Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mookie Betts Autograph and Ball

My better half got me a Mookie Betts autographed ball last Xmas. Here it is:


It came with a certificate of authenticity (COA), but it was from the same ebay company that sold it. You probably know that you can't trust a COA from a company that certifies its own product, unless that company is a professional and trusted authenticator, like Beckett, JSA / DNA, etc. This company wasn't one of those. My better half, who has never bought an autographed collectible, didn't know that, and was also understandably pacified with the COA itself. The COA said:

"This certificate of authenticity guarantees the Rawlings Official Major League Baseball signed by Mookie Betts to be 100% genuine, being hand signed [sic] in person by Mr. Betts himself."

Sounds good, right? But what exactly is guaranteed to be genuine here? If you read it closely, the thing said to be genuine isn't the autograph, it's the baseball itself. Again, it says that the COA "...guarantees the ... baseball signed by Mookie Betts to be 100% genuine..." Whether by mistake (which I prefer to think) or by design, the COA sounds like it says it guarantees the autograph to be authentic, but it doesn't. It says the ball is a genuine Rawlings, which of course it is. Rawlings is the sole company that makes baseballs for Major League Baseball, and the commissioner's name is on it, but don't you want the COA to be for the autograph?

So I emailed the ebay company and asked if there was another COA or LOA (which really is what that was--a letter of authenticity; a certificate is usually a label or a card) that authenticates the autograph itself. The guy said No, but that he guarantees the autograph, or he'll give the money back.

I should mention here that the ball with autograph cost $70. Most Mookie Betts autographed balls, without a 3rd-party COA (like JSA) costs over $100, so this was a bargain. The ball looked really good to me--no smudges, dirt, cuts, etc. The autograph looked really good, too--no smudges, or blips, etc. Nice and clean with a good flow and solid contact.

After about an hour of research on ebay, comparing this to other authenticated Mookie Betts autographed baseballs, I decided this one was also genuinely his, and that I should send it out for authentication. (I did this just after I opened the gift on Christmas Day, before we continued opening things, because I'm an obsessive loser like that.)

So I saved up, because this stuff isn't cheap, and after a couple months I sent it to JSA (one of the three major 3rd-party authenticators, and JSA never sells anything--it only authenticates.) It took them about a month to say that it was, in fact, an autograph signed by Mookie Betts himself.

This cost $55. Not bad.

Then JSA sent it to Beckett, which grades the ball and the autograph. I wanted this done because this was the first autographed baseball bought for me by my better half, and because the ball and autograph looked good enough to grade, to better estimate its value and to protect them.

(I am violently upset with myself for allowing balls with Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek autographs to fade from the sun. Now I have to replace those. Daniel Bard also--infamously, among my friends--autographed a ball and then smudged it to hell when he gave it back to me. I got back in a long line with a separate baseball to get another autograph, but got stopped just before I got to his table by an overly strict woman who said he was leaving. When I explained what happened, and that I'd been in line twice, she said she didn't care. [This was at Pawtucket's HotStove, where new players sign for free, usually in the beginning of January, when it's about four degrees. And the PawSox don't turn on the heat, either. Luckily Daniel Bard turned out to be...well, Daniel Bard. I still have the damn ball, too. Anybody want it?)

But I digress. So Beckett took another month to grade the ball and autograph--and its website somehow managed to screw up my account info., so that they had to mail me a separate invoice, and the regional sales manager had to email me when the ball was done and it was coming back to me.

This cost another $40. And I paid $18 to reimburse them for shipping and another $10 for insurance. By the end, you can see this isn't cheap: $70 (which my better half paid for the ball) + $55 + $40 + $18 + $10, for a total of  $193, plus the $28 I paid to ship and insure, for a total of $225.

Yeah, $225 to authenticate, encapsulate, grade the autograph and grade the ball. And that's with no guarantee that the ball and autograph were graded highly! (I've sent over 100 cards to SGC to get graded and slabbed, with no guarantee of what they'll say it is. Suffice it to say, I've won some and I've lost some. One big win was the Jim Bottomley 1933 Goudey, which you can find here.)

