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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Cuddyer’

Well, say hello to our new manager: Bobby Valentine.  I seriously can not believe this is happening.  If you told me when Tito left that Bobby V. would be his replacement, I think I seriously would have looked at you like you were literally clinically insane.  I hope he doesn’t manage like he broadcasts, that’s for sure.  It’s either going to be really good or really bad; with Bobby V., there is no in-between.

We interviewed six candidates, and Valentine was obviously the most experienced.  He managed the Rangers from 1986-1992 and the Mets from 1996-2002 and hasn’t managed since.  He’s sixty-one years old, he’s spent time in Japan twice, and he’s been killing time by working as an analyst for ESPN.  His managerial winning percentage is .510; as a benchmark, Tito’s was .529.  He professes to be open-minded, and he is touted as a brilliant strategist.

Now down to the nitty-gritty.  In fifteen seasons of managing, although he staged quite the turnaround in New York and made it deep into the postseason, appeared in the World Series only once.  He functions like he’s a one-man show and is something of a know-it-all by his own admission.  On a good day, he could run a ballclub like a Navy Seal team, but on a bad day, he’s a conniver and a manipulator, and he’ll explode on players publicly yet passively by going to the press, and the media will be left with the tall task of decoding it, which of course we know they all thoroughly enjoy.  He’s got a personality, and he isn’t afraid to show it to anyone who’ll look or listen.  Do we want a manager like this for a team that apparently includes some players who have this same exact problem? It’s unclear to say the least, as is whether Valentine is even remotely equipped to provide the kind of constructive leadership that prevents chicken-eating and beer-drinking in the clubhouse since, when he left the Mets in 2002, that team was doing things that make chicken-eating and beer-drinking seem like chores.  Fundamentally, we were all told that this managerial search was dragging on and on and on because it was important to find the right fit.  This implies that personality is crucial, and to me it seems unlikely that someone of Valentine’s experience and age would somehow undergo a drastic personality change that would eliminate these aspects of his character that seem, at least superficially, to be at odds with the manager we’ve all been picturing in the meantime.

And how about the fact that it seems like Larry completely overruled, overshadowed, and overpowered Ben on this? Of course there’s really no way to know since none of us were actually there.  But it is true that, initially, Ben wanted to hire Sveum.  I am pretty sure, therefore, that Sveum would have been a great manager in Boston.  And I think he got a pretty significant vote of confidence when Theo hired Sveum instead.  As I’ve already discussed, Ben introduced Sveum to the brass; the brass introduced Valentine to Ben.  So Larry needs to make absolutely sure that he didn’t just mess up royally, because if that happens, the team will be terrible, Red Sox Nation and I will be exceptionally infuriated, and Ben will earn a well-deserved opportunity to say, “I told you so.” Did I mention that Red Sox Nation and I would be exceptionally infuriated? There is absolutely no margin for error here.  Larry has his manager.  Now it’s time for him to step back and let Ben do his job.

Here’s something we can all agree on: this is the equivalent of a contract year for Valentine in terms of where he is in his career.  This is the end of the road.  After this, I think we can pretty much all agree that it’s over for him, no matter which way it goes.  So it’s in his best interest to go out with a positive bang, which is obviously fine by me, if I do say so myself.  He is number forty-four in our long and illustrious history.  He has a chance to leave his mark.  All he has to do is come close to what Tito did, both in the clubhouse and on the field, and he’ll already work out infinitely better than we all thought he would.  He also has to remember that, you know, this is Boston we’re talking about.  He’s not in Queens anymore.  We’re used to certain standards here, standards of on-the-field performance and off-the-field conduct, and not everything he did or didn’t do in Flushing is going to fly in our town.

So here’s what I’m saying.  I’m saying that I’m glad to hear that, on Thursday’s press conference, he said that he’s honored, humbled, and excited to be our manager.  Congratulations, Bobby V., and welcome to Boston.  We’re glad to have you because, well, we need a manager and we’ve been told you’re a good fit.  So we look forward to you showing us that you’re a good fit by adapting to your new setting and applying your inarguable shrewdness.  Just do us all a favor and don’t forget where you are.  Also, you’ve got some big shoes to fill, so I suggest you get cracking.  Get to work, and when spring rolls around, get out there and do us proud!

