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Tag:Kevin Youkilis
Posted on: June 11, 2010 1:04 pm
 

Who Would You Give Up for Strasburg?

In the words of Nationals' radio play-by-play broadcaster Charlie Slowes following the remarkable debut by Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday in Washington D.C., "There's a new mayor in town, and the campaign took one night."

It is permissible to let our imaginations run wild with a player like Strasburg, and not just because everyone else is doing it. However, the fact remains that it is very unlikely that there is a player in baseball right now with the potential to hit 60 home runs, which has long been the most alluring statistical figure in baseball. But the last two A.L. home run champions (37 for Miguel Cabrera in 2008, 39 for Carlos Pena and Mark Teixeira in 2009) have only totaled 76 home runs, which would break the standing home run record by only 2!

As baseball fans, we have to look elsewhere from home runs for a national story. The past few years, the age of the young pitcher has been dominating the national scene. Tim Lincecum has two Cy Young awards by age 25, Zack Grienke took home the Cy Young at age 25 and posted a ridiculous ERA for the A.L., and N.L. teams this season can speak to the utter dominance by 26-year-old phenom Ubaldo Jimenez.

The strikeout has become the new home run. The last generation of great pitchers (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson) have now been replaced by a younger ensemble of hard-throwing hurlers. It is obvious to say that every team wants Stephen Strasburg, and not so that local diners can cash in on a wide variety of sandwiches called "The Strasburger." Every teams wants him for the national draw that he is getting, in addition to the seemingly limitless pitching talent.

So, the question is: Who would you be willing to part with for Stephen Strasburg?

The Boston Red Sox have 25 players on their active roster, and a total of 34 players have donned a uniform so far this season. They have seven minor league affliates, which would put the total number of payers affliated with the Boston Red Sox at around 200.

There is only one player that I would not give up under any circumstances, even if the trade was 1 to 1, and that is Jon Lester. Lester has, believe it or not, the exact same potential that Strasburg does, except that Lester has already begun to follow through with success. Does this sound crazy?

The sport of professional baseball is over 150 years old. Using <a href="http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/historical/player_stats.jsp?c_id=mlb&baseballScope=mlb&teamPosCode=all&statType=Overview&sitSplit=&venueID=&timeFrame=3&timeSubFrame2=0&Submit=Submit" target="_blank">mlb.com's historical statistics page , they list approximately 17,200 hitters who have recorded an at-bat in the majors and about 8,350 pitchers who have recorded an out, with incomplete records dating back to 1871. Yes, there will be some duplicates, but we can very roughly estimate that somewhere around 20,000 people have played professional baseball. Of that number, who has the highest winning percentage with at least 100 starts?

If you guessed Stephen Strasburg, well you'd be wrong. If you guessed Jon Lester, you've earned a sticker for today. With a career record of 49-18, Lester's .731 winning percentage is higher than anybody with at least that many starts. Oh, and he also happens to be leading the A.L. in strikeouts.

Lester has everything that Strasburg has - the size, the pitching repertoire - without the same fanfare because he wasn't the number one overall pick. Lester also has done all of his work in the best division in baseball since he came up, so imagine what his numbers would have been like if Boston played in the N.L. West. Lester has not pitched his last no hitter, and he will win at least one Cy Young Award. At 26 and with the record he has already acquired, Lester is Boston's Strasburg.

As for the rest of the players in Boston, it would depend on what else was included in the deal, but the only other player I would not trade, unless it was 1 to 1 (which would never happen), would be Dustin Pedroia. Rookie of the Year, MVP, and a Gold Glove already, he has batting titles and several more GGs in his future.

The next closest player that I would have initial problems dealing away would be Kevin Youkilis. He plays two positions, is a very consistent .300+ hitter with one of, if not the best, eye in the game, he has the potential to hit 40 home runs and is the cleanup hitter on the team that has scored the most runs in the A.L. this year. But, and this is somewhat surprising, Youkilis is already 31, which means that he is in his prime right now. Nobody expects him to fall off anytime soon, but we said the same thing about David Ortiz, whose last impact year came when he was 31, and we all feel that at 34, he is exceptionally over the hill.

I was thinking that, with respect to the almost 200 players in the Sox farm system, there would be some that I would hold onto. I might have to hold onto Casey Kelly, but he is only in his first year being a full time pitcher, while around the same age as Strasburg.

