Friday, December 17, 2010

No Russel Martin after all...

I've updated the lineup in my original post using Varitek's 3 year weighted means and Saltalamacchia's career numbers. Both decrease the runs scored by the Sox, 25 using Varitek's 3 year weighted means, but only 8 with Saltalamachhia's career numbers. Check out the original post for more information.

Getting to know the latest additions to the Sox bullpen

With the signing of Bobby Jenks and Matt Albers over the last couple of days, the Red Sox bullpen now has at least enough bodies to start the season. Jenks is the much bigger name of the two, and he came with a much bigger price tag ($12 million over two years). Theo has to be happy that he avoided a third year, which has been given to many of the free agent relievers this offseason, such as Joaquin Benoit, Scott Downs, Matt Guerrier, and Jesse Crain. In a recent article, Dave Cameron pointed out that multi-year contracts for relievers just don't work, unless you happen to be signing Mariano Rivera.

At first glance, Jenks looks like a pitcher in decline. Between 2008 and 2010 his ERA has steadily risen from 2.63 to 3.71 to 4.44, and in the end of 2010 he lost the White Sox closer job due to injuries and inefficiency. However, if you look at his underlying numbers, 2010 was one of Jenks' best seasons of his career. Jenks has always had an electric fastball that flirted with triple digits in the early part of his career, but that did not always translate into strikeouts. His strikeouts per nine innings in 2008 was a career low 5.55; he was able to maintain h is good ERA thanks to a low walk rate (2.48/9 IP) and some good luck in the form of a high strand rate and a very low percentage of fly balls that left the yard. Since 2008 his strikeout rate has risen, despite increasing ERAs. In 2009 Jenks was victimized by a high proportion of fly balls that left the park (17%). On average, 10% of fly balls become home runs, and this is considered to be a skill that is outside a pitcher's ability to control (the number of fly balls allowed, on the other hand, is not). In 2010 Jenks posted one of the highest strikeout rates in the major leagues (10.42/9 IP), kept his walks in check (3.08/9 IP), and had a very high groundball percentage. Despite the spectacular strikeout and groundball rates, Jenks had his worst year since becoming the White Sox closer. Quite simply, it doesn't add up. Look for Jenks to have a great bounce back season, and give the Red Sox a trio of power arms that rivals the best top three on any other team. Because Jenks was non-tendered by the White Sox, he also won't cost the Red Sox any additional draft picks, which are needed to restock the farm system following the Adrian Gonzalez trade. As an added bonus, the Red Sox now can comfortably let Papelbon walk as a free agent following the 2011 season. Daniel Bard is still the closer in waiting, but if for some reason he doesn't prove ready the Red Sox have a proven closer as a fall back option.

Matt Albers is a lot less exciting. He's reliable, having pitched more than 67 innings in both 2009 and 2010, and can be stretched out into a long relief role, as shown by his 110 innings pitched for Houston in 2007 and the fact that he led the AL in relief appearances longer than one inning last year. He's also mediocre – he doesn't strike a lot of batters out (5-6 per 9 IP), he walks more than he should (4-5 BB/9), and should be good for an ERA around 4.50. He does keep the ball on the ground, keeping his home run rates low. While he won't be in the mix for the high leverage innings, he should be a good innings eater, which could be key given the injury potential in both the bullpen and the starting rotation. Replacement level pitchers are terrible; it varies from year to year, but often times they have an ERA of 5 or greater. Albers value isn't related to how well he'll pitch, but rather that you can count on him to be better than replacement level. Based on Fangraph's Wins Above Replacement statistic (WAR), the Red Sox had almost -2 wins from individuals with negative WAR. Even if Albers can pitch some of those innings at replacement level, he'll be an asset.

There is definitely room for another bullpen signing, particularly another lefty if the Red Sox was to keep Doubront in AAA as a starter. Right now Doubront is the only left handed pitcher I've projected to be in their bullpen, as both Albers and Jenks are right handed. Alternatively, if Rich Hill and Andrew Miller pitch well in spring training, either of them could snag a spot in the bullpen. As both are left handers, this would allow the Red Sox to send Doubront back to AAA for more seasoning as a starter. Both Hill and Miller are former starters who are trying to remake their career as relief pitchers, so they're hardly a sure thing. One final option might be to simply go with all the righties. As Tony Massarotti points out, both Jenks and Bard had excellent years against left handed batters in 2010, despite being right handed.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Re-envisioning the 2011 Red Sox Lineup

Remember that post I wrote a month ago about the 2011 lineup? If you haven't read it already, you can probably ignore most of what was written after two absolutely massive moves in the last two weeks. If you didn't understand what Theo meant when he said 2010 was a "bridge year", now it has to be clear. After several years of many players moving in and out of roster spots, the core of the Red Sox team is locked up for a very long period of time. Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis are under contract through 2013, Pedroia through 2015, Crawford through 2017, and if the Adrian Gonzalez extension goes through he'll be under contract until after the 2018 season. On the pitching side, Buchholz, Beckett, and Lackey are under team control through 2014, as is Lester, although the Red Sox have an affordable option for the 2015 season. If you're a Red Sox fan who is a hot stove junkie, be ready to get disappointed over the next few years. The team is going to be very similar for a very long period of time.

Left field was a disaster for the Red Sox last year. While Daniel Nava, Darnell McDonald, and Ryan Kalish all did a lot more than the team expected, the offensive bar is set very high for left field. The Red Sox left fielders ranked 28th in batting average, 28th in OBP, and 18th in slugging. Carl Crawford is an obvious improvement offensively, and according to all the advanced metrics his defense is off the charts. Also, catcher was a weak point for the team last year. Current reports indicate that Russell Martin is close to signing with the team. While he is not the All Star he was in 2008 (thanks Joe Torre! Who knew that 449 games in 3 years would harm a young catcher?), Martin still posts an excellent OBP for a catcher (.347 last season, .360 for his career). For a lineup as deep as the 2011 Red Sox, a catcher who can work the count would be a nice addition.

But what does that mean for the 2011 season? With the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, just what does the Red Sox lineup look like now? Quite simply, it looks pretty damn good.

Average OBP Slugging OPS+ UZR/150
C Russell Martin 0.257 0.358 0.347 92 N/A
1B Adrian Gonzalez 0.286 0.390 0.524 152 1.4
2B Dustin Pedroia 0.300 0.371 0.478 120 9.6
3B Kevin Youkilis 0.308 0.406 0.560 150 6.9*
SS Marco Scutaro 0.275 0.350 0.387 96 -3.5*
LF Carl Crawford 0.298 0.349 0.457 117 20.6
CF Jacoby Ellsbury** 0.292 0.347 0.406 93 4.8
RF JD Drew 0.269 0.375 0.492 124 6.4
DH David Ortiz 0.258 0.357 0.501 122 N/A

*Kevin Youkilis' UZR/150 is his career at 3B, not a weighted mean. Marco Scutaro's UZR is his career at SS, as a very strong 2008 in a small sample size skewed his 2008-2010 weighted mean.
** Jacoby Ellsbury's statistics are a weighted mean from 2008 and 2009 (5, 4), and his defense is for all outfield positions.

Looking at the weighted averages (5, 4, 3) using 2008-2010 stats for the projected Red Sox lineup you can see how there are no weak spots in the lineup. This is a simple model, and I haven't adjusted numbers for park factors, aging, or similar corrections. While Ellsbury, Scutaro, and Martin have low slugging percentages, no expected starter has an OBP lower than .347. Just how good is this lineup? Baseball Musing's lineup analysis tool predicts that the ideal lineup would score 5.893 runs per game, or 954 for the entire season. While that doesn't quite challenge the 1931 Yankees' record of 1,067, it would have topped the 2010 Yankees' league leading total by almost 100 runs. The lineup tool only looks at OBP and slugging, so the speed of Ellsbury and Crawford doesn't contribute anything. It also typically ends up with some odd lineup results - the "ideal" lineup has Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez hitting 1/2, followed by Marco Scutaro. Pedrioa and Crawford, who are likely to hit 1/2 according to Buster Olney.

Update December 14, 2010:
Looks like the reports of signing Russel Martin were premature. I suppose it serves me right for actually believing a baseball rumor before the ink is dry on a contract. Re-running the lineup analysis tool with Jason Varitek's weighted means (.259 OBP, .305 slugging) drops the runs scored per game from 5.893 to 5.718, or from 954 to 926. This is a substantial drop, about 3 wins using the rule of thumb of 10 runs are worth a win over the course of a season, although there is reason to believe that Saltalamacchia should beat those numbers. Using Saltalamacchia's career numbers (.315 OBP, .386 slugging) softens the offensive blow substantially, with the Red Sox projected to score 5.851 runs per game, a difference of only 6 runs over an entire season and would still have easily topped the AL in runs scored last year.

Not only would this lineup score a lot of runs, there are no major weaknesses defensively as well. Using a weighted mean of UZR/150 (available from Fangraphs, it is the number of runs the fielder would save (positive) or cost (negative) compared to an average fielder over 150 plays, which is about a season's worth of playing time) Marco Scutaro is the only fielder below average.

