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Posts Tagged ‘Bud Selig’

While Theo is busy taking kudos in Chicago, we still don’t have any news on his compensation, but life goes on.  Eight members of the team filed for free agency; none of the filings are surprising: Conor Jackson, Trever Miller, Bedard, Drew, Wake, Tek, Papi, and Paps.  Okay, maybe I was surprised that Drew chose to file instead of retire.  But everyone knew the rest of them were going to be filing.

Obviously there’s been a lot of talk about whether to keep Papi and Paps on board.  The difficulty with Papi is that he’ll want more money for more years, although his recent performance, certainly in the last season, suggests that that’s warranted.  Paps wants more money.  Like, a lot more money.  You might say we can afford to lose him because we have Bard, but I have a feeling that you won’t know how valuable it was having Bard as a closer-esque setup man packing that one-two punch with Paps unless Paps were to leave and then you’d be fishing around for an eighth inning guy as good as all that.  Trust me, it wouldn’t be Jenks, folks.

As far as Wake and Tek go, we don’t have much to lose by keeping them.  Their market value is relatively low as it is; it’s not like they can leverage high demand to induce a bigger deal from us.  Tek’s powers of leadership are here with this team; it’s unclear how valuable he’d be in another clubhouse since that was always his main contributor anyway, especially in recent years when his plate production has markedly decreased, although it is worth noting that he seemed to share in Tito’s experience of having his leadership be less effective this past year.  Either that or he pulled back on his leadership.  Either way, the results were the results; how much that had to do with Tek is unclear.  Regarding Wake, he’s still an effective pitcher, more so in the bullpen now than as a starter; I guess age does eventually take its toll even on a knuckleballer.  So Wake will have to figure out if he’d be satisfied as a reliever.  Ben, like Theo, will be unlikely to dish out coin if he’s not absolutely sure that he’s paying for the player’s worth alone; if Ben is interested in retaining Wake as a reliever but Wake wants to start and demands a starter’s salary, that could potentially be a problem.

Speaking of Ben, apparently he graduated from Lebanon High School in 1992, so the school has reportedly posted a sign out front that says, “Congratulations Ben Cherington Class of ’92 Free Tickets?” Hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Jackson, Miller, and Bedard were late-season playoff fixes that we obviously didn’t end up needing.  The decision of whether to retain them doesn’t strike me as epically impactful, although given the fact that we’re technically short a starter now, Bedard may make sense if there’s no one better out there.

We picked up Scutaro’s option, probably as insurance until Jose Iglesias is ready to permanently assume the starter’s role.  We declined options on Wheeler and Atchison.

Congratulations to Ellsbury, Gonzalez, and Pedroia on their Gold Gloves! And congratulations to Ellsbury, Gonzalez, and Papi on their Silver Sluggers! All very well deserved; I can’t think of anyone who deserved them more.  Finally, congratulations to Luis Tiant for landing on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot.  It’s about time!

Lackey had his Tommy John surgery on Tuesday.  Supposedly it went well.

This week, the managerial interviews began.  First up was Phillies hitting coach Pete Mackanin.  Then we had Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum, our former third base coach.  We’ve got Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux and Cleveland bench coach Sandy Alomar, Jr.  Of those four, Mackanin and Maddux would obviously be preferable, which is why Theo is interviewing them also.

Add to our growing list of vacancies a strength and conditioning coach and an assistant athletic trainer.  Apparently we fired Dave Page and Greg Barajas.

Also worth noting is the fact that the Mets will construct a few walls in Citi Field for the explicit purpose of decreasing the size of the field.  Among those walls will be an eight-foot installment in front of the sixteen-foot Great Wall of Flushing, between which will be built a new section of seats a la the Green Monster.  As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most blatant agenda-pushing moves I’ve ever seen.  So they constructed an enormous ballpark that is forcing well-paid power hitters, like David Wright and, oh, yeah, Jason Bay, to struggle.  Big deal.  You don’t see any other ballclub undergoing offseason construction to shrink the field size just to increase home run production to make more money.  That is ridiculous, and I’m surprised that it’s being allowed.  Maybe Bud Selig is considering it yet another step forward toward making baseball even more popular; we all know how much he praises the home run as a tool to accomplish that.  But still.  I can’t believe this is flying under the radar.

In other news, the Pats lost to the Steelers, 25-17.  Before the season started, I think we all picked that one as a possible loss.  At least the score was respectable.  The Bruins scored a ton of goals this week.  We beat the Sens, 5-3, and then we absolutely buried the Leafs, 7-0.  Tyler Seguin posted his first-ever NHL hat trick en route.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin
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Awards season has come and gone and left disappointment and injustice in its wake.  Seriously.  I can’t even talk about it.  This goes beyond even Sabathia stealing Beckett’s Cy Young and Guerrero stealing Papi’s Silver Slugger.  This time, it’s personal.

Lester and Buchholz both finished in the top six in the AL Cy Young voting, but both ultimately lost to Felix Hernandez, who won it with his numbers alone since the Mariners didn’t offer any help of any sort at any time.  And if a Cy Young were awarded to best one-two punch, Lester and Buchholz would totally sweep that vote.

A new award was introduced this year: the Commissioner’s Award for Philanthropic Excellence.  We won it, and I can’t think of any team more deserving.  The Red Sox Foundation now gets ten thousand dollars.  I have to say, if any award is worth winning, this one is obviously most definitely up there.

So, obviously, that’s not where the disappointment and injustice come in, although I will say that both Lester and Buchholz were spectacular this past year, and I’d be very surprised if neither wins at least one Cy Young in each of their careers.  No.  All of that comes in here: Tito did not win Manager of the Year; cue the disappointment.  Furthermore, he finished fourth in the voting; cue the injustice.  We won eighty-nine games last year with half our starting lineup ending up being out for the season, more than 136 different batting orders, and a majority of our starters out of Spring Training on the DL by the end of it.  And you’re telling me that’s not Manager of the Year material right there? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in a very long time.  All three managers who finished ahead of Tito, perhaps not coincidentally, had teams that ended up in the playoffs.  But that’s not supposed to be what this is about.  Putting a team in the playoffs doesn’t necessarily indicate a good manager; it indicates a good team with a good schedule.  And I can’t even begin to tell you how utterly frustrated I am with any system that could possibly have resulted in this outcome.  Tony La Russa even said in print that it should unquestionably be Tito as AL Manager of the Year.  And not only does he not get it, but he finishes fourth? That is complete insanity if I’ve ever seen it, ever.

