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Ask Amalie: It's been an interesting month

Posted by Amalie Benjamin  June 15, 2010 10:47 AM

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Neil from Connecticut asks: Although I am very happy with Clay Buchholz's performance this year, I am curious about his decline in strikeouts per nine innings. When I first started watching Clay in 2007 in the minor leagues he averaged a ridiculous 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Now that was just the minor leagues but it indicated that he was a strikeout pitcher. It seems he has changed from being a strikeout pitcher to a pitcher looking for weak contact. Is this intentional? When he began to struggle in 2008, did John Farrell work with Buchholz to change his approach? Is it a change in his tactic that has revitalized Clay's pitching? Will we see Buchholz's strikeouts increase now that he has regained his form, or would it be too risky to alter his approach? The main reason I ask is because back in 2007 I had hopes that Clay could come close to throwing the types of games that I enjoyed watching Pedro Martinez pitch, where the question wasn't if he'd do well but if he'd get 15 strikeouts. However, I am more than happy with the Buchholz that we see this season, I understand Pedro was an anomaly.

Answer: I talked to Buchholz about this recently, and wrote about it when the team was in Cleveland. It is true that his strikeouts per nine innings has decreased each season of his career, going from 8.7 in 2007 to 8.5 in 2008 to 6.7 in 2009 to 5.7 this season. And yet, the second half of last season and the first half of this season have been the best that Buchholz has pitched in his career.

"I think in the minor leagues, hitters, they go out of the strike zone a lot more," Buchholz said. "I had a lot of strikeouts, but I probably threw over half the strikeouts I've had that were pitches out of the zone. Guys up here don't swing, even with two strikes. They tend to make you throw a pitch in the dirt. You throw pitches in the zone, they're going to get hit. I don't think I've done anything different. I've always been told to take a three-pitch at-bat or a two pitch at-bat, a one pitch at-bat over a five- or six-pitch strikeout. Strikeouts are awesome. They're fun to have under your name and everything. At the same time, you go deeper into games with less pitches you throw, it seems to work out a little bit more in your favor because you get in a rhythm more, you're not throwing 25 pitches every inning. No disrespect to the strikeout."

Buchholz clearly doesn't seem to be bothered by his decreasing strikeout rate. In fact, as his strikeout rate has gone down, that has allowed Buchholz to be more efficient, staying longer in games, as he pitches more to contact and less to get a strikeout. It's not a particular change in tactic, Buchholz said. But he did add, "That's what they try to engrave in you is to go out and do the little things right, throw pitches in the zone, get outs. It takes a little bit of time for that to sink in after coming out of college and all you did was strike out people."

Part of it might be the league catching up to what he throws in particular counts, to knowing his tendencies, but he also said that he would much rather get a groundout throwing just a few pitches than get a strikeout on 10 pitches. Makes sense.

Jared from Busan, South Korea asks: Is there a particular reason that MLB does not allow draft picks to be traded (either on their own or as pieces of player deals)?

Answer: Unlike most other major sports, baseball teams are not allowed to trade their draft picks or trade players they've drafted for one year after each draft. There is a reason for that. It's supposed to be the way for less successful teams to dig their way out, without giving them a chance to mortgage the future for the present. They have the access to the best talent, and they're supposed to take it. But the system doesn't always work out as it's designed to do, and there is a question of whether baseball should change its policy when the collective bargaining agreement is worked out. Some general managers have been fully in support of gaining the opportunity to trade draft picks, believing that it would help create interest and a fertile trading ground, and believing that sometimes teams bad enough to gain top draft picks need more than just one potential future star. Sometimes those teams need multiple players with potential, and they could improve even more being able to trade their picks. It seems to come up every year, though clearly nothing has changed yet.

Jay from Chandler, Ariz., asks: Is it time for Wakefield to step down? I mean he has his good games here and there but lately he has given up way too many runs. In the long run, it is going to hurt the Sox this year.

Answer: The problem is that even Tim Wakefield doesn't know when he should step down. From start to start, Wakefield can look great and then can look horrific. He isn't always able to predict how he pitches, and I think it might be difficult for him to determine when he's just going through a couple of bad starts, and when he's really lost it for good. That's simply a function of being a knuckleball pitcher. Going to the game log and his last four outings, Wakefield has pitched extremely well in two starts (against the Phillies and Indians) and poorly in two others (Royals and A's).

So which pitcher is he? Remember that Wakefield can catch fire and can run off a string of excellence -- and that's not only in his youth. He was, after all, an All-Star last season, though he did have his year cut short due to a back injury. Ultimately, though, I think it's hard for anyone (even Wakefield) to know when it will be time for him to step down. For now, he has a starting spot on a good major league team. Why would he go anywhere?

Chris Torrey from Meredith, N.H., asks: Hi Amalie. Big fan. Quick question for you. What the hell is wrong with Tim Bogar? I've seen Little League third base coaches make better decisions than this guy. Keep up the great work.

Answer: As one might expect, this question (along with a few other, similar questions) came in after Tim Bogar waved around two runners to home plate, both coming with no outs, both of whom ended up tagged out at home plate on June 3. It was a poor showing from Bogar, and he admitted after the game that he had made mistakes.

"Two bad decisions and I got two runners thrown out at the plate," Bogar said. "Obviously it's all about the results, and obviously both times I was wrong. Take full responsibility for that. Anytime you get somebody thrown out in a situation they shouldn't, it's not easy to stomach. You feel like you let the team down a little bit. The guys battled all day today. They gave us a lot of opportunities to come back and we just didn't have enough to do it. So mistakes like that are just magnified. Hopefully they'll be far and few between."