And now that we have our manager, for better or worse, we can start focusing on our plethora of other issues.  It’s almost certain that the front office was waiting to hire the manager before going after players since the manager has some input into who he wants and doesn’t want, although I feel strongly that something at some point this offseason should be Ben’s decision and Ben’s alone so that he can get a jump-start on his newfound, well-deserved authority.  Valentine professes to love sabermetrics, as do we all, so that’s a good start.  Look for Michael Cuddyer to be on the radar.  Papi is already very much on the radar; Valentine went down to the Dominican Republic to participate in his charity golf event and, oh, by the way, tell him to sign with us.

DeMarlo Hale may be hired by Baltimore as their third base coach, so we may have to add that to our ever-growing list.  Another hire comes in, another hire goes out.  Wake wants to pitch one more year, and Pedro Martinez plans to announce his retirement officially, as opposed to his unofficial retirement in which he has been living for the past three years.

In other news, the Pats bested the Eagles, 38-20.  The B’s beat the Leafs twice this past week.  That means we’re undefeated against Toronto this year.  Congratulations to Zdeno Chara on his well-deserved receipt of the Champion’s Award, which honors the work he’s done with Children’s Hospital Boston.

Reuters Photo
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2011 is shaping up to be the Year of the Goodbye, I guess.  It’s just a lot to take in and deal with at once.  I have confidence in Ben, but it just seems like he keeps adding to his workload rather than making some definitive decisions.  I’m sure we’ll see those soon, but it would be nice to halt the farewell train.  I think we’ve had enough.

The Phillies called Paps but then seemed to agree to terms with Ryan Madson.  The good news was that we could have still sign him; the bad news was that Paps was now salivating over Madson’s brand-new four-year, forty-plus-million-dollar theoretical contract.  The bright side in was that he’s represented by Seth and Sam Levinson.  Can you imagine if Paps of all people were represented by Scott Boras? That would be absolutely hellish.  Ben made contact with Paps’s camp, but he didn’t expect them to give him any time to match an offer from another club if the offer was to Paps’s liking.

And it was.  Congratulations, Paps.  You have just set the record for closer compensation.  He has accepted an offer from the Phillies for a four-year, fifty-million-dollar deal including a fifth-year vesting option.  Ben wasn’t going to match that, and the Levinsons knew it.  They knew Ben’s dislike of deals for closers longer than three years, and they certainly knew Ben’s dislike for dishing out that kind of money.  We may all rest assured that the only reason why Ben felt comfortable letting Paps go is that there are other options out there, and good ones.  This is not me trying to justify our new leadership and make myself feel better.  This is fact.  Ryan Madson, Francisco Cordero, Francisco Rodriguez, Heath Bell, Joe Nathan (a risky move, but it’s been about a year since his Tommy John surgery, so this should be the time when his command returns), and, oh, yeah, Daniel Bard all make the list.  Not too shabby.  Not too shabby at all.  Ben and I can agree on the fact that Daniel Bard probably shouldn’t be closing just yet.  He was very clearly built to be one of the best closers in the game, but I personally would give it another year or two and bring in a veteran closer first.  Ideally, during that year or two, Bard would see significant pitching time in the ninth inning throughout the season to groom him for that role.  While the one-two punch of Bard in the eighth and a lights-out closer in the ninth would be impossible to resist, when the time comes we’ll face the choice of having to find a reliable set-up man, which arguably may be more difficult, or having to let Bard walk away.  One could make the case that we’re seeing something like Bard walking away now with Paps.  Quite frankly, I don’t like it, and I don’t want to do it more than once.  Regarding Bard specifically, you don’t let a one-hundred-mile-per-hour fastball walk out that door.  You just don’t.

What will infuriate me is if Ben feels compelled to offer more than three years to one of these other closers because Paps basically just revolutionized the closer market overnight.  If other teams will be ready to provide that fourth year, Ben will be out of luck.  All the reports of drama and all the rebuilding to be done this year aren’t exactly helping our cause; Paps is eager to go to the Phillies for several reasons, not the least of which I imagine is that, if you thought he wreaked havoc on AL hitters, he’s going to be the prophet of pitching in the NL, and it looks like the Phillies are a team that could potentially win, despite the fact that everyone said that about them, just as they were saying it about us, earlier this year only to watch them flame out in the playoffs.

And now, the tribute.

Paps started his career here.  He came up through our system and even won a cow-milking contest when he was with the Lowell Spinners.  He played our game both on and off the field because his personality was one-of-a-kind.  He was always a dependable notable quotable, but it was much more than that.  He was a leader and a force in the clubhouse.  He was crazy and insane, but only in the best of ways.  He was a Boston baseball guy.  He lived the baseball experience here, embraced it wholly, and took it to the absolute extreme.  He did the jig en route to the championship and redefined “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” by The Dropkick Murphys.  I don’t think he’ll have as much fun anywhere else as he did here.  Seriously, all you had to do was hear those two drumbeats that start the song in the eighth or ninth inning and you know that you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the winning that will obviously ensue with Paps on the mound. Granted, it technically wasn’t always like that.  He did blow his share of saves.  He didn’t blow many, but it seemed like most of the ones he blew were doozies indeed.  He was immediately responsible for our untimely exit from the ’09 playoffs; he blew his save in Game Three of the ALDS, and that was the last playoff game we were in.  And he struggled in 2010 with eight blown saves.  But looking at the big picture, he more than made up for it.  He attacked the closing job with remarkable intensity; that stare of his could strike fear into the heart of any hitter.  In his career, he has an ERA of 2.33 and a WHIP of 1.02.  He’s amassed 219 saves and posted 509 strikeouts in 429.1 innings.  He’s blown a grand total of only twenty-nine saves, and only three of those came during this past season, compared to thirty-one converted opportunities.  And I don’t think any one of us will ever forget Tek jumping into his arms after he closed out Game Four of the 2007 World Series in Denver.  Not once in our long and illustrious history had we ever had a mainstay closer as long as we had Paps.  He was the best we’d ever seen, and he’s still in his prime.  So here’s to you.  Here’s to everything you’ve done for us through the years, both the much-needed saves and the much-needed smiles.  Here’s to you as a player and as a person, a goofy closer who still showed remarkable leadership in the clubhouse.  Here’s an enormous understatement: we’re going to miss you, Paps, and it’s been ridiculously fun.

Ben has also been in contact with the camps of Papi, Wake, and Tek.  I don’t think that I’d be able to watch any of those guys playing for another team.  It would be too surreal.  Like I said, one is quite enough, thank you.

Supposedly we’re interested in a two-year deal with Carlos Beltran.  He’s made it clear that he only wants to play in the National League and that he refuses to DH, but we’ve been attached to Beltran in the media for a long time.  But wait; the plot thickens.  We haven’t even called Beltran yet; instead, we’ve called Grady Sizemore and Michael Cuddyer.

There are also rumors that we’re interested in Mark Buehrle.  This is the first time in his career that he’s a free agent, and competition for him is stiff.  Supposedly we were also on hand to observe the workout of Yoenis Cespedes, who defected from Cuba to the Dominican Republic.  Supposedly he’s amazing, and he’s going to set off a major cash fight.  Think Aroldis Chapman.

Mike Maddux has withdrawn his candidacy due to “personal reasons.” That’s in quotes because he’s still on the Cubs’ list.  Obviously.  This should not surprise anybody.  We added Blue Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo and Detroit third base coach Gene Lamont.  If the names sound familiar, that’s because they are.  Lovullo manage the PawSox before going to Toronto, and Lamont was our third base coach in 2001.  And that, supposedly, is going to be it for candidates.  Our list and the Cubs’ list share three candidates: Alomar, Mackanin, and Sveum.  I think it’s fairly obvious that Maddux is going to Chicago.  Incidentally, throughout this process, I’ve been having this thought: Theo’s relationship with Larry was shaky but ultimately productive.  It was shaky because Theo basically wanted his own job plus Larry’s job.  He wanted more control over baseball operations; he didn’t want to be just the general manager, which is why he’s not the Cubs’ general manager.  Theo brought in Jed Hoyer to be the Cubs’ general manager, and it will be interesting to see if Theo actually restricts himself to his higher role and doesn’t conduct himself with Hoyer the same way that Larry conducted himself with Theo.  If he doesn’t, Hoyer may take issue.  Oh, the potential irony.

Gonzalez will appear on the cover of this “MLB 12 The Show.” Pedroia did it in 2009.  Heady company.

