Ask Amalie: Will Rizzo be called up, and what’s Beckett’s future hold?

Another day, many more questions. The Red Sox continue to be an intriguing team, even if they might not be a postseason one. As it stands today, the Red Sox are six games back in the loss column in both the American League East and the wild card, with Tampa Bay and New York tied atop the division.

It’s a place that the Sox have largely maintained in recent weeks, just close enough to continue to be in the race, just far enough away to raise doubts about their ability to make it. So, as always, nothing has been decided regarding the Red Sox’ plans for October.

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There have been notable changes since the last mailbag, forays off the disabled list and right back on, changes in statistics and personnel that could have implications beyond this season, some of which come up for discussion in today’s question-and-answer session. The topics for today include Anthony Rizzo, Josh Beckett’s future performance, and Clay Buchholz, Cy Young award contender.

If you agree with me or disagree with me, feel free to add that to the comments section on the mailbag post. We certainly welcome discussion on any and all of the topics. Also, make sure to fill up the inbox for the next edition of the mailbag in two weeks. There’s certainly no shortage of interesting topics around these parts and with this team. It’s always something in Boston and with the Red Sox, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a not-so-good way. So, without further ado, enjoy the mailbag. Thanks for reading.

Kyle from Peabody, Massachusetts asks: I was just wondering when will the Red Sox call up Anthony Rizzo to the majors. He is just dominating at the Double-A level right now, he has 21 homers and 82 RBI. Will he be a September call up or not?

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Answer: Anthony Rizzo certainly is doing very well in Double A, especially in August when he seems to have put it all together to the tune of a .325 average with seven homers and 29 RBI. But just to correct your stats, those are his combined statistics between Salem and Portland, which are now .264 average, 23 home runs, 91 RBI. And while those are definitely good numbers, you have to remember that Rizzo just turned 21 on August 8. That’s not only young for the majors, that’s young for Double A. So don’t expect him to be a call-up this season. In fact, I’d expect that Rizzo could be a September call-up next year if he continues on his development path, including in Triple A. But as we’ve seen from countless prospects — Lars Anderson being the first to come to mind — that doesn’t always work out as soon as we might have expected. I think Sox prospects tend to get a lot of press and excitement, and sometimes that becomes unfair expectations at young ages. To counter that, though, I have heard a lot of good things about Rizzo and his power this season. Still, it’s too soon to think about him up with the Sox.

Spencer from New York, New York asks: I love your answers because they give so much detail and thought. So, I think you are the right person for this question. Most Red Sox fans have seen some decline from Beckett in the past 3 years. That is why most of us were shocked when the Sox gave him such a big offer. Did the Sox jump the gun on him? I don’t think under a full healthy season he will pitch to over a 6+ ERA. At the same time I don’t think he will ever be under a 4.00 ERA again unless he learns to pitch differently. Your thoughts?

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Answer: I’m not entirely sure I agree that Josh Beckett has been in a three-year decline. He certainly hasn’t lived up to the excellent season that he put up in 2007, but he did also manage a very good 2009. That being said, he has been pretty brutal this season, with his 6.67 ERA and just three wins in 14 starts. That’s just terrible. It’s all well and good to attribute his struggles to throwing too many cutters or to his diminished fastball command, but that’s not exactly an excuse for putting up the first three-game stretch with at least six runs allowed in his career. As for the contract offer that Beckett signed during spring training, it’s obvious that the deal is far too much for the pitcher that the Sox are seeing at the moment. However, if he can recover and become even close to the pitcher that he was in 2007 or 2009, it’s a far more reasonable salary (by baseball standards). For example, it’s not like A.J. Burnett is living up to what the Yankees thought they were getting when they signed him to a very similar deal to Beckett’s or John Lackey’s. So perhaps Beckett will turn things around for 2011, as he does seem to pitch better in odd-numbered years. Or maybe this is who the Sox have signed up for the next four seasons. The going rate for good starting pitching is high, and it appears that the Sox believed they’d gotten a good rate on Beckett — who is also something of a leader-by-example among the other starters — by signing him before he hit free agency. That doesn’t appear to be a wise move at the moment. But, really, I don’t believe that this is the Beckett that we’ll see for the rest of his contract. He may never again be like 2007 Beckett, but he won’t be 2010 Beckett either.

