Another Dismal Start

April 22, 2012 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

There’s been more than enough opinions espoused by fans and “experts” alike regarding the 2012 incarnation of the Olde Towne Team. It might even be a little fair to back those pinning the bulk of the blame on Bobby V. The truth is not nearly as simple as that. A few thoughts in no particular order:

  • Mike Aviles is a decent hitter, but Scutaro and Lowrie both would have easily handled those two balls he booted in yesterday’s collapse.
  • Alfredo Aceves is Bronson Arroyo. One great year, but there’s a reason the Yankees didn’t offer him a contract before the 2011 season.
  • Bard belongs in the bullpen. He might one day be a dominant starting pitcher. Something to consider in 2012.
  • Blame Valentine if you want. Connie Mack couldn’t win with a bullpen of Aceves, Albers, Thomas, Padilla, Morales, and Tazawa. It’s no more complicated than that.

 

Truth Serum

April 8, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

Perhaps an 0-6 start to the season isn’t the worst thing that could have happened to these Red Sox. In fairness to the organization, they should not be accused of singing their own praises à la the Miami Heat. In fact this is quite possibly the first time in the Theo era in which we have not been inundated with veiled references to how smart they are with the Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford acquisitions. While those additions will eventually pay dividends (most notably Gonzalez and much less so Crawford), the questions still remain with pitching.
Jon Lester is a bona fide ace. Clay Buchholz has tremendous potential but is hardly a lock to repeat his stellar 2010. This logically brings us to John Lackey and Josh Beckett. For some completely inexplicable reason, conventional wisdom among national pundits and local “experts” is that they are both #1 starters. Really? Let’s take a closer look:

Josh Beckett:
Beckett had a great 2007 and marched through October like Walter Johnson. Since then he has been no better than an average starter (see table below). There is no rational reason to believe that he will suddenly recapture the dominance of 4 years ago. He no longer can rely on a 97 mph fastball to bail himself out of trouble. In his first start this season, he was consistently in the 91-93 mph range.

John Lackey:
The virtual statistical twin to Beckett over the last 3+ seasons. He also has lost a bit on the fastball. The key difference here is that he never possessed true ace stuff. He was the number one starter on a mostly mediocre Anaheim staff before signing with Boston before the 2010 season.

Cumulative statistics 2008-present

Player             ERA+    IP  W  L   H  ER  BB  SO  ERA   BA  OPS OPS+
Edwin  Jackson       107 612.2 38 32 618 282 229 457 4.14 .263 .750   98
Ervin  Santana       107 588.0 41 25 585 263 169 496 4.03 .258 .730   94
John  Lackey         106 558.1 37 25 581 257 161 428 4.14 .270 .754   98
Jonathan  Sanchez    106 520.1 30 34 438 233 262 547 4.03 .227 .699   89
Derek  Lowe          105 611.0 46 34 638 264 174 407 3.89 .272 .716   95
Joe  Saunders        104 593.1 42 32 626 273 184 321 4.14 .274 .762  102
Josh  Beckett        104 519.1 35 23 527 254 138 491 4.40 .261 .735   89
John  Lannan         103 536.2 27 36 562 243 190 280 4.08 .272 .755  105
Scott  Baker         103 548.2 38 23 542 252 137 455 4.13 .256 .727   93
Javier  Vazquez      103 587.1 37 37 556 275 175 560 4.21 .248 .728   92
Bronson  Arroyo      101 643.0 48 34 627 296 192 416 4.14 .257 .742  100
Joel  Pineiro        101 515.0 32 26 553 233  96 278 4.07 .276 .738   99
Jon  Garland         101 600.2 39 33 638 275 207 335 4.12 .276 .763  106
Randy  Wolf          101 624.1 36 32 592 274 218 469 3.95 .251 .730  101
Ricky  Nolasco       100 562.0 42 26 556 268 119 532 4.29 .256 .726   93
James  Shields       100 645.1 38 36 697 305 145 521 4.25 .274 .764  103
A.J.  Burnett         99 620.0 42 34 613 305 262 577 4.43 .259 .751   98
Johnny  Cueto         98 531.0 32 32 531 252 185 428 4.27 .261 .770  107

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/8/2011.

