Tag:Daisuke Matsuzaka
Posted on: December 14, 2009 7:04 pm
Edited on: December 14, 2009 7:06 pm
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Big Day of Baseball Means Big News for Sox

Phew!

Baseball is recovering from the biggest day of this off-season thus far. The Boston Red Sox were at the middle of a lot of the day’s news, even if they were not involved with the biggest name.
 
The Sox were considered the top bidders in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes and that the GM’s winter meetings came and went with Halladay still donning the baby-blue uniforms came to some insiders as a surprise. When Curtis Granderson went to the New York Yankees in a three-team trade last week, many thought that that removed one a top competitors, as the Yankees gave up two young pitchers and a top prospect to land their new centerfielder.
 
But the Sox did not swing a deal for Halladay as the asking price was ultimately too high. The Philadelphia Phillies made the big splash, acquiring the high priced right-hander in yet another three-team deal that is reportedly sending Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners .
 
The Sox were however able to land a very valuable right-hander in John Lackey. Lackey came to Boston to undergo a physical and it was reported hours alter that he had agreed to a five-year contract.
 
The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it is believed it is similar to the contract given but the Yankees to A.J. Burnett , who received $82.5 million over five years (16.5 per year). Both pitchers have had similar success, but Lackey is younger and has been more consistent over his career.
 
Lackey has put together five straight seasons with at least 10 wins and a sub-4.00 ERA, which is tied with Halladay for the second longest active streak (Johan Santana ). Lackey also has solid post-season experience having played in October ball regularly with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Lackey owns a 3.12 ERA in 78 post-season innings pitched.
 
Lackey would begin the season as the Sox third starter behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester . Daisuke Matsuzaka becomes the fourth starter, with Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield vying for the fifth spot.
 
The impact of Lackey’s signing is big for Boston. For several seasons, we have been able to say that the Sox possess a great deal of depth in the rotation. But when July comes around, injuries and trades combined with players that do not pan out (see Penny, Brad and Smoltz, John), the Sox have realized that solid starting pitching is a scarce commodity.
 
Behind the trio of Beckett-Lester-Lackey, the Sox have one of the elite rotations in baseball. And if Matsuzaka can return to the 2007-08 form when he won 33 games, and Buchholz can pitch the way he ended 2009, then the Sox have the best starting five in baseball.
 
The strength of the rotation and the siging of Lackey also takes some of the burden off of the offense, and indeed, the ability of Theo Epstein to sign a big-time hitter, which leads us to the other big news for Red Sox nation.
 
It was reported that Jason Bay has declined Boston’s most recent offer, believed to be around 4 years/$60 million. The New York Mets offered Bay $65 million over four years earlier this week, but were not considered real players to acquire Bay.
Bay is looking for five years, and it seems like whichever team is willing to invest that money in him will be where he lands.
 
Bay will be 31 years old next season, and a five year deal will mean that he is 36 in the final year of his contract, which is older than both David Ortiz and Mike Lowell , who is practically on the Texas Rangers roster as we speak.
 
The Sox foresee Bay having to move to designated hitter possibly as early as the third year of his next contract, which means that the Sox will be paying upwards of $15 million for yet another aging DH. An extra year means the Sox have to commit a significant amount of money to a very limited player, while home grown players like Lester, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis all will be up for new long term deals by that time.
 
Bay’s agent has stated that he and his client are moving on from the Sox. Given Bay’s talents and his excellent power numbers last year, there will always be suitors. But the Yankees are likely off of that list after trading for Granderson, and the Mets will return several players from injury with an already swollen payroll.
 
Matt Holliday still remains available and he is likely the next target on Epstein’s list. Holliday would be a slight upgrade from Bay, but is represented by Scott Boras, so any contract will likely reflect it. Epstein has typically shied away from Boras-represented players (that he didn’t draft), but without Bay, there is a gapping hole in the Sox lineup.
 
The Sox also made a $15.5 million offer to Cuban right-hander Aroldis Chapman, considered to be the most prized foreign player. 

