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

February 26, 2019

Street & Smith's 2019 Preview: Red Sox Are "The Best Team in The Land"

Street & Smith's 2019 Baseball Preview

AL East
Red Sox
Blue Jays

Red Sox: "After winning 108 games and cruising through the postseason, the Red Sox are the best team in the land. They should be a playoff force again."

Yankees: "Making consecutive playoff appearances is good for most teams, but not the Yankees. Not after seeing the Red Sox win another World Series. It's another title-or-bust year for the Bronx Bombers."

I want to note that one of the magazine's articles is about the diminishing workload of starting pitchers. It's titled "Progress or Pansies?" I'm surprised that no one at Street & Smith's objected to that offensive title – or if someone did, that concern was ignored. The article itself contains no homophobic slurs.

ALWC: Yankees over Twins
NLWC: Nationals over Brewers
ALDS: Red Sox over Cleveland; Astros over Yankees
NLDS: Atlanta over Nationals; Cardinals over Dodgers
ALCS: Astros over Red Sox
NLCS: Atlanta over Cardinals
World Series: Astros over Atlanta

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt
AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole
NL Cy Young: Aaron Nola
AL Rookie: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
NL Rookie: Victor Robles, Nationals
AL Manager: Rocco Baldelli, Twins
NL Manager: Craig Counsell, Brewers

Red Sox:
Using hindsight, it's a fairly simple conclusion that the Boston Red Sox should have been the 2018 World Series champions.

They won a franchise-best 108 games and clinched the brutal American League East crown for the third straight season. They stormed through the playoffs, losing one games in each of their three series to capture their fourth World Series title in 14 years. ...

The good news for the Red Sox is most of their key players return, including one of the best outfields in baseball: a trio of 20-something talent ... [Mookie] Betts is the superstar; he's only 26 and is 1-A behind only L.A. Angles outfielder Mike Trout in the conversation for baseball's best all-around player. ...

[J.D.] Martinez was almost like another hitting coach for Boston, and his work ethic and knowledge of the game was instrumental in the club's graduation from a really good team to a great one. ...

The rotation, which posted a 3.77 mark, fourth in the A.L., remains together and is potentially dominating if Boston gets a full season from ace Chris Sale, who was limited to 27 starts due to injury. ...

The only question mark for the Red Sox, from a talent perspective, is how the bullpen takes form as closer Craig Kimbrel tested free agency and setup man Joe Kelly, who thrived in the playoffs, left for a three-year deal with the Dodgers.

But with plenty of cash and cachet, the Red Sox should be in position to make another long run in the 2019 postseason.

Bottom Line: The Red Sox did what they were supposed to do in 2018 and there's no reason they can't again in 2019. Their veterans, especially in the rotation, must stay healthy, but the offense and defense are stocked, and ownership has been willing to acquire any missing pieces in July.

Scout's View: "I'm extremely impressed with Alex Cora. He's a lot smarter than I thought he was. He's genuine and he built a relationship with players from Day One and he carried it through. This team's not a fluke. ... David Price went back to the basics and figured out things. He knew he had to get a better angle to his fastball and to use his changeup more. He reinvented himself, but he always had the right pieces. ... I'm so happy for Steve Pearce. Wasn't a high pick, continually grinds it out. .. I like Rafael Devers. He's got a chance to be an impactful bat."
The reality that blanketed the 2018 New York Yankees is that they simply weren't good enough. ...

The Yankees didn't get to the World Series. And the Boston Red Sox won it. Those are the only facts that matter in the Bronx. ...

[T]he Yankees immediately fired a salvo at the rest of the American League early in the offseason by trading for Seattle Mariners lefty James Paxton in mid-November. ... The price [three prospects, including lefthanded starter Justus Sheffield] will be worth it if Paxton can avoid injury and tap his immense potential. Staying healthy has been his primary hurdle. ...

The Yankees' rotation was the club's weakest link – and now it is again a strength with the acquisition of Paxton and the re-signing of [J.A.] Happ and CC Sabathia to join righthanders Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka. With one of the most formidable bullpens in baseball ... the starters only have to get through five or six innings to have a chance to win.

Especially if New York's offense recreates what it did in 2018. Led by stars such as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees topped the majors with 267 homers and scored more runs (851) than any other cub besides the Red Sox. ...