Much of the hype surrounding the 2011 Red Sox centers on the depth of the starting pitching. If the Sox entered the season with John Lannan and Javier Vazquez instead of Beckett and Lackey, would every so-called expert have picked the Red Sox to win the East by 6 or 7 games? I doubt it. However, the reality is that they would be statistically identical with those two guys in the rotation.
This rotation is solid, but it has just as many questions as the Yankees rotation. It breaks down like this:

  1. C.C. Sabathia vs. Jon Lester: a virtual wash.
  2. Phil Hughes vs. Clay Buchholz: two young guys, Buchholz probably has a slight edge because he has actually put together one solid season.
  3. John Lackey vs. A.J. Burnett: I hate to admit it, but they are the same guy. Lackey has been more consistent throughout his career, but Burnett still has the ability to be completely dominant on occasion.
  4. Ivan Nova vs. Josh Beckett: slight edge to Beckett but way bigger upside for Nova.
  5. Freddy Garcia vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka: slight edge to Matsuzaka.

Perhaps the 0-6 start will serve as a reminder to everyone that they still need to play these games. I still like Boston to win the division, but they need to start doing everything better very soon.

So far…

April 7, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

Hitting:

  • .190 AVG, .275 OBP, .301 SLG
  • RISP: .175 AVG, .250 OBP, .200 SLG

Pitching:

  • 8.33 ERA, .290 opponent AVG
  • RISP: 24.00 ERA, .350 opponent AVG
  • Starters: 8.53 ERA, .308 opponent AVG
  • Bullpen: 7.98 ERA, .258 opponent AVG

Spinning it forward:

  • Jon Lester career at Progressive field: 4 GS, 1-0, 22 1/3 IP, 26 H, 17 R, 12 BB, 24 K, 6.85 ERA
  • Jon Lester with Jerry Meals as home plate umpire: 2 GS, 1-0, 12 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 7 BB, 13 K, 3.00 ERA

Really?

April 4, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

Alex Speir (WEEI.com) wrote, “So maybe there is something to this slider thing after all.”

If this is true then I’d like to know why he waited until the bases were
loaded. The only plausible excuse for his deflating performance
yesterday was that the game was already lost when he entered the game. I
know that there are 159 more to go, but who can really feel confident
after this weekend in Texas? I’m willing to accept that Lester’s
performance was probably an aberration, but Lackey looked nothing short
of awful with a fastball in the high 80’s. Hopefully we’ll see the
October 2007 Josh Beckett on Tuesday in Cleveland.

Lineup

April 4, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

Why not bat Carl Crawford 2nd in this lineup? Here’s my take:

  • He likes to slap the ball to left field. This tends to open up even more if Ellsbury is on first base with the SS covering second on a steal;
  • Makes it slightly tougher on the catcher to throw to second on a steal by Ellsbury.
  • Not a bad guy to have setting the table if Ellsbury does not reach base.
  • He simply is not a good enough hitter to justify batting him in the 3 hole.

I’d go like this:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. Carl Crawford
  3. Dustin Pedroia
  4. Adrian Gonzalez
  5. Kevin Youkilis
  6. David Ortiz
  7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
  8. J.D. Drew
  9. Marco Scutaro (Lowrie is a better soution here, but they love Marco for no good reason)

This lineup gives a good lefty/righty balance. I don’t think that Pedroia would be a stretch batting third. More pop than Crawford, and he’s right-handed.

MLB Predictions 2011

April 1, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

For what it’s worth…

AL East: Boston
AL Central: Minnesota
AL West: Anaheim
AL Wildcard: New York

Caveats:

  • Boston is in no way the overwhelming favorite that everyone pegs them to be. Underwhelming performances (see 2010) from Beckett, Lackey, and Papelbon could have them finishing second or worse.
  • Oakland might have the best pitching in the AL. We’re not convinced that they have enough offense to win a division.
  • Texas is the defending AL Champion, but their starting pitching is suspect.
  • The White Sox will contend in the Central. Detroit won’t.
  • For a team that was an off-season “loser,” the Yankees sure look good. Mid-summer acquisition of a marquee starter could swing the balance in their direction.

