Welcome to the second half.
After tonight’s All-Star game, which features a bunch of bruised and bandaged Red Sox (half of them just watching), the team continues a tough July in which just nine games are at home in the friendly confines of Fenway Park. But it’s those splints and boots and crutches that are the key to the Red Sox’ second half, not how many games they have at home or on the road. Because, if the Sox continue to play without most of their roster, it would seem inevitable that it would catch up with them. The Sox have done an excellent job of remaining in the race without most of their starters, but how long can it continue?
Can the migration of talent from the disabled list to the active roster be enough to put the Sox over the top in the American League East? Or do the Sox need to go out and make a couple of acquisitions before the trading deadline?
Those are the key question for the Sox right now. We have other key questions in today’s mailbag, though, including queries about Clay Buchholz’s speed and the Red Sox bullpen’s effectiveness and John Lackey’s performance. So with no further ado, here are the answers that you’ve been waiting for. Or at least some of them. Enjoy, and remember to submit your question for the next edition in two weeks — no matter how off the wall it is.
Jonathan from Camarillo, California asks: I have been wondering this for a while and would love someone to figure out the answers. Maybe one of the stat junkies. How many hits does Wakefield give up after having an 0-2 count or at least two strikes? How many runs does he give up with two outs? I have been watching Wake for years, and it’s unbelievable how many two-out hits he surrenders and how many hitters get on base even though they get down in the count. I would be he gives up more two-strike hits and two-out runs than any starter in baseball the last 10 years.
Answer: Jonathan, Tim Wakefield has given up 13 hits in 54 at bats this season with an 0-2 count. That’s a .241 average when he’s ahead in the count 0-2. Those numbers are the highest of his career, a career in which he has averaged a .172 average against in a two-strike count. His highest total of two-strike hits came in 2001, when Wakefield allowed 20 of them in his worst season in that spot. The numbers are far more interesting when you go to at bats against Wakefield after he gets to an 0-2 count. In such situations, batters have a .263 average against Wakefield this season with 21 hits in 80 at bats. Batters have a .338 slugging percentage after getting to 0-2 as well. With two outs, Wakefield is actually performing better than his career average, with batters having a .236 average this season as opposed to .255 over his career.
Darren from Chesire, Connecticut asks: Assuming he would take it, can you see the Sox signing Varitek to a one-year deal in a reduced role similar to this season which has seemed to help with his health and production? Any thoughts on signing V-mart as DH after this year?
Answer: Darren, I can actually see the Red Sox re-signing Jason Varitek to a one-year or two-year deal at the end of this season, as long as they can match up on a relatively short amount of money. I would never have thought that possible in the offseason, believing the relationship had run its course, and that an unhappy Varitek would have to simply wait out his final season as a backup in Boston. But that has changed this year, with Varitek settling into the role as backup. Granted, that has all changed with his broken foot, but Varitek was doing an excellent job helping Victor Martinez and backing him up and is obviously doing all he can to be back as soon as possible. Varitek has clearly been a good clubhouse presence, a catcher that pitchers continue to want to work with, and a leader. Obviously, the catcher situation is up in the air for the Red Sox in general. They have to determine their path with a starting catcher before they can work on their backup situation, but the presence of Varitek could help stabilize a team that easily might have a new starter this offseason. As it seems increasingly likely that Boston won’t have a young catching prospect advanced enough to learn behind a starter in 2011, that makes Varitek an attractive option as their No. 2 backstop.
Ken from Waterbury, Connecticut asks: Amalie, I remember reading in a column last year that Clay Buchholz is actually the fastest man on the Red Sox roster – that he had beat Jacoby Ellsbury in a foot race in the minors. Any truth to that?
Answer: That all depends on whom you ask. There has been a lot of talk as to whether Buchholz or Jacoby Ellsbury is actually faster, though I would guess that Buchholz has slowed quite a bit, given that he rarely has to work out for speed. The two never raced, though there was always talk that they would like to do so. You might also remember that Terry Francona used Buchholz as a pinch runner last summer in Texas, attesting to the fact that there’s at least a little speed there.
Scott from Southbury, Connecticut asks: Hi Amalie, I have a quick question for you. Everyone is making a big deal, as they should be, about Nava’s first pitch grand slam. In 1999 the Sox had a catcher Creighton Gubanich. Now I know he didn’t hit a grand slam with the first pitch he saw, but was his one and only home run a slam, and could it have been his first major league hit? I have been wondering this since hearing Nava’s slam over the radio. I was hoping you could clear this up for me. Thank, and keep up the great work. It is difficult to be a Sox fan deep in the heart of Yankee’s and Mets territory.
Answer: You are correct. Creighton Gubanich had just one home run in his career, which he hit on May 3, 1999 in the first inning against Oakland. The grand slam occurred in the third game of a career that would span just 18 games. It was his first major league hit.
