 70s and a Sox fan, then you know who the "Gold Dust Twins" were. Fred Lynn and Jim Rice came into the majors at the same time in 1975. Lynn won the MVP and Rookie of the Year award that year while Rice was RoY runner-up. From 1975-1980 they were one of the most potent 1-2 outfield combos in the game. Then the Sox traded Lynn to the Angels for Jim Dorsey, Joe Rudi and Frank Tanana rather than pay him what he was worth (and screwing up his contract extension going into free agency). And the Gold Dust Twins were no more.

Betts and Bradley, Jr. are not the Gold Dust Twins, even though I think Betts definitely has it in him to reach Fred Lynn numbers on a yearly basis. But this a young duo that gives the Sox some of the best outfield defense in the majors. And with Bradley now hitting major league pitching successfully, the expectation is going to be seeing these two gentlemen make more than a few All-Star games, with Betts even pushing for MVP a couple of years down the line. Yeah, he's that good.

One guy who might keep Betts from winning an MVP is his teammate at shortstop. In 2015 Xander Bogaerts finally grew into the expectations everyone had set for him. He saw a quantum leap in his offensive numbers in 2015 and was arguably the best overall shortstop in the AL this year. His line this year might even garner him a few goodwill votes for MVP seeing as he kept Boston from completely sucking this year and as a makeup for keeping him off the All-Star team.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Should David Ortiz Be In The Hall of Fame?

The other day I noted on our FB page that Ortiz is likely to end his baseball career with the following numbers, should he play next year:
500+ HR
1600+ RBI
600+ 2B
You can also throw in the following two lines:
1100+ Extra base hits
1250+ BB
Should that come to pass, David Ortiz would be only the third player in Major League history to have those numbers. The other two are Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. Which, in its own way, is supremely fitting. One man did it clean and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The other used PEDs and may never get in.

So should David Ortiz retire with the above numbers, should he get in the Hall of Fame?

First, let's remove the "No DH" argument from this discussion. The DH is here. It is a recognized position. And punishing a player for that is like not voting for a pitcher in the MVP race. Which is to say, it's stupid. So, forget he is a DH.

On the numbers alone, does David Ortiz have the resume?

To the above stats, add in nine All-Star Games, the 2004 ALCS MVP, the 2013 World Series MVP and three World Series rings. Also add in the 2005 AL Hank Aaron award for best hitter and six Silver Slugger awards. Never mind the clutch hits year-in and year-out.

I would say that, on the numbers alone, that David Ortiz should make the Hall of Fame.

But it is never that easy, is it?

David Ortiz was also named as being on the infamous 2003 list of MLB players who tested positive for one (or more) of a number of substances in the "Survey Test" that ultimately forced the MLBPA to agree to drug-testing in Major League Baseball. And in a time where players like Bonds and Roger Clemens may very well never be voted into the Hall of Fame, a time where a current player like A-Rod will also likely never be in the Hall of Fame because of his admitted PED use, why would it be any different for David Ortiz?

Allow me to be the Devil's Advocate for a moment.

The 2003 list of substances...no one knows exactly what was on that list of substances beyond the fact that it was more than just steroids or what we commonly refer to as PEDs nowadays. Widely thought to be on that list as well as steroids were recreational drugs and amphetamines.

Amphetamines should be of particular note because they have been pervasive in baseball for decades. The infamous "greenies" in Jim Bouton's book Ball Four were taken by countless players, including many Hall of Famers.

So could David Ortiz have been using steroids or another PED? Yes, that is possible. But it is also equally possible he took a stimulant that was accepted as a part of baseball culture or a substance that was added to a supplement without his knowledge.

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.

Friday, June 12, 2015

I Was Wrong...NOW the Red Sox Have Hit Their Low Point



At least until tonight. Because if the Sox have excelled at anything this year, it's finding new and exciting ways to disappoint their fans.

I have been saying since late April that Boston had a limited window to get their act together. That they needed to get firing on all cylinders because relying on the mediocrity of the rest of the AL East had a limited shelf life. Well, that window closed last night.

After losing 6-5 to Baltimore and getting swept by the Orioles, the Red Sox are seven games out of first. They have a run differential of -48 and show zero signs of getting their act together.

When they pitch well, they can't score runs. And when they score runs, they can't pitch well. The result this time is losing three to Baltimore and undoing all the good work they did before leaving on this road trip.

And this time, we had the added benefit of Wade Miley and John Farrell jaw-jacking at one another after Miley was pulled in the fifth.

I don't know which was more surprising; Miley having the audacity to argue about anything after stinking on the mound or Farrell seeming to just sit back and take it for the most part. This wasn't a situation where Miley had pitched great and didn't want the ball taken out of his hands. Miley looked horrible out there. Farrell was doing him a favor.

My hope is that post-game Farrell ripped the unholy Hell out of Miley for that outburst. Because if he didn't, then Farrell is going to lose whatever control he has in the locker room. When a team is losing, the last thing it needs is a passive manager that doesn't hold players accountable for their bullshit.

Because right now, this season has 2012 written ALL over it. Except with even more un-movable contracts.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Time to Fire Chili Davis

In the depths of Boston's pitching woes, back in early May, pitching coach Juan Nieves was fired. The reason was simple; Boston's pitching sucked at that point. Over the past month you could argue that Boston's pitching has improved overall, even if there are occasional hiccups in the starting rotation and bullpen. Wade Miley is a much better pitcher now than he was before Nieves was fired. Clay Buchholz is a much better pitcher now than he was before Nieves was fired. Even Joe Kelly is pitching better. Throw in the scintillating start to Eduardo Rodriguez's career (3 GS / 2-0 / 0.44 ERA / 0.73 WHIP) and you can see Boston's pitching turning a corner of sorts.