NL East: Atlanta
NL Central: Milwaukee
NL West: Colorado
NL Wildcard: Philadelphia

Caveats:

  • Cincinnati doesn’t have the pitching to repeat.
  • Not convinced that the Giants will score enough runs to repeat.
  • Philly will have trouble scoring runs without Utley and a continued decline of Rollins.
  • Even without Wainright, St. Louis could still win a weak division.
  • The Brewers need big years from Greinke, Marcum and Fielder.

The WYSIWYG Sox

May 17, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

Six weeks of the 2010 season are in the books for a season marked by bad pitching and sloppy defense. This is a team built for run prevention? The only truly surprising aspect of the season so far is that the offense has managed to produce runs. Run prevention was just a smokescreen for “rebuilding” as previously noted here. Let’s have a look:

  • In 38 games, the Sox have surrendered 46 stolen bases. Slide step? Catcher who can throw? This was a glaring weakness before the season started.
  • 11 errors by Scutaro and Beltre. We won’t even mention Alex Gonzalez’s great defense and 10 HR’s in Toronto.
  • Starters ERA of 4.95. Does the 2009 4.63 ERA seem like an aberration now?

Reasons for optimism:

  • Ellsbury should return soon. They need his presence on the bases.
  • The starting pitching should be better (but nowhere near what the pundits predicted).
  • Tampa’s starting staff won’t finish 2010 with a sub-3.00 ERA.
  • Papi has at least shown some signs of life lately.

The next 7 games (Yankees, Twins, and Phillies) should provide a good measuring stick for the rest of the season. Stay tuned.

Is defense the missing piece?

March 5, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

What matters at the end of the season for every team is the number of wins. Individual player performance and obsessive accounting of obscure offensive and defensive metrics are interesting fodder for lively discussion, but ultimately it is all about runs. More specifically, how many you score and how many give up. Both run production and run prevention are influenced by an almost infinite number of factors (e.g. runners on base, defensive positioning, quality of opposing pitchers, bad luck, etc.). Despite this somewhat obvious fact, can valuable information be gleaned simply from looking at team run totals? This is the question the Soxwatcher attempts to answer here.

Team run totals for all American League clubs for the period 2000-2009 were analyzed. The run totals were organized into three categories:

  1. Runs For (RF): the total number of runs scored;
  2. Runs Against (RA): the total number of runs given up;
  3. Run Difference (RD): the difference between Runs For and Runs Against (RF – RA).

For each of the ten seasons, the totals were ranked from 1 to 14 in each category. The objective was to find a correlation between runs and qualifying for the playoffs. The table below summarizes the number of playoffs teams finishing the season ranked in the top 5 in each of the three run categories. They have been further broken down by division.

DivisionPlayoffsRFRARD
East1614916
Central11558
West1371211

The first thing of note is that 26 teams out of the 40 playoff qualifiers (65%) ranked in the top 5 in RF while the same number also ranked in the top 5 in RA. 35 of those teams (87.5%) also ranked in the top 5 in RD. This seems to support the logical contention that run production and run prevention are equally important (i.e. a dominant offense or a dominant defense will translate into wins). The last decade has been dominated by the AL East with 16 teams making the playoffs. Of those 16, 14 ranked in the top 5 in RF, 9 in RA, and all 16 in RD. Furthermore, though not shown in the table, only 4 of those teams had an RA rank higher than their RF. The obvious conclusion here is that a dominant offense has been the hallmark of AL East playoff teams during the last 10 seasons.

