The long road for Lugo
Boston Globe baseball writer Gordon Edes checks in every week (usually on Fridays) to answer your questions on the Red Sox. Ask yours now, and come back next week to see whether it was answered.
Why doesn't Terry just have harder skin, and bench Lugo for a little while? Whenever Cora is in, he does better then Lugo has. It doesn't make sense. I mean, I feel for the guy, but you got to play the guy who can both hit and field.
A: Rory, here's the simplest explanation I can give regarding the team's continued use of Lugo. He came to the AL East at the start of the 2004 season and played with the Devil Rays until they traded him to the Dodgers at the trading deadline last summer. In that span of 388 games, he hit .290, had an on-base percentage of .355, and hit 94 doubles, 11 triples and 25 home runs. He is still just 31 years old, an age in which his physical skills should not have diminished. The Sox belief is that Lugo did not forget how to hit overnight, that the first half of this season is a much smaller sample size than the 2 ½ years he was with Tampa Bay, and that eventually he will hit again. They made a four-year bet that he will hit. They will give him every chance to fight his way out of this slump, and if he doesn't, Cora will play more and more, just as he did at second base when Dustin Pedroia was hurt. Cora had a great start this season, but has tailed off since, batting .227 (10 for 44) in 19 games since June 1. Part of that has to do with sporadic playing time, but Alex isn't suddenly going to morph into Jose Reyes or Orlando Cabrera offensively. His game is about doing the little things that help teams win.
We've heard all about Ellsbury's speed on the bases, but I was surprised about the speed of his bat. For a moment there, he reminded me of a pre-wrist break Nomar, but much more patient of course. Now I see what all the fuss is about.
A: Glenn, the Sox feel that Ellsbury still has things to work on-they'd like to see him elevate the ball more consistently. But we've all gotten a taste of why the Sox were so high on this kid to begin with.
Now that Ellsbury has gotten the call up, is there any chance he stays and the Sox make him their fourth outfielder (assuming Coco gets healthy)? Really, isn't he a better option than Wily Mo? And can they get anything for Wily Mo?
Scott, Augusta, Maine
A: Scott, I believe the Sox will return Ellsbury to Pawtucket where he can continue to refine his game on a daily basis, rather than playing part-time here, although he has clearly been an asset this past week. A September callup is a certainty, and his speed will be a great weapon in October. Wily Mo? It's hard being Wily Mo these days. Since June 1, Wily Mo is batting .200 (10 for 50) with just 1 home run and 3 walks compared to 21 whiffs, including his 4-K game Tuesday night. He's on pace to have his fewest at-bats yet, and he's in a situation in which you wonder whether he'll ever have a chance to develop. It's hard to believe that Wily Mo, 25, is just 19 months older than Dustin Pedroia, who turns 24 next month.
I've always wondered what the purpose of those two dirt circles are about 15 feet to either side of homeplate are. Do you know what the purpose these serve?
Mike D., N.Y.
A: Mike, they're called fungo circles, and they're the place where coaches stand when they hit ground balls to infielders during BP. Not all ballparks have 'em.
When tallying a pitcher's pitch count and dividing it up by balls and strikes how is it decided if a foul ball, with 2 strikes already, is a ball or a strike? Is it a strike simply because it was fouled off or does someone make a determination as to where it was pitched?
Cindy, Milford, N.H.
A: Cindy, foul balls are by definition strikes. A foul ball can only occur if the ball strikes the bat, which in most cases means a batter swung, although I'm sure you've seen instances in which an inside pitch nearly hits a batter but winds up hitting his bat, which makes it a foul ball. In either case-whether swinging and fouling the pitch off, or the ball inadvertently hitting the bat-it's a strike and is tallied as such when calculating pitch counts.
My question is regarding David Ortiz and his performance at the plate this season. Although he is still having a good year (as I write this he is hitting .312, 13HR, 49RBI) , at times it has seemed he is struggling, especially to hit the ball out of the park. I am wondering if any of this might have something to do with our old hitting coach, "Papa Jack" Ron Jackson not being with the team anymore. He used to help Big Papi all the time when he would go through a slump. Why did the Sox let Papa Jack go?
Matt B., Columbus, Kan.
A: Matt B., while the Sox never articulated the reasons they let Papa Jack go, it's pretty clear they felt there were some key guys he wasn't helping, and they preferred someone who did a lot more film study/statistical analysis like Magadan. Ortiz has never made it a secret that he lamented seeing Papa Jack go, and recently my colleague Nick Cafardo brought up Papa Jack's dismissal in connection with Ortiz's dropoff in power. But Cubs fans are asking similar questions about Derrek Lee's power slide, from 45 home runs in 2005 to just 6 this season, especially since he insists the wrist he fractured last season is a non-factor.
Thanks for keeping members of 'The Nation' on ALL coasts (Gulf included!) abreast of all things Sox, Gord! A tough job no doubt, but a job well done. I noticed that when the Sox called up Jacoby Ellsbury, the official transaction read "Purchased the contract of OF Jacoby Ellsbury from Triple-A Pawtucket..." What exactly is meant by 'purchased contract' when a player is on your 40-man roster to begin with?
