Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Season Preview Part I

Here we are, less than a week from the start of the season, and I haven’t done my season previews yet. My humblest apologies for that gross oversight. (My guess is, nobody cared) In any event, here’s what I have to say about this year’s Sox…starting with the pitchers.

Starting Pitchers:

Josh Beckett: Clearly the ace of the staff, although it’s getting closer. He’s always had the skills needed to dominate. He has occasionally slipped from that during the season. I’d expect a return to his 2007 form this year. I’d look for numbers in the 18 win, 3.25 ERA, and 192 K range. Since Pedro left, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather give the ball to.

Jon Lester: Boy, what a transformation we’ve seen in young Jon. It looks like he may finally be figuring out how to consistently pitch in the big leagues. The ceiling looks might high this year. If Beckett doesn’t have the ball, I want it in Lester’s hands. It’s unfortunate that he had that one misstep in the ALCS last year, since he was off towards legendary status. I’ll go for 17 wins, 3.44 ERA and 168 K’s.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: I may never figure out what to make of Dice-K. On the one hand, he gets himself into so much trouble that it’s hard to believe he can keep getting out of it. On the other hand, he always seems to get out of it. When does it stop being lucky, and start being his skill? I don’t know. He still doesn’t go deep into games, so that hurts his effectiveness. But, I’d still see a 16 win, 3.63 ERA with 213 K’s. He may be the classic pitcher that Pedro ruined for Boston fans. Would other fan bases complain so wildly about a pitcher who gives up as few runs as Dice-K? Or, is Boston so used to Pedroesque dominance that we can’t see other ways to control the game. Maybe there’s the Pedro way, the Maddux way, and the Matsuzaka way.

Tim Wakefield: With all the young kids pushing their way towards the rotation, we may be nearing the end of the Wakefield train. He’s been with the Sox since 1995, and nobody embodies the Sox more. With his “lifetime” contract, he’s a great deal for the Sox. Plus, he can still pitch. He may not be competing for the Cy Young anymore, but for a number 4 guy, he’s perfect. Plus, his games are over in the blink of an eye. I look for 13 wins, 4.87 ERA and 114 K’s.

Brad Penny/Clay Buchholz/John Smoltz: Three pitchers for one spot. All three come with huge questions. All three have huge flaws, and all three have huge upside. What happens is as much of a toss up as Boston had had in a while. Both Penny and Smoltz are the injured vets. If either of them is healthy enough to give 75% of their best season, it would be amazing. Or, both their arms could fall off. Buchholz is the young up-and-comes with the great tools. So far, he hasn’t been able to put it together in a major league uniform. If he does, though, he’ll be a steal in the five-spot. Or, he could implode in spectacular fashion. So, if the #5 guy gets 32 starts, how about 10 for Penny, 12 for Smoltz and 10 for Clay? Combined, I’ll give them 11 wins, 4.13 ERA and 109 strikeouts.

Overall, an amazing rotation. I’d toss them up against any five guys in the league. And that includes the one they bought in the Bronx.

Watch out American League.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

List of 36: Players with Red Sox ties struck out by Curt Schilling in his career

1. Manny Alexander (1 time)
2. Donnie Sadler (1)
3. Todd Benzinger (5)
4. JD Drew (8)
5. Carl Everett (9)
6. Mike Lowell (2)
7. Cliff Floyd (7)
8. Brian Dauback (3)
9. Ellis Burks (8)
10. Todd Walker (2)
11. Carlos Baerga (1)
12. Nomar Garciaparra (1)
13. Kevin Millar (5)
14. Trot Nixon (1)
15. Jason Varitek (2)
16. Scott Cooper (1)
17. JT Snow (16)
18. Brady Anderson (3)
19. Julio Lugo (5)
20. Edgar Renteria (8)
21. Phil Plantier (1)
22. Josh Beckett (3)
23. Jay Payton (7)
24. Hideo Nomo (5)
25. Bruce Hurst (1)
26. Rico Brogna (2)
27. Roberto Petagine (1)
28. Troy O’Leary (4)
29. Andre Dawson (2)
30. Orlando Cabrera (6)
31. Doug Mientkiewicz (2)
32. Gabe Kapler (2)
33. Will Cordero (6)
34. Lou Merloni (1)
35. Wade Boggs (3)
36. Tim Naehring (1)

I know I just did a list, but this one was too timely to pass up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Yaz By: Carl Yastrzemski and Gerald Eskenazi

Carl Yastrzemski was, of course, the Hall of Fame left fielder for
the Boston Red Sox. During his 23 seasons with the Sox he say some of the highs and the lows of the franchise. From the Impossible Dream of 1967 to the Boston Massacre in 1978. In this book, Yaz recounts his personal story as a baseball superstar. It explores his early years as his legendary determination was formed. It follows him through college and his entire Major League career. Along the way, the reader gets to live all the events in his life right along with him. There may not be another player to complete a 23-year Red Sox career, which makes Yaz’s story one for the ages.