Now the ball looks like this:


As you can see, all's well that ends well: JSA said the autograph was authentic, and Beckett said that the ball and the autograph were both a perfect 10! That means that, by definition, even Mookie Betts himself won't have a Mookie Betts autographed baseball (or, to be more precise: an autograph and a baseball) in better condition than mine! I can actually say that nobody in the world--Yes, not even Mookie Betts himself!--will have a better Mookie Betts autograph, nor a better ball to have the autograph on!--than mine.

If he ever turns out to be a Hall of Fame player, this will be worth a ton. As it is, it's worth about $500, from some internet sales on authenticated and graded autographs and baseballs, on ebay and other sites, including auction houses. And Betts hasn't been to an All-Star Game yet, nor a playoff game. Once he does...

So here's another picker success, done in tandem with my better half. We spent $225 and it's worth about $500, for a profit of $275. Not bad, even by the standards of the Pickers themselves.

Don't worry, honey--I'm never going to sell it! But it's good to know the value in case we ever have to, right?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Sox 4 Games Out on 6.26.16


Photo: from the great Sox/Giants game on 6.7.16. This is just after Chris Young contorted himself by somehow moving his arm out of the way, mid-slide, to avoid a tag by Brandon Belt. Ortiz was out at first, but by staying out of the double play, the tying run scored.

So it has become obvious that the Sox will not contend in the American League East without some drastic changes. Despite the awesomeness of last month, one 30-day span does not make a whole season, and the offense could not have possibly kept up that incredible pace.

In fact:

--no offense will literally score 6+ runs every game, especially when the starting pitching puts it into a deep hole right away. I think this offense could be better than it is--and not leave the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth without scoring--but it won't if it feels pressure to do too much in every at-bat. A player will hit better when there's no stress or pressure on him--but there is pressure on him if his starter has given up a few runs in the first or second inning already. That's why the Sox won so many games last month: they scored in the first inning constantly and put pressure on the other team. Now other teams are doing that to the Sox.

--and that's not the fault of the offense. Sure, this offense has had some blips, especially the White Sox / Wright game, which actually was the offense's fault, as Wright pitched 9 great innings. But that was an anomaly. (And the White Sox left the bases loaded twice without scoring while losing a later game.) Simply put, the bad starting pitching has put more pressure on the offense, which tightens the batters up and makes them worse.

--if the starting pitching improves, the offense will improve.

So how to make the starting pitching improve?

The face and stats make it clear that the answer isn't this guy:



(Photo from my own camera. Saw this on my DVRed game on NESN and I couldn't resist.)

So who is the answer?

Well, I was in Pawtucket today, to watch who may be the only answer there: Henry Owens. Sadly, he continues to do the same thing: 2-0 and 3-1 on everybody, thereby becoming predictable and giving up lots of hits and walks and throwing too many pitches, and he's out of the game before the end of the 5th. (See: Eduardo Rodriguez and Clay Buchholz.)

He's not the answer, and won't be. He's been given a few years of chances and he hasn't changed. This pains me to say, as I have an autographed and slabbed RC of his, but it is what it is. He won't be any better than he is. I hope he proves me wrong in his September call-up, but he won't. Again. This is especially bad because his performances don't even make him good trade bait. He might be enticing for someone who wants to deal a reliever, or some bench help, but you won't get starting pitching for him.

So who can bring a top-flight starter?

Well, Bogaerts, Betts or Bradley could, but no way do you trade any of these guys. They'll bring butts to the stands even if the Sox aren't making the playoffs. These guys are All-Star caliber core players for many years, as they're all young and cheap. None of them are making more than $600,000 this year. (As opposed to Sandoval, who's getting $17 million this year not to play at all.) In baseball economics, they are very cheap, and will be until 2020. So they stay. So who?

Nobody wants Rusney Castillo, of course. He hit a seeing-eye single today and made a nice running catch, his back to the plate--but he also threw to third when he had no shot at the guy, thereby allowing the batter to get to second base. That reminded me of Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, who told a sobbing woman she can't throw to third and allow another runner (the tying run in the movie) to reach second base. If he knew that, wouldn't a star of the Cuban League, who's been playing ball all of his adult life? That's the kind of basic knowledge Jerry Remy said Castillo didn't have, and he said it last year. Castillo is a $70+ million waste of a Triple-A roster spot. That especially sucks because I have his rookie card in gem 10 condition. (Anybody want it?)

