Champions on Display MLB

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


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.