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Red Sox

Sizing up Sizemore

  February 4, 2014 01:23 PM

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The Red Sox are taking a calculated risk that Grady Sizemore, not long ago considered baseball's premiere outfielder, can provide some punch at a fraction of what it would've cost to retain Jacoby Ellsbury.

The not-so-Super Bowl is behind us so it's time for the 2014 baseball season to get rolling in Fort Myers for the Red Sox. Some major parts of their 2013 title team (Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew) are missing but Boston looks to become baseball’s first repeat champions since the 1999-2000 Yankees, and the first Red Sox team to repeat since the days of Babe Ruth, Harry Hooper and Everett Scott in 1915-16.

General Manager Ben Cherington did well reloading his squad with solid replacement parts (A.J. Pierzynski, Burke Badenhop, Edward Mujica, Jonathan Herrera), and the most impactful of those moves could also be the most economical. Last month Cherington inked one-time Cleveland Indians star Grady Sizemore to a one-year major league contract for $750,000, with hopes of him competing with Jackie Bradley Jr. for time in centerfield. Since 2009, Sizemore, 31, has been battling a cornucopia of injuries to his groin, back, and legs that resulted in a total of seven surgeries including microfracture procedure to each knee, that caused him to miss all of 2012 (with Cleveland) and 2013 (out of baseball). Now under the watchful eye of the Red Sox medical and training staffs Sizemore is reportedly healthy again and feels ready to help fill the void left by Jacoby Ellsbury’s $153 million departure to the Bronx.

A three-time All Star, two-time Gold Glove winner and 2008 Silver Slugger recipient, Sizemore hasn’t appeared in a big league game since 2011, but in 2008, his last full season, he was one of the premier players in the game placing eighth among all major league batters (and third in the AL) with 5.9 offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR). Using similarity scores developed by Red Sox stats guru Bill James the explanation of which is shown here, you can see how talented that Sizemore was in his prime. with numbers that compared most favorably to the output of Hall of Famer Duke Snider over his first two seasons, and drawing close comparisons to Barry Bonds in his age 25 and 26 seasons. Having taken the past two seasons off, Sizemore allowed his body to recover to the point that there’s a chance that he could once again flash some of the same skills that allowed him to become one of three players in baseball history (with Bobby Bonds and Darryl Strawberry) to reach 20 home runs and 20 steals in four of his first five seasons.

Look at his contemporaries and you’ll see Sizemore’s potential. Among those who’ll be in their age 31 season are a Who’s Who of today's elite hitters, including Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina, Shin-Soo Choo, David Wright, and the list goes on. Arguably, from 2005-08 Sizemore was the most valuable of the bunch, with his 24.1 oWAR ranking third among everyone over that span behind only the two undisputed best offensive weapons, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. He and Alfonso Soriano were the only players in the game to top 100 home runs and 100 stolen bases in the same timeframe. To further illustrate how outstanding Sizemore was, over the past four seasons, only three players—Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Andrew McCutchen—have exceeded a WAR of 24.

It's clear that Sizemore's development was stunted and his career sent flying off the rails by myriad ailments, but given how skilled he was, plus his fresh legs from a cautious approach to recover,y and a perfect opportunity staring him in the face with the Red Sox, there’s a chance that he could return to being a solid big league regular, if not an All Star star level talent. All at 1/28th the 2014 cost of Jacoby Ellsbury.

Here are the WAR leaders from Sizemore's prime, illustrating some of the company he kept and hopes to join again, this time for the Red Sox.

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The title mayor

  January 6, 2014 05:00 PM

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David Ortiz's Red Sox won three of Boston's eight championships during Thomas Menino's mayoral tenure.

On Monday morning at Boston College’s Conte Forum Marty Walsh was sworn in as the 54th mayor of the City of Boston. He took the reins from Thomas Menino who headed up the city’s government since 1993. Not only did Boston undergo dramatic changes as a city during Mayor Menino’s 20 years in office (can you say “The Big Dig”?), but the city's pro sports teams enjoyed a period of unprecedented success. During Menino’s tenure all four of Boston’s major professional sports teams (taking the liberty of giving him credit for Foxboro’s Patriots) won titles, totaling a mayoral-high eight rings. For the purists who only count titles won by the teams that play within the city limits, Menino is the only man to preside over championships by the Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics (Kevin White, Celtics and Bruins—and James Curley, Braves and Bruins—are the only other men to be in office for as many as two different Boston teams’ titles)

Here’s a list of Boston mayors who presided over the 36 championships in (and around) their city.
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Boston's sports stats heroes of 2013

  December 27, 2013 08:38 AM

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Few Boston stars shined brighter in 2013 than Bruins netminder, Tuukka Rask.

Four major professional teams, four playoff appearances, two trips to the finals, one championship, a Heisman Trophy contender and a city that despite being attacked, rallied around their own and their teams during a year that no New Englander will ever forget.
We looked back at an amazing year in Boston sports, highlighting those stats stood out the most.

Here are mine . Tell us yours.


Running away

  December 5, 2013 03:49 PM

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Jacoby Ellsbury stole 241 bases for Boston including this straight steal of home in 2009 against his new team.


The initial sting of Jacoby Ellsbury’s defection to the Yankees has worn off and the Red Sox have moved onto other business, including the pursuit of a possible replacement for their starting centerfielder of the past six seasons. One of the most common sentiments heard by Sox loyalists, especially on social media, is that although Ellsbury was a good player when on the field, the Yankees grossly overpaid for someone who saw more than his fair share of time on the DL, spending weeks and months on the sidelines in 2010, 2012 and again in 2013.

However for as much as he was injured as the Red Sox centerfielder, and for as fluky as 2011 season, when he placed second in the AL MVP race after hitting 32 home runs was, Ellsbury’s speed—specifically his ability to steal bases—is what made him one of the most valuable offensive players for the Red Sox and in all of baseball over the past half dozen seasons.

Using Fan Graph’s weighted stolen base runs metric we’re able to compare Ellsbury’s value in terms of runs produced by stolen bases to other speedsters. It should come as little surprise to those who followed his exploits on the bases, that even with the missed time, Ellsbury has been responsible for more runs as a result of stolen bases than anyone in the game.

This was true in 2013 when, despite missing most of September with a fractured foot, he led all players with a wSB rating of 8.3, which means that he was responsible for roughly eight more runs than the average baserunner due to stolen bases. He was a full 3.1 runs better than the next-highest on the list, Alex Rios of the White Sox and Rangers and a full 5.7 runs better than the next-highest Red Sox player on the list, Shane Victorino, who came in at 2.6.

Over the course of his big league career Ellsbury is baseball’s leader as well. Starting in 2008 when he took over as Boston’s regular in centerfield, Ellsbury’s 25.0 wSB is the highest in the majors, even while docking him for all of the games he missed over that span. His rating is again significantly higher than the next player, Rajai Davis (23.3), whose value is primarily as a baserunner (often as a pinch runner.) In fact when it comes to pure speed, Davis has Ellsbury beaten as determine by speed score which factors in all baserunning, ranking third (7.9 over that time) over Ellsbury’s 17th-ranked 7.5. (As an aside, Ellsbury’s new outfield mate, Brett Gardner, placed first in speed score at 8.2, while Victorino was ninth at 7.6).

Spending $153-million over seven years for an outfielder in his 30s was probably a bit much for the Yankees, but no matter who the Red Sox brain trust gets to replace him, Ellsbury’s defection will be felt on the scoreboard.

Here are the weighted stolen base runs leaders during Ellsbury's stint as a Red Sox regular. (source: Fangraphs.com)
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So Long Salty

  December 3, 2013 11:46 AM


By reportedly signing A.J. Pierzynski the Red Sox have all but guaranteed that Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the team's primary catcher for the past three seasons, will be playing elsewhere in 2014. Nearly nine years older than Saltalamacchia, Pierzynski a former member of the Twins, Giants, White Sox and Rangers, will be 37 years old at the start of what will be his 17th big league season.

Pierzynski ranked just ahead of Saltalamacchia in home runs (5th and 6th) and RBIs (4th and 5th) among American League catchers last season and had virtually the same batting average (.272 for Pierzynski to .273 for Salty), but a comparison of the two over the past two seasons gives a little more insight into why the Red Sox might have made this move, despite the dramatic difference in age.

Since the start of 2012 Saltalamacchia has higher slugging and on base percentages than Pierzynski, but when it comes to clutch situations Pierzynski has been much more productive, with a higher slash line across the board than Saltalamacchia with runners in scoring position while nearly doubling Salty's slugging percentage with RISP and two outs. Saltalamacchia was also a victim of strikeouts a staggering 278 times which means that he struck out in a full third of his at bats. Pierzynski is the complete opposite, owning a career at bat-to-strikeout ratio of 8.1, which ranks in the top 20 among active batters. In fact Saltalamacchia struck out nearly as many times in 2013 (139) as Pierzynski did in 2012 and 2013 combined (154)—and those were Pierzynski's two highest strikeout totals of his career.

Behind the plate Pierzynski is among the better defensive catchers in the AL, having thrown out 33% of the runners who tried stealing against him last season, compared to just 23% for Saltalamacchia. He has also committed just two errors last year compared to Saltalamacchia's six.

With catching prospects Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez moving up through the Red sox system, Ben Cherington didn't want to give a long term deal to a catcher who had questions defensively and at the plate and with that in mind, the Sox couldn't have done much better than they did, signing a top-notch backstop who still has some gas in the tank.

Here's how some key stats compare over the past two seasons for Saltalamacchia and Pierzynski.

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Sox Satisfaction

  October 31, 2013 02:39 PM

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Shane Victorino's three-run double in the third inning of Game 6 was the decisive blow of a thrilling World Series.

This morning Red Sox Nation was basking in the glory of what was the most thrilling and satisfying World Series their team has played since at least the Warren G. Harding Administration. The latest iteration of the Olde Towne Team set a new standard for excitement, nail biting, and a sense of a job-well-done, taking the Series in six games against the formidable Cardinals.

Unlike the straight-set victories in 2004 over St. Louis and Colorado in 2007, this World Series was a struggle, and with that added element, makes this all the more gratifying for those fans who faithfully endured the team’s rapid descent in September 2011 and brief bottoming-out in 2012.

Arguments can be made from outside the Hub for the 1975 Series being better, as it’s widely regarded as the best ever, but despite Carlton Fisk’s body english Cincinnati prevailed. You can also say that the 1912 Series when the Sox trailed by a the Giants 2–1 in the 10th inning of the deciding GAME 8, only to score two in the bottom of the inning on a run-scoring single by Tris Speaker and the only sacrifice fly to ever end a World Series, swatted by Larry Gardner. But nobody’s around to argue for that one.

The path taken to this title was an obstacle course like few (if any) others, winding through many of the game’s greatest arms with Cy Young Award winners and candidates at every turn. That quality showed in the numbers, as those starting pitchers Boston faced in the postseason had a collective record during the regular season of 160–82 (.661) and a combined ERA of 3.34, 1.20 WHIP, 3.23 strikeouts per walk and 8.28 strikeouts per nine innings.

That pitching held the Sox to just a .227 average, the lowest in a postseason for a champion since the 1988 Orel Hershisher-led Dodgers also his .227. But like those Dodgers (remember Kirk Gibson?) whenever the Red Sox needed a big hit, they got it. From David Ortiz’s grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS to Shane Victorino’s bases-clearing double in the World Series clincher, Sox hitting came through when it mattered most.

In the history of the World Series there had been just five bases-clearing doubles, and since 1985 only Anaheim’s Garret Anderson in 2002 had managed one. The Red Sox became the first team in history with two such hits in Fall Classic history, and both of those hits, Mike Napoli’s in the first inning of Game 1 and Victorino’s in the third inning of Game 6 set the tone of this championship. Each of those hits transformed a 0-0 game early, to a decided Boston advantage.

During the Series Boston scored in 14 of the 52 innings they came to bat, accounting for multiple runs in eight of those. By contrast the Cardinals, despite out-hitting Boston for the series .224 to .211, scored in just 10 of their 54 times at bat, scoring more than one run in an inning just three times. Like during the regular season, there was a different hero every night.

While the team is likely to undergo wholesale changes during the winter, it’s too soon to worry about the business of the game. For right now its time to savor the taste of victory, enjoy the parade on Saturday and be thankful for being able to experience a team and a title that was, from the outset, hard fought and won by doing everything the right way.

World Series Game 6: Michael Wacha vs. John Lackey

  October 29, 2013 05:07 PM

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Since everything else he's done has been golden this World Sereis, perhaps Big Papi should go to bat with a baby in his arms.

Who exactly wrote this script?

When we find out who's responsible for coming up with the storylines for the Red Sox 2013 season, please someone have a talk with them, explaining that what they've put on paper is just not that credible. Let's see: they want you to believe that a team coming off of a mammoth collapse late in 2011 and a last-place finish in 2012 where a once-beloved group was widely booed and came to be derided by its rabid hometown faithful is one-game away from winning the World Series? That same group of parts with very little star power that was dismissed by the entire baseball community at the beginning of the year as having second-division talent under a rookie manager is on the brink of achieving something that escaped other Sox teams for eight decades?

If all of that isn't far-fetched enough we're supposed to believe that in the 2013 World Series, the team is nearly singlehandedly powered offensively by a larger-than-life, father-figure, stereotypically named “Big Papi” of all things. He’s someone who was in no way a lock to return to Boston this season, especially after he suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury midway through the 2012 disaster. Through Game 5, this Papi fella is reportedly hitting .733, which would be more than 100-points higher than anyone who's participated in a five-game Series of more. He's also supposed to have the highest career World Series batting average (.465) and on-base percentage (.556) of anyone in the history of the Fall Classic. Not only is he hitting so well, the rest of the embellished story has the remainder of the squad batting a mere .151 with the team's regular first baseman, shortstop, catcher and left fielder accounting for a combined three hits, (one of which was, of course the melodramatic variety— a game-winning three-run home run by Jonny Gomes in Game 4).

Then there's the pitching staff. Jon Lester, a question mark the past few years has become a latter-day Whitey Ford, seizing the title of staff ace and stopper by throwing 15 ⅓ innings of one-run ball in the Series, lowering his postseason ERA in 2013 to 1.56 in five starts, four of which were wins and the one loss was on an opposition one-hitter. (Who’s coming up with this stuff?). His 0.43 lifetime ERA in the World Series is now the second best in World Series history among those with at least 20 innings, trailing only Jack Billingham and his 0.36.

Now take at the supposed bullpen where the staff’s elder statesman, Koji Uehara has become a cross between Greg Maddux and Mariano Rivera. He rescued what was shaping up to be the worst closer situation in the game during the regular season and has become the best there is, bar none. He has struck out 15 batters in 12 ⅔ postseason innings, over which he’s allowed just seven hits and one run, in the ALDS to Tampa Bay’s backup catcher Jose Lobaton. He also has tied the record for most saves in a single postseason with seven.

Finally, in what could be the crowning game of the series, the team’s formerly sad-sack, hard-luck, big bust of a contract hurler who missed all of last season and was widely regarded by the team’s most vocal supporters as a symbol of the failure of 2011, John Lackey has a chance to recapture the glory he experienced 11 years ago as a rookie, to win the final game of the World Series. Making the story even more far fetched is the man he’s facing, Michael Wacha, is a rookie who was beaten by the Triple A affiliates of the Cubs, Astros, Mets and Mariners, who has been the best pitcher in the game since September. And he beat Lackey beat him in Game 2.

They say that truth is stranger than fiction, but come on. Let’s find the writer and have them inject some reality into this wild narrative of a ride because who will ever believe it? Just wait until Friday to do it.

World Series Game 5: Jon Lester vs. Adam Wainwright

  October 28, 2013 01:19 PM

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Tonight is the last game the Red Sox will have to choose between Mike Napoli (above) and David Ortiz, which is just part of a significant and historical home field advantage at Fenway.

We’ve said it all along. The Cardinals and Red Sox are throwing haymakers at each other and neither team is flinching. There’s the feeling between these two teams that if they were to square off 50 times the final tally would likely be 25 apiece. However over the next three games someone will be crowned champions starting with tonight’s rematch between Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright that will put one team on the brink of a championship.

This series has made history at every glance. From the overturned blown call at second in Game 1, to the first play in World Series history to see a pitcher and catcher both charged with errors, to an obstruction call ending a game and another final out being recorded on a rookie getting picked off at first base, the 2013 Fall Classic has been just that, a classic. However, no matter how unique the individual games are, we can learn something from history so we delved back a bit in the annals of baseball's finals to see how teams fare going forward when a Series is tied at two and reduced to a straight best-of-three set.

In the 44 years since the playoff system began in 1969, there have been 43 World Series played (sans 1994’s washout due to the strike), and 16 of those were tied at two games entering Game 5 (37.2%). It last happened in 2011 when the Cardinals and Texas Rangers found themselves knotted up and proceeded to see the home team win each of the remaining contests. In fact since 2001 three of the four World Series that were tied 2–2 ended with the home team sweeping the remaining games. While that doesn’t bode well for Lester and the Red Sox tonight, the chance to celebrate a World Series championship on the field at Fenway Park for the first time since September 11, 1918 are pretty solid.

In the remaining games after the 2–2 tie, home teams have an overall record of 34–9 which translates into a .791 winning percentage, a figure that would open the eyes of even the most hardened skeptic and probably more than pique the interest of those inclined to enjoy their sports dealings through Las Vegas.

Since 1982 home field advantage actually skyrockets to 24-4 overall (.857) in individual games while the team with overall home field advantage in the Series having won nine of the 10 titles. The only outlier was 2003 when then-Marlins ace, Josh Beckett, put in a superhuman effort, shutting out the Yankees on five hits in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium. In seven of those 10 Series, the road team never won another game.

And how's this for a strange twist. In a series that is so close, it may be the home field advantage that finally puts the Red Sox over the top. And how did they get that advantage? On the strength of the American League’s 3-0 win on July 16 at New York’s CitiField over the National League in the All Star Game. Why is that ironic? Well, the MVP of that contest who didn't get a save but could very well have contributed to the Red Sox championship was none other than longtime Boston nemesis, alltime saves leader and newly retired Mariano Rivera. Perhaps the Sox will fete him again at a victory parade, as they did in September.

World Series Game 4: Clay Buchholz vs. Lance Lynn

  October 27, 2013 06:58 PM

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Clay Buchholz has been one of baseball's best starters on the road his season but faces one of the game's best while pitching at home, Lance Lynn.

Location, location, location. Just like in real estate, location in baseball is of the utmost importance, especially for a pitcher. Normally when location is discussed in relation to moundsmen we’re talking about command in and around the strike zone, and the ability to keep batters from squaring up with a round bat on a round ball. However with tonight’s combatants, location, as in home and away have made a big difference in their performance. And both are in their comfort zones.

You’d figure that in Game 4 of the World Series with both teams having enough time to set their rotations exactly the wanted them that someone could catch a break. But for the Red Sox the string of spectacular starters rolls on as they are challenged in what could be the most important game of the Series by Lance Lynn. Many AL-only followers may not be aware of Lynn’s exploits and given that there were three other pitchers lined up by Mike Matheny before him in the World Series, Lynn can’t be that good, right? Well, he is, especially at the site of tonight’s game.

Clay Buchholz enters the most important start of his career with health and stamina questions swirling around him and with Felix Doubront (and possibly Ryan Dempster) at the ready at the first signs of trouble. However, when healthy, he’s also been the best road pitcher in baseball this season.

Here’s a quick look at which numbers favor each:

  • Overall the past two seasons only 2013 AL Cy Young Award favorite Max Scherzer (37) and 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey (34) have won more games than Lynn’s 33.
  • Lynn’s career winning percentage, including the postseason, is .650 which ranks him behind only Roy Halladay (.658), Jered Weaver (.653) and Matt Moore (.652) among all pitchers with at least 50 career starts.
  • He’s been tremendous at Busch Stadium, posting an 18-7 mark with a 3.02 ERA at home, with only Scherzer and his teammate Adam Wainwright having accounted for more home victories.
  • Of the 75 pitchers who made more than 25 home starts the past two seasons, Lynn is the only one to allow fewer than 10 home runs (9).
  • Lynn’s home and away splits are stunning, with him allowing an average of two earned runs per nine innings fewer at home (3.07) than on the road (5.06).
  • Buchholz on the other hand throughout the regular and post seasons has better on the road (1.76 ERA, .201 batting average against) than he is at the friendly confines of Boston (2.55, .220).
  • Among those with at least five starts away from home only Milwaukee's Tyler Thornburg (1.06) and Houston's Jared Cosart (1.23) had a lower ERA on the road this year than Buchholz.
  • He has not been charged with a loss on the road in over a year, last being saddled with an “L” by the Yankees in his final start of 2012, a string of six straight wins.
  • The Red Sox are 7-1 in his 2013 road starts, including the playoffs.
  • In five career starts against the NL, Buchholz is a perfect 4–0, allowing fewer hits (25) than innings he pitched 26 ⅔, with an ERA (3.08) more than half a run less than against all AL opponents (3.62)
  • The current Cardinals have faced Buchholz a grand total of zero times in their major league careers.

World Series Game 3: Jake Peavy vs. Joe Kelly

  October 25, 2013 04:38 PM

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Reliever Craig Breslow has been outstanding on the mound all postseason, but his throwing error in the seventh inning of Game 2 was terribly costly.

The first two games of the 2013 World Series have both turned dramatically on fielding miscues, magnifying the importance of defense when every play can determine whether a season was successful or not. It was 27 years ago today that Red Sox Nation was forever stung by that realization in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series when a Mookie Wilson grounder down the first base line that scooted through Boston first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs and into infamy.

The Cardinals have been involved in a similarly sloppy start to a Series before as well. In 2006 they and the Detroit Tigers each committed at least one error in each of the first two games, totalling seven, the same number that the Sox and Cards have entering tomorrow night’s Game 3. In that set Detroit made at least one miscue in every game, which wasn’t even the last time that happened. The Rays and Phillies each made at least one error in each of the first four games of the 2008 Series, with the Phills completing the set in Game 5. And when the Red Sox appeared in the first World Series (as the Boston Americans) they and the Pittsburgh Pirates combined for a record 33 mistakes in the eight game set.

The errors committed in this Series thus far, while not Buckneresque, due to the timing and game situations, but have been no less impactful.

First there was Pete Kozma’s failure to catch a relay throw (you can’t assume a double play, but with David Ortiz running, we’ll do just that here) in Game 1 that led to a Mike Napoli base-clearing double. Kozma later committed another error which accounted for another run, giving Boston four gift runs (although only three are officially unearned) while forcing Adam Wainwright to throw 95 pitches just to get 15 outs.

Then in Game 2 it was Boston’s turn for defensive lapses. As soon as Craig Breslow relieved starter John Lackey in the top of the seventh with men on first and second, and Daniel Descalso at bat Kozma, running for David Freese, and Jon Jay pulled off a double steal when catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was unable to get the ball out of his glove. After Descalso walked Matt Carpenter hit a fly ball to Jonny Gomes in medium depth left field (who’s been stellar defensively thus far in the postseason). Kozma tagged and ran home, only to be beaten by the throw, however the ball bounded off of Salty’s glove for the run. Breslow, backing up the play, then airmailed his throw to third into the stands, allowing Jay to score. According to the Elias Sports Bureau that was the first play in World Series history in which a pitcher and catcher were each charged an error.

That leads us to Game 3’s starters. For the Cardinals Joe Kelly, in just his second season, has pitched in two and a half times as many postseason games as his much more experienced counterpart, Jake Peavy, and with considerably more success. In 10 games, including three playoff starts, over 24 innings, Kelly is 0-1 with a 3.75 ERA. Peavy on the other hand is 0–3 with an unsightly 10.31 ERA in 18 innings. Much of the damage was done by the Cardinals in the NLDS while he was with the Padres. Against St. Louis, Peavy has allowed 13 earned runs in 9 ⅔ innings.

So how does how does defense factor into this matchup? For the season, including the playoffs, Kelly was charged with six unearned runs, second-most on the Cardinals behind Jake Westbrooks’s nine. However Kelly’s defense has failed him all too often as of late, accounting for five of those six unearned tallies since September 12, including one against the Pirates in the NLDS. Prior to the NLCS when they were clean, the Cardinals had made seven error in Kelly’s last five starts.

The Red Sox however have committed just two errors total in Peavy’s dozen starts since coming over in a trade from the White Sox (curiously for defensive wizard Jose Iglesias), and all 29 of the runs he allowed were earned.

In the regular season these two teams were among the best in baseball defensively ranking fifth (Cardinals) and ninth (Red Sox) in team fielding percentage. They allowed the seventh (St. Louis) and eighth (Boston) fewest unearned runs, and yet under the bright lights of baseball’s biggest stage, simple lapses on defense have cost them each dearly. The team that can make the fewest mistakes from here on out, will be the one enjoying a parade sometime next week.

World Series Game 2: Michael Wacha vs. John Lackey

  October 24, 2013 01:41 PM

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Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha's streak of dominance this fall began with a near no-hitter against the Nationals in his final start of the regular season.


It had been over two weeks since the Red Sox won a game by more than three runs, so their 8–1 laugher in Game 1 over the surprisingly overmatched Cardinals were a breath of fresh air for a blustery wind-chilled Fenway faithful. Boston struck early and often, taking a 3–0 lead on a Mike Napoli three-run double in the first, matching the team’s entire opening inning run output for the postseason. Napoli’s at bat was a gift wrapped with shiny paper and a ribbon by St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma who simply didn’t catch the relay throw from second baseman Matt Carpenter on a sure double play grounder by David Ortiz (although second base umpire Dana DeMuth insisted he did catch it before being overturned by the rest of his crew). That was the first of two errors for the normally sure-handed, often spectacular infielder who had never made more than one miscue in any of his 150 big league contests.

Perhaps the biggest moment of Game 1 that will have a great impact on the remainder of the series is the availability of rightfielder and team postseason MVP Carlos Beltran, whose spectacularly nonchalant theft of a potential David Ortiz grand slam resulted in him having to exit the game with severely bruised ribs. Listed as day-to-day, Beltran is among the alltime postseason leaders in a wide array of offensive categories despite making his World Series debut last night. Any prolonged absence would change the Series outlook completely.

