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!