Posted on: May 20, 2009 6:13 pm
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Brad Penny, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Daniel Bard, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, George Kotteras, Hideki Okajima, Hunter Jones, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Bay, Jason Varitek, Javier Lopez, Jed Lowrie, Jeff Bailey, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, Julio Lugo, Justin Masterson, Kevin Youkilis, Manny Delcarmen, Mark Kotsay, Michael Bowden, Mike Lowell, New York Yankees, Nick Green, Ramon Ramirez, Rocco Baldelli, Takashi Saito, Tampa Bay Rays, Tim Wakefield, Toronto Blue Jays
Posted on: April 9, 2009 5:33 pm
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.
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Cy Young, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Ortiz, David Price, Evan Longoria, Jason Varitek, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Bard, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Matt Joyce, Mike Lowell, New York Yankees, Pat Burrell, Shawn Riggans, Tampa Bay Rays, Theo Epstein, World Baseball Classic
Posted on: January 20, 2009 8:18 pm
The Boston Red Sox resigned All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon to a one year, $6.25 million contract. Papelbon has been the Sox' lights-out ninth inning man since 2006, and has made the All-Star game in each season. His career 1.84 earned run average ranks him second among major league pitchers since 1900 who have thrown at least 200 innings. He is only 29 saves away from establishing the Red Sox franchise record for career saves.
Papelbon's salary last year? $800k.
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein understands the importance of avoiding drawn out arbitration battles, which lead to dissent among players and an altogether uncomfortable player-team relationship. So while the New York Yankees were signing seemingly all of the available free agents and their immediate families, Epstein focused on securing home-grown talent. Reigning MVP Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, the third runner up for MVP, both completed long term deals that will delay their potential free agency considerably.
But Papelbon has been vocal about his salary and how it does not represent his performance on the field. And, considering that he has earned roughly $1.5 million while established himself as a premier closer, it is easy to see his argument.
During Spring Training before the 2008 season, Papelbon had this to say about his future with the Red Sox: "I can’t sell myself short. I know they’re not going to give me what I want, so the question becomes, ‘How close can we get?’ If I can’t get close, they can just renew me." [ref]
Papelbon and the Sox came to the one-year, $800,000 contract a few days later. Though happy to be with the Red Sox, he was reportedly unhappy with the figures, but having too few years of service to be eligible for arbitration, he had to settle. The contract nearly doubled his salary from the previous year.
However, the Sox reluctance to sign Papelbon to a long term contract should be considered worrisome by Sox fans. With relief pitching being in such limited amounts, and Papelbon entering the prime of his career, there is no reason to believe that a team like the Los Angeles Angels, or Detroit Tigers or even, (gasp!) the New York Yankees will not be quick to offer Papelbon several years with upwards of $12 million per year. (Mariano Rivera can't pitch forever)
As much as Sox fans believe that there are certain young players who are "untouchables," both in trades and free agency, and that the Sox have stuck to their guns with most of those players, Papelbon is no longer a prospect.
Perhaps Epstein is hoping to get one more year out of Papelbon for relatively cheap until he is forced to come up with a long term contract, but whatever the rationale is, Sox fans may be seeing Cinco-Ocho suit up for another team in the near future.
Posted on: May 11, 2008 11:52 pm
As promised, here is the Red Sox first quarter report card for this season after 40 games.
Starting Pitching: A-
Relief Pitching: C
I am putting this report card on my blog, which I do with every recap, and you can access at the last link at the bottom of the recap. Feel free to respond to this report card here, or go to my blog.
Concerning tonight’s game, the Sox received their worst start of the year. Tim Wakefield did not make it out of the third inning. While he normally does well in indoor stadiums, he struggled mightly in the Metrodome. His knuckleballs were frequently left up in the zone, and the control of his fastball was off all night. Wakefield threw an astonishing amount of fastballs, or as Joe Morgan aptly called them “straightballs” because, at 74 MPH, they are hardly blistering. One of the home runs he gave up was on one such fastball that was nicely grooved, belt high. But, Wakefield looked like he was laboring from the first inning, and in this case, the knuckleball just did not flutter in the Sox favor.
