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Ask Amalie: Did Red Sox make right decision about stretch run?

Posted by Amalie Benjamin  September 28, 2010 01:06 PM

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Ken from Clifton Park, N.Y., asks: Why isn't Jon Lester being considered a contender for the AL Cy Young?

Answer: I think Jon Lester is, in fact, being considered for the Cy Young, and should be on quite a few ballots, if not all. A lot of that comes from his recent stretch when he has amassed a 6-0 record and 1.76 ERA over his last six starts. It's that streak that has gotten him back into contention for the Cy Young award, though it would help if he could make it seven in a row and get to 20 wins.

Honestly, at this point, I'd probably take Lester's numbers over CC Sabathia's. To compare, Lester has a 19-8 record, 2.96 ERA, 204 innings, 220 strikeouts, and a 1.16 WHIP. For Sabathia, those numbers are 20-7, 3.26, 229 1/3, 189, and 1.21. Other than the innings total and one extra win, Lester comes out on top across the board. I'll be looking at Felix Hernandez, Clay Buchholz, David Price, Trevor Cahill, Justin Verlander, and perhaps Jered Weaver, in addition to Lester and Sabathia, as I attempt to figure out my top five choices. Tonight's games should have meaning, as both Sabathia and Hernandez will be starting tonight, but I'll be watching until the last day of the season to determine my votes. It's interesting that this season, for the first time, writers will be asked to list five choices for the award, rather than three. I wonder if that will affect the voting in a season in which there are probably at least five worthy contenders for it.

Kevin from Peoria, Ariz. asks: Hi Amalie--Keep up the insightful work! It has probably been addressed before. It probably has a straightforward answer. But I've got to know--why do switch hitters with large discrepancies in their splits not just hit from the side with better numbers? I'm thinking specifically of Victor -- if he always batted from the right side, could we expect better overall numbers?

Answer: This is a question we dealt with a lot in spring training of 2009 in regard to Jason Varitek and his struggles from the left side of the plate. At the time, Francona had this to say about the idea of having Varitek switch to bat exclusively from the right side, "He's 36 years old. He's had the ball coming in to him his whole life. It's probably just not as easy as it sounds. If it was, I'm sure he'd do it."

From talking to switch hitters, it's really not something that most of them ever consider. I actually asked Victor Martinez generally why it would be difficult for a hitter to make the change from being a switch hitter to hitting exclusively from one side. He said, essentially, that he would never consider it, and elaborated on why he wouldn't.

"I think like from facing a lefty, hitting lefty, I just can't imagine facing the balls coming from down here and see his arm here and all that," Martinez said. "I just can't see myself standing in the box."

He said that he wouldn't be able to get a read on the ball standing in the opposite batter's box, which would make it nearly impossible to hit. He has only batted righthanded against a righthanded pitcher in 20 plate appearances, with those coming against Tim Wakefield. "It was tough," Martinez said. "It's tough to see the release point coming."

Tony from Arlington, Va. asks: I would think that the biggest off-season decision for the Sox is going to be what they do with the starters. They had three highly paid starters underperform this year. Do they count on them rebounding?

Answer: I disagree, Tony. In fact, I think that the starting rotation is the area that is most settled for the Red Sox. Boston has two returning starters who would be aces on most teams in Lester and Buchholz, along with two more good-to-very good starters in Beckett and Lackey. I understand that good is overstating their contributions this season, but I can't shake the feeling that there's something wrong with Beckett that he just isn't admitting, perhaps the back affecting him more than he'll say. I believe that he will have a bounce-back year in 2011, and while he might no longer be a No. 1 starter, he doesn't need to be that on this team.

As for Lackey, I think he will pitch better, but probably not well enough to satisfy Red Sox Nation. He will be the Sox' fourth starter, and should be among the top tier of fourth starters in baseball, albeit also being paid quite a bit of money. I think the real question comes with Daisuke Matsuzaka. He could be an interesting trade chip, perhaps for a West Coast team (Dodgers?). He's making $20 million over the final two years of his contract, and could be available this off-season, given his lack of performance over the past couple of seasons. It's possible that the Red Sox could eat some of the money on that deal, and it's also possible that they wouldn't need to do so. Ultimately, though, I think that the starting rotation is not cause for quite as much concern as you say. Now, the bullpen, on the other hand ...

Rob from New Haven, Conn. asks: Good Day Amalie, I have a follow-up question of sorts, to the final post in the last mailbag. When you, or any of the Globe writers, publish a critique of a player that is interpreted as, well, let's say "less than flattering," are you given the cold shoulder the next time you visit the clubhouse?

Answer: That certainly does happen. Many players -- probably most players -- become aware of any critical words that are written about them. And those players react in completely different ways. Some don't address it. Some yell and scream. Some take you aside and simply let you know that they're not happy with what you've written in a respectful manner. I have had players do all of the above to me. Most reporters have. As much as it would be easier and more pleasant to write only positive stories, the critical ones are also needed. Some players can handle that criticism, some cannot. It's always interesting to me to see the ways in which different players react to these issues.

I'll share a story, though the player will remain nameless to protect the not-so-innocent. One former Red Sox pitcher got very, very upset with me after I quoted him in a particular story. Except he wasn't really upset about the story -- he was mad about the headline. He yelled at me for a good five minutes in the clubhouse, not allowing me to get a word in, about the meaning of the headline, about the word choice, etc. I don't write the headlines, but he apparently didn't know that. (Another player did, however, and commented to me about it. It was very nice of him.) I've also had players later come back and apologize for being upset at something I wrote, realizing later that they overreacted. So it's truly a mixed bag. The biggest thing in my mind (and in the opinion of many other reporters) is that there needs to be accountability. The day after you write something critical, especially, you should be in the clubhouse. That allows the player/team/manager to address you, or not. But it's not a good idea to write something negative and hide. That's not fair to the players, in my opinion.

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