Chapman is 21-years-old and recently defected from Cuba. He is known for regularly recording triple digits on the radar gun with his blazing fastball.

Posted on: June 24, 2009 8:33 pm
 

Red Sox Have a Logjam at Shortstop

Ever since July 31, 2004, the Boston Red Sox have had issues with at least one position on their roster.

Shortstop.

Yes, it was on that Saturday afternoon when it was announced that the Sox had traded the face of the organization, Nomar Garciaparra. Since Garciaparra left, the Sox have been hard pressed to find a replacement.

This season, the prospects for a dependable shortstop seemed best as the Sox had two legitimate players contending for the job in spring training. Julio Lugo was the veteran, entering his third season with the Sox, while Jed Lowrie was, like Garciaparra, a homegrown product and had only a half season under his belt.

Lugo is considered a more offensive-minded shortstop, although that may be due more to his downright terrible defense than anything else, as his offensive numbers are hardly remarkable. Lowrie is a much more solid defender, having made no errors in 45 games at shortstop last season (compared to Lugo’s 16 in only 81 games), but has not proven that he is anything more than an average hitter.

Although Lowrie played well as a rookie, it would be hard to bench Lugo given the kind of contract (4 years/$36 million) he was given. But then Lugo injured himself during a very impressive spring training, and was forced to the disabled list to open the season. To many, this was an excellent excuse to bypass Lugo’s lucrative contract and give the job to Lowrie.

Fans were optimistic about Lowrie, and with good reason. Fans were hoping he would be the next in the long and impressive list of homegrown talent over the recent years. However, he struggled mightily to open the season, recording only one hit in 18 at-bats. After this abysmal start, it was discovered that he was playing injured, and he underwent surgery to fix a wrist injury that has been bothering him for sometime.

The Sox now had to turn to their third-string option at shortstop, and they were lucky to have Nick Green, who has been somewhat of a journeyman in his first few seasons in the majors. Green also had a very good spring training, despite not playing at all in the majors in 2008.

Now almost three months into the season, Green has so far weathered the “shortstop curse” left behind by Garciaparra. In fact, his play has impressed manager Terry Francona to the point that although Lugo has rejoined the club for sometime, Green has taken over the everyday shortstop duties.

Through 53 games played, Green is sporting a very respectable .292 batting average, to go along with four home runs and 26 RBIs while spending most of his time in the ninth spot in the lineup. However, shortstop is not his natural position, and he struggled some early in the year defensively, but his defense has picked up of late.

But Lowrie is now at triple-A Pawtucket rehabbing from the wrist injury and figures to rejoin the team by the All-Star break just a few weeks away. While Green, Lowrie and Lugo have all played several positions at times throughout their career, it is unlikely that all three will remain on the roster. The remaining bench players (George Kotteras, Mark Kotsay and Rocco Baldelli) are not going to be moved anywhere, which means that one of the three shortstop options will not be with the big league club in a few weeks.

The Sox will try (and likely tried last year) to move Lugo at the trading deadline, but will be hard pressed to find a new home for him given his poor play and ridiculously over-priced contract.

Green has exceeded expectations, not just for himself but he has given the Sox better play from the shortstop position than they had likely expected regardless of which of the three they put out. The team would much rather have Lowrie and Green, but likely one of them will have to go. However, with his continued lack of play, Lugo may land on the disabled list with some kind of mystery injury ala Daisuke Matsuzaka and his strained shoulder.

 The Sox will try very hard to keep both Lowrie and Green on the team. What do you think they should do?

Posted on: June 22, 2009 2:52 pm
 

Matsuzaka has a strain, just not in his shoulder

Daisuke Matsuzaka went on the disabled list Sunday with a mild strain in his pitching shoulder.

He should have gone on the DL with a mild (or major) brain-strain. Or maybe a strain in his $100 million contract. As in - the Red Sox are straining to cope with the fact that they have already forked over about $75 million for Matsuzaka and still owe him another $25 million.

Regardless of how Red Sox fans feel about him, Matsuzaka is one of the most interesting players in baseball. During the off-season prior to the 2007 season, Matsuzaka was very much alike the character portrayed in the "Dos Equis" as his reputation was expanding faster than the universe.

