February 20, 2004

Leading Off. Okay, first day of spring training in Fort Myers -- what should we talk about? How about who won't be suiting up for the 2005 Red Sox? ... Sigh. Not that the issue of the potential free agents -- Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek, David Ortiz and Scott Williamson -- isn't a legitimate issue -- those are some pretty big names -- but I do hope the Boston media turn their collective attention to this season soon.

Speaking of Pedro, he may not arrive in Florida until next Monday because of a family medical issue. Epstein: "We'll know more about that in the next couple of days. ... It's very, very legitimate and a serious issue that requires his attention." ... In New York, Filip Bondy writes: "Now that the stardust has settled and the sour grapes are drying on the vine, it may be time to whisper the truth that no Yankee fan wants to hear: Last laugh aside, the Red Sox had by far the better offseason. It is not an easy thing to write ... [but] Epstein filled his two biggest holes and lost no stars and is in Fort Myers with the more balanced team."... The best pitching staff in the AL?

Ian Browne, mlb.com: "Pitchers and catchers began reporting to camp at the team's minor league complex Friday morning, with the first workout under new manager Terry Francona slated for Saturday. ... Right-hander Curt Schilling -- the glitzy new addition to the starting rotation -- arrived Wednesday and immediately threw off the mound. ... Fort Myers resident Derek Lowe is also well into his spring conditioning program and will go into the season at full throttle. ... Kevin Millar didn't wait until the full squad reports on Feb. 24. He arrived Thursday night and he said earlier this week he's never been so excited for a season to begin." [More]

According to Bob Hohler, "The Sox are expected to take a close look during spring training at whether to alter their regular lineup. The possibilities could range from flip-flopping Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez in the third and fourth slots to experimenting with replacements for Johnny Damon as the leadoff hitter." ... Now this I like. Damon's .345 on-base percentage was one of the worst of the regulars (Walker .333, Nomar .345) and yet Gump glued him to the top of the order while AL batting champion Bill Mueller (.398 OBP, 2nd to Manny's .427) hit 8th. Notice how Gump batted the two worst OBP guys 1-2 almost all year long? God, I hate that &*%#@ moron.

Blogger El Guapo's Ghost lists 3 rules for managers regarding batting order: (1) Communicate with your players and find out where they, honestly, are most comfortable; (2) Other than the leadoff position*, have your best hitters bat first. The more at-bats going to your best hitters - the better; and (3) If the hitters are essentially equal, flip-flop RHB and LHB for better late inning match ups. [*Hitting leadoff is the only exception because it is advantageous for the first hitter to see as many pitches as possible for his teammates to get a feel for the stuff the starter has on that particular day.]

I generally agree with EGG's points, and because I put more emphasis on batting order than most sabermetric studies say I should, I like the openness of Francona and Epstein. I wouldn't mind seeing Nixon and Mueller bat 1-2 against right-handed pitchers and then replacing Nixon with Damon against lefties. Some Damon numbers:
2003    AB   AVG   OBP   SLG    OPS

#1 571 .266 .334 .392 .726
#7 7 .429 .600 .429 1.029
#8 19 .474 .565 .895 1.460
#9 11 .182 .308 .182 .490
2001-03 AB   AVG   OBP   SLG    OPS

#1 1673 .265 .333 .387 .720
#2 156 .321 .384 .532 .916
#8 20 .450 .542 .850 1.392
It's a small sample, but maybe Damon really likes hitting 8th. Here are his numbers for leading off an inning:
2001-03 AB   AVG   OBP   SLG    OPS

700 .276 .332 .393 .725
I don't know how many more runs the Red Sox could have been expected to score in 2003 if Damon had batted 8th and he did see a lot of pitches per PA (4.1, 4th in the AL, behind Jason Giambi (4.2) and Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez (4.3)). I guess the question Francona should ask Damon is: How comfortable does feel about batting somewhere else in the order? Judging from what little evidence we have, his performance doesn't appear to suffer. ... And I want Manny hitting third.

Finally, there are a few reports that the Red Sox and Yankees are interested in 38-year-old Orlando Hernandez. However, Hernandez recently turned down an offer to audition in Fort Myers because, according to his agent, he did "not [want] to look too eager or desperate." Uh, okay. Hernandez will have an open workout in Miami on Monday (at his last workout back on January 22, his fastball never topped 78 mph), so I guess the Red Sox will send someone for curiosity's sake. ... The Yankees have assigned Fat Billy's #22 and Andy Pettitte's #46 to Joe Girardi and Donovan Osborne, respectively.

No comments: