March 31, 2018

G3: Red Sox 3, Rays 2

Red Sox - 010 101 000 - 3  7  0
Rays    - 000 001 010 - 2  8  1
In 2017 (according to Alex Speier's recent must-read article on baseball's "launch angle revolution"), Xander Bogaerts averaged just 1.2 degrees on balls put in play at 100+ mph. That was the lowest mark among the 213 MLB players who put at least 50 balls in play at that velocity. In other words, the balls Bogaerts hit hardest last year were almost always grounders.

Therefore, Bogaerts was perhaps the Red Sox hitter with the most to gain from adjusting his swing to insure the ball left his bat at the best possible angle. In only three games, it is clear that he is a changed man at the plate. Bogaerts singled, doubled, and homered on Saturday; he is now 8-for-12, with six extra-base hits. Bogaerts is the only American League player in the last 100 years (and quite probably the only one in the AL's 118-year history) to have two or more extra-base hits in each of his team's first three games of the season. The only other player to do so in the last 100 years is Adrian "Evil Bert" Gonzalez, who did it for the 2015 Dodgers.

Speier tweeted during the game that Bogaerts has now hit four balls this season with an exit velocity of 100+ MPH and a launch angle of 20+ degrees. He hit only six balls that hard and at that angle all of that season. That is a jaw-dropping turnaround. ... Rob Bradford of WEEI asks an intriguing and exciting question: "What if this is the real Xander Bogaerts?"

In the second inning, X also showed patience, by laying off a 2-1 pitch that was just a little bit too low. Last year, perhaps, he would have swung at it, and grounded to second. The next pitch from Andrew Kittredge (3.1-3-2-1-1, 57) was slightly higher and X jumped on it, lining it over the wall in left-center for his first homer of the year.

Bogaerts's double in the sixth brought home J.D. Martinez, who had doubled right before him. And he and Martinez began the eighth with singles, but were stranded when Sandy Leon struck out with the bases loaded.

Rick Porcello (5.1-6-1-1-4, 89) was solid, allowing only two Tampa Bay runners to second base in the first five innings. Carlos Gomez doubled leading off the sixth and went to third on Matt Duffy's one-out single to shallow left. Heath Hembree gave up a sac fly to Joey Wendle, snapping Boston's starting pitcher scoreless streak at 18 innings. The run also cut the Red Sox's lead to 2-1.

Lefty reliever Bobby Poyner made his major league debut in the seventh, coming in with two outs and a man on first, and getting Kevin Kiermaier to pop out to third. Poyner stayed in to begin the eighth and Carlos Gomez homered on his first pitch of the inning, bringing the Rays to within one run again, 3-2. Poyner got an out before handing the ball to Carson Smith, who surrendered a single and a stolen base to Duffy. Adeiny Hechavarria ended the threat with a fly to center, the last of seven putouts registered by Andrew Benintendi.

In the bottom of the ninth, it appeared that Craig Kimbrel's 3-2 pitch to Mallex Smith caught the bottom of the strike zone, but plate umpire Andy Fletcher thought otherwise and sent the potential tying run to first base on a walk. (BrooksBaseball recorded the pitch as out of the strike zone.) Pinch-hitter C.J. Cron hit a soft, sinking liner towards shortstop. Bogaerts ran in, caught it at his shoelaces and fired quickly to first, doubling off Smith. Kimbrel then got Denard Span to pop up - to Bogaerts at short.

The Red Sox (2-1) are now tied with the Yankees for first place in the AL East.

I was going to mention Speier's story in a separate post, but I'll put it here instead:
J.D. Martinez is a big believer in achieving the optimum "launch angle" at the plate. The Red Sox's new DH saw the light during the 2013-14 offseason, when he worked with private hitting instructors Craig Wallenbrock and Robert Van Scoyoc.
It was an out-of-body experience. ... Like, "This is so crazy. Everything I've been taught for so long has been so wrong. Now, I see everything we're trying to do and how this makes sense." You take a million swings one way and all of a sudden you've got to tell your body you can't do that anymore and have to take a million swings this way. [In his first round of batting practice in the Venezuelan Winter League in November 2013, Martinez crushed ball after ball in the air, clearing the fences with ease from foul line to foul line.] I was like, "What in the world? What is this?" I'm looking around like, "I'm cheating." Honest to God, I felt like I was cheating.
Martinez's career took off like a rocket in 2014. His batting average improved by 65 points, his slugging jumped from .378 to .553, and his OPS rose from .650 to .912. He became a superstar.

In his first three seasons (2011-13), Martinez hit 24 home runs in 975 plate appearances. In 2014, he hit 23 dongs in only 480 PAs. Last season, he went deep 45 times and led all hitters with a .690 slugging percentage.

Martinez easily outslugged Giancarlo Stanton (.631), Mike Trout (.629), and Aaron Judge (.627) in 2017, but because he split time with the Tigers and Diamondbacks, he did not qualify among the league leaders in either the AL or NL. (By comparison, Mookie Betts led the Red Sox in slugging last year, at .459.)

Alex Speier posted a phenomenal article on the launch angle revolution on the Globe's site:
For a Red Sox team that finished last in the American League in homers in 2017, the addition of Martinez made all the sense in the world. But so did an embrace of the concepts that permitted him to transform his career. If some of the Red Sox players who struggled to hit for power last year can tap into better forms of contact, the power-deficient 2017 team could be drastically different in 2018. ...

The Sox' best contact rarely came at a launch angle that delivered the maximum impact. According to BaseballSavant.com, on balls put in play at 100 m.p.h. or greater, the Sox had the lowest average launch angle in the majors — 9.3 degrees — suggesting a team that hit plenty of low liners that yielded solid batting averages but had little chance of leaving the park. ...

Bogaerts was the most extreme example, but he wasn't alone. Jackie Bradley Jr. was in a similar boat, with most of his hardest hits ground balls. Mookie Betts, at a 5.3 degree average launch angle, ranked 203rd. ...

Martinez, meanwhile, had an average launch angle of 19.6 degrees, and his most frequent top-end exit velocities came at a 27 degree launch angle that is ideal for producing home runs. He launched one homer for every 10.9 plate appearances, one of the best ratios in history. ...

[A]s they enter 2018, the Red Sox appear ready for liftoff, with Martinez serving as the flag bearer for their embrace of a hitting revolution, and several of his teammates hoping to tap into the same reservoirs that transformed his career.
See, also, older articles at FiveThirtyEight and the Washington Post.
Rick Porcello / Andrew Kittredge
Betts, RF
Benintendi, CF
Ramirez, DH
Martinez, LF
Bogaerts, SS
Moreland, 1B
Nunez, 3B
Holt, 2B
Leon, C
Some cool stuff, thanks to Elias Says:

Joe Panik is the first player in major league history to hit a home run in each of two consecutive 1-0 games. The Giants beat the Dodgers in both games. (Panik's record is for any two consecutive games, not only two games to start a season.) Also, only one other team has ever started a season with a pair of 1-0 wins. The Reds beat the Cardinals on April 21 and 22, 1943.

The Tigers lost their home opener to the Pirates 13-10 in 13 innings, tying the franchise record for the most runs allowed in a home opener. The other instance was the first game the Tigers ever played. On April 25, 1901, the Milwaukee Brewers (no relation to the current team) led 13-4 going into the bottom of the ninth. The Tigers scored 10 times and won the game 14-13.

The Marlins beat the Cubs 2-1 in 17 innings on Friday night. The only other time two teams played at least 17 innings in either their first or second game of a season was on April 9, 1969, when the Royals beat the Twins 4-3 in 17 innings. That was the second game of the season for each team (and the second game ever for the Royals).

