Saturday, September 3, 2011

Verlander: Sox Potential Playoff Nightmare?

The dreaded phrase: "If The Season Ended Today" crossed my mind last night for one very specific, fear inducing reason: Justin Verlander. When media-types are uttering phrases like "Pedro '99" in regards to an opposing pitcher, you probably don't want to see that guy on the mound, especially I.T.S.E.T.

Verlander: product of Goochland, VA
The popular consensus seems to have overcome the pitcher-bias for many and has shifted favorite status to the Tigers starter in the AL MVP race. At least for today.  Following yesterday's win over the White Sox, even  mlb.com tweeted this morning: "Justin Verlander's win total is old enough to drink..." No matter how one describes it, this is Verlander's summer, and he & both his 100MPH fastballs will be remembered years from now. That said, things could shift back in the direction of Curtis Granderson or Jacoby Ellsbury if the Tigers fall too far out of contention.


A quick check of the standings shows that the 10-0 bludgeoning at the hands of the Rangers last night dropped Boston a half game behind the Yankees, which means that New York would draw Detroit as of this writing. Clearly, Texas can match up with either East power, so missing Verlander wouldn't exactly leave Bostonians dancing in the streets. But whether or not the Red Sox are in line to face Verlander's Tigers on September 3rd is not entirely the issue.


The question on the table here is: can Verlander (essentially) win a playoff series by himself?


The quick answer is yes. Of course he can get hot and take over the division series, and if things line up right in the LCS, he can conceivably dominate the next round too. But how many times has it actually happened? Has a pitcher, with essentially soft-serv ice cream machines lining up behind him in the rotation, ever been able to pull something like that off?


The obvious comparison that springs to mind is Pedro Martinez in 1999. Robbed of the Cy Young-MVP sweep that season (with Ivan Rodriguez taking the MVP trophy for the Rangers), Pedro was in a rotation that saw Kent Mercker start game 1 of the LCS. So you can pretty much imagine the quality of the other starters on that squad. Verlander is in a similar situation this year.


Of course, the reason Pedro didn't pitch the first game against the Yankees that year, was that he was too busy putting on one of the greatest pitching performances playoff baseball has ever seen, tossing six no-hit innings in relief the previous game to clinch the LDS over the Indians.

Like no. 45 did for the Red Sox that year, Verlander has a chance at the AL pitching triple-crown (wins, ERA, strikeouts). He's got a big lead in wins and strikeouts, and his 2.34 ERA is just a tick behind LA's Jered Weaver (2.34) at this point.

For comparison's sake, here's a list of all the pitching triple-crown winners since 1995 (the inception of the Division Series):

Year  Lg   Player                 Team                      ERA   W      K
1997   AL   Roger Clemens    Blue Jays              2.05   21   292
1998   AL   Roger Clemens    Blue Jays              2.65   20   271
1999   AL   Pedro Martinez   Red Sox                 2.07   23   313
2002  NL   Randy Johnson   Diamondbacks   2.32   24   334
2006  AL   Johan Santana     Twins                     2.45   19   277
2007  NL   Jake Peavy           Padres                    2.54   19   240

The only guys on this list to make the playoffs in their triple-crown years were Pedro in '99, Johnson in '02, and Santana in '06. How did they fare? Martinez had the aforementioned legendary relief appearance, but he bowed out of game 1 in the fourth inning due to injury, his only other outing.

In '02 the Big Unit still had Curt Schilling by his side, but he took the loss in game 1 as the Dbacks were swept 3-0 by St. Louis. Ditto Santana in '06, as the Twins ace took the mound and the L in the opener en route to an Oakland sweep. Aside from Pedro in '03, no triple-crown winner has even made a significant contribution to his team winning a game under the current playoff structure, let alone single-handedly locking down the entire series.

What about MVP pitchers you say? Glad you asked. There have been exactly four guys to win most valuable player in since 1980, and only one of them was a starter: Roger Clemens in 1986.  Clemens went 21-7 with a 2.05 ERA and 292 Ks during the regular season. The Rocket was mediocre during those playoffs, dominating neither series and posting a 3.97 ERA. The Sox won 2 out of the 5 games he started. You get the point: he didn't hold ultimate sway over the series.

So, is it possible Justin Verlander can single-handedly win a playoff round? It's possible. But not probable, as we see from the above lists. Sure, there have been guys to do so in the past (see: Orel Hershiser, 1988) but they usually aren't the people we expect to do it by applying how the regular season played out to the postseason model. Knowing this, any fan of the Red Sox should welcome the opportunity to beat up on Verlander's staff-mates over another tousle with Mike Napoli and the Rangers.
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In case you were wondering, here's how Verlander's numbers look against current playoff teams:
Split      W L  ERA GS CG   IP  H R ER HR BB SO BF  WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
Boston     1 0 1.72  2  0 15.2 10 3  3  2  2 12 58 0.766  6.9  6.00
New York   0 0 4.50  2  0 12.0 11 6  6  1  8 16 53 1.583 12.0  2.00
Texas      0 1 2.00  1  1  9.0  6 2  2  0  1  4 33 0.778  4.0  4.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2011.


