Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sox in 1st Place / McCoy Stadium

A few quick thoughts:

--Though I talked my friend down off the cliff when the Sox were 2-10, even I have to admit surprise that they're in first place on May 27th.  They're in first for two reasons: their obvious turnaround--and the mediocre play of the Yanks and Rays.  Had either team played better, this would be a much different season.  And let's not forget that the Sox are 5-1 against the Yanks.  Otherwise...

--Shockingly sparse crowd at McCoy Stadium last night.  I know it's Triple-A baseball, but I have never seen the place as empty on such a beautiful night before.  I know the Bruins Game 7 was on, and that maybe it was a travel night for some people, but the crowd of maybe 3,000 was the smallest I've ever seen there on such a good day, by about 5,000.

--The crash you heard was Michael Bowden's career hitting rock bottom.  Or the sound of 3,000 people booing him after he gave up a grand slam to Barte, hitting below .200 at the time, in the 9th inning last night, turning a 3-1 lead into a 6-3 loss.  (They got another run on a blown call by the 3rd base ump. that even the guy who sang the national anthem could've called correctly.)  Well, okay, the guy who sang that (beautifully, I might add) was blind, but still...

--Keep Carl batting 6th.  You have the best hitting lineup in MLB right now; don't fix what's not broken.

--If I'm the Sox, I keep Lackey and Dice-K injured, if you know what I mean.  Not so much Scutaro, but where do you put him?  If he's to be traded--since he's not playing there next year anyway--the time is now.

--Lost in the self-congratulating is the fact that Papelbon and Bard both have ERAs hovering at or over 3.00.  They haven't exactly been lights-out.  A 3.00 for your one-inning 8th and 9th inning guys is rather high.  The really good ones keep it in the twos.

--Jenks started the Pawsox game yesterday and pitched just the first inning.  People all around me--including employees of the park--were aghast at the short work.  I had to remind them that he's a one-inning pitcher in the majors, so you don't want to stretch him out or over-extend him at Triple-A.  Come on, guys...

--We're going to start to see the Indians come back down to earth now.  They have seriously overachieved.

--Speaking of the Indians, have you noticed that the Native American stereotypes in baseball run the gamut from smiley, dopey looking wahoos (Cleveland) to tomahawk-wielding scalpers (Atlanta).  There's nothing in between?  And when do we do away with those, anyway?  I'm not a politically-correct fascist, but--now's the time.  No major league team would dare to have similar African-American stereotypes, as well they shouldn't.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Long Time, No See

Things have been going so well that I didn't want to blog for awhile, for fear of breaking the flow.  But I'm now reasonably convinced they can continue their winning ways, without superstition, so here it goes:

--It's not the RISP that matters, but the pitching.  While no team can win any playoffs with RISP stats as bad as the Sox's have been, the fact remains that lousy RISP stats won't sink you overall.  But pitching will.  The Sox started off 2-10 because their starters were the worst in the majors at the time, and their relievers weren't much better.  Then the starters came around, became the best in the majors, and now the Sox are 1/2 out of first.  It's not brain surgery: Get good pitching, especially from your starters, and the wins will come.

--And you don't have to be Bill James to say that they're winning more because they're hitting and pitching better.  Sometimes baseball can be whittled down to "Well, duh."

--The Sox's RISP stats still aren't great, even with last night's inflated score.  For now it doesn't matter.  Notice that even while the Sox have been winning, the boxscore shows that they're still showing RISP numbers like 2-11 and 3-12.  A few days ago they won by one run and still left 14 or 15 on base.  That needs to change in the playoffs, but they can get by with that for now.

--Give the Sox credit for addressing the problems fast and giving the players a reality check at the same time.  Or, it's a good thing that Dice-K and Lackey got hurt when they did, if you know what I'm sayin'.

--Ditto for Wheeler and Jenks.  Gentlemen, this is your wake-up call.  Or, it's a coincidence that Dice-K, Lackey, Wheeler and Jenks all go on the DL at about the same time, and the Sox go 22-10.