Red Sox Seasons In Which The Starting Pitchers Allowed No Runs In The First Two Games
1919 - April 23 - Carl Mays: 9 innings (beat Yankees 10-0) 
       April 27 - Sam Jones: 9 innings (beat Yankees 8-0)
1940 - April 16 - Lefty Grove: 9 innings (beat Senators 1-0)
       April 18 - Jim Bagby: 9 innings (beat Senators 7-0)
2018 - March 29 - Chris Sale: 6 innings (lost to Rays 6-4)
       March 30 - David Price: 7 innings (beat Rays 1-0)

March 30, 2018

G2: Red Sox 1, Rays 0

Red Sox - 000 000 100 - 1  7  0
Rays    - 000 000 000 - 0  4  0 
David Price (7-4-0-0-5) had thrown only 76 pitches through seven innings and the Rays were sending up their 7-8-9 hitters in the bottom of the eighth. Considering what happened yesterday and with the Red Sox holding a slim 1-0 lead, I would have thought Price would be given another inning. And that is certainly what I wanted to see.

But manager Alex Cora went to the bullpen and Matt Barnes was on the mound. Barnes struck out the first batter, but walked pinch-hitter Denard Span (after getting ahead 0-2). Joey Wendle, another pinch-hitter, smoked a line drive that (whew!) went directly to third baseman Rafael Devers. Matt Duffy then took two balls before popping up to first. Craig Kimbrel, who struck out 23 of the 28 Rays he faced last season, set down the side on strikes in the ninth.

The game's lone run came when Xander Bogaerts led off the seventh with a double against Chaz Roe. Jose Alvarado relieved Roe and Rafael Devers grounded a single up the middle to bring Bogaerts home. X, who had two doubles yesterday, collected two more tonight. It is extremely encouraging to see Bogaerts hitting the ball in the air right away. Eduardo Nunez beat out an infield single to first - and banged his right knee during a head-first slide into the bag - but a prolonged rally was scuttled when Jackie Bradley grounded into a double play.

Price was the star of the game, retiring the first 10 batters on 31 pitches (of which only nine were balls) and allowing only one Tampa Bay runner past first base. He allowed two singles in the fourth, one of which was an infield hit. A leadoff single in the fifth was shrugged off with a fielder's choice and a double play. Price said during spring training how astounded and happy he was that all of his pitches were sharp so soon and that was certainly the case tonight.

The Red Sox's starting pitchers have thrown 13 shutout innings (Sale 6, Price 7) to begin the year. The last time Boston's starting pitchers did not allow a run in the season's first two games was in 1940. On April 16, facing the Senators in Washington, Lefty Grove pitched a two-hit shutout, winning 1-0. (Grove also had two hits himself.) After an off-day, Jim Bagby went the distance in a 7-0 win.

(Looking through the 1940 schedule, this game would have been fun to see!)
David Price / Blake Snell
Betts, RF
Benintendi, LF
Ramirez, 1B
Martinez, DH
Bogaerts, SS
Devers, 3B
Nunez, 2B
Bradley, CF
Vazquez, C
After a "pathetic" performance* (Joe Kelly's words) on Opening Day, the Red Sox return to the Trop, hoping to have (and give their fans) a more enjoyable day.

Eduardo Nunez is the first Red Sox player to hit an inside-the-park home run on Opening Day since Carl Yastrzemski did it on April 10, 1968, in Detroit. Yaz's ITPHR came with two outs in the top of the ninth and was his second home run of the game. It was also the third and last ITPHR of his career.

Also: Shohei Ohtani was the Angels' DH on Opening Day, batting eighth. He got his first major league hit on the first pitch he saw, singling in the second inning. Ohtani makes his mound debut on Sunday.

*: But most certainly not as pathetic as John Sterling's newest HR call. ("This one is so different. I don't know if anyone will get it.") Even if they get it, they don't want it. Jesus, O'Brien is vintage Vin Scully compared to this guy.

March 29, 2018

Dave O'Brien's Opening Day Offensive: Going To Your First Baseball Game Somewhere Other Than Fenway Park Still Counts As Seeing An Authentic Major League Game

First things first: I want to thank NESN for not starting the 2018 season with the garbage that cluttered our screens during the second half of last season. Nothing worthwhile was ever shown in those graphics. It was usually information the announcers had already mentioned at least once or "facts" like 'The Red Sox have a 30-17 record when Jackie Bradley hits a home run'. Being exposed to stuff like that can only make you dumber.

Okay, onto Game 1, wherein we learn that Dave O'Brien took his idiot pills.

As NESN began the bottom of the third:
Guerin Austin: Now [Chris Sale] told us that he attended the Devil Rays' first game here at Tropicana Field, back in 1998. He said he was nine years old, it was a birthday present, and he came with his uncle and he sat in Section 144, and it is something that he will never forget. And, guys, almost 20 years to the day, he is on the mound for the Red Sox, here at Tropicana Field, on Opening Day. Now his uncle is not here, but he said he has a huge group of family and friends from his hometown of Lakeland, Florida, and, guys, he said to be back here in this building today is pretty special.

O'Brien: I think it's a lesson for everybody, right? It doesn't have to be Fenway, or an iconic ball park, to have your great memories from. It's a major league stadium, and if you are into it at that age, and, you now, watching guys do what you dream of doing one day, it will always be special.

Jerry Remy: There's no question about that.
So O'Brien believes that hearing a story about a nine-year-old kid enjoying himself at a Devil Rays game imparts some sort of lesson to all of us. That lesson appears to be that even though you didn't see your first baseball game at Fenway Park, it still counts as your first major league game and the fun you had was legitimate. That is extremely offensive.

What I am about to say may shock Dave O'Brien, but: MOST baseball fans did NOT see their first game at Fenway Park. (In fact, the numbers are not even close.) But, hey, if your uncle drags you to a dump like the Trop when you are only nine, and you somehow have fun, you might think it was special. ... And it was! It totally was. Sure, I saw my first game at awesome Fenway Park, but I'm sure your game was special, too, "if you were into it at that age".

Also: As Jerry Remy named the Red Sox's fielders in the bottom of the first inning, NESN's on-screen graphic informed us that last year's team made 107 errors. Fielding percentage may have been discredited as a meaningful metric sometime around 1890, but NESN is determined to keep using it - nay, emphasizing it - 130 years later.

G1: Rays 6, Red Sox 4

Red Sox - 030 000 100 - 4  8  0
Rays    - 000 000 06x - 6  4  0 
The Red Sox outfield for Opening Day in both 2017 and 2018 was Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley, and Mookie Betts. The last time Boston had the same outfield for consecutive Opening Days was way back in 2002-03, when Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and Trot Nixon patrolled the outer garden.

I well remember Opening Day in 2003. It was late March and the Red Sox were at Tropicana Field. They were cruising 4-0 behind their ace (Pedro) at the seventh-inning stretch. Things fell apart, however, and the bullpen coughed up the game. Boston lost 6-4.

Zip ahead 15 years - and pretty much the same thing happened. Chris Sale was dominant (6-1-0-3-9, 92) and the Red Sox held a comfortable 4-0 lead in the middle of the eighth, thanks (in part) to an inside-the-park, two-run homer from Eduardo Nunez. But things fell apart, and the bullpen coughed up the game. Boston lost 6-4. (The 2017 Red Sox did not have a blown lead of more than three runs all season, but the 2018 team blew a four-run cushion in its first game.)

NESN's Jerry Remy said the collapse had happened in the "blink of an eye", but the exact opposite was true. This was a slow-motion train wreck, drawn out for maximum anger and frustration. Joe Kelly began the bottom of the eighth by walking Daniel Robertson. Home plate umpire Jeff Nelson's strike zone suddenly shrunk and Kelly was getting squeezed. He managed to strike out Rob Refsnyder on a 2-2 pitch that was worse than some of the pitches Nelson had called balls. Matt Duffy promptly doubled to right center and the shutout was gone. Kelly then issued two full-count walks, loading the bases. Kelly threw 29 pitches and he works so slow, he makes Clay Buchholz look like Sale in a rush, so this was apparently the longest eye-blink in human history. (And - don't open your eyes - it wasn't done yet.)

Carson Smith took over and walked in a run. Boston still led 4-2. He struck out Wilson Ramos for the second out. His 0-1 pitch to Denard Span went to the backstop; however, in a strike of good luck, the runners could not advance. But it did not matter. Smith got ahead 1-2, but threw two balls - and after Span fouled off a full-count pitch, he drilled a three-run triple to the wall in right. The Rays led 5-4. An infield single made it 6-4.