So why, in the name of all that is holy, does Boston management continue to tolerate the abysmal hitting and run production of this team?? Here's a fun fact: in 25% of Boston's games this year, they have scored one run or less. Which is why they are near the AL basement in runs this year (currently 12th). If you aren't scoring runs, you aren't winning games. As evidenced by Boston wasting a sterling performance from Eduardo Rodriguez last night in a 1-0 loss in Baltimore.

What makes it even worse is that hitting was supposed to be the strength of the 2015 Red Sox. Ben Cherington was right in identifying offense as being hard to find. What you can question is whether the 200M or so Boston spent on solving this problem was spent well. I was all on board with Sandoval, and I still am. I think he can play better and will do so. Ramirez...I was always shaky on him. His attitude was the red flag and I think his play in left (or lack thereof) justifies that concern. If he can't play left, and you aren't going to sit Ortiz, then what do you do with him?

But that is secondary to the fact that Boston's hitting has just sucked. There are only two starters right now who I think are pulling their weight at the plate. That would be Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts. Pedroia is third in WAR at his position in the AL (2.2 WAR) while Bogaerts (1.7 WAR) trails only one-time Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias at their position. If Brock Holt keeps playing he'll qualify with enough at-bats and you can throw him in there as well. Frankly, they should be making room for him to be a regular now based on his performance to-date.

But besides those three guys? It's been damned disappointing. Rookies like Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo aren't hitting at all. Pablo Sandoval has a .651 OPS. Mike Napoli and David Ortiz both have batting averages approaching the Mendoza Line. And any hitting Hanley Ramirez has given Boston is more than cancelled out by his horrible fielding.

So why is Chili Davis getting a pass? I have nothing against the guy. But if Boston brass is going to fire Nieves a month into the season, Davis should be getting the boot based on Boston's offensive performance to date. Because make no mistakes, this is why Boston's season is going down the drain. If you cannot score more than one run in 1/4th of your games, you are going to suck.

If John Henry was thinking straight, he'd be giving Cherington a stern talking-to as well. Because while Ben has been good at identifying problems and weaknesses, his track record in addressing said problems and weaknesses has been hit-and-miss.

John Farrell shouldn't get off without mention in this debacle either. Yes, he guided Boston to a World Series title in 2013 and that should not be ignored. But since then, Boston's record is 98-123. That's not good in any sense of the word.

But Cherington isn't going anywhere right now and neither is Farrell. And hitting is the glaring, obvious weakness right now. That falls on Davis' shoulders. And it's time for him to go.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Turning a Corner / Watching Out For Bats

The standings don't show it. At 27-31, the Red Sox sit 5.5 games out of first. But Boston has won five of their last seven games, including a sweep of the Oakland A's as they wrap up a seven-game homestand. What is most encouraging is that in yesterday's game, the Sox actually rallied to win a game.

Down 4-0 in the eighth inning is usually where Boston goes down meekly and fans rub their heads in frustration. Yesterday it was where the Sox erupted for seven runs, sending 11 batters to the plate. By game's end, every Boston starter except for Ortiz had at least one hit.

The comeback covered for Clay Buchholz, who had a bad outing (4.2 innings, four runs on 10 hits). But this is his first non-quality start since May 4. So I think he has earned the benefit of the doubt and we should not freak out quite yet.

This series definitely washed away the bad taste that the Minnesota series left behind. Despite splitting the series the Sox should have won at least three games. That 8-4 loss in their last game, with three errors and horrendous base running compounded by allowing four runs in the top of the ninth, felt like the nadir of Boston's season. To then come back and sweep Oakland was desperately needed.

The temptation now is to read too much into this sweep. While yesterday's comeback was thrilling, it was made possible because Boston could do nothing against Oakland starter Kendall Graveman. He held Boston to one run on six hits over seven innings. And he is not an ace; he is 3-2 with a WHIP of 1.59 and a 4.83 ERA. A lineup with Boston's talent should be tagging a pitcher like that. Instead, they were mostly useless until Castillo hammered a 380 foot homer off him to start Boston's eighth-inning run. The hope is that this offensive explosion kick-starts a more regular offensive output. The reality is that that may happen...or it may not.

The last time Boston posted seven or more runs was May 23. Before that it was April 24. By contrast, the Yankees have scored 7+ runs four times in their last 13 games. Toronto has scored 7+ runs four times in their last five games. The teams ahead of Boston in the AL East are operating on a different offensive level right now. Until the Sox can replicate yesterday's scoring on a regular basis, they will struggle to make up that 5.5 game gap their are facing.

I feel like something needs to be said about the bat incident on Friday night. By all accounts, it was a gruesome injury (I refuse to watch the video). And the blame is focusing in two directions; the maple bat Brett Lawrie was using and the netting behind home plate.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Freefall



So the Sox had their game rained out against the Twins yesterday. Which was the second-best result they saw all week.

I have advocated all year against blind panic. Against knee-jerk moves. Against declaring the whole season a bust based on a small amount of time.

But now we are in June. And Boston is in last place. They are 22-29 with a run differential of -48 (almost a run per game). Yes, they are only 4.5 games out of first. But that has everything to do with the relative mediocrity of the AL East and nothing to do with Boston's quality of play.

In a mostly-disappointing season, the only constant was Boston's defense. It was always in the top third league-wide. Today it is firmly in the middle of the pack. That downturn has added to the misery in Boston. Now, in all facets, Boston as a team is at best middling. At worst (as with their pitching) they are near the bottom. As of today, this team is on pace to be worse than the 2012 Red Sox. That team was the worst Boston put on the field since the mid-1960s.

The defense that was their strength? As of today there are exactly two Boston starters who rank in the top half for their position defensively (among qualified starters). That would be Mookie Betts in center and Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. Everyone else is dragging near the bottom.

And yes, that includes Dustin Pedroia. Boston's perennial Gold Glove second baseman is have a very bad year so far in the field. His fielding percentage is well below the league average. While that is due in part to his ability to get to more baseballs (his Range Factor is 4th at his position in the AL) he isn't making the plays he used to make on those balls. His five errors are the worst for a second baseman in the AL. He had two in all of 2014, five total in both 2012 and 2013. While his bat is still producing, his glove has now tailed off a little.

That is still leagues above Hanley Ramirez, who hasn't seen a fly ball yet that he won't pull up on. His Range Factor is 1.54, dead last for qualifying left fielders in the AL. That means he isn't reaching balls hit his way. His fielding percentage of .968 is also dead last. Which means that when he reaches a ball, he still isn't all that good on defense. His defensive WAR? -1.4, which is really, really bad. And negates anything positive he has done at the plate.

Pablo Sandoval? Only Manny Machado and Chase Headley are worse at third by fielding percentage. Sandoval's Range Factor of 2.30 is second-worst in the AL at third, beating out only David Freese on the Angels. Sandoval has never been a Gold Glove at third, but 2015 is rivaling some of his worst numbers ever.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Eduardo Rodriguez Makes His Debut

During last year's debacle, the Sox traded Andrew Miller to Baltimore for an (at the time) unknown left-handed pitcher in Double A named Eduardo Rodriguez. The book on him was that he was very talented but his control wasn't the best. At the time he hadn't been able to get his K/BB ratio above 3.00 and his WHIP hovered between 1.207 and 1.440.

Since that trade Baltimore lost Miller to free agency and the Yankees (where he has excelled). And Boston debuted their newest pitcher last night. Rodriguez gave Boston one of the best first outings in team history, a 7.2 inning shutout with three hits, seven strikeouts and just two walks. Boston beat Texas 5-1 and all of a sudden people are a lot more positive in Red Sox country.

The temptation after a debut like this is to believe that everything has changed and this new savior will lead the team to the promised land. Which is a pretty crazy way to look at this, but it does happen. What is fair to think is that Rodriguez may well be better than Joe Kelly and should take over his slot in the rotation. Because I am pretty sure that if the Sox brass send Rodriguez back down to Pawtucket, Boston fans will collectively lose their minds.

And I have to admit I was wrong about whom the Sox would call up. I really thought Brian Johnson would get the nod since he was older and arguably pitching better than Rodriguez down in Pawtucket. But if this is what happens when I am wrong, then I hope to be wrong more often.

It also helped that Boston provided Rodriguez with actual run support. Three of the five runs came with two outs, a situation in which Boston has struggled all year long. Hanley Ramirez launched his 11th homer of 2015 as the DH, with Ortiz taking a breather. Really, the only negative from the plate were the five double-plays Boston hit into.

We also have to mention the Ortiz "situation". I use the quotes because we don't really know what the heck is going on there beyond that he has been in a brutal slump. It could be an injury. It could be a flaw in his swing. It could be that, at age 39, Father Time has finally caught up with Big Papi. What we do know is that Ortiz has a .679 OPS, a batting average approaching the Mendoza Line and a negative WAR. And in a season where the Sox are still in the race only because the rest of the AL East has also been exceedingly mediocre, you can't let anyone hitting like that stay in the lineup indefinitely. Hopefully it is nothing more than a flaw in his swing that he can identify and fix.

Tonight the knuckleballer Steven Wright takes the mound. It is supposed to be humid down in Arlington tonight with a possible passing thunderstorm. That should mean a bit of wind as well. Both those factors should help Wright's knuckleball move around and hopefully give Boston back-to-back wins.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Red Sox Rollercoaster

The one thing Boston has been consistent about in 2015 is being consistently good on defense. The Red Sox have hovered between 8th and 10th for team fielding across all 30 teams all season. That, and a bizarrely weak AL East, are the two reasons that Boston sits in fourth place and yet just 2.5 games out of first.

Other than that, it's been impossible to guess which Boston team will show up. Is it the team that pounded the Angels and took two of three games? Is it the team that pitched well but couldn't score any runs, like the one that dropped two games to the Rangers? Or is it the team that couldn't do anything well, like the one that lost to the Twins 7-2 on Memorial Day?

What is most disappointing about yesterday's defeat is not that it derailed what looked like a bit of momentum for Boston, but that it sent Joe Kelly back to Square One. In his last two starts he had gone six innings or longer and surrendered two runs or less in each. It looked like he had found his groove.

Then yesterday he gives up seven runs in less than two innings and the game is over before it begins. It was his worst outing of the season. And it is becoming painfully clear that this is closer to the Joe Kelly we can expect than that guy from the previous two starts.

The question isn't "How do you fix Joe Kelly?" It is "How much longer do you wait on sending him to Pawtucket?" Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez are waiting in the wings. Rodriguez is the better player, but at 22 you may not want to rush him in yet. Johnson is older (24) and even if his upside isn't as high, he is probably more prepared for Boston than his younger battery mate.

I would personally pull the trigger on this now, rather than ride out one more Kelly start. Especially since other pitchers in Boston seem to have figured things out. Like Wade Miley.

In his last three starts Miley has given up a total of three earned runs. He has gone six innings or more in all three starts. He has allowed no home runs. His ERA is now 4.47, the lowest it has been since April 10. He has figured something out, and now we are seeing the Miley that Cherington expected when he traded for him last year. Hopefully he can continue on this path and provide the rotation with some added stability.

Meanwhile, Boston's bats continue to have trouble generating consistent power. As of right now, no Boston starter has an OPS of .800 or higher. Only one starter has an OBP of .350 or higher (Pedroia at .360). In Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC27) Pedroia has the highest number for Boston at 5.39, which is good for 32nd in the AL East. He is the only Boston player in the AL Top 40. Boston is one of only two AL teams to have a single representative in that list. Seattle is the other, but their guy is Nelson Cruz, who leads the list at 10.30 and basically counts as two players.

Until Boston's hitters get out of their funk, it really doesn't matter how well Miley pitches or how lousy Kelly pitches. If you aren't putting runs on the board, you are going to lose a lot more than you win.

