March 14, 2019

Everybody Loves A Contest #24: 2019 Red Sox W-L

Opening Day is less than two weeks away (Thursday, March 28), so it's time for this year's Red Sox W-L Contest!

The person who correctly guesses Boston's 2019 regular season W-L record will win a copy of Jason Novak's Baseball Epic: Famous and Forgotten Lives of the Dead Ball Era.

Coffee House Press, which will publish Baseball Epic in April (and generously provided the contest copy), describes the book as "an offbeat and witty history of the scrappy beginnings of modern baseball told in 101 sketches and 101 miniature biographies".

Contest entries must be emailed to me and include the following two items:

1. Predicted 2019 W-L record
2. Tiebreaker: Jackie Bradley's OPS

As always, the winning W-L prediction must be exact. The tiebreaker, if needed, will be the closest guess, either over or under.

Deadline: Wednesday, March 27, 11:59 PM (Boston time).

Good luck to everyone ... and fuck the Yankees.

MLB To Institute A Three-Batter Minimum For Pitchers, Starting In 2020

The Office of the Commissioner will implement an amended Official Baseball Rule 5.10(g) requiring that starting pitchers and relief pitchers must pitch to either a minimum of three batters or the end of a half-inning (with exceptions for incapacitating injury or illness). The Players Association has agreed that it will not grieve or otherwise challenge the Office of the Commissioner's implementation.
And so we begin sliding down the slippery slope.

Beginning with the 2020 season, Commissioner Rob Manfred has decided that - rather than have umpires enforce a rule that has existed in some form for almost 120 years - he would rather introduce new rules to limit a manager's strategy options, in the hopes of shaving a few minutes off the time of games.

The Players Union did not formally agree to the three-batter minimum rule, but it will not challenge MLB's plan to implement it in 2020.

For 2019, the commercial time between innings will be reduced by five seconds for local broadcasts and 25 seconds for national broadcasts. (A local broadcast won by the home team in nine innings will be at least 80 seconds shorter. What will I do with all that extra time?)

The maximum number of mound visits per team per game will be reduced from six to five and the waiver trade period will be eliminated. The All-Star Game will continue its slide into irrelevance. Every extra inning will begin with a runner on second base and players who have left the game will be allowed to re-enter as runners. While this only applies to an exhibition game, it is troubling that it has been introduced at all.

Also in 2020, rosters from Opening Day through August 31 will be expanded to 26 players (27 for doubleheaders). From September 1 through the end of the regular season, rosters will be 28 players. The number of pitchers a team can have on its active roster will be capped at a to-be-determined number.

A team will designate each of its players as a pitcher or a position player before that player's first day on the active roster. The designations cannot be changed during the season. Position players will not be allowed to pitch except in the following scenarios: (a) extra innings, (b) any game in which his team is losing or winning by more than six runs when he enters as a pitcher, and (c) if he is designated as a "Two-Way Player" (a player who has pitched at least 20 major league innings and has started at least 20 major league games as a position player or designated hitter (with at least three plate appearances in each of those games) in either the current or the prior season).

I do not have much to say about the big changes, except: I hate them, they are unnecessary, and I'm seriously wondering what year it will be when I say I am through with baseball.

March 13, 2019

What's Up With "The Mookie Snarl"?

Chad Jennings (The Athletic) talks to various Red Sox players about the Mookie Snarl.

Jennings writes that "if you watched his debut season with the Red Sox, you might have noticed it before Mookie himself ever did. ... [I]n moments of concentration, determination or occasionally celebration, Betts' upper lip will curl on the left side."

Nobody ever really said anything about it until, I think, 2014 when I got called up. I got some texts from my fam that was watching the game saying I snarled. That's when I became aware of it. ... If you told me to do it, I don't know how to do it. It just kind of happens. ... I'm assuming I've done it for a long time. I'm not aware of it, though. I guess it's like a concentration face? ... I didn't realize people paid that much attention to that kind of thing.
Brock Holt: "We've all tried to imitate it. But none of us can do it, so it's his deal."

Kynlee Betts, Mookie's daughter, seemed to be doing it when she was only one day old.

David Price:
I used to feel like every time I looked at Mookie, he was doing that. ... My wife said the same thing. And my wife's mom, the first time she saw Mookie, she was like, "Is his lip stuck? What's going on?"
Also: Knox Kelly (three-year-old son of former Red Sox and current Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly) was asked what his favourite team was. ... It's "Mookie Betts".