Friday, September 2, 2011

5 Random Observations: Yankees Series

I'm sure most of you were sleeping through this series, what with meaningless games dragging on over the four-hour mark mid-week in September and whatnot. Even the players are complaining at this point. In any case, the Sox held a 1.5 game lead coming into the series, and a half-game margin going out, leaving New York up 8.5 games over Tampa in the Wild Card race. Without further adieu, here's a few notes about the last three days:

1. Long, Long, Long: We all know these rivalry games are as long as John Lackey's face after a trip to a Mensa meeting, but Jon Lester's first inning in last night's 4-2 loss was brutal. It took the Boston ace 43 pitches to strike out the side, which sent me on one of my many empty stat searches. I tried in vane to find the record for the highest amount of pitches thrown while striking out the side, but came up with nothing. My guess is this inning has to be close. Somebody needs to get on this so I can sleep at night.

2. MVP Watch: I'm probably overly obsessed with this award, but with four AL candidates showcasing their talents in this one series alone, the individual race was more in the forefront than the chase for the pennant. That said, in 15 games against Boston, Curtis Granderson has hit just .218/.377/.436, and he didn't fare much better over this last three-game set. He did, however, make this run-saving grab off the bat of Jed Lowrie in the 6th inning last night:

Granderson: "These grass stains will be hell to remove."
Granderson, who seemed to be the favorite to take the award coming into the series, did nothing to push the needle in either direction, while Jacoby Ellsbury continued to make his case, hitting .364 with a 1.264 OPS over the past three days.

3. Rocco Cervelli: The boisterous New York catcher has been dubbed by many "The Yankee Clapper" following his antics during the past week, which is okay by me. Endearing to New York fans and rage-inducing to Boston rooters, Cervelli and his new moniker simultaneously prove puns can still be hilarious and that this rivalry hasn't lost its punch. Anything that stirs things up like that among playoff contenders this late in the season is a welcome sight.

4. On Second Thought: This incident deserves a closer look. Here are the four stages of emotion, as occurred in Tuesday's scuffle:

Anger.

Confusion.

Revenge (Sabathia)/Dementia (Posada).

Penis Envy.

5. Adrian Gonzalez/David Ortiz: You may have noticed the Boston firstbaseman's torrid pace was slowed down considerably by Yankee pitching. He posted just a .167/.286/.250 slash line, with 0 RBI this time around. Meanwhile, Big Papi is as hot as he's ever been. Since returning from a 10-day hiatus on August 24th, he's hit .500/.559/1.067, with 4 HRs and 9 RBI over eight games. Yikes.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Do Not Boo This Man

I'm assuming if you're reading this, you're not a major leaguer. I'm also going to take for granted that if you've played baseball in the outfield, you've made an error similar to this one Josh Reddick committed last night:


Walk of Shame: Not a reference to your typical Sunday Morning.

The ball scoots by you on the outfield grass, and you have to go chasing it like CC Sabathia after a Little Debbie's truck. It's a squirm inducing situation for both the player and whomever's witnessing the red-faced march--a play I like to call the outfielder's walk of shame. Well, maybe scramble of shame. Hot embarrassment combined with zealous urgency to recover your position as your baseball life flashes before your eyes. Whatever you dub it, it's not fun for anyone.


Okay, so maybe that was just me as a little-leaguer.


It's certainly a bloodbath in that right field corner sometimes, and that play off of Eric Chavez's bat is probably one most outfielders would've flubbed. Same thing happened to Carlos Gonzalez in Arizona last night. Reddick immediately dropped his head after the ball caromed off the wall, and the walk began.


So, if you find yourself snickering at a play like this, remember: you did it too. Admit it. Just a public service announcement from Life on the Wagon. On a side note, Reddick qualified, his UZR of 8.1 would put him sixth defensively among AL outfielders. So there.

Sox Acquire Conor Jackson

On the eve of baseball's "we're serious this time" trading deadline, Boston acquired 1B/OF Conor Jackson from Oakland for nothing-prospect Jason Rice, according to the Globe's Peter Abraham. The move is meant to bolster the Sox depth against lefties, giving them a right-handed hitting option off the bench not named Darnell McDonald (see: his embarrassing whiff against Boone Logan Tuesday night with the bases loaded).

Before injuries began to plague Jackson in 2009, he was about a .285, 15-HR guy over the span of three seasons for the Diamondbacks.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

An Appeal To Fans, by John Lackey

Dear Red Sox Nation,

Guys--come on. Am I really that bad?  Do I deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as Matt Clement, Steve Avery, and Matt Young? Blarghararghargh argh. I think not ladies and gentlemen.  How many times did those guys shut down the Yankees this late in the season? That's what I thought.

Sure, my ERA is as hefty as my lower jaw, but just look at what else I bring to the mound. Blargharargharghargh.Who else will give you guys the riveting interviews that I can? Blargh. Who else will stand there and bulldog Rocco Cervelli as he claps in Salty's face. No one but me baby. I'm the Roy Hobbs of hitting people between the numbers. The spittle running down my chin alone strikes fear in the hearts of men.

 Bllllllaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.

Some people make the assumption that my IQ is a tad low, hurling epithets such as "Professor Lackey" my way. That's fine, I can handle the pressure. But I ask you, is my diminutive mental capacity such a bad thing? I can barely remember the last hitter once he steps out of the box. Seriously, I don't know who that guy was that I drilled last night, or even what the fight was all about. I just remember closing my eyes really hard like I do at night when the lights go out, and throwing the ball as fast I could to make the scary ghosts fly away.