But Kelly sure isn't helping.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Slowly Climbing...Slowly Falling

I have been saying for most of this season that the Red Sox and Yankees are both performing at unexpected levels, just at opposite ends of the spectrum. I have also said that the only silver lining for Boston was that they had a lot of room to improve. And that the danger for the Yankees is that they were already hitting close to their ceiling.

As of today, the Yankees have lost seven of their last 10 games while Boston have won six of their last 10. The Yankees are tied for first with Tampa Bay while Boston sits just 2.5 games back in third. The Yankees just lost Jacoby Ellsbury to a knee injury. Boston changed their pitching coach and Wade Miley looks competent on the mound.

The latest turn of bad luck for the Yankees - besides the Ellsbury injury - was Andrew Miller giving up the game-winning homer to Washington in their 8-6 defeat of New York last night. One of the keys to New York's unexpected good start was the combo of Betances and Miller holding opposing teams to doing little more than getting outs. That has since been undone to some degree. Overall, they are still one of the best 1-2 punches late in a close game. But tiny cracks in their armor are starting to show. That will make it harder for New to regain the form they had early in the season.

Injuries will also make that job harder. Ellsbury getting injured kind of goes with the territory; it's one of the reasons Boston fans weren't that upset when he jumped ship. And he has definitely been one of the better bats in New York's lineup. He currently leads New York in Offensive WAR at 1.6 and that means New York is going to miss him. Chris Young may be an adequate replacement but he'll be a step back. Slade Heathcott is an interesting call-up. A 2009 first-round pick whose career appeared to be derailed by alcohol, Heathcott has turned things around and now could be starting in New York's outfield. Whether his numbers in AAA will carry over into the MLB is, as always, the big question. At the least, things will be interesting in New York.

The Red Sox fired pitching coach Juan Nieves on May 7. They hired pitching coach Carl Willis two days later and he officially joined the team on May 10. From that day on the Sox have gone 6-3. Wade Miley has cut his ERA by almost two whole runs. Joe Kelly's outing on May 14th was his best since April 11. And Clay Buchholz threw a masterpiece against the Mariners five days ago that was wasted thanks to Boston's bats going cold.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Lot Can Change in Three Days


In the last three days, the Sox have won two of three while the Yankees dropped three straight to the Rays. Boston's first win was thanks to a gritty, surprisingly decent performance from Wade Miley. New York's first loss was due in part to a surprisingly poor appearance from Dellin Betances, who allowed two inherited runners to score.

Yes, a lot can change in three days.

Boston won again last night with another gritty outing, this time courtesy of Joe Kelly. And while it would be a stretch to say he pitched well (more walks than strikeouts is never a good thing) it would be fair to say he pitched well enough. One run on five hits over 6.1 innings gave Kelly just his second quality start of the 2015 season. That was enough to keep the Sox in the game. Matt Barnes worked around two hits in the eighth and, thanks to some quality at-bats from the Sox in the top of the ninth, got his second win of the young season. Uehara worked a perfect ninth for his eighth save of the season.

Wade Miley's win on Wednesday afternoon was, in many ways, even more surprising. It was his first win since April 21. And although he had the same walk/strikeout problem that Kelly had yesterday, he was able to keep the A's off-balance while Boston's hitters were able to scratch Sonny Grey just enough for the 2-0 win.

In watching that game, I can see where Miley can be an effective pitcher. Miley works fast, to the point that the cameramen sometimes seemed to hurriedly cut back to the game. When Miley is pitching poorly that speed can be a detriment, because it reinforces bad habits. But if he is pitching well, then it keeps the batters from getting settled. They have no time to guess at what Miley may be throwing.

More than once the Oakland batters got their bats on a pitch and hit it well...but to fielders directly or near enough for the fielder to make the play. And that, in part, comes from being hurried a bit and not settling in properly. Miley is only 2-4, but he has gone 6 innings or more in his last three outings. That is something Boston must get from Miley going forward.

Meanwhile, the shine has come off of the Yankees' start somewhat. Losing three in a row to the Rays is hardly what New York was looking to accomplish.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sox Start to Turn Around, Yanks Continue to Win

Boston beat Oakland last night 5-4 in eleven innings to register their first back-to-back wins since April 20-21. It definitely wasn't easy. Once again, the Boston starter (Porcello this time) failed to make it at least six innings. The bullpen was heavily leaned upon. But this time, the Sox had a fresh arm in Matt Barnes.

Barnes made a handful of appearances last year in September call-ups and this was just his third appearance in 2015. But he has impressed, with just one earned run in 5.1 innings of work. Last night, his two scoreless innings of relief gave Boston the space they needed to manufacture that fifth run and get the win.

As a Boston fan, the Barnes outing is encouraging as he is the first of the highly touted young arms in the system to make an appearance in 2015. I also think he isn't going back; as of right now he is one of the most effective relief pitchers Boston has had in 2015.

Pablo Sandoval continues to prove that his signing was a good move. He only got one hit last night but it was a solo homer that gave Boston their 5-4 lead. For the year he has an .820 OPS, trailing only Hanley Ramirez on the Boston roster.

Porcello had a tough outing; his five innings of work marked his shortest appearance in almost a month. The notable difference, however, is that in that April game he gave up eight runs on 12 hits. Last night he only gave up three runs on nine hits. Not great, but even while Porcello struggled on the mound he left Boston in a position where they could still win the game. That's an important difference.

Over these past two games, the Sox seem to be scrapping more, fighting to win. That's a good quality and hopefully these two wins will keep that attitude going.

Then you have the Yankees. As a Boston fan, I want them to go 0-162 every year. But as a baseball fan, I am fascinated to see how long they can keep this going.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Rough Weekend, Rough Rotation

For the first time since 2006, the Yankees swept the Red Sox in a series. Boston is now 12-13, four games out of first. They have gone 3-7 in their last 10 games.

As a whole, Boston's pitching staff is 28th out of 30, one of three teams with a collective ERA over five. The starting rotation is dead last, with a collective 5.70 ERA.