Mike from Montauk, New York asks: I’m over this year and on to the future. Has Theo, in committing about $120 million to Beckett and Lackey over the next four years, effectively tied up the team’s budget to pitchers who are well below average now and likely to see their skills diminish as they age into their mid-30s? Thanks for the great q&a column!

Answer: It’s a good question, Mike, and related to the answer above. While the Sox have more money to play with than many other teams, their failures are also generally bigger because they do have the wherewithal to commit large sums of money to players. So contracts — even bad ones — don’t generally tie up the team’s budget. There have been quite a few examples of unwise contracts given out and then swallowed due to poor fit or poor performance or other issues (like, say, Julio Lugo’s deal or Edgar Renteria’s). Right now, both of those contracts look a little off, given the performances of Beckett and John Lackey this season, though Lackey has pitched well of late. One of the problems with Lackey has been his inconsistency. He’ll throw off an excellent outing, like his start yesterday when he allowed two earned runs over eight innings with 10 strikeouts. And then in the next he’ll allow five (or more) earned runs. Just to give you an idea of his value, fangraphs.com has him listed as having a $10 million value, which translates to his wins above replacement (WAR) converted into what he’d make as a free agent on a dollar scale. It’s not perfect, but it gives you a sense of his value. Overall, though, I think Lackey will have a better year next year and will eventually live up to his contract (as much as anyone can live up to an $82.5 million deal). As for Beckett, I mostly answered that in the above section. He was he slowed by injury for the first half of the season, but he also hasn’t exactly produced when he’s been able to get on the field. That’s not exactly the best way to justify the $68 million extension. So, do I think he’ll be this bad for the rest of his contract? Certainly not. But I do think that there should be some concerns about his contract.