On Wednesday, MLB Network aired a two-hour special on the Buckner game.  John McNamara insists that, after the seventh inning, Roger Clemens told him that he was done because of a cut on his finger; Clemens maintains that McNamara pinch-hit for him and the cut on his finger was not an obstruction to continuing to perform.  Whatever it was that really happened destroyed their relationship.  McNamara also stated that he went with Buckner, who was obviously not fit to field, because he was the best first baseman on the roster; he didn’t go with Dave Stapleton because he supposedly had earned the nickname “Shaky.” But Bruce Hurst said that he never heard anyone call Stapleton shaky.  Honestly, the whole thing was just the epitome of devastation, drama or no drama, and what I would personally like to avoid is similar devastation in the future and similar subsequent drama.

Tito is interviewing with the Cards.  Jerry Remy was surprised; he, and I think most of us, naturally assumed that Tito would take some time off before jumping right back into it.

In other news, the Pats dropped a very close one to the Giants, 24-20.  Oh, and we released Albert Haynesworth.  It’s not like we all didn’t see that coming when the signing was made.  The B’s played the Islanders, Oilers, and Sabres this week and beat all of them by almost the exact same score: the Isles and Sabres by 6-2 and the Oilers by 6-3.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Dice-K gave up three runs in the first inning, and I’m thinking that making this start on eight days’ rest wasn’t such a good idea; maybe he needed more, maybe he needed less, but the eight days’ rest probably did something because he was as unpredictable as ever.  He threw thirty-four pitches in that first inning alone.  That’s unheard of, and it could have been a really bad situation.  Wake and Aceves weren’t available, and Lackey was seen in the bullpen.  That would have been disastrous for our rotation.

When the Twins went down in order in the top of the second and we scored our first run in the bottom – Youk doubled and scored on Drew’s groundout – I started to remember that, lately, it’s been possible to relax when Dice-K is on the mound.

When we put up a four-spot in the third, that’s when things really started to be fun.  Crawford led off the inning with a triple, his first of the season, and scored on Tek’s groundout.  Ellsbury then singled and stole second, and Pedroia walked.  Ellsbury scored on Gonzalez’s single.  Pedroia scored when Youk grounded into a force out.  And Youk scored on a single by Drew.  Drew was the sixth consecutive batter in that sequence to reach base safely.

Danny Valencia led off the fourth with a home run that bounced off the Fisk Pole and stood through review, and I’m thinking this better not be the start of something bad.  Naturally, I wasn’t pleased when Michael Cuddyer threw Ellsbury out at second in the bottom of the inning.  Thankfully, Gonzalez decided to celebrate his twenty-ninth birthday with a solo shot of his own in the fifth, which he also hit on the second pitch of his at-bat, a sinker down and away.  He just sent that ball to the Monster like it was no big deal.  Youk and Papi followed that with two consecutive singles; Youk scored on a groundout by Drew thanks to a throwing error.

Dice-K’s final line was six innings, four runs on five hits, one home run, two walks, and four strikeouts.  He threw 102 pitches, sixty-two of which were strikes.  All of his pitches were excellent except his slider, of which he maybe threw one all night, and his curveball and cutter, which weren’t as effective as some of his other pitches.  Really, it was that first inning that did him in.  He probably would have stayed in the game longer had he not thrown at least two innings’ worth of pitches in that single frame.  He seemed healthy and picked up the win.  Albers came on.

By the time Jason Kubel singled in a run in the eighth, Lowrie had doubled in two more in the previous inning.  Bard closed out the ninth, and the final score was 9-5.  We won, obviously.

Ellsbury and Gonzalez both went three for five; Ellsbury has a seventeen-game hitting streak, and Gonzalez has hit safely in fourteen of his last fifteen games.  Youk and Papi went two for four.

When this series ends after our game tomorrow, our longest homestand of the year will have ended.  Currently we’re five and five during the homestand; I want a winning record.  Let’s head out on a high note.

Boston Globe Staff/Bill Greene

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Simply put, a knuckleball pitcher either has it or doesn’t have it.  Yesterday, Wake didn’t have it.

That’s a pretty simple statement, but when you lose to the Twins for the first time at Fenway since 2007, what can you say? For the second straight night, we basically had nothing.

He took the loss.  He allowed eight runs, six earned, on nine hits.  Wake walked four and struck out only one.  He gave up a solo home run in the first inning.