Lester is a dominant pitcher already, and he would be the one player from this Red Sox team that I would not give up for Stephen Strasburg. <!-- EndFragment-->
Posted on: January 2, 2010 5:17 pm
 

A Look at the Red Sox Down the Road

The Baseball America Prospect rankings were released last week, a list coveted by fans and media, but otherwise superfluous for the organizations themselves, who have their own rankings and plans for their players.

The Red Sox minor league system has some gems, but the conclusions that BA came to should be slightly disturbing. The list of the top ten prospects, as I say, seems strong, with names that we have heard regularly, such as Casey Kelly, the shortstop-turned-pitcher, and Jose Iglesias, the first round pick and shortstop of the future.

Ryan Westmoreland, an outfielder from Rhode Island, is listed as the best prospect in the system, the best hitter for average as well as the best athlete.

What should come as disturbing are what BA projects for the Sox offensive power hopes in the near future. Lars Anderson, last year’s top prospect, has long been touted as a power hitting first baseman, someone who can take the reigns at first while Kevin Youkilis moves to third. Unexpectedly, Anderson was listed as the Sox best power-hitting prospect.

Wait a minute. Lars Anderson?? The same Lars Anderson who dropped four spots from last year’s rankings? The same Lars Anderson who mustered a whopping nine home runs in 512 plate appearances last season at double-A Portland?

Can’t be. That can’t be the best in the Sox minor league system.

Believe it. The Sox are in serious offensive trouble. Their organizational depth is astronomically weighted against the power-hitting side of the game. As if this was not apparent through the raw rankings of the prospects, let’s take a look at what BA projects Boston’s 2012 lineup to look like.

The pitching situation is relatively constant with Casey Kelly the only new name in the rotation who is not there now. Victor Martinez, Dustin Pedroia and Youkilis remain the Sox’s catcher, second and third basemen respectively, and Jacoby Ellsbury stays in center field.

Now to the unnerving bit. First baseman: Lars Anderson (9). Shortstop: Jose Iglesias (11-NCAA). Outfield: Reymond Fuentes (1) and Ryan Westmoreland (7). Designated Hitter: Josh Reddick (15).

The parenthetical numbers represent the number of home runs that each player achieved last season, with all but Iglesias’ occurring in the Sox farm system. If we combine those numbers to the totals achieved last year by the holdovers (Martinez, Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ellsbury), we get an astounding 116 home runs.

116 home runs. That would have put the Sox squarely in 29th place last season, ahead of only the New York Mets, who had an absolutely horrible rash of injuries that affectively removed the top half of their lineup at some point during the season.

So while Kelly and Junichi Tazawa are the only two pitchers listed in BA’s top ten Sox prospects, their farm system is not currently in a position to provide them with a 30 home run hitter. It is very much weighted toward the Ellsbury-esque model of player – fast, athletic and a contact hitter.

What does this mean for the next few seasons? Well, firstly we must take everything that Theo Epstein says about acquiring a power hitter.

Yes, I am talking about Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez will command a top-flight package, one that would involve at least two of the names on that list of best prospects. But the fact is that the Red Sox are offensively solid for the next few years, with the exception of a big-time bat.

Even though Epstein has said many things about the Sox with respect to how they will deal with their farm system, the only player who is likely a true “untouchable” is Kelly. Kelly was listed as having the best fastball, curveball, changeup and overall control, despite only spending half of his first profession year as a pitcher. Past him, anyone is a possibility.

Given the affordable price tag ($4.75 million in ’10), his outstanding offensive prowess (106 home runs over the past three seasons) as well as his defense (back-to-back Gold Gloves in ’08-09), a package that would bring in Gonzalez would have to be of the caliber of Westmoreland, Lars Anderson and Alex Wilson (0.50 ERA in 13 starts for single-A Lowell Spinners in ’09). The package would also probably include a major league player or upper level minor leaguer who can contribute immediately, such as a Fernando Cabrera (Pawtucket closer last season) or a Manny Delcarmen.

For the Sox, there is no such thing as overpaying for a player such as Gonzalez.
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: July 31, 2009 5:11 pm
 

Recapping the Sox' Deadline Deals

The Boston Red Sox were one of the busier teams leading into today’s 4pm trading deadline.

The major deal was the Sox acquiring Cleveland Indians All-Star catcher Victor Martinez, and the minor deal was swapping first basemen to get Casey Kotchman from the Atlanta Braves.