Boy, they can get really frightening sometimes. Just like that guy on my cereal box Count Chocula. He scares me every morning with his devious laugh, constantly staring at me with those bug eyes. But my wife just tells me to close my eyes and count to ten. Most of the time it calms me down. Sometimes, Jason has me do the same thing on the mound, but I just end up imagining him as my wife, and I get confused. Sexually.

Blargharghargh...uh, where was I? Oh right, someone told me that I was a World Series hero once. I don't know about all that. All I know is that I thought I was signing in Milwaukee and I ended up here. Mr. Henry promised me they were hiring Soce to manage out here and that was good enough for me--I signed right up.  I was hoping to experience all of the fine beer and cheeses in Wisconsin, but Mr. Henry keeps me stocked up with Count Chocula, so that's good too.

Sometimes they let me watch my cartoons on the giant scoreboard in the bleachers, which is pretty cool. I invited my friends Jered and Torii over to watch Phineas and Ferb with me someday, but they're always too busy to come. I guess I'll just have to play this giant XBox by myself for now.

Anyway, you guys sure are loud out there, and a little scary too. Could you tone it down a little bit? I'm tired of imagining you all naked to calm my nerves, I need all the brain power I can muster out there.

Thanks, John Lackey
Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Biz Markie, Comedic Gold?

Anyone who's caught the Red Sox on NESN lately, has undoubtedly witnessed this Herb Chambers commercial:


Now, far be it from me to criticize the whimsical genius that is Biz Markie, but hasn't using this song become a comedic crutch at this point? It's the equivalent of a chef who throws bacon into every dish because he doesn't know what else to do. Bacon tastes good with everything! Toss it in! 

Mmmmm, bacon. 

Where was I? Ah yes, Biz Markie and Kevin Youkilis, two names I'd never thought I'd utter in the same breath. Looks like someone needs to get back to playing third base. On the plus side, the Sox could sweep this series or get swept, and both of these clubs will be going to the playoffs. It's great that baseball down the stretch still matters (takes deep breath).

Monday, August 29, 2011

Granderson Grabbing Lead In MVP Race?


With New York coming into town, 2 games back of the division lead and 6.5 games up on the Rays for the Wild Card, the upcoming three game set is significant, but probably won't decide anything in the long run. Which allows me to focus on the individual awards, things we all know are far more important and entertaining than any team accomplishments. 

Lately, the focus of the AL MVP race has been focused with laser-like intensity on Yankees centerfielder Curtis Granderson. Between his participation in the tri-headed grand slam extravaganza last week against the A's, and mashing his 37th and 38th homers yesterday in Baltimore, it seems as if he's grabbing this thing by the face. 

Since I love arbitrary statistical splits, let's take a look at his numbers from the last 18 games. His batting line is an impressive .304/.435/.797, which works out to a...wait for it...1.232 OPS during that stretch. The man is carrying the Yanks right now. Add in his 10 home runs and 18 RBI over the 18 games, and it's no wonder Granderson's staring at me over my morning coffee, monopolizing the baseball highlights. Aside from personal issues of baseball players watching me through television screens, the Yankee outfielder is giving the rest of the league major fits as well.

So, how is his competition playing out? A quick look:

(league leaders in bold ital)

Player
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
HR
RBI
fWAR
rWAR
Bautista
.312
.452
.640
1.092
37
83
7.8
7.9
Ellsbury
.312
.369
.521
.889
23
82
7.4
6.4
Pedroia
.308
.398
.474
.872
17
71
7.2
6.6
Granderson
.278
.376
.595
.971
38
107
6.8
5.4
Gonzalez
.345
.406
.559
.965
23
103
5.8
6.0

Clearly, these stats do a bit of a disservice to players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, as a good portion of their value comes in base running and defense, but they're more than holding their own in the offensive categories as well. Jose Bautista, despite falling back to the pack a little lately, is still having the best year statistically, while Adrian Gonzalez is making a charge over the last week, clawing his way back into the discussion.

Having said all that, it's looking good for Granderson, because the assumption is that voters will split on the Red Sox candidates, and Bautista won't get the support on a non-playoff contender. Which leaves the Yankees outfielder. My guess is that he takes it, unless one of the guys from Boston gets red hot the rest of the way and his teammates fall off. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Papi Platoon?

I'm sure this gets mentioned every time David Ortiz hits any sort of milestone with the Red Sox, but after seeing him launch his 27th homer in Game 2 of this agonizing double-header with Oakland, it occured to me that this was a man they brought in to platoon with Jeremy Giambi.
Juuuuuust thought I'd remind everyone. You're welcome.

Lavarnway Sent Down

With David Ortiz returning to the lineup, rookie DH/C Ryan Lavarnway was sent back to Pawtucket (Scott Atchison being recalled). In seven games with Boston, he held his own with a .304/.407/.391 line. Not bad for his first go-around.

Physically, he reminds me of a young Travis Hafner, with a little less talent than Pronk (sorry, it's a personal rule to never miss a Pronk reference). Simply because I wonder about things like this, here's a comparison between Hafner's last real season in the minors (2002) and Lavarnway's combined numbers between Portland and Pawtucket this year:


Lavarnway
Year   Age    Lg   G  AB  R   H HR RBI   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
2011   23 AAA/AA 110 417 71 122 30  85 .293 .372 .559 .931
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/27/2011.

Hafner
Year Age Lg G AB R H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
2002    25 AAA 110 401 79 137 21  77 .342 .463 .559 1.022  
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/27/2011.

