Tag:Josh Beckett
Posted on: December 14, 2009 7:04 pm
Edited on: December 14, 2009 7:06 pm
 

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: November 25, 2009 6:54 pm
 

Report: Halladay deal looming for Sox

The holiday season may be coming early for Red Sox Nation.

Or maybe, I should be saying: the Halladay season is coming early. The reports came out Tuesday from the New York Daily News that the Boston Red Sox were in strong pursuit of Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay. The Daliy News stated that the Sox were "in a full court press" to get a deal done by the start of the winter meetings of baseball's general managers, which is set to begin on December 7th.

ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes reported similar news today, but also stated that if trade talks started heating up between the Sox and Blue Jays, then they should expect other suitors to be close on the Sox's heels.

Typically teams pull off deals including players of Halladay's stature during the regular season, as GM's begin to loose sleep on the prospect of loosing their franchise player to free agency without any compensation. Once July rolls around, that's when the phone calls usually start being picked up.

But Halladay's situation is different. First of all, the Blue Jays fired their GM a few months ago. J.P. Ricciardi set the price tag extremely high for one of the game's best picture when last year's deadline came around and stuck to his guns and refused to back down. Naturally, given Halladay's eligibility for free agency following the 2010 season, teams were unwilling to unload the farm system for roughly 45 starts.

New Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has a different mindset and different options. He could take a few seasons to revamp the team under a new outlook and new management. It should be clear to him, however, that it is extremely unlikly that Halladay will re-sign with the Blue Jays at any point. Any amount of money that Anthopoulos can offer will easily be matched or topped by the Red Sox and New York Yankees with a much better prospect of postseasons appearences.

It is likely that, given the fact that Halladay now has only one season before free agency,
Anthopoulos will be seeking less than what Ricciardi was looking for. If the Red Sox are the favorites in the sweepstakes right now, they should figure on being asked to trade Clay Buchholz and another top tier prospect. This is still a step price, but it is far from what Ricciardi was asking for, which was Buchholz, Daniel Bard, and two top tier prospects, one pitching and the other being an offensive player.

But, the Red Sox also are benefitting from the Yankees having won a World Series and already having two top tier starters. Of course, the Yankees will throw themselves in the mix to drive up the price for the Sox, but they will not be making a legitimate strong move for Halladay. Their minor league depth is not as strong as the Sox, and they would not give up what the Sox are going to without being in a position to re-sign him. That would add another $20 million plus to an already staggering payroll.

The Sox are of course no mean spenders, but their payroll was less than usual last year compared to teams such as the Detriot Tigers and New York Mets, both of whom missed out on the playoffs. Adding Halladay would give the Sox the best rotation in the A.L. East, and perhaps in all of baseball, behind Halladay, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester leading the way.

The Sox should put themselves in a position that the Mets did a few seasons ago with Johan Santana. Get your man but only if the long term contract is all but guaranteed. Knowing Theo Epstein, he will not part with long term projects like Buchholz unless he gets him man exactly how he wants him - no where near free agency.
Posted on: August 5, 2009 12:40 pm
 

Victor Martinez is a Catcher: So Let Him Catch

The moves that the Boston Red Sox made at last Friday’s trading deadline gives them flexibility to choose from an array of line-ups each night. As they are preparing for a four-game showdown with the New York Yankees this weekend, the playoff run is very clearly upon them.

Victor Martinez is listed on the Red Sox roster as a catcher, although he played at only five more games behind the plate than at first for the Cleveland Indians before being traded. Pitchers often have difficulty adjusting to a new battery-mate after a trade, but a catcher has to learn an entire pitching staff’s strengths and weaknesses, a daunting task this late in the season.

That said, it is clear that the Sox’ best offensive line-up has Martinez at catcher, Kevin Youkilis at first base and Mike Lowell at third. In two of his three games with the Sox, however, Martinez has started at first, with Youkilis moving over to third, Jason Varitek doing the catching and Lowell playing left bench.

Varitek is the premier signal-caller in baseball. I say that without reserve, but not in reference to his hitting ability, or defensive signals, and certainly not his throwing arm. But rather that Varitek handles an entire pitching staff better than any other catcher in baseball, and calls a game with similar success.

Defensively, a catcher-first-third combination of Martinez-Youkilis-Lowell is roughly par with an assemblage of Varitek-Martinez-Youkilis. Varitek is no longer a Gold Glove catcher, and Lowell’s mobility and range is significantly reduced due to his off-season hip surgery.

Offensively, there is no debate that Martinez sports better numbers that Varitek. Martinez is an elite hitter at the position of catcher, and has hit in third in the Sox line-up.

The problem is that with Varitek tabbed as the team’s number one catcher, and any team wants their best starting line-up on the field in the playoffs, Varitek gets the starts during a playoff series. But that forces Youkilis over to third, which keeps Lowell out of the line-up.

Sox fans need no reminder that Lowell was the 2007 World Series MVP. But with his stint on the disabled list and constant talk of his off-season hip surgery, it may come as a bit of a surprise that Lowell is fourth on the team in batting average with an even .300. He has 11 home runs and 53 RBIs in 80 games this season.

That is a pretty solid bat to sit, especially for someone who has shown a lot of success in the playoffs (He racked up 15 RBI during the ’07 playoffs). Varitek, meanwhile, is headed toward another season batting average in the .220s.