Now the Cardinals have to regroup after an uncharacteristically embarrassing game in which they lost their best clutch hitter and with—get this—a rookie on the mound. But all is not going to be a cakewalk for the Red Sox tonight. Here’s why:

St. Louis’s starter is no ordinary rookie. Since joining the rotation as a regular at the beginning of September, Michael Wacha has been one of baseball’s premiere starters. Most observers began to take note of his potential on September 24 when he lost a no-hit bid with two outs in the ninth inning. Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman beat out a slow grounder to shortstop for an infield single, costing Wacha a chance at history, but also sparking a streak of four straight lights-out games that have helped immensely in propelling the Cardinals to the National League title.

In his next start after the near no-no, Wacha made his postseason debut in the NLDS against the Pirates where he once again allowed just one hit, an eighth-inning, solo home run by third baseman Pedro Alvarez on a 3-1 count, which also accounted for the only run he gave up against Pittsburgh over 7 ⅓ innings. Then he blanked the Dodgers in back-to-back starts, pitching 13 ⅔ innings of scoreless baseball.

To this point in the postseason the 22-year old from Texas A&M has allowed just 12 baserunners in 21 innings. To put that into into perspective, consider this: His 3.43 hits per nine innings is the best of all starting pitchers this postseason, nearly half a hit better than second place Justin Verlander, who as the Red Sox know firsthand is one of the games best big game starters. You may wonder, “Where that might rank on the alltime list for a single season?” Examining every starting pitcher who threw at least 10 innings in a single postseason, Wacha currently ranks third, trailing only Mike Mussina (3.41 for the 1997 Orioles) and Don Larsen (0.84 in 1956, aided greatly by his perfect game against the Dodgers).

Wacha’s 0.43 ERA also places him among the giants (and Giants) of the game. Of those who’ve made a minimum of three starts in a single postseason Matt Cain (2010 Giants), Christy Mathewson (1905 Giants), Wait Hoyt (1921 Yankees) and Kenny Rogers (2006 Tigers) went their entire postseason without allowing an earned run. Then among those who allowed runs, only megastars Sandy Koufax (0.38 in 1965) and Verlander (0.39 this season) were better.


FULL ENTRY

World Series Game 1: Adam Wainwright vs. Jon Lester

  October 22, 2013 07:30 AM

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Former National Leaguer Jonny Gomes is one of the few Red Sox hitters with big league experience against Adam Wainwright.

Even in this age of interleague play and free agency there are still some combinations of teams and players that somehow don't come together. Despite their history of World Series appearances, the Red Sox and Cardinals are relative strangers. The two storied franchises haven't met in the regular season since a three-game set at Fenway Park in 2008 and haven't clashed in St. Louis since 2005.

For the most part St. Louis batters don't know Jon Lester and likewise he doesn't know them. Of those likely to comprise the 25-man roster, only three players
have faced Lester—Yadier Molina (0 for 3), Carlos Beltran (1 for 1 with 2 walks) and Matt Holliday (2 for 3 in the regular season while with Oakland). Holliday was also part of the 2007 Rockies squad that faced Lester in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, but the right handed slugger failed to get a ball off the infield as the Red Sox closed out the Series sweep.

For the second consecutive game, the Sox will have to go figure out a league wins champion. Veteran righty Adam Wainwright won 19 games to tie Washington's Jordan Zimmermann for the NL lead in 2013. He's won at least 19 games in three of his last four active seasons, having missed 2011 recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery. Despite that idle campaign, his 72 wins since the start of 2009 trails Lester by just one . And Lester's 73 rank fourth among all pitchers the majors.

You may retort that wins have become a sullied stat to many in the baseball stats community, so consider this instead: Wainwright finished fourth among senior circuit hurlers with a WAR of 6.2. That means the Cardinals were 6.2 wins better with him on the bump than with a replacement level thrower. His 6.26 strikeouts per walk was second-best in the majors behind only the über-efficient Cliff Lee's 6.94 while his 2.94 ERA was seventh in the NL. And those numbers all come with Wainwright eating the most innings (241 2/3 for any NL pitcher since 2010.

Yet like Lester, Wainwright has never faced his next opponent in a game that mattered, but he does have significant familiarity with some of Boston's NL-refugees. Shane Victorino has gone up against Wainwright 23 times to the tune of .227/.261/.409, with one home run and three RBIs. That's the good news for Red Sox Nation. The other Sox who have experience against Wainwright—Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, David Ross and Mike Carp (we'll skip Ryan Dempster's 0 for 4 although there's an infinitesimal chance he could see an at bat at Busch Stadium)— have a combined 6 for 43 (.140) with two home runs, two doubles and four walks.

Wainwright is also one of 20 pitchers since 2009 to make at least a half dozen postseason starts. Only Justin Verlander (who the Red Sox narrowly escaped having to face in an ALDS Game 7 thanks to Victorino's series-winning grand slam), has a lower WHIP (0.89 to 0.91) while only Doug Fister (2.06), Matt Cain (2.10), Colby Lewis (2.34), Verlander (2.51) and Cliff Lee (2.52) have a lower ERA than Wainwright's 2.54—and that includes one game in which he gave up six earned runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Nationals (a game the Cardinals eventually won). In his six other starts Wainwright has allowed as many as two runs once, and pitched fewer than seven innings also just once.

Thus far this postseason the Sox have faced and defeated the past two AL Cy Young Award recipients, the presumptive 2013 winner, the AL ERA champion and a lefty who crushed them in the regular season and finished with a 17-4 record. Wainwright fits right in.

World Series Tale of the Tape

  October 21, 2013 01:38 PM

The first pitch hasn't been thrown but the 2013 World Series is already one for the record books. In the playoffs the Cardinals needed one more game to dispatch of the Pirates and Dodgers than the Red Sox did to get past the Rays and Tigers, but during the 162 games from April through September each won 97 games, the most in their respective leagues.

The last teams with their leagues' top winning percentage to meet for baseball's crown was 1999 when the Yankees vanquished the Braves in four straight games. However not only did Boston and St. Louis reign with the best records in their respective fiefdoms in 2013, this marks just the third time in baseball history— and the first since the advent of baseball's playoff system in 1969—that teams are meeting with identical regular season resumes. The first was in 1949 when the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers each were 97-57 when they squared off in the Fall Classic. Nine years later the AL representative remained the Yankees, but the opponent was the Milwaukee Braves, each earning a shot at the title by going 92–62.

In both of those instances the AL team won, but ancient history has as much bearing on 2013 as Harry Breechen's three wins over the Red Sox in the '46 Series (or Bob Gibson's three wins over Boston in '67 for that matter). However what does offer some insight is how evenly matched these teams appear on paper. The raw numbers may be skewed a bit due to the NL's insistence on still having pitchers bat (which is why MLB Rank isn't used here), but the respective league ranks show that the Sox and Cards both have solid starting pitching, a sometimes troubled bullpen, and very good offenses.

Both franchises have experienced near total turnover since the last time they met in the regular season in 2008 for three games at Fenway Park, and only David Ortiz and Yadier Molina remain on the active rosters of each since the 2004 World Series. So with no head-to-head experiences of note to judge them by, a peek at the regular season success against their 12 common opponents for the 2013 season sheds some light. Along with home field advantage, the scale tilts ever-so-slightly in Boston's favor.

Here's a look at how the teams that we'll be paying so much attention to in the coming days stack up against each other.


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ALCS Game 6: Max Scherzer vs. Clay Buchholz

  October 18, 2013 03:33 PM

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He was brilliant in Game 2, so how is it possible that facing Max Scherzer just a week later gives the Red Sox the edge needed to advance to the World Series?

One game.

That’s all that stands between the Red Sox and the franchise’s 12th trip to the World Series. We now know that the Cardinals, behind another stellar pitching performance from rookie Michael Wacha, punched their ticket to the Fall Classic as 9–0 winners over the Dodgers last night at home, and now await the winner of a tightly contested and very entertaining ALCS.

On the mound for the hometown team on Saturday night will be Clay Buchholz, who based on his lights-out regular season campaign is exactly the man you would’ve chosen to take the ball for a playoff series clincher had you been asked prior to his 5 ⅔ inning, five-run disappointment in Game 2. However the Sox offense made up for his subpar outing winning in heroic fashion on David Ortiz’s dramatic and historic grand slam
(coincidenatlly, it's Papi’s only extra-base hit—and one of his two hits overall—in the series thus far).

Facing Buchholz again, this time with Detroit’s playoff life in the balance, is Max Scherzer, the majors’ only 20-game winner (21) this season and the same man that gave up a mere one earned run and four baserunners in seven strong innings last Sunday. Based on his regular season, you’d think that Scherzer is the pitcher everyone in Detroit would want on the hill facing elimination. That sentiment should be magnified given that he also pitched great in Game 2 before being pulled with a 5-1 lead having thrown 108 pitches, and needing just six outs from his bullpen. Unfortunately for him, five relievers managed just three outs in under two frames interlaced with the runners for Big Papi’s power play and punctuated with Jarrod Saltlamacchia’s walk-off single.

However given his history with the Tigers on the brink, perhaps Scherzer is who Red Sox Nation wants out there too.

In each of the past two seasons Scherzer has been the starting pitcher in the game that sent the Tigers home for the winter. In 2011, he was overwhelmed by the Rangers to the tune of six earned runs in just 2 ⅓ innings of a 15–5 Texas rout in the deciding Game 6 of the ALCS. Last year with Detroit’s Sunday softball-caliber offense overmatched by Giants pitching in Games 1 through 3 of the World Series, Scherzer surrendered three earned runs over 6 ⅓ innings which wasn’t good enough to prevent the Giants from completing the sweep.

He also failed to clinch the 2012 ALDS for the Tigers in a start against the A’s in Oakland, losing Game 4, thus setting the stage for Justin Verlander’s complete-game shutout in the win-or-go-home Game 5.

Scherzer hasn’t been that great in pressure relief efforts either. He came in for Doug Fister in the deciding Game 5 of the 2011 ALDS and yielded a harmless single to Jorge Posada in his first inning of work. However he was pulled after 1 ⅓ innings after letting Derek Jeter reach base with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Joaquin Benoit would load the bases before walking in Jeter with the earned run, charged to Scherzer, that put New York within one of Detroit. But that was all the Yankees could muster and the Tigers advanced.

Then there’s the latest game in which the pressure of the entire season was on Scherzer’s shoulders. Ten days ago the Tigers were on the brink of elimination in Oakland’s O.co Coliseum and Fister was pulled after five innings of a 3-3 tie. Scherzer came in and promptly surrendered the lead on a Stephen Vogt single, a sacrifice bunt by Eric Sogard and an RBI single by Coco Crisp. Score: 4-3 A’s. Luckily for him Oakland's Sean Doolittle was just a little worse, unable to hold the lead in the bottom of the sixth, on a leadoff home run by Victor Martinez, followed up by a double to Jhonny Peralta. A few batters later Austin Jackson singled in Peralta with the go-ahead run, making Scherzer the pitcher of record on the positive side.

Drama ensued in the seventh when Scherzer loaded the bases with no outs on two walks sandwiched around a Yoenis Cespedes double. But this time, given the opportunity to wiggle out of the jam himself by manager Jim Leyland, he miraculously escaped unscathed and unscored upon, blowing away both Josh Reddick and Vogt on swinging strikeouts before getting pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo to line out to Jackson in center on a 3-2 pitch. For his efforts, shaky as they were, Scherzer was awarded the win.

With the Red Sox ahead by a game and with the Fenway faithful in full support, Buchholz has some breathing room tonight. On the road and on the precipice of elimination, Scherzer doesn’t. If history is any indication, that level of security could be enough to send the Red Sox onto the next series. With Justin Verlander waiting in the wings for Game 7, the bearded ones better hope it is.

ALCS Game 5: Jon Lester vs. Anibal Sanchez

  October 17, 2013 02:17 PM

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Daniel Nava's ninth inning single broke up the Tigers combined no-hitter started by Anibal Sanchez in Game 1.

Here we go again. Four games in the ALCS are history and despite all of the great pitching, some incredible clutch hitting by the Red Sox and a sloppy Game 4, absolutely nothing has been decided. Entering Game 5, a rematch of the epic Game 1 matchup between Anibal Sanchez and Jon Lester, the teams are reduced to playing a best-of-three series with the Red Sox still holding home field advantage.

Pitching should once again be at the forefront during this go-around. Prognosticating the results of these nail-biters that can change on the slightest bobble ous on the pitching and how rare tonight's starters really are and how this series could be one for the record books. Sit back and soak it in.

  • Near no-hitters have been almost commonplace for Sanchez throughout his career. Since he came into the league he has pitched four one-hitters to go along with a no-hitter against the Diamondbacks in 2006. In addition, just like in Game 1 in Boston, he’s had one more outing in which he allowed just one hit, but over only seven innings against the Nationals a few weeks before his no-no in ‘06. The only other during Post World War I baseball history with as many low-hit complete games in his first 175 career starts was Bob Feller who also had four one-hitters and a no-hit game in 1938, ‘39 and ‘40.
  • Walks—and their accompanying high pitch count—ultimately cost Sanchez a chance to join Roy Halladay and Don Larsen in the record books as the only pitchers to throw no-hitters in the postseason. Sanchez became just the fifth pitcher in postseason history to pitch at least six innings in a start while walking six yet allowing no runs to score. The last to achieve that was Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez who issued six free passes to the Rangers over eight shutout innings in the 1999 ALDS. That was actually the second time it happened at Fenway Park with the Red Sox the recipients of six bases on balls. The first was by Mets starter Ron Darling in Game 4 of the 1986 World Series who pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits and a half-dozen walks. Others on the list include Pittsburgh’s Bruce Kison against the Dodgers in Game 3 of the 1974 NLCS, Bill Hallihan of the 1931 Cardinals who walked seven in blanking Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx and the Philadelphia A’s in Game 2 of the World Series. Honorable mention to Cubs starter Ed Reulbach who gave up an unearned run to the White Sox in a 7-1 complete game win in Game 2 of the 1906 Windy City Series.
  • Sanchez also became the fifth starter in postseason history to pitch at least two innings with no hits allowed yet get the hook before allowing a hit. Two are the aforementioned Larsen and Halladay who completed their no-hitters. The others were Baltimore’s Mike Cuellar who walked nine Oakland A’s in 4 ⅔ innings of a 2-1 loss in the 1974 ALCS, and Seattle’s Paul Abbott who saw eight Yankees reach via ball four in Game 4 of the 2001 ALCS. Both Cuellar and Abbott lost their games however.
  • In the other dugout, Jon Lester is exactly who the Red Sox want on the hill coming off of a tough result. This season he had a record of 9-1 following a Red Sox loss, rightfully earning him stopper status. He pitched three times with first place on the line and came out with wins in each. His performance in Game 1 was masterful as well, and his hard luck was unprecedented in franchise history. Red Sox starters who pitch at least six innings while allowing just one run (earned or unearned) are 33–1 with four no decisions in postseason play. Guess who that one loss is? In those games the team is 36–2, with the only other blemish coming in Game 1 of the 1990 ALCS when Roger Clemens departed after six scoreless innings, only to watch the A’s throttle the Sox bullpen for nine runs.
  • Among postseason pitchers with at least 10 appearances, eight starts and 50 innings pitched, Lester ranks seventh alltime with a 2.41 ERA. During the playoff era, starting in 1969 when the League Championship Series were introduced, only Curt Schilling (2.23) and Ken Holtzman (2.30) have been better in the playoffs than Lester.
  • f it seems like batters are striking out at an alarming rate, they are. These teams have combined to fan once every 3.54 plate appearances, which beats the old ALCS standard of one K every 4.39 PAs set by the Orioles and Indians in the 1997. The only playoff round to K's at a greater rate was the 2012 World Series when these Tigers and the Giants whiffed once every 3.49 trips to the plate.
  • The Red Sox have struck out 53 times already through four games. They are just 10 strikeouts off of the record for most times striking out in an LCS, set by the 2007 Indians. The postseason series record is 70 set by the 2001 Diamondbacks against the Yankees (who struck out 63 times the same series). With Boston having struck out at least 10 times in every game this series and five consecutive games overall, those records all seem almost a lock.

ALCS Game 4: Jake Peavy vs. Doug Fister

  October 16, 2013 10:16 AM

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Shane Victorino has been on base four of the five times he's faced tonight's Detroit starter, Doug Fister.

Baseball is often a cruel game. Through three games the Tigers starting staff is flirting with history, having allowed just two earned runs in their first 21 innings of work this ALCS, a 0.86 earned run average. However all the Tigers have to show for it is a 2-1 deficit in the series, after squandering the home field advantage they earned on Anibal Sanchez’s six-inning, no-hit effort in Game 1 at Fenway Park. Here are some notes about this series so far and what to look for in Game 4.


  • The best team in terms of ERA by starting pitchers in a League Championship Series—a playoff round introduced in 1969—is none other than the 2012 Tigers who, behind the familiar starting rotation of Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, Justin Verander and tonight’s starter Doug Fister, held the Yankees to two earned runs in 27 ⅓ innings (0.66 ERA) in last October’s four-game sweep.
  • You have to go back to the 1991 NLCS between the Braves and Pirates to find a series that featured at least two 1-0 games—and that had three. (Curiously Braves lefty Steve Avery won two 1-0 games including one against Pirates southpaw Zane Smith who was both on the winning and losing end).
  • Chances are the Red Sox will not win a 1-0 game tonight. Their starter, Jake Peavy is currently on a streak of 47 consecutive starts (including the Game 4 clincher against the Rays in the ALDS) in which he’s allowed at least one earned run. That’s the second longest active streak in the majors surpassed only by the 61 straight scathed starts by Ramon Ortiz which began in 2005 and has spanned seven big league teams, a stint in Japan, 94 minor league starts and a potentially career-ending elbow injury.
  • Recently Doug Fister’s appearances against the Sox have been of the all-or-nothing variety. He started twice against the Red Sox during the 2013 regular season. In the first on June 21 in Detroit he allowed 11 hits and six earned runs over 3 ⅓ innings in a loss. Then on September 2 in Boston he was lights-out, shutting down Boston’s batters over seven innings of four-hit, no run ball. That game was the only one of the seven regular season meetings in which a Tigers starter did not allow the Sox a run.
  • Fister also allowed the Sox six earned runs in his last start against them in 2012, but in his first start of that season was holding Boston scoreless over 3 ⅔ innings in his first meeting of 2012 before he had to leave after suffering a left costochondral strain which sent him to the disabled list. Overall Fister is 2-4 against Boston in eight career starts with a 4.36 ERA and 1.57 WHIP.
  • Peavy last faced the Tigers on July 25, in what would turn out to be his last appearance for Chicago before the trade to Boston. He got the victory but allowed four earned runs. Among the four hits he allowed in seven innings were home runs by Brayan Peña, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter in the 7-4 decision.
  • These Tigers know Peavy. He made six starts against them for the White Sox during the 2012 season. Only four pitchers (Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Sale, Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie) started more against Detroit the past two seasons. But on the ominous sidde, Peavy has allowed more earned runs (28) and home runs (11) to the Tigers over that span than anyone (although Sale, his former ChiSox teammate is the only one to fan more Tigers, 58 to 45).
  • Torii Hunter is a career .438/.471/.813 hitter against the veteran righthander while Miguel Cabrera has three home runs and nine RBIs in 49 plate appearances. On the other end of the spectrum, Alex Avila is batting just .190 in his career against Peavy, but is one of seven current Tigers to take him deep at least once in his career.
  • By contrast, only two Red Sox—Shane Victorino who is 4 for 5 and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (5 for 11)—have hit home runs off of the ground-ball inducing Fister. Tuesday night’s hero, Mike Napoli, has but two walks and two singles in 16 career meetings with Fister and David Ortiz has just two extra base hits in 22 tries (.350 SLG.)

ALCS Game 3: John Lackey vs. Justin Verlander

  October 15, 2013 06:55 AM

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Dustin Pedroia has struggled mightily against Detroit's Game 3 starter, Justin Verlander, batting a mere .056 against him in 19 meetings.

Brace yourself.

The euphoria that swept through New England following the Red Sox implausible come-from-behind victory on Sunday night completely overshadowed the dominance of the Tigers starting duo of Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer over the Red Sox. The two combined to pitch 13 innings, allowing just two hits and one run while striking out a staggering 25 Sox batters. Yet with all of that success Detroit starters had in Games 1 & 2, Jim Leyland gets to trot out the AL’s hottest pitcher, Justin Verlander, for Game 3 at Comerica Park.

Since he walked onto the Target Field mound in Minneapolis to face the Twins on September 23, Verlander has been unscored upon, a span of four appearances. In those 27 innings, he’s given up just 15 hits and six walks for a tidy 0.78 baserunners per nine innings. His 43 strikeouts in those starts equates to 14.33 per nine innings. In his last two outings, both against the A’s in the ALDS, Verlander has been even closer to perfect, pitching 15 innings with six hits and two walks allowed and a 1-0 record. However in light of all of that incredible pitching there’s the good news for the Red Sox: the Tigers are but 1-3 in those games.

If anyone can understand the feeling of pitching well yet coming up empty it’s John Farrell’s choice to take the ball in Game 3, John Lackey. In six of his 29 regular season starts (20.6%) the Red Sox failed to push a single run across home plate. Lackey won just 11 of 24 decisions despite amassing 19 quality starts. Only Cole Hamels and Chris Sale lost more quality starts than Lackey in 2013. However as of late, his fortune has changed. The big Texan has surrendered at least four earned runs in four of his last five starts, but is 3-0 over that span.

Verlander had his run in with quality starts as well during the regular season too. The Tigers lost 11 games in which the fireballing righty pitched at least six innings and allowed three runs or less, the most in the American League. Personally he was 5-2 when allowing two-or-fewer runs over seven or more innings. That’s somewhat startling when you notice that the combined efforts of Verlander’s rotation-mates, Sanchez, Scherzer, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello produced a record of 32-2 in the same situation.

Fittingly, both of Lackey’s games against Detroit while wearing the red “B” resulted in quality starts— three runs allowed in seven innings on June 20 & two runs allowed in 7 ⅓ innings on September 2—and the Red Sox were 0-2. It wasn’t always that way. The Angels won seven of Lackey’s first eight career starts against the Tigers but fortunes have gone south for him since. He hasn’t pitched in a winning effort against Detroit since 2007 when the Tigers lineup featured Gary Sheffield, Pudge Rodriguez and Sean Casey.

Through his career against Boston, Verlander has had mixed success, surrendering a high of five earned runs in three of his 11 starts, matching the number of times he allowed none. In this season’s only game vs. the Sox, Greg Colbrunn’s hitters made Verlander work hard, forcing him to throw 112 pitches in just five innings. While Detroit won that game 7-5, the strategy of making him beat you with strikes should get the Sox back where they want to be—in Detroit’s bullpen.

ALCS Game 2: Max Scherzer vs. Clay Buchholz

  October 13, 2013 02:06 PM

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Jacoby Ellsbury's ability to reach base against Max Scherzer and the Tigers inability to throw out base-stealers could be the edge the Red Sox need.

The ancient baseball adage says “great pitching beats great hitting” and there was no better example of that than Game 1 of the ALCS where the mighty Tigers were lucky to eke out the lone run of the game while the powerful and usually timely Red Sox barely scratched the hits column. And that was with Anibal Sanchez and Jon Lester on the hill. Tonight’s Game 2 pits the two best pitchers, on paper, that the AL’s top two teams had to offer in 2013.

One of the favorites for the AL Cy Young Award this season, Tigers starter Max Scherzer was 21-3 this season with an ERA of 2.90, allowing 6.4 hits per nine innings while placing second in the big leagues in strikeouts per nine innings at 10.1. He also ranked seventh among all AL players in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), at 6.7, meaning he was personally responsible for nearly seven more wins than a replacement-level starting pitcher would’ve provided.

However, one of Scherzer’s three losses came at Fenway Park in September when in seven innings he allowed but two earned runs on a two-out, two-run Will Middlebrooks yet was out-pitched by Lester and the Sox pen. In fact he’s just 1-2 lifetime at Fenway, including losses there in each of his last two starts.

Three of the Red Sox have been especially troublesome for Scherzer throughout his career. David Ortiz has gone deep thrice against him and is batting a robust .467 with a 1.689 OPS against him, the fourth best OPS among all players who’ve faced him at least 10 times. Jacoby Ellsbury has reached base eight of the 12 times he’s faced Scherzer, and with the Tigers catchers permitting a major-league-high 86.5% of opposing base stealers to make it safely, it’s a situation to keep an eye on. Despite being 0 for 3 against Scherzer this season, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, will be back behind the dish after yielding to David Ross in Game 1. He has touched up Scherzer for five hits, including a home run in in 12 career meetings.

FULL ENTRY

ALCS Game 1 by the numbers

  October 13, 2013 07:55 AM

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Shane Victorino was one of three Red Sox with a strikeout hat-trick and one of the many hitters unhappy with umpire Joe West's generous strike zone.

Game 1 of the ALCS was epic in the truest sense of the word. Not only was it a pitchers duel between two of the AL's top starters, the nearly four-hour contest featured a slew of strikeouts, a near no-hitter and the extension of an alltime record that will be harder and harder to top.