Where does Jed Lowrie fit in?
After a strong finish to the season, many folks are pushing for Jed Lowrie to be given the starting shortstop job, pushing Marco Scutaro to a super utility role. I agree with this, as Scutaro is a free agent after the 2011 season and in an admittedly small sample size, Lowrie was the best hitting shortstop in the AL. I've put Scutaro in my lineup for a couple of reasons, one of which is based on practicality. The front office has made it clear that they're going to start the season with Lowrie as the super utility player. Also, putting Lowrie in the lineup would make the runs per game calculation a bit tricky; due to his age and injuries Lowrie hasn't accumulated enough MLB at bats to make a good prediction using my admittedly basic model.

What about Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick?
For 2011, both Kalish and Reddick appear to be blocked. As I wrote in my original post about the 2011 lineup, the Red Sox feel that Kalish could use more time in AAA, despite his strong showing last September. If a major injury occurs to an outfielder, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Red Sox turn to Kalish again. In 2011, the path to the big leagues is clear for at least one of them. JD Drew's contract expires after the 2011 season, and Kalish's great athleticism and arm strength seems like a great fit with the spacious right field in Fenway. The future isn't as clear for Reddick. He is organizational depth for the time being, but may end up as part of a trade package, as the younger Kalish has passed him in front office's mind. His line at AAA (.266/.301/.466) isn't particularly impressive, but the potential is definitely there, as shown by his post All Star Break numbers (.363/.385/.643). Reddick didn't impress in the Dominican Winter League either, although he showed a good approach at the plate (10 BB in 76 PA, much higher than his AAA walk rate). Next year is a make or break year for Reddick with the Red Sox; another mediocre showing in AAA could lead to him getting traded for some in season help.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Right of first refusal?

Based on comments in a recent Boston Globe article, it sounds as if Adrian Beltre is essentially giving the Red Sox the opportunity to match the offer he has on the table from Oakland. Beltre is apparently even willing to leave a bit of money on the table, saying "If everything was close to the same, I would go back to Boston". Granted, Beltre's agent is Scott Boras so this could all be a ruse designed to get better offers from west coast teams, but based on the quotes it sounds like Beltre genuinely wants to come back to Boston.

I've always felt that resigning Beltre was more important than resigning Victor Martinez, mostly because of Beltre's exceptional defense and Martinez's poor defense and a looming positional change. The big question was whether or not Beltre would want to remain on the east coast, as he had played every prior season with either the Dodgers or the Mariners and his family remained in the Los Angeles area after he signed with the Red Sox. The Oakland offer (5 years, $64 million according to ESPN's Jayson Stark) remains on the table. Beltre has said the years are more important than the dollars, so if the Red Sox could sign Beltre for 5 years and $60 million, I'd be ecstatic. I ought to be, considering I felt that he would end up somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 years and $60 million coming into the off season. Right now the Red Sox are offering 4 years, $54 million - a slightly higher salary than Oakland, but a year less.

To top it all off, if the A's are the team to sign Beltre, they'd only have to give up their second round pick, as their first round pick is protected.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Red Sox 2011 Options: 3 no brainers and a mild suprise

The Red Sox announced that they'll pick up David Ortiz' $12.5 million option for next season, as well as the option for Scott Atchison. The decision on Ortiz sounds like it was made awhile ago. It probably is an overpay, but it gives the team the team an enormous amount of flexibility next offseason, if they want to pursue a DH type such as Prince Fielder. They declined the options for Bill Hall ($9.25 million, $500,000 buyout) and Felipe Lopez. While Hall had a solid season as a super sub last year, playing every position but catcher and first base, the $9.25 million option was never really in play. It will be interesting to see if Hall can get a starting job somewhere, or if he'll decide that getting semi-regular PT all over the diamond is the way to go. Declining Lopez' option isn't a surprise either; the Red Sox picked him in late September, most likely hoping to get a compensatory draft pick out of him.

The one potential surprise in here is the Red Sox picking up Scott Atchison's option. The key thing to remember here is that the Red Sox are not necessarily expecting Atchison to be a huge contributor, but instead a solid option in the back of the bullpen. Atchison has a average strikeout rate (6.2 K/9), an average walk rate (2.85 BB/9), which unsurprisingly led to an average ERA on the season (4.50, ERA+=97, where 100 is league average). For $40,000 over the major league minimum, average is actually pretty good.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Replacing John Farrell

Although it isn't completely official yet, Red Sox owner John Henry makes it clear that current pitching coach John Farrell is heading north to Toronto to manage the Blue Jays. This is a pretty big loss, in my opinion. Despite the struggles of the rotation this year, Farrell is one of the best regarded pitching coaches in baseball and has done an excellent job developing talent in Boston (Lester, Buchholz, Papelbon, Bard) as well as in Cleveland, where he was the director of player development from 2001 to 2006, when stars like Victor Martinez, CC Sabathia, and Cliff Lee came up. His name had been mentioned for many other job openings in the past, but I guess the Toronto job was too good to pass up.

I'm not sure exactly how this will affect the Red Sox, quantifying the impact of coaches is a very tricky proposition, but I know that losing someone of Farrell's caliber isn't going to help. It'll be interesting to see if they look to someone outside of the organization. According to Peter Gammons, the Sox recognize this as a big hole and "very worried" about losing Farrell.

Congratulations Bengie Molina, World Series Champion!

The slowest of the Molina brothers, and that is saying something, is now the proud owner of a 2010 World Series ring. Just how is that possible? Bengie was traded from the Giants to the Rangers at the deadline, so since he's played on both teams, he'd receive a ring should either one win. Of course, I'm sure he'll be pulling for the Rangers, since that's the team he actually plays for at this point, but I thought it was funny that Bengie already as that coveted World Series ring locked up.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A few thoughts on the post season

I've managed to watch parts of all the ALCS games so far. Thanks to the fact I've been sick, most of them end past my bedtime (current favored diagnosis: mono!), so I can't claim to have watched every pitch, but I thought I'd weigh in with a few thoughts.

I know they're both left handed and occasionally throw a cutter, but anyone who calls CJ Wilson a mini Cliff Lee is insane. CJ Wilson led the AL in walks this year, with 93. Cliff Lee walked 0.76 batters per nine innings this season, meaning it would have taken Cliff Lee over 1,100 innings or about 5 seasons of pitching, to walk 93 batters.

This isn't the most advanced baseball analysis, but why does Ron Washington have left handed pitchers face Marcus Thames? In limited playing time this year Thames did not have an appreciable split, but over his career he's been mediocre against righties (.236/.296/.480 - note the very weak OBP) while he's hit lefties well (.264/.333/.505). Playing the splits is old school baseball, and there is no reason Washington should be ignorant about that. I know that one of those appearances was as a pinch hitter, but it doesn't take Nostradamus to predict that bringing side arming lefty is going to cause the opposing manager to turn to his lefty mashing bench bat.

The Rangers bullpen really shit the bed in game 1 after I went to bed. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed they managed to blow a 5 run lead going into the 8th. Just how bad was it? At one point the Rangers had a win expectancy of 86.5%. It was hardly historic though. If you need a little cheering up, look back to game 5 of the 2008 ALCS. With the Red Sox trailing 7-0 and the Rays threatening to pile on with two runners on and none out in the 7th inning, the Red Sox had a win expectancy 0.07%. For those unfamiliar with the statistic, it means that based on historical games, teams in that situation game back to win the 7 times in 10,000.

It is now my bedtime, so I can't comment on anything that happened after the 6th inning of Game 3, but Cliff Lee is pretty damn impressive. Coming in to the 6th he had given up a questionable walk to Teixeira and a broken bat single to Posada. As amazing as Cliff Lee's regular season was, his numbers are even more impressive in the post season. He struck out 28 before walking a single batter and currently has a 31:1 K:BB ratio in only 22 innings. The one knock against him tonight is that he's already thrown 96 pitches in 6 IP, so he'll probably only go 7 IP tonight, but that's a minor quibble.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Guesstimating the 2011 Red Sox Pitching Staff

Looking for something more up to date on the Red Sox pitching staff? Try here for a more recent version, complete with projections.

Now that my throat is starting not to look like something out of a George C. Romero movie, I can finally make that follow up post to my lineup post from last week. As I mentioned in that post, the Red Sox pitching rotation is pretty much full at this point. Barring a trade or a release, the Red Sox have a rotation of Lester, Buchholz, Beckett, Lackey, and Matsusaka through the end of the 2012 season. Unlike the cheap, homegrown talent in the lineup, this is a pretty damn expensive rotation, weighing in at just under $50 million in 2011 and just over $50 million in 2012.

Having five committed starters for the next two years also doesn't leave room for rising prospects Anthony Ranaudo, Casey Kelly, or Brandon Workman to get their feet wet or find part time work for potential starters like Felix Doubront and Michael Bowden.