March 8, 2019

Dustin Pedroia's Debut Goes Well; Darwinzon Hernandez Adjusts, Continues Scoreless Inning Streak

Dustin Pedroia reached base in his lone plate appearance on Thursday, singling off the glove of the shortstop. He raced to second on a wild pitch and came around on Rafael Devers's double, Boston's only run in a 12-1 loss to the Twins.
The guys the last couple of days were like, "You better swing at the first pitch." I haven't seen a pitch in a game since May. I really wasn't going to swing at it, but I saw it up there and am like, "Might as well let it fly."
He swung and missed Kohl Stewart's 93-mph fastball, but later rapped a single.
I was more happy running around the bases and moving around. That was cool. ... You kind of have to be [confident in yourself], you know. ... If I'm not confident about it, it's not going to happen. ... I'm going to play good if I'm out there. That's the bottom line. The only thing holding me back is my knee. If we get that fine, I'll be good.
Pedroia had one fielding chance at second, a routine grounder that he fielded cleanly. Today, Pedroia said he felt "pretty good", reminding the media that his workday had extended beyond the two innings on the field.
While you were at Hooters eating clam chowder with no clams in it, I was still here.
Pedroia is scheduled to play tomorrow against the Mets.

Darwinzon Hernandez pitched three shutout innings this afternoon, but the Red Sox managed only two hits and lost to the Orioles 4-2. (Tzu-Wei Lin doubled in a run in the second inning and Eduardo Nunez singled in the sixth.)

Hernandez issued a walk and hit two batters in the first inning, but escaped trouble thanks to two strikeouts and a caught stealing. After a chat with catcher Christian Vazquez, Hernandez pitched a clean second and, after giving up a hit to start the third, got two ground balls for a force and a double play.
In the first inning, I was a little fast. My mechanics were a little off. When I came into the dugout, Christian Vazquez talked to me and so did the pitching coach. They told me [to] calm down and not be so fast. Thanks to those guys, I was able to lock in and control my tempo.
Manager Alex Cora was impressed:
He slowed down and his delivery was a lot cleaner in the second inning. For a young kid, he let the stuff play in the strike zone and did a good job. ... [H]e looks like he belongs.... This is a guy that is going to contribute. I'm not saying March 28 or in September; in between that, he's going to be a part of this and he's going to make an impact.
Hernandez has thrown seven shutout innings this spring, with four hits, four walks, and 10 strikeouts.

On Wednesday, Triston Casas, 19 years old and the Red Sox's first-round draft pick last year, took batting practice against Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, and Matt Barnes.
I saw 20 pitches, I swung at probably 12 or 13. I didn't make contact once. ... I'm not sure if [Sale] was just trying to groove the first one. But at first I was like, "Man, this doesn't look too bad." But then he brought the next one with a little two-seam grip and it almost hit my back hip, and I was like, "Oh, OK, now we're getting somewhere." Then he flipped me a slider, and I almost came out of my shoes taking it. ... Man, I've got a lot of work to do if I want to get to that level to be able to hit those guys. ... I'm definitely a little taken aback. 
Nick Northcut, a 19-year-old third baseman, was amazed by Eovaldi's splitter.
[Eovaldi] came right at us. The split, I don't know how guys pick that up. It just comes out of his hand, and it's literally like it just stops right in front of you and drops straight to the ground. I'd never seen a split-finger like that before. Ever.

March 6, 2019

Steven Wright Suspended For 80 Games After Testing Positive For GHRP-2

Steven Wright tested positive in the off-season for Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide 2 (GHRP-2), a performance-enhancing substance, and has been suspended by MLB for 80 games.

Wright said he found out about the positive test sometime after Christmas and filed an appeal. He told the Red Sox a suspension might be coming. Wright was told late on Tuesday night that his appeal was denied. He will be eligible to pitch for Boston on June 24 (but is ineligible for the postseason).

Wright started the 2018 season with a 15-game suspension after MLB investigated a heated argument between Wright and his wife.
I feel all right because I know the truth. And that's the biggest thing. I went through it last year, and it was hard last year because I'm a private guy, and all of a sudden my life goes public. With this, I know the truth, and people close to me know I wouldn't intentionally do this to try to get an upper hand. ...

I turned over everything. It was a pretty rigorous investigation as far as figuring out where it came from. I don't think it's from any of the doctors. I know for a fact it wasn't from the doctors. It somehow got in there, but it's such low levels that it could have come from anything.
Sean McAdam (Boston Sports Journal) wrote that the news "won't do much" to alter the Red Sox's pitching plans.
Wright underwent an arthroscopic procedure last November ... [and] wasn't going to be ready to start the season with the team. ...

Over the winter, Wright's name was mentioned a number of times by president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski as a potential late-inning bullpen candidate, but that never seemed realistic, given Wright's chronic unavailability for the last few seasons. ...