Here are some of the more curious numbers that came out of an October classic:

  • 17 Red Sox struck out by Tigers pitchers Anibal Sanchez, Al Alburquerque, Jose Veras, Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit. That’s just two fewer than the postseason record of 19 in a game set on October 17, 1999 by eight mets pitchers against Braves hitters at Shea Stadium.
  • 4 Red Sox struck out in the first inning, the first quartet of teammates to strikeout in a postseason inning since Cubs starter Orval Overall punched out Detroit's Charley O'Leary, Ty Cobb, Claude Rossman (who reached base via a wild pitch), and Germany Schaefer in the first inning of Game 5 of the 1908 World Series.
  • 3 Nine inning postseason games that saw one team strike out at least 17 times. That Braves-Mets game lasted 15 innings. The only other teams to fan 17 in a regulation-length contest were the ‘98 Astros—who were K’d 16 times against Padres starter Kevin Brown and once versus Trevor Hoffman in Game 1 of the 1998 NLDS— and the ‘68 Tigers who were steamrolled by Bob Gibson for 17 strikeouts in Game 1 of the Fall Classic.
  • 3 games in which Red Sox starters pitched at least six innings and allowed just one run and were saddled with a loss: Mickey Harris pitched seven innings of one-run ball against but lost to the Cardinals in the ‘46 World Series; Bret Saberhagen allowed one run in six innings in a 9-2 loss to the Yankees in the 1999 ALCS. Jon Lester gave up the only run of the game in 6 ⅓ innings against the Tigers in last night’s loss.
  • 3 ALCS games that ended as one-hitters: Last nights 1-0 Tigers win joined the Yankees 5-0 Yankees win over the Mariners behind a complete game one hitter by Roger Clemens on October 14, 2000. Then there was the oddest of them all, when the A’s beat the Orioles 2-1 on only one hit but nine walks against Baltimore pitchers Mike Cuellar and Ross Grimsley on October 9, 1974.
  • FULL ENTRY

ALCS tale of the tape: Tigers vs. Red Sox

  October 11, 2013 08:03 AM

The Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox were among the best in baseball all season, but both came from dramatically different angles. With All Stars all over the field, the Tigers were one of the favorites to take home the AL Crown since the start, and proved that they were by taking out the Oakland A's in five games. The Red Sox rise from worst to first was an achievement of epic proportions, and it took four games to vanquish the rival Rays in the ALDS. Now these two stacked squads face off for the right to represent the American League against the winner of the Dodgers-Cardinals series.

Here's how they stacked up statistically during the regular season.

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ALCS Game 1: Anibal Sanchez vs. Jon Lester

  October 11, 2013 07:46 AM

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The Red Sox will face Sanchez in a Tigers uniform for the first time on Saturday, and only the second time ever.

There’s no doubt that the starting staff for the Detroit Tigers is stacked and often times intimidating. A look down the rotation shows the modern mound’s version of Murders Row, starting with the best pitcher in the AL over the past five seasons, Justin Verlander, who proved this assertion by flirting with a postseason no-hitter in the clincher against the Oakland A’s on Thursday night in Oakland. On paper, the best starter in the AL this season was Max Scherzer who was the lone 20-game winner in all of baseball (he won 21 for good measure) while being the lone regular starter to allow fewer than one batter to reach base per inning (0.97 whip). For good measure there’s also Doug Fister, an intimidating 6’8” mountain of a man who was among the league leaders with 3.6 strikeouts for every walk he issued. But the Red Sox first assignment in the series to determine who’ll get a chance to play for the ultimate goal, the World Series trophy, Anibal Sanchez, could be the toughest matchup of all.

Familiarity is one of the most overlooked aspects when many look at matchups. A quick glance at statistics, especially in a playoff series, can be misleading. The difference in batting .400 versus .200 is just one great defensive play if there’s only a five at-bat sample size. But when there’s a significant number of at bats judgements are easier to make.

Take Jon Lester for example. We know that entering Saturday’s game with the Tigers, he’s likely going to have troubles against right fielder Torii Hunter, a veteran he’s faced 32 times and allowed to reach base in 15 of those appearances. Although he’s faced Miguel Cabrera just 24 times, it’s safe to say that the 2012 Triple Crown winner and 2013 leader in every slashline category (.348 BA/.442 OBP/.636 SLG./1.078 OPS) knows what to expect when he faces the Sox lefty, having touched him up for 10 hits and five walks in their 24 meetings. In fact, among all of the Tigers who’ve faced Lester at least 10 times, Prince Fielder has had the least success, but even he’s batting .267 against the southpaw (4 for 13).

However when it comes to Sanchez, the AL’s ERA leader (2.57) in 2013, the Red Sox don’t have familiarity at all. Since joining the Tigers midway through 2012, Sanchez has made 41 starts, not one of those came against Boston (which a decent case could be made in a the-chicken-or-the-egg way, is a contributing factor to why he was the AL ERA leader in the first place).

In his career which spans eight seasons, mainly with the Marlins, he’s gotten the call just once against Boston, a seven-run outburst in 2006, Sanchez’s rookie year, by a lineup that included Coco Crisp, Manny Ramirez, Trot Nixon and Doug Mirabelli. In fact, only one Red Sox player from that lineup, David Ortiz—a source of a lot of the damage that July day who blasted two home runs and drove in four while playing first base in the interleague game at Miami— remains with the team, and he was. However that was a long time ago.

Big Papi is one of just five current Sox batters—Jonny Gomes (1 for 5), Shane Victorino (10 hits, four walks, one HR in 47 PAs), Stephen Drew (5 hits, 1 walk, 23 PA’s) and David Ross (2 hits, 1 walk, 1 home run in 12 PA’s) —with any live experience against Sanchez. With the possible exception of a random spring training meeting in Jupiter or Fort Myers or long forgotten at bats in the minors, Red Sox core veterans Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia know Sanchez only from videos, scouting reports and word of mouth.

The Red Sox first ALCS opponent is a mystery, and so is how they'll respond against him.

ALDS Game 4: Jake Peavy vs. Jeremy Hellickson

  October 8, 2013 01:11 PM

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Saltalamacchia and Ortiz have thrived against Game 4 starter Jeremy Hellickson; Napoli (center) has not.


Rays catcher Jose Lobaton touched up Koji Uehara for a long, ninth-inning, walk-off home run on Monday night setting up a Game 4 showdown between Boston’s Jake Peavy and Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson.

Despite starting 305 major league games over his 12-seasons, Peavy will be making just his third postseason start. The first two, both for the Padres against the Cardinals didn’t turn out that well as we talked about here right after he was acquired from the White Sox in a three-way trade that landed Jose Iglesias in Detroit. Of the 24 active pitchers with 300 or more major league starts to their credit, only Aaron Harang (0) and Peavy’s teammate Ryan Dempster (1), have fewer postseason starts than Peavy whose résumé includes 132 career wins and the 2007 NL Cy Young Award.

Although Peavy has pitched just once against the Rays since 2010, a no decision this September 12 in which he gave up three earned runs in six innings, many of the Rays hitters have experience against him. Red-hot recently, James Loney has faced Peavy 32 times with some success, posting a .323/.344/.677 slash line with two home runs, five doubles and five RBIs against him. Loney is one of six Rays—with Ryan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce and Delmon Young—to have gone deep on Peavy at least once in their careers.

On the other side of the field Jeremy Hellickson is a somewhat surprising choice to start a postseason game (over rookie Chris Archer) given that in the last two months of the season he was among the worst starters in the major leagues. From July 31 on only Pittsburgh’s Jeff Locke had a higher ERA (7.25) than Hellickson’s 7.15, among pitchers who made at least 10 starts during that span. Although it was largely a procedural roster shuffle, Hellickson was actually optioned to the Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State league on August 27 and not recalled until Sept. 3.

Despite that rough stretch, Hellickson has pitched well against Boston this season, allowing just 18 base runners in 18⅓ innings, for a 0.98 to go along with a 3.44 ERA in three starts—one of which was that Sept. 12 Rays win in which he was paired with Peavy.

Even with that success however, a pair of Red Sox have thrived when facing him. David Ortiz has reached base at a .516 clip with three home runs in his career against the tall righthander which matches the home run production of Jarrod Saltalamacchia against him as well, accounting for slugging percentages of .875 and .800 respectively. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mike Napoli has had major trouble against Hellickson, managing just two singles and six strikeouts in 14 career plate appearances against him.

ALDS Game 3: Clay Buchholz vs. Alex Cobb

  October 6, 2013 02:35 PM

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Clay Buchholz and his Game 3 opponent are among the rarest of playoff pairings.

The Red Sox faced the best pitchers Joe Maddon had to offer in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS, passing the tough test against nemeses Mike Moore and David Price with flying colors. Now the series shifts inside to Tropicana Field in otherwise lovely St. Petersburg, Fla. where the Sox have gone against Game 3 starter, Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA), three times already in 2013 with much success. In 16 innings against him, Sox hitters have touched up the young righthander for 10 earned runs, 17 hits and eight walks. Cobb will be celebrating his 26th birthday by squaring off with Clay Buchholz (12-1, 1.74 ERA), who faced the Rays twice this season, once in April at Fenway and again in September at the Trop. He has a personal 13-inning scoreless streak against the Rays, allowing just five hits and five walks in two victories.

On the surface Monday’s game looks like a solid matchup between two of the better pitchers in the AL East. However a closer look into the numbers actually makes this an unlikely pairing for the ages. Since the start of the World Series era in 1903, there have been very few starting pairings to enter a postseason contest with a combined personal winning percentage as high as the .852 compiled by Buchholz (.923) and Cobb (.786). And by few we mean only one other higher.

Amazing as that may seem, never before have two AL starting pitchers met in a postseason game with a better combined record than Boston’s oft-injured veteran righthander, and Tampa Bay’s newly post-seasoned youngster who was lights out in the win-or-go-home contest in the AL Wild Card game against the Tribe in Cleveland.

You don’t have to look too far back to find the only instance of two playoff starters with a better combined record. That distinction is held by the starters Kyle Lohse of the Cardinals and Kris Medlen of the Braves who got the call in the 2012 NL Wild Card game. Those two had an aggregate record of 26-4 during the regular season, a winning clip of .867. But a look deep into the baseball annals finds nobody else to beat them. In fact these have been only five previous instances (including Lohse and Medlen’s) where both of the starters in a playoff game had a winning percentage as good as Cobb’s .786 (minimum 10 regular season decisions).

  • 2012 NL Wild Card Game: Kyle Lohse, Cardinals (16-3, .842) vs. Kris Medlen, Braves (10-1). (Total: 26-4, .867)
  • 1986 AL Championship Series Game 7: Roger Clemens, Red Sox (24-4, .857) vs. John Candelaria, Angels (10-2, .833) (Total: 34-6, .850)
  • 2001 AL Championship Series Game 4: Roger Clemens, Yankees (20-3, .870) vs. Paul Abbott, Mariners (17-4, .810). (Total: 37-7, .841)
  • 1910 World Series Game 4: King Cole, Cubs (20-4, .833) vs. Chief Bender, Athletics (23-5, .821). (Total: 43-9 .827)
  • 1953 World Series Game 2: Eddie Lopat, Yankees (16-4, .800) vs. Preacher Roe, Dodgers (11-3, .786). (Total: 27-7, .794).


ALDS Game 2: David Price vs. John Lackey

  October 5, 2013 07:43 AM

Tampa Bay Rays David Price.jpgOnly two pitchers have had a better ERA in Fenway Park than today's starter for the Rays, David Price.

The Red Sox started the playoffs with a bang, racking up a dozen runs against the Rays to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven ALDS. That was the 12th time the Sox had scored a dozen runs in a game in 2013 (and sixth time in the team’s postseason history), and curiously none of those came in a game pitched by by Game 2 starter, John Lackey who has had trouble with run support all season. Given the way he’s pitched against today’s opponent, he’ll need all of the runs the Red Sox can muster.

Since coming to Boston, Lackey is 1-3 with a 7.11 ERA and 1.93 WHIP against the Rays. If you think that most of the damage against him had to come during his abysmal 2011 Sox debut campaign, think again.

In two starts this year, both at The Trop in St. Pete, Lackey was lit up to the tune of nine earned runs and 19 hits in just 10 combined innings, including the game in which the Lackey plunked Tampa Bay’s Matt Joyce—a career .333 hitter against him with two home runs and six runs knocked in —with a pitch, sparking yet another chapter in this often heated rivalry.

Also chomping at the bit to face Lackey is third baseman Evan Longoria who has taken the big righthander deep twice as part of his 27 earned bases (including three walks) in 34 plate appearances. Second baseman Ben Zobrist who homered in Game 1 off of Jon Lester, also has had a great time batting against Lackey, touching him up to the tune of a .40 batting average and 1.034 OPS. But when it comes to ownership, you’re hard-pressed to find someone more successful against Lackey than Yunel Escobar. In 19 plate appearances against the Sox starter, the shortstop has a career batting average of .533, third (behind Endy Chavez’s .615 and Adam Lind’s .536) among all players with at least 10 career opportunities against him.

The Red Sox haven’t had similar success against today’s starter, David Price. In fact, far from it. In what could be his final appearance for the Rays, 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner will be in the spotlight against the AL’s best offense, one in which he’s had tremendous success against throughout his career. This season he subdued the Sox, allowing just 24 of the 116 batters he faced to reach base, creating a microscopic slash line of .171/.191/.297 against him. In three starts at Fenway Park he was even better, going 2-0 with a 1.21 ERA and 0.58 WHIP. Each of the three runs the Red Sox scored off of him in Boston came on solo home runs (David Ross, Mike Napoli, Brandon Snyder) and he lowered his career ERA in the shadow of the Green Monster to 1.88. That places him second among all active players with at least 20 innings pitched at the Fens (somewhat unsurprisingly, Koji Uehara is best at 1.60). And according to baseball-reference.com, the only other starter since 1916 with over 50 innings pitched and a better ERA at Fenway Park? Babe Ruth (1.76).

ALDS Rays vs. Red Sox: Tale of the Tape

  October 3, 2013 02:21 PM

In 2008 when these two teams last squared off in the postseason, the Rays outlasted the Red Sox 4 games to 3 in the ALCS, advancing to the World Series where they were vanquished by the Philadelphia Phillies. While only David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia remain from the lineup that faced Matt Garza in the deciding game, Boston's Game 7 starter, Jon Lester, will get the chance to avenge the loss by getting the ball for Boston in Game 1. The man who saved that clincher, David Price, will likely go to the mound for Tampa Bay in Game 2 on Saturday evening.

This season the teams squared off 19 times, with the Red Sox taking 12 of those, six at home and six on the road. Boston clearly has the advantage on offense while the Rays have the edge in pitching—mainly out of the bullpen—and defense. Here's a look at how the two teams compare statistically based on the 2013 regular season:


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ALDS Game 1: Matt Moore vs. Jon Lester

  October 3, 2013 01:07 PM

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In July Matt Moore turned in the most dominant visiting performance of the season at Fenway Park.

Starting at 3 PM on Friday afternoon at Fenway Park another chapter in the Red Sox greatest rivalry of the 2010s begins when the Bearded Boys from Boston take on the Tampa Bay Rays. Joe Maddon's tema is fresh off surviving two consecutive lose-and-go-home road contest, first against the Rangers to get into the postseason, and last night against the Indians, both highlighted by tremendous pitching performances.

But despite being forced to use staff ace David Price in Arlington and Alex Cobb in Cleveland, the Rays have exactly who they want taking the baseball in Boston. Moore showed the Sox firsthand how good he can be the last time he toed the rubber at Fenway in July. Let's also not forget how dominant Moore was as a fresh-faced rookie in 2011 when he was called on to face the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the ALDS in what was just his second big league start. He shut down the mighty Rangers, limiting them to no runs, two hits and two walks over seven dominant innings. He also pitched relief in Game 4, with only an Adrain Beltre solo home run between him and 10 career postseason shutout innings.

One player who won't be intimidated by seeing Moore on the mound is David Ortiz who has owned the young southpaw thus far in his career, enjoying a 1.346 OPS in 14 plate appearances, including two doubles, a home run and four runs knocked in. However other than Stephen Drew (2 for 5), no Sox hitter has had much success at all versus Moore during his short career. In fact Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Will Middlebrooks are a combined 5 for 53 (.094), with just three walks and one hit by pitch between them.

On the flip side, the Rays are very familiar with Red Sox Jon Lester having faced him four times this season and 26 times overall since the start of the 2007 season. The Rays' most dangerous hitter, Evan Longoria, is also the most well-versed in Lester's repertoire, having faced the Sox ace 63 times, producing 13 hits, eight walks, four home runs and 10 RBIs. Another tough out for Lester is rookie Will Myers who on July 23 homered and doubled in his first two (of three) at bats vs. the Sox southpaw. And despite being a lefthanded swinger, don't be surprised to see Matt Joyce come up to face Lester after producing a .417 lifetime average with two home runs (one in each of the past two seasons) and six RBIs against Lester in 11 at bats.

Check back here for more statistical previews prior to each of the Red Sox postseason games.

Follow David Sabino on Twitter @SabinoSports

Restoration Nation

  October 1, 2013 01:58 PM

chin092213soxjays_spt33[1].jpgThe Red Sox have to wait around to find out whether Terry Francona's Indians, or the new arch-rival Rays we discussed here earlier in the season, will survive the American League's win-or-go-home gauntlet for the right to play them in the Major League's version of the Elite 8. That gives us time to reflect on the incredible bounce-back, regular season just completed. To best do this we decided to examine each of Boston's positions based on stats from the 2011 and 2012 disappointments, compared to those of this year's squad that not only had the best record in the game, but also recaptured the hearts and minds of Red Sox Nation with it's gritty, determined, and mostly bearded play, while slipping back into the familiar role of the underdog.

Which positions had the greatest fluctuation in productivity? Which was the biggest bargain? Which looked like it was a disaster in 2013 but actually wasn't so bad afterall? For answers to these and many more questions check out this Red Sox photo gallery

Onto the playoffs.

Are you experienced?

  September 25, 2013 06:35 AM

salty091313.jpgJarrod Saltalamacchia is one of nine Red Sox who has yet to appear in a postseason contest

The common perception is the Red Sox are making their first playoff appearance since 2009, and on the whole that point is valid. However, for the individual parts nothing is further from the truth. Five current members of the projected 25-man playoff roster actually participated in last year’s playoffs, and another, Shane Victorino, played in the postseason as recently as 2011 for the Phillies. While the squad isn’t swimming in October baseball experience, there are a total of seven World Series rings belonging to players floating around the Boston clubhouse: two of those are David Ortiz's ('04, '07 Red Sox) while the others were earned by Victorino (‘08 Phillies), John Lackey (‘02 Angels), Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Dustin Pedrioa (‘07 Red Sox).

A total of 16 current Sox have some playoff experience during their career, all with varying success. Of the nine who never appeared in October, the spotlight will shine most brightly on starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia who was traded to the Red Sox from a team, the Texas Rangers, that would go onto three straight trips to the playoffs and two to the World Series. Among those postseason neophytes the most elated has to be eight-year veteran Craig Breslow who has pitched in 654 games as a professional, 416 of which came over eight seasons in the major leagues. The left-handed relief specialist who made 58 appearances with a 1.91 ERA this season actually played for two division winners, the 2005 Padres and 2009 Twins, but did not appear in the postseason.

The sample sizes are small so comparisons and trends are to be taken with a grain of salt, however one current Red Sox player has a career .500 on-base percentage and .857 career postseason slugging percentage. Another newcomer for 2013 is out-slugging David Ortiz by 20 points. One reliever has an ERA of zero in three games, while two other members of the staff sport double-digit career postseason ERAs. Who are they? Here’s a breakdown of the projected 25-man roster and how each has performed during their postseason careers (from most-to-least experienced).

  • David Ortiz, designated hitter: 7 seasons of playoffs, 289 plate appearances, 12 home runs, 47 RBIs, .283 avg./.388 OBP/.520 SLG, two World Series. Last playoff series: 2009 ALDS.
  • Shane Victorino, outfielder: 5 seasons, 198 PA, 6 home runs, 30 RBIs, 8 stolen bases, .269/.338/.446, two World Series. Last playoff series: 2011 NLDS (Phillies).
  • Mike Napoli, first baseman: five seasons, 110 PA, 5 home runs, 19 RBIs, 1 stolen base, .272/.373/.457. Last playoff series: 2012 ALWC (Rangers)
  • John Lackey, starting pitcher, five seasons, 14 games, 3-4 record, 3.12 ERA, 1.33 whip, 3.00 K/BB, one World Series appearance. Last playoff series: 2009 ALCS (Angels)
  • David Ross, catcher, four seasons, 8 PA, 1 home run, 2 RBIs, .429/.500/.857. Last playoff series: 2012 NLWC (Braves)
  • Dustin Pedroia, second baseman, three seasons, 132 PA, 5 home runs, 18 RBIs, 2 stolen bases, .252/.344/.461, one World Series appearance. Last playoff series: 2009 ALDS
  • Jacoby Ellsbury, outfielder, three season, 77 PA, 11 RBIs, five stolen bases, .261/.316/.391, one World Series appearance. Last playoff series: 2009 ALDS
  • Jon Lester, starting pitcher, three seasons, 8 games, 2-3 record, 2.57 ERA, 1.12 whip, 3.14 K/BB, one World Series appearance. Last playoff series: 2009 ALDS
  • Stephen Drew, shortstop, two seasons, 53 PA, 2 home runs, 5 RBIs, 1 stolen base, .320/.358/.540. Last playoff series: 2012 ALDS (Athletics)
  • Jonny Gomes, outfielder, two seasons, 7 PA, 0-for-7. Last playoff series: 2012 ALDS (Athletics)
  • Jake Peavy, pitcher, two seasons, 2 games, 0-2 record, 12.10 ERA, 2.38 whip, 1.25 K/BB. Last playoff series: 2006 NLDS (Padres)
  • Koji Uehara, closer, two seasons, 4 games, no record, 19.29 ERA, 3.00 whip, 2.00 K/BB. Last playoff series: 2012 ALWC (Rangers)
  • Franklin Morales, pitcher, two seasons, 8 games, no record, 7.82 ERA, 1.74 whip, 1.00 K/BB. Last playoff series: 2009 NLDS (Rockies)
  • Ryan Dempster, pitcher, two seasons, 2 games, 0-1 record, 6.35 ERA, 1.94 whip, 0.57 K/BB. Last playoff series: 2008 NLDS (Cubs)
  • Matt Thornton, pitcher, one season, 3 games, no record, 0.00 ERA, 1.20 whip 1.00 K/BB. Last playoff series: 2008 ALDS (White Sox)
  • Clay Buchholz, starting pitcher, 1 game, no record, 3.60 ERA, 1.40 whip, 3.00 K/BB. Last playoff series: 2009 ALDS
  • No experience in the postseason: Xander Bogaerts, Craig Breslow, Mike Carp, Felix Doubront, Will Middlebrooks, Daniel Nava, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Junichi Tazawa, Brandon Workman.

Follow David Sabino on Twitter @SabinoSports for sports stats, facts, figures, trivia and fantasy advise.

Let's get ahead of ourselves

  September 20, 2013 01:40 PM

Dodgers.jpgDefeating the symbols of a disappointing 2012 season would be icing on the cake for the 2013 resurgent Red Sox

The long New England nightmare is over, the Red Sox are in the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. There will be no high school graduating classes that will be forced to say that they didn’t bear witness to a Sox playoff series during their secondary school tenure. It’s time to rejoice, and time to let yourself go a little.

That’s what we’re going to do here. There are still regular season games to be played and a yet-unnamed gauntlet of American League teams to navigate on the way to their ultimate goal, but for now let’s throw caution to the wind and let speculation take us, and the Red Sox, straight to the World Series. Why, you might ask? Well, because, the way the NL is shaping up, each potential Fall Classic matchup would have special significance for Boston No random Colorado Rockies or San Diego Padres in this bunch. Each of the five possible opponents would provide plenty of fodder for any series preview.

Here’s what I mean:

victorinoDodgers.jpg1) Los Angeles Dodgers Should the Red Sox win this bi-coastal series they should probably award Magic Johnson (and the rest of L.A.’s new ownership group) a championship ring and playoff share for allowing them the clear the books of the likes of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford last season. The players the Sox got back in return (Allen Webster, Rubby de la Rosa for two) haven’t made much of an impact yet, but with those big contracts gone, Boston was able to sign Dustin Pedroia to an extension, re-sign David Ortiz, sign Koji Uehara, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino (above right), and Jonny Gomes as free agents and trade for Jake Peavy.

Also, let’s not forget the Yankees connection, as the Dodgers are managed by Donnie Baseball himself, career Yankee and Steinbrenner antagonist, Don Mattingly.
And for those who want to dig deep, there’s even an ancient history element to this potential series: These two franchises faced off for the 1916 title, with the Bill Carrigan’s boys taking down Wilbert Robinson’s Brooklyn Robins 4-games-to-1. What’s interesting is that although Fenway Park existed and was the regular home of the Sox, all of the Boston World Series games that year were played at Braves Field.


bosbravesscript.gif2) Atlanta Braves That’s a perfect segue to Boston’s other team, the Braves, who look set to clinch the NL East at any moment. Although the Bravos the Sox never met in the World Series, the two teams kept the World Series championship in Boston all but two seasons from 1912 through 1918. A charter member of the NL, the Braves were originally the Boston Red Stockings before undergoing a transformation to the Beaneaters, Doves, Rustlers, Braves, Bees and then finally Braves again. They abandoned Boston in 1953 for Milwaukee and left there for Atlanta in 1966. Handlebar moustaches and barbershop quartets will surely be out in force if these old Olde Towne neighbors square off.

Cy Young.jpg3) Pittsburgh Pirates It’s back to the beginning should the Sox and Bucs make it to baseball’s finals. You see, the very first modern World Series between the upstart American League and the much more established National League featured the Boston Americans against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Boston’s games were played at the old Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds and the starter—and loser—for Boston in the inaugural game was none other than Cy Young (right). He’d redeem himself with two victories later in the series, but it was Bill Dineen who pitched four complete games, going 3-1 including allowing no runs and just four hits in the eighth and clinching game of the best-of-nine set.

bambino.jpg4) St. Louis Cardinals The NL’s most frequent World Series champion has been a regular October opponent for the Red Sox. The two storied franchises have met three times (1946, 1967, 2004) with St. Louis taking the first two by holding Ted Williams to five singles in 25 at bats in the seven-game ‘46 Classic and making the 1967 team’s dream really impossible by taking the decision in another seven game set. All was forgotten and forgiven in 2004 when the Sox vanquished the Cards in four straight, thus putting the Curse of the Babe to rest forever. This year Boston has a chance to even the score.