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Brandon Moss, Bryan Corey, Clay Buchholz, Coco Crisp, Craig Hansen, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Aardsma, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Hideki Okajima, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek, Javier Lopez, Jed Lowrie, Joe Morgan, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, Julian Tavarez, Julio Lugo, Kevin Cash, Kevin Youkilis, Manny Delcarmen, Manny Ramirez, Metrodome, Mike Lowell, Mike Timlin, Sean Casey, Terry Francona, Tim Wakefield
Posted on: May 10, 2008 12:06 am
The Red Sox had rallied back only to suffer their second ninth inning walk off defeat in three days. Some thoughts on the game:
Jon Lester had a decent start, going five plus while yielding five runs, three earned, and only walking one. He threw an astonishing 57 pitches through the first two innings, and needed only 41 to record the next ten outs. Lester’s struggles have been oddly inconsistent this year. Last year, we saw a pitcher, much like Daisuke Matsuzaka, look great over the first three innings, and then completely fall apart when the hitters came around again. However, when Lester has struggled this year, some games he will have trouble in the first few innings, and others will be more like last year. It may seem troublesome, but the fact that he is not having the same problem hurt him on every start shows some level of improvement. However, he still has not figured out how to retire hitters effectively. He has taken good steps to attack hitters and force them into pitchers’ counts, and has limited the walks, but he has not developed enough confidence in his pitches to attack them with two strikes. Opposing hitters are staying around too long and running the count up. Lester’s bane will continue to be his ineffectiveness with his pitches until he can decide what his “out” pitch, or pitches, are and until then, we will be tantalized by the starts where he does seem to put the whole package together.
No Red Sox fans are allowed to panic because of Jonathan Papelbon’s two blown saves in the past three days. All great closers have one or two weeks during the season where they seem to have lost it (it happens regularly to Mariano Rivera around mid-August), but he will regain his form. One thing that can be cause for alarm is that because the Sox have had few blowout wins this season, and most of their 23 wins have come on the strength of out-bashing the other team or out-finessing the other team with great starting pitching, there have been a lot of save opportunities. After seeing Papelbon falter at the end of the 2006 season, the Sox made it one of their priorities to make sure he was healthy at the end of the 2007 season. Theo Epstein stressed that Papelbon would rarely be used on more than two consecutive days and will always have a day off after throwing more than one inning, or when he has a pitch count that reflects that he had to labor (usually upwards of 20-25). This season, he has appeared in 17 of the Sox 38 games: exactly half. He pitched in 59 games in both of his first two seasons as closer, and it is ludicrous to think that he would continue pitching at this rate because at this pace, he would finish the year with 81 appearances. However, it may be that he is working a bit too much. He has simply been called on more because of the tightness of the games this year and the struggles by much of the other relievers. Look for Terry Francona to ease off Papelbon a bit, and maybe give him the next two games off, so that he can rest his arm and get what little, if any, confidence he has lost.
Sean Casey and Alex Cora both were scheduled to play in their last rehab game with Pawtucket tonight, and come off of the disabled list this weekend. But due to bad weather on the east coast, the game was canceled. Since this series with the Twins goes for four games and wraps up on Monday, the Sox could decide to get them in another game this weekend in Pawtucket, and fly them out to Minnesota to arrive on Sunday, or wait and have them meet up with the Sox when they travel to Baltimore on Tuesday for a two game series. The weather does not look like it will improve Saturday, but it is unlikely that the Sox will bring both of them to Minnesota after such a short rehab. When they do return, Brandon Moss and Jed Lowrie will almost certainly be sent back to triple-A.
Look for this recap after tomorrow’s game against the Twins. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link.)