That’s a pretty bold statement, but it’s true.  The three managers who finished ahead of him were Ron Gardenhire, Ron Washington, and Joe Maddon, all worthy opponents and all perennial appearance-makers in votes for this award.  All of them obviously had to deal with major injuries to major players at inopportune times this past year, Gardenhire much more than the other two.  And they all get their usual credit for maintaining stability in the clubhouse, handling big personalities, and just generally being good at what they do.  But only one of them did it with some of the biggest of the big personalities in one of the most pressurized of cookers called Major League Baseball teams every single day for an entire season during which the team, on any given day, looked entirely different.  It’s incredibly difficult to sustain morale in that kind of competition environment with that kind of scenario going on, and yet Tito made it look like a walk in the park (pun intended).  Maddon arguably had it easiest of the four, following by Washington.  So we’re talking Tito and Gardenhire, but at least Gardenhire had more peace and quiet in which to conduct his business and less potential clubhouse drama to worry about.  We’re talking about the man who managed a minor league baseball team that had Michael Jordan on its roster, and don’t even get me started on Manny Ramirez.  Obviously, neither of those two episodes had bearing on this year, but they’re just great testimonies to his managerial abilities.

All I’m saying is that Tito will have another spectacular year this coming year, and even then he probably won’t have any Manager of the Year award to show for it, but one of the reasons he deserves such an award is that he doesn’t do any of what he does with the award in mind.  He does it anyway, day in and day out, injuries or no injuries.  So here’s to you, Tito.  We all know who the real Manager of the Year is.

The GM meetings have also come and gone, hopefully having greased the skids for the Winter Meetings next month.  Cue the rumors.  We are one of three teams in hot pursuit of Carl Crawford, and we might trade Paps.  The former is true; the latter couldn’t be more false.  Lou Merloni is all in favor of taking the plunge, making the trade for some elite relievers, and giving Bard the closer’s job.  I don’t think that’s prudent at this point.  When Paps first burst onto the scene, he looked a lot like Bard: a new phenom nobody had seen and everybody loved because his fastball found triple-digit speeds.  If we give the ball to Bard too early, we could have another Paps on our hands.  Paps had a bad year this past year, but let’s see how he does this coming year before we just give away our closer in favor of a young guy who isn’t yet tried-and-true in that role on a regular basis.

And finally, last but totally not least, we have some news from Bud Selig, who is obviously trying to make waves before he retires.  He wants to add another Wild Card to each league in order to expand the playoffs from eight teams to ten.  I mean, what? I guess the Wild Card teams would play each other to determine the Wild Card champion, and then everything would return to business as usual? And then the Wild Card champion would of course be able to sell untold amounts of shirts, hats, and other merchandise? He wants to implement this change by next season, which convinces me that he’s doing this to leave his mark.  Rob Manfred, executive vice president for labor relations of Major League Baseball, basically said that’s not in the cards (pun intended) due to collective bargaining issues.  Michael Weiner, the head of the player’s union, says the players aren’t necessarily opposed to the potential change, but the union hasn’t been approached formally yet.

I am not in favor.  Selig claims that eight is a fair number of total teams, and so is ten; therefore, why not ten? I would counter that with the age-old adage, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The playoffs are a whole month long with eight teams as it is, and baseball should not be played in November.  Also, how would you approach the scenario of one of these newly added Wild Card teams winning the World Series? It’s similar to the steroids issue.  Does the juiced player who breaks a record go into the books with or without an asterisk, or does he not go into the books at all? Similarly, this new team wouldn’t even have made the playoffs under the old system, so do we really consider them World Series champions or don’t we? Granted, the current organization of the playoffs isn’t that old; expansion was voted on and passed in 1993.  But because this format is so new, let’s let it get its footing first.  There are those who point out that expansion would have gotten us into the playoffs this year.  But then we’d have more levels of competition to clear once we get there, so it’s not necessarily all that helpful.  Like I said, there’s been no indication so far that it needs fixing by the addition of two teams.  This is Selig wanting to make waves, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been having some nice talks with the networks about it too.  I’m just saying that I think he’s proposing this change for all the wrong reasons, and there are no clear benefits from a baseball standpoint.

Also, Selig’s second in command and right-hand man, Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball’s Chief Operating Officer, resigned last month.  What’s up with that.

We claimed Taylor Buchholz.  Yes, he is Clay’s cousin.

In other news, the B’s shut out the Devils and Panthers this week, with the help of Lucic’s hat trick in the latter, and bested the Rangers by one goal.  We lost to the Kings yesterday by one goal, but it was in overtime, so we still get a point.  The Pats beat the Steelers last week.  In Pittsburgh.  39-26.  It was nothing short of awesome.

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Isn’t that a convenient theme for the week.

With all this focus on defense, it’s worth explaining four new fielding stats that helped Theo and other proponents of sabermetrics make decisions this offseason.  Baseball is a numbers-heavy game, so anytime new stats come to the fore, it’s pretty exciting stuff.

First we have a fielder’s ultimate zone rating.  It’s a fielder’s number of runs above or below average.  It’s calculated by adding range runs to error runs.  According to Mitchel Lichtman, the statistic’s developer, range runs are “the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by how the fielder is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity,” and error runs are “the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by the number of errors he makes as compared to an average fielder at that position given the same distribution of balls in play.”

Next is the plus/minus.  This is more straight-forward.  It awards for converting plays that others in the position in question failed to convert and demerits for failing to convert plays that others would’ve made.  Developed by John Dewan, this stat is compiled through extensive research of video footage that maps the location and speed of each ball in play as well as the type of hit that put it into play as well as every other property of a ball in play that you could possibly imagine.

Third is the defensive runs saved.  It’s a complete quantity of runs saved.  Also developed by John Dewan, it’s calculated using plus/minus in conjunction with “double play abilities, outfielder arms, bunt defense by corner infielders, pitcher stolen base defense, catcher stolen base defense and the catcher’s ability to handle pitchers.” Dewan explains it thus in his book The Fielding Bible Volume II, “Let’s say there’s a man on first with one out. The expected runs at that point are .528. The next play is a ground ball to the shortstop. He boots it for an error and we now have men on first and second with one out. The expected runs went from .528 to .919. That’s an increase of .391 (.919 minus .528) runs. The play itself, the error, cost the team .391 runs. We don’t have to follow it through and count the rest of the inning. We know what the value of the ending state is and can use it.”

Fourthly, we’ve got the probabilistic model of range.  This one is my personal favorite of the four.  It’s kind of like the ultimate zone rating but accounts for some additional and very important variables.  This program, developed by David Pinto, calculates “the probability of a ball being turned into an out based on six parameters: direction of hit (a vector), the type of hit (fly, ground, line drive, bunt), how hard the ball was hit (slow, medium, hard), the park, the handedness of the pitcher, the handedness of the batter.” Here’s how it works.  It finds the probability of a ball put in play being converted into an out; this is the number of expected outs.  It divides that by the number of balls put in play; this is the expected defensive efficiency rating.  Compare that to the whole team’s actual defensive efficiency rating, and you’ve got the probabilistic model of range, the idea being that a team has a good defense if it’s actual defensive efficiency rating is better than its expected rating.  I’ll be interested to see how the 2010 Red Sox fare by this metric.

Leaving the world of defensive stats and mathematical innovation to itself for moment, we’re going to take a trip back to your high school hallway.

You’ll never believe the latest news on the Dice-K front.  Apparently, the Boston Globe found out from a Japanese magazine that talked to Dice-K that Dice-K injured his right inner thigh while preparing for last year’s World Baseball Classic.  But he didn’t withdraw from the World Baseball Classic because the rest of him felt fine.  He actually concealed the injury from Team Japan’s trainers.  But the guilt and the physical taxation of his work took their toll, and the rest is history.

Honestly, the whole situation resembles teenage gossip way too closely.  It’s extremely frustrating.  The way I see it, the team shouldn’t have had to find out about an injury that directly affected, its long-term performance from a newspaper that found out from a magazine that found out from the player.  At the bottom of this whole thing is cultural differences.  In Japan, honor is of paramount importance.  So Dice-K felt that his injury was something to hide; he didn’t want to become the center of attention, didn’t want people to worry on his behalf, and didn’t want to make excuses for himself.  But we expect someone like Dice-K to be public about legitimate injuries so he can get help.  Bottom line? Team Japan got a championship, Team Boston got nothing, and Team Dice-K has some work to do.

Theo Epstein deserves a hearty congratulations on never having gone to arbitration with a player.  He signed Okajima to a one-year deal worth a bit less than three million dollars, plus four bonus clauses.  But he’s got four more filings to deal with: Hermida, Ramon Ramirez, Delcarmen, and none other than Jonathan Papelbon, who of course expects a raise.  I think if anyone on that list is going to finally get Theo into an arbitration, it’s going to be Paps.  I mean, he’s still the best closer in the game, but after our untimely exit from the ’09 playoffs, I’m not sure that raise is going to be served on a silver platter.

Mark McGwire finally declared his use of steroids and HGH.  Wow.  I could try to field some sarcasm here, but honestly when I read that, I was so bored that I forgot to yawn.  Next thing you know, Barry Bonds is going to admit using, too.  Oh, wait.  But in all seriousness, I think Major League Baseball needed that admission, even though all of us knew it before Tom Davis chaired that interrogation on March 17, 2005.  But I think Michael Cuddyer said it best when he expressed sorrow for the clean guys who couldn’t hold a candle to all the loaded teams that swiped the championship rings from their fingers.  As far as Joe Morgan’s statement on the matter is concerned, it’s just another reason not to watch baseball on ESPN:

[Steroid users] took performance-enhancing drugs to enhance their numbers and make more money.  And they did it and made more money and enhanced their numbers.

Profound.  Although his main point that we should pay more constructive attention to the clean guys of the era who earned their stats than pay all this sensational attention to the juiced guys who didn’t is spot-on.

Equally profound was Bud Selig’s proclamation that changes would come to baseball this season.  Did he say what sort of changes? No.  Apparently that’s not nearly as important as the fact that changes will take place, period.  The postseason schedule is likely to be addressed first.  Mike Scoscia wants less days off, and Joe Torre wants the division series to be best-of-seven.  Fantastic.  The GMs who, between them, want more baseball played in less time after a 162-game season are on the panel that’s essentially the brain behind the changes.  And last but not least, Major League Baseball has pledged one million dollars in aid to Haiti.  That just makes you feel great about being a baseball fan.

In other news, the B’s lost to the Ducks in regulation, beat the Sharks in a shootout, and lost to the Kings in a shootout.  But that’s not even the sad part.  The sad part is that we have fifty-four points, which is good for second place in the Northeast.  That’s two above the Senators and ten below the Sabres.  Guess how many points the Kings have.  Fifty-seven.  I’m sorry to have to say this, but we’re actually playing worse puck than the Los Angeles Kings.  Of course, life doesn’t look much better from a Patriots perspective.  The Ravens absolutely slaughtered us on Sunday, and that’s the end of that.  I don’t really feel a need to dwell on the subject.

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Congratulations to Joe Mauer on winning the American League’s MVP award.  Youk and Bay didn’t fair too badly, taking sixth and seventh respectively, but they didn’t have the .365 average with the twenty-eight home runs and ninety-six RBIs to go with the starting catcher position.  Mauer took all but one first-place votes and was only the second catcher to win it in thirty-three years.  (It’s no secret that catchers usually can’t hit.  Which explains why Victor Martinez is next season’s top priority.) And those numbers also earned him the Ted Williams Award, given to baseball’s leading hitter.  And of course who but Albert Pujols won it for the National League.  Obviously.