Martinez is the biggest offensive pickup of the 2009 trading deadline. Martinez had a injury plagued 2008 season that lead to mediocre numbers, but he has picked it up again in 2009 and reestablished himself as one of the best offensive catchers in the game.

A switch-hitter, he gives the Sox excellent versatility in the line-up and on the field. While not official, it is expected that he will play predominantly at catcher and designated hitter. He is a better left-handed hitter, and that will allow the Sox to rotate Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek in the line-up against lefties.

The Sox gave up RHP Justin Masterson, who had been splitting the year in the bullpen and rotation, and minor league pitchers Nick Hadagone and Bryan Price.

Masterson was a solid cog of the Red Sox team, but often found himself as the odd man out. The Indians will probably utilize him as a starter, which is where most scouts see him headed, but the Sox were never in the position to give him a chance to develop in that respect.

Hadagone was the biggest chip the Sox gave up. A left-hander in class-A Greenville, Hadagone underwent Timmy John surgery and recently returned from the disabled list and was very impressive. Price is a right-handed pitcher also in Greenville.

The other trade, while it possesses less excitement, was much more peculiar. The Sox obtained Kotchman, traded as the major component of the deal that brought Mark Teixeira to the Angels, for recently acquired Adam LaRoche.

It is odd not because LaRoche only spent a few days with the Sox, or that the Sox traded him because of the surplus of first basemen the Sox possess after getting Martinez. It is strange that the Sox would trade him, an everyday player, for another left-handed first basemen used to playing everyday.

Terry Francona is going to have to do an incredible job of juggling the line-up to make sure everyone gets enough at-bats to be happy. Kevin Youkilis has to play everyday, an one would expect that Martinez is also going to be in the line-up everyday.
 
This means that somehow Francona has to rotate them so that Varitek, Mike Lowell and David Ortiz get playing time. Lowell’s time figures to be cut the most, as Youkilis will likely play most of him games at third base for the rest of the season.

Given Martinez’s poorer numbers against lefties, and Lowell and Varitek’s success, they will be playing against left-handers. But while Varitek has been described as a walking ice-pack and Lowell is coming off of hip surgery, they can’t be thrilled at the prospect of their playing time being reduced.
Kotchman has likely drawn the shortest straw. His playing time will be significantly reduced as virtually every other player in this rotation can play multiple positions, where Kotchman is relegated to first only.

Back up catcher George Kotteras will return to triple-A Pawtucket. He is the personal catcher for knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield, who is on the disabled list. He won’t be activated for a few weeks, at which time the Sox will have to decide who should catch him.
   
To replace Masterson, the Sox have several immediate choices to pick from. Southpaw Javier Lopez was optioned down at the beginning of the season because of terrible struggles, but he has turned his season down in the minors. The Pawtucket Red Sox’ closer Fernando Cabrera is mowing down hitters with an ERA under two while being perfect in save chances. Lefty Hunter Jones and righty Michael Bowden have already pitched out of the bullpen this season for the Sox, and they also have Japanese prospect Junichi Tazawa.

Until Wakefield comes back from the DL, one of those triple-A relievers figures to replace the gap in the bullpen.

Heading into tonight’s game against Baltimore, the Sox are a significantly upgraded team both offensively and defensively. The only problem will be getting a group of good players fair playing time, which any manager will tell you is a good problem to have.

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: May 26, 2009 6:42 pm
 

Papi Dropped/Buchholz Nearly Perfect/Penny Rumors

In a big day for Red Sox news, the biggest story is that David Ortiz has finally been dropped in the lineup. Terry Francona released his lineup for tonight’s game against the Minnesota Twins, and it has J.D. Drew in the third spot, with Ortiz taking Drew’s position in the six hole. Ortiz has not been anywhere but the three position in the batting order since May 2005, when he and Manny Ramirez were sometimes swapped as clean-up hitters.

After having a decent series from May 19-21 against the Toronto Blue Jays, picking up three hits including his first home run of the season, he then went 0-for the series against the New York Mets. He was benched yesterday while the Sox faced a tough left-hander in Francisco Liriano. His batting average recently dipped below the Mendoza line and now stands at .195.

Dropping Ortiz down to the six hole seems like a big move, but it is more to maintain the continuity of the rest of the lineup. This way Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay remain largely unaffected, or at least, will not have to move in the lineup. They will benefit from Drew’s higher on-base percentage and better speed.