I am just a little too young to have been a fan of Yaz. I didn’t experience the joy of the ’67 season. Maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I should have. While it was nice to read the stories, it wasn’t a trip down memory lane for me. Plus, not to knock Yaz, his life isn’t especially interesting. There were no scandals to report, or teammates he was slamming. He just went about the business of playing baseball every day. It was a wonderful, if very simple, retelling of a baseball life. If you grew up watching Yaz roam left field in Fenway, you’d probably like this book a lot more. It just didn’t do much for me.

Rating: 2 bases

Thursday, March 19, 2009

List of 36: Red Sox Players who Made Their Names Elsewhere

1. Ramon Martinez
2. Andre Dawson
3. Dante Bichette
4. Bret Saberhagen
5. Fergie Jenkins
6. Jose Canseco
7. Orlando Cepeda
8. David Cone
9. Willie McGee
10. Dennis Eckersley
11. Bill Buckner
12. Eric Gagne
13. Lefty Grove
14. Carlos Baerga
15. John Olerud
16. Mark Lemke
17. Jim Leyritz
18. Don Baylor
19. Lou Boudreau
20. Hideo Nomo
21. Javy Lopez
22. Cliff Floyd
23. Kevin Mitchell
24. Cy Young
25. Ramiro Mendoza
26. Tom Seaver
27. Carlos Pena
28. Hanley Ramirez
29. David Wells
30. Jeff Reardon
31. J.T. Snow
32. Juan Marichal
33. Rickey Henderson
34. Babe Ruth
35. Edgar Renteria
36. Lee Smith

Who's on your list?

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Couple Youngsters

A couple players of the young core of the Red Sox were in the news this weekend.

Jon Lester finally finalized his contract extension with the Sox. It was another case of the Red Sox buying up the free agency of a young star. In this case, Lester signed a club-friendly 5-year $30 million deal. If he turns into half the pitcher he looks to be, it will be a steal for the Sox. They even hold a club option at the end that could extend the deal if he’s still a bargain. The good thing for Lester? He gets a little contract security. Sure, he gave up some money if he evolves into an ace. But, even if he blows out his elbow tomorrow, he gets $30 million. Not a bad deal. Plus, when the contract is over, he can still get a monster deal if he deserves it. I still think these contracts are more beneficial to a small market club. The Red Sox could probably afford to just pay Lester what he deserves when the time comes, and not take that chance that a team like Florida may have to take. In the Marlins case, they need to lock up young talent cheap. They can’t pay Lester the $10 million he’ll deserve in a year or two. But, they can gamble on $6 million a year and hope for the best. In any event, it looks like the Sox are pretty happy that the Twins turned down the Lester-Santana deal. The Sox have now locked up Lester, Youkilis and Pedroia to long-term deals. That means the young nucleus of the team will be around for quite a while.

Speaking of Pedroia, he was the other youngster in the news. He had a little injury trouble, and needed to be checked out. The injury itself was a bit annoying. What really has people up in arms is that it happened in the World Baseball Classic. People are screaming that this is why players shouldn’t be allowed in the tournament. It’s an outrage that the reigning MVP hurt himself in such a silly game. The problem is, it’s not really the WBC’s fault. If Pedroia had turned down the invitation to play, he still would have been playing in games. The Sox play several exhibition games a week after all. Why wouldn’t he have hurt himself in those games? Did he try to go too hard too early? That’s really his fault, not the WBC. The only issue I would have with the WBC is if they said he was fine to play, and risked further injury for the good of team USA. Similar to the Dominicans playing Papi at first, even when he had complained about a sore shoulder. The Red Sox would have rested Ortiz more, I would imagine. But, in this case, it just looks like a little fluky thing that won’t be a big deal. Heck, I remember Ken Griffey Jr blowing out a knee in a Spring Training game. Nobody was calling Spring Training a useless waste of time.