Jonathan Papelbon was the club’s Fireman of the Year.  Daniel Bard was the club’s Rookie of the Year.  Nick Green won the Jackie Jensen Award for spirit and determination, and let me tell you something: any shortstop who goes from non-roster invitee to four-month starter has no shortage of spirit and determination.

As far as the stove is concerned, it’s still not too hot.  We acquired Royals infielder Tug Hulett for a player to be named later or cash considerations.  Alex Gonzalez signed a one-year deal with the Jays for about three million dollars, with a club option for two and a half million.  Now that he’s unfortunately out of the picture, we’re showing interest in Marco Scutaro, who says it’s either us or the Dodgers.  We’re also shopping Mike Lowell.  Surprise, surprise.  Even if we do end up shipping him off, it won’t even be a fair deal, because the recipient club would be getting a top-notch, albeit health-wise unpredictable, third baseman for fifty percent off, because we’d have to swallow at least that much of his salary to make him palatable.  It’s really just sad.  He had a phenomenal season (and postseason) in 2007 and amble moments of brilliance in 2008, especially in the ALDS.  But he is getting older, and that was in California where the weather is warmer, so perhaps a team from a city with a warmer climate would be a better fit for him.

But a few big names have surfaced.  The Tigers are apparently interested in trading Miguel Cabrera (with Detroit’s financial situation, who wouldn’t be?), and we’ll probably get first dibs.  Also, it’s official: we are going for Roy Halladay and going big.  The problem is that, to close both of these deals, we’ll almost certainly have to part with Clay Buchholz.  We’d also have to part with Casey Kelly, at least, to land Halladay.  And after the performance Clay Buchholz gave in Game Three of the ALDS (walking into an elimination game as a young pitcher with no postseason experience after having seen the lineup put up zero run support), I don’t know how comfortable I would be with giving him up.  I think we owe it to him, the organization, and ourselves to see more of what he’s got before we decide that he is not, in fact, one of the greats in the making.  But the plot thickens: Halladay said he’d waive his no-trade clause to go to the Bronx.  I’m not saying we should engage in prevention via irresponsible acquisition, but I am saying that we need to weigh our actions very carefully.  Especially since Halladay is getting older.  That’s something that seems to be lost amidst the sensation of it all.  The man is not immortal.  He ages.  And while he ages, his abilities will decline.  And right now, he’s at a point in his career where we can expect his next four or five years to be considerably different from his last four or five.

Turns out that Ron Johnson is not our new bench coach.  DeMarlo Hale is.  Ron Johnson joined the Major League staff to coach at first in replacement of Hale.  I have to say I feel more comfortable with Hale as bench coach than I did when I thought Johnson would be doing it.  Not that I don’t think Johnson would be a good bench coach, but if we’re talking about the importance of knowing the players and the franchise inside-out, Hale, who’s been coaching first base for a while now, clearly has the edge there.

At the end of my recent posts, I’ve usually said something like, “All we can do now is wait and see.” I say that because it’s true.  But it’s also true that the suspense is killing me.  I keep getting this feeling that the offseason won’t come to a close until Theo Epstein does something big, but I can’t figure out what that’ll be.  A trade? A signing? Another starting pitcher? A new power hitter? It’s too hard and too early to tell.  But one thing’s for sure: something’s definitely brewing.  The front office has something up its sleeve.  The foundations have been laid for some sort of shake-up, even if we can’t quite figure out what it’ll be.

But before we conclude, I would like to report that Bud Selig will be retiring after the 2012 season.  It’s been one interesting ride.  He was named acting commissioner in 1992 and official commissioner in 1998, and since then we’ve seen a growth in the baseball market, an expansion of the postseason via the Wild Card, the introduction of revenue sharing, Interleague, a players’ strike, the first World Series cancellation since 1904 (ten years shy of a century), and the steroid era.  There was good, there was bad, and there was most definitely ugly.  What do we need in a successor? That’s an extremely open-ended question, but whoever it is will be charged with the difficult task of cleaning up baseball’s public image.  So much controversy occurred during Selig’s tenure that MLB will probably look to someone with a hard-line streak, someone who can keep the sport in line while still bringing revenue in.  We’ll see what happens.

The B’s beat the Blues, Wild, and Sens and lost to the Devils in sudden death.  The Pats beat the Jets.

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We’re more than halfway through the season.  In fact, it’s already August, when more than the weather gets hot.  Each and every Major League club goes into playoff mode, but only a select few will get there.  There isn’t a doubt in my mind that we will most definitely be one of the few.  We’ve dominated our division.  Toronto started the season strong but has since slipped into fourth place and was seriously contemplating trading Roy Halladay to get some much-needed fresh blood into the clubhouse.  The Baltimore Orioles did the usual: fell to the bottom of the pack.  They’re twenty games out now, which is quite pathetic.  The Rays have been nonexistent in third place, even though somehow they just managed to sweep us in a two-game set, and we’ve been wiping the floor with the Yankees and are ready for another go-around.  It’s been fantastic.  We’re currently undefeated against New York.  Let me say that again.  We’re currently undefeated against New York.  Feels good, doesn’t it? So we start the two-month playoff rush in a decent place: two and a half games out and ready to rock and roll.  Not great but it could be worse.

Every year, Boston.com grades the team individually and overall at the All-Star break, with a little help from Tony Massarotti.  You can find Boston.com’s report card here.  I’ll be taking a break for about twelve days, but I’ll leave you with a report card of my own: a late-season grading of that team we all know and love.

Jason Varitek: A

Compare this year to last year.  So far this year, he’s hit thirteen home runs, batted in forty-four runs, scored thirty-seven runs, and has sixty-four hits.  Last year, he hit thirteen home runs, batted in forty-three runs, scored thirty-seven runs, and had ninety-three hits.  And this season isn’t even over yet.  So he’s significantly exceeded his numbers from last year in all of those categories, and he’s thirty-seven years old.  Experiencing a renaissance at the catcher’s position and at that age isn’t easy, but he worked closely with hitting coach Dave Magadan to make that happen with very positive results.  And we still get all of the goodness behind the plate; he’s got a 3.72 catcher’s ERA, the fourth-lowest in Major League Baseball.