Didi Gregorius underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow [in October] and is lost until roughly midseason. .. But the club's offense shouldn't suffer much, especially if middle infielder Gleyber Torres and third baseman Miguel Andujar ... take the next step, and catcher Gary Sanchez rebounds from what was basically a lost season [.186 average] ...

There is some concern about Andujar's defense at third and whether Torres can handle shortstop every day if needed ... but Boone's most difficult task may be finding playing time for so much talent. ...

Although they have dealt away some key prospects recently, the organizational cupboard is far from bare, and [GM Brian] Cashman isn't afraid to use youngsters as trade chips.

Bottom line: The Yankees are among the most balanced and talented teams in baseball. Unfortunately, they are in the same division with the defending champion. So, theoretically, they'll have to be even better in 2019 if they want to win the division and have an easier road to the World Series, where Yankee fans believe their team should be every year.

Scout's View: "The upside in pitching makes this team so dangerous. Paxton, Severino and Tanaka give you three different looks, all with potentially dominating stuff, and then you turn it over to that bullpen. ... The Didi injury hurts in that he's such a positive influence on that club – great energy, great teammate. They need another good makeup guy to fill that void. ... Andujar and Torres had great years and are really talented kids. But Andujar has to do a lot of work with is throwing and footwork, and I think they are better off leaving Gleyber at second base."
So the MFY starters need to go only five or six innings? Umm, the starters for 28 of the 30 teams went 5.x innings per start last year, so that's normal even for teams with shitty bullpens. ... And what's up with the anti-Didi comments? One of the team's best hitters is out for at least half the season, but the offense "shouldn't suffer much"; what they'll really miss are his "energy" and "makeup".

Athlon's 2019 Preview: Red Sox Will Win AL East, Lose ALCS

Athlon Sports 2019 Baseball Preview

AL East
Red Sox
Blue Jays

Other Division Winners: Cleveland, Astros, Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers
AL Wild Cards: Yankees, Rays
NL Wild Cards: Cubs, Brewers
ALCS: Astros over Red Sox
NLCS: Dodgers over Cardinals
World Series: Dodgers over Astros

AL MVP (Top 5): Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton (with Chris Sale #9, J.D. Martinez #10)
NL MVP (Top 5): Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Christian Yelich, Anthony Rendon, Corey Seager (with pitchers Max Scherzer #7 and Jacob deGrom #8)
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Blake Snell
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Clayton Kerhsaw, Noah Syndergaard, Walker Buehler
AL Rookie: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
NL Rookie: Victor Robles

Red Sox:
They return basically the entire roster, but change is coming. In the next two years alone, free agency looms for standouts such as Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez [opt-out clause], Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rick Porcello and Jackie Bradley Jr. They'll be motivated to go for broke, because this isn't the start of a budding dynasty. It's already the last waltz.

Rotation: Sale's shoulder was such a mess that the Red Sox didn't even feel comfortable pitching him in the [World Series] clincher until they had built a four-run lead. This continues a troubling trend of Sale wearing down in second halves of seasons ... The rest of the rotation appears pretty set. ...

Bullpen: With or without [Craig] Kimbrel – whose stuff and performance deteriorated precipitously in 2018 – the Red Sox return some experienced arms. Setup man Matt Barnes could step into the closing role with his hammer curveball and 96 mph fastball. Or the job could go to Ryan Brasier ... A boost could come in the form of righthander Tyler Thornburg, who was shut down over the final weeks to rest his shoulder and prepare for 2019.

Middle Infield: [T]he Red Sox took calls on [Bogaerts] at the Winter Meetings. Nothing materialized, but perhaps they're not as committed to the well-rounded shortstop ... as we thought. His double-play partner would ideally be Dustin Pedroia, but good luck counting on the 35-year-old after a season lost to cartilage restoration surgery in his left knee. ... Neither [Brock Holt nor Eduardo Nunez] is a full-time option at second, however, so perhaps another signing is in order.

Corners: Rafael Devers regressed as a sophomore, his contact rate and on base percentage dropping, and his 24 errors far and away leading the team. But he posted an OPS of .807 after Sept. 1 and delivered his second straight clutch postseason, suggesting that better days loom at age 22. Across the diamond, [Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce are] a solidly selfless duo, though if either struggles, this would be an obvious area to upgrade at the trade deadline.