 As you can see, Hafner posted monster numbers in his age 25 season, with a 1.022 OPS. But Lavarnway's season has been above average in it's own right, and the splits between AA/AAA (sorry, too lazy to post those), show improvement as he moves up the ranks. He was tearing up AAA pitching before being called up. Also, Lavarnway is still only 23, whereas Hafner didn't see significant playing time with the Indians until he was 26. That said, it would be something of a minor miracle if he matches Hafner's 2006 season (a year in which he lead the league with an 1.097 OPS). But with continued improvement, it's easy to see him as a decent option to replace Ortiz in a season or two, or as tantalizing trade-bait over the next couple of years. Stay tuned.


------------------------------------------
UPDATE:
Scott Atchison lasted all of five innings this time around, with the Sox recalling Michael Bowden Saturday morning, according to a report by mlb.com.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Five Observations On Series With Texas

We were warned coming into this series: the Rangers are a supremely talented club. One that, while perhaps not superior to Boston or New York in any of the four major areas (lineup, starters, bullpen, defense), is more consistent across the board than their eastern rivals. Nobody was paying attention to them. East Coast bias and all that.


While it may be true that Texas belongs in the American League power-triumvirate with Boston and New York, the Red Sox decisive 3-1 series win reminded everyone why they are the AL favorite to go to the World Series. Here's a quick roundup of how that happened:


1. Adrian Gonzalez: Take a look at this completely unscientific, but wholly awesome split...


July 31-Aug 22: .274/.337/.369, .706 OPS, O HR, 5 RBI
Last 3 Games: .583/.643/1.833, 2.476, 5 HR, 8 RBI


Apparently, he misplaced his cape for a month, when Dustin Pedroia was discovered to have it balled up in the bottom of his locker as a practical joke. Gonzalez now has his trusty cape, and superhero status back. Last night, he told mlb.com's Ian Browne: 


"I hit them in spurts. Everybody knows that. When I have a good swing, it's just a feeling I have, and you hit them in bunches. It's a time right now when I feel good. Hopefully I can continue swinging like that tomorrow."


2. Professor Lackey's Wild Ride: I will continue to maintain that John Lackey makes me nervous, and demonstrated why in the 11-5 win on Tuesday, as he was bailed out by the offense gorging itself on the souls of innocent Ranger pitching. The fact that the words "nervous" and "John Lackey" appear in the same sentence isn't exactly a Jamesian observation, but it's worth pointing out since Lackey is a deceptive 7-1 over his last nine starts. Beware the Ides of  Lackey!


3. Andrew Miller: Last night, Miller pitched 6 and 1/3 innings of scoreless ball in his best start of the season. Which sort of makes me mad. Every time he pitches well, we're reminded of his tantalizing abilities. From his high draft pedigree (6th overall by the Tigers), to his tearing up the college ranks (Golden Spikes finalist at UNC),  to being named Cape league MVP, his left arm donates talent by osmosis to anyone within a five foot radius. Will he ever truly put it together and become a front of the line starter? Probably not. But the building blocks are there, and it's frustrating. I hate guys like that. Grrrr.


On a side note, The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham twote during last night's game: "Andrew Miller leaves in the 7th inning up 6-0 and Texas is playing 'Hit the Road, Jack.' Um ...." Hilarious.


4. Jacoby Ellsbury/David Ortiz Return: Neither player skipped a beat offensively, but just as important, Ellsbury was back playing golden glove caliber centerfield. Also, Papi needed to rest his aching bones for the playoff run. Well done by both the front office and the player in each case. 


5. Must be the blue eyes: Aside from a home run at the expense of Professor Lackey on Tuesday, reigning MVP Josh Hamilton was held in check, hitting just .167 in the series. Hamilton's woes contributed to the Rangers being outscored 30-11 in the four game set.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------


AND ANOTHER THING: 


More surprising (to me at least), than the fact that the Yankees hit three grand slams in a single game for the first time in baseball history (in a 22-9 win over Oakland), was that Jorge Posada played second base. I wasn't so sure if his knees were still considered joints or just pegs at this point, but Joe Girardi apparently thought it was a good idea to  put him in the field. More surprising than that, I saw a graphic on SportsCenter this morning under a shot of Posada fielding a routine ground ball, saying that the C/DH was playing second for the first time since 1991. 


Wait a minute, he's done this before? We all know that I am a liar and an idiot, but  missing that one is surprising even for me. I blame the air pressure changes from Irene racing up the east coast.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Time For a Name Change?

Tom Yawkey's racism is well known at this point in the 21st Century. It is no secret the Red Sox were the last team in Major League Baseball to sign a black player. But the issue came to mind again recently when Malcolm Gladwell mentioned the subject on Grantland.com. He states:

"The Boston Red Sox signed their first black player in 1959, a utility infielder named "Pumpsie" Green. This was 12 years after the Brooklyn Dodgers broke the color line with Jackie Robinson...It wasn't until 1965, in fact — 18 years after Robinson started at second base for the Dodgers — that Boston had its first full-time black player. Why? The simple answer — that the Red Sox owner at the time, Tom Yawkey, was a racist — is not terribly satisfying…There was a lot of money to be made by raiding the Negro Leagues in the 1940s. The talent pool was extraordinary: Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, and Willie Mays, among others. The Sox were well aware of this. They tried out Mays and Robinson — both of whom they could have used in the lean years of the 1950s, when the team was known as "Ted Williams and the Seven Dwarfs."