Victor Martinez: A

Theo landed him at the trading deadline to add another big bat to the lineup.  Victor Martinez has done that and more, making an immediate impact and finding a groove right away.  He adds his .294 average, sixteen home runs, and seventy-three RBIs as well as a fielding percentage of upwards of .990 at first base.  He hasn’t made an error at catcher all season.  He plays first, he catches, he DHes; he does it all in the field and, as a switch-hitter who bats .307 from the left and a decent .258 from the right, at the plate.  A brilliant acquisition yet again by our general manager.

Kevin Youkilis: A

I have nothing to complain about here.  He consistently bats at or above .300 with a .422 on-base percentage and a .580 slugging percentage.  He’s hit twenty home runs this year, so his power numbers are up but not at the expense of his walks (fifty-six) or other hits.  That, plus his defense.  He moves between third and first like it’s the easiest thing in the world.  And these are his numbers with a stint on the DL and a slump during which he batted .194 over twenty-eight games.

Dustin Pedroia: A-

I give the kid an A.  Unlike many reigning MVPs, he’s not having a bad season the year after winning the award.  He’s batting above .300.  His power numbers are down, but he’s batted in forty-six runs and hit thirty-one doubles.  He’s second among Major League second basemen in runs and doubles, third in hits, fifth in walks, third in batting average, and fourth in on-base percentage.  Of course the top-notch fielding can’t be ignored, even though his .987 fielding percentage is low.  Still, he’s a dirt dog if I’ve ever seen one.

Mike Lowell: B

His 2007 season was outstanding.  His 2008 season, not as much.  His season this year will be a test of whether he can successfully rebound from his hip surgery.  He’s done that so far, posting a .296 batting average and .817 OPS, good for fifth in the American League among third basemen.  And after his three weeks on the DL in the first half, he’s really come on strong in the second.  We headed into the All-Star break thinking we needed another bat, and now we have one.  (Actually, we have two, since the acquisition of V-Mart.) As far as his fielding goes, the hip does prevent him from going the extra mile sometimes, but that’s rare enough.

Nick Green: B

Nick Green really stepped up to the plate.  Definitely an unsung hero of the team.  Jed Lowrie was out, and we were looking at a long stretch of errors from Julio Lugo.  Then some non-roster Spring Training invitee stepped in and lo and behold.  Lugo lost his job, and Green made the most of his opportunity to start.  His offense is his weakness, walkoff home run notwithstanding.

Jason Bay: A-

This man is phenomenal.  Theo Epstein hasn’t been able to lock him up yet, but he will.  Jason Bay is too good to let walk into the free agent market.  We’ll sign him.  Anyway, he does the usual.  He hits for average (the .252 is a little low but the .279 career gets the point across) and power (twenty-one home runs).  He fields (no errors at all this season).  He’s seventh in the American League in RBIs and first in walks with seventy-one.  He did go through a rather pronounced slump during which he batted .153 and struck out twenty-five times in seventeen games, but with a strong second half, which may be hampered by his right hamstring issue, he could be in the running for MVP along with Youkilis and Pedroia.

Jacoby Ellsbury: A

Whatever issues he may have had at the plate last year have been solved.  Ellsbury batted .287 in April, then .308 in May, then .313 in June.  He’s now batting .301.  With six home runs and thirty-five RBIs.  He’s gotten really comfortable at the top of the order, and there’s that whole stolen bases thing.  Since the start of last season, only Carl Crawford has more thefts.  And that steal of home against Andy Pettitte will be playing on highlight reels for the rest of the decade.  This speed translates perfectly from the basepaths to center field, where he makes the most difficult and convoluted catches look like walks in the park.

JD Drew: B

Theo Epstein knew exactly what he was getting when he signed Drew to a five-year, $14 million-per-season contract.  He’s batting .248.  With an on-base percentage of .365.  Consistently.  That’s the key.  You always know what you’ll get with Drew: nothing great, but nothing too bad, either.  And get this: the Red Sox are fourth in the American League in OPS in right field.  He’s put those numbers to good use in the leadoff spot, and the one-two punch of him and Pedroia has become something to be feared by opposing pitchers.  With Ellsbury fitting perfectly into that leadoff role now, he finds himself batting lower in the order, but his consistency remains intact.  He mans right field well, which isn’t something you can say for everyone who plays the position in Fenway Park.

David Ortiz: B+

I never thought I’d give that grade to David Ortiz, but you can blame it on his horrendous first two months.  His lowest point was June 2, when he batted .186 with one home run, eighteen RBIs, and an OPS of just .566 in forty-seven games.  Ugh.  But then, what a turnaround.  I want everyone who said he was done to take a good, long look at the following numbers: in his next thirty-four games, he led the team in home runs with eleven, RBIs with 29, and OPS with 1.011.  That, my friends, is Big Papi.  So far he’s batted .225 with fifteen home runs, so the numbers continue to climb.  With a solid second half, the season might not turn out to be so bad for him.

George Kottaras: B-

Let’s remember why he’s here.  He’s here to catch Tim Wakefield.  He’s not here to hit or to take the reins from Jason Varitek; those two responsibilities fall squarely on the shoulders of Victor Martinez.  He’s here to catch knuckleballs every fifth day and give the captain an extra day of rest if he needs it.  And he’s done a great job of that.  Less than ten passed balls and a 5.08 catcher’s ERA.  As far as offense goes, there really isn’t any, but again, that’s not the point.

Jeff Bailey: C

Again, we knew what we were getting here.  Key players were out with injuries, and we needed someone to fill in.  He’s significantly better against lefties (.400) than righties (.111), and the defense is fine enough (no errors).  He wasn’t staying in the Majors anyway, so it’s not a big deal.

Rocco Baldelli: A-

He was signed to provide backup in right field and to handle southpaws.  He hasn’t seen much playing time because of his health concerns, but he’s still batting .261.  Something he’s not usually credited with is a really strong arm.  He practically won the game for us when Lester dueled with Kansas City’s Brian Bannister on July 10; Ellsbury had been ejected for throwing equipment in frustration when called out at the plate, so Rocco Baldelli came in.  He gunned down a Royal at second, something Ellsbury probably would’ve have been able to pull off.  That was key.