The 2010 Red Sox have publicly employed a strategy that emphasizes reducing RA. In 2009 Boston ranked third in both RF and RA despite abysmal starting pitching. Apparently they also ranked third to last defensively according to Theo Epstein. No metric is ever given regarding how the “sub-par” defense of 2009 is quantified. However, the idea that the pitchers suffered because of this bad defense does not add up. The Red Sox starting pitching ranked 8th in the American League with an ERA of 4.63. The relievers, on the other hand, ranked 2nd with a cumulative ERA of 3.80. Apparently our defense yielded almost 1 full run less per game less when guys like Smoltz, Penny, and Masuzaka grabbed some pine.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s accept the premise that the defense was terrible last year and much improved in 2010. Moreover, the starting pitching will be better, and the team RA will decrease enough to be ranked first in the AL this season. In keeping with the theme that runs are the key to winning more ballgames, we quantify run production (RP) as follows:

RP = RF – HR + RBI

The rationale here is that RBI are an important indirect element to run production (despite ESPN Keith Law’s characterization of them as “totally useless”). Home runs are subtracted because they are already accounted for in RF. Finally, RP is divided by plate appearances (PA) resulting in run production average (RPA). In 2010 the Red Sox had an RP of 1482 and an RPA of 0.234. The departures of Bay, Gonzalez, Lugo, Green, Baldelli, and Lowell (essentially) represents a loss of 460 in RP over 1877 plate appearances. By replacing them with Beltre, Scutaro, Cameron, and Hall, who totaled a combined RPA of 0.199 last season over 2019 plate appearances, and pro-rating it over the missing 1877 PA’s translates to an RP of 374. Thus, there is a net loss of 86 in RP translating to a net loss of 51 in RF. This simply means that all things being equal to 2009 performance the Red Sox will score 51 fewer runs in 2010. Incidentally this would still rank them 3rd among 2009 AL clubs (4 runs ahead of Minnesota).

If the defense improves by surrendering 51 fewer runs, the net effect is zero. The performance in the critical category of run difference will be unchanged. The fact is that the starting pitching, even without the addition of Lackey, should perform better than last season with a healthy Dice-K and an increasingly effective Buchholz. Replacing a run producer like Bay (RP of 186) with a similar player likely would have had a more positive impact on RD by keeping RF more in line with 2009.

The problem with the 2009 Red Sox was starting pitching. It was nicely masked by the fact that the bullpen was excellent (during the regular season), and the offense generated enough runs to compensate. One interesting note: the RD in 2009 was +136 ranking 2nd in the league, however, +62 (45%) was accrued versus the Baltimore Orioles.

2010 Outlook – New Additions

February 22, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

Is it just me or do you feel like the Red Sox front office should be selling used cars? After a winter where we witnessed a halfhearted attempt to re-sign Jason Bay (and the discovery of a knee injury that Bay himself still doesn’t know about) and John Henry actually whining about not being able to compete with Yankee money, we watched the Red Sox perpetrate the greatest fraud on Hub fandom since Danny Cater for Sparky Lyle. When all the dust settled, we were enlightened with the latest statistical paradigm: defensive and pitching wins. What a revelation. Based on this seismic shift away from the previous blind allegiance to OBP and OPS, the Olde Towne Team has been reconstituted with the following additions:

Centerfield:
The defense was markedly improved with the signing of 37 year old Mike Cameron. He was so highly valued in conventional baseball circles that he will begin 2010 with his fifth different club in the last 8 years. The Sox brass contend that his CF defense will far outweigh his .250 lifetime batting average and 150 K’s/year. Jacoby Ellsbury will shift to LF which will of course further improve the defense.

Shortstop:
With the acquisition of another journeyman, they have proffered their latest entry in the SS carousel in the person of Marco Scutaro. For those who don’t know, Scutaro is a 35 year old utility infielder who was the starting SS for a bad Blue Jay team last season. Prior to that, he failed to consistently crack the starting lineup for the Mets or the A’s. When he did play, it was usually at second or third base. Apparently only the Red Sox have the necessary analytical tools to classify him as a “plus” defender at SS. Anyone else getting that Julio Lugo feeling yet? The reality is that Scutaro is quite similar to old friend Alex Cora. In fact they are even the same age!