There are plenty of candidates for the bullpen spot and with Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez, the Sox have candidates to fill in as spot starters.

But the larger question might be Wright's future with the organization.

Schadenfreude 245 (A Continuing Series)

George A. King III, Post:
Luis Severino was stuffed into the Carl Pavano Memorial MRI tube before he could make his first exhibition start on Tuesday, and thanks to inflammation in his right rotator cuff, the Yankees ace won't be available to face the Orioles on Opening Day in The Bronx.

Eleven days into the spring-training schedule, the Yankees don't exactly know when Severino will reappear on a mound, which is uncomfortable.

While throwing in the bullpen before the Braves-Yankees game at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday, Severino unleashed his first slider of the day and felt something in right shoulder ...

Boone believed the MRI exam went well, but when your ace walks off a bullpen mound in early March and the test shows something wrong in the dreaded rotator-cuff area, there is a level of concern.
Bill Madden, Daily News:
The one area of vulnerability on this otherwise potentially deepest Yankee team in memory just got a little more vulnerable Tuesday when, after cracking off his first slider in his pre-game bullpen session, Luis Severino felt a sudden sharp pain in his shoulder.

It was enough for the burgeoning Yankee ace to turn to pitching coach Larry Rothschild and declare: "No Mas!" — his first spring training start abruptly cancelled.

From there, it was off to the nearby hospital for an MRI, which revealed inflammation, and nothing more the Yankees are at least acknowledging, in the rotator cuff. Just the same, it's the dreaded rotator cuff. ...

Tear or no tear, however, this is not good. ...

So the Yankee rotation to start the season is now down to three sure things: Masahiro Tanaka (who is always good for at least one trip to the disabled list), J.A. Happ and James Paxton. ...

[F]or the foreseeable future, the Yankees are going to be without the one player they could least afford to lose.

About that possible balance of power shift in the AL East? Not so fast.

Kristie Ackert, Daily News:
This will stretch the Yankees' starting pitching, already thin, to start the season.

The Bombers were already planning to start the season without CC Sabathia, who is behind in his preseason work because of offseason knee surgery and then a heart procedure this winter. Sabathia will also have to serve a five-game suspension for throwing a retaliatory pitch during a game at the Rays last September. ...

[The possible replacements] "are all guys who have come in throwing really well," Boone said. "I would throw Domingo into that, I would throw Loaisiga in that and (Tommy) Kahnle and Cessa ... we're really excited" ...

After a bout with right shoulder inflammation, Loaisiga struggled in five appearances out of the pen, pitching to a 10.80 ERA. ...

German started 14 games for the Yankees last season, posting a 5.57 ERA and a 1.331 WHIP. ...

Cessa made five starts last season going 1-4 with a 6.50 ERA, striking out 13 and walking seven in 18 innings pitched.
George A. King III, Post:
Aaron Hicks says his back is feeling better, but he doesn't know when he will return to the lineup.

The switch-hitting center fielder missed his second straight game Tuesday ... because of lower back discomfort. ...

"I've dealt with back pain before, but it wasn't like this" [said Hicks, who signed a seven-year, $70 million deal this winter].
Eno Sarris, The Athletic:
"They had me throw more breaking balls than I ever had before," [Sonny] Gray said of New York.

It's just they had him throwing the wrong breaking ball.

"I can't command my slider that well," the new Reds starter admitted. "I want to throw my slider in the dirt with two strikes, and that's about it. ... When I try to throw sliders for a strike, I get around it and it's just a shitty spinning pitch. ... I'm at 2-0 and I'm throwing a slider, and either I'm throwing a shitty slider in the zone, or I'm yanking it into the dirt and it's 3-0 and I'm screwed either way.

"They love sliders," he said of the Yankees. ... "[B]ut you might not realize how many shitty counts you're getting in while throwing all those sliders."

The MFY set a major league record last season by hitting 267 home runs last season.
Brett Gardner: "We're going to hit more this year."

Aaron Judge: "Oh, definitely. You get this whole team healthy, we're going to crush the record that we set last year."
Joel Sherman, Post:
Everyone knows the 2018 Yankees didn't win it all despite their prodigious power, and the champion Red Sox wielded a better all-around offense, with fewer strikeouts and a higher batting average.
Other off-season back pages:

March 5, 2019

Cora On Rodriguez: "He Needs To Get Better. I'm Going To Be Hard On Him."

Eduardo Rodriguez pitched into the seventh inning in only two of his 23 starts last year.