For the short term, I think the answer is easy - go with the five guys you're spending the big bucks on, at least for 2011. You have to bank on Lackey and Beckett to bounce back, Lester and Buchholz were the two best pitchers on the staff last year, and Dasiuke is maddening, but seems to show just enough to keep you tantalized. Plus, getting an average of 6 IP a start and a 4.69 ERA isn't horrendous out of a fifth starter. As for the fringier prospects like Doubront and Bowden, the roster set up of the Red Sox seems to dictate their usage. They're loaded with starters, and the back end of the bullpen is a disaster, so sliding them in as relievers might make the most sense. Right now, the only definite slots in the bullpen are Jon Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Hideki Okajima, and Tim Wakefield as a swing man. That leaves two open spots, preferably one lefty and one righty, to be filled. To me, Bowden, a righty, and Doubront, a lefty who pitched extensively in the pen down the stretch fit those roles perfectly.

So sticking with arms on the team, I think the pitching staff should shape up something like this:

SPJon Lester
SPClay Buchholz
SPJosh Beckett
SPJohn Lackey
SPDaisuke Matsuzaka
SwingTim Wakefield
CLJon Papelbon
SUDaniel Bard
LHHideki Okajima
LHFelix Doubront
RHMichael Bowden

Looking outside the organization, Theo has made some noise already about going out and signing a reliever or two to shore up the team. Someone like Scott Downs would be a nice addition, but only if the Red Sox sign another Type A free agent like Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth. Quite simply, a reliever isn't worth tossing away a first round pick. Bowden also is a pretty big question mark, even in the bullpen. He took a step back in 2010, but some teams are supposedly still high on him as a starter, so it wouldn't be shocking to see him dealt for other prospects, creating another job opening in the bullpen.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Best. Website. Ever.

For those of you who don't know, Adrian Beltre really doesn't like to get his head touched. Of course, his teammates decided to touch his head all the time. Some kind soul on the internet has collected all those occurrences and has created a gallery of animated gifs. The best five minutes you'll spend all day.

Hat tip to Pete Abraham for linking to it from the Globe's Extra Bases Blog.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Nifty little move

The Red Sox signed Felipe Lopez a week or so before the season ended. While he didn't make a difference in the way the season ended, although the home run against the Yankees was nice, he could pay some solid dividends down the road. You see, despite having been released by the Cardinals, Lopez is still projected to be a Type B free agent. If:
1. The Red Sox offer him arbitration and
2. Lopez signs a major league deal with another team,

then the Red Sox will snag a sandwich round pick, between the first and second rounds, in the draft. This year Anthony Ranaudo, a preseason top 10 prospect, fell to them in that spot, so the payoff for dropping a few thousand on Lopez could be huge. Of course, considering he's been run out of town by several different teams, the hard part could be getting another team to sign him to a major league deal.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Guesstimating the 2011 Red Sox Lineup

This was written just after the Red Sox regular season ended. Here is an updated version of this post now that Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez are on the team.

Going into the 2010 offseason, the Red Sox are in an interesting position. On the one hand, they have an incredible amount of money coming off the books this year, with over $55 million thanks to the expiring contracts of David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek, and everyone's favorite player, Julio Lugo. The Red Sox may be looking to pare down their payroll, however. The total salary for the 2010 team was $168 million, $45 million more than the 2009 team and $25 million more than the highest team salary with Theo as a GM. The Red Sox are also opening up massive holes in their lineup. Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, and David Ortiz were the first, third, and fifth most valuable offensive players by WAR on the team. Thanks to the excellent seasons Beltre and Martinez had, they won't be coming back for their 2010 salaries of $10 million and $7.7 million. Based on WAR from Fangraphs, and their valuation of a win at $4 million, below are values for the departing players.

Off books post 2010

Salary WAR Value
Beltre 10 7.1 28.4
Martinez 7.7 4 16
Ortiz 13 3.2 12.7
Varitek 3 0.7 2.7
Lowell 12.5 -0.3 -1.2
Lugo 9.25 N/A N/A

In case you didn't notice, all of those guys play offense. The Red Sox rotation is full right now, but that is a discussion for another day. So right now, with just the players under contract, how does the 2011 team shape up? Here is how I see it:

C ?
1B Youkilis
2B Pedroia
3B ?
SS Lowrie
LF Cameron
RF Drew
CF Ellsbury
DH Ortiz

INF Scutaro
OF Reddick
C Saltalamacchia
INF/OF Patterson

The lineup is very much up in the air. Theo suggested that Saltalamacchia might be in the mix for the starting catcher job, but I've left him at backup instead. Of course, we're talking about an injury prone catcher who had trouble throwing the ball back to the pitcher last year. Now, to preemptively answer some questions...

Why is Scutaro a $5.5 million utility guy?

The simply answer is that Jed Lowrie was just that good in the second half, drawing lots of walks and showing good power (.287/.381/.526). Incredibly, based on Lowrie's VORPr (a per at bat version of Baseball Prospectus' Value Over Replacement Player statistic), Lowrie was the best offensive shortstop in the AL, not that he had much competition. I'm not a sentimental sort, but considering all he's been through he deserves a shot at a full time job. The front office remains very high on him and at 26 now is the time to see if he can stick as a starter. Also, Scutaro has an extensive injury history and his shoulder wore out this year, preventing him from playing much shortstop after the All Star Break. Given Scutaro's history of playing all around the infield, he's perfectly suited to being a super utility infielder makes more sense. However, given the injuries all around the infield for the Red Sox this year, I think it makes sense to try and hold on to Scutaro rather than trade him.

Why isn't Ryan Kalish on the team? He was the Red Sox' best outfielder in September!

I think that he is almost ready, but it makes sense to give him some more time in AAA and wait for an opening in the outfield. He should be playing every day, and that wouldn't happen in the majors right now. An injury or a really hot start to the season in Pawtucket could change that, though. A poor August dragged his overall numbers down, but he hit .263/.325/.474 in September, while playing some great defense and generally showing why scouts are incredibly high on him. He's only 22 and wasn't expected to see any significant time in the outfield this year. If there is a silver lining to the outfield injury cascade, it is we got to see a glimmer of Ryan Kalish's potential a year early.

Why is Julio Lugo's WAR N/A for 2010? Everyone knows he contributed to wins simply by not being there.

I think I'm going to miss having Lugo as a punching bag, although it is pretty low hanging fruit.

So what do the Red Sox need to do for 2011?

Just like last season, they're looking at importing a lot of hitters. The bidding will be pretty fierce on Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Beltre, but I'm hoping that with $40 million in expiring contracts, not counting Ortiz' option, that the Red Sox can make a run at an outfielder and resign Beltre. I think Carl Crawford would be a perfect fit with the goals of the front office to be younger, more athletic, and play good defense. Just like Beltre at third base, Crawford's glove in left field is consistently head and shoulders above all other defenders. As a left handed line drive hitter he should be able to pepper the Green Monster with double after double. MLB Trade Rumors recently asked readers to “crowd source” Crawford's free agent contract, and the end result was a relatively reasonable 5 year, $70 million deal ($17 Average Annual Value). Considering Crawford's age, I might guess that he gets a 6 or 7 year deal, though. A similar exercise with Adrian Beltre estimated a 4 year, $52 million deal ($14 AAV). Those two contracts would add $31 million a year in salary, but would land two of the top free agents on the market and two of the very best defenders in all of baseball. I think that if there is an inefficiency in the free agent market today, it is with defense. The Cameron signing didn't work out due to injury, but it doesn't disprove the underlying theory. Signing Crawford and Beltre would require letting Martinez walk. It hurts to say it, but if you're going to bet on a player into his 30s, you're probably better off not banking on the catcher.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the Red Sox have a lot of expiring contracts following the 2011 season as well. The recent two year deals by Cameron and Scutaro will be ending, freeing up $13.25 million, JD Drew's mistakenly maligned 5 year, $70 million contract also be ending, and Papelbon will be a free agent and will presumably be taking his services, complaints, and his $10+ million salary elsewhere. That gives the Red Sox the flexibility to go after free agents now or wait until next offseason when some of the biggest sluggers in baseball including Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, and Adrian Gonzalez hit free agency.

The End

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops."
~A. Bartlett Giamatti (1938-1989), Former Commissioner of Major League Baseball

Friday, October 1, 2010

Don't Forget to Celebrate this Weekend!

That's right, there will be cause for celebration on Sunday. No, the Red Sox won't make the playoffs, but we get to celebrate Julio Lugo Day! On Sunday, the ridiculously ill conceived 4 year, $36 million contract to Julio Lugo will expire. I have to tip my hat to Cot's Baseball Contracts on this one - I had long forgotten that Lugo was still on the books. Of course, it is easy to forget considering the fact that Lugo (and enough money to cover all of his future salary) was unceremoniously shipped out of town for Chris Duncan last summer. Duncan lasted less than a month in AAA before being waived on August 22.