At 26, MVP of the World Baseball Classic, and the national hero of Japan, Matsuzaka really was the most interesting man in the world.

So the Sox ponied up $51 million for the rights to offer Matsuzaka a contract, and after a great deal of Theo Epstein and Co. finagling with uber-agent Scott Boras, not to mention massive amounts of (butt)-kissing to the Japanese media and public, and another $50 million later, the Sox got their man.

Although never obtaining completely smooth sailing, Matsuzaka enjoyed a great deal of success during his first two years in Boston. He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 while winning 15 games and helping the Sox to their fourth World Series title in four years.

He followed that season up with a sparkling 18-3 record and a minuscule 2.90 ERA in 2008 which placed him fourth in the Cy Young balloting. Matsuzaka racked up more strikeouts (355) and a better winning percentage (.688) than any other starter during his first two seasons in the big leagues.

Everyone knew that a Matsuzaka start was never going to be as smooth or as dominant as a Josh Beckett start, one thing was apparent about Matsuzaka - he simply knew how to win games. Despite leading the league in walks, and only tossing five innings more than what is the minimum requirement to qualify for the ERA title, he lead the league in lowest opponent batting average and always got out of tough jams.

Unfortunately, the luck, or aura of Dice-K being Dice-K, finally wore out. If it were not for the Yankees Chien-Ming Wang, Matsuzaka would be the worst starter in the major leagues this season, with a 1-5 record and a 8.23 ERA.

So how has somebody who has, in his first two seasons, compiled a 33-15 record and a 3.72 ERA all of a sudden become the rest of the A.L.'s whipping boy?

While this article is not about the inevitable failure of import pitching, the answer to that question comes from major league coaches and catchers not being satisfied with having a Japanese pitcher throw Japanese starts in an American ballpark. They want Matsuzaka, who they feel has enough talent to be Beckett or Jon Lester, to start pitching like somebody who has been in the big leagues for 2+ seasons.

For anyone who has watched him pitch, particuarily this season, and compared those performances to the WBC, it is clear that Matsuzaka is scared of major league hitters. He is scared of giving up the big hit, or the home run, and for two seasons, his style was to pitch around hitters. After enduring this for two season, the Sox have made him start attacking hitters.

The only problem is, despite his success, Matsuzaka has no confindence in his pitches and the result is one meatball after another down the heart of the plate.

Matsuzaka does indeed have a strain, but it is north of his shoulder. The Sox are planning on keeping him from pitching in the big leagues for quite sometime, because even without him, they still have a logjam in the rotation. If he does not sort out the problems in his head, he may find himself pitching in a Japanese ballpark again.

Posted on: June 2, 2009 5:37 pm
 

Not Your Typical Six Man Rotation

The Boston Red Sox have the deepest rotation in baseball. If the top eight starters from each team were rolled out, the Sox's eight would be the best in baseball. The five that currently sit in the rotation, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Brad Penny, are all proven starters, and it is arguable that these five, though they have not performed that was thus far this season, are the best five in baseball, on paper at least.

It is the next three that propels the Sox to the top spot when it comes to having the deepest rotation in baseball. Justin Masterson has already filled in the rotation when Matsuzaka went on the disabled list, although he is probably the eighth best starter in the organization. John Smoltz completed his third rehab start, going five innings of one run ball with six strikeouts, and he cannot stay with class-A Greenville much longer. Clay Buchholz meanwhile is dominating the hitters at the triple-A level.

Fans across Red Sox Nation have speculated about the switch from a five-man to a six-man rotation. The Sox starters have disappointed thus far, although recent performances by Beckett, Lester and Penny have buoyed hopes for future success.

Most people then dismiss the idea of a six man rotation, saying that it would disrupt the order of the starters, particularly Beckett, who clearly would want the ball every five days. Beckett leads the A.L. in pitches per start and has the strength and stamina to be a workhorse and go deep into the rotation.
   
So, instead of a traditional six-man rotation, where each starter makes a start every six days, the Sox should implement a different kind, which we will call a “wheel rotation.”