I would've said a package of Swihart (who can hit, and play left and catch decently) and Brock Holt and Rutledge may have been enough to send to the cash-strapped A's (Billy Beane loves cheap versatility) for Rich Hill, but all of those guys are injured, and nobody's desperate enough to take three guys just off the DL. (By the way, check out how well Hill is doing, and see the blog I wrote at the end of last year, saying the Sox were crazy to let him go, and for nothing!) Maybe they can get better and play really well before the Trade Deadline at the end of next month, but that's a lot to ask.

That package isn't enough for Sonny Gray, but I'm not interested in him, anyway. Though Hill is in his mid-30s, he's a resurging junkballer, and those guys can pitch into their early-40s. I think Sonny Gray is damaged goods and is looking at his best days in the rearview mirror.

It's a long shot, but I'd be willing to part with Hanley Ramirez, but he's not cheap, so the A's wouldn't want him. But how about him and all of the aforementioned guys, and a lot of money, to the Marlins for Jose Fernandez? Ramirez likes Miami, but they've probably tired of him there. Remember when the Sox traded him there for Josh Beckett and a throw-in named Mike Lowell? That trade won 2007.

Well, I hate to say it, but for a #1 or #2 starter, you're going to have to deal away Andrew Benintendi and / or Yoan Moncada. Certainly these guys--and even one of these guys--are too good to part with for the likes of Rich Hill, but they are good enough chips to get a solid #2 or even a #1 on a really bad team. I'd rather trade these maybes than the definite Yeses of Bogaerts, Betts and Bradley any day. Remember how Brian Rose and Carl Pavano were the best young starters in all of baseball, and the Sox traded them both for Pedro Martinez? Do you remember that local fans at the time were in an uproar? But how did that turn out?

Unfortunately here, it's a lot easier to trade starting pitching for starting pitching, than it is to trade an infielder and an outfielder for starting pitching, but it's still doable.  Benintendi and Moncada are thought of so highly in baseball that they could swing a #1. If the Sox are going to land one, these guys (or, hopefully, just one of these guys, and don't ask me which one) are going to have to be flipped. It's worth doing, especially for a good pitcher who's still decently young, and under some control.

If the Sox were to turn them both over for Fernandez--who the Marlins are rumored to be dealing--that would be a helluva thing. They're cash-strapped, too, and certainly a combination of Benintendi and / or Moncada, plus Hanley Ramirez, Swihart and either Holt or Rutledge would get Fernandez from Miami. Maybe throw Christian Vazquez, too, as much as I like his defense. But he's never going to hit, and I'm not as happy with his pitch-calling and strike-framing as others are.

Anyway, to get a #1 or a #2, I would try to do these.

Until then, the starters need to walk fewer, keep their pitches down, get ahead in the count and stop being so predictable. The offense needs to hit with RISP and do all those little things that haven't been done consistently since that game mentioned in the beginning of this (long) blog entry.

By the way, notice how the slide started when the Sox lost Carson Smith for the season, and Brock Holt for over 6 weeks? Brock Holt is the player the sabermetricians don't have a stat for, but he gels this offense, and does every single little thing very well. I saw him today, too. He got on base 3 times.

Time to call him up.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sox 28-17 on May 24, 2016

A few things as we bask in the glory of the recent success:

--A few years ago (or during the first half last year), who would've thought JBJ would hit in 28 straight? With his offense and defense, he's probably one of the best players in the game. According to WAR, anyway.

--But keep in mind that he's been doing for a few months what Mike Trout has been doing for a few years.

--And I'm wondering why JBJ got so suddenly better, if you catch my drift.

--I hated to say that, because I spoke to JBJ for a short time a few years ago, at the Pawtucket Hot Stove League, and he's a very nice, soft-spoken guy. And he signed two baseballs for me, in the perfect spot, in a perfect marker with perfect handwriting.

--And, yeah, I'm sending those bad boys to JSA and then to Beckett ASAP.

--My comment a few spots ago holds true to Ortiz as well, who's having a resurgence with his power numbers at an age in which even the immortals (besides Bonds, of course) were beginning to feel it. I'm just sayin'.

--I was afraid for a moment there that the baking powder thrown at Ortiz after his game-winning double was actually the remaining HGH powder for both of them.