In five of six starts from May 15 to June 12, Rodriguez could not give the Red Sox six innings, but still threw between 98 and 110 pitches:
May  15 - 5.0 IP,  98 pitches
May  20 - 5.2 IP, 110 pitches
May  25 - 5.2 IP, 101 pitches
May  30 - 6.2 IP, 100 pitches
June  6 - 5.2 IP, 107 pitches
June 12 - 5.2 IP, 109 pitches
June 17 - 6.0 IP, 113 pitches
For several seasons, we have been told Rodriguez has amazing stuff - and there have been exciting flashes (17 scoreless innings last July before being sidelined with an injured ankle) - yet his starts are often frustrating. He would get ahead of batters, but then start nibbling around the edges of the strike zone, perhaps trying to be too fine, in the way that Daisuke Matsuzaka (and Jon Lester before him) used to do.

On Monday against the Mets, Rodriguez allowed three hits in two scoreless innings, with two strikeouts - a pretty bland spring line, really - but manager Alex Cora was not pleased:
There were two at-bats there, the one against (Amed) Rosario and the Dominic Smith one, there were two outs, Rosario, he got ahead right away and then it became a long at-bat, then Smith with two outs, a lefty, he falls behind on 3-0 count. For him to go deeper into games, he needs to attack guys. His stuff was good, he got some swings and misses but those are things we need to get better and he knows it. ... He needs to get better. The stuff is really good, we saw it, threw a slider to (Michael) Conforto, struck him out, swing and miss, good change-ups but we have to be more efficient.
In both innings, Rodriguez retired the first two batters, then gave up singles, one in the first and two in the second, before recording the third out. He needed 41 pitches to get through the two innings (25 strikes, 16 balls).

The next day, Cora elaborated:
[H]e knows what I expect out of him, what we want ... You push guys in different way. He knows I'm going to be hard on him because I know the ceiling. This guy, he's a stud. ... I'll keep pushing him to be great.
Nathan Eovaldi (like many pitchers) has suffered from the same issue:
I'd get ahead of guys, and I'd try to make that perfect pitch, and then I'd leave it up, and it's either a hit or it's a foul ball, (then another) foul ball, and then you end up working an 0-2 count on two pitches into an eight-pitch at-bat. That's something that just can't happen.
Dustin Pedroia is penciled in for his first spring game on Thursday (a game that will be broadcast by ESPN). "I feel good. I feel like I'm just preparing for another season. ... I don't want to get too excited."

March 4, 2019

Beast Mode

David Ortiz has a "good vibe" about the 2019 Red Sox:
I have an even better feeling this year than the feeling I had last year and I told you guys how good I felt about the ball club last year. You can see on the players' faces the experience that they went through during the playoffs, what they learned and how confident you feel about what you did. As a player I can tell you that plays a big role the following season. ...

Repeating is hard. But I also believe it depends on who comes on board and how tight you keep your ball club. Teams have a tendency to make moves. I also noticed last season, with the Houston Astros, that injuries play a big role with teams also. Everybody's healthy here, thank God. Everybody's good to go. Everybody's in unbelievable shape. That's not an issue here. So, why not? The confidence level is better than last year. They're in beast mode and it's beautiful. I love seeing it. ...

These guys are locked in. I was listening to their conversation [at the batting cages] for about half an hour. I didn't say anything. I just heard them talking about mechanics, hands, approach, and this and that. What that tells you is these guys are not trying to miss a beat. They're not trying to waste time. ... Mookie doesn't want to be good. He wants to be perfect. That's what makes him so good. That kid, I don't know if he learned a lot from me but I learned more from him. ... [J.D. Martinez is] the one who everybody getting tips from. He's a psychopath. This dude is at another level of being good and wanting to be better.

March 2, 2019

It's Going To Take A Lot Of Money To Keep Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts, when asked for his comments on Bryce Harper's 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies.
He deserves it — that and more. He's a great player, so good for him. ... We're all different players. We all have different things that are important. ... I'll just continue to worry about what's going on now.
WAR (Last Four Seasons)
               2015   2016   2017   2018    4-Year Total
Bryce Harper   10.0    1.5    4.7    1.3       17.5
Mookie Betts    5.9    9.7    6.4   10.9       32.9
Mookie is nine days older than Harper.

Fun Fact: When Harper receives his final paycheck from the Phillies in 2031, Bobby Bonilla will still be four years away from his final paycheck from the Mets!

In three games, Jackie Bradley is 6-for-8, with a double and two home runs giving him a (ho-hum) 2.375 OPS. ... Rafael Devers is 6-for-11. ... Three of Michael Chavez's four hits have been three-run homers. He has nine RBI in six games. .. Bryce Brentz has scored six runs in five games.