Meanwhile, Boston's defense is solidly in the top third of the league. So is their offense overall. So it is obvious that to turn things around, Boston has to figure out their pitching situation sooner than later.

The relative weakness of the AL East this year has allowed Boston to survive despite their poor pitching. But if New York's bullpen keeps performing as it has been and the rest of their team maintains their productivity, the window for Boston to turn it around in 2015 will close and close soon.

The Boston bullpen has not given the Sox nearly enough, though part of that can be explained by their overuse due to the starters not getting deep enough into games. Some of the big bullpen signings people thought would strengthen the pen (Robbie Ross, Alexi Ogando) have been disappointing. If management thought this bullpen was strong enough to cover for an average rotation (as New York has done quite successfully with Betances and Miller leading the way), they miscalculated and in grand fashion.

But as stated before, Boston's true problems lie in their rotation. Rick Porcello is 2-2 with a 5.34 ERA. In his defense, however, his last two starts have been solid and he almost cut his ERA by almost 1.5 runs in the process. If any pitcher looks to be turning a corner, it's Porcello.

And a nod must be given to Justin Masterson as well. Over his last three starts he has lowered his ERA by almost three runs. He should have gotten a win on Friday but Boston's offense failed to exploit a run-down CC Sabathia. He needs to be consistent as well going forward, not being dominant but good enough to give the Sox a chance to win in his games. If Porcello and Masterson can continue their performance, then Boston will have something of a foundation to build upon.

But it will be a shaky foundation thanks to the other three starters. Buchholz's inconsistency has been well-documented here. His last outing against the Blue Jays was atrocious. Wade Miley has gotten past the sixth inning exactly once, though to be fair he did pitch decently against the Yankees on Saturday. And Joe Kelly...for a guy who can hit 100 on the radar gun, he doesn't seem to know how to pitch. His ERA has risen in each of his five starts, from 1.29 to his current 5.72. He has surrendered five earned runs in each of his last three starts. But he has great stuff which makes him all the more frustrating. In my fever dreams I like to pretend that Kelly is like Nolan Ryan; great stuff, mediocre at first but after a few seasons somehow puts it all together.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number 11

Turns out the last one of these I did was about a year ago (The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number 10). So at this rate I should finish around 2040 and then have to start again. But since the Sox didn't play yesterday I thought it would be fun to trot out another one of these. We may start doing a Yankee one as well.

The '11' has been worn by 36 players in Red Sox history, from Billy Connolly, Sr. in 1931 through Royce Clayton's "Cup of Coffee and Championship Ring Tour" in 2007 to the current wearer, Clay Buchholz . It doesn't exactly have the pedigree of some of the other numbers, but two of the better third-baseman in franchise history have worn it as well as a legend at the end of his career

Honorable Mention: Hideo Nomo (2001) - He played only one season in Boston, but it wasn't a bad one by any stretch. He went 13-10, pitched 198 innings and struck out 220 batters. And he threw that no-hitter to start his season. He ended up leading the AL in strikeouts and K/9 IP that year, as well as giving up the fewest walks (96). Yet he didn't make the All-Star team.

The problem in 2001 was that the staff ace (Pedro) had injury issues and only threw in 18 games. After that you had to depend on 38-year old David Cone and Frank Castillo. The only other pitcher besides Nomo who cracked 150 innings was Tim Wakefield. The Sox ended up at 82-79. Nomo had issues adapting to Boston and that off-season he went back to LA.

5. Dave Stapelton (1980-86) - Dave split most of his time between first and second base during his career in Boston. He was second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1980, losing out to Cleveland's Joe Charboneau. That year he also finished in the Top 10 for doubles. After that he was more of a "super-sub", especially in 1986 when he would replace Buckner at first for defensive purposes....

GOOD GOD, MCNAMARA!! WHY DIDN'T YOU REPLACE BUCKNER IN GAME 6?!!?

Sorry, but it still sticks in my craw. Anyway, here's a interesting note: the only major league player to have played for a minimum of seven years and have their batting average drop each season is one David Stapelton. So the question is obvious: how does he beat out Nomo? Well, I take service time into account. And Stapes was here a hell of a lot longer. He also had the ROY voting as well. But mostly it is because he signed my program when I was a kid and so I am making an editor's choice.

4. Clay Buchholz (2010-Current) - Clay had a breakout season in 2010, going 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA and making his first All-Star squad. Clay also finished sixth in the AL Cy Young voting. This was all especially impressive considering how many people were calling for him to be traded prior to the start of 2010. Kind of like...now. He is transcendent talent mixed with frustrating indifference. His 2013 season was poised to be one for the ages. This season is poised to be disappointing as hell.

3. Bill Mueller (2003-05) - Mueller was only here for three seasons but he exemplified everything we want in our players. He played tough, left it all on the field and cared about the team. His first year in Boston was amazing; he batted .326 to lead the AL, he was Top 10 in OPS and OBP, he was Top 5 in doubles, won the AL Silver Slugger Award for third base and finished 12th in the AL MVP voting. And while he never recaptured that form his last two years, he was a solid cornerman and a vital part of the 2004 World Series winners (he batted an obscene .429 against the Cards.) Just a class act all around and by all accounts one of the great guys in baseball. We were lucky to have him.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Sox Struggle, Yanks Surprise



Going into the 2015 season, the way it looked for Boston and New York was this:

  1. Boston's above-average hitting would balance out their average pitching and keep them as a favorite for winning the AL East.
  2. New York had too many question marks in their rotation and too many years on their players to compete.
I think that is a pretty fair two sentence summary. So where do they actually stand?

The Sox are a game out of first at 10-9. They got their asses handed to them Sunday night in an 18-7 shellacking by the Orioles.

And their starting pitching, in a word, sucks.

Some want to immediately start throwing blame on Rick Porcello. At 1-2, and after signing that big pre-season deal, he is an easy target.

But the truth is that he hasn't been horrible. Outside of that bad April 19 start (5 innings, 12 hits, 8 earned runs) he hasn't pitched badly. Except in one area; home runs.

Porcello has surrendered six home runs so far, most for a pitcher in the AL. He averages between 16-18 a year, so he is far ahead of his usual pace. So this could be an anomaly. Or it could be adapting to a new catcher and a new park. But more than anything else, this is why Porcello has a 6.48 ERA.

The rest of the rotation has been mediocre at best. Wade Miley is a mess. More walks than strikeouts and only 15.2 innings pitched over four starts. That is how you get a 8.62 ERA. Masterson leads starters with two wins but his 5.16 ERA speaks of trouble. Buchholz, for all the crap he gets, has not been horrible. His first and fourth starts were actually quite good. But he was bad in the other two. Consistency continues to be a problem for Buchholz and at the age of 30 you have to wonder if he will ever find it. Joe Kelly has been decent enough as a fifth starter. But when your fifth starter has the lowest ERA of your rotation...not good.

The bullpen has also been a mess. Outside of Tazawa (who has looked great), every pitcher has blown an appearance or two. Which puts more pressure on the starters. And when they can't go six innings, that pressure goes back on the bullpen. It's a reinforcing cycle and when neither group is doing well, it makes things worse.

As for hitting, the supposed strength of the Sox...one-third of the starting lineup has a batting average under .200 and an on-base percentage of .302 or less. Mookie Betts' bat, much like Jackie Bradley's last year, has cooled off considerably. David Ortiz has a .705 OPS. Only Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia are really giving us the kind of performance we expect. Bogaerts and Sandoval are doing okay. Other than that the lineup is under-performing.

Meanwhile, in New York...look, Aviv usually writes these parts. I hate the Yankees with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. So it is really hard for me to write that the Yankees are in first and defying expectations. And the reason is a simple one...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

Rule 9.02(a) Comment: Players leaving their position in the field or on base, or managers or coaches leaving the bench or coaches box, to argue on BALLS AND STRIKES will not be permitted. They should be warned if they start for the plate to protest the call. If they continue, they will be ejected from the game.

David Ortiz is one of the most beloved players in Red Sox history. I would guess he is the favorite player of most Boston fans under the age of 13. He was a key reason the Sox won the 2004 World Series. He is, by all accounts, generous and kind with the fans. His numbers, when he retires, will be on-the-cusp or slightly above Hall of Fame levels*. David Ortiz is one of the all-time Boston greats.

He also has a problem keeping his mouth shut.

The rule comment highlighted at the start of this is key. Because everyone in baseball, and most fans, know that arguing balls and strikes will get you ejected. You simply cannot do it. You can ask a question about balls and strikes ("Is that where you are calling it today?"). Players do that all the time.

But you cannot drop your bat and start yelling at an umpire. You will get ejected every single time. Just like Ortiz did in Sunday's game. It was stupid to do, but it happens.

And then Jim Palmer chimes in and this whole thing goes way further than it had to.

Let's be fair about something off the top; Palmer knows baseball. Three-time Cy Young winner and Hall of Famer. From 1975-77 he had one of the most dominant three-year periods in pitching of any starter. And he is right that arguing balls and strikes in a close game isn't smart to do.

But for Palmer to get on his high-horse about arguing balls and strikes is ridiculous considering his manager was Earl Weaver. Weaver turned arguing with umpires about balls and strikes or anything else into an art form. And I don't remember Palmer ever running down Weaver for doing so. For him to now turn around and act offended that Ortiz is doing so...spare me, brother.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Lack of Consistency

We are now three series through the 2015 season. The Red Sox sit atop the AL East at 6-3. They have taken two wins in each series, including 2-of-3 from the Yankees in the Bronx. They have scored 56 runs, tied for the most in baseball with the Oakland Athletics.

And that's all good. Especially the runs; Boston was a black hole of run production in 2014 and their decision to invest in hitting seems to be paying off so far in that area.

The pitching, however, doesn't seem to be all there. Now, it is still a little early to start making grand proclamations about Boston's starting pitching in 2015 before the entire rotation has even made two starts. Being like Dan Shaughnessy and calling Clay Buchholz "borderline disgraceful" is a little premature.*

The truth is that every starter but one over the first nine games had one decent/good start and one poor/bad start. The only exception is Joe Kelly, and we'll see if he can break that trend tomorrow night. The one consistent thing about Boston's rotation thus far has been the inconsistency in their performance.**

That's a frustrating thing to have to accept as a fan. Farrell saying he had five "number ones" in Spring Training was laughable on it's face when he said it. It looks even sillier now, if not slightly delusional.

What he, and the Sox, have are five talented starting pitchers who have never been able to put together two dominating seasons. Not one of the five have won 15+ games in two consecutive seasons. Only Buchholz and Porcello have one season with 15+ wins, and Clay's was back in 2010.

Boston's rotation is thick with potential. But, as we all know, potential doesn't mean a thing if it isn't realized.

Monday, April 13, 2015

So Where Does Boston Stand After a Week?

Baseball, to borrow an old saying, is a journey, not a sprint. Its 162-game season is, by far, the longest of any major professional sport. We are not even five percent of the way through the 2015 season.

This is a somewhat roundabout way of saying everyone needs to chill out about Buchholz's horrible performance last night in New York. It was ugly and brutal, and without any redeeming qualities.

It was also only his second start of the year. It's hard to predict where a pitcher will be at year's end from their first two starts. It's kind of crazy to try.

That said, it was a brutal performance. And because of what has happened in the past, people are going to immediately question Buchholz. But Sox fans really need to wait for a couple of more starts before they start bringing the pitchforks to Fenway.

Of course, the idea of patience cuts both ways. So it is also too early to celebrate how solid Robbie Ross has been in relief. Or how solid both Masterson and Joe Kelly were in their season debuts. But every Boston fan hopes those trends continue.

With hitting it feels like it is easier to draw conclusions six games into the season because your average batter gets 3-5 appearances per game. But if you figure maybe 550 AB / 610 PA as a seasonal average, the player with the most at-bats for Boston (Pablo Sandoval) has been in one-half of one percent of his likely plate appearances / at-bats for 2015.