With the wheel rotation, Beckett will make his scheduled starts every five games. He gets the usual amount of time off in between starts, including scheduled off-days. The other five starters then pitch in order around Beckett, but pitching every six games, instead of five. Here’s what I mean:
When the wheel rotation is implemented, the rotation would look like this:
Beckett – Game 1 (first game of the wheel rotation)
Lester – Game 2
Matsuzaka – Game 3
Wakefield – Game 4
Penny – Game 5
Beckett – Game 6
Smoltz – Game 7 (for discussion purposes; could be Masterson, or Buchholz, etc.)
Lester – Game 8
Matsuzaka – Game 9
Wakefield – Game 10
Beckett – Game 11
Penny – Game 12
Smoltz – Game 13
Etc...

What happens with the above schedule is that Beckett remains on his usual amount of rest. He pitches once every five games. The five remaining starters pitch on an extra day of rest and have five games in between starts, rather than four.
Both Smoltz and Wakefield are over 40 years of age, and they would benefit from the extra day of rest. Wakefield has been slowed by injuries in recent years, and Smoltz is returning from shoulder surgery.

Matsuzaka benefits most from the extra day of rest, because teams in Japan also use a six-man rotation, and there is a day off every week. Lester is a younger, left-handed version of the type of pitcher that Beckett is, and he likely needs the rest least. But, his statistics nose dive terribly in the later innings of ballgames this year, and the extra day of rest could give him an extra boost.

This wheel rotation will fit nicely with the Red Sox structure of their pitching staff. If Beckett ever needs an extra day of rest, it will be easy to accommodate that. If Penny is traded or any other starter goes on the disabled list, it allows for one of the younger pitchers like Masterson or Buchholz to have more rest in between starts as they build up their arm strength for the rest of the season.

While a traditional six-man rotation has become almost taboo in baseball, this scenario gives the Sox a great way to utilize their talented arms and depth.

Posted on: May 22, 2009 11:18 am
 

Smoltz: Starter or Reliever?

John Smoltz is a baseball anomaly.

Everyone is well aware of the career that Smoltz had during his 20 seasons with the Atlanta Braves. He compiled 210 victories during his tenure in Atlanta while also racking up 154 saves. While these numbers are very impressive, and no one denies the inevitability of Smoltz’s induction into the Hall of Fame, there have been others who have made the switch from starter to reliever as their career ages.

Red Sox fans are well aware of one such pitcher. Dennis Eckersley spent six and a half seasons in the late 70s and early 80s as the Red Sox top-of-the-rotation starter, and recorded a 20-win season in 1978. He later returned to Boston in his final year in baseball in 1998 after spending the last decade establishing himself as one of the best closers in baseball. Eckersley finished with 197 victories and 309 saves, with career bests of 20 and 51, respectively. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.

But, through his work with the Red Sox television network NESN, Eckersley will speak to the uniqueness of John Smoltz. Why?

While Smoltz is not the only player to have great success in being both a starter and then a converted reliever, but he is the only player to have great success in making the conversion back to the starting rotation after spending time as a reliever.

From his rookie season in 1988 to 1999, Smoltz compiled very impressive numbers like a 157-113 record with a 3.35 ERA in 356 starts, and no appearances out of the bullpen. But after undergoing Tommy John surgery following the 1999 season, he missed the entire 2000 campaign, and returned in ’01 coming out of the bullpen. In 2002, his first full season as a closer, he recorded 55 saves, breaking the then National League record of 53. In slightly more than three seasons as a closer, Smoltz racked up 154 saves and a 2.65 ERA.

So far to this point, Smoltz’s career almost mirrors Eckersley. But following the ’04 season, the Braves need for pitcher fell more to the rotation than it did in the bullpen. So Smoltz returned as a starter, and in the following 2006 season, at the age of 39 no less, Smoltz lead the N.L. with 16 wins at 35 starts.