But how exactly does one celebrate Julio Lugo Day? I have an idea. Go out and buy yourself and nice bottle of wine, say around $36. Drink about half of it, despite the fact that it sucks, then dump it down that drain or give it away to some other poor sucker. Now that is a celebration truly befitting Lugo. Be sure to celebrate though, the next time we get to have a similar celebration might be early October of 2014, when we get to celebrate John Lackey day. That will be a much nicer bottle of wine ($83) that we get to decide sucks!

Friday, September 24, 2010

David Ortiz' Complaints

David Ortiz seems to want to have his cake and eat it too. I'm not sure if these quotes are creating a shit storm on sports talk radio up in Boston (it wouldn't surprise me, since it normally doesn't take much), but they did rub me the wrong way.

1. When asked if he'd take a pay cut to stay in Boston, Ortiz indicated that he wouldn't, saying “I don’t feel like going anywhere else but if I have to, I have no choice.” He also said that he'd already taken a pay cut five years ago, when he signed his 4 year, $52 million extension.

2. According to Rob Bradford at WEEI, Ortiz doesn't want a one year deal, because he wouldn't be "comfortable".

First off, Ortiz didn't take a pay cut in 2005. According to the irreplaceable Cot's Baseball Contracts, his salaries since joining the Red Sox before the 2003 season have been $1.25 million and $4.6 million. After the 2004 World Series victory, Ortiz agreed to a two year extension worth $5.25 million in 2005 and $6.5 million in 2006. An option year was included, but the Sox again extended him, this time for 4 years and $52 million ($12.5 million per, plus $6 million in signing bonuses) through the 2010 season. So it is a little hard to stomach him saying that he took a pay cut to stay. Sure, that first extension was a bit below market value, but the second was near the top of the pay range for full time DHs. As a point of comparison, Hafner signed a four year, $57 million extension during the 2007 season, despite the fact he was still under contract for another year and a half. Since that deal the market for full time DHs has plummeted. Adam Dunn, who is essentially a DH at this point, signed for 2 years, $20 million before the 2008 season. Hideki Matsui and Vlad Guerrero had to settle for one year, $6 million on the open market, despite the fact that Matsui was coming off of a 28 home run, 90 RBI season.

Second, I don't know how the Red Sox could possibly go with a two year deal without a pay cut. It would be an insane over pay to go with a two year, $25 million deal, considering the fact they could just take one year at $12.5 million. I know he's the face of the franchise, but left handed sluggers can go from a stud to the proverbial glue factory in a year. I've written about it with the Howard deal, along with lots of other folks who are an awful lot smarter than I am. As a side note, I love the concept of a baby albatross. Two years for $20 seems reasonable to me - Ortiz gets his $12.5 million option picked up, with $7.5 million for 2012. That $7.5 million would be about market value for an older designated hitter. In his bounce back 2010, Ortiz has been worth $11.5 million, although he was only worth $13 million in 2008 and 2009 combined. When a player's production matches his salary one year out of three I just don't know how you can possibly go ahead and sign them up for another three years at that same salary. I think the Red Sox are smart enough to realize this; I hope David Ortiz is too.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mariners DHs

For the season, Mariners' designated hitters are hitting a robust .190/.267/.384. That batting average is worse than thirteen pitchers in the NL with a minimum of 40 at bats. The OBP is worse than nine different NL pitchers. But the Mariners' designated hitters really do shine in the slugging department, as only two NL pitchers top their .384 number. Both of these two pitchers beat the Mariners designated hitters across the board, and pretty handily too. So just who should the Mariners go out and add as their 2011 designated hitter, since they obviously felt that Jesus Montero wasn't up to the task...

Dan Haren (.364/.375/.527) and Yovanni Gallardo (.268/.339/.554). Haren has been lucky on balls in play (BABIP of .422), as have many of the pitchers who are outperforming the hapless Mariners DHs, but I believe that Yovanni Gallardo is a better hitter than the Seattle DH composite. His BABIP is not particularly high, and his career numbers in 181 (.221/.260/.429) at bats top the dreadful stat line compiled in Seattle. Maybe the Mariners should argue for the elimination of the designated hitter in the future. It certainly doesn't seem to have helped their offense at all this year.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Looking ahead: Offseason Contract Decisions

The Red Sox came into this season with a whopping $161 million worth of salaries. Combined with shared expenses and other costs, this puts them well above the luxury tax threshold. Fortunately, they do have a lot of money coming off the books this season, however, many of these players are at key positions and have been the Red Sox best performers.

Mike Lowell is the only name that is sure to go. At $12.5 million this year, Lowell obviously didn't earn his salary. However, I would guess that the Red Sox knew this was a risk signing an older third baseman to a three year deal. Lowell has already announced that he will retire, a\s he doesn't enjoy being a part time player. Lowell was a key contributor in the 2007 championship, perhaps even more important than Josh Beckett was that year. Congratulations, Mike, for a nice career and for knowing when to call it quits.

The other key decisions are for David Ortiz, Victor Martinez, and Adrian Beltre. The Red Sox hold a team option for Ortiz in 2011 at $12.5 million, just under his salary of $13 million this year. In April, it seemed inconceivable that Ortiz' option would get picked up, but since his April struggles he's been one of the most consistent offensive players on the tea, with an .897 OPS, his highest since 2007 and is the second best OPS by an AL DH, behind Baltimore's Luke Scott. The nice thing about Ortiz' option is it is only a one year commitment. While a similar offensive player such as Adam Dunn might be available for approximately the same amount of money annually, it would probably take a 3 year commitment to sign any of the DH types hitting the free agent market this year. According to several sources, the Red Sox have decided to pick up Ortiz' 2011 option. However, Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated had discussions with other executives who speculated that the Red Sox might try and work out a two year, $20 million extension with Ortiz instead. That wouldn't shock me, although I'm not sure if Ortiz would be willing to sign a two year deal. Going with a big, left handed slugger in his 30s is a risky proposition, as I showed following Ryan Howard's big extension, so I don't think the Red Sox would consider going to three years.

As an aside, the decline of the DH really has been remarkable. Six teams have DHs hitting .250 or below, including the Mariners' incredible line of .190/.266/.342. This is for a position whose only job is hitting and the Mariners managed to put players in the lineup whose contribution was 26 runs BELOW replacement level. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, replacement level is essentially how well you'd expect freely available talent, such as minor league free agents, to hit. Of course, the Mariners are not alone - the Tigers, Royals, Rays, White Sox, Angels, and Blue Jays also had their DHs produce at replacement level or worse.

The next big decision for the Red Sox is for Victor Martinez. Martinez currently has the second best OPS for a catcher in the AL and has been a big contributor on offense. Playing a premium defensive position, Martinez still is able to put up an .800 OPS and provides a lot of lineup protection against left handed pitchers (1.159 OPS vs lefties). Martinez expressed interest in signing an extension coming into this season, but also recently turned down the Red Sox two year offer. Reports say that the Sox are a little hesitant to go to a three or four year deal as they're unsure how long Martinez can stay behind the plate. Interestingly, Mike Napoli, the player who the Red Sox claimed on waivers this summer but were unable to work out a deal for, would serve a similar role. He's a switch hitting, offense first catcher who also mashes lefties. Because of his defensive struggles, Napoli seems to have lost favor with manager Mike Scioscia and could be trade bait over the winter. Napoli would be under team control for 2011 and 2012, but would be fairly expensive as he's entering his third arbitration year, as he was a super 2* player. Martinez could be looking at a three year, $40-45 million dollar deal, potentially eating up a lot of the money freed up by Lowell's expiring contract.

Adrian Beltre is also a free agent this winter, and also has been one of the most important position players for the Red Sox. According to FanGraphs's valuations, Beltre has been worth an incredible 6.9 wins for $27.7 million worth of value. He has played his usual excellent defense, saving more than 10 runs over the average third baseman for the third year in a row and the fourth time in five years. His bat has also woken up, after moving away from cavernous Safeco field for the more friendly confines of Fenway, upping his OPS from .750 in his four years as a Mariner to .935, the ninth best OPS in all of baseball. That isn't to say that Beltre will repeat his 7 win season, but he certainly looks like a star player again. While he'll never have a great batting eye, his hand eye coordination is preposterous. I've seen him hit at least two different homeruns, essentially from one knee. Scott Boras looks like a genius now for getting Beltre to sign for a one year, $10 million deal now. An awful lot of teams, particularly in the AL West, have big holes at third base and could be willing to spend lots of money to fill them.

I don't think the Red Sox will be able to keep all three of these players without extending their budget. Their salary coming into this year was an already record $168 million, $25 million than there previous high. I believe that Theo Epstein and the Red Sox were trying to "bridge the gap" to the new prospects by signing older, more expensive players to shorter term deals. I don't think the Red Sox want to be in a position where they're over the luxury tax threshold in 2011 as well, as the penalties increase with successive years over the threshold. Despite getting Lowell off the books, shedding salary will be very difficult without letting one of these three players go, as players such as Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, and Daisuke Matsuzaka will all be receiving raises of $1 million or more and Papelbon will be going into arbitration for the third and final time.