The second inning was quite the interesting one.  Michael Cuddyer led off with a walk, Danny Valencia singled, and Ben Revere singled to load the bases.  Then Drew Butera flew out and Alexi Casilla struck out swinging.  Right when it looked like we were about to get out of the inning, Denard Span singled in two runs.  Then home plate umpire Angel Hernandez called a balk on Wake that allowed another run to score.  He called the balk because he thought that Wake didn’t finish his move to third; he stepped toward third in order to fake a throw but threw to first instead; in that situation, you would have to actually make the fake throw to third and have the third baseman fire to first.  Wake, meanwhile, thought that it was just a routine pickoff at first.  Tito came out to argue the call; naturally he was ejected.  Then third base umpire Joe West intervened, and then Tito got really angry.  Joe West will probably get in trouble for putting his hands on Tito.  Good, because first of all he put his hands on Tito, and secondly that balk scored a run and started what would end up being a three-run rally.

Wake was pulled after giving up two runs on a double in the fifth after having recorded one out.

He was replaced by Aceves, who replaced Atchison, who was sent down.  Upon entering the inning, Aceves allowed both of his inherited runners to score on a fielding error by Lowrie, the first of two errors he’d make on the day.  He also allowed a runner of his own to score.  At least he got through the rest of the game.  By the time the sixth inning rolled around, the two teams had already posted the final score: 9-2.

Our two runs were scored via the solo shot.  First it was Drew in the second inning with one out.  He’d been fed a steady diet of sinkers in that at-bat and worked the count full; he took the first one for a ball, then a strike, then a ball, then a strike, then a ball, then a shot behind the Pesky Pole.  Then it was Gonzalez in the fourth inning with none out.  He took a sinker for a ball and fouled off another before sending a slider into the Monster seats.  Together, those two home runs brought us within two.  We were right in it.  And then we gave all the momentum back to the Twins, and they put up a four-spot in the fifth and one more in the sixth for good measure.

Ellsbury went two for four; that was it for multi-hit games.  We collected seven hits, left four on base, and went 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position.

I can not believe the Twins used us to break their winning streak.  That’s really bad.  I mean, when I said we need to play better, I was serious.  We need to play better.  Immediately.  We need to win this series, and we should be able to do it.  With Jenks on the DL with a right bicep cramp that apparently started a week ago (figures), our relievers can actually be expected to get the job done.  And Dice-K, whose elbow has been okayed, will start on Sunday.  (Beckett will pitch on Monday to allow Lester to pitch Tuesday on extra rest.) Our starter needs to deliver.  Our offense needs to deliver.  And our defense needs to deliver.  Seriously.  We can’t keep playing like this.

In other news, the Bruins have made quick work of the Flyers.  We won last night, 5-1! A sweep! We scored once in the first and four more in the third.  Milan Lucic scored twice.  On to the Lightning.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki

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We won.  Plain and simple.  The final score was 3-2, and we can thank Buchholz, Papi, and Hall for that.

Clay Buchholz pitched a wicked outing last night.  He is the future of this staff.  He’s morphing into an ace right before our eyes.  It’s fantastic.  He pitched over eight innings of two-run ball, allowing five hits and only one free pass while striking out seven.  Morneau and Cuddyer were back-to-back strikeouts, Cuddyer swinging on a changeup.  Hudson froze on the inside corner, as did Morneau on an inside fastball before getting heated with the umpire.  Thome struck out swinging on a ball that was down for the first out of the inning, and Kubel watched a slider go by for Buchholz’s second set of back-to-backs.  Thome also watched a slider for Buchholz’s seventh K, three shy of his season-high of ten against the Rangers.  And he needed only 104 pitches to do it.  He would’ve pitched a complete game, his first since his no-no, but Tito lifted him after he allowed a leadoff infield hit to Span.  I support that decision; the game was close, and you don’t want to take chances with victory in sight.