Josh Beckett: A

Obviously.  Quite simply, he is an ace.  He is one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever seen.  He had a 7.22 ERA to start June, but look at him now.  In his last thirteen starts before the All-Star break, he’s 9-1 with a 2.14 ERA.  Currently, he’s thirteen and four with a 3.27 ERA that just keeps dropping.  This is shaping up to be a Cy Young year.  Again.  Hopefully they’ll get it right this time.

Jon Lester: A

It’s almost the exact same story.  His rough patch was about two weeks longer than Beckett’s, but his turnaround was just as rapid and just as dramatic.  He is now the best southpaw in all of Major League Baseball.  In the middle of May, he was looking at a 6.51 ERA.  In his ten starts before the All-Star break, he was 6-2 with a 2.01 ERA.  He’s now nine and seven with a 3.79 ERA, but don’t let that fool you.  Theo knew what he had here.  Who needs Johan Santana when you have Lester.

Tim Wakefield: A

He’s eleven and three with a 4.31 ERA.  He’s an All-Star.  He carried a no-no bid into the eighth inning on the road against the A’s this year.  By the way, did I mention he’s forty-two years old? He’s the longest-tenured member of the club, and all he does is consistently give us quality innings and put us in a position to win.  It’s not his fault if he doesn’t get any run support.

Daizuke Matsuzaka: F

Fail.  Epic fail.  Without a doubt, this is the lowest grade I gave this year.  Eight starts, 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA.  The Sox’s record is 2-6 in those starts.  Awful.  Just awful.  And we can thank Bud Selig and the World Baseball Classic for that.  Dice-K went hard during the Classic and basically blew his season along with his shoulder.  He finally seems to be receptive to adapting to the Major League way of doing things (but only after airing his grievances), and after a stint on the DL, he’s now down in Fort Myers basically catching up on all the Spring Training he missed while pitching for Japan.  Just a big, huge, epic fail.

Brad Penny: C

He’s a number five starter.  He never pitches less than five innings, and he never pitches more than six.  He usually gives up about three runs per outing.  And he does this every single time he starts.  Consistency has been the name of his game, but it’s withered considerably in the second half.  He’s been struggling lately.

John Smoltz: C

Two and four with a 7.12 ERA isn’t the John Smoltz I was expecting, but then I stepped back and remembered why we signed him.  We signed him for October.  He has more wins in the postseason than any other pitcher, and he’s here to bring some of that success to us.  We can weather regular-season spottiness if it means some major Ws in the postseason, but the problem is that it just doesn’t seem like he’s peaking at all.  If the goal is to peak late, we should see glimmers of brilliance this month.  Maybe we will, starting tonight.  It doesn’t look likely, though.

Ramon Ramirez: A

The bullpen’s unsung hero.  Theo’s trade of Coco Crisp for this man was genius.  During his sixteen-game rough patch in the first half, his ERA was 5.02, and we all know it wasn’t pleasant to watch him during that stretch.  But he’s gotten better.  And he’s one of the best overall.  His ERA is 2.28, and less than ten relievers in the Majors have an ERA lower than his.  One of them being Jonathan Papelbon.

Daniel Bard: A

Daniel Bard has a long way to go, but he’s getting there fast.  As his confidence grows, so does Terry Francona’s.  He’s using him more and more, and Bard is stepping up and delivering.  A 2.25 ERA, and keep in mind that what you are seeing here is our setup man of the future.  Who tops out at one hundred miles per hour.  Imagine that.  The one-two punch of Bard and Papelbon.  Unhittable.

Takashi Saito: C

He was supposed to be our third-day closer, but with the bullpen being the best in baseball and all, he hasn’t really been used that consistently.  Actually, he’s mostly used when we’re losing.  If the bullpen stays healthy, we don’t really need him that much.  He’s been decent; 3.32 ERA.  But we have better.

Manny Delcarmen: B

He’s a workhorse who gets the job done and keeps the ERA low at 3.05.  Delcarmen is consistent, healthy, and can handle more than one inning of work if necessary.

Hideki Okajima: A

We keep talking about his epic season in 2007 while he’s having one of those right under our noses.  Since the start of that season, he’s been among the top ten relievers in the game in ERA.  A 2.98 ERA is not something to be taken for granted.  He’s a fantastic setup man.

Javier Lopez: D

He had a horrible start to the season and was optioned to the minor leagues.  Tito used him when he shouldn’t have been used: against righties.  But now the bullpen is having some trouble handling lefties, and he’s improved in the minors.  If he’s able to works his way back up, we could be all too ready to welcome him back.

Jonathan Papelbon: B

Many of his saves have been sloppy.  The one-two-three inning that’s been his trademark in the past hasn’t been as common this year.  But that’s changing.  Here’s the thing.  Papelbon has to be used every so often whether we need him or not because he needs to get his work in.  But when you put your closer in again where the team is leading, he doesn’t get the same high-pressure, adrenaline-rush-inducing sensation, and he relaxes.  And when he relaxes, he can’t sustain that fierce competitiveness.  I think Papelbon’s experienced that this year, which incidentally is a credit to our lineup.  The point is that recently, in close games, the one-two-three inning has resurfaced and seems to be appearing more and more often.  Numbers-wise, his problem is walks.  He’s giving up many more walks this year than he did last year.

Terry Francona: A

Again, obviously.  We’re almost leading the division again.  We’re set to appear in October again.  We’ll win the World Series again.  All with Terry Francona at the helm.  This is the first year of his three-year contract extension, and he’s the first Boston manager to begin a sixth season in about sixty years.  Sixty years.  Finally.  And rightfully so.  There are a lot of different personalities floating around in that clubhouse, and they all blend together seamlessly without a hitch.  A lot of that has to do with Tito.  Now that the revolving door for manager has closed, it’s time to seal the one at shortstop, too.