Keeping Ortiz seems like a fait accompli at this point, but if I had to pick between Martinez and Beltre, I would go with Beltre. I think the two will end up with similar contracts this offseason, and Beltre has the upside to be a super star. It seems weird that a 7 win player in New York or Boston gets overlooked, but Beltre's combination of defense and hitting doesn't get enough credit. Beltre ought to be a legitimate MVP candidate and his WAR (wins above replacement) trails only Josh Hamilton in the AL.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Meet your Red Sox September call ups

Once the calendar hits September 1, the major league rosters expand from 25 to 40 men. It is a quirk in the rules originally designed to allow for teams to get a look at players for the future. However, it is undeniable that some players, particularly relief pitchers, can have a huge impact on pennant races. For a great example of this, take a look at K-Rod's run in September and the playoffs during the Angels World Series title year. Sadly, the Red Sox call ups won't likely be having any pennant impacts this year, but it is a good time to get to know some of the prospects.

Because of the injury stacks in center field, we've actually already seen most of the upper level outfield talent the Red Sox have at one point or another. Kalish is up and is nearly an everyday player, the stories of McDonald and Nava have been well covered, and we also had a brief look at Reddick earlier in the season. With a call up yesterday, Reddick is back up for the remainder of the season and figures to split time in the outfield. In the game tonight Reddick didn't start, but subbed in for Drew in RF.

The other big call up is Lars Anderson, the former top prospect. Coming into this season there were several question marks about Anderson, but he answered them with a big start in AA
and held his own in AAA Pawtucket this summer as well, posting a .262/.340/.428 line over 400 at bats. Allow me to pat myself on the back for nailing his September call up, although it probably has a lot more to do with Youkilis' injury than Anderson's numbers. Anderson started at first base against the Rays tonight, going 0-4 with two strikeouts.

The other minor league player getting his first shot is Robert Coello, who like Anderson made his major league debut tonight. Unfortunately things didn't go well for Coello either, as he was tagged for 3 hits, two walks, and three earned runs over just one third of an inning of relief. Coello is a recent conversion to pitching, having failed to stick as a catcher in the Reds organization. Because of that, he's still very raw and has a tendency to walk a lot of batters. Originally a starter, Coello was converted to relief towards the end of the minor league season and had great success in the role. Hopefully the Red Sox will be able to get a good look at him and see if he'll be able to stick at middle relief.

A completely made up trade rumor

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Colby Rasmus is really unhappy with Tony LaRussa, going so far as requesting a trade. LaRussa has given away a good deal of Rasmus' playing time to the recent AAA call up Jon Jay (no, not that John Jay) because of Jon Jay's "savy", essentially referring to Rasmus' struggles with strikeouts this year (32.7% of his PA, 3rd worst in MLB behind two of the biggest all or nothing hitters in baseball - Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn).

Despite the massive spike in strikeouts (up from 20% last year), there really is an awful lot to love about Rasmus this year. His jump in strikeouts has also been accompanied by an increase in walks, from 6.9% of his PA to 11.5%, allowing for a respectable OBP of .349, despite an average of only .264. Perhaps most importantly, Rasmus seems to be trading strikeouts for some very impressive power (.230 isolated power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average, and a .495 slugging percentage), especially for an up the middle player. Out of all full time center fielders, only Vernon Wells has a higher isolated power and no other full time center fielder had a higher OPS. To top it all off, Rasmus has played slightly above average fielder according to both the ultimate zone rating (UZR) as well as John Dewan's plus/minus system.

Personally, I think LaRussa is nuts for antagonizing the third best hitter on his team, especially considering that the Cardinals have an emerging star who is putting up these impressive numbers at 24 and would be under team control for another 4 seasons. But, Tony LaRussa works in strange ways. You can't argue with his track record, but I still think he's kind of nuts. This is a man who wears sunglasses during all games so his eyes don't give away anything about the signals he's giving baserunners.

Again, this is a completely unfounded rumor, but you have to wonder if the Red Sox and Cardinals would consider swapping "problem" outfielders, sending Ellsbury to St. Louis in exchange for Rasmus. The Sox front office has shown they have no problem with strikeouts if you're producing runs, and LaRussa has always valued, perhaps over valued, speed guys. The big impediment to any deal might be service time and age. Ellsbury, though hardly old, turns 27 on September 11 and is three full years older than Rasmus. As such, he doesn't really have a ton of growth left in his game - I doubt he's to be able to markedly improve on his 2009 numbers, particularly in the power department.

Rasmus, on the other hand, is only 23 and has tantalizing power for a center fielder. If he can learn to get the strikeouts down to similar numbers to his rookie season without giving up the power stroke he could be a superstar. Of course, he may need to cut down on his strikeouts in order to maintain some of his gains this year - Rasmus' overall numbers are buoyed by a .331 average on balls in play. Based on some off the cuff estimates and some guesses (25% K rate, 10% BB rate, similar 2B, HR, 3B/PA rates as this season) I ended up with a .261/.335/.474 projection. While an .800 OPS is very good for a center fielder, it falls well short of superstar level.

The other complicating factor is money. Next season, I believe that Rasmus will still be a prearbitration player, making only about $400,000 (poor guy), while Ellsbury will be arbitration eligible for the first time. Ellsbury's "lost" season will certainly depress his value, but with all the negatives stacked towards Ellsbury (age, cost, length of team control, injury history) in the end the Red Sox and Cardinals might not match up. If you're Theo Epstein I think you have to give the Cardinals GM a call about Rasmus in the offseason.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A few links that caught my eye

Manny Delcarmen was lit up in his first appearance with the Rockies, resulting in what R.J. Anderson declared was "the most exciting inning of the night".

The Red Sox Beacon has a nice article on Felix Doubront in the bullpen. Given the Red Sox depth at starting pitcher and the weakness in the 'pen, I agree with their assessment that Felix could be in the bullpen to stay.

Baseball Prospectus has an interview with new top prospect Anthony Ranaudo.

And perhaps best of all, Joe Posnanski, who gets my vote for the best sports writer out there right now, has an article about Jeter's future defense, offense, and pay than fills me with glee.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bye bye Manny

But it is a different one this time. The Red Sox traded away Manny Delcarmen to the Colorado Rockies today in exchange for starting pitching prospect Chris Balcom-Miller. Delcarmen's fall from grace has been a precipitous one; in the 2007 and 2008 offseasons many writers and fans speculated that he could be traded, netting the Sox a starter elsewhere and putting Delcarmen into a closer role with his new team. Looking at his numbers, you can understand the excitement. Delcarmen posted a 2.05 ERA in 2007 and a 3.27 ERA in 2008, striking out more than 8 batters per nine innings and walking under 3.5. Since 2008, however, everything has gone down hill. Taking a look at the graphs of his various pitching rates. clearly shows a pitcher in decline. Delcarmen started striking out fewer hitters, walking more, and allowing more home runs. The walk rate, in particular is troubling, as it has climbed from about average (3.5 BB/9) to absolutely horrendous (5.73 BB/9), seventh worst in the AL among pitchers with 40 or more innings pitched. Really, the only thing keeping Delcarmen from being much worse than his 4.70 ERA was his .220 batting average on balls in play, instead of the average .300.

While it is a bit depressing to see the Red Sox "sell low" on a player, Delcarmen was getting worse while simultaneously getting more expensive as he was going to enter arbitration for the second time this offseason. Chris Balcom-Miller seems like a solid return for Delcarmen. Before the trade a Rockies blog had a small write up on him. I haven't been able to find a description of his stuff, which is key in projecting a pitching prospect, but he's posted very good numbers in the hitter friendly Pioneer League. His strikeout and walk numbers are very good (117 K and only 20 BB in 109 IP), but it is important to keep in mind that strikeout numbers typically drop and walk numbers typically rise as a pitcher moves up in the minors. According to one scouting report, Balcom-Miller has the upside to be a mid-rotation starter.

The other benefit is that I think this move will make the 2010 Red Sox a better team, even if their playoff hopes are pretty much dead. I figure Robert Manuel, recently named as the PawSox MVP will snag Delcarmen's roster spot. It seems that every single time I write about the 'pen, I have marvelous things to say about Manuel, but he really does deserve a shot. In 64 IP at AAA he put up a 1.68 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP. He'll have some competition for innings once the rosters expand, but the Red Sox need to get a look at him and see if he's a viable major league reliever.

As I was writing this the Red Sox called up Manuel to replace Delcarmen. Now let's see how he does.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Is this the end?

Right now the Red Sox are 5.5 games behind the Rays for the wild card and 6.5 games behind the Yankees, with only 39 games to play. After a 16-2 drubbing from the Blue Jays last night, things certainly look pretty grim. And in case you had forgotten, Youkilis and Ellsbury are out for the year, and Pedroia is out for at least another two weeks.