In other news, Clay Buchholz, pitching for triple-A Pawtucket, took a perfect game into the ninth inning of the PawSox game yesterday against the Louisville Bats. A leadoff single broke up the bid, but Buchholz retired the rest of the hitters in the ninth on his way to a one-hitter. He is now 3-0 with a 1.60 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched for Pawtucket.

Buchholz has been absolutely dominating in the minors this season, and yet he could not seem to get a roster spot in Boston. However, this last performance may have done it. In news related to Buchholz’s performances, the Boston Globe reports that Brad Penny is on the trading block.

The team would be looking to move Penny for two reasons. Firstly, the Sox need to make room for Buchholz. There is no reason for him to stay in the minors. Secondly, the Sox will use Penny as an opportunity to bring in some kind of bat off of the bench. The players whose names that have been thrown around, such as the Washington NationalsNick Johnson, will be too expensive for only a deal involving Penny.

But, the Sox could hope to pick up a player in the same way that they got Mark Kotsay last year, but this player will likely be able to contribute more off of the bench. But, the Sox will be bearing in mind that by the All-Star break, the Sox bench will likely be Kotsay, Rocco Baldelli, Nick Green, Julio Lugo and George Kotteras. That bench is pretty solid and fills the need offensively, so Penny may be exchanged for something else.

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: May 16, 2009 2:28 pm
 

The Great Red Sox Line-up Fix

Everyone is well aware of the season long struggles of Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, whose numbers, .208-0-15, would be cause for grumblings even for a player such as Jason Varitek, who also struggled heavily last season.

Manager Terry Francona benched Ortiz for Friday's series opener versus the Seattle Mariners, and said that Ortiz could sit for more than just the one game. The benching follows Thursday's afternoon extra inning affair against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in which Ortiz went 0-7 which three strikeouts while tying Trot Nixon for the franchise record with 12 runners left on base.

For the Sox game against the Mariners, J.D. Drew was moved upinto the number three spot in place of Ortiz. Francona always try to alternate batters in his lineup, left-right-left-right, as much as possible, and with the lefty Drew, Francona was able to keep his alternating batting order.

Last season, when Ortiz was on the disabled list for a wrist injury, Drew filled in predominantly in the number three hole. Everyone remembers the scorching month of June that Drew put up, with the line of stats: .337/.462/.848 for a 1.310 OPS, 12 home runs, 21 extra base hits, 21 base on balls and 27 RBIs.

All of those numbers came from hitting in the number three hole, and when Ortiz returned, Drew went back into his customary role in the bottom half of the lineup, and had what we have come to know as typical J.D. Drew Red Sox numbers: a high on-base percentage, few extra base hits, and untimely hits.

In the number three hole for the first time this season last night, Drew went 3-5 with a double, run scored and an RBI.

It may seem as though this is looking into too small a sample, but this is not just a coincidence.

The Red Sox line-up is in rough shape these days anyway, because of injuries to Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. In the place of Ortiz last night, Rocco Baldelli got the start as the designated hitter and batted fifth. If we sub Ortiz back in that lineup, and put Youkilis in (due back from the disabled list in about a week) we'll get:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury
2. Pedroia
3. Drew
4. Youkilis
5. Ortiz
6. Jason Bay
7. Mike Lowell
8. Jason Varitek
9. Julio Lugo

Per Francona's alternating hitters rule, the line-up in that respect remains unchanged, with the only two hitters from the same side of the plate in a row is Bay and Lowell.

This line-up does several things. First, (and most obviously) it takes advantage of Drew's prowess in the number three hole and allows his RBI opportunities with Ellsbury (who is, by the way, batting .307 on the year while trailing only Carl Crawford for the major league lead in stolen bases) and Pedroia so often on base.

Second, Ortiz will still be thought of as somewhat of a threat to opposing pitchers, as evidenced by the 20 walks he has drawn. Bay will provide protection for him, so pitchers cannot simply throw around him. The rest of the line-up remains unchanged.

The only problem with this is that Francona is a player's manager. He has said that he has a great deal of loyalty to Ortiz and is not going to give up on him only six weeks into the season. But, if Ortiz continues to struggle and Drew continues to be hot in the three spot, the change must happen for the Sox to really get the most out of their offense.
 
 
 
 
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