--Sorry.

--Carson Smith, who could've given the Sox three 7-9 guys that maybe rivaled the Yankees, is now out for at least a year after Tommy John surgery. What a shame. Wasn't last year his rookie?

--Not only are their 9 through 3 guys--Bradley, Betts, Pedroia and Bogaerts--very good hitters, but they're also all very fast. And great defensively. Few teams can boast four 9 through 3 hitters like that.

--To prove the point, the Sox scored three runs today when guys scored from first on a double. Your Sox of old would go 1st to 3rd on a double.

--I'll say about Christian Vazquez what I said about Bradley the last two years: with that great defense, all he has to do is slap-hit .250 and that'll be enough to make him a good big-leaguer.

--Clay Buchholz has to go.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sox 6-4 After 10 Games in 2016

Well, now it's 6-5 after 11 games, the early afternoon of the Patriots Day game. Here's what it looks like to me so far:

--Hanley Ramirez has shockingly impressed. Not only is he much better at first base than anyone could have (or should have) expected, but he's also got a much better attitude. He has hustled and gestured more so far this year than he did all of last year.

--He's hitting over .300, but his OPS is about .850. That should improve as we go.

--If the Sox go 6-4 every 10 games, they'll finish 97-65, which will be plenty to win the division.

--If the bullpen and/or starting rotation doesn't implode first.

--Like it just did, now, on 4.18.16. Patriot's Day, no less.

--I haven't seen anyone throw as many balls with 2 strikes on the batter as Kimbrel does. He gets paid for situations like today, and he K'ed 2, but only after he struck out the first guy, walked the next two, and allowed a base hit. He allowed all 3 runners to score, and gave up one of his own.

--That's not going to get it done, though the Sox can't expect to win 1-0, either.

--Tazawa, Uehara and Kimbrel are overworked. They need Carson Smith back, fast.

--The Christian Vasquez thing, about him being much better with the pitchers, might be a tad over-rated.

--But he's the best they've got on stealing strikes.

--Can you remember the last time Sox tickets were available this easily? Season-ticket packages, too.

--But when you finish last 3 of the previous 4 years, that'll happen, even with a ring thrown in.

--If the Sox are near .500 a month from now, Farrell will be shown the door.

--And Carl Willis, too.

--I'm 0-1 at Fenway so far this year. Wish me luck tomorrow.


Saturday, April 9, 2016

Sox 8 Blue Jays 7: 4.8.16




Photo: The Brockstar, just after his grand slam, courtesy of the Boston Herald at this link.

A few quick things about this very exciting game:

--In his post-game comments, Joe Kelly said that this was a game Boston would not have won last year. He's right about that, and just three games into this year.

--In one game, we see the two most glaring problems for both teams: Boston--starting pitching; Toronto--relievers. Both may hit themselves into the postseason.

--Boston needs to bring the Freudian couch to the mound for Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly. I mean that in the kindest way. They can maybe push it aside between pitches like other guys throw aside the resin bag.

--Buchholz has a defeated posture and attitude on the mound I just don't like. And when he was asked about the cause of his most recent performance, the first thing out of his mouth was "Twelve-minute rain delay." That tells you all you need to know about Clay Buchholz. And it explains why his performances are either shutouts or shellackings.

--And Joe Kelly has a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look on the mound that must be addressed fast.

--It's one thing to pitch badly. But these two come very suddenly unglued. Which is even worse. Just ask Kevin Pillar. Or Josh Donaldson, for that matter.

--Whoever's the sports psychologist for these guys needs to be fired.

--Travis Shaw points out that the Brockstar is on a pace to hit over 60 homers this year. He's right, and that's why you don't look at a hitter's stats until a month into the season.

--Speaking of stats: I mentioned last time that the LOB stat needs to go on the NESN telecasts. Now I say that the OPS stat needs to go, too.  OPS is a useful stat for maybe four or five batters currently on Boston's 25-man roster: Ortiz, Ramirez, and maybe Shaw, Young and Pedroia--who reaches the outer fringe of OPS's usefulness. Technically, it's not Betts' or Pedroia's (or Holt's) job to slug, though they do that more often than your typical one-two guys will. But really their job is to get on base, not slug the runners in. Showing their OPS every at-bat, and those of the 7-9 guys as well, is wasting eye-strain. That's NESN trying to appease the stat-geeks and fantasy-leaguers, but even those fans know that LOB and OPS are essentially useless stats for most players on most occasions. The sport is polluted enough with numbers (and I'm a stat-aware guy myself), so let's dispense with them when we can.