Shoulder injuries forced Smoltz to the disabled list last season and eventually to season-ending shoulder surgery. But in the three full seasons after his return from the bullpen, Smoltz put together a 44-24 record, for a .647 winning percentage, with a 3.22 ERA. Although a significantly smaller sample, the numbers after his return are better than his numbers during his original stint as a starter (.647 winning percentage to .581).

After the Sox signed the just-turned 42 year-old Smoltz to a one-year, $5.5 million contract, the discussion of what role he would play as a member of a new team for the first time in his career was somewhat mooted by the fact that he was still rehabbing from the surgery and he was not going to be ready for Opening Day.

Well, Smoltz took a big step to returning to the big leagues after tossing three scoreless innings for the Red Sox single-A affiliate in Greenville. Smoltz three 29 pitches, and reported that while he was throwing about 85%, he touched 92 MPH on the radar gun with his fastball. Smoltz’s target date during spring training was to return to the team in early June, and it certainly seems as though that was a good estimate.

Now that his return seems eminent, we have to wonder what role Smoltz will be contributing in this season. Certianly the bullpen, leading the A.L. in ERA, does not need help. They are already bolstered by prospect flame-thrower Daniel Bard, who replaces Javier Lopez. Also Justin Masterson returns to the pen now that Daisuke Matsuzaka is back from the disabled list tonight against the New York Mets.

So the place that most needs Smoltz’s help and experience is the starting rotation, as the Sox’s starters ERA is last in the majors. Tim Wakefield is the only starter among the opening day rotation that has pitched well, and some, like Brad Penny, have been very poor at times. But, the question then becomes, whom does he replace?

Penny is likely the first starter to be given the axe because he was a gamble, by the admission of the Red Sox front office. Wakefield is pitching well, so he will remain. As for the other three, Josh Beckett, John Lester and Matsuzaka, they are all tied to long-term contracts and supposed to be the Sox’s front of the rotation for many seasons.

So while Penny is a likely candidate to be replaced, it may be possible that if Beckett or Lester do not show signs of improvement, and Lester certainly showed some last night, then one of them might find themselves on the disabled list ala Matsuzaka. The Sox, and certain other teams like the Yankees, are getting a reputation for placing players on the disabled list with mystery injuries so that they are not embarrassed by sending them down to the minors to work things out. So, if things don’t improve for Beckett or Lester, they may come down with an “injury,” paving the way for Smoltz to contribute.

So, what do you all think, is Smoltz a starter or reliever in 2009? (If you are thinking about a “both” option, bear in mind that he is 42, and that arm is not a durable as that of the 23 year old Masterson, who can flip flop back and forth easily.)

Posted on: May 20, 2009 6:13 pm
 

Red Sox First Quarter Report Card

Tonight is the 40th game of the season for the Red Sox, which means they have now completed one quarter of the 2009 season and here’s one look at how Boston has stacked up:

Offense:

Offensively, the Red Sox have been solid in most areas, despite injuries and slumps to significant players. However, after one quarter, the Sox find themselves fifth in the A.L. in batting average, first in on-base percentage, fourth in OPS, fifth in home runs and fourth in runs scored. These are all good numbers and averages, but unfortunately for the Sox, the are often trailing in these categories to the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays and in some of the statistics, the New York Yankees (needless to say, the A.L. East is a stacked division). Individually, the Sox are getting huge contributions from the people that we would most expect, with Jason Bay (second in the league in home runs, RBIs; third in OBP) leading the way. Mike Lowell has been much better than anticipated, not only ranking 12th in the A.L. in RBIs, but also playing in all but one of the Sox games, surprising after undergoing surgery in the off-season. Kevin Youkilis was the best hitter in baseball through the first 25 games of the season (leading the A.L. in BA, OBP, OPS) before landing on the disabled list with an oblique strain. While he has just returned to the Sox, it will be interesting to see if he continues being productive, as oblique injuries are some of the toughest to gauge and return from. Predictably, the Sox are getting sub-par performances from some players. Jason Varitek has showed some good power with five home runs, but his other numbers reflect last year’s offensive debacle. J.D. Drew is now in his third year of not producing his value, but a juggle of the lineup may increase his statistics. Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia are stalwarts at the top of the lineup, both hitting over .300 and setting the table for the offense. On the other side of things, the Sox bench and bit-players Rocco Baldelli, Jed Lowrie (before going on the disabled list), George Kotteras and Jeff Bailey (filling in for Youkilis) have all struggled offensivly. And that brings us to David Ortiz. Ortiz, as we all know, was benched for the Sox entire series with the Seattle Mariners because of his abysmal start to the season. Although now playing again, the Sox will have to make changes if Ortiz continues to struggle, and that means bumping him down in the lineup. The most likely scenario is switching him with Drew, who has done very well in his career in the no. 3 hole in the lineup. If the struggles continue, the Sox will need help from outside the organization because the bench is not getting the job done.