It's early. That said, it's hard not to be excited for Xander Bogaerts and his .985 OPS, or for Hanley Ramirez closing in on 10 RBI. Ryan Hanigan can't hit the ball to save his life, but he is a walk machine and his .364 OBP is second-best for any regular starter on the team.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Takeaways From Opening Day for Boston and New York

So Opening Day is in the books, with Boston getting a win in Philly while the Yanks fell to the Blue Jays. So did we learn anything at all from the games?

1. Dustin Pedroia is healthy.
Pedroia is always solid in the field, to the point that his defensive excellence can mitigate poor performance at the plate. But over the past couple of years his thumb has given him no small amount of grief when it comes to hitting. Going into this year he said he was 100% and after going 3-5 with two home runs, I am inclined to believe him.

Pedroia was turning on the ball and generating power in a way he simply wasn't able to in the past two years. If he can keep this up, Boston's lineup is even more dangerous when firing on all cylinders.

2. Masahiro Tanaka needs Tommy John surgery.
If you spend $20M for the right to sign a pitcher and give him $155M over seven years, shouldn't you do everything possible to protect that investment?

Apparently, not if you are the New York Yankees. They let Tanaka basically talk them into letting him finish 2014 and go the off-season without getting TJ surgery for his elbow. The wisdom of that move was on display Monday, when Tanaka had no fastball to speak of and could only go four innings.

Tanaka is not a finesse pitcher. But with a fastball that is barely touching 90 because of his elbow, that is who Tanaka is trying to be right now. And it isn't going to work. Sooner or later, the Yankees will have to acknowledge this and shut Tanaka down. Either way, the Yankee rotation is even more uncertain today than it was before Monday.

3. About that Boston lineup...
With the power display on Monday, it was easy to ignore/miss the fact that Ortiz and Sandoval went a combined 0-9 with six strikeouts. Or that Boston generated all their runs with home runs as opposed to hits.

I know it's one game and this smacks of the kind of despair and foolishness that sports radio is famous for throwing out over the airwaves. But Boston had massive problems with run production in 2014. No team can count on home runs to create all their scoring game after game. And Boston cannot afford to have both Ortiz and Sandoval go into massive slumps to start the year.

Rather than call this a problem, let's just say it's something to keep an eye on and we can revisit it a week or two down the road.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Unzipping 2015: Comparing Boston and New York - Designated Hitter

If there is one thing Boston and New York have in common, it's that the DH position is the most "controversial" position for both teams. Both David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez have been controversial in their interactions with the media on a variety of topics, Ortiz most recently with his ill-considered article at Derek Jeter's new website.

But this is (mostly) about what these two can do at the plate, so let's look at the projections.

Boston: David Ortiz

2015: 126 G | 129 H |88 RBI | .277 BA | .363 OBP | .526 SLG | .889 OPS | 2.9 WAR | Cost per WAR: $5,517,241 | Age: 39

New York: Alex Rodriguez

2015: 99 G | 82 H | 57 RBI | .229 BA | .312 OBP | .399 SLG | .711 OPS | 1.3 WAR | Cost per WAR: $16,153,846 | Age: 39

Now, while I do believe that Ortiz is going to be more productive that A-Rod, and for better value, I do believe this is an instance where ZiPS may stumble in projecting a player's production. And that is due to the unique circumstances surrounding A-Rod's lack of a 2014 season.

If you remember, ZiPS essentially uses weighted averages of four years of data, or three years if a player is very old or very young. So A-Rod lost all of 2014 due to suspension, not injury. And he did lose most of 2011 and 2013 to injury. So that creates a very negative picture of what A-Rod could accomplish in 2015. One that is likely too negative.

I mean, does anyone believe that A-Rod is really going to hit .229 with a .312 OBP? Those are numbers he has never sunk to since his first full season in 1996. And even though he is approaching 40 and Yankee management wants nothing to do with him, I have to believe that A-Rod will give the Yankees more that what is shown above.

But Ortiz will give more. His production has been remarkably steady and, with the exception of 2012, he has been pretty healthy. With an improved lineup around him, Ortiz should be able to continue giving the Sox good production at DH depsite being 39.

There is also the spectre of the Hall of Fame driving Ortiz. This is not to get into the debate about testing that has swirled around Ortiz as of late, but just looking at the numbers. He could reach 500 home runs this year. In two years he could reach 2500 hits and 600 doubles. He has already passed 1500 RBI. Were he to reach those numbers, he would feel that he should be in the Hall of Fame. Based on those numbers alone, he'd be right. So that is going to drive Ortiz this year.

But if there is one thing that both teams will share this year, it is that their respective designated hitters will be getting a lot of press in 2015.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Unzipping 2015: Comparing Boston and New York - Right Field

As large as the gap was between Boston and New York at shortstop, in some ways the difference between the two teams in right feels even more pronounced. Boston will have a player in his prime with the potential for a breakout season. The Yankees have a player who most likely saw his last appearance as an effective player in 2013.

Boston: Rusney Castillo

2015: 142 G | 144 H |50 RBI | .269 BA | .326 OBP | .386 SLG | .712 OPS | 2.6 WAR | Cost per WAR: $4,335,000 | Age: 27

New York: Carlos Beltran

2015: 113 G | 107 H | 62 RBI | .254 BA | .310 OBP | .434 SLG | .744 OPS | 0.9 WAR | Cost per WAR: $16,666,666 | Age: 38

Now before we go any further, two things to note about Castillo. For most of pre-season the projection was Mookie Betts in center and Castillo in right. Some websites are now switching them. I don't think this makes much sense; Betts has been playing at center in Spring Training and was playing a lot of center in the minors last year. To now start him in right just doesn't sound right. So I am keeping them where they are.