Third Base:
Finally, after a failed attempt to pay Mike Lowell to play for the Texas Rangers (see Edgar Renteria and Julio Lugo to understand the concept), they struck gold with Adrian Beltre. For those who don’t recall, Beltre had a career year in 2004 at the peak of the steroid era (draw your own conclusions) bashing 48 HR’s and knocking in 121 for the Dodgers. He subsequently signed a lucrative free agent deal with Seattle where he put up decent offensive numbers (~20 HR’s and 80 RBI per season) and plays some of the best 3B defense in the game. It should be noted that Mike Lowell put up similar offensive numbers over the same period. The main problem with this signing is that the Red Sox now have $21.5 million invested in third basemen for the 2010 campaign. The health of Lowell’s hip and thumb are still unknown, and much has been made of his lack of mobility defensively. One still has to question the real value of a third baseman with great range. If healthy, Lowell does not have a position on this team and has virtually no trade value. This is another prime example where a slightly above average player (Beltre) was over-valued by the front office (see J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo).

It is difficult to feel optimistic about this club’s offense in 2010. Here is a quick breakdown compared with 2009:

C: a full season of Victor Martinez is a clear upgrade over the Varitek/Martinez duo of last season.
1B: no changes here. Youkilis has matured into a run producer and middle of the lineup anchor.
2B: no change. Hopefully Pedroia can settle somewhere between his 2008 and 2009 numbers.
3B: no change. Unlikely that Beltre’s production will exceed that of Lowell.
SS: no change. If anything there could be a regression as Scutaro is an unproven offensive producer.
LF: Ellsbury does many things well, but he can’t come close to Bay’s numbers.
CF: Cameron is an offensive downgrade.
RF: no change. Who knows from one year to the next what we’ll get from Drew beyond a minimum of 30 DNP’s due to injury.
DH: Ortiz is a big question mark. After a dismal first 2 months of 2009, he seemed to be much luck his old self.

This group will surely produce fewer runs than 2009. It’s hard to believe that the best defense in the history of the game could adequately compensate for this.

2010 Outlook – Starting Pitching

February 22, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

If you believe the pundits, 2010 is all about the starting pitching. The organization seems to be going in a different direction after eschewing Jason Bay and his 36 HR’s and 119 RBI for an improved defense and more rotation depth. It’s a nice spin on a failed offseason.

The last time the Sox had “too much” starting pitching depth was the spring of 2006. Bronson Arroyo was viewed as expendable and dealt for batting cage all-star Wily Mo Pena. We all know how that season ended. Boston may indeed have the best starting rotation depth in all of baseball. The looming question, however, is will it be enough to win? The optimist’s view holds that they have 3 number one starters in Beckett, Lester, and Lackey backed by two solid number 3’s out of Dice-K, Buchholz, or Wakefield pitching out of the 4/5 spots. The pessimist’s view is that aside from Lester, everything is far from guaranteed here. The truth, of course, most likely lies somewhere in the middle. Here’s how the Soxwatcher breaks it down:

  1. Jon Lester: Beckett might be the starter on opening day, but Lester is the staff ace. There is still room for improvement, and he might already realistically be considered the best left-handed starter in the AL.
  2. Josh Beckett: a 17 game winner in 2009. Undeniably the best pitcher on the planet in October 2007, but that dominance has shown itself less frequently in each successive season. The August and September breakdown has become the norm. What has changed to indicate 2010 will be any different?
  3. John Lackey: his bulldog demeanor will play well in Boston if he wins. To be sure, he’s a solid number 3, but they didn’t sign C.C. Sabathia. One 19 win season to his credit. His next highest win total is 14.
  4. Daisuke Matsuzaka: the fact that he actually spent the last month getting into shape is certainly encouraging. After 2009’s lost season, it is unclear exactly what the Sox have in Dice-K. Counting on more than 150 innings does seem like a stretch.
  5. Clay Buchholz: the end of his 2009 campaign surely gives reason for optimism. Whether he’s ready to take the ball for 30 starts is still a question.
  6. Tim Wakefield: it seems foolish to bet against Wake. If they can get his best for 15 starts this year, it could help plug any holes that show up over the long season.

Lest we not forget that this same group, save Lackey, pitched its way to the middle of the pack in the American League last season.

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