Theo Epstein: A

The man is a genius.  In Theo we trust, and he always comes through.  He’s made two major mistakes that I can recall: Eric Gagne and Julio Lugo, and so far that’s been it.  And even those weren’t that bad in the long run.  He went after bargain pitchers this offseason, and it paid off; we have one of the best rotations and definitely the best bullpen in the game.  All we need to do is work on hitting for the long-term and we’ll be all set.  Theo Epstein is someone Red Sox Nation and I can trust to do that.

The Boston Red Sox Overall: B+

We’re heading into August and we are poised to go on a tear.  The postseason is approaching.  Expect us to win it all.  We have what has to be the deepest team in Major League Baseball.  We have hitting.  We have pitching.  We have fielding.  We have the wherewithal to bring another World Series trophy to the city of Boston.  And we will.  Because we can.

Boston Globe Staf/Jim Davis

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Cutting to the chase yet again, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were both revealed to be on the list of the roughly one hundred baseball players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drug use in 2003.  Neither will be punished by the league because suspensions were only introduced in 2004.  But this season just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it.

Isn’t it funny how the New York Times is always the one to break these stories? And with a decidedly anti-Red Sox bent, too.  “Now, players with Boston’s championship teams of 2004 and 2007 have also been linked to doping.” Like we couldn’t figure that out from the headline.  And isn’t it funny how, out of one hundred-plus names, these were the only two that were leaked? To a New York newspaper? On the front page? Mere moments before game time? When David Ortiz was scheduled to be in the lineup? It’s just strange, is all I’m saying.

The first thing I’d like to say is that the tests in 2003 were called for by Bud Selig to determine the percentage of baseball players who were using.  The results were supposed to be destroyed.  They weren’t; they were supposed to remain anonymous.  And that’s the kicker.  You can’t just release only a handful of the one-hundred-plus names on the list; it’s completely unfair.  If you release some, you have to release all.  Not doing so allows unclean players to masquerade as clean and point fingers to the unclean when really they’re all in the same boat.  And it’s deceiving; it makes it easy for people to forget that at that time this was prolific.  Furthermore, according to Nomar, because the test was anonymous and only for the purposes of determining whether testing was necessary, many players intentionally refused to be tested, thereby allowing themselves to be associated with positive results, in order to push the number of positive players over the top, which would force Bud Selig to implement tests.  This is definitely something to be kept in mind when future revelations of names are made.  Unless that’s not altogether true.  And in this day and age, you can’t be too sure.  Either way, the point is that, as it stands now, the list totally irrelevant.  Just sayin’.

Usually in these situations, the logic of choice would be that of superficial fairness.  Yes, it looks like Manny Ramirez was possibly David Ortiz were taking steroids at the time.  (I’ll explain the “possibly” in a moment.) Just like Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez.  And that by taking steroids, Manny and Papi actually evened the playing field.  The Yankees had cheaters on their team.  We had cheaters on our team.  So we still won, and we were still the better team.  Plain and simple.

But I’m not going to employ that logic, because I am a member of Red Sox Nation, and I root for a team that deserves more than just the cheap, dirty, easy way out.  When the first news of Manny Ramirez broke, I said that neither the 2004 nor the 2007 World Series victories are tainted, and I stand by that.  Yes, it looks like Manny Ramirez and possibly David Ortiz were taking steroids at the time.  But they were only two on a team of forty.  To taint those two victories is to besmirch the rest of the team without due cause.  True, they played an enormous part in both, but without the team they would’ve gotten nowhere.  David Ortiz hit walk-off home runs in the 2004 playoffs. In order for those home runs to win the game, other runs had to have been scored and plated by other players.  Like Mark Bellhorn, Bill Mueller, Pokey Reese, Trot Nixon, Orlando Cabrera, Dave Roberts, and Kevin Millar, to name a few.  What about them? They played more of a part in those wins than just two guys.  So when Yankee fans, or anyone else for that matter, try to void 2004, they’re just grasping.  Men don’t win championships.  Teams win championships.  And I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that we are not about  to let the superficial fan or the weak of heart slander two entire teams of upstanding ballplayers.

Now, that begs the question of who else on the 2004 team tested positive, but we have to work with the information available.  And I can guarantee you right now that every member of that team did not dope.  Doping had to have been an isolated incident, done on an individual basis.  It wasn’t something that ran rampant in the clubhouse.  We didn’t have a trainer injecting people or a supplier doling out pills.  The clubhouse, then, was clean, and as a team, we won honorably.  As a team, we were clean because we did not condone this behavior.  And we still don’t.

And now we get to discuss the “possibly.” David Ortiz admitted that, when he was a young man in the Dominican Republic just breaking into the game of baseball, he’d started buy protein shakes without really knowing for sure what they contained.  It’s possible that they contained PEDs and he just didn’t bother to check.  There’s no excuse for that.  But there is a difference between that and the actions of Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds.  It’s possible that he tested positive in 2003, figured it must have something to do with an ingredient in the shake, and stopped drinking them, which coincides with the fact that starting in 2004 he tested clean, a fact we have records to prove.  And the plausibility of this possibility is actually confirmed by the fact that Bronson Arroyo has publicly stated that he was taking androstenedione and amphetamines.  He stopped taking the andro because he found out it was laced with the steroid Winstrol due to “lax production standards.” Apparently, back then, it wasn’t that rare to take something without bothering to check what was in it.  (Arroyo stopped taking the andro in 2004 and the greenies in 2006, when each was respectively banned.) Manny Ramirez is another matter entirely, but we can’t pass judgment on David Ortiz.  Not yet anyway.  Not after he issued a public statement through the Red Sox during which he said he knows nothing, wants to find out all he can, and will explain the situation to the public as soon as he has more information.  This is not the usual skulking off that guilty users practice.  He’s being responsible; the first thing he did was confirm with the Players Association that the report is true.  This is exactly in the style of Big Papi, always open with the media and up-front with the fans.  We owe him our patience while he figures this whole thing out.