Kay Curry, Biloxi, Mo.
A: Kay, you made the assumption that Ellsbury already was on the team's 40-man roster. He was not. A team does not have to place a player on its 40-man roster (and protect him from the Rule 5 draft) until after his third season in the minor leagues. Jacoby was drafted and signed in 2005, played in Lowell that season, split last season between Wilmington and Portland in '06, and is in his third season as a pro this year, which he began in Portland before his promotion to Pawtucket and now the big club. That's why he was purchased from Pawtucket, to indicate that he had been added to the 40-man roster.
I was surprised when the Sox called up Ellsbury rather than playing Pena. Last year, Pena filled in fine at center while Crisp was gone for an extended period. If Pena's ever going to realize his potential, he has to play. We saw Tuesday night what we get if he only gets a sporadic start. Does this mean the Sox management has pretty much given up on Pena. What's he going to be, the designated strikeout on the bench? Forget about the power if he never gets a chance to zone it in. What a shame for a potentially great young player. He's got to be wishing he'd stayed in Cincinatti, where he might have gotten a chance to mature into an everyday player. The likelihood is growing now that that potential will never be realized. They've turned him into something short of Sam Horn.
Steve Strobridge, Springfield, Va.
A: Steve, the question is this: How do you propose that he get regular playing time, and does his performance warrant sitting down one of the three regular outfielders, say, once a week each, so that Wily Mo gets to play three times a week, especially when you also have Eric Hinske who gives you a better chance against a right-handed pitcher? The Yankees, as we have noted many times before, did him a disservice when they signed him to a big-league contract as a free agent out of the Dominican, and because of that Wily Mo has been deprived of the kind of minor-league apprenticeship that might be showing results by now. He's played in over 100 games just once in his career and had more than 330 at-bats just once. There is a wasted aspect of Wily Mo's career, and the erratic schedule will result in horrors like the 0-for-4, 4 K night Tuesday, but as I noted earlier, he still is only 25. Are you sure you want to throw in the towel?
For months, you don't hear anything about Matt Clement, during Tuesday's game, I see him in the dug out, what's happening with him? Where has he been?
Delores Norman, Norwood
A: Hi Delores, I guess you must have missed them, but I've addressed Clement's situation on occasion both in Sox notebooks and in the 'Bag. He threw for pitching coach John Farrell here the other day, about 25 pitches at 70 percent capacity. He won't go with the team to Detroit, but will be back during the homestand after the All-Star break to discuss the progress he has made during his extended rehab stint in Fort Myers. He still has a long way to go, but Sox are hoping he can pitch in a game in September. How realistic that is remains to be seen.
I know a lot is being made of Ortiz's lack of power numbers even though his average is over .300. Do you think this has anything to do with the Sox letting batting coach Papa Jack go at the end of last season? I dont know if he worked with Manny(who's numbers are similar to David's) but I know he worked a lot with David, so much so that David gave him the bat he used to either tie the Sox HR record or the one he used to set it. I have not seen this talked about on any pre or post game shows. Whenever I hear people taking about his lack of power numbers Papa Jack being let go is the first thing I think of. I don't know how long he was with the Sox but I am thinking you can trace David's good numbers to him. Thanks and I hope you have the time to answer it is really driving me nuts!
A: Emily, I hope you saw my discussion of this earlier in the 'Bag. Don't want you going nuts on my account!
This is not so much a question, but more so a could-a, would-a, should-a observation. A while back when Theo talk of a rebuilding from within, I was delighted, particularly with our prospects. If he had stuck to his guns we would now have a dream infield with Youk at 3rd, Hanley Ramirez at ss, and Dustin at 2nd. And at 1b throw in Carlos Pena who we had on the roster late last year. Of course that means no Lowell and no Beckett. But if there were do-overs in life I would certainly go back and nix that deal, notwithstanding this year's success of the pair. Just dreaming of what might have been. Now let's see how he builds our outfield of the future. If he lets this kid Ellsbury get away, someone should arrange for him an appointment for an exam at the Bridgewater Psychiatric Unit.
Bob Robertson, Pensacola, Fla.
A: Bob, Don't think Theo will be checking into Bridgewater any time soon. And with the Sox on pace to win 100-plus games this season, you might want to reconsider your vote on the Beckett/Lowell deal. Personally, I'm happy to see the success Carlos Pena has had for the D-Rays, but even up till the last few days of spring training it was uncertain Carlos would even make their roster.
I've heard a lot about new players coming in and being taught "The Red Sox Way." Are there any specifics regarding this philosophy and or is it just some "play hard, give 110% every day, and be a team player" type of thing?
Chris, Manchester, N.H.
A: Chris, when the new Sox management team took over, they developed a very detailed manual about the instruction and development of players in the minor league system by the Red Sox Way. I did a piece on it with Ben Cherington a few years ago. Here are a couple of highlights:
"We're going to emphasize selectivity and plate discipline," said Cherington.
Every hitter in the system from Sarasota on down will be given a notebook and required to keep a log, charting his every at-bat - what his approach was, what the count got to, grading their at- bats. The hitting coaches will be responsible for making sure the hitters follow through.