Well…nobody new, at least.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

World Baseball Classic

I must say, I’m rather indifferent to this whole tournament. I think most of it stems from the fact that, no matter what the title says, two occurrences doesn’t make it a classic. It doesn’t even make it an “instant classic.” Right now, it’s like starting a new college. You can name your college The University of the Ivy Leagues if you like. But, it’d be hard to call yourself an Ivy League school since none of your alumni have been president, or headed corporations, or even held a job. Sure, in the years to come your school could produce graduates that command respect, but that hasn’t happened yet. The same holds for the WBC. That’s one reason this week’s upset of the Dominican team might be a great thing. At least that’s a story someone may remember for next time. It all helps build the resume of the competition. To make it work, it needs big names, and big games. The names are there from the start. It’s the games it needs to get.

My other cause for apathy is the players they select. Most of the reason you cheer for one team over another is familiarity. You don’t find many Padres fans in New England because it’s hard to be one, although it’s getting easier. If you turn on the local news or read the local paper, it’s the Red Sox players that you’d see. Sure, it’s getting better with ESPN, and satellite TV broadcasting every game to your house. But, the hometown team is still the one that you have a connection with. In most international competitions, that holds true with team USA. You cheer for the US swimmers because they’re the only ones you’ve even heard of prior to the games. I couldn’t name a non-American beach volleyball player. So, if one of those games is on, I cheer for the US since I have the most vested interests. Even when the pros started playing Olympic Basketball, a vast majority of them played for the US. I still didn’t know any of the players on the Argentinean team. That’s not the case with the WBC. Sure, I still don’t know many of the players on the Netherlands, but the rest of them are pretty well stocked with players. Team Canada has Jason Bay. I “know” him, and would like to see him do well. Japan has Dice-K. Again, I have a “relationship” with him, and have an interest in seeing him pitch. I probably have heard of at least half of the Dominican team, starting with Pedro and Ortiz. How could I not have a desire to see them perform well? And, yes the US team has Pedroia and Youkilis. But, it also has Jeter. As far as familiarity with the players, there are a handful of teams with the same levels of recognition. So, it’s hard to watch a game pulling for team USA when I’d be just as interested in the other team winning. If I don’t care who wins, my dedication just isn’t there. I went to an IRL race once. I don’t know a thing about open wheel racing. So, I picked the car with the coolest color scheme to root for. That didn’t exactly make for an exciting race. It’s the same with the WBC. I care exactly the same about almost every team. So, it’s just a bunch of people playing ball.

It’s also tough to get excited because I can’t tell how hard the players are trying yet. I’m sure they see it as a spring training more than anything…which might actually be an advantage to teams with fewer major leaguers. If Bay is on first playing against the US team, does he go into second with a take-out slide against Pedroia? Does he put national pride ahead of the Red Sox? I doubt it. (What if Jeter’s taking the toss instead?) It’s hard for me to faithfully cheer for a team, when it’s not clear how much they care about the outcome.

It’s really less of a “classic” and more of an “exhibition.” It’s similar to the All-Star game. Let’s get some great players on the same team, just for kicks, and see how they would do against each other. Any number of diehard baseball fans has put teams like this together in their mind. What if we made a team of all-time Sox against all-time Yankees? What if we put a team of Oklahomans against Californians? What if we had a team of Dominicans against a team of Canadians? Who would win? While the WBC doesn’t exactly answer that question, it does at least put the teams against each other. That’s not all bad.

Oh, and if I had to guess, I’d go with all-time Sox, Californians, and Dominicans.

Monday, March 9, 2009

36 Years of Red Sox Cards (Part VII)

More time…more cards:

1981 Donruss Dwight Evans
1981 was a big year for baseball card collectors. The courts had ruled that the Topps Company could no longer be the lone producer of baseball cards. Two companies quickly jumped into the mix, Fleer and Donruss. Both sets were plagued with errors that first year due to the time constraints leading to production. But, it was good for collectors to finally have some choices. This card is one of my favorites. The design is a little blah, team and player names with a simple border. But, it is one of the few times that Evans is pictured without his standard moustache. It looks a little weird to see him like that, but adds a little variety to a collection.

2000 Greats of the Game Autographs Jim Rice
Another appropriate choice, given Rice’s recent election to the Hall of Fame. This is an example of the direction many card companies are taking and featuring retired players. Card collectors who have the money to spend on cards are the adults. The players that adults remember idolizing are the retired players. So, they’ve started popping up, either is regular sets or sets devoted to retired stars. In this case, almost the whole Greats of the Game set is composed of ex players. Like the Ted Williams set, it’s a great way to obtain cheaper cards of all-time greats. Plus, some of the cards were autographed by the players. Imagine opening a pack and getting an autograph of Yogi Berra, Brooks Robinson or Duke Snider. For Sox fans, there were autographs of Dom DiMaggio, Carl Yastrzemski, and Rice. What a perfect way to spice things up.