--I'm old enough to remember when the Sox would trudge out the same ineffective pitchers time and time again, just because of their hefty (for the time) salaries.  Those days are long gone.  Let's remember how lucky (or spoiled) we are that our local team has the finances to shrug its shoulders when multi-year contracts and millions of dollars don't work out.  The Sox have no financial problem with Dice-K, Wheeler or Jenks, all of whom are still signed for a few years for many millions.  Most MLB teams cannot afford this attitude.

--I could say the same for Cameron and Drew too, by the way.

--A Sox announcer recently said that the Sox consider Dice-K a huge bust, a mistake.  He wasn't, guys.  He might be now, but he helped the Sox get to, and win, many World Series and playoff games since 2007.  Same with Okie-Dokie.  Or, name a middle reliever since 2005 to make the All-star game in his first year with an ERA hovering around 1.00.  It's one thing for the average fan to have a short memory, quite another for the serious fan and industry professional to do the same. 

--And Drew somehow fits in with this mindset, too.  The night before last he made a play in right that most do not make.  It involved nothing more than getting a great jump on the ball, but he makes it look effortless out there most of the time.  He glides.  It's arguable about whether he was worth the post-Trot money, but let the record show that after he signed that contract, players have stumbled over themselves to play here.  That wasn't always the case.

--I'm reminded of the Steve Avery example, back in the day.  Near the end of the (lousy) season, both for Avery and for the team, he was due to make a scheduled start and the Sox brass wanted to start someone else in that meaningless game.  Why?  Because that one more start would kick in an incentive worth lots of coin, and Avery wasn't coming back anyway.  The manager at the time (Grady Little?) had to convince the brass to let him start, and the reason he gave was that future free agents wouldn't sign because they'd think the brass was cheap.  They would've been right--it was.  Avery pitched at least 7 shutout innings that day, if I remember right.  And Duquette, who didn't own the purse strings but always acted like he did, said something snarky about the Sox paying him a lot more if he'd always pitched like that.

--The point being that the Sox don't think twice about that kind of thing anymore.  Their customer relations and employee relations post-Duquette are among the best in baseball.  They treat their players well financially--with the caveat being that they'll hit the DL if they're not performing.  The players don't seem to have a problem with that.

--It's an ironic statement that no ownership in my baseball fandom has been as business-focused as these Sox, and yet the players love playing here, and the brass is great to them.  The Yawkeys and the Duquettes were also very business-focused, but in a worse way, and the players either hated them, or didn't come to Boston to play to begin with.  Or, do you think Crawford would've come to Boston in the 80s or 90s?  Even for $120+ million?

--The Sox have to be wondering what they can get now for Lars Anderson.  Answer: Not much.  Ditto for Michael Bowden, who seems to have self-destructed his career after that game last year, when he gave up 10 or so runs in about 3 seconds.  He should've turned out better.  At a quick glance, I see that his fastball is straight, and gets hit, and he can't get his off-speed stuff over.  That's a bad combination.

--The Oliver Stone in me thinks the Sox disabled Scutaro so they could look at Iglesias and Sutton.  And don't think it's escaped their attention--or Scutaro's--that they have played much better in his absence.  I suspect that Drew has more value, and Scutaro less value, than is visible by the naked eye (or boxscore).  I think Drew saves a fraction of a run per game in the field and Scutaro maybe costs them a fraction of a run.  I have no evidence to support this--and I'm not Bill James enough to look at their range stats, or whatever is the equivalent these days--but I've been watching games since 1984 or so, and I think I see what I think I see, if you know what I mean.

--Put another way, the Sox are a numbers organization, and they keep putting Drew in right despite his very average (or below-average) hitting stats for his position, and they're not in a hurry to get Scutaro off the DL.  Which is to say that they already knew what I've just realized in the last few days, and they've already acted upon it.  That's why they get paid the big bucks--and let's not forget that Bill James still works for them.  I suspect that Bill James has more weight about Drew's playing time than does Drew's contract.  Or Drew.