--Let's watch when Boston has 7-10 straight games of leaving 10 or more guys on. I'll bet NESN will toss the LOB stat then.

--And I'd be okay with the OPS stat being replaced with the OB% stat, even every at-bat. Then Alex Speier can annoyingly but just occasionally remind us of the OPS of only the aforementioned players, when relevant.

--I see now that MLB.com has OPS in their box scores, too. Enough, I say.

--One last point (for now) about Buchholz and Kelly: Because they implode so suddenly, they can't be used as relievers, either, if later in their careers it's determined they can't be starters. This makes both essentially useless pitchers when they're like this, especially Kelly, who has closer-like stuff.

--The starters can't put their offense in this position as often as it looks like they will. The batters will literally get tired, and they'll sputter in the second half, just like overused relievers do.

--Toronto's carpet is a travesty.

--The last two home-plate umpires have been egregiously bad. Whoever the supervisor of umpires is now, he needs to talk to these guys. Have umpires across the leagues been this bad? John Hirschbeck's strike zone was (mostly) consistently a foot off the outside, and Fagan's zone was simply all over the place, inconsistently.

--Rarely do you allow 7 runs in 3 innings and not get the loss. In fact, Buchholz didn't get the L for his implosion, either. Tazawa did.

--Speaking of Tazawa, after the Sox brass said they would be more careful with using him this year, he's appeared in 3 of the team's first 3 games. But the relief was set in place last night once they had the lead after 6 innings. Both wins ended with Tazawa, Uehara and Kimbrel. But...

--100-loss teams this year: San Diego Padres; Milwaukee Brewers; Phillies. Maybe Atlanta, Minnesota and the Angels, too. They'll at least lose 90.

--Baseball rules aside, Noe Ramirez deserved the win last night, not Matt Barnes. Noe's two sanity-replacing innings saved the game.

--Note to Buchholz and Kelly: Henry Owens got the win in Pawtucket's opener, tossing six shutout innings and striking out 8. (I have his autograph, so I especially need him to do well.) You saw how The Overweight Panda lost his job? Look over your shoulders, guys.

--Guerin Austin has grown on me. I wonder if she's that naturally effervescent or if it's just for TV.

--I know I'm naive just asking that, but I usually like to earn my cynicism.

--Or did you not see Jenny Dell rip that overweight fan a new one when he stumbled in front of her during her segment a few years ago? But Jenny Dell always came across as someone who would rip you a new one--which, of course, was part of her allure. She'd kick your ass for ya, and that was OK.

--Considering how he's played the last few years, I wonder if she's been kicking Middlebrook's butt?

--Austin's a Miss Nebraska, after trying for the 2nd time, for those who care about such things. There's no truth to the rumor that she shucked corn (or juggled them) for her talent portion. (Sorry.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Red Sox 2016 Opening Day 4.5.16



Photo: from ESPN.go.com. This could've been Price about to pitch during today's game, but it wasn't. Game time temperature was 34 degrees in Cleveland.

The game worked exactly as the Sox would've drawn up: the starting pitcher goes 6 or 7 innings, then you finish up with an inning each from your best relievers--Tazawa, Uehara and Kimbrel. That's what happened in this 6-2 win.

With a little bit of help from a truly terrible day behind the plate from John Hirschbeck, who had a strike zone that extended a good couple of inches (or about a foot for Napoli and Bogaerts) to the outside, the Sox best pitchers--the three relievers and David Price, their $30+ million per year ace--pitched well and made this look easy.

A few notes:

--the Sox were patient with Corey Kluber, who walked more batters and who gave up more hits than usual. He allowed 9 hits and 2 walks in 5 1/3 innings, and went to a lot of three-ball counts. He threw 96 pitches in just 5 1/3 innings.

--Price gave up 5 hits and 2 walks in his 6 innings, and struck out 10. He had great pace out there, and was helped out considerably by the wider strike zone. He saw that the pitch 2 inches on the outside of the zone was going to be a strike, and he kept throwing it to that exact spot.