5) Cincinnati Reds Fisk.jpgThese two teams played what is considered by many the greatest World Series in history, another seven-game classic that provided perhaps the most iconic moment in Red Sox history: Carlton Fisk waving his high fly ball down the left field line fair and over the Green Monster for a walkoff series-extending home run in Game 6. You can be sure to see Fisk everywhere should these teams square off again.
An interesting sidebar to a Cincinnati-Boston meeting would be the presence of one of the key members of the 2004 Red Sox, Bronson Arroyo, who has gone 13-11 with a 3.56 ERA for the Reds this season.


This is the best Sox squad since...

  September 16, 2013 11:38 PM

John Farrell.jpgSmiles have been contageous throughout Red Sox nation during John Farrell's first season as Boston manager.

What a difference a year makes. The Red Sox have played 151 games and have a nine game lead in the AL East over the Rays. At the same point last season, they found themselves in fourth place, 19 games behind the Yankees and just a half game ahead of Toronto for last place. That was then, this is now.

Since the beginning of the season the questions swirling around Fenway Park have been "how much better can John Farrell’s team be than Bobby Valentine’s?" and could he reclaim a team that rapidly unraveled in the final days of Terry Francona's tenure, stained by beer and fried chicken grease? However with the Sox holding the best record in baseball and with 92 wins in their first 151 contests, the question has evolved into “where does the 2013 squad place among the greatest in franchise history?” It may sound like hyperbole for a squad that won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, but in terms of regular season victories, 2013 has a chance to set a new modern benchmark.

In the 162-game era, no Red Sox team had as many wins through 151 games as the team led by Farrell. Not in 1967. Not in 1975. Not in 1986. Not in 2004 or 2007. None of them. In fact, the last time a Sox squad had that many victories through 151 games was in 1950(!) when they also had 92 wins, en route to 94 for the year. A season earlier, Boston won 95 of their first 151 games, finishing with 96 in a 155 game schedule. The 1946 World Series team won 101 of its first 151 and ended up with 104 wins, second most in team history behind the 105 of the 1912 championship squad.

By going 8-3 in the final 11 games, the current team has a chance to become the first Red Sox team to reach triple-digit wins since 1946. If the team maintains its .609 winning percentage it would be the second greatest season-to-season improvement in franchise history, at +.183 from last year’s .426. The only team to experience a bigger positive gain was also the 1946 team, jumping to .675 from .461 in 1945. Only 11 teams in big league history have experienced a larger success rate jump, period.

So with all due respect to Yaz and Dewey, Pudge, Rice, and Eck, the Rocket, Boggs, Manny, Pedro and Curt Schilling,the Beard Brothers could very well be the best regular season Red Sox team in 63 years. Sit back and enjoy it while it lasts.
Here are the Red Sox teams with the most wins through 151 games.

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Perfect in practice (Updated)

  September 11, 2013 02:00 PM

Koji.jpgFirst Koji Uehara emerged as the Red Sox closer and now he's become the most reliable pitcher in the game.

After starting the ninth inning on August 17 at Fenway Park by striking out New York’s Curtis Granderson and Eduardo Nuñez swinging, Koji Uehara allowed a double down the right field line on an 0-1 count to Yankees first baseman Lyle Overbay. On the next pitch Uehara induced Chris Stewart to pop out to Will Middlebrooks at third to close out a 6-1 Red Sox win.

Amazingly, that was the last time a batter reached against Boston’s veteran closer, a span of 34 straight batters, or seven more outs than pitching a nine-inning perfect game. He now holds the Red Sox record, which was previously 32 straight in 1952 by Ellis Kinder. The alltime major league record for consecutive batters retired is 45 by Chicago White Sox southpaw Mark Buehrle but his came in consecutive starts. As did the former mark of 41 straight batters retired set by San Francisco’s Jim Barr in 1972. That was matched by the man whose streak Uehara’s should be compared to, former Sox reliever Bobby Jenks, who as the White Sox closer also set down 41 straight hitters during the summer of 2007 over a span of 13 appearances.


FULL ENTRY

Sox steals = Mo runs

  September 6, 2013 10:31 AM

Rivera.jpgMuch like the remake of a classic movie, you saw the script before. Last night the Red Sox, undaunted by a six-run outburst in the seventh inning by the Yankees, came from one run down in the ninth against Mariano Rivera, the undisputed greatest closer of alltime. The key to the Boston rally was a stolen base by Quentin Berry, pinch running for Mike Napoli who singled to start the inning. An Austin Romine throwing error allowed Berry to scamper to third where he was driven home on a single to right by Stephen Drew.

Of course the old script from the Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS original production had Dave Roberts in the role of Berry, Jorge Posada playing the part of victimized catcher (yet without the error) and Bill Mueller playing the hero by driving in the tying run with a single.

In his 1,107 career games, Rivera has faced Boston 114 times, for 10.3% of his career appearances. He’s saved a total of 649 games, 8.9% of those coming against Boston, with 19% of his 79 career blown saves coming at the hands of the Sox. Seemingly invincible at times with a career ERA of 2.21, against Boston it climbs to 2.83, the third highest against any AL club (Angels 3.75, Orioles 3.05).

However the key to last night’s game was the stolen base. In fact in the regular season, the Red Sox have stolen more bases against Rivera (8) than the number of home runs they’ve hit against him (7). In games the Red Sox stole at least one base against Rivera, including the great Roberts robbery during the playoffs, their record is 5-1. Six games, nine stolen bases, six runs.

Here’s a breakdown:

April 24, 2004 On first base following a force out of Manny Ramirez at second in the 10th inning of a 2-2 game, Jason Varitek takes off for second and makes it but is stranded as Kevin Millar pops out to end the inning. Boston rallies in the 12th off of Paul Quantrill for the 3-2 win.

September 17, 2004 Trailing 2-1 in the top of the ninth, Dave Roberts, pinch running after a Trot Nixon walk, steals second as Varitek strikes out. Roberts comes into score the tying run on an Orlando Cabrera single. Later in the inning, Johnny Damon drives in the game winner.

October 17, 2004 Trailing three-games-to-none in the series and 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth of Game 4, Rivera walks Kevin Millar who is promptly pinch run for by Dave Roberts. On the first pitch to Bill Mueller, Roberts steals second and comes around to score the season-saving tying run on Mueller’s single. Boston wins the game on a 12th inning David Ortiz home run off of Paul Quantrill, en route to becoming the only team in big league history to win a series after trailing 3-0.

April 27, 2007 Entering the game in a non-save situation trailing 7-4 in the top of the ninth, Rivera promptly allows four earned runs, including one scored by Coco Crisp who stole second base after driving in the eighth run with an RBI single. It’s the last time Rivera has allowed as many as four runs in a game.

September 26, 2010 With the Red Sox trailing 2-1 in the top of the ninth, Ryan Kalish and Bill Hall each stole second and third base and score to give the Sox a 3-2 lead and hand Rivera a blown save. The Yankees however rally for a run in the bottom of the inning and one in the 10th for the walkoff win.

September 5, 2013 Pinch runner Quentin Berry scores on a Stephen Drew single after stealing second and advancing to third on a throwing error by catcher Austin Romine. Red Sox win in 10 innings.

Power cheering: Why Fenway's crowd last night saw history

  September 5, 2013 09:49 AM

Middlebrooks.jpgWill Middlebrooks' grand slam was one of eight home runs for the Red Sox.
Did you happen to be in the crowd at Fenway Park for last night’s 20-4 shellacking of the Detroit Tigers? If so, you can say that you were part of a unique bunch of fans that saw something no others had in baseball history. Here’s more on that and other interesting facts from Boston’s commanding victory.

•The steroid-era ad campaign that said “Chicks dig the longball” was off a little. Dudes dig it too, and last night’s Red Sox certainly provided entertainment for everyone with a B on the front of their cap. Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Oritz (twice), Will Middlebrooks, Daniel Nava, Ryan Lavarnway, and Mike Napoli all went deep against the Tigers staff last night, tying the franchise record for most home runs in a game set on July 4, 1977 when George Scott (twice), Fred Lynn (twice), Butch Hobson, Bernie Carbo, Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski hit eight at Fenway against the expansion Toronto Blue Jays. Amazingly, the only non-solo blast of the bunch was Boomer Scott’s two-run shot off of Jerry Garvin to tie the game at two in the bottom of the fifth. Despite the onslaught of power, in the end the score was close as Boston eked out just a 9-6 win.

•David Ortiz's sixth-inning double in the was the 2,000th hit of his big league career. His two home runs accounted for hits no. 1,999 and 2,001.

•The last time any team in the majors cracked eight home runs in a game was on August 7, 2010 when the Argonauts topped the Buccaneers, er, Blue Jays beat the Rays 17-11.

•The eight home runs were the most ever against Detroit, dating back to the first days of the AL. The old mark of seven home runs allowed was achieved four times, the most recent coming on Sept. 11, 2007 against the Rangers. The Red Sox also shared in that record, hitting seven at Tiger Stadium on July 24, 1999 (three by Trot Nixon, two for Nomar Garciaparra and one each by Troy O’Leary and Brian Daubach).

•The Red Sox had not scored 20 runs in a game since June 27, 2003 with a 25-3 win against the eventual World Champion Marlins. In that game the Sox knocked out their former farmhand, Carl Pavano, by scoring six runs in the first inning without him recording an out. Reliever Michael Tejera didn’t fare much better, giving up five earned runs of his own in the first, also without ever recording an out. The first 11 Red Sox all reached base and scored en route to a 14-run first inning. Amazingly, all 25 runs the Sox scored were earned, much like the 20 they scored last night.

•The last team to allow 20 runs in a game was none other than the Red Sox who got hammered 20-2 by the Athletics on August 31 of last season in Oakland. Just over a year later, only five of the 17 Red Sox who played in that game, remain on the team.

•And now for how unique that game last night was. There have been three teams to hit at least eight home runs in a game in which they scored at least 20 runs. The first were the 1939 Yankees who beat the Athletics 23-3 on June 28 [with home runs by Joe Gordon (9), Joe DiMaggio (two), Tommy Henrich; Babe Dahlgren (two), Bill Dickey, and George Selkirk]. The other was the Cincinnati Reds who hit nine home runs versus the Phillies 22-3 exactly 14 years to the day before the Red Sox-Tigers game. In that tilt Cincy’s blasts were by the low-key group of Ed Taubensee (two); Jeffrey Hammonds, former Sox second sacker Pokey Reese, Greg Vaughn, Mark Lewis, (place expletive here) Aaron Boone, Brian Johnson, and Dmitri Young. Both of those games took place in Philadelphia and both of the winning teams were on the road. That makes last night’s Fenway contingent the first crowd in baseball history to ever witness eight home runs and 20 runs from their own squad. It’s something to tell the grandkids.

Something’s lacking: John Lackey's struggle with wins

  September 3, 2013 12:11 PM

lackeyws.jpgLook at most of his numbers and it’s safe to say that John Lackey is the ace of the Red Sox starting staff. Of the four Red Sox starters with at least 100 innings pitched this season, Lackey leads in quality starts (18) WAR (3.2), ERA (3.32) and WHIP (1.17). Yet somehow he’s last in the rotation in wins (8). Few in the majors have pitched to tougher luck this season when it comes to getting credit for pitching well.

Of the 57 major leaguers who have at least made at least 15 quality starts (6 IP or more, 3 ER or less), Lackey is tied for 55th in winning percentage (8-6, .571) in those games. Four of those games have resulted in shutouts by the opposition, starts in which Lackey’s ERA is 2.76, having given up just nine earned runs in 29⅓ innings. Raise the bar a bit to extra-quality starts (7 IP or more, 2 ER or less) and his winning percentage actually gets worse, .556, having been credited with five such wins in nine games (although his plight pales in comparison to Ryan Dempster’s tough luck in those games, going 0-3 in five extra-quality starts).

Dempster however is second in the major leagues in average run support, receiving an average 6.29 runs per start. Ony Detroit’s Max Scherzer and his 19-1 record gets more at 7.17. The rest of the Red Sox staff isn’t too shabby either with Felix Doubront placing 11th at 5.69 runs per game and Jon Lester currently coming in 14th at 5.55. But Lackey is 69th of a pool of 83 qualifying starters at just 3.77 runs of support per game.

I decided to take a look at how Boston’s opponents are pitching in Lackey’s starts. And the answer is somewhat surprising. Here’s the breakdown.

•In terms of ERA, opposition pitchers (starters and relievers) have a collective 3.09 ERA when Lackey starts for the Red Sox. That would rank 11th in the AL if Lackey opponents were a single person, placing better than Lackey’s own 3.22, which in itself ranks 12th in the AL. Basically Lackey is matched up with a Cliff Lee-caliber ERA opponent every time he toes the rubber.

•However while opponents haven’t given up a lot of runs, they have yielded a slew of baserunners. Lackey’s personal WHIP (walks plus hits per inning) is 1.17 which puts him 11th in the AL. Opponents however are off the charts bad, at an average of 1.83 earned baserunners per inning which is where the fault lies with the Red Sox offense. The opportunities to score for Lackey are there, they’re just not taking advantage of them.

•Perhaps it has something to do with a high strikeout rate. Lackey’s opposition strikes out 8.76 batters per nine innings as compared to his own rate of 7.71. However they are overshadowed by his superior control, with a 4.09 K:BB ratio compared to 2.65 for all opponents.

•And perhaps karma is playing the biggest role here. Baseball is the ultimate game of averages, and Lackey is just paying the piper for his 2011 when while pitching mostly in pain his ERA was 6.41 but his record was abnormally good at 12-12. In fact, his dozen victories were the most for someone with an ERA of over 6.40 since Harry Staley won 12 with a 6.81 ERA for the 1894 Boston Beaneaters of the NL. Lackey’s run support in ‘11 was 6.75, third-best in the majors behind Texas’ Derek Holland (7.64) and his teammate Jon Lester (6.86).

The thrill of Victorino

  August 28, 2013 08:59 AM

Thumbnail image for victorino082813(2).jpgThe Flyin’ Hawaiian was saying aloha to baseballs all night on Tuesday, as he lei’d into two home runs, drove in a career-high seven runs and reached base in all five of his plate appearances, continuing a recent tear for the Red Sox rightfielder. Shane Victorino now has multiple hits in six of his last nine games, including three hits in three of those. Since August 17, he has major league-highs in slugging percentage (.917) and OPS (1.429). Over that span only runaway AL MVP favorite Miguel Cabrera and slugging Rays third baseman Evan Longoria have hit more home runs (five to four), only NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen has been on base at a higher rate (.532 to .512) and only San Diego’s Will Venable can match his .444 batting average.

Victorino’s seven RBIs in a game weren’t only the most ever for a player born in the state of Hawaii — breaking the old mark of five he already shared three times with Mike Lum, Joey Meyer, Lenn Sakata and Kurt Suzuki — it was the most by any player at Fenway Park since Toronto’s Lyle Overbay drove across seven runs in 2010 and the most by a Red Sox hitter since Nomar Garciaparra knocked in in eight against the then-Devil Rays in a 22-4 shellacking in the first game of a July 23, 2002 doubleheader.

The list of Red Sox who reached base in every one of their five or more plate appearances, hit as many as two home runs and drove in at least seven runs is not long. Actually Victorino was just the second, joining fellow rightfielder, Tom Brunansky, who on May 19, 1990 was 5-for-5 with two home runs and seven driven in in just his second career game against his original team, the Twins. And when you open up the criteria a little and take out the perfect night, you still get just eight Red Sox since World War I who have had similar night’s to Victorino’s big Tuesday against the Orioles. In fact, five of those eight came against the O’s or their predecessors, the St. Louis Browns, and two, by Walt Dropo and Bobby Doerr, came in the same 1950 game, a 29-4 thumping of the Brownies.

Red Sox to have hit at least two home runs, drove in seven or more runs and reached base five times in a single game (since World War I)
•Ted Williams June 24, 1949 vs. St. Louis 3 H, 2 BB, 2 HR, 7 RBI

•Walt Dropo June 6, 1950 vs. St. Louis 4 H, 1 BB, 2 HR, 7 RBI

•Bobby Doerr June 6, 1950 vs. St. Louis 4 H, 1 BB, 3 HR, 8 RBI

•Fred Lynn June 18, 1975 at Detroit 5 H, 3 HR, 10 RBI

•Ellis Burks June 10, 1987 at Baltimore 3 H, 2 BB, 2 HR, 7 RBI

•Dwight Evans August 13, 1988 vs. Detroit 4 H, 1 BB, 2 HR, 7 RBI

•Tom Brunansky May 19, 1990 vs. Minnesota 5 H, 2 HR, 7 RBI

•Shane Victorino August 27, 2013 vs. Baltimore 3 H, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 2 HR, 7 RBI

Boston's entry in the 4,000 hit club

  August 22, 2013 09:09 AM

tris_speakerbg.jpg Tris Speaker (above) had 3,965 hits as a professional

Usually when a member of the New York Yankees does something significant on the diamond, the news is greeted around here with shrugs and eye-rolls, but what Ichiro Suzuki accomplished yesterday should transcend even the bitterest of rivalries. The longtime Mariners and Orix Blue Wave All Star and sure Hall of Famer reached 4,000 hits in his professional career, with 1,278 coming in his homeland and another 2,722 in Major League Baseball. But his accomplishment also has some relevance to Red Sox history. Here's how:

Only two players, Pete Rose and Ty Cobb reached the mythical 4,000 hit mark in the majors alone, the banished Rose in front with 4,256, and Cobb with a re-adjusted 4,189 (down from the original tally of 4,191). However when you take into account all of their hits as a professional, Rose's 427 knocks as a minor leaguer bumps his total to 4,683, while Cobb's incomplete minor league total of 166 hits moves him to 4,355. Now with Ichiro joining them there are six players with professional resumes that include 4,000 safeties. Longtime Home Run King ,Hank Aaron, had 3,771 major league hits and 324 in the minors for 4,095. Stan Musial was truly The Man, collecting 3,630 hits for the Cardinals, another 371 in the minors and countless others playing on his base team at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

The sixth member of the club is also the only one to appear for the Red Sox. Arnold “Jigger” Statz was a dimunitive (5'7”, 150 pounds) outfielder who played in parts of eight big league seasons for the Giants, Cubs, Dodgers and a hitless two-game stint for the 1920 Red Sox. Statz managed 737 hits in 683 big league contest. He also enjoyed a record-shattering 18-year career for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, where he set myriad league records including most hits (3,356) giving him 4,093 hits as a pro.

Of the members of the major league 3,000 hits club, the top two in minor league hits were onetime Red Sox. Wade Boggs had 3,010 hits for the Red Sox, Yankees and Devil Rays and 724 hits in the minors. Alltime runs leader, Rickey Henderson had 3,055 major league hits and 650 in the bushes. To this point another ex-Sox, Tris Speaker, is the top 4,000-club bridesmaid, standing at 3,965 combined hits (3,514 MLB, 451 MiLB) although at 3,859 paid hits, Derek Jeter has a chance to barge his way into the elite group. The Red Sox' alltime leader in hits, Carl Yastrzemski, is ninth overall with 3,419 hits in MLB and 363 in MiLB.


The greenest Red Sox

  August 20, 2013 04:55 PM

bogaertsxanderfinn85.jpgAs of right now the newest Red Sox player, Xander Bogaerts is 20 years, 10 months and 19 days (323 days) old, which means that once he appears in his first major league game, perhaps tonight in San Francisco, he will be the youngest Red Sox to make his debut in the bigs since Dwight Evans who was 20 years, 318 days on September 16, 1972 when he entered as a pinch runner for Reggie Smith in the sixth inning with the score 9-0 against the Indians.

Evans and Bogaerts are far from the youngest players in Red Sox history. That distinction belongs to catcher Jim Pagliaroni who was just 17 years, 248 days when he subbed in for Sammy White on August 13, 1955 against the Senators.

Since 1920 there have been 44 Red Sox who’ve make their major league debuts at a younger age than Bogaerts including 22 who arrived as wet behind the ears teenagers. Here are the 10 youngest:

BogaertsAgebg.jpg

As you see, Hall of Famers Bobby Doerr and Red Ruffing were among the youngest players to ever patrol Fenway Park. Here are some other notables who arrived in Boston prior to their 21st birthday.

Bogaertsothersbg.jpg

Boston Strongest

  August 15, 2013 02:36 PM

TDGarden.jpgAs part of his keynote address at the Cynopsis Sports Business Summit yesterday in New York, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was boasting about how his league bounced back from a potentially catastrophic work stoppage by playing to 97% of capacity last year, the highest in the four major sports. Of the league’s 30 teams, more than half (16) played to at least 100% of their capacity, eight played over capacity (the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks led the way at 110.4%, thanks mainly to standing room at the United Center) while 26 played with at least 90% of the arena’s seats full.

The NHL was the leader for the 2012-13 season, but at nearly 95 percent full the NFL wasn’t far behind. The NBA placed third at just over 90%, and using data from the completed 2012 season, major league baseball, with it’s vast inventory, came in last among the Big Four at 71.4%.

The raw data enables us to take a closer look at the attendance figures, not only by league and team, but by region, and more specifically, metropolitan area, and gives us a metric by which we can measure fans rabidity. Given the success of the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots and Red Sox at the gate (granted the Red Sox “sellout streak” has been widely criticized), plus the well-known passion that Boston fans have for their teams, this area was sure to place high on the list, making it perfect fodder for this space.

To do a study like this fairly there have to be some ground rules in effect. Boston for example is a typical four-team, four-league town (apologies to the MLS). But limiting it to just regions where there’s four league participation would have eliminated places such as St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Atlanta and a little place known as Los Angeles. So instead, to qualify, the bar the city had to reach was three or four teams in at least three leagues (the Lakers and Clippers both qualify for LA).

Another problem facing this look was the onus put on a region to support either poor performing, or niche teams, when they have more popular and successful teams to gravitate to. To eliminate any bias against cities that have multiple teams in each league—and with apologies to the Mets, White Sox, Jets, Islanders, Devils, Angels, Ducks, A’s and Raiders—we’ll look only at the most popular team in the region in each league (unless they fall into the above category).

That said, we summed up all of the attendance and approximate capacity figures, and calculated the rate of approximate capacity by region from the most recent completed seasons for each league.

Not only did Boston come out on top, it was the only area in which attendance exceeded capacity in the 2012 and 2012-13 seasons.

These are the results:
AttendanceBoston.jpg


Doubront's stingy streak

  August 9, 2013 08:48 AM

doubront.jpgTommorow night in Kansas City Felix Doubront heads to the hill for the Red Sox hoping to continue his pursuit of one of the giants of the game. The lefthander has been one of the hottest pitchers in the American League, registering a 2.55 ERA since May 16, the fourth best among qualifying AL starters, trailing only Oakland’s Bartolo Colon (1.92), Max Scherzer of the Tigers (2.25) and Yankees lefty Hiroki Kuroda (2.53).

That date also coincides with the start of a streak of 15 straight starts in which Doubront has yielded three or fewer earned runs. He’s currently tied for the most recent stretch of such games by a Boston lefthander, set by Herb Pennock in 1919. While Pennock is a Hall of Famer, Doubront is now within striking distance of perhaps the most legendary names in the Game, George Herman Ruth. From July 29, 1916 until April 16 of the following season, The Babe allowed three earned runs or fewer in 18 straight starts.

Here are some other hurlers who have experienced similar spells for the Red Sox and around the major leagues:

•The Rocket, Roger Clemens went 32 starts over more than a calendar year from May 9, 1990 to May 13, 1991 without surrendering more than three earned runs in a start, the longest run for a Red Sox pitcher regardless of throwing arm in the live-ball era.

•The longest streak in the majors by a lefthander in the same timeframe was set by Los Angeles Dodger Claude Osteen whose line of starts stretched to three dozen from Sept. 2, 1965 to August 15, 1966.

•The longest span overall during that same era by any major league pitcher was 38 straight starts by Ray Washburn starting with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968 and ended as a member of the Cincinnati Reds in 1970.

•Dodger’s lefty Clayton Kershaw had his streak of 22 games with three earned runs or less snapped this past May 26 by the Cardinals. That matched Mat Latos, Chris Carpenter and Johan Santana for the longest streak in the 2000s.

•Gaints righthander Ryan Vogelsong has the majors longest active period at 16 games in a row. He faces the Baltimore Orioles tonight at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

•Jake Peavy is the only other current Red Sox starter who has had a longer career streak than Doubront’s when he went 16 straight games for the Padres August 31, 2003 to July 2, 2004. The longest for the others is current Red Sox starters: John Lackey (14), Jon Lester (11) and Ryan Dempster (9).

Blowing away the past

  August 5, 2013 12:07 AM

lackey.jpgWhen John Lackey (above) takes the mound at Minute Maid Park in Houston against the last-place Astros, he and his teammates have a chance to do something few Red Sox teams have ever accomplished. The Sox left Boston for Houston Sunday night having just won their 68th game of the season, tops in the major leagues (they trail the Pirates by percentage points for best winning percentage) on the strength of Felix Dubront's eighth win of the year, a 4-0 blanking of the Diamondbacks.

Those 68 Red Sox wins through 113 games puts an organization that endured last year’s last-place debacle on the cusp of a very significant milestone. Possibly starting with Lackey's assignment in his home state, the next win for John Farrell’s team will match the entire 162-game output of Bobby Valentine's 2012 squad (69 wins) in two fewer months! That’s not a typo, it's a fact.

What’s even more amazing is that the Sox have actually reached the previous season’s win total quicker before. A few times the bar was set so low that it was easy to one-up the earlier competition, like when the 1933 reached the 1932 team’s total with their 43rd win in just 94 games. However others, like the 1946 Ted Williams World Series team, had more of a challenge, needing just 104 games to rack up the 71 wins of the 1945 war-ravaged roster. And on Aug. 19 during Fenway Park’s inaugural season, those Sox matched 1911’s 78 wins in the 114th game of the season.