1992 Topps Gold Winner Aaron Sele
In 1992, Topps got a little innovative with their cards. They decided that they would make a certain number of every card with gold foil on the front. This “parallel set” would be more rare than the regular cards. They would be randomly inserted into regular packs of Topps cards, based on some insertion rate. They also included a scratch-off contest card in the packs. I forget the exact working of the contest, but if you scratched off the right circle, you won a stack of the gold cards. What Topps didn’t realize, however, was that by simply putting a flashlight behind the card it was easy to scratch off the correct circle and win the cards. This didn’t seem fair since these “rare” gold cards were suddenly fairly easy to get. So, Topps changed things up a bit. The gold cards in the packs would remain as they always were. The ones redeemed through the contest were made a little different. The word “winner” was added in gold foil. What this did was make the winner versions more plentiful than the other gold versions. So, the cheaters with the flashlights wouldn’t get as good a card as people who opened packs and got a gold card. It also created three versions of every card, the regular, the gold, and the gold winner. This was pretty nice for player collectors, and made it interesting for rookies. Suddenly, instead of a regular Aaron Sele rookie card, there was a rare “gold winner” version as well as a super rare gold version. Of course, it didn’t end up mattering much in Sele’s case. But, players like Manny Ramirez now had a whole collection of rookie cards to hunt after. By now, just about every card has some gold foil on it. But, in 1992 it was a pretty big deal.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Moss, Marbury, and Many

In the recent years, three Boston teams have found themselves with a decision to make. A player they needed was available for their team. The player was highly skilled, but a bit of a butthead. Besides being known as clubhouse cancer, the player had been accused of giving up on teams, or games, or plays. The decision to have the player on the team was controversial, and up for much debate. The overriding issue was whether talent was more important than chemistry. Did winning games lead to a happy locker room, or was a happy locker room the key to winning games?

Following the 2006 season, the New England Patriots were in a bit of a funk. They were still one of the elite teams in the league, but hadn’t won a title in a couple years. They had an all-world quarterback, but lacked the receivers for him to throw to. Interestingly enough, there was a receiver available for trade out of Oakland. Randy Moss. Moss had both sides of this equation. His talent was unquestionable. If he wasn’t the most talented receiver in the game, he was certainly in the conversation. He also had a long history of being a meathead, going back to his college days. He had long been accused of not hustling on routes if he wasn’t supposed to get the ball. He had been accused of quitting on Oakland once he realized they weren’t very good. His off the field and on the field issues had been long documented, including pretending to moon the crowd after a touchdown, and almost running over a meter maid. If you wanted to uphold the chemistry of a championship caliber locker room, this was the last type of player you wanted to bring in. But, the Patriots didn’t care. They saw the talent they needed. They decided that if the clubhouse was as tight and together as people were claiming it was, they could absorb a distraction. Professional athletes such as those wouldn’t let another player’s distractions affect their performance. So, they traded for Moss. You can decide for yourself if the deal worked or not. His first year, the Patriots put up the first ever undefeated 16-win regular season in NFL history. Counting playoff games, no team in history has won more than their 18 wins that season. Along the way, Moss set the NFL record for most touchdown catches in a season, and Tom Brady set the record for most touchdown passes in a season. Last season, with a back-up quarterback the team racked up 11 wins. That would look like a pretty successful move to me.

Just recently, the defending champion Boston Celtics found that they had a need. Their bench just wasn’t putting up enough points to keep them in every game. They also didn’t have a back-up point guard they could trust to handle the ball. Interestingly enough, there was a shoot-first point guard available. Stephon Marbury. Again, Marbury had the two sides of the argument. He had the talent to make him an elite point guard. He was also the poster child for a me-first clubhouse cancer. To say that he caused a distraction in the other places he played was an understatement. He apparently bought courtside seats to his team’s games, just to cause a distraction. He quit on the Knicks so he could force his way out of town. The Boston coach didn’t want him in the clubhouse because of the distraction. The team’s star players weren’t fond of the addition. The championship Celtics had been the definition of a “team” and disruption of that was cause for concern. Once again, the talented player was signed. It was assumed that if the coach was any good, he could coach this player as well. It was assumed that if the team’s chemistry was as strong as suggested, it could handle a little acid. It was assumed that professional ballplayers wouldn’t let one player’s distractions affect their performance. So, Stephon Marbury is the new back-up point guard for the Celtics. Obviously, it’s too early to tell just how well it goes. But, they don’t appear to be crumbling to the floor just yet.