Manager Terry Francona thus far has done a great job in managing the Sox’ line-up so that he rotates players in and out so that players with nagging injuries, like Varitek and Lowell, get the rest they need. In the playoffs, Lowell’s bat has to be in the line-up in place of Varitek at least half the time.

The implication that has for the Sox now is that Martinez needs to start catching the Sox front line starters, particularly Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. Beckett and Lester would undoubtedly go 1-2 in a playoff series. To avoid having Lowell’s bat on the bench for two games in a row, Martinez needs to be familiar enough to handle them in a playoff series.

Many teams that have productive hitting catchers, like the Indians (before the trade) and the Yankees, often use their regular catchers at another position. That sometimes leaves the team vulnerable because it becomes more difficult to pinch hit or run for that player.

If the Sox open a playoff series with Martinez as their everyday catcher, and Varitek on the bench, it gives them their best shot at winning the series. I do not underestimate Varitek’s value to the pitching staff, but for a very experienced staff like the Red Sox, Beckett and Lester can be relied on to handle their start.

What Beckett and Lester cannot do, and nor can Varitek apparently, is hit their weight. The Sox traded for a productive hitter because they were struggling offensively. Varitek and pitching coach John Farrell can micromanage their starters from the dugout and not loose much from their pitching staff.

Lastly, I do not mean to keep Varitek out of the line-up completely. When Varitek does start, it gives the Sox two excellent pinch hitters in Lowell and Casey Kotchman. But the Sox are disadvantaging their team to have Varitek catch consecutive games at the expense of a much better offensive player like Martinez or Lowell.

Posted on: July 24, 2009 12:04 pm
 

How the Sox can get Halladay and keep Buchholz

Roy Halladay is on the trading block, and there are only about 29 teams who would be interested in his service.

If the Red Sox swung a deal for arguably the best pitcher in baseball, they would be able to march out Halladay, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester in a playoff series, which is enough to make any opposing manager wish they weren’t in the playoffs.

The problem with trading for the best pitcher in baseball is that it will come at no easy price. The Red Sox and GM Theo Epstein are reluctant to part with prized pieces of the minor league system, and none more so than Clay Buchholz.

Buchholz has been nothing short of remarkable in the minor leagues this season, compiling a 7-2 record with a 2.06 ERA. He was the leading vote getter among all minor league players for the Triple-A All-Star game and was tabbed to start before getting called up to the big leagues.

The Sox have spent a great deal of time and effort on Buchholz, priming him for what hopes to be a long and productive major league career. Naturally, they do not want another team, especially a fellow A.L. East team, to reap the benefits of the work that they put in for him.

Ignoring the fact that Buchholz will never be Roy Halladay and the Sox should go offer him up for Halladay, it is possible to put together a deal without Buchholz. It will still be painful, as several key contributors would have to be a part of the trade.

If I am Theo Epstein, and I am told that if I trade Buchholz then I will be fired and hung out by my entrails over Gate A on Yawkee Way for all of Red Sox Nation to throw overpriced sausage and pepper sandwiches at me, then I can manufacture a New Deal.

The Jays want at least one starter in return. If it is not Buchholz, then the next best piece in the Sox farm system is Michael Bowden. Can we make a trade and avoid both top prospects all together? Let’s try.

Any trade for Halladay will include players who can make an immediate impact as well as future prospects. For players who can make an impact now would be: Justin Masterson, Daniel Bard and Jed Lowrie. For future prospects: Lars Anderson and Casey Kelly.

The Jays, understandably, want a starter in return. Scouts see Masterson as a starter who needs regular rest. The Sox use him in the bullpen based on their needs, but he has shown that he can be stretched out. Kelly also fills the need for a starter and has been very impressive in the minors.

Bard gives the Jays a shut-down guy out of the bullpen, and a potential future closer. Bard is the player that hurts the most to see go in this scenario, but the Sox bullpen was considered to be the best in baseball before Bard was called up.

Before Sox fans say that the bullpen takes a terrible hit, remember that Bard’s replacement in Pawtucket is Fernando Carbrera who is 17-for-17 in save opportunities with a 1.73 ERA, 40 strikeouts in 41 innings pitched and a .193 opponent batting average. The Sox also have Junichi Tazawa, who is a great young Japanese prospect.

Lowrie’s impact on the team since his call-up last year was more out of need rather than desire. He plays excellent defense, but is below average as a hitter. He was injured, and may simply be slumping this season, but Lowrie was never viewed by the organization as the shortstop of the future. The Jays reportedly want a shortstop/middle infielder who can play defense. Of course, Nick Green’s play has certainly been solid enough so that the Sox are not loosing much if Green is officially the everyday shortstop.

As for Anderson, there is not much room for him in Boston. Scouts tout him as an excellent hitter who uses all fields, but still learning defensively. In Boston, the Sox have their first baseman in Kevin Youkilis, although some have said that Youkilis will move back over to third when Mike Lowell’s ailing joints give out and Anderson would take over at first.

The Sox would love to have Anderson mature into an excellent hitter, but he is a piece that they see as possible trade bait. They will certainly not hesitate to trade him for a player like Halladay.

Masterson, Bard, Lowrie, Anderson and Kelly for Halladay. It gives the Jays exactly what they are looking for position-wise. Talent-wise, it does not have the same big names like Buchholz and Bowden, but the Jays get a great core of young players to compliment the ones they have. (They can also have Brad Penny if they want him, too).

Tell me what you think – is this plausible?


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.

 
 
 
 
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