Grade: B     - The Sox offense has won them games early on, but will need Youkilis and Bay to remain productive to pick up the slack for other hitters.

Starting Rotation:

The starting pitching for the Sox has been, well, terrible in relation to pre-season expectations. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Sox top three starters, all have ERAs well above five. Matsuzaka went on the disabled list with “shoulder fatigue” which was more likely an excuse to simply get him properly rested and ready for the start of the season which was interrupted by the World Baseball Classic. Beckett has pitched better than Lester has thus far, but both are struggling with command issues and leaving too many pitches up in the zone. Lester has already given up 10 home runs (he gave up 14 all of last year). If the top three in the rotation have been bad, then the Sox number five starter has been even worse. Brad Penny was thought of as a low-risk, high reward signing for the Sox when he came to Boston on a one-year contract. He has been knocked around in almost all of his starts and despite a 3-1 record, his ERA is an unsightly 6.69. With Michael Bowden and Clay Buchholz ranking 1 and 2 in the International League in ERA, the time may come very soon when Penny finds out what a “low-risk” contract is all about. Tim Wakefield has been excellent all season, and the one starter that has really pulled his weight. He tossed back-to-back complete games earlier this season, one of which was a no-hitter for seven innings. He leads the rotation in ERA and in innings pitched. Justin Masterson has filled in well for the injured Matsuzaka, but inconsistent; in four of his six starts he has yielded two runs or less, while he has given up six in each of the other two starts.

Grade: C-        - The Sox have their top three starters are performing well below average, one starter performing well, and one performing badly. Change will come to the rotation if some of these starters continue to struggle.

Relief Pitching:

The Sox bullpen was tabbed in spring training as one of the best in the majors, and they have certainly lived up to expectations. The overall bullpen ERA is second best in the A.L., and are getting key contributions from talented young arms. Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez have appeared in 37 games entering tonight, and both have ERAs under 1.00 and 26 holds between them. Hideki Okajima (2.89 ERA and 12 holds) and newly acquired Takashi Saito (3.86 ERA and 16 holds) have both been dependable in the late innings. The Sox’s bullpen overall ERA (3.01) is somewhat skewered by Javier Lopez, who is no longer with the team after being designated for assignment and now pitching for Pawtucket, and Hunter Jones, who was brought up as a long reliever to eat up innings after Masterson went to the rotation. Jones figures to be sent down now that Matsuzaka has returned and Masterson will be back in the bullpen. Uber-prospect Daniel Bard has been called up recently after Lopez’s demotion and will also contribute solid innings. Bard was the closer for Pawtucket, and posted a 1.12 ERA and six saves in 16 innings pitched while racking up a remarkable 29 strikeouts (16.3 strikeouts per nine-inning). Meanwhile, Jonathan Papelbon has closed the door with the same results as we are used to, leading the A.L. with 11 saves, but has had to labor significantly more through some of his appearances. Papelbon changed his deliver slightly so as to incorporate an off-speed pitch to compliment his fastball and splitter, but the result has been some wildness as he has already walked two more batters this season than he did all of last season. But again, the results have been fine, as he is always able to get himself out of seemingly any jam.

Grade: A        - The Sox bullpen has been nothing short of outstanding, and with Bard and Masterson replacing Lopez and Jones, it will only continue to be one of the stronger aspects of this ball club.