Slightly less recently, the defending champion Boston Red Sox had a need. They had a DH who needed protection in the line-up. They needed to score runs for their pitching staff. Interestingly enough, there was a player available who was one of the best ever at driving in runs. He would have provided protection for any hitter in the league. Better yet, he was already on the roster so they wouldn’t have to give anything up to get him. Manny Ramirez. Once again, Manny had both sides of the issue. His talent was legendary. He’s a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, and one of the best hitters in a generation. He also had a history of not hustling. Some people think he quit on the team at times. The manager of the team wasn’t fond of him. The veterans on the team though he was distracting. They claimed that his behavior was actually hurting their own performance. So, like the other examples, the organization told them to suck it up and act like professional athletes. No, not the Red Sox organization. The Red Sox got rid of Manny, getting a bag of balls in return. They added prospects to the deal. They added cash to the deal. All to get rid of a player who was probably the best hitter on the team, hustle or not. No, it was the Dodgers organization that told everyone to ask like professionals. They acquired Manny in the steal of the decade. How did it work for them? Manny hit like an animal. Manager Joe Torre apparently knew how to handle Manny. The Dodgers rode Manny’s back right into the playoffs. He practically single-handedly carried them to the NLCS. Finally, he wasn’t enough to carry them anymore. The Red Sox, on the other hand, lost the division, and lost the ALCS when the Rays had home field advantage. Just Wednesday, the Dodgers re-signed Manny to a contract, practically begging him to come back. They Dodgers had no competition, but still practically got on their knees to put Manny in an LA uniform. They look pretty good to win another division title.

So, I guess that just leaves one question.

What do the Patriots, Celtics, and Dodgers know that the Red Sox don’t?

Monday, March 2, 2009

36 Questions: Pitch Location

I’ve touched on this question before, when discussing the value of a catcher like Jason Varitek to a team. But, I really haven’t quite figured out just how a pitcher knows where to throw the baseball.

I was never a pitcher or catcher, even in Little League. But I remember coaches always telling the catcher to get his glove up there, and give the pitcher a good target. Now, in Little League, that’s fairly straightforward. The catcher sticks the glove up there. The pitcher throws a fastball as close as he can to the glove. At that level, there’s not a lot more that can be done. But, what happens when you get to the Major League level? At this point, pitchers should hit the glove every time. In fact, they should be able to place their fastball right along the outside edge of the plate if it’s called for. If it’s a curveball, they should be able to place it so that it bears in on the hitter, and swoops over the inside corner. The splitter should start at the knees and dive into the dirt. When does all that information get transferred from pitcher to catcher?

We’ve all seen it. A catcher will get into a crouch, and stick his hand between his legs. He’ll hold down a finger or two. He may wiggle his fingers. He may even slap his thigh. Now, the common theory is that one finger means a fastball. Two fingers may be a curve. Three may be a changeup, or whatever. The catcher usually flashes a bunch of signs, and the pitcher has to know which one the catcher means for the pitch. So, the actual pitch selection is pretty straightforward. But, then what?
The catcher sets up, and sticks his mitt out, say at the outside corner. The pitcher then goes into his wind-up, and throws the ball at the mitt on the outside corner. But, sometimes to fool a hitter, or runner at second base, the catcher bounces around behind the plate changing the location. So, the pitcher needs to change the location of the pitch mid wind-up? Or did he already know that the catcher would change the location? What about a “move him back” fastball? Pedro would plunk a hitter or two in his day. I never saw a catcher place his mitt behind a hitter. Sometimes a pitcher will “waste” one and throw it outside hoping the batter flails at it. The catcher’s mitt is never halfway into the outside batter’s box. What about a wicked Randy Johnson slider that practically hits the right handed batter in the foot. Again, the catcher never sets the target on the ground. It’s always somewhere over the plate. Couldn’t that mean Johnson’s supposed to start the slider off the plate, but break it into the mitt? Clearly the target set by the catcher isn’t the whole story.

Somewhere, additional information is passed from catcher to pitcher. Is it something agreed upon before the game? Is it understood that no matter where Tek sets up behind the plate, Papelbon better be bouncing Mr. Splitty? Is the target where the pitcher aims the pitch, not where it ends up? I just don’t know.

Anyone know the rest of the story?

What people are reading this week