Despite the injuries, the Sox have played fairly well this season, as their 69-54 record would put them within striking distance in any other division in the majors, and would even lead the AL West. However, when you're in the same division as the Yankees and Rays there really isn't any margin for error. Without a doubt the starting pitching has been a huge disappointment for the team this year. Although the starters' 4.21 ERA is more than half a run better than last year's numbers, the Red Sox rank in the AL and MLB as a whole is nearly identical. I suppose it really is the year of the pitcher. Of course, that half a run of ERA was given back by the bullpen, who have only been the 9th best in the AL this year, a far cry from last year's #2 ranking. That is a huge disappointment considering the Red Sox decision to go with pitching and defense this offseason.

Despite the insanity and inanity surrounding the decision to go with defense this offseason (the decision to go with pitching, which has apparently blown up in the Red Sox face, was not subjected to nearly the same amount of babbling on talk radio) the defense has actually been substantially better this year, despite having to play role players across the diamond. Pedroia, Drew, and Beltre are all among the leaders in UZR at their respective positions and the Red Sox moved up to 8th in baseball in park adjusted defensive efficiency, 10 spots better than last year's team, according to Baseball Prospectus' numbers.

It is still a bit early to do a post mortem on the season, as the season isn't all dead yet, just mostly dead. I wouldn't count on Miracle Max though, I hear he's a Yankee fan.

Friday, August 20, 2010

2010 Draft Breakdown

With the signing deadline come and gone, we can now take a firmer look at the Red Sox draft. The top two picks, college hitters Kolbrin Vitek and Bryce Brentz. Both are currently in Low A; Bretz is struggling, hitting only .174 while striking out in 25% of his at bats, while Vitek is holding his own with a .793 OPS. It is far too early to draw any major conclusions about either player, however.

The big question marks in the Red Sox draft were the following two picks, college starters Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo. As I wrote in my initial write up of the draft,and has been written about in many other places as well, Ranaudo was a highly rated prospect coming into the college season who struggled in his junior year. In order to raise his draft stock, Ranaudo decided to pitch in the Cape Cop league to prove he was healthy. He certainly did. Ranaudo was probably the most dominant starter in the league this summer, throwing 30 innings without allowing a single run, while striking out 31 and walking 8. It took right up until the deadline, but the Red Sox were able to get Ranaudo to sign for a $2.55 million bonus, the largest of their draft class.

Brandon Workman, a starter out of Texas, was also considered a relatively tough sign. Coming into the draft he was expected to go in the bottom half of the first round, but fell about 30 picks to the top of the second round at 57th overall. As with Ranaudo, Workman and the Red Sox were able to work out a deadline deal, with Workman signing for an $800,000 bonus, which is about the slot for a player selected slightly higher.

All told, the Red Sox managed to sign 14 of their top 15 draft picks, only failing to sign high school righty Tyler Barnette. It is always hard to analyze a draft right after it happens, but the talent the Red Sox ended up with in this year's draft seems awfully impressive. They ended up with four picks in Baseball America's top 30 rankings and managed to sign them all. To top it all off, the top 4 are all college players, who can replenish a farm system that is currently a bit depleted at the upper levels.

Non-baseball content?

I was thinking of putting some links to photos and some write ups of my trip to Africa here. Would folks be interested in that?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I'm afraid that there's going to be another big posting drought, as I won't have much time to work on blog entries while I'm in South Africa for the next two weeks. Don't give up on the Red Sox just yet; the last time Andrew and I were out of the country was late June through mid August of 2004 and the Sox managed .700 ball without us.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Minor dealings

In the end, the Red Sox only made two small moves at the trade deadline. This wasn't all that surprising, given how little press had been devoted to legitimate trade rumors involving the team. Neither of the trades will help the team in 2010, and while they're not exactly waiving the white flag, it is hard to view them as serious contenders at this point, especially given the Yankees' additions. Of course, a nice run with a healthy lineup could change that.

In a straight 1-1 trade with the Giants, the Sox traded away Ramon Ramirez and picked up AA relief prospect Daniel Turpen. Turpen currently has a 4.04 ERA in AA, although he did pitch extremely well in 2009 across multiple levels. Not exactly a stud prospect, but Turpin was in San Francisco's top 40 entering the season. Ramon Ramirez wasn't able to reproduce the success he had with the Red Sox in 2009 when he posted a 2.84 ERA in nearly 70 innings. Along with Manny Delcarmen, who was also on the trading block but not moved, Ramirez contributed to a mediocre middle relief core, which had been a strength last year. Of course, if you actually look at the underlying numbers, the main difference between the 2009 version of Ramon Ramirez and the 2010 version is luck. In 2009 he was lucky, in 2010 wasn't. His strikeout rate, walk rate, and groundball rate all were similar in the two years.

In another trade, the Red Sox sent starting pitcher Roman Mendez, first base prospect Chris McGuiness, a player to be named later, and cash to the Rangers for perpetual prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Since being a top 25 prospect in the Braves system and being the headliner for their Mark Teixeira deal, Saltalamacchia has struggled with injuries, ineffectiveness, and even a bit of Steve Blass disease in AAA this spring. The deal obviously depends on who the player to be named later is and how much cash is involved, but it doesn't appear like they gave up too much in this deal. Mendez has the ceiling to be a major league pitcher, but has struggled this year in the Sally League. McGuiness, who was also in the Sally League, was putting up very nice numbers in A ball this year (.298/.416/.504), but that is to be expected for a 22 year old polished college hitter. He was also fairly well blocked in the Red Sox farm system, with Anthony Rizzo at AA despite being a year younger and Lars Anderson at AAA, despite only being six months older. It isn't a bad price to pay for someone who could be your catcher of the future, but Saltalamacchia is hardly a sure thing. On the bright side, at least the Red Sox didn't trade Jon Lester to the Braves for Saltalamacchia, way back when.

Instead of addressing depth issues through trades, it looks like the Red Sox will try and use their farm system instead. Top outfield prospect Ryan Kalish was called up this afternoon, taking Jeremy Hermida's spot on the roster, and started in left field, going 2/4 with a run and a RBI. Starting pitching prospects Michael Bowden and Felix Doubront, a lefty, have been transitioned to the bullpen for the remainder of the season and will likely get some big league appearances. With the roster spot that was opened up by the Ramon Ramirez deal, the Sox called up left handed reliever Dustin Richardson. Finally, although the regular trade deadline has passed, the Sox may be able to add useful players through the waiver process, which is awfully complicated. The general gist of it is that if a player is expensive, the Red Sox may be able to snag him.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

If I were Dayton Moore...

The Royals are in their usual position of spinning off pieces at this trade deadline. Since they rarely have very good players, the deals they make are typically fairly small and address a need here or there. They've already traded away Alberto Callaspo to the Angels for Sean O'Sullivan and Will Smith, two nearly major league ready starting pitchers. Although neither are anything special, considering how bad the back of the Royals' rotation is, it isn't a bad deal. They also traded Scott Podsednik, a useful fantasy player, but a disaster if he's your starting left fielder, to the Dodgers for a couple of very minor prospects. Neither are expected to be major contributors at the major league level, but the key here is the Royals now have playing time opening up for their young and young-ish players stuck in the minors.

Right now, priority #1 has to be to trade Jose Guillen. Yes, he's owed $4.5 million on his disastrous 3 year, $36 million contract. No, he can't play defense. Yes, he's had repeated run ins with management and other players due to a bad attitude and lack of effort. But he can hit pretty well, and there are some teams out there (the Giants immediately come to mind) that have some pretty putrid outfielders of their own. I would call up Brian Sabean, especially now that some of his other targets have already been moved, and offer to eat the salary. Jose Guillen is a sunk cost. No matter what the Royals do, they're not going to be able to recoup that money - it is gone whether they trade him or not. Considering that they've already budgeted that money and the fact that ponying up the $4.5 million ought to net them a much nicer prospect, Moore just needs to suck it up and get whatever he can for Guillen. A solid, if unsexy, relief pitching prospect would be a nice find; the Royals' bullpen has very little depth beyond Soria and Robinson Tejeda. I'd try something similar with Rick Ankiel, although since he's coming off an injury and was not effective when he was healthy, it could be a very limited market.

With the two trades, my proposed trade for Guillen, and DeJesus' injury, the Royals would all of a sudden have loads of playing time. For the time being they've been playing Wilson Betemit at 3B. Betemit is a nice stop gap and a solid utility player, but come September, they ought to take a a look at Mike Moustakas at third base. Moustakas destroyed the ball at AA this year, and while he's currently struggling at AAA, he clearly is the third basemen of the future for them.

With Guillen gone, the Royals would need a full time DH. Thankfully, they have Kila Ka'aihue rotting in AAA. Despite years of terrible production at DH, the Royals have let Ka'aihue rot in AAA without ever giving him a chance with regular playing time. He put up a 1.000 OPS in AAA in 2008 at the age of 24, which earned him a call up, but he had a chance as a full time player. The following offseason, the Royals traded Leo Nunez for Mike Jacobs. Nunez has closer the last two years for the Marlins. Mike Jacobs put up a .297 OBP for the Royals in 2009 and was then non-tendered. Whoops. Ka'aihue slumped a bit in 2009, but has been unbelievably good at AAA again this year. According to Minor League Splits, his minor league equivalent OBP is .370, only the now injured David DeJesus and Billy Butler have higher OBPs.