Outfield: No unit in baseball played with more dynamism than the trio of Andrew Benintendi, Bradley and Betts. ... All three remain under team control through at least 2020, so the nightmare they represent for opposing offenses and defenses won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

Catching: Can we get a "Meh?" The Red Sox catching situation represents one of the club's few weaknesses, with Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon combining to rank dead last among MLB backstops in every meaningful slash-line, including a woeful .525 OPS. ...

Management: [M]anager Alex Cora deserves to see his name adorn a bridge, tunnel, or maybe even an airport. He's here because of the way he relates to young players, and man, oh man, do they love playing for him. Cora still carries himself with the quiet cockiness of a jock, and his team followed his confident, unflappable lead. ...

Final Analysis: Outside of Sale's health and whatever splashes the Yankees make, the Red Sox appear as well positioned as any recent champion to repeat. Their core remains in its prime, their pitching is battle-tested, and their leadership has proved it can pull the right levers. Under normal circumstances, a hangover would be understandable and maybe even acceptable – after all, those starters threw a lot of postseason innings. But the dark clouds gathering ominously on the horizon make it clear that there can be no letup, because this is it. The group that arrived last year in a blaze of glory hopes to go out with similar pyrotechnics before 2020 arrives like a sucker punch.

Opposing Scouts Size Up The Red Sox: "You can't say the best team didn't win. ... [Alex Cora] understands how to utilize data while still respecting the players as people. It's going to start to break up after this season, because Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts and maybe J.D. Martinez (opt-out clause) can be free agents and the farm system has thinned out, but for now they're the team to beat again. ... I worry a little about Sale's durability, but I trust this group to know how to get the most out of him. ... They're well-armed for another run even with some questions in the pen."

Beyond The Box Score: "Manager Alex Cora announced in early December that leadoff hitter and AL MVP Mookie Betts would flip-flop with No. 2 hitter Andrew Benintendi ... Want hope that Jackie Bradley Jr.'s strong second half and clutch postseason are sustainable? He's now under the tutelage of the same guy who turned J.D. Martinez into an All-Star. ... Bradley believes he [Craig Wallenbrock] holds the keys to avoiding the roller coaster that has defined his career. ... The nastiest, funniest guy in the 2018 Red Sox bullpen [was] Brandon Workman, who plays the strong, silent Texan in public, but is a relentless bleep-talker and ball buster behind closed doors. "You guys would be shocked," [Joe] Kelly says. 'It's like seeing your high school librarian in a death-metal band.'"
Last year's 100-win campaign, which ended when the Yanks gave the eventual champion Red Sox their toughest October series, is generally considered a flop in New York. Too harsh? Maybe. But the loaded Yankees are a World-Series-or-bust team again ...

[Seattle lefty James] Paxton could be the October ace the Yankees crave, and he and Luis Severino should lead a rotation that just might be the key to toppling Boston in the brawny American League East.

The Yankees, with all their young talent, are set up to contend for years, but they might have to go through Boston to get back to the World Series ...

Rotation: Paxton brings high-end stuff, but there are durability questions. Assuming he's healthy, though, he's dangerous, the kind of pitcher who could blow through even the toughest lineups. He struck out 11.7 per nine innings last year while walking just 2.4. ... The Yanks won 24 of Severino's 32 starts ... [but] there was talk during the year that he was tipping his pitches. ... [J.A. Happ's] lone postseason start was a dud, however, which means he's got to prove a few things this October.

Bullpen: Few clubs can match the Yanks' imposing relief troika of closer Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Chad Green ... [I]t's easy to predict another strikeout bonanza in the Bronx. The Yankees set an MLB record for bullpens with 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings last year, which broke the mark of 10.92 set by the Yanks the previous season. ... [Chapman] missed nearly a month with a left knee issue. ... Green wasn't quite as unhittable as he was in '17 ... Tommy Kahnle struggled with ineffectiveness (6.56 ERA) and injury, but he still might provide a power relief arm.

Middle Infield: Depending on where he plays, the Yanks have one infield spot set for years because [Gleyber] Torres arrived in a big way in 2018. The 22-year-old already looks like he's been in the majors a long time and notched an .820 OPS ... He's a natural shortstop who played second base and could handle any position. ... [B]ecause of Didi Gregorius' October Tommy John surgery ... the Yanks took a flyer on former superstar Troy Tulowitzki, who has a glossy resume but did not play at all in 2018 and appeared in only 66 games the year before.