Nunez doubled with two outs in the ninth against Crooked Hat Colome, but Jackie Bradley grounded to second and the game was over, in an even three hours.

The first seven innings belonged to Boston. Betts crushed Chris Archer's first pitch to deep center, but Kevin Kiermaier made a fantastic catch. Archer (6-6-4-1-6, 81) walked J.D. Martinez to open the second. Xander Bogaerts (3-for-4) doubled and Rafael Devers's groundout scored JDM with the season's first run.

Nunez lofted a fly ball to left-center. Span and Kiermaier converged, but it fell between them and rolled towards the outfield wall. Both Rays fielders had tumbled to the turf, and they were both slow to get up. Nunez lost some steam around third, but he scored without a throw, diving in head first. He was helped to his feet by Bogaerts. Boston added a run in the seventh on back-to-back doubles from Bogaerts and Devers.

Sale struck out the first two batters he faced and three of the first four. He walked Span with two down in the second and Hechavarria grounded a single to right. The runners moved up to second and third on a passed ball, but Sale got Robertson looking. The only baserunner Sale allowed over the next four innings was Refsnyder, who walked in the third and fifth.

Matt Barnes pitched a perfect seventh. When Kelly struck out Refsnyder with a man on first in the eighth, Boston led by four runs with only five outs to go. An easy victory should have been securely in the team's back pocket, but ...
Chris Sale / Chris Archer

And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves
growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies,
I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The Red Sox begin their 118th season this afternoon in Florida. Seven months from now, they hoping to be celebrating the franchise's ninth World Series championship. Boston finished in first place in the AL East in 2016 and 2017 (winning 93 games in each season). However, the team was quickly ousted from the postseason both times, 0-3 and 1-3, respectively.

March 29 is the earliest Opening Day in major league history. This is also the first time in half a century (since 1968) that every major league team is scheduled to begin its season on the same day.

Sale has averaged 13.5 K/9 against the Rays in his career, the highest ratio of any pitcher against a single opponent since 1920.

Dustin Pedroia, who had cartilage-restoration surgery on his left knee in late October, is not in the Red Sox's Opening Day lineup for the time since 2006. ... The managers in this series - Alex Cora and Kevin Cash - were teammates on the 2007 World Champion Red Sox.

Red Sox Lineup
Mookie Betts, RF 
Andrew Benintendi, LF
Hanley Ramirez, 1B
J.D. Martinez, DH
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Rafael Devers, 3B
Eduardo Nunez, 2B
Jackie Bradley, CF
Christian Vazquez, C
The sparsely-populated gamethreads are still here.

Red Sox 2018 W-L Contest Entries

Here are the entries for this year's Red Sox W-L contest.
              W-L   JDM TB
Norm T      102-60    320

Jim S       101-61    357
Paul H      101-61    357 
Laura K     101-61    320 

Ben A       100-62    250

Jere S       99-63    299

Patrick K    98-64    301

Ian R        97-65    325
Matthew K    97-65    320
Warren S     97-65    302 

James G      95-67    337
John G       95-67    320
Allan W      95-67    319

Jeff M       94-68    320
Jeff J       94-68    305
David F      94-68    304
Rich G       94-68    303
Matthew B    94-68    285

Dave H       93-69    325
Ben B        93–69    275

Michael G    92-70    301
Brett H      92-70    300
Wayne S      92-70    286
Jeff A       92-70    264 

Andrew M     90-72    323

Judy C       82-80    328
Prize: This Time Let's Not Eat The Bones: Bill James Without The Numbers. ... (James's name appearing three times on the cover is unusual.)

Also: Paul H offered this possible scenario: "How about Stanton injures himself while smashing a ball into Judge's head - both are out for the season in the home opener"? That sounds good, but since the MFY begin the season in Toronto, I prefer it happens in the road opener.

Possible idea for another contest ... # of posts this season in which I bitch about NESN?

That's actually a trick question. The correct answer is "All of them".

March 28, 2018

Ohtani Watch: Will Make Pitching Debut On Sunday, May DH Before That

Shohei Ohtani will make his pitching debut on Sunday, in the final game of the Angels' four-game series against the Athletics in Oakland.

Manager Mike Scioscia may use Ohtani as the team's designated hitter in one of the first three games. (The team has said Ohtani will DH two or three days a week when he is not pitching.)

Ohtani had a rough spring. In two starts, the 23-year-old allowed nine hits (including three home runs) and nine runs in only 2.2 innings.
                  IP   H   R  ER  BB   K  PIT
0224 vs Brewers  1.1   2   2   1   1   2   21
0316 vs Rockies  1.1   7   7   7   1   3   29
He also batted .125 (4-for-32, all singles), with 10 strikeouts.

Ohtani threw 85 pitches in 5.1 innings in an intrasquad game on Saturday. He walked five, hit a batter and threw two wild pitches.
The plan was to throw as many splitters as I can, so to get the feel of it. ... I felt really good, especially toward the end. ... I've done everything I can to get ready for Opening Day. I know I'm not at 100 percent. But it is hard, like every other year. Even in Japan, I was not like 100 percent on Opening Day. ... But at the same time, I'm still worried, not only because it's a new place and a new environment, but in Japan at this time of year, I always had worries.

"The Tedious Slowness Of Some Pitchers"

... the tedious slowness of some pitchers in handling the ball. When a pitcher‚ after getting it into his hands‚ invariably goes through a large variety of twistings and turnings‚ changes his position‚ rubs his arm and his spine and feels if all the bones are in proper position ... before delivering the ball‚ and repeats the same manoeuvers each time‚ the spectators get restless and lose interest. The query is often heard "Is ___ going to pitch to-day?" And if answered in the affirmative‚ "Well‚ I guess I won't go. He's too slow. Life is too brief and the benches too hard."
The Sporting Life, August 19, 1885

March 27, 2018

11 Sets Of Predictions, Including ESPN, MLB.com, & SI

ESPN's 29 "experts" have given their team and award predictions for 2018:

AL East: Yankees (21 votes), Red Sox (7), Orioles (1)
[Can picking the Os really be called the actions of an "expert"?]

"Everyone's talking about the Yankees and their bash brothers, but the Red Sox getting J.D. Martinez is so critical to an OBP-laden crew and makes the offenses comparable. Xander Bogaerts will find his power. Hanley Ramirez will find his swing. David Price will find his health. And the Red Sox will find another division title." – Eric Karabell
AL Central: Cleveland (27), Twins (2)
AL West: Astros (29)
AL WCs: Red Sox and Twins (Angels, Mariners, and Blue Jays also received votes)

NL East: Nationals (29)
NL Central: Cubs (28), Brewers (1)
NL West: Dodgers (29)
NL WCs: Brewers and Rockies (Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Mets, Phillies, and Atlanta also received votes)

AL Champion: Astros (12), Cleveland (8), Yankees (7), Red Sox (2)
NL Champion: Cubs (11), Nationals (10), Dodgers (8)

World Series Champion: Astros (8), Cleveland (7), Cubs (4), Dodgers (4), Yankees (3), Red Sox (2), Nationals (1)

AL MVP: Mike Trout (14), Carlos Correa (3), Jose Ramirez (2), Manny Machado (2), Francisco Lindor (2), Gary Sanchez (2), Aaron Judge (2), Jose Altuve (1), Giancarlo Stanton (1)

NL MVP: Bryce Harper (11), Nolan Arenado (6), Kris Bryant (3), Joey Votto (3), Paul Goldschmidt (1), Corey Seager (1), Anthony Rendon (1), Anthony Rizzo (1), Tommy Pham (1), Eric Hosmer (1)

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale (13), Corey Kluber (6), Luis Severino (5), Justin Verlander (4), Carlos Carrasco (1)

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw (13), Max Scherzer (8), Stephen Strasburg (5), Kyle Hendricks (2), Noah Syndergaard (1)

AL Rookie: Shohei Ohtani (11), Gleyber Torres (5), Willie Calhoun (4), Michael Kopech (2), A.J. Puk (2), Anthony Santander (1), Chance Sisco (1), Franklin Barreto (1), Willy Adames (1), Eloy Jimenez (1)

NL Rookie: Ronald Acuna (20), Lewis Brinson (4), Scott Kingery (3), Walker Buehler (1), Ryan McMahon (1)
Chad Thornburg presents the predictions from "more than 50 experts from the MLB.com and MLB Network universe":
American League East: Yankees
These two teams are extremely evenly matched, and the news on Monday that Yankees first baseman Greg Bird will miss 6-8 weeks, because of right foot surgery closes whatever the perceived gap already was. ...

AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Angels
The Red Sox may not be favored in their own division, but our survey gives them very strong odds to make the postseason as the AL's top Wild Card team, receiving the most votes of any Wild Card candidate in either league. ...

AL champion: Yankees
The Yankees came within one win of the World Series last year, and our experts predict their splashy offseason moves are enough to push them over the edge in 2018. The Astros, of course, aren't going anywhere; they were named back-to-back AL champs on a number of ballots ...

World Series champion: Astros
It may seem weird to have the Astros as World Series champs when our panel picked the Yankees to win the AL, but that's how close the vote was. So while New York got 17 votes to win the pennant (to Houston's 13), many of those voters chose an NL team to win the Fall Classic. As a result, the Astros narrowly edged the Dodgers and Yankees by one vote as this year's World Series favorite among our experts.
Bob Nightengale of USAToday offers "a half-dozen bold predictions":
The Yankees won't win the AL East

From 1 to 25 - with a handful of potential stars lurking in the minor leagues - the Yankees are solidly built. Yet the Yankees are not invulnerable. ...

Judge, in his first full season in the majors, showed he's prone to an extended cold spell. Certainly, his 55-game tailspin (.185, 84 strikeouts in 189 at-bats) after the All-Star break can partially be attributed to that balky left shoulder. ...

Big bodies and big swings can be high-maintenance, however, and a 2018 looking exactly like 2017 for either is not guaranteed. ...

And then there are the Red Sox. It's easy to forget Boston is the reigning division champ and has a healthy David Price from the jump.
Three of Nightengale's other scenarios: "Mike Trout muscles up for 50 home runs ... Marlins will flirt with all-time loss record ... Astros will put away the AL West by June".
Fangraphs' projected standings:
           W    L   RS/G   RA/G   RunDiff
Yankees   95   67   5.28   4.40     143
Red Sox   93   69   4.45     123
That slim difference in runs scored per game works out to 11.34 runs over the course of the season (855.36 to 844.02).

The runs allowed difference is only 7.1 runs over 162 games (712.8 to 720.9).
Sports Illustrated (8 writers):

AL East: Yankees (8)
AL Central: Indians (8)
AL West: Astros (8)
AL WCs: Red Sox (7), Twins (4), Angels (3), Rangers, Athletics (1)

NL East: Nationals (8)
NL Central: Cubs (8)
NL West: Dodgers (8)
NL WCs: Cardinals (5), Diamondbacks (4), Brewers (4), Mets (2), Rockies (1)

ALCS: Yankees (5), Astros (3)
NLCS: Cubs (4), Nationals, Dodgers (2)

World Series: Cubs (3), Astros (2), Dodgers (1), Nationals (1), Yankees (1)
Cubs over Yankees in 7
Cubs over Yankees in 6
Dodgers over Yankees in 6
Nationals over Yankees in 7
Astros over Nationals in 7
Astros over Dodgers in 7
Cubs over Astros in 7
Yankees over Cubs in 6
Chicago Tribune (4 writers):

AL East: Yankees (4)
AL Central: Cleveland (4)
AL West: Astros (4)
AL WCs: Angels (4), Red Sox (3), Twins (1)

NL East: Nationals (4)
NL Central: Cubs (4)
NL West: Dodgers (3), Rockies (1)
NL WCs: Diamondbacks, Cardinals (2), Dodgers (1), Brewers (1), Giants (1), Mets (1)

AL Pennant: Astros (2), Cleveland (1), Yankees (1)
NL Pennant: Cubs (2), Dodgers (1), Nationals (1)

World Series: Astros (1), Cubs (1), Dodgers (1), Nationals (1)

AL MVP: Mike Trout (2), Jose Altuve (1), Aaron Judge (1)
NL MVP: Anthony Rizzo (2), Nolan Arenado (1), Kris Bryant (1)

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale (2), Corey Kluber (1), Justin Verlander (1)
NY Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg (3), Clayton Kershaw (1)

AL Rookie: Austin Hays (1), Willie Calhoun (1), Michael Kopech (1), Gleyber Torres (1)
NL Rookie: Roland Acuna (2), J.P. Crawford (1), Lewis Brinson (1)

AL Manager: Terry Francona (1), Bob Melvin (1), Mike Scioscia (1), Aaron Boone (1)
NL Manager: Dave Martinez (2), Bud Black (1), Mickey Callaway (1)
The Sporting News' Ryan Fagan posts "18 thoughts about baseball in 2018":
2. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge will not combine for 100 homers. For some reason, some people will see that as a failure. The Yankees will win the AL East, though. ...

4. Mike Trout will win the AL MVP award. I like going out on limbs. ...

8. The Nationals will not win the World Series in their final year with Bryce Harper ... I'm sure it will be avert-your-eyes painful. ...

14. The pitch clock ... will cause more than a few veterans to be highly annoyed. ...

15. Bryce Harper will be the 2018 NL MVP. And then he'll sign an insane contract (north of $400 million) somewhere other than D.C. next offseason, almost certainly before the calendar turns to 2019. ...
John Harper, New York Daily News:
There is almost nothing harder to predict than which teams will survive the crapshoot that is the postseason, but if I don't say so myself, I'm on a roll after calling the Astros over the Dodgers in this same space a year ago. Not to mention Jose Altuve as AL MVP. ...

So for what it's worth, I'm picking the Yankees to survive the AL playoffs, the Cubs to find that extra gear they were missing last year, and Aaron Boone to outmanage Joe Maddon in another classic World Series. ...

Top 10 Bold Predictions for the 2018 season. ...

1. Yankees Win Championship No. 28
2. Judge and Stanton Out-homer Mantle and Maris [116 to 115]
6. Trout, Altuve, Judge, Stanton Do Not Win AL MVP ...
8. DeGrom wins NL Cy Young/Sale AL
9. Boone Wins AL Manager of the Year ..
New York Post (7 writers):

Five writers pick the Yankees to win the East, with Ken Davidoff and Mike Puma picking the Red Sox.

Three of the seven picked Chris Sale as the AL Cy Young winner.

Only one writer picked the Yankees to win the AL pennant.
NorthJersey.com:

Pete Caldera, Yankees beat writer: Yankees (94-68) win the East, beat the Red Sox in the ALCS, and lose the World Series to the Dodgers. Chris Sale wins the AL Cy Young and Miguel Andujar of the Yankees is the AL Rookie of the Year.

Matt Ehalt, Mets beat writer: Yankees (95-67) win the East, but lose the World Series to the Dodgers. The Red Sox lose to the Astros in the ALDS. Sale wins the AL Cy Young.
Baltimore Sun:

AL East: The four writers are split, with Jon Meoli and Peter Schmuck picking the Red Sox and Eduardo A. Encina and Josh Land siding with the Yankees.

AL Pennant: Encina and Land pick the Yankees, while Schmuck says the Red Sox will defeat the Yankees on their way to the World Series.

World Series: Schmuck (I like this guy) says the Red Sox will defeat the Dodgers. Encina says Yankees over Dodgers and Land has the Yankees over the Cubs. Meoli picks the Nationals over the Dodgers.

Meoli picks J.D. Martinez as the AL MVP and Schmuck has Sale winning the AL Cy Young. Schmuck (well, not unreservedly) and Land have Giancarlo Stanton as the AL MVP. Encina picks Luis Severino to win the AL Cy Young.

Red Sox Announce Opening Day Roster

The Red Sox will begin the 2018 season on Thursday afternoon with this 25-man roster:

Infielders (6): Hanley Ramirez, Mitch Moreland, Eduardo Nunez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Brock Holt

Outfielders (4): Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez

Catchers (3): Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon, Blake Swihart

Starting Pitchers (5): Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez

Bullpen (7): Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Bobby Poyner, Marcus Walden
Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright will begin the season on the disabled list. Wright's 15-game suspension will not begin until he's off the DL.

