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.

Theo’s Free Agent Scorecard

August 7, 2009 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

With the ignominious “designation for assignment” of John Smoltz today, let’s take a look at Theo “Boy Genius” Epstein’s record with free agency.

  1. Julio Lugo — aka the SS that drew interest solely from the Red Sox. Signed to a 4 year, $36 million contract in the winter of ’06. Now a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2+ seasons as the Red Sox SS, he posted a batting average of 0.251, an OBP of 0.318, and an OPS of 0.663.
  2. Edgar Renteiria — one forgettable season in Boston setting career season high in errors. Shipped to Atlanta with cash for what eventually netted Coco Crisp (another bust).
  3. J.D. Drew — quite possibly the most overpaid OF in MLB. Tough to blame Theo for the bloated contract. There had to be some quid pro quo with Scott Boras and the Dice-K sighing. No one talks about it but how else can it be explained?
  4. This year’s bargain basement trio of Penny, Smoltz, and Kotsay — two are gone, and we’re hoping Penny will be soon to follow.
  5. Matsuzaka — two solid seasons including one World Series title. After a dismal start in ’09, he is running wind sprints in the outfield in Fort Myers while the big club makes due with a 2 man pitching rotation. Still the diamond in Theo’s free agent signings.

Victor!

August 1, 2009 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

Will Victor Martinez be the catalyst the punchless offense is craving? He’s a great hitter — no question there. He’s a liability at first base and will make Varitek look like Pudge Rodriguez when it comes to throwing out baserunners. Most importantly he doesn’t pitch. Theo was right to make this deal for two young prospects and Masterson, but they really needed a pitcher. Even Jarrod Washburn would have been a welcome addition to the current rotation. The likelihood of Penny “turning it around” is extremely low when one considers that he has stunk for almost 2 full season now. Smoltz is a warrior but should we pin our hopes on a 42 year old now that we trail the Yankees?
Here’s hoping that J. Bay reverts back to his April/May form quickly and Wakefield recovers enough to make a contribution SOON. I’m actually starting to look forward to Dice-K back in the rotation. Scary stuff.

Pitching Depth?

August 1, 2009 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

Going into the 2009 season, the conventional wisdom was that the Sox had an embarrassment of riches in the pitching department. 102 Games into the campaign, the biggest question (perhaps) facing this team is the “deep” pitching. Theo chose to go with the bargain basement approach (at least stopping short of coaxing Saberhagen and Ramon Martinez out of retirement) with the signing of Brad Penny (bad) and John Smoltz (worse) and eschewing more high-profile candidates like Burnett and D. Lowe. The Soxwatcher has no real beef with that decision. However, it is now apparent that 2/5 of their current rotation simply doesn’t give them a chance to win most of the time. With what we all witnessed last night, it is clear that Smoltzy’s best days are in the rearview mirror. Great slider but really hittable fastball. He’s had is chance. It’s time to put Masterson in the rotation. Oops, he plays for Cleveland now.

No lead is safe

June 4, 2008 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

Ugh! Javier Lopez is not a major league pitcher. Stats be damned (20 1/3 IP, 20 H, 3.10 ERA). How can you justify releasing Julian Tavarez to keep your “lefty specialist.” Lefties are hitting .211 against him, but they hit .250 last year. There are bigger problems than no Papi in Beantown, and I remain unconvinced that this team can contend with a guy like Lopez pitching any meaningful innings.

On the upside, Justin Masterson looked fantastic last night. Sure Buchholz and Lester already have no-hitters on their resumes, but for my money Masterson may just be better than both (surely better than Lester). He pounds the strike zone down with a good slider and fastball. Location of the changeup is still a work in progress though.

Here we are

October 16, 2007 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

Maybe it isn’t the brink of elimination, but it sure feels like it. I guess the Soxwatcher should eat a little bit of crow here as the Sons of Theo did manage to make it past the first round against a severely depleted Angels lineup. Okay, we’ll concede that small battle, but please refer to the very first Soxwatcher.com post for clarification; more prescient words have never been written (pardon the hyperbole). Still waiting on Messieurs Lugo and Drew to contribute a little bit (apparently $23 million just doesn’t buy what it used to), and Matsuzaka-san would have been your game one starter if the playoffs started June 1st.

Enough negativity. We just won the World Series after all. I won’t start getting antsy for another 83 years or so. Everything is riding on the knuckleballer with 2+ weeks of rest. We all want him to miraculously get it done. Unfortunately I just don’t see it happening. Beckett on 3 days rest is the obvious call, and it defies logic (but probably not some statistic the geeks in Theo’s posse have proffered) that it isn’t happening. Before we get too positive, however, one would be remiss not to highlight a handful of dubious decisions by the powers that be. Namely:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury doens’t deserve a look in RF in this series? Theo still has 4 years on that Drew contract to say, ‘I told you so.’ His “great” September is a distant memory now. Simply admit that Drew isn’t going to get a clutch hit in 2007 and move on!
  • Think Julian Tavarez might have gotten the ball in the 5th inning Saturday night? Maybe 3 good innings (seriously, it’s not inconceivable folks) would have saved everyone from enduring Lopez et al. in the 11th.

We now conclude with tonight’s keys to victory:

  • Strike one — get ahead, stay ahead. Wake has to throw strikes.
  • Jump on Byrd early and get into the bullpen.
  • Get some production from Pedroia and Crisp.
  • Hope for an encore performance of the Papi, Manny, Mikey Show. Let’s face it, if they don’t produce, it’s 3-1.

Prediction: Sox win it with the bats in a slugfest 11-8.

Pick your motto

September 20, 2007 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off 

“It’s a Marathon, not a sprint”, “We have to take the long view”, “Our goal is to win a World Series, not a division title” — take your pick. These, ladies and gentlemen, are our 2007 Boston Red Sox. Who’s worried? We’re still in first place aren’t we? Curse of the Bambino, Bucky Dent, Mookie Wilson — all exorcised 3 short years ago. Panic? Pshaw! You see, simple-minded reader, our GM has a plan. While the rest of us were struggling to crack the Da Vinci Code, Theo and his minions were crafting a complex strategy that, unfortunately, is simply incomprehenible to the unsophisticated Boston fandom. To date, even the astute observer can merely catalog some of the elements that have thus far been revealed. We proceed, therefore, with a short list of ingredients for Theoball:

  • Eric Gagné must trot in from the bullpen only when the game is on the line. The fact that the Gagné-less Red Sox managed to accrue the best record in the Majors for the first 4 months of the season is a statistical anomaly.
  • Manny Ramirez is on his own timetable and should only enter a game when he feels ready. Clearly the best course of action is to sit him for the last 30 games of the regular season, so he’ll be rested and game-ready for the playoffs.
  • Drew is gonna get hot. You’ve gotta just stick with him.
  • The annual September fade is a strategy to lull potential playoff rivals into a false sense of security.
  • Never ever bunt.
  • All decisions related to pitch counts must be authorized by the GM by text message.
  • Your closer only pitches the 9th inning (sorry Mr. Torre). Whenever possible the use of relievers should be scripted before the game starts like the first 20 plays of the Super Bowl.
  • Control the media at all costs. Give the New York Times Corporation a larger stake in ownership if necessary. Require Remy and Orsillo to underscore the importance of Drew, Lugo, and Gagné as much as possible.

What it all means will be revealed at www.redsox.com (for paid in full members of Red Sox Nation only) after the Sox are jettisoned from the first round of the playoffs. Stay tuned.

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