Donald from Columbia, Maryland asks: Hi Amalie, I’m a Red Sox fan living in Maryland by way of Bermuda. Most of the games I watch on the computer and it seems to me that the team is leaving a lot of players on base and in scoring position. Last night against the Yankees they had the bases loaded and did not score and I have noticed in recent games that has been a problem. What are their statistics like in driving in runners in scoring position?
Answer: You might be surprised to learn that the Red Sox’ numbers with runners in scoring position are not that far off from their numbers in most other situations, and might just be better in some ways. To wit, the Red Sox have batted .271 both with RISP and with no one on base, with a .366 on-base percentage with RISP and a .333 with the bases empty. The team’s on-base plus slugging is .838 with RISP and .786 with the bases empty. In other words, they’re not nearly as bad in such situations as one might think or expect. And, in case you’re wondering, the Red Sox are actually particularly adept at hitting with just a man on third base. When they have a runner 90 feet from home, the Red Sox are hitting .417 as a team with a .525 OBP and a 1.287 OPS. So perhaps that’s the situation you should root for when the Red Sox need that one run to get them over the hump.
Aaron from Geneva, New York asks: Is there any way to correlate Jonathan Papelbon’s known issue with migraine headaches to his seemingly-random implosions like Aug.12 vs. the Blue Jays? Could he be hiding it from the Red Sox a la Dice-K last season? Could the Red Sox be hiding it in the hopes of preserving his trade value?
Answer: I’m not sure that Jonathan Papelbon is really hiding his issues with migraines. We’ve generally known, either that night or after the fact, when he has suffered from them. For example, Papelbon was scheduled to pitch on a particular day in spring training and did not pitch well. He revealed afterward that he had been having a migraine that day, which led to his grogginess and poor performance. Could he be hiding them? Sure. But it would also be an easy excuse for him to explain a season that has been his worst in the big leagues, so it would make much more sense for him to let the media know about them. The better reason for the Sox to hide his migraines from the media/fans would be to not let the other team know how they will deploy their bullpen. It would be foolish for them to make sure that the opposing manager knew that Papelbon couldn’t pitch before the game, which is why we generally only hear about it after the fact. As for Papelbon’s trade value, I think his performance will have far more to do with whether other teams want to take a chance on him than his issues with migraines.
David from Clifton Park, New York asks: Hi Amalie: Hope you’re hanging in for the stretch run. Just want to know how the organization sees Jed Lowrie? For some reason, he does not appear to draw the attention of other prospects in the organization. I see him as a very good starting infielder down the road. Solid defensively, offensively, switch hits.
Answer: The problem with Jed Lowrie so far has been that he has been unable to really remain healthy for an extended period of time. I’m not saying the wrist injury or the mononucleosis were his fault, but the Red Sox have maintained that they would like to be able to rely on him to play regularly, and so far they haven’t seen that. I completely understand that Theo Epstein and company would be hesitant to hand over any sort of starting job to him with the issues that he’s had staying on the field, even though he’s performed pretty well at the plate (.299, .537 slugging in limited duty this season).
That being said, there’s another issue. There aren’t any starting infield jobs open for him. Obviously Dustin Pedroia has a firm grasp on second base. As for shortstop, the Red Sox have Marco Scutaro signed for 2011 and they have Jose Iglesias on tap, potentially for 2012. Iglesias’s development was hindered a bit this season by his fractured finger, which means that he’s unlikely to be ready to take over at the start of next season. But 2012 certainly isn’t out of the picture. That leaves the utility spot potentially open for Lowrie, which would be a good fit for him, as he has the ability to play all over the infield and switch hit.
Doug from Elmhurst, Illinois asks: Amalie, does Darnell McDonald qualify for rookie of the year consideration? I don’t think he has had a full season in the majors, but does he have too many total games in the majors? Thanks.
Answer: Nope, Darnell McDonald does not qualify for rookie of the year. A player must have accumulated fewer than 130 at-bats during a season or seasons in the major leagues (or fewer than 50 innings pitched) to qualify for the ROY award. McDonald had 32 at-bats with Baltimore in 2004, 10 more with Minnesota in 2007, and 105 with Cincinnati last season. So he’s over the limit, and doesn’t quite make the cut.
Diane from Hudson, Massachusetts asks: Is it time to start talking about Clay Buchholz for the Cy Young award?
Answer: Absolutely. Clay Buchholz currently has a 15-5 record with a 2.26 ERA, with the ERA standing as the best in the American League. He’s also tied for second in wins, two behind CC Sabathia. While he lags far behind in strikeouts (34th in the AL, with 96), that’s not really detrimental to his campaign in my eyes. And it’s one that I have been and will be following closely, since I have one of the two Cy Young award votes from the Boston chapter of the BBWAA, as I’ve mentioned before. A particularly good marker for pitching performance is ERA+, which Buchholz currently leads in the AL with a 194. Adam Wainright tops the NL, also with a 194. ERA+ adjusts a pitcher’s ERA for the ballpark in which he pitches and for the ERA of the league. There are certainly other good candidates for the Cy Young, and there’s also a lot of time left before the votes have to be in at the end of the regular season.
Along with Buchholz, David Price (15-5, 2.97 ERA, 146 strikeouts) will certainly be given some consideration for the award. So will Sabathia (17-5, 3.02) and perhaps even Carl Pavano (15-8, 3.52). While things can change with one bad start or a couple of bad starts in a row — Jon Lester’s stock has gone down with a 4.89 ERA over his last six outings (13-8, 3.26) — I’d call Buchholz the leader at this moment. And I’ll certainly let everyone know where I stand at the end of the season.
Don from Otisfield, Maine asks: What happened to Ron Johnson, the first base coach?
Answer: Don, it’s really a terribly sad story. Ron Johnson has not been back with the team since leaving the Red Sox to attend to his daughter on Aug. 1. Johnson’s 11-year-old daughter Bridget was riding her horse by a road in Morrison, Tenn., and was involved in an automobile accident that severed her left leg at the knee. A Good Samaritan found her in that condition, and stanched the bleeding with his hands. Johnson told Newschannel 5 in Tennessee, the first to report the story, that Bridget would likely have bled out at the scene had the man not stopped to help. Bridget spent five days in intensive care at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. The doctors at the hospital were attempting to reattach her leg, but weren’t able to do so and the leg was amputated. It’s an incredibly difficult situation, and Johnson has been given leave to remain with his family in Tennessee as he tends to his daughter. Rob Leary has been filling in as first-base coach in Johnson’s absence.
Mike from Los Angeles asks: Hey Amalie, as it looks possible the Red Sox could finish the year 15 or more games over .500 and still not make the playoffs, it got me thinking. Since the addition of the wild card– what is the best record to NOT make the playoffs? Enjoy your work
Answer: Since 1995, the year the wild card was put into play, the 1999 Cincinnati Reds were the team to have the best record without making the postseason. Though, technically, those Reds did make a playoff game. Both the Mets and the Reds finished with 96-66 records, tying for the wild-card lead. That meant a one-game playoff to be named the wild-card team, a game the Mets won 5-0. Making it all the more tough for that Reds team was the fact that they lost four of their last five games, leading to the playoff game and the October off.