Defense:
Defense has been a bit of a concern for the Sox thus far, as they rank 11th in the A.L. in overall team fielding percentage. But, most of the problems are coming from the shortstop position. With Lowrie out for a couple of months, and Lugo also hurting, the job fell to Nick Green for much of the month of April. Green is a natural second basement, and it has shown in his defense as he has racked up an A.L. leading eight errors. Since his return, Lugo has been little better, if not worse, recording four errors in only 12 starts at the position. Mike Lowell has played better than his numbers will indicate, and has made several higlight reel plays at the hot corner. Bailey has played above average defense in the place of Youkilis. The outfield has been excellent, with Drew committing the only error among them, and Ellsbury will once again be a serious contender for a Gold Glove. George Kotteras does have six passed balls, but has done an excellent job handling Wakefield all season.

Grade: B         - The defense has been solid at times, but shortstop, like catcher and centerfield, is a critical position defensively and that the Sox have a huge hole there is a problem that likely won’t be addressed until Lowrie’s return.

Bench:
Due to injuries, the Sox bench has become at times the Sox starting lineup. There was not many other options that Bailey at first, and despite his .190 average, he does provide a source of power at the bottom of the lineup. Green is a good hitter, and will be a solid backup later in the season to several positions, including in the outfield. Rocco Baldelli has had to play probably more than was expected, and struggling subbing as the designated hitter, but he is much better suited to play occasionally and in the outfield. Kotteras is having his struggles offensively, but the time has long been since the Sox looked for offense from the catcher position.

Grade: C+       - The bench has had to play more than they should at this point, but Green and Baldelli will provide offense off the bench later in the season, and the return of Mark Kotsay will also bolster the Sox’s depth.

Overall Grade: B+
The Sox find themselves a few games back of the Toronto Blue Jays, but ahead of both the Yankees and Rays. The Sox desperately need better performances from their starting rotation, but otherwise find themselves at the level of production they expected. The rash of injuries to begin the season seems to be clearing up, and it is essential to keep the players healthy and within their roles on the club.

Posted on: April 9, 2009 5:33 pm
 

Red Sox Recap 4-9-09

Last season, I put together a recap following each Red Sox game. This season, I’ll take a look at the Sox games and post a recap at the conclusion of each Boston series.

The brightest spot of the early season for the Sox was Josh Beckett and his opening day start. Beckett racked up 10 strikeouts in seven innings while allowing only one run on two hits. Beckett had an average season last year, compiling a 12-10 record with a 4.03 ERA while averaging almost exactly a strikeout per inning pitched. But, by the standard of the 20-win campaign he had in 2007, he fell far short of expectations. He does look poised to return to his 2007 form, and we have to remember that Beckett started last season injured. He was held out almost entirely from spring training, which is vital for starting pitchers. A good indication of where Beckett is this season in comparison to last season is his reliance on only two pitches. He had to go to his change-up last season and a two-seam fastball, which is not Beckett’s game. He is effective if he can go through a start using his fastball and curveball 65-70 percent of the time. He threw very few change-ups on Tuesday.

Today’s starter, Daisuke Matsuzaka, got off to a less desirable start of the season. Although putting up solid raw numbers with an 18-3 record and a 2.90 ERA, he finished a distant fourth in Cy Young voting and received no first place votes. This was due mostly to his relative inconsistency on the mound, which led to a very high number of walks (94 in 164 IP). The high walk total combined with the fact that Matsuzaka is a strikeout pitcher led to high pitch totals and short outings (He average a little under 5 and 2/3 IP per start). Although he has very good stuff, it seems that this is simply the type of pitcher Matsuzaka is. He will nibble at the corners, rely on his breaking pitches, and only go after hitters when he must. Today, however, the Sox would have gladly taken last season’s version of the Japanese import. Matsuzaka was leaving a lot of pitches up in the zone, and the Rays hitters had many aggressive swings off of him. No pitch seemed to be working, and he gave up home runs to Evan Longoria (slider), Matt Joyce (fastball) and Shawn Riggans (slider). Walks were not an issue, but Matsuzaka’s pitches were very flat and up in the zone. Although he had significant work in winning his second consecutivce World Baseball Classic MVP award, Matsuzaka looked today like a starter who was not quite ready for the regular season.