Finally, the Royals need to play Alex Gordon and Mitch Maier full time from here on out. Maier is the only true center fielder under contract for next year, so they need to see if he can put up acceptable numbers or if they need to look elsewhere. Finally, Alex Gordon, the next George Brett, is now a left fielder. According to scouting reports, his defense has been solid. After missing most of last year with a hip injury and getting demoted this year, the Royals need to give him one last shot with regular playing time to see if they can salvage something out of this fallen top prospect. Despite his horrendous .573 OPS (which actually beats out fellow fallen 3B prospect Brandon Wood's .411 quite handily), there are reasons to hope. Gordon hit .315/.442/.557 in the minors, so if he can finally translate that minor league success to the majors, the Royals could have at least a league average left fielder on their hands.

Despite years of futility, there is some hope for the Royals. Beyond the players I've mentioned, they also have Eric Hosmer (1B) who is excelling as a 20 year old in AA and Mike Montgomery, an excellent 20 year-old left handed starting pitcher who also was promoted to AA this year. Some have gone so far as to say that the Royals have the best farm system in baseball. Making the little right moves, such as giving some older minor leaguers a shot, could help surround these up and coming young players with a nice supporting cast.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Scott Downs is a nice trading chip for the Blue Jays to have. In a year where a lot of teams are struggling with bullpen issues, Downs is clearly the best reliever on the market. Plus, as a lefty, he can fit into any number of roles in a bullpen, from 8th inning set up guy to the guy you turn to against tough left handed hitters. To top it all off, just like Billy Wagner last year, Downs is set to be a type A free agent, so if a team offers arbitration, they could net a first round draft pick and a sandwich round draft pick.

All of that does make him valuable, but these reports are just insane. According to George King of the NY Post and Jon Heyman of SI, the Jays asked the Yankees for Jesus Montero or Joba Chamberlain for Downs and asked the Red Sox for Casey Kelly or Jose Iglesias. I guess it doesn't hurt to ask, but hopefully Alex Anthopoulos knows that the days of trading a couple prospects for a reliever rental are long gone.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Yet another reason why Yankee Stadium (new or old) is terrible

Sorry for the lack of posts lately - I've been busy trying to close out my field season before a big trip to South Africa. For a quick, relatively content free post, enjoy yet another reason why Fenway Park is better than Yankee Stadium, courtesy of ESPN's rundown of vendor health code violations.

Fenway Park
Boston Red Sox
Vendors with critical violations: 4%

Inspection report excerpt: Inspectors found raw steak that had warmed to almost 60 degrees, which was above safe temperatures.

Yankee Stadium
New York Yankees
Vendors with critical violations: 48%

Inspection report excerpt: Five hot dogs registered 91 degrees in a hot-holding unit when they were supposed to be no cooler than 140. Inspectors also had a vendor dump a bottle of Chivas Regal whiskey containing dead fruit flies.

Are the dead fruit flies good luck like the worm in the tequila? (OK, it is really in mescal, if you're being picky about it)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Prospect Check Up: Michael Bowden

The Red Sox recently announced that Michael Bowden, one of their more advanced pitching prospects, would be shifting from the rotation in Pawtucket to the bullpen. Coming in to the season, Bowden was among the best prospects in the Red Sox system, #8 according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus (subscription required), but outside of the top 10 according to Baseball America, perhaps due to his lack of upside. Given the fact that Felix Doubront has gotten a couple of spot starts over the last couple of weeks, it appears that he has leap frogged Bowden in the eyes of the front office. Bowden was ranked as high as he was due to safety; according to scouts, his ceiling is a mid to back end of the rotation starter, which makes it very hard for Bowden to crack the deep Red Sox pitching rotation. But he is one of the very few advanced prospects the Red Sox have, and coming into the season he looked like a useful depth player, but more valuable as a trading chip.

However, with the shift to the bullpen the Red Sox appear to be looking for ways that Bowden can contribute to the team this season. Bowden's numbers at AAA are excellent, both for this year (3.77 ERA, 1.1WHIP) and his career as a whole (3.39 ERA, 1.16 WHIP). However, Bowden's strikeout rate is pretty mediocre, sitting right around 6.3 K/9 for 2010 and his career in AAA. Knowing that strike out rates typically drop as pitchers move up levels, particularly when moving up to the majors, it is easy to see why the Red Sox don't view Bowden as a sure fire starter.

However, based on a study by Sean Smith (creator of the CHONE projections), switching from a start to a reliever typically increases strikeouts by about 15%. Considering how weak the bullpen has been this year, thanks to injuries and underperformers including expected 7th and 8th inning guys such as Delcarmen and Okajima, Bowden could play a major role down the stretch. That said, don't mistake him for Daniel Bard last season; Bowden doesn't have anywhere close to the strikeout rate or the upside, even out of the pen.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Delcarmen to DL, Sox call up Manuel

Another day, another injury. After getting lit up for a couple of games, Manny Delcarmen admitted that he's been experiencing forearm soreness. While it is too bad that he didn't come forward with his injury right away, this is actually a step in the right direction for Delcarmen, who hid an injury during his horrid second half of 2009.

To take his place, the Red Sox have called up Robert Manuel. When the Sox acquired him in December, I did a detailed write up about him. I have a lot of faith in his minor league numbers and I think he could really contribute as a 6th or 7th inning guy. Manuel has continued his success in the minors this year (1.54 ERA, 0.95 WHIP). Manuel doesn't have dominating stuff, but does have excellent control and strikes out enough batters to have spectacular K:BB numbers.

Troubles at C

Reports now have Tek on the DL with a broken foot, and he could be out 4-6 weeks. With V-Mart also on the DL and the Sox top two catching prosepcts on the DL as well, as Bill mentioned, that leaves them without a starting catcher. The Sox have traded for old friend Kevin Cash, though his production at plate horrendous. He's a career 0.188/0.250/0.291 hitter, though at least ZIPs projects him to hit 0.211/0.282/0.338. Their backup for the time being appears to be Gustavo Molina, who, before the Cash trade, was the only healthy catcher (out of five!) on the 40 man roster. Molina, a 28 year old right handed batter, was hitting 0.239/0.292/0.413 in Pawtucket this year.

Obviously, neither Cash nor Molina are going to hit much, but what impact will this have on the team offensively? Based on ZIPs projected rest of season stats, the dropoff from Victor Martinez to either Cash or Molina (their projected lines are very similar) looks to be about 4 runs over the 12 games Martinez will be on the DL, assuming he comes back after the minimum. Using the quick conversion of 10 runs to a win, the injuries to Martinez and Varitek look to cost the Sox about four tenths of a win. It's a number that is a lot lower than I expected, but it is assuming that Victor can come back after a minimum stay on the DL, and it isn't factoring in the other injuries at 2B, SP, and OF. All in all, those are starting to add up, especially in a tight AL East race. At this point I'd be happy if the Sox can just hold it together and play .500 ball until the All Star Break.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Meet the Red Sox new starting second baseman?

The Red Sox traded for Eric Patterson, the younger brother of current Oriole Corey Patterson, in a minor deal last week. In return for Patterson, the Red Sox sent Oakland Fabian Williamson, a minor league relief pitcher that the Red Sox had received in exchange for David Aardsma. Hopefully Patterson can match the success that Aardsma has had since that deal.

Eric Patterson was drafted by the Cubs in the 8th round of the 2004 draft by the Cubs, after his junior year at Georgia Tech. Patterson moved relatively quickly through the Cubs system after being drafted, reaching AA in his first full minor league season and AAA in his second. After a full season in AAA at age 24 when he posted an 817 OPS, Patterson had a cup of coffee with the Cubs. Although he had come up through the system as a second baseman, Patterson was used as an outfielder in his 7 game stint with the Cubs.

This was the apex of Patterson’s value as a prospect, as he was ranked 6th in the Cubs minor league system. After a strong showing in AAA (870 OPS), but a poor one in the majors, Patterson was shipping to Oakland. Just as with the Cubs, Patterson hit well with the A’s AAA affiliate in Sacramento, but was terrible when called up to the big leagues. This pattern repeated itself in 2009, and after spending most of 2010 as a bench player for the A’s, Patterson was designated for assignment to make room for Coco Crisp, who was coming off the disabled list.

Despite his struggles at the major league level, there is a lot to like about Patterson’s tools. For starters, unlike his hacktastic brother, he has an excellent eye. One scout quoted in the 2010 Baseball Prospectus Annual said that he was half the athlete Corey Patterson was, but twice the ball player. Also, Patterson has elite speed and is an excellent base runner. He stole 43 bases in 49 tries in AAA in 2009, and has yet to get caught in 22 major league stolen base attempts. In one aspect he is similar to his brother – contact. Unfortunately, neither Patterson can make consistent contact with the ball, as Eric Patterson’s career strikeout rate of 28.4% of his major league at bats shows. However, he did post 15-20% strikeout rates throughout his minor league career, so there is some hope for improvement.