These charges are completely founded, researched thoroughly, and posited by an extremely intelligent and talented, best-selling author. Many people feel the way Gladwell does. In other words--this story is now part of the accepted public record. He goes on to say:

"In a recent academic paper, the economist Jonathan Lanning has also shown that almost without exception integration in the 1940s and 1950s had an immediate and significant positive impact on a team's attendance — even in cities where you might not think the fan base would be enthusiastic. Lanning calculates, in fact, that almost no team in baseball had as much to gain financially from bringing in black players as the Red Sox, particularly since they were losing money in the 1940s. Yawkey's bigotry left millions of dollars on the table. Yawkey was not just a racist, in other words. He was a racist who put his hatred of black people ahead of his desire to make money. Economists have a special term they use to describe this kind of attitude. They would say that Yawkey owned the Red Sox not to maximize his financial benefits, but, rather, his psychic benefits. Psychic benefits describe the pleasure that someone gets from owning something — over and above economic returns — and clearly some part of the pleasure Yawkey got from the Red Sox came from not having to look at black people when he walked through the Fenway Park dugout." 

Gladwell's point, that Yawkey's hatred was so extreme that he didn't sign Negro League players at the expense of his own wallet, was leading into a story about the NBA lockout. But it also illustrates not only how bigoted Mr. Yawkey was, but also how his attitude permeated the whole club. While a good portion of the people who worked for the Red Sox at the time were likely not racist, it must have been tough to be in an environment such as that. Racism begets racism, especially when it comes from the top down.

The question on the table here is: why is there still a street running alongside Fenway Park named Yawkey Way? It's an affront to civil rights in America. The former owner's name needs to be removed from anything to do with the current club. I realize his wife, Jean, was an amazing philanthropist, working charitable wonders for the city of Boston. I also know that this is a very provincial town, and is a place full of people who like their traditions. So Yawkey Way probably isn't going anywhere anytime soon. But, as a compromise, shouldn't the name at least be changed to Jean Yawkey Way, to remove any and all racist connotations?

The Red Sox can't erase their racist past, and this is by no means an attempt to cover that up. But I feel that a misanthrope such as Tom Yawkey should not continue to be honored in the 21st century, and the city should step in and do something about it.

-----------------------------------------------------------------
UPDATE:

I recently stumbled across this story, which comments on the John Henry ownership group's handling of the situation. Here's an excerpt from Delores Handy's article, posted on Blackstonian.com:

"Dennis Wilson, who was born and raised in Roxbury, taught history for 30 years and still coaches sports teams at Madison Park High School. He also hosted a sports show for Boston cable TV. 'There’s many African-Americans who love baseball, who love baseball, who played baseball, who know baseball, and they would the attend the games and they were really hostilely treated,' Wilson said. 'A lot of racism took place, a lot of name-calling and trash-throwing at individuals. It was really a scary and uncomfortable and dangerous situation.'

Wilson has seen a change in the past 10 years with the new ownership.

'Over the years, thank goodness, things have gotten much better with the likes of owner John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner,' Wilson said. 'They now have changed the atmosphere, where now people of color feel a lot more comfortable going to games. I know I’ve gone to games and the atmosphere has changed drastically. They’re not staring at us like we have four heads and six eyes and that we’re aliens, or anything.'"

As you can see, to the Red Sox credit, they have made a concerted effort to change the atmosphere of Yawkey Way. Nearly a decade ago, I remember speaking to a group of young black college students, all of whom were sporting Yankees caps. Of course, with my over obsession with baseball, I asked them where they were from, hoping to start a debate. To my surprise they replied they were all from Boston. Naively, I was sort of shocked that I would find a group of kids that grew up in Massachusetts that were Yankees fans (and they were fans--they weren't wearing the hats simply because they were cool or liked they way they looked).

Naturally, I asked them why. I basically got the same response that coach Wilson gave above--they were looked at like they had "four heads and six eyes and [were] aliens." The atmosphere was entirely too hostile to spend three hours in, nevermind to then turn around and root for a team that was essentially condoning all of this through inaction. I was so disheartened by this, I really didn't know what to say afterwards. Couldn't argue with that. I felt like an idiot. Clearly, this conversation has stuck with me for over ten years now, and I've always wondered since, if anything had changed.

Well, it looks like things are starting to, and it's nice to see that someone's at least making an effort. Hopefully, things continue to improve (and don't regress).

Theo Epstein, Cubs GM

Thanks to an ESPN report yesterday, Boston talk TV and radio is all 'a-twitter about Theo Epstein jumping ship for the vacant Chicago Cubs GM job, following the firing of the hated Jim Hendry. There are many opinions on this subject, and since baseball makes me flashback to my childhood days, I'd like to collect those views here for you in summary, book report style. Here goes:

The argument for?
-Everyone likes a challenge. Things have gone so smoothly since 2004, when he shipped out Nomar Garciaparra (to the Cubs no less) en route to the World Series title, there's been a hole burning inside little Theo. What better place to move to than the Windy City, a town that is home to the perfect cork for the hole in Epstein's heart--Carlos Zambrano? His first move in Chicago can be to butt heads with the fire-breathing anger monster and set his roster straight. Make a big splash. Then face down the dead contract that is Aramis Ramirez.