Believe it or not, that was the easy stuff.  Deep down, we all know the wins aren’t tainted.  We all know that, as both a team and a clubhouse, we’re clean and honorable.  We know it, we believe it, and it’s easy to explain why, and I’ve done that.  Now comes the hard part.   The part where you realize how painful it was to discover this, how frustrated you were to read it, especially on the front page of a New York newspaper.   I won’t lie; it hurt bad.   And if it comes to pass that he was ingesting PEDs a-la Bonds and A-Rod, I’ll be even more disappointed in David Ortiz.  But we’ll cross that bridge when and if we come to it.  As it is, it stabs you right in the heart.  It makes you angry that he could be so ignorant and stupid as to get caught up in all of that, and it frustrates you even more because you know you can’t judge yet since you don’t have all the details.  And it makes you sad.  But what makes you even sadder is that there are people out there who’ll try to take away from you what you’ve rightfully earned, based on the mistakes of two misguided men.  Whether one of them acted with a certain intent or not.

If there’s one thing we have to take away from this, it’s that it’s wrong to let unclean players give the clean a bad name by hiding among them.  Similarly, it’s wrong to accuse the clean of being unclean just because a realistic outcome could maybe, possibly, sort of be construed to fit an anomalous behavior.  That’s slander.  When the press does it, it’s libel.  And it’s illegal.  Just to give you an idea of how grave an offense defamation can be.  Red Sox Nation is better than that.  The Royal Rooters raised us better than that.

I was very surprised to hear about this.  I know, I know, technically this shouldn’t have surprised me.  Maybe I relate too much to the pre-steroid era, or maybe I’m stubbornly non-cynical; I don’t know.  Whatever it is, there are things I do know.  I know that 2004 ended the Curse of the Bambino and that 2007 reminded us it wasn’t just a dream.  I know that the retired numbers hanging on the right field roof deck represent players who couldn’t be paid to look at a PED.  I know that the men wearing our uniforms now know what not to do.  Behavior like this doesn’t fly in Boston.  Never has.  Never will.  And finally, I know that when I look at a Red Sox jersey, at the World Series trophies, and the youth of the 2009 club, I’m looking at things and people I can respect.  Clubs like ours have learned from their predecessors’ mistakes, and the things they will achieve without the aid of PEDs will be even better than anything that could be achieved with them, because of their absence.

So, that’s that.  I’m not naive.  I just refuse be as cynical and detached as many other baseball fans and sports writers are being.  The situation’s awful, but it is what it is.  Hopefully, and I mean hopefully, this’ll be the last such issue I’ll have to address.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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I had to laugh at that headline.  Can you really say a pitcher gave a vintage performance if that pitcher’s only twenty-five years old? Apparently.  Jon Lester’s first two starts were nothing like his third.  If it’s possible to describe a young pitcher’s performance as vintage, now would certainly be the time and yesterday would certainly be the performance.  In his first two starts, Lester had a total of five strikeouts.  Yesterday, he had nine, one shy of his career high.  The cut fastball was on.  Seven innings, two walks, no runs.  He gave up two hits to Robert Andino and two to Ty Wigginton, and that was it.  He continues to be undefeated against Baltimore.  And he even showed off his pickoff move, catching Wigginton at first in the third inning for his third of the year.

I have to say George Kottaras did a great job yesterday.  He started to give Tek the day off, one of quite a few this year as Tito’s strategy will be to rest the captain a little more often.  Kottaras caught Lester once before in Spring Training, which isn’t much preparation, so hats off to the new guy.

Heading into yesterday’s contest, our bullpen gave up only one earned run in nineteen and two-thirds innings and posted an ERA of 0.46 in its last three games.  And the corps did not disappoint.  Ramon Ramirez was spot-on as usual in the eighth.  Needless to say, I’m enjoying the benefits of that trade, and I think Coco Crisp is too, because he’s a starter by trade and starters need to play regularly.  True, Jacoby’s in the middle of a slump right now, but he’s already started to come around, and he’s certainly having no trouble at all in the field.  No errors in 149 games; can we say Gold Glove? Takashi Saito, on the other hand, gave up a run in the ninth, so while Ramirez is still maintaining his 0.00 ERA, Saito’s pushing 6.23.  Paps worked the previous two games, and pitching him three days in a row is pretty much out of the question, so Saito, having been a closer, was the logical choice.  In his career he’s converted 82 of 92 save opportunities, so we know he has it in him somewhere.  I just hope he gets the kinks out so I don’t have to hold my breath every time he steps out there.

The offense was quiet but got the job done anyway.  One RBI for Mikey Lowell and one for Pedroia for a final score of 2-1.  Ellsbury went two for four, the only multi-hit performance, so slowly but steadily he’s getting there.  Drew went hitless, ending his hitting streak at six games.  Papi went hitless, which unfortunately is something we’re coming to expect.  He’s only had one extra-base hit all year.  We know he’ll snap out of it, but when? I think before the series with New York would be as good a time as any.

Beckett’s suspension was reduced from six to five games, so with some creative finagling he won’t have to miss a start.  Honestly, he shouldn’t even have been suspended at all.  Just sayin’.  Brad Wilkerson has decided to retire after an eight-year Major League career.  And David Wells will be getting in the booth for TBS in the next few weeks.  Wells broadcasting baseball? This should be interesting.  I think it’s safe to say Bud Selig will be listening.

So we’re officially on a winning streak! Four games! And we’re tied with Baltimore for third, only three games out of first.  Toronto’s still up there with New York in second and Tampa Bay in last.  It’s only a matter of time before the AL East and the universe at large are made right again with Boston on top.  Today it’s morning ball; the Patriots Day game will start at 11:00AM.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a morning game.  Anyway, Masterson will be starting in lieu of Dice-K, and if we win today we sweep all four against the Orioles.  Nice.

Game 3 of Bruins-Habs tonight in Montreal.  We’ll get it done.  Even if Milan Lucic was suspended for tonight because it wasn’t clear whether it was his stick or his glove that hit Maxim Lapierre’s helmet.  I personally thought I saw his glove.  But the point is we’re good enough to weather it for a game and come out on top.  And there’s nothing quite like showing your arch-rivals who’s boss in their house.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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