Corners: Miguel Andujar ... beat Joe DiMaggio's club rookie record for doubles by two, hitting 47 two-baggers ... but his defense at the hot corner needs to improve ... [T]he Yanks were so unsure of his glove that he did not play in Game 4 of the AL Division Series against Boston. At first, the Yanks are still waiting on Greg Bird and wondering what they have in second-half star Luke Voit. Bird has looked spectacular at times ... But he's been abysmal, too – he batted .199 in 272 at-bats in 2018.

Outfield: [Giancarlo] Stanton led the Yanks in homers (38), RBIs (100) and runs (102) ... yet there's a narrative of disappointment. He's a metaphor of sorts for the 2018 Yankees – very good overall but not good enough. Stanton, 29, struck out 211 times, showing a penchant for chasing pitches. ... [Aaron Judge] missed 50 games in 2018 with a chip fracture in his right wrist but sparkled while in the lineup (.919 OPS, 27 homers) and should be just as lethal, now that his wrist is fully healed. Switch-hitter Aaron Hicks ... could be a monster in 2019, if he stays healthy.

Catching: The Yankees need a bounce-back from the squatting enigma that is Gary Sanchez. The thunder in his bat makes him a potential game-wrecker every night, but he was a liability behind the plate in 2018, leading MLB with 18 passed balls despite catching only 76 games.

Management: A year of experience should smooth the strategy bumps Aaron Boone experienced in his rookie season. Boone, trumpeted for his ability to communicate, already knows the roster ... Now it's time to win it all with them.

Final Analysis: There's too much talent here for anything less than a deep playoff run and perhaps more than that. Winning the AL East might be key, because advancing past a one-and-done Wild Card game – although the Yanks have won the previous two – remains risky.

Opposing Scouts Size Up The Yankees: "This team is set up even better than Boston for the long term ... Yes, [Paxton has] always been somewhat fragile, but this team is so good, they won't need to run him out there for 200 innings. ... The offense lived and died by the homer, but when you set the all-time record for homers – and you've got Aaron Judge – you're living pretty good. ... [I]f only they could get Gary Sanchez to concentrate more behind the plate."

Beyond The Box Score: "No team hit the ball harder than the Yankees in 2018. Yankee batters had 124 hits with an exit velocity of 110 miles per hour or more. ... They also had the 12 hardest-hit balls in the game – 10 by Giancarlo Stanton ..."

February 24, 2019

Tracking A Claim: Will The 2019 Yankees Have "The Best Bullpen Ever"?

In his AL East preview, after citing the Red Sox's shaky bullpen, Will Leitch of wonders if the 2019 Yankees will have "the best bullpen ever".

Leitch states that the Yankees possess seven relievers "who would instantly become the best reliever on almost any other team" - though he names only six pitchers (Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle).

Leitch states that the Yankees are "shortening the game to an absurd level". Of course, a team "can't entirely eliminate bullpen volatility", but the Yankees "sure have come close". The entire situation is "downright unfair" to all of their opponents. And ... here comes the kicker: "If you're behind by more than two runs in the fifth inning, you may already be toast."

You may need to sit quietly for a minute before we continue. I understand.


In the meantime, a short statistical sidebar: Kahnle's ERA last year was 6.56. On which MLB team would a guy with a 6.56 ERA (which would have been 8.49 if all his runs allowed had been earned), 1.63 WHIP, and 5.8 BB/9 "instantly" be the best reliever in that team's pen? Can anyone find a frigging minor league team anywhere where that would be true? ... I'm left thinking Leitch looked only at Kahnle's W-L record, which was 2-0.)


We okay? It's true that a trailing team might be toast at that point. You cannot argue that going on to lose that game is one of two possibilities. However, Leitch is not making that literal point. No, he's offering the unadulterated nonsense you expect to hear only from an ignorant (or drunk (or both)) MFY fan.

I will state with a high degree of certainty that the Yankees' record in 2019 with a lead of more than two runs in the fifth inning (or whenever the bullpen takes over) will not be some shocking historical outlier when compared to the other top teams in MLB.