Every single one of his pitches except his curveball was effective.  And I mean really effective.  All of them were moving just the right way.  That in itself shows a lot of maturity; he usually throws more curveballs but saw that they weren’t working, so he threw more sliders instead.  That’s adaptability, and it something you don’t always see in the veterans.  Buchholz is a pitcher to marvel at when he’s on; it takes a special kind of kid to be that good at throwing mainly off-speeds.  There are veterans who can’t even do that.  He concentrated on the left portion of the strike zone.  The few balls he did throw were above but mostly below the zone, probably off-speeds that curved down a little too much.  He varied his speeds really nicely, throwing his fastball for gas at ninety-five miles per hour, and kept the batters guessing, as evidenced by the fact that, of all the strikes he threw, only seven were swinging.  An expertly mixed salad, as Eck would say.  He needed a game-low of nine pitches to clear the seventh and a game-high of seventeen-to clear the fourth.  He threw a majority of strikes in all of his innings.  The interesting thing is that his release point isn’t as tight as others we’ve seen from the staff, but I guess that comes with the territory when you throw off-speed pitches that require varying grips and angles.

His ERA is now down to 3.26, his five wins are the most on the staff, and his eleven wins since August 19 are the most by any pitcher in the American League.  In those eleven games, we’re fourteen and four.  And all of that after having landed in Boston from New York at 4:00AM.  It’s no coincidence that Buchholz was the only member of the team that slept well, having flown ahead on Tuesday.  All of which is to say that I would not be surprised if he earned his first trip to the All-Star Game this year.  It was really an incredible outing.  Solid, confident, efficient.  Everything you look for from a pitcher against a quality lineup, and here was this kid who just marched in there and shut them down.  There was also that nifty pickoff move to get Punto out at first to end the third.  And he’s a righty, too.  Punto knew he was out; he smiled because he knew he’d gone too far off.  Awesome stuff.

Paps, as we know, was unavailable after the set with New York, so Bard came on and pitched around a hit and a walk to get the save.

In the fourth, Papi hit what was initially called an RBI triple just over the Monster.  But after review, which occurred for the second time this season, it was ruled a home run, Papi’s seventh of the month.  Why it wasn’t ruled a home run initially is something I’ll never know, because it was very clearly out.  He did a good job of hustling to third once he realized they didn’t call it out, for which I give him credit.  But the ball bounced up into the air after it hit the wall.  That meant it didn’t actually hit the wall; it hit above the wall, which is dinger territory.  It was that ledge up there.  Thankfully, they ultimately got the call right.  It was a nice, balanced swing that propelled the ball to the opposite field, which has been a theme this month.  He’s hit .405 over his past eleven games and .358 with seventeen RBIs in May.

Hall tacked on our third run with a single in the sixth.  That ended up being the winning run after Bard allowed his inherited runner to score in the top of the ninth.

V-Mart and Beltre both went two for four.  Hermida made a fielding error.  We left eight on base, as compared with Minnesota’s four, but we also collected ten hits, as compared with Minnesota’s six.  Basically, we missed more opportunities than they did because we had more opportunities than they did.

Surprise, surprise: Beckett’s been placed on the DL with a lower back strain; he slipped on the mound in the fifth while throwing to A-Rod on Tuesday.  He’ll be out of commission until June 3 but will probably be able to solidly return at that time, being that putting him on the DL at all as opposed to letting him skip a start again was being generous.  Wakefield will start Sunday.  See? I knew his move to the bullpen wouldn’t be permanent.  Joe Nelson will replace Wake in the ‘pen.  Scutaro’s left elbow has been sore, so he received a cortisone shot before last night’s game and could be back tomorrow night.  Meanwhile, Angel Sanchez will replace him so that Hall doesn’t have to try his luck at short for one more game, which surprisingly worked out fairly well.  He stole a line drive and turned it into a double play; it’s a tribute to his athleticism and intuition for the game that he can handle all these positions.  To make room for Sanchez on the roster, Schoeneweis has been designated for assignment.

Also, did you see that Twins fan at Fenway yesterday who brought a Twins sign? You don’t see opposing signs very often at Fenway, especially not for teams that are out-of-the-way and not in our division.  Maybe he forgot that the Twins are in our house, not theirs.  And while we’re on this subject, something I didn’t mention yesterday was the fact that most of the seats behind home plate in Yankee Stadium were empty.  Either Yankee fans just aren’t robust fans or the ownership is charging exorbitant amounts for those tickets.  I suspect it’s a combination of both.

Tonight it’s Liriano at Lester.  The pitching matchup here is good, but it’ll be even better after we win and sweep a series.  That would be good for us, no?

AP Photo

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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.

Not in HD

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