-The would have to pay him "F-you" money to jump from Boston, which Epstein would probably enjoy. Everyone likes money. He'd probably get a sweeter deal than he ever dreamed of by going to Chicago. Then again, John Henry would likely top any bid and keep his Golden Boy--and with good reason. Not only is he good at general-managering, there's a school of thought that a good chunk of the front office would go with Theo if he left (Ben Cherington promoted from within to GM?).

-Sure, he's a graduate of Brookline High School, but he's already become a legend in the New England area--you know, 1918 and all that--why not go to the Cubs and become the man who broke both the Curse of the Bambino and the Curse of the Billy Goat? Hot damn.

...And Against?
-It's the Cubs.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Lesson? Is Very Bad to Steal Jobu's Rum

Well. Don't I feel silly.

Approximately 24 hours after my Adrian Gonzalez bash-fest, #28 ended his streak of 95 plate appearances with his 19th and 20th homers of the year. According to both baseball-reference and fangraphs.com, I am an idiot. Then again, maybe I should spew nonsense more often, if only to attribute events on the field to the wildly inaccurate claims I make on this blog.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A-Gone

As mentioned before, Adrian Gonzalez has just one homerun since the all-star break. But upon further review, it's a tad worse than that. Since June 18, Gonzalez has stood in the batter's box 254 times. He has exactly three homeruns. To be fair, he's hit .330/.398/.442, with an OPS of .840 in those 55 games. In a different world, this would be more than satisfactory. But here's the thing--the Sox lineup has hit the dog days with three all-stars out, and Mike Aviles isn't gonna carry the offense. The power outage is going to continue to put a damper on things, and Gonzalez needs to step up. The sad thing is, though the Boston will likely survive the drought, he's hitting himself out of the MVP race.

Here's a look at the MLB leaders in fWAR as of today:

WAR:
Jose Bautista 7.7
Dustin Pedroia 6.9
Jacoby Ellsbury 6.6
Ben Zobrist 6.4
Justin Upton 6.2
(www.fangraphs.com)

Notice that four out of the top five are AL hitters, and two of those are teammates. At least Gonzalez's mini-slide will help Ellsbury's and Pedroia's MVP cases. Obviously, WAR isn't the be-all and end-all of stats, but it is a pretty decent measuring stick of a player's worth. Gonzalez is sitting at 5.0 fWAR at the moment.

Also worth noting, is the fact that Gonzalez has driven in Carl Crawford just three times all season. Granted, the pricey outfielder hasn't hit in front of the former Padre much, but if Theo Epstein was told about this before the season started (among other things), he might have thought twice about Crawford's deal. Just sayin'.

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AND ANOTHER THING:

I won't go on and on about Starlin Castro and what's wrong with today's athlete, plenty of others have done that today already. But I recently read RZA's autobiography The Tao of Wu, and couldn't help but think of the parallels with the hip-hop mega group circa 1997. As anyone who went to see Wu-Tang in those days can attest, you were lucky if you saw three or four out of the nine members at any given show on any given night. With guys as talented as that, it was sad to see them waste it at their peak by pissing off their fans. All they had to do was show up and do their thing. Castro hasn't hit his peak yet (probably), but his spaceout on national TV last night brought that to mind, and made me a little sad. Freakin' entertainers.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Jon Lester: Cy Young Any Time Soon?

After sifting through Josh Beckett's numbers following a Red Sox loss, I clearly had to come up with Lester's totals as well. This time, Boston's ace doesn't inspire as much confidence, as his record in games after a Boston loss stands at 4-4. Yet, he is 3-1 in his last four decisions in such games, with a chance to add another W in today's series finale with the Royals.

Just for a quick reference, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the most similar pitchers to Lester through age 26 (which would be through the end of last season for Lester), to see what kind of company he keeps and what we might expect from him in the future. Here's the list:

1. Tim Hudson
2. Johan Santana (2)
3. Cole Hamels
4. Jack McDowell (1)
5. John Smiley
6. Andy Pettitte
7. Bobby Shantz
8. Roy Halladay (2)
9. Steve Busby
10. Roy Oswalt
Comparison thanks to baseball-reference.com
Numbers in parenthesis indicate # of Cy Young Awards


The trophy cases of the men on that list hold five Cy Youngs (so far), along with a slew of all-star appearances. Lester won't get there this year the way Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander are going, but #31 is clearly heading in that direction. The curious thing about the guys on this list, is that Halladay had the highest ERA through age 26 at 3.84. His adjusted ERA+ has him faring a little better, while his current teammate Roy Oswalt is the leader of the group with a 141 ERA+. The former Astro also had the best traditional ERA through this point, at 3.11. As you might imagine, Lester falls somewhere in the middle of each category, with only Oswalt, Tim Hudson, and Johan Santana topping him in ERA+.

Also. The caveat here with Lester, as always, is that the man survived cancer--which makes his appearance on the above list that much more impressive. It's a testament to his skill that in 2011, the C-word barely gets a mention, and rightfully so. He's on the verge of becoming a great pitcher, and the focus should be on what he does, not on what might have gone wrong. But still, in any overview of a player's career, something like this has to get mentioned--to his credit.

Going by his stuff, and his spot atop a perpetually competitive squad, Lester looks like he's trending towards the likes of Halladay, Santana, and Black Jack McDowell, as opposed to the failed comedy stylings of Shantz & Busby.

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This Week's Most Encouraging Sign: Sox pull first triple play since 1994; A.J. Burnett pulls a Kevin Brown in Yankees clubhouse; Ryan Lavarnway picks up his first hit, RBI.