Ray from Redondo Beach, California asks: Do you think that Theo would consider trading Daisuke Matsuzaka? Now…hear me out on this…I have no complaints about his pitching ability, but it’s the domino effect he has on the team. He’ll throw 100 pitches by the 4th or 5th inning which taxes the bullpen. For as good as he may be, do you think it’s worth keeping him knowing that your bullpen arms may be shot? Thanks Amalie…love your stuff. Keep up the good work!
Answer: I think there are few players on the current Sox roster (or in the system) who are absolutely untouchable. And, given that, I do think that Theo Epstein would consider trading Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Matsuzaka era has gotten increasingly disappointing, coming down from the highs of his 15-win debut in 2007 and his 18-win campaign in 2008. Coming off a lost year in 2009, Matsuzaka has spent most of 2010 injured with two separate stints on the disabled list. This is not exactly what Epstein or the Red Sox envisioned when they spent more than $100 million to bring Matsuzaka to the United States. The pitcher was supposed to be at the top of the Sox rotation, not sitting at the bottom trying to hang on, five-inning increments at a time. In the end, it’s incredibly frustrating to watch him pitch. That would be OK if he were winning, but he has not been successsful often enough recently. Ultimately, though, it’s worth keeping him if there aren’t any good offers — even fourth and fifth starters aren’t just hanging around out there. But I certainly don’t think that Epstein would be opposed to giving Matsuzaka a fresh start if the correct pieces were to come back in return.
Jim from Seminole, Florida asks: Is there anyone out there who believes the Sox bullpen will get them to the postseason? After the two Rays games its very apparent that Okajima, Ramirez, DelCarmen, Atchison, and Richardson cannot get the job done. Unless the starters last a minimum of seven and possibly eight innings, the Sox will find it difficult to get to Bard or Papelbon with the lead. What is the solution for Theo?
Answer: Nope. I highly doubt that anyone — and that includes Epstein — is comfortable with the Red Sox bullpen as it’s currently constituted. Other than Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard, the latter of whom has been worked extremely hard this summer, there is no one for Francona to trust with the late innings or with close situations. Hideki Okajima? He’s been in decline for more than a year. Ramon Ramirez? He’s not nearly the pitcher he was last season. So, with the trading deadline bearing down, you can bet that Epstein is working to try to find this season’s Billy Wagner. Good relievers are expensive, though, and don’t always work out — Eric Gagne, anyone? So far the Sox have been working internally to try to find a solution, moving Michael Bowden to the bullpen. The pitcher was having an outstanding year at Triple A as a starter, and the Sox wanted to take a look at him out of the bullpen, a place where he could have a dramatic impact on the major league club this season. This is certainly not the first time the Sox have moved a starter to a relief role, including with Papelbon and Justin Masterson in the past. The goal is to fix the problem without having to give up too much, as Epstein said recently. So Bowden could be an option, as could Felix Doubront, though the latter has expressed reservations about the role. With a couple of weeks until the trading deadline, it appears that internal is the first option with the front office continuing to explore external solutions. We’ll see if there’s anything that meets their requirements.
Ron from Portland, Oregon asks: I’m hearing a lot of noise about how unhappy the Red Sox players are about Jacoby Ellsbury and his recovery in Arizona. How badly has this affected his relationship with the other players, and is it to the point where management would consider a trade (once he establishes that he is healed completely).
Answer: I think there’s no question that the decision to work on his recovery in Arizona has hurt him in the eyes of the team. You might have seen this quote from Kevin Youkilis, a statement he made over the weekend in Toronto in advance of Ellsbury’s reappearance with the club from his exile: “One thing I can say is there’s a lot of guys here that are hurt and supporting the team,” Youkilis said. “We wish Jacoby was here supporting us, too.” It’s not hard to see that there are some hard feelings relating to Ellsbury’s decision. And there should be. Half the team is injured, many of those players are on the disabled list, and still they remain with the club, working to get back as fast as they can. I’m not saying that Ellsbury isn’t doing all he can to return to baseball as quickly as possible. But he’s doing it in Arizona, removed from his teammates for long stretches. That doesn’t look good, doesn’t sit well with those inside the same clubhouse, and I think his reputation has taken a major hit with his teammates. I do think that management would consider a trade, despite all the talent and all the promise that Ellsbury has. I have never been quite as high on Ellsbury as some people, and I’m not so sure this is destined to be a happy marriage in the long-term. Fences, of course, can be mended, but there appears to be a lot of disappointment in the way that the outfielder has conducted himself in this case, not just from his teammates. I wouldn’t be surprised if, after doing their best to maintain his value despite the issues, the Sox shop him, though there are certainly no guarantees. If the Sox do decide to entertain offers, the continued development of Ryan Kalish would help cushion the blow.