Perhaps the biggest hope for improvement is that no one has given him a shot at full playing time. Granted, his performance hasn’t warranted full PT, but his minor league numbers indicate that he could be a viable major league second baseman. Pedroia’s 6-week DL stint may give Patterson the regular time at second to establish himself. Even if Theo and Tito decide to platoon Patterson and the right handed hitting Bill Hall (although I don't think either of them view Hall as a real 2B), Patterson will get the fat part of the platoon. If he does adjust to big league pitching, Patterson could be a valuable utility player for the Red Sox for the remainder of the season and beyond, thanks to his ability to play multiple positions and his base running ability. Also, because Patterson only accumulated 0.144 worth of major league service time coming into the season, he will be cost controlled for at least another two years. Overall, I think this is a great gamble by the front office. Patterson certainly isn’t going to Wally Pip Pedroia, but he has the potential to fill a gaping hole for the team now, and be useful down the road.

Walking Wounded

It has been a tough week for the Sox. A tragic gasoline fight accident amongst bullpen members left one game dead and another wounded in Colorado. Then, in a three game series against the Giants in San Francisco the Sox lost Pedroia for six weeks with a broken foot, Buchholz for a couple starts with a strained hamstring, and Victor Martinez for at least a few days with a broken thumb. These are just the latest in a rather long string of injuries for the team.

Update: So the Red Sox are going to place Victor Martinez on the DL after all. Hopefully he'll miss close to the minimum. With Mark Wagner and Dusty Brown, the two AAA catchers, on the minor league DL, it isn't clear who the back up will be. You wonder if the Red Sox will revisit Ianetta with the Rockies, although they've avoided making impulsive moves in the past.

The Sox "ace", Josh Beckett has missed about half his starts due to back and oblique injuries. When he was healthy enough to start, Beckett posted a gaudy ERA well over 7. If all goes right, Beckett would return in late July.

The expensive Japanese import, Daisuke Matsuzaka, has also missed about half of his starts for the team, mostly due to a sore fore arm. He has been solid, if unspectacular, in the nine starts he has been able to make, although it may be due to a bit of luck when it comes to keeping balls in the park (4.50 ERA vs a 5.13 xFIP, which is normalized for home run rate).

Even Clay Buchholz hasn't been spared. Trying to break up a double play in San Francisco on Saturday, Buchholz came up lame. Initially diagnosed with a hyper extended knee, Buchholz was later diagnosed with a minor hamstring tear. That sounds a lot scarier than it is; technically speaking, any strain is a tear. Buchholz is slated to be skipped in the rotation once, then return. The Red Sox have some flexibility here because they have two off days over the next week.

The guy who was supposed to lead the offense, Jacoby Ellsbury, has played all of NINE games all season, thanks to broken ribs courtesy of Adrian Beltre. Ellsbury was off the DL for a bit, before new fractures were discovered after he was unable to play effectively. Ellsbury is supposed to return sometime after the All Star Break, although very little information has been released since he went out to Athlete's Performance Institute in Arizone for rest and rehabilitation.

The player whose defense pushed Ellsbury from center field to left field, Mike Cameron, has battled an abdominal injury. At first, it was diagnosed as appendicitis, then kidney stones, but it turns out Cameron had kidney stones AND a tear in his abdominal wall. Ouch. This injury often requires surgery, but through rest and rehab, Cameron was able to come back after a month on the DL. However, for two weeks he wasn't able to play in consecutive games and is still bothered by pain from the injury.

Jeremy Hermida, the outfield depth for the Red Sox and one of the most talented 4th outfielders in the game, was another victim of a collision with Beltre. He was thankfully able to avoid breaking his ribs, instead just bruising them. Hermida has been out since June 9th and is looking at an early July return.

And finally we get to Pedroia, who Buster Olney argues is one of the most irreplaceable players in the game. The Sox are extremely weak at 2B in the farm system and off the bench, and even some of the players in the minors who might be able to fill in are hurt, such as Jose Iglesias, who broke his finger a week ago and Tug Hullet, who had been signed to be their back up infielder, has been horrendous in AAA. The Sox did snag Eric Patterson in a trade with the A's, although he's only slightly more of a real 2B than Bill Hall is. Patterson's minor league numbers are outstanding (.309/.363/.487 over 1300 AAA at bats), but he's struggled in his major league career (.224/.301/.340). We'll see if he can pull a Nava.

Yet somehow, despite all of this, the Red Sox are leading the wild card and only a game back of the Yankees. To start the season, if you had told me Beckett was going to miss half his starts and Ellsbury would have only played nine games by July 1, I would have taken 5 games back of the wild card in a heartbeat. I am not really sure how they've managed to do it, but they're just winning games.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Remembering the importance of small sample size

When doing any sort of statistical analysis, it can be really, really easy to fall prey to drawing conclusions based on a small sample, particularly when it fits with the overall story you are trying to tell about a player. Our minds try to create a pattern out of everything, even if it's more than likely (statistically speaking) just noise. Baseball statistics are no different, and in my curiosity I began looking in to it, figuring baseball statisticians that were both smarter and harder working than me had already figured it out. Lo and behold, I was right. Many statistics very quickly (swing rate for batters stabilizes within 50 PAs), while others, such as isolated power for a hitter or a pitchers walk rate, take most of a season. Here is a summary for when statistics for batters and pitchers stabilize, and for the more adventurous, the full, more detailed article is available as well, which goes in to the methods used to calculate these numbers. So, whether you are looking at a players stats trying to figure out if they'd be a good trade target in fantasy baseball, or trying to figure out why David Ortiz gets off to a slow start every April, keep these numbers in mind before drawing any conclusions.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Piling On: Some thoughts on Stephen Strasburg

Unless you live in a hole, you’re probably aware that Stephen Strasburg is a pretty good baseball player. In his three starts, he’s gone 2-0, with a hard luck no decision on Friday night. A lot has been made of Strasburg’s strike out totals, and rightly so. Strasburg struck out more batters in his first three starts than any other pitcher in MLB history. Currently, Strasburg’s strike outs per nine innings pitcher (K/9) sits at a preposterous 14.9. For some perspective, Tim Lincecum had a K/9 of 10.42, the highest for any pitcher who qualified for the ERA title. Looking at relievers, Jonathon Broxton led the way, with a K/9 of 13.50. In fact, Strasburg’s strike out rate is nearly identical to Eric Gagné’s MLB record of 14.98. Of course, Strasburg’s numbers are “au naturel”, unlike Gagné’s performance enhancing drug tainted numbers.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Strasburg has been his efficiency so far. In this era, pitch counts are heavily scrutinized from both ends – too few pitches and the old timers start to rant about back in their day pitchers would routinely throw 130, too many and you start to have people complain about a manager running a young arm into the ground. And that does happen; just look at the damage Dusty Baker did to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, both of whom had similar amounts of hype surrounding them as Strasburg. In order to protect their investment, the Nationals have played it safe and kept Strasburg on a relatively tight pitch count. In his three starts, he’s yet to top 95 pitches. That makes his strikeout totals even more impressive. You see, keeping a pitch count low and striking out a ton of batters simply don’t go hand in hand. From a common sense standpoint, you can induce a weak grounder with one pitch, but a strikeout takes at least three.

So far in his admittedly brief major league career, Strasburg is averaging 14.2 pitches per inning. That puts him in elite company, with some of the most efficient starting pitchers from 2009 – Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter. But just how exactly does he do it? Swinging strikes, and lots of them. Batters are currently only making contact with 35% of his pitches out of the zone, compared to the MLB average of 66%. Unsurprisingly, Strasburg is leading the league in swinging strike percentage (15.8%, well ahead of second place Tim Lincecum). Not only that, but Strasburg is also top 3 in the league in generating swings on pitches out of the zone. Most guys that generate swings on pitches outside of the zone are command/control guys, who, if you’re feeling mean, could be labeled junk balers – Carl Pavano, for example. The intersection of guys who get batters to swing at a lot of pitches outside of the zone and guys who get lots of swings and misses when a pitch out of the zone is pretty much just Strasburg.

There are a couple of caveats, despite his amazing start. First, Strasburg hasn’t faced the strongest competition so far. The White Sox, Indians, and Pittsburgh are all in the bottom third of the league in terms of offense against right-handed pitchers, and the White Sox were without the benefit of a DH. Also, Strasburg doesn’t throw very many pitches in the zone. To a certain extent, this may be because he doesn’t have to, as evidenced by his ability to generate swings outside of the zone and because of his stuff, but the league may catch up to him a bit. Finally, we are talking three starts so far, but man, have they been impressive.

Update: Strasburg pitches on national television for the first time tonight, Monday, June 28, facing the Braves on ESPN 2. Sadly, Braves uber-prospect Jason Heyward will miss the game with a sore thumb. For those of you like me, who haven't had a chance to see him yet, this is a great opportunity.