The bullpen has lived up to its billing through the first series. Tabbed by some as the best in baseball, the Sox have finally put together a clear path for the middle innings to get to Jonathan Papelbon. New addition Ramon Ramirez was effective today and will play an integral part of getting to the ninth.

A few things about the offense:
-Kevin Youkilis has gotten off to a red-hot start. He had record eight hits in his first 11 at-bats this season, and he continues his recent string of productive Aprils. Although there are question marks with David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Jason Vartiek in the lineup, Youkilis is the most pivotal member of the big part of the lineup. Depending on his production, it will affect how teams pitch to Ortiz and other members of the lineup.

-Speaking of Varitek, I hate to be the bearer of unwanted news, but I am hearing a lot of talk about Varitek having a good solid comeback year in which he puts up numbers such as a .250 BA, 15 home runs and 70 RBIs. GM Theo Epstein made a great move bringing back Varitek this off-season, he did not re-sign him because of his offense. Varitek’s numbers will be startlingly similar to his numbers from the 2008 campaign, which were .220-13-43. If the Sox had wanted more offense from their catcher, they would have kept Josh Bard. It is a great sign that he has two home runs in the first three games, and both left-handed, but any offense from the catcher’s position is gravy.

The A.L. East is by far the toughest division in baseball this season, with some speculating that the top three teams in all of baseball are in that division. No one is writing off the Rays, but it seems that most have them finishing third behind the Red Sox and Yankees. The Rays however should not finish lower than second. They have the same team as they do last year, and have added a big bat in Pat Burrell. David Price is waiting in the wings, and he will be called up sooner rather than later, ala Longoria last season.

Check back after the series finale Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. (All recaps will be posted here .)
Keep the Faith.

(P.S. I am also in the market for a new avatar, as mine was also a casualty of the wonderful new restrictions set forth by cbssports, so if anyone has ideas, I’d appreciate them.)

Posted on: January 27, 2009 8:26 pm
 

Seriously Folks, Varitek Is Not That Bad

He is old. He is overrated. He is well beyond his prime.

His hitting is atrocious. His defense is lacking.

If any unsuspecting member of the Boston area community happens to turn on a radio, television, or read a Red Sox blog, they will quickly learn about a man named Jason Varitek.

According to the various media outlets, Jason Varitek is among the worst players in baseball. He apparently has an uncanny knack of combining a futile hitting approach and sub-par defense with not a terrible and cancerous club house personality.

Wait a minute. The Red Sox are still engaged in contract negotiations with a player this bad?

So who is this guy Varitek? A few minutes of researching takes me to Varitek's career statistics page at baseball-reference.com . Hmm...

His lifetime batting statistics are not glamorous for sure, but they are hardly terrible. What about his defense? Strange, his defensive numbers seem to contradict what has been repeated over the air waves.

And, hang on, does that say that he is only the third player since 1923 to be a captain of the Boston Red Sox?

And he made the All-Star team last year??

No, this can't be the same Jason Varitek that supposedly has skills that rival a little leaguer. 

Surprisingly enough, it is. Jason Varitek has caught more flack from the media and fans this off-season than he has pitches during his 12 year career in Boston.

Varitek means so much to this Red Sox team, and it is represented by the fact that the Sox are still in contract negotiations with him. The Sox pitching rotation is based on many pitchers who have never thrown to anybody but no. 33.

Would Jon Lester still be a 16-6 pitcher without him? Would another catcher be able to form the same kind of relationship with Daisuke Matsuzaka (who, last time I checked, doesn't speak English)?

Would that bullpen full of young arms be able to be consistently relied upon with someone else behind the plate? Would the team survive another Manny Ramirez-type clubhouse conflict and succeed with that kind of distraction?

Varitek was voted to the All-Star game in 2008 by the people who know his game and what he means to a team best: other players. There is no point in the Sox paying their pitchers without giving them someone reliable to throw to.

 
 
 
 
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