Here's a look at the Red Sox teams that tied the previous season’s victory total in the fewest number of games (strike-shortened seasons not included). And if you're curious about the major league teams wit hthe biggest jump in winning percentage from one year to the next, take a look here: http://mcubed.net/mlb/bwimp.shtml

soxwinpix.jpg

Thanks to world-class mathlete and multiple-time world pinball champion, Bowen Kerins, for suggesting the concept. If you have an idea you want fleshed out here, send me a tweet @SabinoSports.

Peavy's problematic postseason past

  August 1, 2013 08:25 AM

Peavy.jpgThe Red Sox made a big splash late Tuesday night acquiring Jake Peavy from the White Sox (along with reliever Brayan Villarreal from the Tigers) for a package headlined by Jose Iglesias who landed in Detroit, and a trio of minor leaguers who, with Tigers outfielder Avisail Garcia, ended up in Chicago. In terms of the 2013 season, there’s no doubt that Peavy, the 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner was the big catch in the transaction, stabilizing Boston’s rotation down the stretch.

Given that the Red Sox are on solid footing to at least claim an AL Wild Card slot, leading the division by ½ game and ahead of the top Wild Card outsiders by 5½ games, Peavy could get the chance to correct one of the only black marks on what otherwise has been an impressive career.

In 296 regular season big league appearances (295 of those starts) the 32-year old righthander has a 128-97 record (.569) with a 3.49 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and a strikeout-to-walk rate of 3.23—all quite solid for a starting pitcher who pitched mainly in an era where offense has ruled. He twice led the NL in ERA (in 2004 when his 2.27 bested Randy Johnson’s 2.60, and in 2007 his 2.54 topped Brandon Webb’s 3.01) and twice led his league in strikeouts (‘05 & ‘07).

Peavy’s statistics in the autumn are dramatically different however. Not only are they subpar, they’re among the worst in over a century of postseason history. Of all pitchers who’ve started at least two postseason games since 1903, Peavy’s 12.10 ERA ranks 13th worst, his 2.38 WHIP is 19th and his 17.7 hits per nine innings places ninth. Obviously his 9⅔ in two starts is a tiny sample size—both of his playoff starts came against the Cardinals, both in the opener of the NLDS, one in 2005 and the other in 2006—but his past troubles have to be a concern, be it ever so slight, when John Farrell is setting up his postseason rotation which already included some combination of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, Felix Dubront and (hopefully) Clay Buchholz.

Here's how Peavy's playoffs compare with other active players and also the other members of the Cy Young Award fraternity.

Pitchers (minimum two postseason starts) active in the majors in 2013, with the highest career playoff ERAs:

Rick Ankiel*†--- 2 games, 16.20 ERA, 4.20 WHIP, 13.5 H/9
Shaun Marcum†--- 3 games, 14.90 ERA, 2.28 WHIP, 15.8 H/9
Jake Peavy--- 2 games, 12.10 ERA, 2.38 WHIP, 17.7 H/9
Brian Duensing--- 2 games, 11.25 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 15.8 H/9
Ervin Santana--- 2 games, 9.31 ERA, 1.45, WHIP, 10.2 H/9
* No longer pitching †Played in 2013 but not currently on a roster


Cy Young Award winners with the highest career playoff ERAs:
Pitcher Games ERA WHIP Hits/9
Jake Peavy--- 2 games, 12.10 ERA, 2.38 WHIP, 17.7 H/9
Pat Hentgen--- 3 games, 9.24 ERA, 2.45 WHIP, 14.9 H/9
Don Newcombe--- 5 games, 8.59 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 11.9 H/9
Jack McDowell ---4 games, 8.55 ERA, 1.85 WHIP, 12.2 H/9
Zack Greinke---3 games, 6.48 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 12.4 H/9


Koji Uehara's claim to fame

  July 30, 2013 01:01 AM

uehara.jpgThe trade deadline is tomorrow and for weeks the Red Sox have been rumored to be in the thick of things, especially in pursuing more bullpen help. But before they possibly make a deal for someone like Joe Nathan, Greg Holland or even Jonathan Papelbon, it’s time to ask: Where would the Red Sox be without Koji Uehara? The veteran righthander from Japan by way of Texas and Baltimore has done yeoman’s work stabilizing the back end of a bullpen that earlier in the season looked to be the Achilles’ heel of an otherwise strong squad. Entering the season Uehara was at best third on Boston’s depth chart for closers, and when the top two, Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey each went down with injuries, it was Junichi Tazawa and not Uehara who received the first crack at getting saves.

Since taking over ninth inning duties on June 26 Uehara is tied for fourth in the AL with eight saves in nine attempts and has done so with typical Uehara efficiency. He’s struck out 25 batters in 17 ⅓ innings while walking just one. Only David Price, who stifled the Sox last night, has had a better ratio (35:1) among those with at least 15 innings pitched over that span. He also ranks among the league leaders in strikeouts per nine innings at 12.74 which also coincidentally is the highest for any hurler with at least 40 innings pitched in his Red Sox career.

But the main point here is that Uehara is a phenomenon when it comes to strikeout-to-walk ratio. Nobody who’s pitched at least 100 big league innings has a better career rate than his 8.05:1. That’s right. We’re not just just comparing him to active players or even modern players. That’s compared to everyone who has regularly toed the rubber in the big leagues. In fact the next on the list, James Burke, who pitched for the Buffalo Bisons and Boston Reds in the early 1880s, stands a half strikeout behind Uehara at 7.53. Among active players, the best rates belong to Sergio Romo of the Giants (5.77) and St. Louis’ Edward Mujica (5.26 career, and the only one ahead of Uehara this season with 38 K’s and just two walks).

To put Uehara’s 2013 season into perspective, he’s Boston’s franchise career leader by a mile over the rest of those who threw at least 40 innings (granted it’s a small sample but given the rest of his career, not an unreasonable comparison). The second and third pitchers on the list, Pedro Martinez (5.45) and Curt Schilling (5.31) were constantly lauded for their command and efficiency and rank among the best in modern baseball history. Despite the fact that Uehara’s rate in his Boston debut season is also his lowest in four years, his Boston debut currently places him sixth in terms of single-season stats.

These are the best single-season strikeout-to-walk ratios in Red Sox history
(minimum 40 innings pitched)


    Pitcher, Season, K:BB Ratio

    papelbon_1026.jpg

  1. Jonathan Papelbon, 2008, 9.63

  2. Junichi Tazawa, 2012, 9.00

  3. Pedro Martinez, 2000, 8.88

  4. Jonathan Papelbon, 2011, 8.70

  5. Pedro Martinez, 1999, 8.46

  6. Koji Uehara, 2013, 8.38

Shedding light on the Laser Show

  July 25, 2013 09:05 AM

Pedroia.jpgYesterday the Red Sox and Dustin Pedroia finalized a new contract that will reportedly pay the All-Star second baseman $110-million over the next eight seasons. The soon-to-be-30-year-old will likely spend the rest of his career in Boston’s red, white, and blue allowing him a chance to continue his assault on the Red Sox record book for a long time to come. Midway through his eighth major league season, Pedroia has more hits (1,146) for the Red Sox than Carlton Fisk (1,097) did in 11 seasons, has a higher OPS than Bobby Doerr (.827 to .823), and has reached base more times (1,578) for the Sox than Jerry Remy (1,018) and Babe Ruth (540) combined. He already has the same number of five-hit games as Ted Williams, Wade Boggs and Johnny Damon (three, and only Carl Yastrzemski and Johnny Pesky had four).

At his position Pedroia’s prowess stands out even more. Only Doerr (who played 14 seasons) hit more doubles, more home runs, drove in more runs and amassed more total bases among regular Red Sox second basemen. Doerr and Billy Goodman (who played 11 seasons, primarily at second but also at various other spots) are the only Sox second sackers with more hits, runs scored and times on base. And let’s not forget defense. Pedroia has Boston’s highest career fielding percentage at second base (.991) among those who have played as many as 150 games at the position, and only Mark Loretta (.994) is better when the bar is lowered to include everyone with as many as 100 games there.

But his big new contract isn’t based on history, it’s based on current market value and at second base where it’s hard to find too many players in Pedroia’s class. Only New York’s Robinson Cano, who himself is seeking a big new contract, has consistently been more productive among those who’ve regularly played the position since 2007, Pedroia’s first full big league season. Here’s how he ranks since then.

  • Games: 927 (4th) Leader: Robinson Cano (1,061)
  • Runs: 614 (4th) Leader: Ian Kinsler (640)
  • Hits: 1,129 (2nd) Leader: Cano (1,253)
  • Doubles: 266 (2nd) Leader: Cano (278)
  • Home Runs: 94 (9th) Leader, Dan Uggla (202)
  • Runs Batted In: 460 (5th) Leader: Cano (645)
  • Batting Average: .30530 (1st) Next: Cano (.30524)
  • On-Base Pct.: .373 (2nd) Leader Chase Utley (.381)
  • Slugging Pct.: .460 (4th) Leader: Cano (.508)
  • Stolen Bases 116 (5th) Leader: Kinsler (152)
  • Extra Base Hits: 372 (3rd) Leader: Cano (470)
  • Total Bases: 1,701 (4th) Leader: Cano (2,084)
  • Times on Base: 1,553 (2nd) Leader: Cano (1,600)
  • Runs Created: 600 (2nd) Leader: Cano (657)
  • Multiple Hit Games: 328 (2nd) Leader: Cano (375)
  • Three-hit games: 100 (1st) Next: Cano (91)
  • Fielding Pct.: .992 (3rd) Leader: Placido Polanco (.995)

Moore's historic night at Fenway

  July 23, 2013 09:43 AM

MattMoore.jpgAs a rule visiting lefthanded starting pitchers have rarely fared well at Fenway Park. Since 1920 (the start of the live-ball era) opposing southpaw starters have a combined 558-694 record, for a .446 winning percentage in the daunting shadow of the Green Monster, a staggeringly low figure when considering that it includes some very lean years in Boston baseball history.

Those in attendance at Fenway Park on Monday night may not have been pleased with the outcome, a 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay that pulled the surging Rays to within ½ game of the Red Sox for the American League East lead, but they did bear witness to one of the greatest pitching performances by a visiting lefthander in the history of the venerable old building. Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore threw a two-hit, complete-game shutout to become the first lefthander since Oakland’s Brett Anderson to blank the BoSox at Fenway since 2009. In fact, those two are the only lefties to pull off the feat since the start of the 1990 season, which leads us to how rare Moore’s start actually was. Here’s a breakdown of how few lefthanded visitors have accomplished what Moore was able to.

All numbers for visiting lefthanded starters at Fenway Park


  • Individual games started: 1,626

  • Number of different starting pitchers: 426

  • Games with at least nine innings pitched: 260

  • Games with nine innings and no earned runs allowed: 57

  • Games with nine innings and no runs allowed: 47

  • Games with nine innings, no runs and no more than two hits: 8 (Moore, Brett Anderson, Bo Belinsky, Chuck Finley, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Jimmy Key, Juan Pizarro)

  • Games with nine innings, no runs, and no more than three baserunners: 4 (Moore, Lefty Grove, Tommy John, Sam McDowell)

  • Games with nine innings, no runs, no more than two hits, no more than three base runners: 2 (Matt Moore, Rays on July 22, 2013 and Tommy John, Yankees on May 20, 1979.

Two halves don't make a whole

  July 18, 2013 07:59 AM

Ellsbury.jpgIn an attempt to further illustrate how different the current Red Sox are from their last-place 2012 brethren, and with the All Star break as a natural break in the season, I decided to take a look at the major league leaders in some main aggregate categories since last year’s midsummer classic and compare them with the Red Sox. While the numbers should look like season totals, few Red Sox, like Jacoby Ellsbury, (above) actually made the grade.

Here are some brief findings in the period from July 9, 2012 through July 17, 2013:

Hits
MLB leader: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (226) Sox: Leader: Dustin Pedroia (201, tied for 8th)

Only three other Sox —Jacoby Ellsbury (192), Daniel Nava (108) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (103) have as many as 100 hits during that span for Boston, although newcomers Shane Victorino (142 for three teams), Stephen Drew (113, also for three teams), and Mike Napoli (109) also have been productive.

Home Runs
MLB leaders: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers and Chris Davis, Orioles (56); Red Sox leader: David Ortiz (20).

Incredibly Ortiz is the Sox leading power hitter despite playing in just 82 of the team’s 173 games over that span, due to his Achilles’ injury. Mike Napoli has more (23) but 12 of those came last season for Texas. As an aside, the exiled Adrian Gonzalez shows up on the Red Sox list in seventh-place on the strength of the nine second-half home runs he blasted prior to the blockbuster trade that landed him with the Dodgers.

RBIs
MLB leader: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (163); Red Sox leader: Dustin Pedroia (88, tied for 40th)

In that timeframe the Sox scored a total of 800 runs which places them sixth overall in the majors and fourth in the American League, the RBIs were just spread around 29 players, with Ortiz (68), Nava (59), Napoli (58), Ellsbury (56), and Saltalamacchia (55) doing the most individual damage.

Stolen Bases
MLB leader: Everth Cabrera, Padres (63); Red Sox leader Jacoby Ellsbury (50, 2nd)

Although the power he displayed in 2011 is virtually invisible, Ellsbury’s biggest asset, his speed, is back in full force, with 36 of those 50 swipes coming in the first half of 2013. Shane Victorino (11 this year for Boston, 31 overall) and Dustin Pedroia (27) also placed in the Top 25.

Wins
MLB leader: Max Scherzer, Tigers (21-3 record); Red Sox leader: Clay Buchholz (12-6) and Jon Lester (12-14), both tied for 50th.

The only current member of the Sox higher on the list is Ryan Dempster who has won 13 games since last break, with eight coming for the Cubs and Rangers.

Saves
MLB leader: Jim Johnson (58); Red Sox leader: Andrew Bailey, (14, tied for 35th in a 30-team league)

Boston’s post-Papelbon endgame has been a nightmare and this illustrates it. Joel Hanrahan (17 in that span) was supposed to be the answer before he was lost for the year and may never pitch again for the Sox. Koji Uehara (9) and Alfredo Aceves (6) were next. The Sox were tied for last in the AL with Toronto with 34 saves and ranked 29th out of 30 in save percentage, ahead of only Theo Epstein’s Cubs.

The alltime Red Sox All-Star Game team

  July 16, 2013 12:56 PM

Pedroia_dugout0104.jpgThe MLB All-Star Game is tonight featuring two Red Sox, David Ortiz, starting at DH and Dustin Pedroia (right), as a reserve second baseman. I thought it would be a good time to look back at the best Red Sox performances throughout All-Star Game history. From Pedro Martinez's dominance to Ted Williams' heroics I wanted to pick the greatest Red Sox All-Stars, based solely on their showings in the game's summer showcase. While some of those selected here are rather predictable, others are not who you thought they'd be, and that's the fun of exercises like this.

Remember, this is just one man's opinion, and your team could be completely different. But for the record, here are my Alltime Red Sox All-Stars.

Catcher: The first Red Sox All-Star was catcher Rick Ferrell who went 0-3 with a sacrifice bunt in his four trips to the plate in the inaugural mid-summer classic played at Chicago's Comiskey Park in 1933. And since then only three Red Sox backstops have managed any All-Star hits, just one had a multi-hit game and he's also the only Sox catcher to walke twice in a game. Is it Carlton Fisk? Nope, Pudge was 1 for 12 in his six games for Boston. Jason Varitek? The Captain did bat .500 with an OBP of .667 but came to the plate in only one of the two games he was selected for. The answer is Birdie Tebbets who played in the 1948 and 1949 All-Star contests and reached base four out of five trips to the plate. He and Fisk are also the only Sox catchers to drive in an All-Star run.

yaz.jpgFirst Base: An 18-time All-Star, Carl Yastrzemski was primarily a left fielder throughout his career but also played a significant number of games at first, including three of his All-Star appearances. As a first sacker, Yaz was an impressive 4 for 7 in All-Star competition, including 2 for 3 at the spot after moving from center field in his MVP 1970 game. Honorable mentions go to David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez and George Scott, all of whom went deep.

Second Base: The table is set tonight for Dustin Pedroia who, with a good game, could take over the top spot from Bobby Doerr who appeared in eight ASG's, reaching base via hit just four times, accounting for every hit by a Sox second sacker in 32 All-Star at bats.

Shortstop: With 18 total games spread out seven All-Star shortstops to choose from you'd figure that there would be some competition for this honor, but the spot goes without much of a fight to Joe Cronin, who in five appearances hit .235 with a double and two runs batted in. In 1935 his second inning scoring fly (sacrifice flies weren't accounted for during much of the 1930's and 40's) provided the deciding run in the AL's 4-1 victory.

Third Base: Eight different Red Sox have manned the hot corner in the ASG, with Wade Boggs leading the way with eight games played and a typical .368 batting average. He gets the nod over Frank Malzone who was selected seven times and is one of just two Sox third basemen (with Boggs) to smack an All-Star homer.

FULL ENTRY

Home Run Derby: no Red Sox, no problem

  July 15, 2013 12:29 PM

JimRice.jpgThe most exciting part of Major League Baseball’s All Star extravaganza takes place at CitiField in Flushing tonight as some of baseball’s best sluggers duke it out in the Home Run Derby. This season there will be an infusion of youth into the event as players like Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez, Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes, Baltimore’s Chris Davis and Washington’s Bryce Harper (the first-ever Nationals representative) square off for baseball’s power-hitting supremacy.

While there are no Red Sox participating in tonight’s festivities, only the Blue Jays (13) Mariners (12) and Orioles (12) have been represented more often than Boston, including Hall of Famer Jim Rice, (above, right) who finished in a tie for second place behind Dave Parker in the very first derby back in 1985. Given recent history and the team's recent struggles, perhaps sitting this one out is for the best.

Many a slugger has gone into a protracted power-slump following the contest that alters the approach of most of the participating batters. The last three participating Red Sox, David Ortiz (twice) and Adrian Gonzalez, each suffered a serious decline in home run production following successes in the Home Run Derby, Ortiz in 2010 when he won the title, and both Ortiz and Gonzalez in 2011 when Gonzo went neck-and-neck with Robinson Cano, only to fall one home run shy of the championship.

Following Boston’s 11 appearances in the Derby, only two players, a much younger Ortiz, whose rate dropped from 15.62 pre-Derby in 2005 to 10.5 post-Derby, and Nomar Garciaparra whose 1997 contest in Cleveland consisted of just 10 fruitless swings—enjoyed a substantial improvement in at bats per home runs after the contest. Worst hit by their appearance were Carl Everett in 2000 (24 home runs in 330 at bats before the derby, just 10 in 231 after) and Mo Vaughn in 1995 (24 HR in 312 PA before, 15 in 324 PA after).

Here are the At Bats per home run rate of Red Sox hitters from before and after their participation in the Home Run Derby:
HRDerby.jpg

Primero Papi: David Ortiz and the DH

  July 11, 2013 07:57 AM

PapiSwing.jpgLeading off the second inning of last night’s game at Safeco Field in Seattle, David Ortiz laced a double to the left centerfield gap off of Mariners starter Aaron Harang to become the alltime leader in hits among designated hitters, breaking a tie with Harold Baines. That added to a long list of records Big Papi now holds among designated hitters, including at bats (5,835), home runs (370), RBI (1,209), total bases (3,266), slugging percentage (.560), runs (1,018), doubles (432), intentional walks (131), and strikeouts (1,215). In fact there are only two more significant aggregate categories that he ranks second in and one day will likely own as well: most games as a DH (his 1,564 is 79 behind Baines’ 1,643) and most times on base for a DH (trails Edgar Martinez 2,659 to 2,630).

The DH was adopted by the American League 40 years ago but over that time there have been just 24 men who’ve collected as many as 500 hits from the spot. Among them, just 10 men have managed at least half of their career major league hits from the DH spot. Of those, only Travis Hafner of the Indians and Yankees has been a DH for a higher percentage of his hits than Ortiz, who has a mere 263 hits as a first baseman or pinch hitter. Even Martinez, the man Ortiz has wrestled the title of “Greatest DH” away from, reached base safely via a hit 624 hits as a corner infielder (and 16 more as a pinch hitter).

FULL ENTRY

Red Sox review: 2012 vs. 2013

  July 1, 2013 11:31 AM

PapiFlag.jpgThe Red Sox first three months of the 2013 season have been quite memorable and there's no doubting that this is a much more enjoyable squad to watch than the dysfunctional 2012 edition. However with a few exceptions, the team's stats on the morning of July 1, 2013 looked strikingly similar to those the Red Sox had on the corresponding sunrise exactly one year ago.

The current standings show that the Red Sox are in first place in the AL East with the best record in the entire American League. This marks the first time since 2009 that Boston has opened July in the division lead.

But for all of the gains on the basepaths (Jacoby Ellsbury has matched the team's first three-months of 2012 total by himself) and in the starting rotation (significant drop in starters ERA), last year's squad was much stronger out of the bullpen (more converted saves and nearly a full run lower in ERA) and actually had more power in the lineup than the current unit (a 19% decrease in home runs per game).

The 2013 pitching staff strikes out more batters than 2012, but also has walked the most batters in the majors (on the second highest rate of walks per nine innings in '13, fifth best in the AL over the same span of 2012).

So while it seems that this team is so much better than last year's, for the most part, the numbers aren't vastly different. The attitude, hustle and intangibles in John Farrell's first three months on the job are another story altogether.

Here's a head-to-head statistical look at the 2012 and 2013 squads entering July. RedSoxJuly1resize.jpg

Aggressive running key to Red Sox success

  June 26, 2013 09:21 AM

The Red Sox kicked off off a nine-game homestand with an impressive offensive outburst against the Rockies, racking up 11 runs and a season-high 20 hits in an 11-4 win. The explosion raised their major league-leading runs total to 505, an average of 5.13 runs per game, also tops in the bigs. The game was a microcosm of a new-look to this offense: Although they didn’t hit a home run, they managed to manufacture runs using speed. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2013 Red Sox are the American League’s most aggressive team on the basepaths.

Boston leads the league with 20 triples, the 20th coming in the fourth inning on Stephen Drew’s fourth of the season. By contrast, that’s already four more triples as a team than last season’s squad managed in 162 games in setting a new low water mark in Red Sox history. The last time that the Sox paced the league in three-baggers was 1972 when 17 different batters had at least one, paced by the “speedy” Carlton Fisk whose nine tied Oakland’s Joe Rudi for tops in the AL. In more than 11 decades they’ve led the AL in triples just eight times total (1903, ‘04, ‘08, ‘13, ‘14, ‘34, ‘40, ‘72), under three names (the Americans, Pilgrims and Red Sox)

These Sox also steal bases. Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia each successfully stole against Rox catcher Willin Rosario, adding to Boston’s AL-high total of 62 (32 of which have been contributed by AL-leader Jacoby Ellsbury). That’s nearly two-thirds of the way to last season’s team total of 97 swipes from Bobby Valentine’s team, and already more than Boston managed to steal in 48 other entire seasons. Incredibly, since 1901 when the AL was founded, the Red Sox have led the league in stolen bases exactly once, in 1935, when Billy Werber (29) and Mel Almada (20) stole more than half of the team’s 91 bags.

The victory over Colorado also marked the 11th time this season that the Red Sox both tripled and stole a base in a game, the most such games in the majors this season, and something they did just seven times all of last season. And while offensive stats are nice in themselves, what’s even better is that the team is turning that aggressiveness on the basepaths into winning, going 8-3 when both of those things happen. Since 1976 when the Mariners and Blue Jays entered the AL, only five teams have led the AL in both triples and stolen bases, the 1979, 1980, and 2002 Royals, the 1984 Blue Jays and 1986 Indians.

Last but not least, John Farrell’s team takes the extra base. Among the AL’s top eight players who have scored the most runs from second base on a single, three—Daniel Nava (10), Shane Victorino (10) and Mike Napoli (!, 9)‚—are Red Sox. While that might not seem like a lot, it is when you realize that only three Red Sox—Dustin Pedroia (17), Mike Aviles (12) and Nava (9)— managed to score as many as nine such runs all of last season, a vivid indicator of the differences between a team in first place and a team in last.

High and Tight: The Red Sox-Rays Rivalry

  June 18, 2013 08:02 AM

Red Sox Rays Brawl.jpg
The Rays pull into Fenway today for a three-games-in-two-days series against the Red Sox for the latest chapter in one of baseball’s most heated rivalries. When these teams met last week in St. Petersburg the benches cleared after John Lackey drilled Matt Joyce in the back with a pitch, coming on the heels of an earlier incident when Joyce stared at a long foul ball as if it were a home run, irking Lackey and the Red Sox. That was just the latest incident of acrimony between teams with a long history of aiming at each other.

These division rivals have made a habit of impromptu congregations on the field since the then-Devil Rays entered the AL in 1998, mainly due to batters getting hit by pitches. If it seems like these teams have targeted each other constantly with the baseball, they have. Starting that first year for baseball in Tampa Bay, there have been 250 hit batsmen in the 268 meetings in the lifetime series, with Red Sox batters plunked 127 times and Rays hitters feeling the sting another 123. The only matchup in baseball with more hit-batters over that span is the granddaddy rivalry of them all, the Yankees-Red Sox, which has produced a bruise-inducing 267 free passes via ball-to-body contact (154 Yankees hit, 113 Red Sox).

The root cause of the conflict lies in the fact that both of these teams regularly hit a lot of batters, regardless of rivalry status, so there’s bound to be fireworks when these two intimidators meet. Since 1998 they are the only two teams to hit more than a thousand batters from the mound, the Red Sox leading with 1,095 and the Rays safely in second at 1,036. A vast majority of their opponents however don’t react with malice, as Boston batters have been hit the 10th most times since ‘98 (913) and the perennial underdog or overachieving Rays come in 13th (867).

The top three victims on the Rays side of the BOS-TB rivalry — Carl Crawford (8), Jonny Gomes (7), Carlos Peña (6) — have not only each played for the Red Sox, they were all quite disappointing in their stints (although the jury is still out on Gomes who enters today’s doubleheader with a slash line of .208/.329/.352), Peña’s Boston experience coming before his time in Florida while Crawford and Gomes came after.