Rafael Devers avoided a serious injury yesterday. He was on third base when Cubs catcher Victor Caratini's toss back to the mound went over the pitcher's head. Devers sprinted home and, after an awkward head-first slide into Caratini, was slow to get up. He suffered a right knee contusion, but said that "God permitting", he will be in Thursday's lineup.
When I saw the catcher coming toward me I tried to hit the ground before he could get there and the collision happened. At first, I felt scared because it was a clear pain in my knee. I thought it was worse, but I stood up and felt the knee was good.
The Red Sox received outfielder Ramon Flores from the Diamondbacks (probably in connection with the trade of Deven Marrero) and assigned him to Pawtucket. Flores was signed as an international free agent in 2008 and has been with the Yankees, Mariners, Brewers, Angels, and Diamondbacks since 2015. In 331 plate appearances in the majors (most of them coming in 2016), Flores has batted .204/.281/.256.

March 25, 2018

Pomeranz And Rodriguez Will Begin Season On DL

Drew Pomeranz (forearm strain) and Eduardo Rodriguez (recovering from ligament reconstruction on his right knee) will begin the season on the disabled list.

Manager Alex Cora has said that Brian Johnson would take one of the spots. Hector Velazquez may be the leading candidate for the other one, but Cora may be tabbed for the other get a start or two. Cora noted that Marcus Walden and Justin Haley are also possibilities.

And: Steven Wright will serve a 15-game suspension for violating MLB's domestic violence policy. The Red Sox traded Deven Marrero to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Spring Training stats should always be ignored, but it's still good to see David Price post this three-start line in Florida: 12-5-3-4-13 (2.25).

Psst: "What Boone has learned, he said, is that beneath Judge's polite and respectful personality, the slugger is relentlessly competitive."

Bill James (1983): The Art Of Announcing Baseball Games On The Radio

What follows is from Bill James's This Time Let's Not Eat The Bones: Bill James Without The Numbers*. James's tribute to Kansas City Royals radio announcer Denny Matthews was first published in The 1983 Baseball Abstract. James's complaints, although they are 35 years old, may sound extremely familiar to some of you.

*: A copy of this book is the prize in this year's W-L contest. (This is your reminder about the contest.)

My theory: Modern radio announcers - because they have a TV monitor next to them - have been conditioned (whether they realize it or not) to assume their listeners are watching TV while listening to the radio. Some fans do this, of course, but certainly not all fans. (Blind fans don't do it, for example.) I have heard, many times, radio announcers actually direct listeners ("See, right there ...") to something being shown in a televised replay.

I wonder how soon after radio booths got access to the TV feed that announcers began altering their descriptions of the on-field action. While I doubt any radio announcer ever thought because they could look out their window and see the game that everyone at home or in a car or at the beach could do the same thing, the fact that it's on a screen, and everyone (of course) has access to a screen, creates a different mindset. (my emphasis, below)


Denny Matthews

Among the pleasures of being a Royals fan, few rank any higher than turning on the radio each evening to receive the seven o'clock greeting of Mr. Denny Matthews. My goal about each team [in the annual Abstracts] is to try to bring to light something about the team which is not generally known. After years of post-season play with basically the same team, not much about the Royals has slipped through the network of the country's information services. But behind their microphone, all but unknown to the nation, sits one of the most skilled and gifted men that the craft has ever produced.

His gifts, I suppose, are moderate, if well adapted to the task. His voice has a pleasant timbre which suggests a cheerful occasion. Its natural inflection rises and falls constantly, so that over the course of countless hours it acquires neither the grating quality of forced enthusiasm nor the drone of forced interest. He has a dry, understated humor that drifts through much of his audience undetected. One cannot learn these things at a microphone; they are given. But heck, I talk to people with pleasant voices every day, and Denny isn't Bob Uecker, by any means. These are not the things that lift him out of the class of the competent announcers, and into the class of the great ones.

Fred White, the Royals' other announcer, is good too. But what are the acquired skills, I got to wondering, that make an announcer? If Denny and Fred are not quite paragons of the things a baseball announcer should be, they are an acceptable substitute. So what do they have, exactly?

1. (And by far the most important) An intense focus on the game that is being played in front of them. I score games sometimes, even over the radio, and when I do I try to record a variety of information other than the stuff you can get out of the records. Sometimes I try to do this with other announcers, and I am amazed at the information they leave out. "Base hit!" says the announcer. Base hit? Where? Scooting by the shortstop into center? Drilled to left? I'll be listening to another game, and there will be runners on first and third in the fifth, and I will wonder if the manager is going to bring the infield in – and be astounded that the announcer doesn't tell me. There will be a single to center and I will be sitting there trying to visualize the play, and when I look for the throw . . . no throw. The voice has not told me where the throw went. I find out two pitches into the next batter that the other runner is now on third, and I wonder if the announcer didn't see him go over there, or what? The color man breaks in and tells you that the runner was able to get to third base because he was off with the pitch. Well, if he was off with the pitch, why didn't you tell me? This leaves me wondering if he was off with the pitch the previous two times, when the ball was fouled off.

And you know why so many announcers don't tell you these things? Because they don't see them. Because they haven't ever learned, really, to become the eyes of the listener. I was just amazed, in the World Series, when an announcer told us that Darrell Porter's batting stance "looks a lot like Rod Carew's." Darrell Porter's tense, pigeon-toed, cocked-arm, locked-wrist stance like Rod Carew's pointed lead foot, loose wrist, relaxed batting style? They have open stances and they crouch a little and they point the bat in the air. That's the end of the similarities. I saw an American League rookie do an absolutely perfect impression of Rickey Henderson at the plate last summer and the announcer's comment was "Hmm. Funny-looking batting stance."

Denny Matthews tells you, batter after batter

1. What the pitch was.

2. Where the pitch was.

3. What kind of a swing the batter had at it (fought it off, flicked at it, tried to hold up, had a good rip but swung over it).

4. Where the defense is.

5. What the runner does.

6. Where the hit goes.

7. Where the throw goes.

If the wind is blowing in, he tells you; if it shifts, you hear about it. He describes the batting stance of each player, in very specific terms as well as the impression it gives, once each year. He describes the delivery of the pitcher in specific terms. If the throw to first was a low throw or a high throw or a wide throw or a good throw, he tells you. If the fielder fields the ball on the second hop or the third hop, on a high hop or a short hop, to his left or to his right, he tells you. If the batter breaks his bat, if he squirts the ball off the end of the bat, he tells you. In the batter's first at-bat, he tells you what the batter has done in the last few games; after that, he tells you what the hitter has done earlier in the game. After a while, you get used to knowing stuff like that.

There is one thing that happens about once a week that tips you off on how intense Mr. Matthews' concentration on the game is. What does your announcer say when the scoreboard count gets mixed up? Does he never notice it, and just read the count off the board? Does he say, "Now wait a minute . . . I thought the third pitch was called a strike." Does he debate the color man about what the count was? Denny dismisses it with a six-word phrase: The scoreboard has the count wrong.

2. The other main thing that I like about Denny is the things he doesn't say because he is too busy describing what he sees. Let's go back to the first-and-third situation where the announcer doesn't tell us what happened. What is he saying, while he is not telling us where the hit went and where the runner went and where the throw went? The worst announcers, and you know they do it, will launch into a sermonette about a) the character of the man who got the hit, or b) the bad run of luck we've been having lately, how we're in one of these stretches when balls like that that aren't really hit that well just fall in between the fielders. The competent announcers tell you what they see, and then break into generalities about the people involved in the play, and talk about "concentration" and "fundamentals" and stuff.

Some people actually criticize Matthews because he's not judgmental about what he sees. They want the announcer to tell them that Ron LeFlore has a bad arm, and Denny will tell them that the throw was offline and then move on. But what is an announcer doing, when he makes those sort of judgments? My view is, if the announcer sees the man make a poor throw, he should say so at the time; if he doesn't see it, he shouldn't be talking about it. I don't want an announcer passing on to me the stuff he heard in a bar last week. I don't want to know what some scout said about the guy's arm. I can make those judgments for myself; indeed, I prefer to. That's all right if the announcer knows what he's talking about, but two times in three he doesn't.