Posted on: May 9, 2008 11:28 am
One night after Clay Buchholz struggled, Josh Beckett put the Sox starters back on their impressive track with a seven inning, one run and eight strikeout performance. After struggling a bit in his first two outings after missing an extended amount of spring training, Beckett’s last four starts have all gone for at least seven innings, and he has given up just nine runs in 30 innings, a 2.70 ERA with 31 strikeouts. But from Beckett’s starts, which have been comparable to those from last year, the biggest improvement he has made is his ability to distribute his pitches more effectively and go deeper into games. One of the reasons that hurt his Cy Young Award chances last year was the fact that he had pitched in more than 40 fewer innings than winner C.C. Sabathia. However this year, Beckett has averaged seven innings per start while his pitch count is right around 100. Being a strikeout pitcher (averaging about one punch-out per inning), it is exceptionally difficult to be that effective. He made vast improvements last year than from his first year in the A.L., and if he can continue going seven innings in each of his starts, he may find himself in a better position for a Cy Young.
The Sox lineup banged out 13 hits against Tigers’ pitching, but only managed five runs. They left 10 runners on base, and missed out on some good scoring opportunities. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz were stranded in scoring position after they had reached there with none out and Ortiz laced a double into the right field corner. Kevin Youkilis then struck out, Mike Lowell popped out and J.D. Drew also struck out. Considering that they were facing a pitcher who, to that point in his career, had only recorded five outs, they Sox should have gotten something out of that situation. We have seen in this series, from both teams, the shaky situation of bullpen pitching in the majors, and the notion that no lead seems to large to overcome. Last night, Jonathan Papelbon did have his “A” game. But, a simple check-swing mistake ground ball and an error lead to the loss. We saw in the beginning of the series, and also in last night’s game, the Tigers’ bullpen struggle heavily. Since it seems like the game can turn on such small events when the bullpen takes over, it is very important for the Sox to hit when it matters most, and not just boost their statistics.
Although the Sox will never get rid of him, if Youkilis had to find a new team to play for, it would be one of the easiest decisions in his life. Most hitters simply develop a place on the road that they are very comfortable hitting in, and Youkilis has found that place in Detroit. He has only hit 44 home runs in his career, but eight of them have come in Detroit. Youkilis does not have more than two home runs at any other road park. It is especially strange because even though the Tigers have done a lot to make the ballpark more hitter friendly, it is still a difficult place to hit home runs, and it much like a mirror image of Fenway’s dimensions. It is 345 feet down the left field line, and quickly juts out to 370 in the gap. Youkilis, who is not a power hitter and does not drive the ball with considerable force, has found some strange but incredible groove here. These home runs here would make sense if they were at Fenway, because with the power of his swing coming almost entirely from his upper body, it would be easy to lift fly balls over the Green Monster. Youkilis is in the top ten in the A.L. in nearly every offensive category, including batting average, home runs, hits, RBIs, runs scored and walks, and nobody can remember the last time he made an error. (Unlike Julio Lugo, who now has half of the Sox 20 errors on the season – as a team, the Tigers have only made 13).
Posted on: May 5, 2008 11:53 pm
The Red Sox won the series opener against the Tigers on the heels of timely hitting and an up-and-down pitching effort.
Daisuke Matsuzaka had one of the most bizarre pitching lines of the season. He only allowed one run on two hits, but his pitch count soared to 109 because of the eight walks he allowed. Usually when a pitcher’s command is as off as his was tonight, the pitcher generally pays for his mistakes. But he got help from his defense and was able to limit the damage as only one of the batters he walked came around to score. It goes without saying that Matsuzaka had very little in the tank for tonight’s game, but it has to be encouraging that he only gave up one run while being so wild. It shows that when his pitches do find their way over the plate, opposing hitters have a tough time making good contact. Matsuzaka has been wild this season, and now leads the A.L. in walks (Jon Lester is tied for second), but there was very clearly something wrong with him. This was the first night since he has been with the Sox that he looked visibly upset on the mound. He was not getting squeezed by the home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom, but he was very frustrated with himself, being unable to throw strikes consistently. He was stellar in his last start, although he had skipped the start previous to that because of flu-like symptoms, but whether there was something wrong with him tonight, or because of something he did during the week, tonight was almost brutal to watch.