Third base coach for the Red Sox is one of the most difficult jobs in baseball, in all seriousness. Nobody cares what you do until you do it wrong, sending the wrong guy at the wrong moment. Bogar is still new to the job, having done it only for the first two months of this season. He's going to make mistakes, but it does seem like he's made a few more mistakes than fans can tolerate. I think he hasn't been great so far, but the Sox are also coming off an excellent third base coach in DeMarlo Hale. Hard to live up to that in the first few months on the job. But Bogar can't make those errors, especially with no outs. That's a way to lose games for the team.

Roger from Seattle, Wash., asks: Amalie - How do you feel about (baseball commissioner Bud) Selig's decision on the perfect game that wasn't? The Pine Tar game they replayed the end of the game on another date because of a bad call -- seems to me that reversing the bad call at first would not be as radical.

Answer: Though it might not be the popular opinion, I don't think that Bud Selig should have reversed the call. Part of the game is the human element of having umpires -- and not having instant replay in such situations -- and that's something that we simply need to understand. Ultimately, it would have opened a can of worms. Would Selig only do it for perfect games? For no-hitters? For postseason games? To preserve shutouts? It was absolutely unfair that Jim Joyce made the mistake, but Joyce simply made an error. It happens. It happened at a terrible moment for Armando Galarraga and for baseball, but it happened. Selig would have compounded the mistake had he reversed the call and given him the perfect game. In the end, I just think that changing the call would give license for teams to complain about calls on a regular basis. What about, for instance, the calls on which CB Bucknor erred in the playoff series between the Angels and Red Sox? Should those be challenged? Where would we go from here?

Tom from Schenectady, N.Y., asks: How is Casey Kelly doing? We haven't heard much about him this season.

Answer: I was actually chatting with a member of the organization about Casey Kelly recently. While his numbers haven't exactly been great, though have been much better over his last two starts, the Sox believe that he's actually been pitching well, using his pitches well, with an especially excellent fastball. That being said, he has allowed some crooked numbers to some opponents. But that happens, sometimes pitchers just get hit, even if they're mostly doing the correct things. The thing I found particularly interesting was that this member of the organization actually seemed pleased that Kelly was allowing some baserunners. Teams do want to see their young pitchers (and young hitters) struggle at times. It helps them mature. It gives them a sense of the adversity that they will face in the majors.

I know the organization was hoping that Buchholz and Daniel Bard would go through such difficulties, which they mostly didn't in the minors. (The Nationals said, for example, that they wanted Stephen Strasburg to have to pitch with some men on at some point as part of his development.) Sometimes they're simply not going to get that in Double A or Triple A, meaning they're ready for the big leagues. Sometimes they can benefit from that, so it's clear that the Sox aren't considering all the runs given up and all the baserunners allowed by Kelly to be entirely bad things.

Michael Barry from Stamford, Conn., asks: Many of the high school draftees have comments attached like "committed to LSU". How firm are these commitments and historically how well does the club perform in signing these previously "committed elsewhere" athletes?

Answer: I don't have any statistics to demonstrate how well the Sox have done in signing previously committed athletes, but just about every player drafted out of high school is committed to some school. Not everyone signs when they're drafted at 18, and they generally need to have a place to go in case things don't work out with the team that drafted them. In other words, they need leverage. Lars Anderson, for example, was committed to the University of California before he signed with the Sox. Enough money can generally loosen the allegiance of these draftees to their schools, though not always.

Josh from Brooklyn, N.Y., asks: Adrian Beltre has now broken the ribs of two left fielders on plays he failed to respond to after being called off. Are the Sox concerned about his reckless play, and do they plan on addressing the issue? Or should anyone going out to play left just book their trip to the ER before the game starts?

Answer: Josh, I have to take issue with your initial characterization of the plays. It's not exactly true. In each of the collision scenarios, neither player was able to call the other off, given that they often don't know whether they'll be able to catch it until the very second they do. They really were both just freak plays. Wouldn't you rather have the players going all-out to catch foul balls than pulling up, wondering if they might hit someone?

Here's what Ellsbury said immediately after the initial collision with Adrian Beltre: "I'm pretty much going for anything, same with him," Ellsbury said. "I don't think that we thought we'd both be there. It's just one of those perfectly put in between us. Because I was going to catch it. I was right under it to catch it. It hit his glove and popped out. Just one of those plays."

It was very similar with the collision between Jeremy Hermida and Beltre, just two fielders going for a ball at the same time. On the day that it was revealed that Hermida had five fractured ribs, I asked manager Terry Francona whether there was anything the Sox could do to prevent such plays in the future.

"You've got three guys running full speed at a ball that's in no man's land," Francona said. "I agree, they're eerily familiar. When guys are running full speed and you know you can't catch it, you can't call it. Now, again, there's times we work on this in spring training. But you can't call a ball 'til you know you've got it. When a ball's placed in that triangle there, no, there is nothing to do. Somebody could pull up. That's not a good way to play either."

Hank from Victoria, British Columbia, asks: Hi Amalie, I'm wondering if the team has officially abandoned the "hanging sox" alternative caps? It seems that it's been a number of weeks since they've worn them with the Friday alternative uniforms. Thanks!

Answer: I don't think they've been "officially" abandoned, but it's true that it's been a long time since the Sox have worn their new alternate caps. The caps are still hanging around the clubhouse, and have even been brought on the road (but not worn) on at least one recent road trip. As someone who is not exactly a big fan of the design, I don't think it's such a bad thing. And I don't think I'm alone in this opinion.

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