The Rays’ favorite targets in the batters box were the heart and soul of the Sox success with Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis each drilled 11 times, while Nomar Garciaparra, Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek getting the message eight times each. Perhaps as a testament to his congeniality, (or more likely the fear that he’s charge the mound) David Ortiz has only been drilled by a Rays hurler three times in 11 seasons.

On the hill, Tim Wakefield (13, also the major league leader over the span with 139 hit batters) and Pedro Martinez (10) account for nearly 20% of the damage inflicted on Tampa Bay while the current quartet of Jon Lester (6), John Lackey (4), Alfredo Aceves (3) and Franklin Morales (3) make up another 12.6%.

Former Rays ace Scott Kazmir, now of the Indians, hit nine Sox during his Tampa Bay career while former Sox lefty, Casey Fossum, was next with seven of his former mates feeling the pain. However Fossum’s HBPs brought much more of a message, coming in just 44 ⅓ innings over 10 appearances. Among current Rays only 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price (5) has hit more than two Boston batters.

Jose Iglesias is Batting What?

  June 14, 2013 12:37 PM

iglesias.jpgEntering this season Jose Iglesias’ status as the Red Sox shortstop of the future was is serious doubt, coming off of a 2012 that saw his batting average stand at .118, the second-worst in Red Sox club history for someone with as many as his 77 plate appearances (catcher Ed Connolly batted .075 in 1931). But things have certainly changed for the now-23 year-old from Cuba. The infielder has been a stand out offensively for John Farrell’s crew, raising his average 331-points over last season to an astonishing .449 through his first 87 trips to the dish. Obviously we don’t expect this to continue, but in the name of good fun, here are some tidbits about the incredible Iglesias.

  • He currently has the American League’s longest active hitting streak at 14 games which puts him one behind David Oritz for Boston’s longest streak of the season (Ortiz's 27-game streak was spread over two seasons).
  • Although he’s batting .440 during the streak, his average has actually dropped from .464 at the start of it on May 27 to .449 where it currently stands.
  • The last Sox rookie with a longer hitting streak was Jacoby Ellsbury who hit in 18 consecutive games in September, 2008.
  • His .449 average is the highest in the major leagues among all players with at least 87 plate appearances.
  • When we say the highest in the majors, we aren’t only talking about this season. If he were to not step up to the dish another time in 2013 (which we know won’t be the case) he would own the highest batting average of any player with at least 87 trips to the plate in modern baseball history (since 1901 when the American League came into existence).
  • Currently holding that distinction is Hall of Fame 417-game winner Walter Johnson who went 42 of 97 at the plate in 1925 for a .433 average.
  • Toss 19th Century players into the mix and Iglesias only drops to second, behind Levi Mayerle who batted a robust .492 for the National Association’s Athletics in 1871 (he also led the circuit in home runs with four).
  • Despite hitting just one home run and seven doubles, his .577 slugging percentage is .001 ahead of NL home run leader Domonic Brown, and also higher than Mike Trout (.550), Evan Longoria (.544), Robinson Cano (.521) and Jose Bautista (.520) among many others. Yet that places him third on the Red Sox behind David Ortiz (.613) and Mike Carp (.680)
  • His 2013 batting average and slugging percentage at Triple A Pawtucket are .202 and .319 respectively.

A tale of two Aprils

  April 30, 2013 03:06 PM

In the death throes of the Bobby Valentine era, it was laughable to imagine the Red Sox as anything even close to resembling a feel-good story. Yet here we are at the end of April, with the Red Sox leading the AL East by three games while producing moments like this. And were those cheers from the Fenway faithful for John Lackey? It’s all too much to contemplate.

For a team not expected to do much of anything this year, Boston’s hot start comes as even more of a surprise. Let’s break down how they’re doing it, compared to their ho-hum start to the 2012 season.

The difference hasn’t come from the offense; in fact, the Sox have scored a nearly identical number of runs as they did last April. Daniel Nava and Shane Victorino have been pleasant offensive surprises, picking up the slack for the struggling bats of Will Middlebrooks and Stephen Drew. Still, on paper, this team shouldn’t produce nearly as much as last year’s lineup. One of the big question marks going forward is if the Sox will be able to sustain this level of run production—their team BAbip of .340 suggests a bit of a drop-off may be coming soon.

soxapril1.png

The transformation from a .500 team in April to a division leader has come about through improved performance on the mound. Resurgent stuff from Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, as well as offseason pickup Ryan Dempster, has made Boston’s pitching staff into the American League’s second-best unit, behind only Texas. The bullpen has been on par with the starters; instead of comically blowing leads as they did last April, the relief staff, led by a healthy Andrew Bailey, has been dependable in locking up wins. As a whole, Boston hurlers have struck out nearly 100 more batters than they did through the first month of 2012, a big reason for their success.

soxapril2.png

Apparently that’s the formula for morphing from the city’s most scorned team into perhaps its most inspirational: a new cast of characters, solid bats, and lockdown pitching. Still, the team has yet to play even a sixth of its full schedule, so if you’ve been saving up some vitriol to spew at John Henry and crew, stay tuned.

How do MLB teams price free agents?

  December 18, 2012 01:09 AM

With the signings of Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke last week, the Hot Stove reached its boiling point. Another year, another awe-inspiring spectacle of money being thrown around by front offices desperate for a new toy.

The cash hemorrhages we see every winter for top free agents leads me to wonder if teams ever hope to accrue back the value of a contract like Hamilton’s or Greinke’s. But for every massive free agent contract, there are many more sensible, well-negotiated moves that are not subject to the superstar premium. This fact leads to the broader question: how do MLB teams price the free agents they sign?

For an easy, comparable measure of value, I’ll use WAR. This allows me to assess position players and pitchers together, so I can come to a total rate that teams pay free agents for their per-unit value.

I compiled a list of all the free agents to sign with an MLB team as of Tuesday night, then recorded their WAR from the 2012 season, which I used as a projection for how we might expect them to perform in 2013. Obviously, this is a quick and dirty method for predicting performance—it doesn’t incorporate age or injury history, for one thing—but recent form is essentially what front offices are paying for. I am not suggesting that every player is going to exactly replicate his play from a year ago, but rather that this is the primary criterion by which a team and a player settle on a contract.

Next, I logged the per-year dollar average from each player’s new contract—essentially, what his team will be paying him in 2013. With these pieces of information, I was now able to estimate the going market rate per WAR.

Thus far, teams have allocated about $453 million in 2013 for an expected 98.7 WAR, which comes out to $4.6 million per WAR. The average per-WAR cost for last year’s free agent class was $4.5 million, so the market has remained essentially the same. In fact, assuming two percent inflation from one year to the next, the figures are exactly the same, with the extra $0.1 million simply a product of the general rise in the price level.

For their part, the Red Sox have not exactly been buying low this offseason. The six players the team signed this offseason project to produce 13.7 WAR, at a cost of $116.75 million in 2013. That amounts to $8.5 million per WAR, or nearly double the rate of the rest of the league. This number is a bit inflated, given that the Red Sox are banking on more productive campaigns in 2013 from Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew, but the front office certainly wasn’t playing hardball during its negotiations.

With most of the big free agent names now off the market, this number is not likely to change much in the coming weeks. The Sox will have to depend on the notion that they rightly overpaid for premium performance, something that hasn’t quite held up for the past few free agent classes to come to Fenway.

tags Red Sox

Should the Red Sox make a splash in free agency?

  October 9, 2012 02:16 AM

I've written about the "winner's curse" in this space before, but as a quick recap: the winner's curse refers to the phenomenon in which the winner of a sealed-bid style auction (when each party knows only his or her own bid) almost always overpays for the item won, since the most extreme valuation among a group is typically not the correct one.

Why is this relevant? Well, given the financial flexibility with which the Red Sox unexpectedly find themselves this offseason, they're in prime position to overbid for eligible free agents. Even worse, this winter's supply of free agents won't be good enough to meet the demand in the marketplace, so the players that are available will likely be able to command greater bargaining power in negotiating their new contracts.

On the other hand, the front office needs to improve this team, and fast. Ownership will not want to risk the further tarnish that another losing season -- let alone another 90-loss season -- would smear on its brand and its bottom line. The quickest and easiest fix for this problem is to throw cash at it until it goes away, or at least recedes a little bit into the distance.

For that reason, you can bet the Red Sox will make a few moves in free agency, in addition to bringing back Cody Ross, Jacoby Ellsbury, and David Ortiz for another season; they have no excuse to stand pat, after the Dodgers excavated them from the worst of the rubble of bad contracts littering their books. So how big of a splash will they ultimately make? Let's look at a few potential additions and what they would mean to the Red Sox for next season and beyond.

The Big Fish: Josh Hamilton

Why sign him: He's been known to hit baseballs pretty hard. Hamilton is coming off of a career-high 43 home run season, and he played in 148 games, his most since 2008. An up-and-down second half of the season may also reduce his value, as will things like "my eyes got stuck." Whoever signs Hamilton assumes a certain risk you don't get with many other ballplayers.

Why pass on him: That whole winner's curse thing. Hamilton is almost certain to be overpaid by the end of his deal, given that he'll turn 32 next year -- generally not a good age for a new contract to begin. He was nagged by injuries on and off pretty much all season, and he won't be an effective defensive outfielder much longer. The bottom line is the contract Hamilton signs this offseason will probably pay more for his past performance than what he’ll produce in the future.

Verdict: Tempting, but no.

The Smaller Fish: Mike Napoli

Why sign him: James Loney didn't win many hearts and minds during his brief Boston cameo at first base, and the Red Sox could use a slugging first baseman. Napoli fits the bill, beating the baseball into submission in 2011 on his way to posting a .631 slugging percentage and a 1.046 OPS.

Why pass on him: His 2011 season is far and away the best he's ever put together, so there's no reason to expect that on a consistent basis. He'll still hit home runs and draw walks, but he won't do much else. And just like Hamilton, he's already in his early 30's. Age regression, the biggest reason teams lose value on free agent contracts, seems like a fair assumption here as well.

Verdict: Negative, not enough upside.

Carl Crawford, Part II: B.J. Upton

Why sign him: At 28 years old, he's about as young as you'll find anyone on the free agent market, and that's important since a large part of what he brings to the table is related to his speed. His power numbers have risen each of the last five seasons, and his ugly batting average numbers will likely depress his value somewhat. Whoever signs him will probably get the best three or four seasons of his career, which you can't say for many free agent signings.

Why pass on him: He's a speedy free agent outfielder from Tampa Bay. He strikes out more than once per game. He doesn't get on base much, and he can't hit for average.

Verdict: Ah, what the heck, let's give it a whirl.

The Risky Venture: Brandon McCarthy

Why sign him: When healthy, he's been a top-two starter the last couple of years. He hasn't hit 30 yet. The Red Sox pitching staff was a mess last season. John Lackey will probably factor heavily in the rotation next year. That seems like a pretty compelling case to me.

Why pass on him: "…when healthy." McCarthy has only topped 115 innings in a season once in his career, and he has dealt with persistently recurring shoulder problems for the last five seasons. He's been comparatively healthier the last two seasons, but it's difficult to count on him pitching the full year.

Verdict: On a short contract, go for it.

tags Red Sox

David Ortiz and the Fountain of Youth

  June 5, 2012 12:39 AM

Over the past ten seasons, the Boston Red Sox have had quite a few heroes. Some, like Damon or Pedro, may seem as if they played closer to 20 seasons ago, and a new cast of stars, perhaps led by Will Middlebrooks, might one day take their place in Fenway lore. But the 2012 season has given us ample opportunity to appreciate the one constant and the biggest hero of these past ten years, the apparently ageless David Ortiz.

After taking two out of three from the Blue Jays, the Red Sox currently stand two games above .500, which, while not a remarkable achievement in itself, feels awfully satisfying given that the Sox were sitting at 13-19 just over three weeks ago. And much of the credit for keeping the Sox afloat during their early season struggles must go to Ortiz, who carried the offense through April and May.

At 36, Ortiz is on pace for his best season since 2007, in which he finished fourth in the MVP voting. His .987 OPS is third in the American League, and he’s in the top ten in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging with a .315/.391/.596 line.

The most incredible thing about his early season run is that it has come exactly three years after his career was pronounced dead, or at best barely breathing, after a nightmare start to the 2009 season. Even after turning his season around with a late summer surge, Red Sox management was spooked; since then, they have kept Ortiz on a series of one-year leashes, every time half expecting a season full of sad shakes of the head and postgame ponderings on the meaning of mortality. His 2010 season was a pleasant surprise, but apparently not enough to sway anyone that a multi-year deal was a prudent investment for fear of the inevitable age regression lurking the following spring.

But a funny thing happened—every year since ’09, Ortiz got better. Over this span, he’s hit for more power and for a better average, his strikeout rates are down, and he’s squaring up the ball, hitting more line drives. His last four seasons resemble a player just entering his peak years, not a guy who has logged 7,500 plate appearances in his major league career (images courtesy of TruMedia Networks).

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Plotted below is the MLB-average OPS since 1901 for players aged 33 to 36, along with the corresponding production from Ortiz. The average is actually skewed up by the fact that only the best and most durable players can maintain a regular spot in the lineup at this age. The sample of hitters still playing into their mid-30s falls from 619 at 33 years old to 244 at 36. Still, it appears no one told this to Ortiz, who has instead improved like a man 10 years his junior over the last few years.

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Of course, in the long run, Father Time is still batting 1.000, and no one knows how much longer Ortiz can string this Benjamin Button act out. One thing is for certain: management is going to have a very interesting decision ahead of them this winter. If he keeps up this level of production, there’s no way they can justify giving him a pay cut, but it’s almost as difficult to stomach shelling out 15 million for a 37-year-old slugger in a (mostly) post-steroids baseball landscape. There’s no obvious answer; as the last few years have shown, there really aren’t many good comparables by which we can judge Ortiz. He’s a one of a kind player, and Ben Cherington’s guess as to when he’ll finally lose it is as good as anyone’s.

Beckett's decreasing velocity a cause for concern

  May 14, 2012 07:40 PM

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Boston Dirt Dogs photo illustration

Ah, May 15. That day of universal celebration across Red Sox Nation: Josh Beckett's birthday. On this merry occasion, Beckett's mailbox will surely be stuffed with the most fervent wishes of well-being from his legions of adoring fans. And he'll even be returning the favor, toeing the rubber this afternoon against the Seattle Mariners and doubtless delivering a gift of a performance to his supporters -- all 15 of them.

Sarcasm aside, Red Sox fans have unfortunately been led to expect next to nothing from Beckett, given his last few months in the spotlight. He has supplemented subpar performances on the mound by being at the center of nearly all the negative PR currently surrounding the team. For some reason, an ERA hovering around six doesn't put people in a forgiving mood.

But Beckett's struggles on the field shouldn't be attributed to the deteriorating clubhouse environment he has helped to create; plenty of malcontents have been consistently great players, and his attitude doesn't affect the jump on his fastball. What should be more alarming for the Sox is the fading strength of Beckett's 32-year-old right arm.

Beckett's velocity topped out in 2006, his first season with the Red Sox. His fastball averaged 94.7 mph, and he relied on the pitch heavily, throwing it 69 percent of the time. Between '06 and '09, his velocity remained relatively constant, but he began utilizing his peripheral pitches more frequently, throwing his curveball and changeup more often and even mixing in a cut fastball. He was one of the most productive pitchers in baseball over this period, ranking 12th among all hurlers in Wins Above Replacement.

In 2010, Beckett turned 30 -- bad news for any athlete, pitchers included. A study on peak age for pitchers conducted by Tom Tango found that, on average, the number of innings pitched for all pitchers tops out at age 27. Pitchers' value (measured in WAR per game) continues to increase until it crests at age 30, due to the inability of below-average pitchers to remain in the league beyond their mid-20s physical peaks; in other words, only good pitchers are able to stay in the majors into their 30s. Even so, as Tango writes, pitchers "are definitely on the down slope starting at age 30."

Beckett appears to be no exception to this trend. Since turning 30 in May of 2010, he has lost about three MPH off both his fastball and curveball, suggesting his arm just doesn't have the life it once did (all data courtesy of Fangraphs).

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Things have only gotten worse in 2012. Beckett has thrown his fastball at 91.5 mph, on average, and he seems to have recognized the relative weakness of the pitch; he has thrown it at a career-low rate of 49.7 percent during the young season. To compensate, Beckett has added a much higher proportion of cutters and changeups, which seems to be a sensible adjustment for an older pitcher -- except that, so far, it hasn't really worked, as evidenced by the results he's gotten on the field.

Within this context, his mostly exceptional 2011 begins to look more like an aberration. He was the beneficiary of luck and good timing for much of last year; he allowed a career-low .245 BABIP -- which may have had something to do with his new, more deception-based approach -- and stranded a career-best 80 percent of runners he allowed on base.

But it's still too early to pass any definitive judgment. We'll need to see more of a healthy Beckett in 2012 to determine whether the sudden drop in velocity is due to a pesky lat or a significant decrease in ability. Perhaps he can recapture some of the 2011 magic by pitching smarter, not harder.

The bottom line? Beckett will have to reinvent himself a lot more successfully than he's done early in 2012 if he hopes to be in Boston for much longer -- which is itself a pretty big question mark. If he continues to struggle, expect the Red Sox to try to unload him sooner rather than later; Beckett is owed more than $47 million through 2014, and the Sox' books are already bloated with aging, underperforming (or not-at-all performing) pitchers. The party might be over before he knows it.

April at Fenway: September '11 redux

  May 3, 2012 10:51 PM

The Red Sox front office did everything they could this offseason to make 2012 a fresh start. Out went general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, veterans of two World Series-winning teams. The new power structure included additions from inside and out, with Ben Cherington ascending to the role of GM and wild card Bobby Valentine brought in as manager.

So much for shaking things up. The team’s uneven performance in April did little to dispel the discontent surrounding last September’s collapse. In fact, you could be forgiven for confusing the two months; the Sox’ numbers during these two periods were eerily similar.

In September 2011, the Sox ranked among the top five in the majors in batting average, slugging, on-base percentage, hits, and runs scored, scoring ten runs or more five different times. They were well ahead of the Rays, with whom they were competing for the final playoff spot in the AL, in all these categories.

Boston’s bats were again hot this April. Paced by the near-.400 hitting of David Ortiz and pleasant surprises Ryan Sweeney and Mike Aviles, the Sox led the major leagues in runs scored and were second in hits, batting average, and slugging.

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The problem, to no one’s surprise, was pitching. As has been well documented, the Red Sox staff sported a league-worst 5.84 ERA last September, highlighted by the starting rotation’s 7.08 ERA. In April, the Sox ranked second-to-last with a 5.54 ERA, slightly ahead of the hapless Minnesota Twins.

This time, the bullpen was the weak link. Led by new acquisition Mark Melancon’s rancid 49.50 ERA, Red Sox relief pitchers set the standard for futility in the young season with a collective 6.10 ERA, worst in the majors.

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Obviously, the team has struggled to deal with the loss of new closer Andrew Bailey, and he’ll presumably bring some stability to the unit when he returns around the All-Star break.

But, if April is any indication, the Sox face an even more daunting divisional battle than last season. In case you didn’t notice, Boston currently sits last in the AL East, despite finishing April with seven wins in eight games. Now, whether Baltimore and Toronto can continue to mount serious playoff bids is questionable, but they can no longer be considered doormats. If the Red Sox hope to seriously contend this year, they will need a major improvement in the contributions of…well, just about every pitcher on the staff.

tags Red Sox

How important is a good April?

  April 18, 2012 07:00 AM

Predictably, the Red Sox’ uneven start to the season brought with it more than its fair share of hand wringing. That’s understandable, given the way the beginning and end of last year played out, but there was still an amazing outpouring of angst over five or six games out of 162. Lest we forget, in 2011, the Sox rebounded from an 11-15 April, which included a season-opening 2-10 stretch to ascend temporarily to the top of the American League in August. A midseason turnaround like that leads me to wonder: how much does the first month of the season matter toward determining a team’s final record?

To investigate the question, I examined the April records of all 30 MLB teams for the past five seasons (resulting in 150 "seasons" in all), then matched them up with the teams’ records at the end of the season. The resulting plot is shown below. Each MLB team has five points on the plot (one for each of the past five seasons), each representing the April winning percentage and end-of-season winning percentage for a single season. I also included a line drawn through the points to describe the average trend of the data.

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After performing a simple linear regression, I found that a team’s record in April was highly statistically significant in predicting that same team’s record at the end of the year. The R-squared in the model—a statistical measure that describes how well the fluctuations of the response variable (in this case, end-of-season winning percentage) are described by the corresponding changes in the explanatory variable (winning percentage in April)— was 0.257. This means that 25.7 percent of the variation in end-of-season winning percentage can be explained by teams’ April winning percentage.

It’s an interesting finding, since the average team played 26 games in April, or only 16.0 percent of its 162-game schedule. This implies that games in April mean more to a team’s ultimate regular season fate than what the simple win-loss record at the end of the month tells us. Under this reasoning, the first month of the season is worth the equivalent of 42 games in determining a team’s final October record.

A closer analysis of the data also reveals a few tidbits of interest. As illustrated in the graph, only one team (the 2009 Colorado Rockies) with a winning percentage of 0.400 or lower in April finished the season with a winning record. Similarly, of the 28 teams that won 60 percent or more of their games in April, 23 ended their years above .500.

Though the difference between a winning percentage of .400 and .600 in April is only about five games in the standings—a gap that could seemingly be overturned without too much difficulty over the course of the next 136 games—it’s a disparity that, in practice, is rarely surmounted.

I also tested whether a team’s Pythagorean expectation—its expected winning percentage based purely on the differential between total runs scored and total runs allowed—was a better predictor of final winning percentage. From season to season, Pythagorean expectation has been shown to forecast a team’s win-loss record better than the win-loss records from previous years, so I thought a team’s Pythagorean expected winning percentage in April might also correlate more strongly with end-of-season winning percentage. This method did slightly better than the previous one (R-squared = 0.266), but not enough to be a practically significant improvement.

Clearly, the first few weeks of the MLB season provide a limited amount of information about a team and its players — Chris Shelton, anyone? — but it appears they tell us more than we might initially think. A number of theories might be proposed to explain this phenomenon; for instance, it could be that a team’s early season start is important to establishing the clubhouse mentality that will prevail the rest of the season, creating a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Or perhaps, near the end of the year, when playoff berths are cemented and teams are eliminated from contention, the games matter less and thus aren’t as predictive of a team’s final record.

However, one thing is evident: April is not just any other month. The rates at which teams burst out of spring training into the regular season have effects that last throughout the rest of the year. Someone might want to mention this to Bobby Valentine; something tells me questioning the heart of one of your scrappiest players doesn’t really galvanize the guys into action.

tags Red Sox

A statistical Red Sox preview, part two

  April 5, 2012 02:52 AM

Below is part two of the Red Sox statistical preview, which focuses on the pitching staff. All numbers are from Baseball Think Factory's 2012 ZiPS projections. Part one can be found here.

Jon Lester
16-8, 3.46 ERA, 30 GS, 187.1 IP, 163 H, 72 ER, 18 HR, 74 BB, 186 SO

Lester figures to be the ace of the staff, and he’s earned it, with four consecutive All-Star caliber seasons. The Sox would be pretty disappointed to get numbers much worse than these out of Lester, and they’d probably like to see him top 200 innings. The only red flag is the drop in his strikeout numbers last year—he got fewer swings and misses, and, according to PITCHf/x data, lost about one mile per hour on his fastball.

Josh Beckett
10-6, 3.80 ERA, 25 GS, 154.0 IP, 144 H, 65 ER, 19 HR, 47 BB, 133 SO

Lost in all the rending of garments surrounding the events of last September was the fact that 2011 was one of Beckett’s best seasons, the first one in which he held a sub-three ERA. Still, ZiPS expects a bit of a decline, justified by Beckett’s career-low .249 BABIP, which is 44 points below his career average. However, the thumb injury is somewhat worrisome. This shallow rotation can’t afford a loss of one of its mainstays for any significant period of time.

Clay Buchholz
10-5, 3.63 ERA, 20 GS, 116.2 IP, 109 H, 47 ER, 11 HR, 45 BB, 83 SO

Speaking of pitchers the Sox can’t afford to lose, the rotation simply must have Buchholz healthy for most of the year. This projection factors in the concerns about his durability, predicting he’ll start just 20 games. When active, though, he has the potential to be one of the best No. 3 starters in the game, which would be invaluable for a team that rounds out its rotation with none other than …

Felix Doubront
Daniel Bard

The grand experiment: can Bard, an ace reliever, and Doubront, a late-season call-up, really hold down the back end of the Boston rotation? Their ZiPS projections aren't really applicable, as Bard is assuming an entirely different role and Doubront has only 35.1 career innings under his belt.

As starters, both pitchers have a spotty history in the minors. Bard never pitched above Class A, and he ended 2007, his first and last season as a starter, with an ignominious 7.08 ERA in 22 starts. Doubront fared slightly better, rising all the way up to AAA Pawtucket, but he sported a less-than-stellar 4.22 ERA in his 18 appearances with the PawSox, 16 of them starts. Valentine has expressed faith in Bard's ability to adapt to the rotation, but for a general idea of how well relievers make the transition to the starting rotation, check out this piece by Grantland's Jonah Keri. In general, it’s not pretty. Stay tuned.

Andrew Bailey
4-1, 3.04 ERA, 52 G, 53.1 IP, 45 H, 18 ER, 4 HR, 16 BB, 53 SO

Toss these projections out the window. Bailey will be sidelined until at least the All-Star break as he recovers from thumb surgery.

Alfredo Aceves
6-3, 3.76 ERA, 40 G, 79.0 IP, 75 H, 33 ER, 7 HR, 31 BB, 52 SO

Well, here’s your Opening Day closer. For as lights out as Aceves was last year—2.61 ERA in 114.0 innings pitched—his peripheral pitching numbers are a little shaky. His 1.90 strikeout-to-walk ratio was second lowest on the team among pitchers with more than 50 innings pitched. Compare that to Jonathan Papelbon, the prototypical high-strikeout, low-walk closer, whose 8.70 SO/BB ratio was tops in the major leagues among closers, and start firing up those defibrillators—the ninth is going to be a little more stressful this year.