3. Denny works consciously against the pace of the game. If the game is dull, he starts giving you more and more information about the game, the players. When the game is on the line, he lets the situation speak for itself. If it's a blowout, he starts telling stories. ...

[H]e works hard at his craft; he truly loves the game. He gets his ego and his theories and his preconceptions out of the way, and becomes a tube through which the game splashes out into your room, pure and clean and complete. That's too easy for most announcers, and too hard.
Once you start listening for it, you will be surprised how often most announcers leave you in the dark about almost everything. A pitch is high. Was it inside or outside? A pitch is inside. Was it high or low? How much did the batter have to step back? What kind of pitch was it? (Yankees announcer John Sterling often refers to a pitch as "a fast strike", an utterly worthless description.)

The hitter fouls the pitch off. At the plate? Towards the on-deck circle? Down one of the foul lines? Which line? Did an opposing fielder's glove it? Was it hit in the air? On the ground? Was it chopped? To be told that the ball was "fouled into the crowd" is far more annoying than informative.

The batter smokes a line drive down the line for a hit. Which line? Into foul territory or along the line in fair territory? The ball is hit past the second baseman. To his left or to his right? Did he dive? The outfielder throws the ball back to the infield. To whom? Quickly or routinely? What is the runner (or runners) doing?

One of my (many) pet peeves is Joe Castiglione's habit of saying that on a pickoff throw to first, the runner gets "back with a hand-tag". Well, how else is he going to re-touch the base? With his nose?

Note: Denny Matthews is still calling Royals games. He has been in the radio booth since the team began play in 1969. Only Jaime Jarrin, the Dodgers' Spanish-language broadcaster since 1959, has a longer continuous tenure with a team.

March 24, 2018

Sale Pulled After Being Hit On Left Hip By Line Drive, Still Expects To Open Season On Thursday

Chris Sale faced only four batters in his final start of the spring. He was taken out of Saturday's game against the Astros in the top of the first inning when a line drive from J.D. Davis drilled him in the left hip.

Sale said he will pitch on Opening Day next Thursday, as scheduled:
Looked a lot worse than it really is. ... When it first hit me, it kind of got me in the hip, but got the nerve, [the iliotibial]. So it shot all the way down to my foot. So that's what kind of made me worried. I was telling them when I was out there, "Give me a minute. It'll come back. I'll be fine." They didn't want to wait, so [I] came in here, got it evaluated, looked at, figured out [it was] nothing serious, just a bruise. It kind of just shocked me more than anything, that initial blow.
Sale retired the first two batters before walking Alex Bregman and giving up a painful single to Davis. Sale was expecting to pitch about six innings today, but threw only 26 pitches. When Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who suffered a fractured finger on his pitching hand from a line drive on Friday, was mentioned, Sale said:
Yeah, that's another reason we're thankful it hit me where it did. I don't have a whole lot of padding anywhere on me, but if I'm going to get hit, somewhere in the hip or the butt's going to be the place to go. Better than a rib, arm, hand, even the face. So this was best-case scenario.
The Red Sox beat the Astros 6-0, the team's second consecutive shutout. The team has three more games before the regular season begins (Twins on Sunday; Cubs on Monday and Tuesday).

Also: Christian Vazquez signed a three-year contract extension through 2021, with a club option for 2022. He will make $1.425 million this season, with the extension providing increases to $2.85 in 2019, $4.2 in 2020, and $6.25 in 2021. The team option for 2022 is $7 (or $8 if he has 502 PAs in both 2020 and 2021).

MLB Wants Receives The Right To Ignore Federal Labor Laws And Continue Underpaying Minor League Players

UPDATE (March 24, 1:45 PM): The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 was filed Wednesday night and passed by both the House and Senate just over 24 hours later, so you know everyone read all 2,322 pages very carefully and engaged in a vigorous debate about its contents. (The "Save America's Pastime Act" is on page 1967. (That's right ... paying minor leaguers a living wage would destroy professional baseball forever. Destroy!))

***

Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, March 18, 2018 (my emphasis):
A massive government spending bill that Congress is expected to consider this week could include a provision exempting Minor League Baseball players from federal labor laws, according to three congressional officials familiar with the talks.

The exemption would represent the culmination of more than two years of lobbying by Major League Baseball, which has sought to preempt a spate of lawsuits that have been filed by minor leaguers alleging they have been illegally underpaid.

The league has long claimed exemptions for seasonal employees and apprenticeships, allowing its clubs to pay players as little as $1,100 a month, well under the pay that would be dictated under federal minimum wage and overtime standards. But with those exemptions under legal challenge, Major League Baseball has paid lobbyists hundreds of thousands of dollars to write a specific exemption into the law. ...
Major League Baseball is a $10 billion/year industry - its revenues have increased in each the last 15 seasons and Commissioner Rob Manfred's goal is reaching $15 billion in the near future - and it has been working its ass off for years to be handed the right to ignore basic labour laws (which remain grossly inadequate for workers, but that's another story).

According to this extremely interesting post at Camden Depot, the Yankees pay roughly 0.33% of their annual revenue on minor league salaries. That low percentage is likely typically of all teams, as even the Rays pay only 0.86%. (A player in AAA earns about $12,000 a year. Someone in A ball earns as little as $1,100 per month; short-season players may be paid that for only three months out of the year.)

Two excellent comment on that post:

Jayne Hansen:
Other factors that minor leaguers have to deal with: paying dues to the clubby, paying for Uber/taxis if they don't have a car, finding a sponsor to help keep them in bats and gloves, etc., paying for high-quality nutritional supplements that won't result in a bad drug test and much more. Some teams will provide accommodations for the rookie leagues, but beyond that, they're on their own. Not every team will have host families or booster clubs that will take the guys shopping for the necessities. But the very fact that it's the minor league fans that are helping these guys survive rather than the team they play for is absurd.
hicken:
You write, "Based on unpublished research, the typical minor league baseball player comes from a white, upper middle class home and by the age of thirty has half the earning potential and assets as a similar person from the same background that did not go into baseball."

Many of the white, upper middle-class players are able to pursue the dream because they are getting support from mom and dad. In other words, their family is sending them spending money, letting them drive their old car, helping them line up a decent job in the off-season, etc.

Players whose families don't have money - which would mean lower-middle and working-class players of any racial background, disproportionately black players - are less likely to choose minor-league baseball or to stick with it. If they are American citizens, then they almost certainly have better options. You could make more money and better provide for your family even in relatively low-prestige jobs like restaurant service, for example.

Immigrant players are a bit different calculus. You maybe don't have a better option as a poor kid from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. So they're more like to struggle through the minors.

But basically, if baseball genuinely wanted to attract a more diverse set of players, they would pay better in the minor leagues.
While MLB's actions are disgusting and should infuriate every single fan of the game, the Players Association should also be heavily criticized for turning its backs on minor league players. The union could easily use its tremendous clout to greatly improve the lives of all minor leaguers. (Also, how many talented players who could have made the big leagues were forced to give up the game purely because of financial reasons?) Almost every single major leaguer spent time in the minors. Yet it would appear, however, that they have joined with the owners in not giving a shit.

Red Sox 5, Yankees 0

Red Sox - 001 000 211 - 5 13  0
Yankees - 000 000 000 - 0  5  0
On Friday afternoon, the Red Sox shut out the team that many baseball experts have dubbed "unbeatable". Eight of the nine starters had at least one hit, with Ivan De Jesus Jr. collecting a single, double, and home run. Sam Travis also dinged a dong.

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton went 1-for-6 at the top of the Yankees' lineup. Judge (as usual, against Boston) was a non-entity; he singled, but also struck out twice and hit into a double play.

Red Sox starter Brian Johnson flicked the switch and allowed only two hits and one walk over 4.2 innings, with five strikeouts. Manager Alex Cora said Johnson would begin the season in the rotation. ... Masahiro Tanaka lowered his spring ERA to 7.24. ... Boston is 18-9 this spring, while New York dropped to 15-12.