Alex Cora was asked what he has "learned about Boston, about baseball, about himself, as manager of the Red Sox that he didn't learn as a player with the Red Sox":
People in Boston actually listen to what the manager says. It's hard to detach yourself from the job. It's very hard. Anywhere you go, you have to answer for the team. ... When I was playing I was able to have dinner and ... relax. But it's there every time . . . every time . . . every time. We had expectations as players, but now, and I don’t know if it's me, or the territory, or the time, but it just seems the expectations are way high all the time. Non-stop. Non-stop. ...

I turn it [sports radio] on, yes, I turn it on. Sometimes I'll laugh and say, "Come on, man, that's not true." ... But I listen more now than I used to. I want to hear what's being said. I know how it works in this city. I know there are powerful voices in this city. It's not that I really care about what they say, but you want to have a pulse of what’s going on. I don't do it on a daily basis.
Jen McCaffrey, The Atlantic:
This time last year, Ryan​ Brasier​ hadn't even​ signed​ a minor-league deal​ with the​ Red​ Sox. ...

Over six relief appearances last spring, Brasier impressed enough that when the Red Sox needed an extra arm in July, they turned to the right-hander, who'd started the year on fire at Triple-A Pawtucket — with a 1.34 ERA over 34 appearances. Brasier had last pitched in the majors in 2013. The right-hander never returned to Pawtucket, solidifying Boston's bullpen over the summer with a 1.60 ERA in 34 appearances in one of the more unpredictable stories of last season.

Now, the Red Sox are searching for the next Ryan Brasier. His out-of-nowhere success lends credence to the notion that no reliever, no matter his path, should be dismissed.
The Salem Red Sox will have the first all-female broadcasting team in professional baseball history, with Melanie Newman joining Suzie Cool. Newman: "The timing could not have been more perfect; the ability to finally work with Suzie, after bonding over social media, the way most of us women in sports have ... The cherry on top is working in the farm system of the team that my family is rooted in." (Newman grew up as a Red Sox fan in Atlanta.) There are now eight women broadcasting in professional baseball.

February 27, 2019

MLB Will Use Robot Umpires This Season ... In The Independent Atlantic League

Major League Baseball has taken the first steps toward the use of a computerized strike zone!

MLB and the independent Atlantic League have announced a three-year agreement allowing MLB to use the league as a testing ground "to observe the effects of potential future rule changes and equipment".

Baseball America reports that one of the changes for the 2019 season will be using Trackman to call balls and strikes.
MLB will install Trackman radar devices at all eight Atlantic League stadiums so that all 30 MLB teams can receive in-depth data on each and every pitch and ball put in play at any Atlantic League game. ...

"A numbers of scouts had suggested over the past few years that if we could ever get Trackman it would make a difference in the exposure players receive," [Atlantic League President Rick] White said. "Because of the nature of our players, virtually every one of our games is scouted. But the challenge those scouts had was they were having difficulty interpreting their personal view versus the advanced analytics that every affiliated player has at the Double-A/Triple-A level. This gets past that." ...

By testing in the Atlantic League, MLB will get significantly more data than it could in any spring training or Arizona Fall League trial. The league will have eight teams playing a 140-game schedule. ...
In May 2018, Commissioner Rob Manfred said:
I think we are much closer than we were a year ago to having the technological capability to actually call the strike zone. ... The accuracy [of PITCHf/x] is way up - way better than what it was a year ago. The technology continues to move ... and it actually moved a little faster than I might have thought. ... When you take away the home plate umpire's control over the strike zone, you take away a principal piece of his authority ... You really need to think carefully about whether you want to make that change. ... Fifteen years ago, the umpires were violently opposed to instant replay. They came around and actually wanted it. Who knows?
The Atlantic League may also move back the pitcher's mound, but the article does not elaborate. (This article, also in Baseball America, suggests that increasing the distance from the mound to the plate may help pitchers, which is the opposite of what MLB wants.)

Back in 2013, the league first rolled out new rules to speed up their games, limiting the time between innings to no more than 125 seconds and instructing umpires to call the high strike. In 2014, the league cut the number of warm-up pitches from eight to six, eliminated the need to throw pitches for intentional walks, and allowed each team only three timeouts for defensive meetings per game. It also emphasized that umpires should apply the rule stating that batters remain in the box.

The 2019 Atlantic League:
Liberty Division
High Point Rockers - High Point, NC
Long Island Ducks - Central Islip, NY
New Britain Bees - New Britain, CT
Somerset Patriots - Bridgewater, NJ

Freedom Division
Lancaster Barnstormers - Lancaster, PA
Southern Maryland Blue Crabs - Waldorf, MD
Sugar Land Skeeters - Sugar Land, TX
York Revolution - York, PA