Angelo from Coconut Creek, Florida asks: Why does everyone continually let J.D. Drew off the hook for all the time he either pulls himself out or is taken out of the line-up with what seems to be minor discomforts. The “stiff neck” at a time when the Sox really need him in the line up should be the last straw, especially when Dustin Pedroia is taking ground balls on his knees with his foot in a cast. J.D. needs to man up and be earn the money that he is being paid.
Answer: It was certainly unfortunate timing for J.D. Drew that he got taken out of the lineup for a stiff neck just when we all saw shots of Dustin Pedroia fielding grounders on his knees. I remember talking about the two stories back-to-back on NESN and noting their juxtaposition. It didn’t exactly look good for Drew. But, on Drew, I might have more of a tolerant attitude than some others. This is what you get with Drew. The Sox knew this going in, knew that he wasn’t exactly going to play all 162 games ever, knew that he would spend X percentage of the season out with injuries. And he’s done exactly that. Of course, having the correct expectations doesn’t exactly make up for their right fielder not being in the lineup. Drew has played in 78 games this season, through the All-Star break. That’s actually fourth on the club, behind Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre (both 85) and Youkilis (84). All things considered, Drew has actually mostly maintained his health this year, and that’s part of why he sometimes feels he needs to take a day off with something like a stiff neck. (And, by the way, his teammates said later that Drew could barely lift his arms over his head. Hard to play baseball that way.) Sometimes one day off here or there helps keep Drew away from a stay on the disabled list. So, ultimately, do I think that Drew should be in the lineup more? Yes. But that’s not who Drew is. And the Sox knew that when they signed him, even in giving him a $70 million contract.
Evan from Milwaukee, Wisconsin asks: With Lowrie finally resuming baseball activities and rehabbing in Lowell, do you have any sense of what kind of timeline we’re looking at for him? I read that his rehab assignment can last up to 20 days. So, what exactly does that mean — after 20 days he’ll be back up with Boston? Or in Pawtucket? Or what? The Sox really could use the infield depth he’d provide – any chance we see him get some starts in Boston before Dustin is back?
Answer: It’s hard to know exactly what the timeline is for Jed Lowrie. You are correct that his rehab assignment can last up to 20 days. Beyond that, it doesn’t mean that he will end up in Boston. The Sox can assign him to Triple A, and I believe that they might do exactly that. There are still a lot of questions remaining about Lowrie and about his ability to stay healthy enough to help the Sox. You might remember that Epstein essentially issued Lowrie a challenge, saying that the infielder needs to prove to the organization that he can stay on the field. Lowrie has yet to do that. The Sox aren’t just going to open up a spot for him, even though his presence would certainly be helpful with Pedroia still on the disabled list. That would be too easy. The good news is that Lowrie has worked hard to get his left wrist back to normal, a place it hasn’t been since 2008. But, even with the needs of the Sox, I don’t think that the team will be in a rush to get Lowrie back to the big leagues. I think the organization needs to see a few things from him in Triple A, including a demonstration of his health and of his ability to play every day.
Joe from Nantucket asks: What’s the deal with John Lackey? While we expect high walk totals and inconsistency from Dice-K, we were lead to believe that Lackey would be another Josh Beckett/clutch-type contract. What’s the likelihood Lackey gets his act together after the All Star break?
Answer: That’s a good question. It’s clear that the Lackey that we’ve seen this season is not the Lackey that the Sox believed they were signing this offseason. Most of his numbers are way off his career numbers, and not in a good way. And, strangely, Lackey has rarely admitted to the media that something is amiss, repeatedly saying that he’s been happy with the way he’s pitched. That’s all well and good, but I don’t quite think that should be the case. To wit, Lackey’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is at 1.48, the lowest of his career and well off his 2.61 career mark. Same goes for his WHIP, which is 1.602 this year and 1.327 over his career. His strikeouts per nine innings are down from 7.1 in his career to 5.4 this season. None of that is good news for Lackey or the Red Sox. What is good news for both is that Lackey has been a second-half pitcher over the course of his time in the big leagues. His career .609 winning percentage in the second half is better than his .580 before. His 3.79 second-half ERA is better than his 3.96 first-half ERA. So that is promising. But there has to be a lot of concern regarding Lackey’s lack of command over the first half. That has traditionally been his hallmark, and something that he needs to be successful. I have to say that, watching Lackey pitch in spring training, I was expecting big things from him this season. That hasn’t been the case. And with Lackey being paid more than $18 million in the first year of a five-year deal, the starter simply has to perform better in the second half and as his contract continues. He’s being paid a lot of money for his nine wins and 4.78 ERA.