The Week's Worst: Alex Rodriguez returns to the Yankees lineup, while Boston is without Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, and Kevin Youkilis; Adrian Gonzalez still has just one homer since the break. Ouch.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Josh Beckett, Stopper

Granted, the Red Sox haven't done a whole lot of losing this year. But with the team's recent struggles (2-5 in their last 7 before yesterday), Beckett's performance in Kansas City last night was refreshing, and much needed. It got me thinking about Beckett's numbers after a Sox loss, and whether he was living up to his reputation as a big-game pitcher (this being an alternate year where we get the "good" Josh Beckett). Here's a quick look at the numbers. As always, the stats are thanks to baseball-reference.com, I just sift through 'em:


                                                                    
Date       Tm Opp Rslt Inngs     Dec  IP H R ER BB SO HR BF Pit    WPA
Apr5      BOS CLE L1-3  GS-5  L(0-1) 5.0 5 3  3  4  4  0 24 106 -0.148
Apr10     BOS NYY W4-0  GS-8  W(1-1) 8.0 2 0  0  1 10  0 27 103  0.508
Apr16     BOS TOR W4-1  GS-7  W(2-1) 7.0 3 1  1  2  9  0 26 101  0.241
May24     BOS CLE W4-2  GS-7  W(4-1) 6.2 5 1  1  3  6  0 25 111  0.257
Jun15     BOS TBR W3-0   SHO  W(6-2) 9.0 1 0  0  0  6  0 28  97  0.469
Aug18     BOS KCR W4-3  GS-7 W(10-5) 7.0 7 3  3  0  4  1 28 110  0.131


Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/19/2011.

That's right - #19 is 5-1 after a Boston loss (in games which he figures in the decision), throwing 42.2 innings (for an average of 7 per game). He's only allowed 8 earned runs, which puts him at an 1.69 ERA in those six starts. Also, take note that three of those wins came in April, one of the worst stretches in recent memory. Not bad for a guy who many were ready to run out of town just one year ago.

Note: A quick definition of WPA in the above chart, according to The Hardball Times - "Win Probability Added. A system in which each player is given credit toward helping his team win, based on play-by-play data and the impact each specific play has on the team's probability of winning. You can read more about WPA in "The One About Win Probability."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Youkilis to DL

The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo tweeted today that the Red Sox will place Youk on the 15-day DL due to his back issues. In his place, they will call up one of their top-prospects, C/DH Ryan Lavarnway.

Despite the loss of Youkilis, this is good news on two fronts: the first obviously being, Boston can rest Youkilis while they have the chance. Even with David Ortiz ailing, the Sox lineup can take the hit for a few weeks. But I'm excited to see what Lavarnway can do on the major league level. We probably would have seen him anyway during September call-ups, but this gives us an early glimpse. Lavarnway was recently tearing up AAA pitching for Pawtucket, and his cumulative line between AA Portland and the PawSox is an impressive .293/.372/.559 with 30 homers and 85 RBI.

Hooray for prospects!

UPDATE: Yep, so Lavarnway came up blank last night, going 0-for-4 in a 4-3 win over the Royals. Not exactly the shining debut he was looking for. Oh well.

Five Observations On Series With Rays

What just happened? Three games in a 24-hour period, and a pair of losses to the third place Rays? Ouch. Boston was tied with New York on Tuesday morning for first place in the AL East, and now find themselves a half game back due to Joe Maddon and company. Not a disaster, but that's a couple of tough series in a row. Here's five quick notes on the three game set:

1. Desmond Jennings is good: We finally get a our first real look at the man who makes B.J. Upton expendable on the Rays' roster. Jennings had a pair of at-bats in two games last year against Boston, but he clearly wasn't ready at that point. This year, he's carrying a 1.056 OPS, an is 9th in the league in fWAR (1.1) among rookies, with only 24 games played. Incidentally, Josh Reddick is fourth with a 1.6 fWAR, with Dustin Ackley leading the league at 2.3.

2. The Rays' starters were historic over the last two days: According to Jack Edwards during the post game show on NESN, this is the first time in Boston's history that they gathered three or fewer hits in three consecutive games.

3. More WAR!!!: Both David Price, and James Shields, with identical 11-10 records, find themselves in the top 10 in fWAR among American League starters. This should come as no surprise to anyone who witnessed their domination over a Boston offense which leads the world in just about every category.

4. Upton: Clearly, the Rays got the worst of the deal in the Upton brothers sweepstakes (with younger brother Justin among the leading candidates for NL MVP). But, B.J.'s blast off of John Lackey yesterday gave everyone in the vicinity horrendous flashbacks to the '08 ALCS when Upton pulled his best impression of Mr. October in knocking off the Red Sox in seven games. The Rays outfielder hit .324/.394/.786, with 4 homers and 11 RBI. Yeesh.

5. Ray Attack: Literally, there was an attack by an electric ray off the coast of Rockport over the weekend. An evil portend if I've ever witnessed one.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Jim Thome's 600th

In case you haven't heard, live under a rock, hate baseball, etc., etc., Jim Thome blasted two home runs against the Tigers last night, giving him 600 total for his career. He is the 8th man in a sea of thousands to pull this off. In the baseball world, the number 600 carries shock-and-awe status with it.

Yet.