Mark Melancon
5-3, 3.59 ERA, 52 G, 57.2 IP, 54 H, 23 ER, 5 HR, 20 BB, 48 SO

There’s a reasonable case to be made that Melancon should, in fact, take over the role of closer until Bailey returns. He had more strikeouts and fewer walks per nine innings than Aceves last year, and a much less troubling BABIP (.290 to Aceves’ .233). If Aceves struggles early on, I doubt Bobby Valentine will have much problem promoting Melancon to ninth-inning work.

Daisuke Matsuzaka
5-4, 4.37 ERA, 14 GS, 80.1 IP, 75 H, 39 ER, 8 HR, 40 BB, 66 SO

Maybe Bobby V. can speak Japanese, but if he brings about any sort of resurgence from Matsuzaka, count me as a believer. Don’t expect too much from Dice when he returns mid-season. He’ll be an improvement on Tim Wakefield as a spot starter, but anything beyond that is an unexpected bonus.

A statistical Red Sox preview, part one

  April 5, 2012 02:43 AM

In February, Baseball Think Factory released its annual ZiPS player projections for 2012, computer-based forecasts compiled using players’ past few seasons of performance and playing time, league factors, and the effects of aging. Below is a look at the ZiPS projections for players who will figure most prominently in the Red Sox offense, along with some brief commentary on each.

Adrian Gonzalez
.297/.384/.526, 153 G, 582 AB, 88 R, 173 H, 36 2B, 31 HR, 104 RBI, 79 BB

After a resoundingly successful first season in Boston, Gonzalez is due for a bit of a regression. His .338 batting average last season, a career high by 34 points, was inflated by a .380 BABIP, tied with Matt Kemp for the highest in the majors among those who qualified for the batting title. Still, that projected line is good enough to put him among the top three-hitters in the American League.

Kevin Youkilis
.268/.374/.477, 116 G, 421 AB, 63 R, 113 H, 28 2B, 18 HR, 67 RBI, 62 BB

Who remembers that Youk was an All-Star last year? With an injury-prone .199/.314/.346 line after the break, you could be excused for forgetting. Given how much time he’s missed the last two seasons, ZiPS projects him to play in only 116 games, depressing his raw numbers significantly. I’m not convinced. Now healthy (and domesticated), I expect Youkilis to get back to what he does best: draw walks and rake.

David Ortiz
.266/.357/.498, 127 G, 462 AB, 61 R, 123 H, 30 2B, 25 HR, 78 RBI, 65 BB

The first-ever article in this space questioned Papi’s ability to sustain his power numbers as he entered his mid- to late-30’s, but after his best offensive season since 2007, Ortiz proved in ’11 that he’s still kicking. However, a word of caution: as noted by Fire Brand of the American League, Ortiz’s numbers last year were boosted by suspiciously good production against lefties. For his career, Ortiz slugs .474 off southpaws (including a miserable .324 in 2010), as compared to .566 last year. That’s a pace he may not be able to continue.

Dustin Pedroia
.294/.368/.461, 139 G, 562 AB, 84 R, 165 H, 36 2B, 18 HR, 70 RBI, 67 BB

Not much new here—look for another characteristically solid year from Pedroia. I’m always curious how Pedroia would fare in another home park; his career slugging percentage is 85 points higher at home (.506) than away (.421), and his batting average also receives a significant boost (.323 home, .287 away). Those lasers off the Green Monster don’t always fall in for hits elsewhere, as evidenced by his 130 career doubles at home, against 76 on the road.

Jacoby Ellsbury
.290/.345/.457, 128 G, 527 AB, 76 R, 153 H, 30 2B, 16 HR, 62 RBI, 40 BB

ZiPS predicts a slight drop-off for Ellsbury offensively, particularly in his slugging percentage, which rose to a career-high .552 last season. It makes sense, given that Ellsbury had hit only 20 home runs in 1,513 plate appearances prior to 2011, in which he hit 32 dingers in 732 trips to the plate. The projection also penalizes him for time missed in 2010 by predicting that he’ll play only 128 games, which may be unfair given his impressive durability in ’09 and ’11.

Carl Crawford
.282/.325/.448, 144 G, 563 AB, 80 R, 159 H, 31 2B, 14 HR, 70 RBI, 34 BB

After Crawford's 2011 campaign, these estimates are awfully optimistic, especially with the news that he’ll be sidelined for the month of April recovering from wrist surgery. He deserves a little benefit of the doubt, though; compared with the rest of his career, last year was such an anomaly that we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from it. I think he’s due for a bounce back season, but he’ll have to improve his plate discipline. His strikeout rate jumped to 19.3 percent from an average of less than 15 percent the previous three years.

Cody Ross
.254/.319/.426, 137 G, 472 AB, 63 R, 120 H, 29 2B, 16 HR, 70 RBI, 40 BB

There isn’t much to say about Cody Ross. If his statistics are any indication, he is an incredibly average baseball player, solid on offense and defense, but not a standout in any regard. He’s had a solid spring training (MLB-leading six home runs), so it’s possible he rekindles his form from 2008-09, in which he hit 22 and 24 homers, respectively. Also, he can juggle.

Ryan Sweeney
.282/.341/.385, 120 G, 379 AB, 53 R, 107 H, 24 2B, 3 HR, 48 RBI, 34 BB

For most of the year, Sweeney should split time with Ross in right field. Ideally, the Red Sox would get a little more power from a corner outfield position than Sweeney offers—he’s hit only two major league home runs in his last two seasons. Don’t expect too many fireworks here, but at least he brings a solid glove.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia
.228/.294/.410, 130 G, 450 AB, 55 R, 103 H, 25 2B, 16 HR, 60 RBI, 38 BB

ZiPS’ initial projection regarded Saltalamacchia as still sharing duties with Jason Varitek, so I adjusted his playing time accordingly, treating Kelly Shoppach as exclusively a backup catcher. It remains to be seen whether Salty’s career highs in power numbers last year are anomalies or indicative of a real increase in slugging ability. He might also have to fend off potential mid-season call-up Ryan Lavarnway for the job, but for fans, that’s a good problem to have.

Mike Aviles
.273/.301/.417, 115 G, 422 AB, 50 R, 115 H, 23 2B, 10 HR, 47 RBI, 17 BB

The Scutaro trade looks more and more puzzling after the way the rest of the offseason unfolded—so, when’s Roy Oswalt signing again?—but Aviles should be a decent stand-in until Jose Iglesias is ready for the majors. If he’s able to produce these type of numbers, he’ll be a more than serviceable bottom of the order hitter, though it would be nice to see him draw a few more walks.

Cherington's thrift (probably) a good sign

  January 30, 2012 01:12 AM

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In his first offseason as Red Sox general manager, Ben Cherington cannot seem to escape the steady chorus of whispers that follow his every move. How could we lose Pap? What do we want with Nick Punto? But his latest transaction — trading Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for reliever Clayton Mortensen — has amplified those whispers to a dull roar.

The Sox are acting cheap.

The deal was a thinly veiled salary dump, designed to allow for some breathing room under the luxury tax threshold (which they will inevitably cross anyway) after signing new outfielder Cody Ross and potentially a starting pitcher, like Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson.

But is this necessarily a bad thing? As other American League teams stock up on big-name free agents, fans might argue that it certainly appears that way. The Red Sox cannot afford to stand pat with essentially the same group of players that just missed the playoffs, especially in the AL East, and especially after the way last season ended. After all, they’ve blown heaps of money on players that didn’t pan out, so shouldn’t the Sox make a meaningful investment in a proven performer, as the Tigers and Angels have done?

That depends on the reasoning behind this newfound thriftiness. If the Red Sox are shying away from this year’s free agent market due to the Ghosts of Contracts Past — most notably, J.D. Drew, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and, at least for 2011, Carl Crawford — then I totally disagree with their current course. This line of thought disregards entirely the economic concept of sunk costs. However painful their memories may be, the inflated contracts on the Sox’ books are in the past (“sunk”), and the money already committed cannot be recovered. Lackey will get paid all 82 of his millions, and yes, Drew did just take 70 million more where that came from.

So how should the specter of these underperforming deals affect the ones the Red Sox negotiate in the present? Answer: not one bit. When determining the worth of a business investment, a rational actor weighs only the future costs and benefits that the investment will yield; it doesn’t make sense to allow something unrelated to that investment to influence one’s best choice. If, after careful evaluation, the benefits a player is expected to bring to the team outweigh the costs of signing him, he should be signed.

But if the Red Sox do indeed aspire to be rational actors, which I believe to be the case, this newfound thrift is an encouraging sign; it simply means they view this year’s free agent crop as either not suited to their needs or, more likely, wildly overpriced. Some have taken the Red Sox’ inaction as an indication that they’re being passed by in the American League arms race. So be it. Of the high-profile deals negotiated this offseason — Yu Darvish, C.J. Wilson, Albert Pujols, and Prince Fielder come to mind — my guess is that none of them will deliver even close to a fair return on their lengthy, bloated contracts (winner’s curse, anyone?). As Peter Abraham noted on Twitter, Adrian Gonzalez’s contract (7 years, $154 million) “looks better every day”.

Now, the grumblings that the Red Sox, worth $912 million as valued by Forbes, are behaving more like the tight-fisted Oakland A’s (team value: $307 million) certainly merit some consideration. By all rights, the Sox should outspend most other teams, as they have the financial resources to do so. It’s just not good business to do so every offseason. As you’ll recall, the Red Sox were proclaimed the overwhelming winners of last year’s Hot Stove, and as you’ll also recall, that meant nothing at the end of September. Uncertainty and luck are integral parts of baseball, and neither of them can be spent away. The Red Sox passed on C.J. Wilson not because of recurring Lackey nightmares, but rather their visions of a 31-year-old fragile pitcher collecting paycheck after paycheck on the disabled list.

Personally, I don’t mind that John Henry has stipulated a “budget” for the team, the bounds of which Cherington must respect (for now). Perhaps he understands that the team slated to take the field in April is largely the same as the one picked by 45 of 45 ESPN pundits to win the division in 2011, the one that possessed the best record in the American League into the last month of the season, and the one that led the league in offense despite severely limiting injuries to Kevin Youkilis and the disappointing debut season of Carl Crawford. Viewed from the preseason, this team’s chances to win the World Series are as good as anyone’s, and none of this year’s free agents would have boosted them enough to justify the expense required to land them.

Papi as a Yankee: an exercise in park factors

  December 14, 2011 02:46 PM

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A week ago, it was announced that David Ortiz had accepted arbitration and would return to the Red Sox for at least the 2012 season. Though it seemed unlikely he would land anywhere but Boston, the other candidate discussed as in the running to enlist Big Papi’s services was (gasp) the New York Yankees. Former teammate Johnny Damon even suggested as much to Ortiz at his charity golf outing; with the friendlier dimensions of Yankee Stadium, Damon speculated, “[Ortiz’s] 30 home runs turns into 40.”

Obviously, the point is now moot. We’ll never know how Ortiz’s season would have turned out had he migrated to the Bronx. But Damon’s prediction raises an interesting question: just how strong of an effect can a ballpark have on a player’s numbers?

To start, let’s set down a few basic assumptions. The first one –– that, in a Boston uniform, Ortiz would hit 30 homers in 2012 –– is not trivial. As I’ve written before, the 36-year-old Ortiz is now at the age when we’d expect to see some drop-off in his overall offensive output. Of course, we would also have anticipated such a decline in each of his last three seasons, yet his home run and slugging totals have remained remarkably consistent.

Fortunately, his most marketable talent, power, is, as Bill James termed it, an “old player skill” –– it deteriorates at a slower rate than abilities like speed and batting average. Given a comparable level of power in ’12, then, it seems fair to anticipate 30 home runs from Ortiz as a Red Sox, but don’t be surprised if it’s accompanied by a dip in his batting average back into the .270 - .275 range.

If we assume his physical decline will have a negligible effect on his power, the change in his output would come primarily from a new hitting environment: in this case, Yankee Stadium.

One way to account for the effect of a ballpark on a player’s numbers is to adjust them with park factors. A park factor measures how much a given ballpark differs in some statistic (runs, home runs, doubles) from a league-average ballpark for that same statistic. This theoretical league-average ballpark is taken to have a park factor of 100. A park at which 10 percent more runs are scored than at the league-average park would have a score of 110. The same pattern holds for parks that are less hitter-friendly. A park factor of 90 for runs scored means that teams score 10 percent fewer runs than they would at a league-average ballpark.

In their simplest form, park factors (for runs scored, let’s say) are calculated for each ballpark as simply the ratio of total runs scored/home game to total runs scored/away game, multiplied by 100. This explains why the league-average ballpark has a park factor of 100; an equal number of runs are scored in home games as in away games (the ratio above equals one). Yearly park factors can be subject to large fluctuations as a result of random variation in players’ performances –– for instance, Fenway’s run-scoring park factor rose from 108 to 117 between 2010 and 2011 –– so park factors are generally calculated over periods of multiple years.

As a hypothetical member of the 2012 Yankees, all Ortiz’s plate appearances at Fenway would instead come at Yankee Stadium, and vice versa. To translate his production from one ballpark to the other, I’ll apply each one’s home run park factor to Ortiz’s expected production, using only the change in home at-bats.

First, we’ll have to categorize Ortiz’s home runs by direction. Here’s the breakdown of each of his 89 home runs the last three seasons, provided by ESPN Stats and Information.

2009
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2010
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2011
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LF (135 – 118): 5 HR (5.6 percent)
LCF (117 – 100): 10 HR (11.2 percent)
CF (99 – 82): 17 HR (19.1 percent)
RCF (81 – 64): 28 HR (31.5 percent)
RF (63 – 45): 29 HR (32.6 percent)

Below are the home run park factors for both Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, calculated by the Hardball Times with a more precise methodology than the one I outlined above.

Yankee Stadium: LF – 115, LCF – 100, CF – 72, RCF – 128, RF – 134
Fenway Park: LF – 105, LCF – 106, CF – 57, RCF – 94, RF – 88

Using the previous analysis of his home runs by direction, I can now project the number of home runs Ortiz would hit to each field in 2012, as a member of the Red Sox and, after accounting for park factors, as a hypothetical member of the Yankees (rounded to the nearest home run). The final assumptions: Ortiz has the same number of home plate appearances in each scenario, and the away parks at which he plays have a mean park factor of 100.

Home park: Fenway Park

LF: 2 HR
LCF: 3 HR
CF: 6 HR
RCF: 9 HR
RF: 10 HR

Total: 30 HR

Home park: Yankee Stadium

LF: 2 HR
LCF: 3 HR
CF: 7 HR
RCF: 11 HR
RF: 12 HR

Total: 35 HR

Damon’s offhand projection looks too extreme; while Yankee Stadium would inflate Big Papi’s home run total, it would not do so to the degree he hypothesized. Overall, the short porch would add only three to four home runs to Ortiz’s expected total.

The study might be improved with access to the data for all of Ortiz’s fly balls, which could tell us empirically how many of his warning track shots would leave the yard when adjusted for the dimensions of a different park. Unfortunately, that data is not readily (or cheaply) available.

How important are park factors? Had Ortiz averaged 35 home runs instead of 30 in each of the last three years, his case for a multi-year contract would look a lot more compelling. You can bet the Red Sox studied park factors when pursuing Adrian Gonzalez last winter; they recognized that, playing in the offensive dead zone of Petco Park, his numbers were artificially deflated –– for proof, check out his home and away splits in 2010. In both cases, the discrepancy has nothing to do with ability, but the setting in which that ability is placed. And in a marketplace in which 10 points of batting average or five home runs can mean a difference of millions of dollars in salary, it’s important to have the most accurate information possible.

The winner's curse: expensive mistakes in free agency

  December 5, 2011 02:59 AM

With their managerial search finally concluded, the Red Sox’ focus now shifts to filling holes in the roster through free agency, shoring up the pitching staff and adding a right fielder, ideally. Their limited needs suggest that the team will be relatively minor players this offseason, out of the market for free agency’s biggest prizes -- Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, namely, now that shortstop Jose Reyes has signed with Miami. That may be a good thing; the teams that do ultimately land these players could very well be afflicted with the winner’s curse.

The winner’s curse is derived from a piece of auction theory, which states that, in a sealed-bid auction -- when each party knows only his or her own bid -- the winner will almost always overpay. The term originated in the 1950s, when competing oil companies placed bids on offshore drilling properties, according to their own independent appraisals. The only way the winning bidder -- the party that valued the oil field the highest -- received fair value on his investment was if every other bidder underestimated the oil field’s value. And as, in most cases, the median bids were closer to the property’s true value than bids at either extreme, companies virtually had to overpay if they were to own the oil field.

When wading into the free agent market, baseball teams are particularly vulnerable to the winner’s curse for a couple of reasons. First, the market for baseball players works much like the market in the oil example: each team must make its own independent assessment of a player’s future worth, something that’s incredibly difficult to predict with any certainty. Teams also have limited access to the estimates of their fellow bidders. To be sure of signing a player, they must make an offer that they anticipate will top anything tendered by the competition. And with many other prospective buyers contending for the same scarce supply of players, teams know they may have to venture outside their price range and pay a premium to stay in the race for these players’ services.

Secondly, and more dangerously, teams mistakenly pay for players’ pasts, and not their futures. Many top-notch baseball players’ best years are already behind them by the time they sign lucrative free-agent contracts. The average age of the 2011 free agent class is 33.8; by contrast, the average MLB player hits the peak of his prime at age 27. Even first-time free agents are required to have logged six seasons of big-league service -- generally, that includes the crucial 26-29 year-old period, in which a ballplayer realizes his potential to the fullest extent.

Exacerbating the problem is that, for a team to place the winning bid on a coveted free agent, it has to make a long-term commitment: four to six years, in many cases. Even if a player’s production exceeds expectations during the first couple years of his contract, it’s very difficult to obtain good value over the duration of the deal. Just ask Yankees management whether A-Rod’s been worth $65 million the last two seasons.

The way to beat the winner’s curse is, first of all, to acknowledge its existence. When teams recognize how often these bad contracts are given out, they should -- assuming they are rational actors -- fine-tune their methods of player evaluation and steer clear of long term deals to aging players. Eventually, free agent contracts would begin to more accurately reflect the underlying value of the signing players. Yet the winner’s curse is not a totally foreign idea; Baseball Prospectus covered the phenomenon as far back as 2002. And, as recent history indicates, MLB teams have learned just about zilch.

A look at free agent contracts soon to be or just recently completed can provide some insight into the pitfalls of the winner’s curse. From 2006 to 2009, 20 players signed deals worth over $50 million -- an arbitrarily chosen threshold, admittedly, but one that, in all cases, represents an expensive, multi-year agreement. (Note: included among these were contract extensions, which, as a form of long-term commitment to an established star, work essentially the same as free agent contracts for my purposes.)

The list below is enough to make any GM entering this week’s winter meetings think twice about opening his wallet. As measured by WAR, only seven players of those 20 ever recorded even one season as productive as the one immediately preceding their new deal: Cliff Lee, Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Gil Meche, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Torii Hunter, and Matt Holliday; and only four -- Lee, Ramirez, Meche, and Hunter -- had more than one such season. On the other hand, flops like Barry Zito, Gary Matthews, John Lackey, and Aaron Rowand testify both to the difficulties inherent in projecting players’ futures and the dangerously large financial commitments necessary to sign them.

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The next few weeks may well provide a few additional candidates for this list. José Reyes can’t stay healthy for a full season at age 28; imagine what his legs will be like at 33. Prince Fielder compares all too favorably with a certain other doughy, salary-guzzling slugger with whom you might be familiar. And even if Albert Pujols is the next Hank Aaron, it’s hard to justify committing $20-25 million to any 38-year-old.

It’s probably for the best that these players aren’t on the Sox’ wish list. Instead, Ben Cherington, Larry Lucchino, and crew will be content to remain secondary buyers, filling the few weaknesses in a still potent roster and avoiding the potential hex of the winner’s curse. After all, the Red Sox don’t need any reminding just how quickly this curse can strike.

tags Red Sox

Letting Jonathan Papelbon leave a good business decision by Red Sox

  November 18, 2011 03:18 AM

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Joining the exodus from Fenway Park this offseason is another high-profile name, Jonathan Papelbon, who signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Much ink has already been spilled lamenting the loss of such a visible and effective cog in the Red Sox organization, and it is indeed a shame to lose a player who has consistently excelled in his role, as Pap has for the last six seasons. But if the Phillies were willing to throw that much money at him, by all means, let him walk. Paying Papelbon $50 million is just not good business.

In economics, when two commodities provide the same amount of utility, or level of relative satisfaction, the rational consumer makes his decision solely by examining the goods’ respective prices. Each good delivers the same end result, so the consumer acting out of self-interest will minimize his costs and choose the cheaper option.

The Red Sox already have a readily available substitute for Papelbon in Daniel Bard. Now, Bard may not be a perfect substitute for Papelbon –– exactly replacing his production –– but over the span of his young career, he’s been awfully close.

Jonathan Papelbon (2009-11)
194 G, 2.89 ERA, 199.1 IP, 10.79 SO/9, 0.7 HR/9, 3.85 SO/BB
Salary earned: $27,600,000

Daniel Bard (2009-11)
192 G, 2.88 ERA, 197.0 IP, 9.7 SO/9, 0.7 HR/9, 2.80 SO/BB
Salary earned: $1,199,189

Any advantage Papelbon maintains by his “big-game experience” or other intangible assets doesn’t justify an expenditure ten to 20 times greater, especially when that money could be allocated more efficiently to meet other, more pressing needs: a starting pitcher or a right fielder, for instance.

The gap in salary will only widen in the coming years, as the Phillies shower Papelbon, already in his 30s, with the riches of his new contract. The discrepancy in their performance, however, will not. In 26-year-old Bard, the Red Sox can give a pitcher in the midst of his prime the opportunity he deserves at an eminently affordable price. We’ll see if Papelbon can preserve the value of the Phillies’ investment when he loses a few miles per hour on his heater.

Admittedly, removing Bard from the set-up role leaves a void in an already suspect bullpen, particularly if Alfredo Aceves moves into the starting rotation. But adding lesser-known free agent relievers for the 7th and 8th innings is much more cost-effective than signing Heath Bell, former Phillies closer Ryan Madson, or any other big-name free agent closer. It certainly won’t cost $12.5 million per year.

In at least one respect, Papelbon is the gift that keeps on giving: pending the results of ongoing labor negotiations, his departure will likely provide the Sox with a compensatory first-round draft pick, valued at roughly $5-6 million, according to The Hardball Times. It could even yield the closer of the future: both Papelbon and Bard entered the league as early-round draft selections of the Red Sox.

In shipping down to Philadelphia, Papelbon himself proved to be a rational decision-maker: he took the money and split. Given that he didn’t bother negotiating with the Red Sox, it’s clear he wasn’t deriving much utility any longer from his time at Fenway. As for Sox fans, take heart: your team made a smart financial decision, though you may have thought it wasn’t possible. We’ll see how long the trend continues, but with his first major personnel change, new GM Ben Cherington may be setting the tone for his tenure at the helm of the Red Sox: strictly business.

In defense of Theo

  October 13, 2011 06:48 PM

There appear to be two well-defined positions staked out in Red Sox Nation concerning recently departed General Manager Theo Epstein: either you think he’s the genius responsible for two World Series championships, or the lucky S.O.B. who free-rode to success on the strength of former GM Dan Duquette’s shrewd moves and a seemingly bottomless budget.

For the beginning of Epstein’s tenure, this is a legitimate debate. Many of the core players involved in the playoff runs of 2003 and 2004, Epstein’s first two years on the job, were in place before his arrival, most prominently Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez, and Johnny Damon. Yet Epstein alone was responsible for the additions of David Ortiz and Curt Schilling, perhaps the two most heroic members of the ’04 team.

Using FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to measure hitters and pitchers on the same scale, let’s examine which GM’s signings provided greater production to the World Champion ’04 team. To isolate the primary contributors, I limited the study to hitters who played in over 50 games and pitchers who appeared in over 20 games.

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Epstein had quite a bit of help in designing the ’04 team; Duquette’s stamp can be found all throughout the roster. In fact, according to the numbers, the curse-breaking title actually belongs more to Duquette than to Theo, though they do not factor in the postseason exploits of Ortiz and Schilling.

Three years later, the Sox brought home another World Series with a team that looked substantially different. Here’s how the credit for the assembly of the 2007 team should be assigned.

07sox.png

Though a few players from the Duquette era were still making significant contributions in ’07 – Ramirez, Youkilis, Varitek, and Wakefield – the team was essentially Epstein’s creation. Gone were Damon and Pedro, replaced by the likes of Daisuke Matsuzaka – who was quite effective in his first couple of seasons, lest you forget – and Dustin Pedroia. The calculation doesn’t even account for the influence of Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett, whose acquisition was negotiated during Epstein’s brief absence in 2005. It seems likely that he played some role in identifying them as desirable pickups while he was still in place.

But was it Theo or the money that brought these pieces of the puzzle to Boston? Epstein’s critics cite the middling to poor return on investment delivered by some of his high-profile signings – Dice-K, John Lackey, and J.D. Drew, for instance – as evidence that the Red Sox will be better off without him. Matt Millen could build a successful baseball team, they argue, with the type of cash Epstein has to throw around. To illustrate this point, here’s how the Red Sox payroll compares with the mean MLB payroll in each year of the Duquette and Epstein eras.

richsox.png

There’s no doubt John Henry’s deep pockets aided Epstein in his tenure in Boston, allowing him to pursue players who were beyond the financial scope of most teams. Any other owner not named Steinbrenner would have laughed him out of the room if asked for $50 million just to talk to a player. But as the Mets, or Epstein’s new team, the Cubs, have shown in the past, a bloated payroll doesn’t automatically translate into a playoff contender. The money has to be spent on the right people, and more often than not, Epstein’s shown an ability to pick them out. This season, the Sox had Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jed Lowrie under contract for a combined $14.9 million, an incredibly favorable figure. Ellsbury alone was worth that sum and more.