March 23, 2018

A Common Refrain: Yankees Will Edge Past Red Sox In AL East

There is a consistent theme to almost all of these 2018 predictions: the Red Sox will finish in second place in the AL East.

Boston Globe:
Dan Shaughnessy: AL East: Yankees. ... AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Angels. ... ALCS: Yankees over Red Sox. ... World Series: Nationals over Yankees.

Tara Sullivan: AL East: Red Sox. ... AL Wild Cards: Yankees, Mariners. ... ALCS: [Cleveland] over Red Sox. ... World Series: [Cleveland] over Dodgers.

Peter Abraham: AL East: Red Sox. #SaleWinsCy ... AL Wild Cards: Twins, Yankees. #StantonStruggles ... ALCS: Red Sox over [Cleveland]. #PriceIsRight ... World Series: Dodgers over Red Sox. #KershawIsKing

Nick Cafardo: AL East: Yankees. Haven't heard one good reason why not. ... AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Twins. ... World Series: Yankees over Nationals. Not even the great Max Scherzer can tame Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

Alex Speier: AL East: Yankees. ... AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Angels. ... ALCS: [Cleveland] over Red Sox. ... World Series: Nationals over [Cleveland].

Chad Finn: AL East: Red Sox. ... AL Wild Cards: Yankees, Angels. Judge and Stanton could match Mantle and Maris's 117 homers in '61 ... World Series: Astros over Cubs.
Stanton and Judge could combine for 117 home runs? Yes, it is possible (like it's possible a team could go 162-0), but Finn is smarter than that. (After totaling 111 last year, they won't reach 100 this season.) And Cafardo has not heard "one good reason" why the Yankees could lose the division because he refuses to remove the pinstriped cotton balls from his ears. (Or, more likely, doesn't even realize they are in there.)

Grant Brisbee posted his predictions at SB Nation. He has the Red Sox finishing second to New York, but beating the A's in the Wild Card Game and losing the ALDS to the Yankees. Brisbee's World Series pick: Yankees over Cardinals. ... SB Nation's Red Sox preview is here.

Bleacher Report has the Yankees winning 100 games and the AL East, with the Red Sox close behind with 96 wins. A second Bleacher Report article also has the Yankees (95 wins) and Red Sox (90 wins) finishing 1-2.

Baseball America picks the Yankees to win the division, with Boston second (and grabbing the Wild Card). Here are the World Series predictions for the eight BA writers:
Cleveland over Nationals in 6
Cleveland over Dodgers in 7
Cubs over Cleveland in 6
Cubs over Astros in 7
Dodgers over Yankees in 6
Dodgers over Cleveland in 7
Yankees over Nationals in 6
Yankees over Cubs in 7
USA Today has the Yankees (93) and Red Sox (89) in the East. "It's the Yankees, but not by much. Would adding Martinez put the Red Sox over the top? Their fate may more likely hinge on health and performance of their starting pitchers."

The Sporting News says the Yankees will win the East, but Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge will not combine for 100 homers. (Smart pick on the dongs, TSN.)

Sports Illustrated picks the Nationals to beat the Yankees in the 2018 World Series. The Red Sox are listed #5 among 10 teams that SI believes could win it all:
The Red Sox will bring back most of the same team that won 93 games in 2017 and should definitely be in the postseason conversation, even if it's only a Wild Card spot. ... Even stronger than the Boston starting lineup is the Boston starting rotiation [sic]. David Price and Chris Sale need no introduction, and Rick Porcello is only a single season removed from winning the Cy Young in 2016. Knuckleballer Steven Wright was fantastic in 2016, but missed most of 2017 with a knee injury. His return should be a serious boost to the Red Sox on the mound (assuming he's 100% healthy). Drew Pomeranz also won 17 games in 2017, giving the Red Sox a lights out pitching staff. Closer Craig Kimbrel is also one of the best in the business. However, the Red Sox might have to go through their most iconic rivals to get to the World Series...
Rotochamp's projected standings are "a composite of Baseball Prospectus, Davenport, and FanGraphs". The Yankees are atop the division with 95 wins, with the second-place Red Sox at 92.

I don't know what COED is, but it also has the Yankees-Red Sox atop the AL East.

March 21, 2018

Was Babe Ruth A Labour Activist? (Three Ruth Books Will be Published This Year)

Edmund F. Wehrle, a professor at Eastern Illinois University, has written a Babe Ruth biography like no other. From the promotional copy for Breaking Babe Ruth: Baseball's Campaign Against Its Biggest Star (University of Missouri, May 31):
Rather than as a Falstaffian figure of limited intellect, Edmund Wehrle reveals Babe Ruth as an ambitious, independent operator, one not afraid to challenge baseball's draconian labor system. To the baseball establishment, Ruth's immense popularity represented opportunity, but his rebelliousness and potential to overturn the status quo presented a threat. After a decades-long campaign waged by baseball to contain and discredit him, the Babe, frustrated and struggling with injuries and illness, grew more acquiescent, but the image of Ruth that baseball perpetuated still informs how many people remember him to this day.
The pre-publication blurbs for Breaking Babe Ruth describe the sports media of that era "'infantilizing' Ruth and feeding the myth of a naive, wayward adolescent" or "a spoiled and unintelligent man child". (Sadly, some things have not changed in 90 years. Manny Ramirez was no threat to baseball's status quo, but sportswriters still went out of their way to portray him as a ditzy airhead when they knew he was an alert, intelligent hitter who worked his ass off.)

There are two other Ruth books coming out this year:

Thomas Barthel's Babe Ruth and the Creation of the Celebrity Athlete (McFarland, April 8) tracks Ruth's path as "the first great media-created superstar and celebrity product endorser". McFarland does a great service by publishing so many baseball books, often covering what most fans would consider marginal topics, but as a "library-oriented publisher", its books are both expensive and not available in stores. This 200-page book, for example, is $35 at Amazon.

In The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created (Harper, October 23), Jane Leavy also sees Ruth as "the model for modern celebrity" and focuses on his three-week, cross-country barnstorming tour after the 1927 season. Leavy conducted more than 250 interviews and had access to previously-unseen documents and Ruth family records.

Sale, Price, Porcello To Begin Season In Tampa Bay

Starting Pitchers:
Thu March 29 at Rays: Chris Sale, 4 PM
Fri March 30 at Rays: David Price, 7 PM
Sat March 31 at Rays: Rick Porcello, 6 PM
Sun April  1 at Rays: TBA (Eduardo Rodriguez/Steven Wright/Drew Pomeranz), 1 PM
Mon April  2 at Marlins: Brian Johnson, 7 PM
Tue April  3 at Marlins: Sale, 6 PM
Wed April  4: Off

March 20, 2018

Martinez And Stanton Are Both "Glittery", But Only The Yankees Hitter Provokes A "Gulp"

Rosie DiManno, Toronto Star, March 18, 2018:
It might be a prudent budget [for the Blue Jays, at $155 million] but it is without any glittery off-season acquisitions, like the Yankees landing, gulp, Giancarlo Stanton and the Red Sox countering with J.D. Martinez.
While both acquisitions are glittery, only Stanton warrants a "gulp".

Which is somewhat odd (assuming DiManno is not saying that simply because Stanton wears pinstripes), since Martinez bested Stanton last season in average (.303 to .281), slugging (.690 to .631), OPS+ (166 to 165), wOBA (.430 to .410), and wRC+ (166 to 156, despite Stanton's MLB-leading 59 dongs), and tied him with a .376 on-base percentage.

Martinez and Stanton have each slugged .580 since the beginning of the 2015 season, but in those three years, the Red Sox's new designated hitter comes out on top in the lists that sportswriters look at: average (.296 to .265), on-base percentage (.363 to .354), OPS (.943 to .934), total bases (863 to 748), doubles (94 to 64), RBI (274 to 273), and runs scored (247 to 226). He has even played in more games (397 to 352).

Stanton has a few more home runs (113 to 105) and a slightly better OPS+ (150 to 148). He has walked more (169 to 155) while striking out less (398 to 434). Stanton is also two years younger (28 to 30), which is significant. ... He also seems to have a much better PR team.