Let's not kid ourselves. Thome is not one of the top 10 players of his era (as a matter of fact FanGraphs has him 11th in WAR from 1991-2011, with 71.0). He wasn't the most feared hitter on the Indians (Belle, Ramirez), Phillies (Howard, Utley), or Twins (Mauer, Morneau), and he shared the spotlight with Paul Konerko in Chicago. Still, the numbers don't lie. I might, but the numbers do not, and 600 is a hard one to overlook. He will absolutely get into Cooperstown.

But one of the questions on the table, put nicely today on ESPN.com's homepage, is the following:

"How much is Jim Thome's accomplishment in hitting 600 home runs diminished by the era in which he played?"

Clearly, the implications here are with steroids. Not with Thome specifically, but with the time period in general. And the answer is: a lot. In any other era, this would be the crowning achievement on one of the greatest careers in baseball history. But now? Thome, even though his name never appeared on a positive PED list, was just a little better at doing what everyone else was able to do during which the time he played. It's terrible, but it's the truth. As silly as it may be, as long as we have reports and rumors of players using deer antler spray and other substances, no one will believe the game is played on the same level it once was, and the numbers will not mean anything.

So, congratulations Jim, you're a hall-of-famer, and deservedly so, but I just can't get that excited anymore.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Harden Placed On Waivers

Sometimes, the world is a funny place. While doing research on the fate of Rich Harden since the Red Sox backed out on a deal for the A's righty just before the trade deadline, I stumbled across reports that the walking injury hard-throwing starter had been placed on waivers by Oakland, and this report from NESN.com:

"There is nothing to indicate that the Sox are still interested in Harden, especially considering their acquisition of Bedard shortly thereafter, but Oakland has placed the 29-year-old starter on waivers, according to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal."

Harden has gone 1-1 in three starts since the ill-fated deal, throwing 16.2 innings with 9 earned runs, good for a 4.82 ERA during that stretch. It would make sense that Theo Epstein would leave this one alone, especially since Wakefield is such an innings eater (6+ innings in three starts since the deadline), and they feel Bedard's arm is healthier (which is a scary thought.)

With John Lackey putting up a healthy 6-0 record over his last seven starts, the $15 million-dollar man can safely remove his dunce cap for the time being (warning: .349 BABIP!!), and the Red Sox don't have to give up anyone else from their farm system.

Looks like it's pray for rain and that Clay Buchholz's back heals. Zoiks.
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UPDATE: Peter Gammons tweeted on Saturday, August 21 -


Longtime Rich Harden observer:"Friday was best stuff and arm slot he's had in years." Too bad Harden and Breslow didn't get through waivers


Indeed Mr. Gammons, indeed.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Furbush Mows Down Sox

Right. So the Red Sox dropped 2 out of 3 to the Mariners. Wily Mo Pena continues to rake. But I'm going to ignore that for now, as the results of this series is not particularly interesting or even worrisome to me (Charlie Furbush jokes notwithstanding). Instead, as promised, I'm going to hit you over the head with Tim Wakefield related stats and facts each start until he picks up his 200th win. Today's entry? MLB's oldest pitchers.

At 45 years old, Wake is currently tied for 13th on the list of oldest pitchers to throw in a major league game (in terms of years, not breaking it down by birthday, sorry). Technically, the oldest was Satchel Paige, at a whopping 59 years of age. But in reality his career ended when he was 47 with the St. Louis Browns, in 1953. The ever promotional-minded Kansas City A's owner Charlie Finley signed Paige to play for one day in '65, a game which, incidentally, was played against the Red Sox.

Paige's one-off aside, a robo-armed man by the name of Jack Quinn threw his final pitch at the age of 50 in 1933. Quinn pitched with both the Yankees and Red Sox before retiring with the Reds. He also pitched with the White Sox the year before they threw the series to Cincinnati (in 1918, ahem...)

A quick look through the stats shows that power pitchers aren't particularly valuable at their age 45 seasons and beyond. Nolan Ryan at that age? He went 5-9 with a 3.72 ERA in '92 with the Rangers. Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson were slightly worse. Paige himself went 12-10 for the Browns, posting a 3.07 ERA (not that he was really ever a power guy). That season was good for a 3.1 rWAR and an all-star appearance in his age 45 season.

Phil Neikro had a couple of 16 win years for the Yankees in the '80s (4.3 rWAR in '84), which is probably the best of the bunch. Charlie Hough and Tommy John weren't bad either, but I guess the knuckleball and or revolutionary surgery will do that for a guy. In any case, Wakefield stacks up well with his age group.

Don't Blame Josh Beckett

Place the blame elsewhere for last night's 5-4 loss to the Mariners. One and a half words can sum up the problem:

Wily-Mo.

Genius.
The return of Wily Mo Pena from the depths of AAA would scare any opposing pitcher. Thanks to Justin Smoak's amazing face-stop on Friday night, M's general manager Jack Zduriencik pulled the trigger and called up the most feared hitter in minor league history. Clearly, this is a man who knows baseball.

The mere presence of the 6-3, 265lb tactician set up mashers such as Ichiro Suzuki, Franklin Gutierrez and Mike Carp in an offensive phalanx for which Beckett was no match.

Granted, Wily Mo is carrying a hefty .000 average, but his 0-4 night was all about the little things. American League pitching be warned.With the man who was once traded straight up for Bronson Arroyo slotted in the 5th slot in Seattle's lineup, the M's are now a force to be reckoned with.