Second, technically Shane Victorino is the starting right-fielder. But he is not 100% and if you look at how Castillo has played and the things John Farrell has been saying...the Sox are looking for a way to move Victorino to the side and start Castillo. They will never say that. But that's what will happen.

It will happen because Castillo brings a solid glove and hot bat to the game. The Sox would be insane to not start him. He, like Betts, has the quality to be Rookie of the Year. More than a few writers have picked Castillo to do just that.

Meanwhile, New York is now in Year Two of a three-year, $45M deal they willingly gave a 37-year-old outfielder. Last year, $15M got them -.2 WAR. This year the Yanks will do slightly better. But like Stephen Drew, Beltran actually sucks value out of his team. His range in the field is practically non-existent. He struggles to get on base. Frankly, the Yankees would be better off playing Garrett Jones. But hey, I'm not the manager.

Could this situation reverse itself? Possibly...if Beltran was magically 100% healthy and gave the Yankees a 2013-type season, while the wheels fell off of Castillo, the Yanks would be doing fine by their standards. But the odds of that are not good.

The real problem on Boston's side could be having too many outfielders. Not only is Victorino an issue, but Jackie Bradley, Jr. is hitting the ball extremely well in Spring Training. If he could carry that over to the regular season, the Sox would actually have a dilemma on their hands. Because Bradley's glove is the best Boston has in the outfield. It's not even a debate.

So how do you fit Ramirez, Betts, Castillo and JBJ in three spots? It's not a bad problem to have, to be sure. But you never know how that can affect chemistry.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Unzipping 2015: Comparing Boston and New York - Center Field

In the last installment we saw that one way to maximize value when it comes to players is to sign (or trade for) lesser-known players that give you a similar amount of production. Today we look at another way to maximize value: draft smartly and be willing to cut loose expensive players. When it comes to center field, Boston did both of those things with today's players.

Boston: Mookie Betts

2015: 147 G | 156 H | 65 RBI | .266 BA | .336 OBP | .408 SLG | .744 OPS | 3.4 WAR | Cost per WAR: $151,323 | Age: 22

New York: Jacoby Ellsbury

2015: 134 G | 152 H | 62 RBI | .281 BA | .337 OBP | .424 SLG | .761 OPS | 4.0 WAR | Cost per WAR: $5,285,714 | Age: 31

134 games for Ellsbury may sound high to some, but he has averaged 129 game a season over the last four years. And 2014 marked the first time since 2008-09 where he played 130+ games in two consecutive seasons. And for being paid as much as he is, Ellsbury provides pretty decent value, especially for a large-market team.

But Betts is just an all-around better value. He provides almost the same amount of WAR at a fraction of the cost. One WAR from Betts costs less than 3% of one WAR from Ellsbury. Boston controls Betts for years to come and, at only 22, he could be a fixture in center field for the next decade. Based on current performance, Betts is a potential Rookie of the Year candidate.

Of course, a lot of the same things were said about Jackie Bradley, Jr. last year before his season went all pear-shaped. But Betts seems to be performing better and more consistently, so hopefully for Boston there won't be a repeat of 2014.

Both players also rank in the top 10 projections for center fielders (Ellsbury is 6, Betts tied at 7). So neither team is deficient at center. But it is fair to say that Boston parted ways with Ellsbury at the right time. They now have what should be a comparable player for much less money. Money that can be used to sign or extend other players on the team.

That kind of financial flexibility is one of the greatest assets a team can possess. Mookie Betts gives Boston a lot of flexibility. And possibly a ROY season to go with it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Unzipping 2015: Comparing Boston and New York - Left Field

In the last installment we saw that Brian Cashman can occasionally make a smart signing or two. In looking at left field, we'll see that he used to be good at drafting players as well. Meanwhile, Boston is paying big money for some desperately needed production.

Let's look at the players:

Boston: Hanley Ramirez

2015: 122 G | 120 H | 70 RBI | .271 BA | .345 OBP | .455 SLG | .800 OPS | 3.0 WAR | Cost per WAR: $6,583,333 | Age: 31

New York: Brett Gardner

2015: 120 G | 113 H | 44 RBI | .260 BA | .333 OBP | .409 SLG | .742 OPS | 2.8 WAR | Cost per WAR: $4,464,286 | Age: 31

Brett Gardner has been a steady, un-heralded presence in New York's outfield. Did you know that in 2010 he had a WAR of 7.3? If you aren't familiar with the scale, anything 8.0 or higher is considered MVP-level performance. And while he hasn't hit that height since, he has hit 4.0 WAR the past two seasons.

Ramirez comes into Boston with a lot of hype. Former Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Star. Swings a solid bat.

Ramirez also has a lot of questions. Injury-prone. Notoriously difficult to get along with. Has never played left field.

That last one is the big question facing Boston going into 2015. Even if Ramirez is solid with his bat (and there is no reason to think he won't be), how good will his glove be in left? He wasn't that good defensively at shortstop and that was his normal position. If he provides, say, 5.0 WAR with his bat but has -1.3 WAR with his glove (something Ramirez did in 2010) then you have a good player, but not one worth almost $20M a year.

And that has to be mentioned here as well. Gardner provides substantially more value to the Yankees per WAR than Ramirez in Boston. Gardner is about 1/3 cheaper. And that gap could widen even more starting in 2016 when Ramirez will get $22,750,000 a year until 2019. That is a huge chunk of change for a player who may be mediocre at best in left field.

If there is one thing to be said in Boston's defense it is that those three wins Ramirez is providing mean a lot more to them than Gardner's 2.8. Boston is projected to make the post-season; New York is not. Three wins could mean avoiding the wild-card slot. Three wins could mean home-field advantage. And $6.5M per win isn't completely insane as a valuation.

But what this does show - again - is that you don't need to spend tons of money to find a useful player that gives you production that is comparable to a more well-known player. Ramirez may have a higher ceiling on his possible 2015 impact...but he has a lower floor as well. Risk is a part of any business, true. But $20-$22M a year is a lot of risk.