For players to advance to the next level, Cherington said, they will in most cases be required to meet specific goals: their on- base average must be higher than the league average, and their walk ratio must be 10 percent of their plate appearances.
"We're not telling our hitters to look for a walk," Cherington said. "But we consider the walk a barometer of a hitter's level of discipline at the plate. The last thing you do is tell a player to look for a walk, but if he's disciplined, he's going to walk at least 10 percent of the time."
The Sox will be less concerned with the mechanics of a hitter's swing, Cherington said, than the soundness of his mental approach.
"We'll be doing plenty of drills and swing work," Cherington said, "but we believe the primary factor in a hitter's success is his mental approach. A hitter with a funky swing but an outstanding mental approach is going to be more successful than the guy with a beautiful swing who has no clue what he's doing at the plate."
"Our overall objective in many ways mirrors that of our objective in hitting: Pitchers need to pound the strike zone and get into good counts. The more strikes early in an at-bat, the more strikeouts and the lower the pitch counts," Cherington said.
The mechanics of a pitcher's delivery are crucial to reaching those goals, Cherington said. A pitcher's arm action - from when he separates his hands until he releases the ball - is difficult to alter, but what a pitcher does in the rest of his delivery - his footwork, his body over the rubber, what he does with his midsection - can all be developed. The Sox will make it a priority to find pitchers with good arm action, the kind least likely to place added strain, along with good overall athleticism.
But the care and nurturing of the pitchers in the system will be very structured, by pitch counts and innings, based on the level a pitcher is playing.
Gulf Coast League: a maximum of 70-90 pitches per start (60-75 for first-year draftees), 90-95 innings first year, 95-100 second.
Lowell: 75-100 pitches (first-year signees 75-85), 95-100 innings.
Augusta: 90-105 pitches, 135 innings.
Sarasota: 95-110 pitches, 150 innings.
Portland: 100-115 pitches, 165 innings.
Pawtucket: 100-120 pitches, 180 innings.
No pitcher in the Sox system exceeded those levels last season, Cherington said.
Every pitcher in the organization will be required to follow a shoulder program developed by the team's medical staff, which is focused on strengthening the small muscles that make up the rotator cuff.
"We need to come up with the ultimate way to develop a pitcher's delivery and ensure health," said Cherington, echoing a commonly held goal in the industry.
The Sox also have specific ideas regarding pitch selection. With high school-age players and Latin players just starting out, the Sox will ask them to throw the curveball over the slider. If a pitcher in that group already throws a slider - like lefty Jon Lester, who was Boston's top pick in last June's draft - and the Sox decide it doesn't place undue strain on his arm, they won't take the pitch away from him, but they'll still emphasize the curveball. Lester throws his slider in side work, but is expected to throw the curve in games.
If a college pitcher already has an effective slider and the health risks seem acceptable, the Sox won't take it away.
Developing a changeup also will be given high priority. Pitchers on the rookie ball level will be expected to maintain a ratio of 70 percent fastballs, 20 percent changeups, and 10 percent curveballs.
"A very high percentage of pitchers throw a changeup," Cherington said. "A very low percentage have a good feel for the changeup."
Because it is a "feel" pitch, pitchers will be encouraged to experiment with a variety of grips until they find one that is comfortable. Even during long toss sessions, pitchers will be required to use their changeup grips from 60 feet away, because the arm action is essentially the same.
As a pitcher advances in the system, there will be a greater emphasis on changing speeds, and other pitches, like a two-seam fastball (sinker), will be introduced.
I have only recently started reading your Mailbag, so perhaps you have answered this question in the past. If you have, might it be possible for you to direct me to where your answer is archived? My question is...When will the gender barrier be breached by MLB? Simple, no?
David Heller, Tampa, Fla.
A: David, women are in decision-making roles in baseball front offices, they've umpired, they're obviously in press boxes and broadcast booths, they hold key positions in the commissioner's office. When will we see a woman play in the big leagues? How many girls are playing high school baseball? I'm not expecting to see it in my lifetime, but you should never say never.
Hey Mr. Edes check out my Jonathan Papelbon impression.
Jonathan Smith, Sanford, Maine
A: Jonathan, I'm guessing this isn't going to make you famous, but it gets you airtime in the 'Bag.
Your mailbag takes time, but to me it's worth it--your readers ask good questions and you provide balanced answers. My question is about sacrifice bunts. How do the Sox stack up vs. other AL teams? I ask because the Sox lead the AL in on base percentage, but our 7th in runs scored as of July 2. And I seldom see Francona call for a bunt.
Creighton Abrams, Springfield, Va.
A: Creighton, this obviously will come as a surprise to you, but the Sox have become regular bunting fools this season, compared to past seasons. Through July 4th, they'd bunted for sacrifice hits 19 times, which ranks them tied for fifth in the league. In 2006, they had just 22 sac bunts (only Texas with 18 and Toronto with 16 had fewer), in 2005, they ranked 13th with 14, and in 2004, they were last in the league with 12. The Sox also have bunted for hits 10 times, so the bunt has been seen far more often in Sox games than in years.