In case you’re still not convinced about Epstein’s knack for player evaluation, take a look at the players drafted under his watch: Jonathan Papelbon, Pedroia, David Murphy, Ellsbury, Buchholz, Lowrie, Daniel Bard, Justin Masterson, Ryan Kalish, and Josh Reddick. All these players have either made contributions to the big league squad already or served as trade pieces to acquire more immediate needs.

Of course, every GM makes mistakes. When given the type of money that Epstein had with which to work, those mistakes tend to get magnified. A miss on a $4 million/year contract doesn’t look quite as bad as Lackey’s $16 million/year.

Yet if the ultimate measure of job performance in baseball is delivering a World Series title, Epstein is without a doubt the best GM the Sox have ever had. Even if you take the ’04 title off his résumé, he’s still got one more world championship than anyone pulling the strings since Harry Frazee. He assembled as many playoff teams as his two predecessors, Duquette and Lou Gorman, combined.

This wasn’t the way he deserved to leave town, rushing out the back door of a burning building. It’s a shame that someone who’s brought so much to this franchise is leaving without so much as a “Wait a minute…” from management. For the Red Sox sake, let’s hope the structure and methods he put in place – yes, even “Carmine” – are strong enough to keep producing teams of the quality he put on the diamond.

A series of unfortunate events

  October 3, 2011 08:00 AM

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There’s no sport in which numbers and statistics matter more than baseball. Virtually every action a player performs on the diamond is recorded, crunched, and spit out; in aggregate, this set of statistics constitutes much of a player’s on-field identity. What's been accomplished in the past gives us an expectation of the future.

But sports have a funny way of reminding us that, at their base, they are activities carried out by humans, not computers; and those humans are subject to very human failures and emotions. Like panic, for instance.

On Sept. 3, a Red Sox win over the Rangers boosted their record to 84-54. They held a 9-game lead on the Rays in the wild card and trailed the Yankees by a half game in the AL East. That day, coolstandings.com assigned them a 99.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, the highest point they would reach all season.

Allowing for some regression to the mean, their expected winning percentage for the rest of the season, according to Baseball Prospectus, was .576, which would have brought them to a 98-63 record entering their Sept. 28 meeting with the Orioles. Instead, the Red Sox stood at 90-71. They had gone 6-17 since their playoff odds peak; given their winning percentage to that point, we would expect that poor of a stretch to occur about 0.2 percent of the time.

We all saw what unfolded. The rotation collapsed like a tent in a hurricane – the starters’ ERA in September was a preposterous 7.08, the highest total in a month in franchise history, and they averaged a mere 4.2 innings per start. The overworked bullpen coughed up a number of leads, led by Daniel Bard and his 10.64 September ERA. The defense didn’t help – over one stretch, the Sox committed 16 errors in 11 games.

All this led to the series of unholy improbables that converged Wednesday night. Trailing 7-0 in the bottom of the eighth, the Rays' chances of victory stood at 0.3 percent. In the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and nobody on, the Red Sox held a 95.3 chance of winning. They were 77-0 in games in which they led after the eighth inning. Down to their last out in the ninth, the Rays trotted out a guy batting .108.

You know the rest.

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Since the first modern World Series in 1903, 386 teams have attained a 99 percent chance or greater of making the playoffs. The Red Sox now hold the ignominious distinction as the sixth team in this group to miss the postseason.

Call it lack of chemistry, call it fate, call it whatever you want; I’ll call it human error. Statistics would never have predicted a sequence of events like the ones of September.

tags Red Sox

Most Valuable: an unorthodox investigation

  September 27, 2011 01:24 AM

A few weeks ago, I argued that Curtis Granderson had been a more valuable player than Jacoby Ellsbury this season, using the “raw production” definition of value. Based solely on the numbers – and taking into account the error present in one-year samples of advanced fielding data – Granderson appeared to be the superior candidate.

The problem, when it comes to the real MVP balloting, is that there is no single definition of “value” to which all voters subscribe. Some require that the Most Valuable Player be on a playoff team; some refuse to vote for a pitcher; some cling to traditional stats, others to sabermetrics; and some remember a player’s “MVP moments,” like Ellsbury’s 14th-inning home run against the Yankees on Sunday, or Justin Verlander’s no-hitter in April.

Inevitably, some form of all these arguments circulates around this time of year, as writers provide their justification for the manner in which they will ultimately vote. To differentiate this from the other 1,000 MVP-related columns you’ve read over the last month, I decided to present a few, more unique approaches to determining the Most Valuable Player. In each case, I’ll use the seven players who will garner the vast majority of AL MVP votes: Ellsbury, Verlander, Granderson, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Miguel Cabrera, and Jose Bautista. I’ll also be leaning heavily on WAR (Wins Above Replacement, from Baseball-Reference) as the most accessible method of comparing hitters and pitchers.

One way to look at a player’s value is to consider where a team would be with a readily available replacement – brought on to the roster from the waiver wire or Triple-A –substituted in place of that player. If we subtract a player’s WAR (the wins he’s produced) from his team’s record, what would his team’s position in the standings look like?

wargamesupdown.png

At the beginning of September, this was the primary argument made in support of Verlander’s MVP case. The Tigers’ narrow lead in the AL Central, his proponents said, would instead be a sizable deficit without his contribution. After Detroit’s subsequent 12-game winning streak, this reasoning doesn’t carry the same weight; the rest of the team might have carried the Tigers to first place anyway. In fact, now this argument applies much more appropriately to the Red Sox under consideration, favoring Ellsbury the most.

What about the clutch factor? A player’s ability to come through when it matters most seems like a solid indication of his value to his team. For this measure, I’ll use Win Probability Added (WPA), a statistic that sums a player’s positive and negative contributions to the odds that his team wins a particular game over the course of a season. To put it in simpler terms, the home team might have a 70 percent chance of winning a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, with a man on first and nobody out. A walk-off hit, in this scenario, gives the hitter .30 WPA (his team’s chances of winning went from 70 percent to 100 percent) and takes .30 WPA away from the pitcher. A season’s worth of these changes in win probability are then added up to give us WPA. Here are the results for 2011.

wpa.png

A more technical definition of value, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged.” In other words, the Most Valuable Player might be considered the one who has produced the most “fair return” for his employers, given his salary – the most bang for their buck. We’ll measure this in dollars paid per WAR; again, this favors the young Ellsbury, a few years shy of his first free-agency bonanza.

dollarsperwar.png

This “fair return” could also be defined by a player’s popularity and marketability. To what extent does he generate interest in his team and bring the fans to the ballpark? As a rough measurement of this factor, I looked at the “Best Sellers Rank” of each candidate's Replica Home Jersey (Majestic) on Amazon.com, in the “Sports and Outdoors” category. Not surprisingly, perennial All-Star Miguel Cabrera, the most established superstar on the list, leads the way.

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Some of these measurements are obviously more practical than others, but they all provide a broader outline for the term “value” than we’re used to seeing, particularly regarding the MVP voting. Realistically, the award will probably be decided in the next couple of days; if the Sox pull out of their current fiery tailspin, my guess is that Ellsbury will be the winner. His September has been the only thing keeping the Red Sox afloat, a fact that will be fresh in the minds of voters. If they crash and burn, look for either Verlander or Bautista, the most statistically compelling candidates, to take home the hardware.

As for my vote? Sorry, Jacoby – my gut reaction says Verlander. But if you right the ship in the next two days, feel free to prove me wrong when you square off in the ALDS.

No need for Red Sox to panic yet

  September 13, 2011 10:30 AM

David Ortiz says it’s time to panic. I say, hold on a minute, David.

Your team still holds a three-game advantage over the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild card; that’s one fewer than the distance separating you and the Yankees, in case you forgot. Or have you given up on that race, even with three head-to-head matchups remaining?

Speaking of the Yankees, they may end up easing your current fears. Of the Rays’ 17 remaining games, seven will be played against New York. Seven of your last 16 come against Baltimore— currently 30 games under .500.

No doubt, your starting rotation is cringe-worthy at the moment. Outside of Jon Lester, no one scheduled to take the hill in the next week has an ERA under five. But Josh Beckett could be back by the time Tampa comes to Fenway, and there’s not an offense in the majors capable of carrying substandard pitching the way yours is. You’ve earned John Lackey 12 wins, for crying out loud.

You’re in a funk, you say. You’ve lost nine of your last eleven, while the Rays have won eight of 10. Actually, this could be just as much a source of comfort as a cause for alarm. Simple probabilities indicate that neither team is likely to continue at such a rate for the remainder of the season; that’s just the nature of streaks. Need evidence? You started the season 2-10.

You’ve got a 10-game homestand coming (winning percentage at Fenway: .592), while the Rays will be away for their next 11 (winning percentage on the road: .557).

According to Baseball Prospectus, you’ve got a 97 percent chance of making the playoffs. You’re much more likely to win the division over the Yankees than to lose the wild card to the Rays.

These are hardly reasons to panic, David. The pitching staff is a problem, but it’s one that should be of more concern in October, against the best of the American League, than in September, against the Orioles and Blue Jays, with a 3.5 game lead. As long as the rotation can keep you in games, your best bet is to relax and play baseball. It’s no accident your team has made it this far.

tags Red Sox

More valuable: Ellsbury or Granderson?

  September 1, 2011 01:13 AM

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The American League Most Valuable Player will be determined in the coming weeks, and the Red Sox boast three candidates — Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury — who will receive significant consideration. There’s not much argument that Gonzalez and Pedroia have been the most valuable at their respective positions league-wide, but the same can’t be said for Ellsbury. Is he even the most valuable center fielder in his own division?

The challenger to that label, of course, is the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson. The tutelage of hitting coach Kevin Long appears to have injected new life into his swing, which has shown unprecedented power this season. Let’s see how the two players stack up at the plate.

Jacoby Ellsbury
.313 BA, .371 OBP, .526 SLG, 169 hits, 97 runs, 44 BB, 24 HR, 84 RBI, 85 SO, 36 SB

Curtis Granderson

.273 BA, .375 OBP, .584 SLG, 135 hits, 123 runs, 75 BB, 38 HR, 107 RBI, 144 SO, 24 SB

Offensively, the edge has to go to Granderson. His explosion in power numbers — second in the majors in home runs and fourth in slugging — is a more than favorable tradeoff with his high number of strikeouts. He also draws significantly more walks than Ellsbury, translating into a higher on-base percentage despite a batting average 40 points lower. Though it’s hard to find many flaws in Ellsbury's season thus far, the Red Sox might like their lead-off hitter to sport a walk rate closer to that of Kevin Youkilis than Carl Crawford.

But a look at our old friend Runs Created reveals that the disparity is not as large as might be supposed; Granderson maintains only a slight 111 to 107 advantage. Though Granderson’s homer totals are flashy, Ellsbury has steadily racked up the singles and doubles — more valuable for run creation than his counterpart’s walks — and kept his strikeout levels in check. Factor in the greater threat he poses on the base paths, and the gap between the two begins to look very small indeed.

On the defensive side, things get a bit murkier. Many advanced metrics, like FanGraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), rate Ellsbury as the top center fielder in the majors — not too surprising given his exceptional range. Yet by the same measures, Granderson, who made a name as a highlight reel defender in Detroit, ranks as one of the worst. A variety of theories have been proposed to explain this: perhaps fleet-footed left fielder Brett Gardner covers a good chunk of his territory in left-center; he may indeed have lost a step; or advanced defensive statistics are the domain of the occult.

Sabermetricians say stats like UZR are better measured over three-year periods; single-season numbers may be skewed by small sample-size bias. Over their last three full seasons, the numbers still heavily favor Ellsbury — his three-year UZR is 27.3 (runs saved above average), compared to Granderson’s -0.8. Even allowing for a substantial margin of error, it looks like Granderson has regressed from his early days as a Tiger, where his ’05-’07 UZR was a healthy 30.6. Ellsbury has indeed been superior in the field.

It’s this discrepancy that accounts for Ellsbury’s slim lead (6.5 to 5.5) in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), an overall measure of player value that’s gaining increasing importance in the MVP voting. When the defensive component is removed from the statistic, Granderson (5.7) is deemed more valuable than Ellsbury (5.2).

So making a judgment here depends on one’s perception of the respective defensive abilities of Ellsbury and Granderson. Trusting the data, Ellsbury has been better overall; Granderson may make a few Web Gems, but the subtle things, like taking good routes to fly balls, are much more important in a consistently good center fielder. Not that this could ever be said of a certain other well-regarded Yankee defender

For my part, I believe Granderson’s decline in the field isn’t as drastic as UZR would have us believe. His workload in center has indeed been cut down by the presence of the speedy Gardner, artificially reducing the value of his defense. And to answer those who attribute his high power totals to the short porch in Yankee Stadium, he’s actually produced nearly identical numbers on the road as at home. While Ellsbury has provided virtually everything the Sox can ask for from the lead-off spot, Granderson’s been the more valuable player in 2011.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an angry mob to outrun.

The curious case of Tim Wakefield

  August 24, 2011 06:12 PM

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Tim Wakefield has made a long career out of spectacularly average pitching. Sure, he’s first in Red Sox history in innings pitched and second in both wins and strikeouts, but he’s also the runaway leader in losses (by 43), runs allowed (by 608), home runs allowed (by 201), hits allowed (by 541), and walks (by 226). His place in history has been secured by longevity rather than standout performance.

Here’s a look at the average pitching statistics recorded over the span of Wakefield’s career, adjusted for the years and leagues in which he competed, compared to the production of Wakefield himself.

Average Pitcher, 1992-2011
.500 W-L%, 4.48 ERA, 1.408 WHIP, 6.35 K/9, 3.375 BB/9

Tim Wakefield, 1992-2011
.529 W-L%, 4.40 ERA, 1.348 WHIP, 6.00 K/9, 3.40 BB/9

Yet unless the baseball gods conspire against him, Wakefield will cross the 200-win threshold in the coming weeks, a feat accomplished by only 87 of the over 35,000 players to pitch an inning in the major leagues. History will regard him as one of the strangest of this group. He’ll be the seventh knuckleballer, and he’ll sport the second-highest career ERA of any pitcher with over 100 wins.

How has Wakefield managed to stick around so long and record so many victories with such modest numbers?

The answer lies in part in the manner in which he began his career. Wakefield entered the league in 1992 as a late-July call-up for the pennant-chasing Pirates and made an immediate impact, going 8-1 down the stretch with four complete games and a 2.15 ERA. This was good enough to place him third in the Rookie of the Year voting, though he had been in the majors for just over two months.

First impressions are all-important in baseball. In their 2000 study “Career Trajectories in Baseball," Teddy Schall and Gary Smith at Pomona College found a statistically significant relationship between first-year performance and career length. The rookie year is the hardest to survive, especially for players like Wakefield who lack can’t-miss talent. A productive first season can make the difference between a roster spot the following year and a career spent toiling in the minors.

If his first year had gone as poorly as his next two, a good chunk of which was spent in the minors struggling with severe control issues, he wouldn’t have garnered any interest from teams upon his release from Pittsburgh in early 1995. As it was, the Red Sox snapped him up, and, with some guidance from the Niekro brothers, Wakefield recorded the best season of his career, finishing third for the Cy Young (16-8, 2.95 ERA) -- and effectively cementing his place on the team for years to come.

The other factor underlying Wakefield’s success is simple good fortune; Wakefield has been on good teams, and that’s done wonders for his win totals. The accompanying chart shows Wakefield’s record as measured by traditional wins and losses, and by Baseball Prospectus’ Support-Neutral Wins and Losses, which presents a pitcher’s expected record based on the situation in which he left each start, given league-average bullpen and run support.

wakefield.png

Had Wakefield been stuck on middling teams throughout his career, we wouldn’t be talking about history. His 5.2 runs of support per start (MLB average over that span: 4.8) likely earned him an extra 15 to 20 wins, and his ten wins recorded in relief have all come with some offensive help -- his team must have been tied or losing at some point during his appearance in order for him to earn the decision. With lesser teammates, he might still be waiting to breach the 150-win mark.

Wakefield’s value lies in his status as a low-cost innings eater who can shuttle between the rotation and the bullpen with ease. It’s just so happened that the opportunities to step in have been plentiful, and with the help of potent offenses, he’s done a capable job and piled up the W’s.

So yes, let’s celebrate number 200 when it finally comes. Just remember that the real reason we should honor Tim Wakefield is not for his wins, but for his rubber arm, his adaptability, and his steadfast professionalism. The guy showed up for work every day, did what he was told, and lo and behold, the baseball gods smiled upon him to the tune of 199 wins, and counting. And while his numbers will never justify a bust in Cooperstown, Wake and his fluttering, dancing knuckleball won’t soon be forgotten by Red Sox Nation.

What's behind John Lackey's surge?

  August 12, 2011 04:08 PM

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There’s probably not a player on the Red Sox roster who’s inspired more remote control throws and hair-pulling in the Greater Boston area this year than pitcher John Lackey. Yet during the last month, he’s been, well, pretty good, posting a 5-0 record with a 3.58 ERA since July 9. This has been all the more welcome given the loss of Clay Buchholz; more than ever, the Sox now need solid production from the back of their rotation, especially heading into a likely postseason berth.

So which will we get the rest of the season: the newly revitalized Lackey, or the guy who sported a 7-plus ERA before his recent resurgence?

First 13 starts: 5-8, 7.47 ERA, 1.631 WHIP, 1.67 K/BB

Last six starts: 5-0, 3.58 ERA, 1.354 WHIP, 6.2 K/BB

The Promising: The most telling statistics underlying Lackey’s improvement are the increased strikeout numbers and decreased walk rate. These are two of the best indicators for evaluating the true nature of a pitcher’s performance, as they’re two of the stats he can most consistently control. It’s become accepted wisdom in the statistical community that pitchers actually have very limited influence over what happens to a batted ball once it’s put in play; whether a ball falls in for a hit or not generally has more to do with defense and simple chance than a pitcher’s ability.

However, the pitcher’s ability has quite a lot to do with keeping balls from being put in play in the first place (strikeouts) and cheaply putting runners on base (walks), categories in which Lackey has been much more efficient of late.

Lackey’s subpar numbers to this point may also be the result of plain bad luck. As alluded to earlier, a pitcher’s BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) is largely dictated by factors outside his control, but it usually hovers close to the MLB average of about .295. Under this assumption, Lackey’s been extraordinarily unlucky, posting a career high .332 BABIP, which puts him in the 95th percentile for pitchers with over 100 innings this year.

That number can’t be pinned on the defense, either—the Red Sox' staff BABIP is only .281. It’s possible that Lackey’s fortunes could turn. Regression of this number toward the mean, and thus fewer baserunners, would be reflected as a decrease in runs allowed.

The Ominous: A trend that doesn't bode well for Lackey, and can explain much of his poor performance this season, is the rate at which he’s allowed fly balls. Over his career, Lackey has shown a slightly above-average ability to avoid them; from 2004 to 2010, he recorded a mean ground ball-to-fly ball ratio (GB/FB) of 1.24, compared to the MLB average of around 1.10. In 2011, his GB/FB stands at a paltry 0.94.

Why is this a problem? Well, when’s the last time you saw a bouncing ball leave the park (besides on a blooper reel)? Fly balls are more likely to enhance run production; they go for extra base hits far more often than ground balls. And they’re especially dangerous at an offensively inclined park like Fenway. It’s no wonder hitters are slugging .478 off Lackey this year (career average: .408).

Before we attribute too much of Lackey’s struggles to bad luck, note that 22 percent of the balls put in play off Lackey are line drives, the highest number since his rookie season. His pitches may just be sitting nicely on tees for opposing hitters, making his inflated BABIP an indication of decreased effectiveness rather than a pattern of bad breaks. Though he’s allowed fewer fly balls lately (1.03 GB/FB in his last six starts), he’s still been afflicted by a high line drive rate (23 percent) — not the medicine needed to continue his recovery.

The Verdict: The rest of Lackey’s season — whether late-season charge or relapse — will hinge primarily on these key statistics. If he’s able to punch out batters, reduce his free passes, and keep the ball on the ground, the chances are good that he’ll end the season on this current upswing and start to look a bit more like the pitcher signed from Anaheim in 2009.

If not, Sox fans may find themselves replacing yet another set of television accessories.

When it comes to runs created, Red Sox well ahead of the game

  August 8, 2011 02:21 PM
Few would argue with a characterization of the Red Sox batting order as “top-heavy.” Woe to the Sox, the thinking goes, should any ill befall one or more of their best hitters, as the bats available to replace their extraordinary production appear to range from the cold (looking at you, J.D.) to the cryogenically frozen (too late for a comeback, Ted?). Yet the offense has scored more runs than any other team this season. Can the bottom of the order really be nothing more than dead weight?

runscreatedchart.jpgTo evaluate the fairness of this view, let’s take a look at runs created, a statistic developed by Bill James, father of sabermetrics and senior adviser of baseball operations for the Red Sox. Runs created takes into account virtually every outcome an offensive player can produce on the field -- grounding into a double play, hitting a triple, bunting a runner over, etc. -- to approximate a hitter’s individual contribution to his team’s scoring. The accompanying chart shows what the lineup has produced this season, through Sunday's game.

That amounts to an average of 85.2 runs created from the first five hitters and 51.25 from the 6-9 hitters, or a 40 percent decrease. At first glance, this disparity only confirms the futility of the bottom of the order. But before you pile on Marco Scutaro or Carl Crawford, consider the embarrassment of riches at the top; Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia all rank in the top ten in the majors (third, seventh, and eighth, respectively) in runs created. It’s almost impossible not to look bad by comparison.

The platoon system, the product of injuries and inconsistency, has actually produced some fairly decent results. The median runs created among MLB regulars this season (minimum 350 PA) is 54. Given that the combinations we see at the bottom of the Sox order have about the same number of plate appearances as the regulars at the top, the team still gets reliably average production from the 6-9 holes — a serviceable level with such firepower from the 1-5 spots.

The Mariners and the Astros don’t get those numbers from their best hitters.

There’s no telling when Crawford, the biggest individual drag on the offense not named Drew -- whose 25 runs created are fewer than Reddick’s total in half the plate appearances -- will finally shake his severe case of MCS (Mike Cameron Syndrome) at the plate. Remember, there’s a reason this guy got paid in the offseason; he’s averaged 101 runs created/year over his career, and he’s still in his prime at age 30. If Pedroia or Ellsbury were to go down, he’s capable of earning those checks and picking up the mashing right where they left off.

Let us not waste our breath, then, praying for an exorcism of J.D.’s Louisville Slugger. The offense will be there the rest of the year. Rather, let us direct our pleas for divine intervention toward Clay Buchholz’s back, or Erik Bedard’s knee, lest the increasingly fragile-looking pitching staff shatter any dreams of postseason glory.

Numbers not on Big Papi's side

  August 8, 2011 01:49 PM

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Though some Red Sox fans may refuse to believe it, there’s an inconvenient truth we can’t ignore much longer: David Ortiz is getting old. Sure, we’ve all heard this refrain before, particularly in 2009 when, at the end of May, he was hitting .185 with exactly one home run.

Just when his transformation into Grand Papi seemed complete, he hit seven homers in each of the next three months, finishing the season with 28. He finished last season with 32 homers after another slow start. And during his 2011 All-Star campaign, his slugging and on-base percentage are hovering around his career averages.

300ortizchart.jpgBut the uncomfortable fact remains that Ortiz is 35 years old. Historically, this is not a good age for a hitter’s power numbers, as shown in the accompanying graph. Using the simplest and most conventional measure of a slugger’s ability -- the long ball -- it’s clear that power hitters have difficulty maintaining their production levels as the years pass.

Since 1901, 100 players have hit 30-plus home runs in a season more than once beyond the age of 30; Ortiz is one of them, accomplishing the feat three times. However, when we extend the age condition to 35, things become a lot less encouraging. Only 18 players have hit more than 30 dingers in more than one season at or past that age.

When we take a look at some of the names on that list, the picture becomes even bleaker: Bonds, McGwire, Giambi, Sheffield … have we seen these names somewhere before? Eight of the 18 players reached those slugging totals at the heart of the steroid era, between 1996 and 2006, before the federal investigation into performance-enhancing drug use was finally commissioned. So, with the assumption that a slugger’s $12 million annual salary warrants an expectation of 30 home runs a year, Papi will seek to do something in the coming seasons that, arguably, only 10 other (mostly) clean players in history have accomplished. Yikes.

Admittedly, home run total is an imprecise measurement of a power hitter’s contribution to the lineup. Let’s look at slugging percentage -- a slugging percentage of .500 equates roughly to the 30-homer threshold. Repeating our test, we find a 75 percent decrease from the 30-and-older group to the 35-and-older group in the number of players with multiple .500-plus slugging seasons, a very similar decline.

Ortiz is on pace to finish ahead of these benchmarks for the second straight year, with 21 home runs and a .532 slugging percentage through Sunday. But, as the Orioles can attest, there’s no telling how fast age can catch up with a player. After an All-Star season in 2010 at, you guessed it, 35 years old, fellow Dominican Vladimir Guerrero -- whose age has also come into question -- is on pace for career lows in home runs, slugging, and OBP.

This might seem like heresy to Red Sox Nation, but, barring the discovery of the fountain of youth, it could be in Boston’s best interest to let Big Papi walk this offseason. It’s certainly possible that Ortiz defies the odds again and keeps up this production for a year or two. It’s just that, at his price tag, the safe money would seek out a long-term replacement instead. And, for all the fond memories he’s provided, something tells me Theo Epstein isn’t the type to shell out another $12 million to sit around the clubhouse and reminisce about ’04 and ’07 ... and possibly ’11.

Stats Driven is powered by David Sabino, who over the last two decades has been a source of statistical analysis on the pages of Sports Illustrated, New York Times, and Chicago Tribune. David has written about all seven recent Boston-area championships for Sports Illustrated Presents commemorative issues, was the creator of such long time features as SI’s Player Value Ranking, NBA Player Rating and long running fantasy football and baseball columns.

He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrated’s 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.

Now living in Marblehead, he’s focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.

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