With Brandon Moss headed to the disabled list because of an appendectomy, the Sox recalled reliever Craig Hansen from triple-A Pawtucket. This is Hansen’s second stint with the Sox this season, as he pitched in the April 23 game against the Angels. Hansen’s health problems and subsequent struggles with the Sox have been well publicized, but he is trying to prove that he has come a long way and that he deserves a permanent spot on the 25 man roster. With the recent struggles of the bullpen, Hansen may in fact be playing for a spot. However, he gave up two runs today in 1 and two thirds innings pitched, which did little to help his cause. But it seems highly questionable the way the Sox have chose to use Hansen in the brief stints he has had with the big league club. Even going back to 2006 (he did not pitch in Boston in 2007), the Sox seemed intent on using him for multiple innings, as they have done for both of his appearances this year. This is similar treatment for what they tried with Manny Delcarmen at the beginning of his appearances last year. He struggled in that role, but performed better when he was coming in at the start of an inning, and pitching just the one inning. It seems that Hansen is a very similar pitcher to Delcarmen, and it is puzzling why they are sending him back out to pitch multiple innings. He recorded the first 1-2-3 inning of the day for Sox pitchers in the sixth, but gave up two runs when they sent him back out for the seventh. With Hansen’s addition, the Sox now have 13 pitchers, and given the deep starts that the Sox starters have been providing, the Sox middle relief is pretty well rested (Julian Tavarez has not pitched since April 24, a span of 11 games). There was no need for the Sox to bring him out to pitch the seventh as his future with the club will be as a one inning set-up man and substitute closer, neither of which will require him to pitch for more than one inning. With Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon both pitching now in consecqutive games, they will likely be unavailable for tomorrow’s game, meaning that the team will have to fill in without them if they have the lead late. With Hansen having thrown 29 pitches, he will also likely be unavailable. Hansen is still a good young prospect, but the Sox have got to use him correctly.
Look for this recap following tomorrow’s game against the Tigers as the Sox go for five straight wins. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link.)
Posted on: May 4, 2008 6:07 pm
Jon Lester delivered another impressive starting performance, and kept the Rays at bay while the offense steadily put up enough runs to come away with the win. With Lester’s performance, he lowers his ERA to 3.94. Josh Beckett now has the highest ERA among the Sox starters at 4.19. The Sox five starters’ combined ERA is a very impressive 3.69 (77 runs in 187.2 innings). Lester has played a much bigger role in the starting rotation than was anticipated in spring training. He has the most innings pitched among all of the starters and has recently been pitching very well late into the games. Over his last three games, he has only allowed two runs over 20 innings pitched for a sparkling 0.90 ERA. He did allow three walks today, and his season strikeout-to-walks ratio is a little over 1 to 1. (By contrast, Beckett’s strikeout to walk ratio is 4.25 strikeouts per walk.) But if he only continues to give up four hits and one run and work deep into games, the Sox can live with the walks.
If the starting pitching is going full steam in the right direction, then the bullpen has run out of gas. With today included, the Sox relievers have given up 57 runs in 103.1 innings, which results in a 4.96 ERA. Manny Delcarmen struggled again, giving up one run while he was in the game, and was charged again when Hideki Okajima allowed an inherited runner to score. With Delcarmens’ 7.29 ERA, he is coming dangerously close to challenging Mike Timlin for the highest ERA among the relievers. Recently, Terry Francona pulled Delcarmen from the game after only facing a few batters, much as he did today, and Delcarmen threw a water jug back onto the field once he got back to the dugout. The bullpen has, and will continue to get, good performances from Jonathan Papelbon and Okajima, no surprises there, and David Aardsma has done a good job as the seventh inning man. Javier Lopez’s work has been sporadic, but on the whole, a good effort. The rest of the bullpen has been completely unreliable, and those three or four guys that are performing well cannot pitch every time the Sox have the lead, and leave the other four arms in the bullpen to mop-up duty. Delcarmen was supposed to be the reliever who filled in for Papelbon when he had pitched in back-to-back games, but Francona would have no confidence putting Delcarmen in with the lead in the ninth inning.