March 17, 2018

Everyone Loves A Contest #22: 2018 Red Sox W-L

With Opening Day less than two weeks away (March 29), it's time for this year's Red Sox W-L Contest!

The person that correctly guesses Boston's 2018 regular season W-L record will win a (used, but very nice) copy of Bill James's This Time Let's Not Eat The Bones: Bill James Without The Numbers (Villard Books, 1989). (Almost 500 pages of James discussing teams, players, and various ideas from 30-35 years ago! How can you resist?)

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

1. Predicted 2018 W-L record
2. Tiebreaker: Total Bases by J.D. Martinez

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

Deadline: Wednesday, March 28, 11:59 PM.

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

March 15, 2018

Price Thrilled With Four Shutout Innings In First Spring Start

David Price, in his first start of the spring, was sharp. In four shutout innings against the Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon, he allowed only one hit and one walk, while striking out five.

ESPN's Scott Lauber wrote that Price "established his fastball and cutter early on, then incorporated his changeup and even his curveball the second time through the batting order".

Price (who appeared in only 16 games last season and did not make a start after July 22) was thrilled with his 55-pitch performance. "I've never been able to have a four-pitch mix on March 15. I've never been this far along in spring training, even though I've only thrown in one game."

Manager Alex Cora agreed: "From the dugout, it looked like his misses were just by an inch. He was on target. ... Very impressive for his first outing in a real environment, not a controlled one. ... Physically he looks like he's right where he has to be and now we move forward."

MFY Watch: Aaron Judge and Aaron Boone. Morons.

March 14, 2018

The Beginning Of The End

I have been a Boston Red Sox fan for 42 years and for most of that time I was skeptical - often extremely so, and with very good reason - that I would ever see a World Series championship. All I really wanted to was to see one.

And I have witnessed three! My obsession with the team has certainly lessened during the thirteen seasons since 2004 and that is probably a good thing. If I had to, I could comfortably live the rest of my life without major league baseball. Which is good to know, because I can sense that the day I sever my relationship with the sport might not be too far over the horizon.

The Associated Press reported today that "extra innings throughout the minor leagues will start with a runner at second base".
"We believe these changes to extra innings will enhance the fans' enjoyment of the game and will become something that the fans will look forward to on nights where the game is tied late in the contest," NAPBL president Pat O'Conner said in a statement. ...

The runner at second will be the batter in the order prior to that inning's leadoff hitter... A runner who starts an extra inning at second shall be counted as reaching on an error for purposes of determining earned runs, but no errors shall be charged.
Today is not April 1. This is really happening. And it is so far beyond fucked up ...

Craig Calcaterra, NBC Sports:
The runner-on-second rule is taken from the World Baseball Classic and has been tested in the Gulf Coast League and Arizona League. Last year, for what it's worth, Rob Manfred said he doubted the rule would ever be used in the majors, but the fact that it's moving up to Triple-A suggests that his mind may be changing.
What Manfred said was: "We don't really expect that we're ever going to apply them at the major league level, at least in the short term"

Do you trust Rob Manfred not to one day decide to reconsider that policy? I certainly don't.

And neither does SB Nation's Matt Collins: "Every sign is pointing towards this eventually coming to the majors, though. Manfred has said that won't happen, but I find that hard to believe at this point given how quickly this rule is expanding to different levels of the game."

2017
Regular Season Games - 2,430
Extra Inning Games - 182 (7.5%)
Games Lasting 10 Innings - 87 (3.68%)
Games Lasting 11 Innings - 51 (2.1%)
Games Lasting 12 Innings - 20 (0.8%)
Games Lasting 13 innings - 12 (0.5%)
Games Lasting 14+ Innings - 12 (0.5%)
7.5% of a team's schedule is 12 out of 162 games. That's two games per month, one game going into extra innings every two weeks. ... And almost half of those extra inning games - 48% - last season were over after 10 innings.

In fact, only 44 out of 2,430 games lasted more than 11 innings: 1.8%. ... 2 out of every 100 games last season (an average of three per team) went into the 12th inning. ... And for THAT, Commissioner Rob Manfred wants to destroy the very fundamentals of the game that have been in place for almost 150 years.

Also: If both teams begin every extra inning with a man on second, then they have an equal chance to score. Just like they do now, starting off with the bases empty. In other words, there is no actual advantage being gained here to have games end quicker. There will simply be more games in which each team scores 1 or 2 or however many runs in an extra inning and the game - still tied - goes on.

March 10, 2018

MLB Cannot Do Anything Right (25 Games To Be Shown Exclusively On Facebook)

Major League Baseball is laughably inept. Everything they do to promote the game - almost without exception - manages to piss off a lot of people who are already fans, while the gain in new followers is dubious. (Perhaps "laughably" is the wrong word, since we love the sport and generally despise how MLB runs it. How about "sadly" or "as expected, based on past history"?)

MLB's latest attempt to "grow the game" is to allow Facebook the exclusive right to stream 25 games this season. Facebook will pay between $30-35 million for these rights, an agreement that was approved unanimously by team owners. The games will be shown on Facebook Watch, which is devoted to original programming. (Facebook aired 20 non-exclusive games last season*.)

The 25 games will be on weekday afternoons, primarily Wednesdays. Four April games have been announced: April 4 (Phillies/Mets), April 11 (Brewers/Cardinals), April 18 (Royals/Blue Jays), and April 26 (Diamondbacks/Phillies). During these broadcasts, Facebook will experiment with graphics and "enhancements popular with younger viewers drawn to digital platforms". That sounds extremely promising!

About those "younger viewers" ... Liz Roscher of SB Nation remains skeptical about the success of that angle:
MLB is desperately trying to gain the loyalty of younger fans, and going to Facebook just isn't the way to do that. While Facebook has a significant number of users in the 25-34 age range, the average user in the U.S. is over 40. ... It's [also] a move that's going to alienate some of the fans they already have. Those Facebook games are only available on Facebook, and not on any local TV network or even MLB.TV.
The big question is: Could MLB have been smart enough to avoid including games featuring teams with the largest fan bases, like the Red Sox and Yankees?

*: On May 19, 2017, Facebook attempted to stream its first game. However, "a manual error related to the geographic targeting of the game" meant fans in Washington, DC, were unable to watch. A Facebook representative: "Tonight's MLB broadcast on Facebook was unintentionally not made available to people in the Washington D.C. area. We apologize for the mistake ..."

March 2, 2018

I Want You To Read This Post, But What If You Don't?

This WEEI headline annoyed me:
What's the point? Obviously, every Red Sox fan reading the story hopes that Pom is healthy and has a great season, while also understanding that it is within the realm of possibility that something could be wrong ... either now or in the future.

And you could ask a similar question about every single thing spoken by every single member of the Red Sox organization for the entire season.
J.D. Martinez Glad To Contribute To First Win In Red Sox Uniform, But What If He Isn't?

Hanley Ramirez: "I Love Hitting Home Runs Against The Yankees", But What If He Doesn't?

Red Sox Confident They Can Hold Off Rivals And Claim Third Straight AL East Title, But What If They Aren't?

Pedroia Says Team Believes They Can Go All The Way In Postseason, But What If They Can't?

First Season At Sox Helm Was A Thrilling Ride For Cora, But What If It Wasn't?

WEEI.com Wants Fans To Click On Their Stories (Even The Ones With Idiotic Headlines), But What If We Don't?
This can also be applied to things outside the world of the Red Sox:
Sun Will Rise Tomorrow And Continue Sustaining Life On Earth, But What If It Doesn't?

March 1, 2018

Red Sox File Petition To Change "Yawkey Way" Back To "Jersey Street"

The Red Sox have filed a petition with the Boston Public Improvement Commission to change the name of Yawkey Way back to its original name of Jersey Street.

The portion of the street that borders Fenway Park was changed in 1977, the year after the death of former team owner Tom Yawkey.

The Yawkey Foundation stated its intention to protest the team's request for the name change, which is "based on a false narrative about Tom Yawkey and his record as team owner".