--Napoli, especially in his last at-bat, was a victim of this. He had very good at-bats, especially the first K and his walk, and he deserved better. It was good to see him take pitches and field well, as usual. He can still play, even if not over the course of a full season. And nice sunglasses!

--Bogaerts, Betts and Bradley had very good at-bats. Shaw did, too, even though he struck out three times. Actually, twice, because that last strike three was in another time zone. The young core did well.

--Shaw's K came with the bases loaded, and that could have been haunting had things turned out differently. But they didn't.

--My guess is that Swihart missed a sign, but Bradley could have, too. But Swihart wasn't running on his own with just a two-run lead at the time.

--The next time Hanley Ramirez stands and admires one of his shots, like David Ortiz did after his last Opening Day homerun, it had better go out. His single that should have been a double should earn him a fine from the team. And not by a kangaroo court.

--Having said that, it was good to see him playing with fire, though it's a good thing that throw to third was off-line. Had he been out, as he should have been, I wouldn't be as forgiving. But it was good to see that intensity, and again when he clapped as he scored after Holt's bloop fell in. We didn't see him playing with that fire last year.

--Kudos also to him for coming to camp in much better shape, and with a much better attitude, than Sandroval did. They are noticeable opposites this year, though they were very similar last year.

--And, in all honesty, he's been better at first than I thought he'd be.

--I don't like the LOB column on NESN's graphic this year. Looks bad. I know some channels have had that for awhile now, but that's new to NESN. Needs to go.

--Let's not get carried away. Last year's Opening Day: a shutout for Buchholz, and Pedroia hit two home runs. And look how that turned out.


Monday, March 21, 2016

The Retirement of Adam LaRoche



Photo: from his Wikipedia page. Or, this is Adam LaRoche, running from his responsibilities.

--Read Justin Gorman's short article about Adam Laroche's sudden retirement here, at the Sons of Sam Horn page. I couldn't agree more. Brilliant move by Executive Vice President (and former GM) Ken Williams, if it was indeed planned. Had LaRoche stayed, the White Sox would've had to pay $13 million for the honor of having LaRoche ride the bench with his son beside him, and at most LaRoche would've come in as a defensive replacement in the later innings. The South Siders thought so much of LaRoche that they've given him five Spring Training at-bats. In 2009, the Red Sox traded two prospects for him, but had him for all of 6 games and 19 ABs, before they decided they'd rather have Casey Kotchman. And the Nationals were so pleased with his 26 homers and 92 RBIs last year that they bought out his option for $2 million. Williams said, "In what other business can you bring your son to work every single day?" and he's right. Now the Pale Hose have $13 million in their pockets, and two lockers for more deserving bodies.

--Yes, that's right. Two lockers. The son was there so often that he got his own locker. The kid must've been there longer than many minor leaguers, some prospects, and a few veterans.

--And I don't care what Chris Sale says. So Williams went back on his verbal agreement about the kid from last year. If LaRoche hadn't been paid $12 million just to barely hit above the Mendoza Line, maybe this wouldn't be an issue. (Though Williams never should've agreed to that to begin with.)

--Then again, he never should've signed LaRoche to begin with.

--My guess is that Gorman was right: Ken Williams wanted to get rid of this contract, and he knew the button to push. I say, good for him.

--This is all about one word: Entitlement.

--Now, because I can't say it any better than this, I offer you, off her social media, the sage wisdom of Bethany Randa, wife of former major league third baseman Joe Randa:

“I’ve gotten so many messages about what a wonderful thing it is that Adam retired for his son ... and yes, my boys spent time in the clubhouse when it was approved and appropriate and loved every minute of it!!! My concern is and ALWAYS has been that these kids already live a privileged life, where rules don’t always apply, where ridiculous money just pours in, where so many of the things we could afford were free, and where we were offered immediate seating at restaurants and other events ahead of hard working people who were there before us. My boys saw this. It sounds ridiculous to most people, but our job is to raise dependable hard working and respectful men. It’s hard enough in the world they see, but to teach your child that when your boss makes a decision you don’t agree with, you just 'retire'?? In the REAL world, that’s not an option.’’