In fact, this is something I want to track this season, like last spring's silly claim, made by several writers, that there would be many, many Yankee games in which Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez would all hit home runs.

So which bullpens should we watch this year?

There were six teams with bullpen ERAs under 4.00 last year:
Astros        3.30
Dodgers       3.74
Cubs          3.96
Diamondbacks  3.98
Rays          3.99
Red Sox       3.99
A seventh team - Cleveland - had a bullpen right at 4.00. ... The Yankees were a distant 10th, at 4.13.

I think we should stay within the AL (because those teams are facing DHs most nights). How about the four contending teams - Boston, New York, Cleveland, Houston - and the Rays? The big question is whether we count games in which these teams are ahead by at least two runs in the fifth inning (even if the starter is still pitching) or if we consider the score when the first bullpen arm enters the game. Any thoughts?

Also, apropos of something:

The 2018 Red Sox bullpen had more wins than the Yankees' bullpen (40 to 35).

The 2018 Red Sox bullpen had fewer losses than the Yankees' bullpen (16 to 20).

The 2018 Red Sox bullpen had two more blown saves than the Yankees' bullpen (20 to 18), but both teams allowed 32% of inherited runners to score.

2018 Record At Start of 5th Inning
             Ahead         Tied         Behind
Yankees   71-10 .877    14- 8 .636    15-44 .254
Red Sox   60- 7 .896    25- 6 .806    23-41 .359
2018 Record At Start of 6th Inning
             Ahead         Tied         Behind
Yankees   76-10 .884    14-10 .583    10-42 .192
Red Sox   78- 7 .918    17- 7 .708    13-40 .245

Will Leitch ( Red Sox Will Finish 9 GB Yankees

Will Leitch of predicts a 17-game swing in the AL East, with the Yankees improving by four wins (100 to 104) and the Red Sox sliding back by 13 wins (108 to 95).

In other words, Boston will go from finishing eight games ahead of the Yankees last year to ending up nine games behind them in 2019. Needless to say, I do not share Leitch's outlook.
It's easy to forget this now, but heading into last season, it was the Yankees, not the Red Sox, who were widely considered the heavy favorite in the American League East. In fact, picking Boston to win the division became a sort-of indicator of hipster contrarianism; sure, the Yankees just brought in Giancarlo Stanton, but Boston might be pretty good too ...

It turned out that Boston was indeed quite good: 108 wins, the most in franchise history, and a blitz through the playoffs, losing just three postseason games en route to its fourth World Series title in the last 14 years. The 2018 Boston Red Sox were one of the best teams of your lifetime. All that's left for them to assure their immortality is to go out and win another one, becoming the first team this century to repeat.

Yet you still see the Yankees as a popular offseason pick to win the division, thanks largely to their additions and, mostly, the lack thereof from the Red Sox. That's how good the AL East is: A team wins 108 games, coasts to a title and brings everybody back ... and it still isn't the popular pick to win the division. ...

Boston Red Sox

Can they keep the party going? ...

While the Yankees went out and secured what could be one of the deepest bullpens in recent baseball history, the Red Sox waved goodbye to Joe Kelly and (apparently) Craig Kimbrel and have replaced them with ... no one. Seriously, the bullpen was the Sox's major worry last season, and they've brought back the same 'pen minus its two best October pieces. There's some debate as to whom the closer will be ... But frankly, just getting to the closer looks like a challenge here. ... [I]f the Red Sox struggle this year, this will be why.

The Red Sox offense was ludicrous in 2018, and most of their stars are either entering or are smack in the middle of their primes. The top four of Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts is a gauntlet no pitcher wants to see to start a game ...

But things go sideways during a season sometimes, particularly because of injury. What do the Red Sox do if any of their stars go down, either in the lineup or the rotation? They're insanely good, but they're not deep enough to withstand multiple injuries. ... Everything went right for the Red Sox last year. But it doesn't usually go that smoothly.

New York Yankees

The much-hyped combination of Judge and Giancarlo Stanton (and Gary Sanchez) didn't get to fully play out last year, largely because injuries limited Judge to 112 games. ... -[I]f he can get back to 150 games, the Yankees can be the Yankees they were supposed to be all along. ... Considering the Yankees still won 100 games last year, they could be leaping into quite rareified air indeed.

The Yankees have gone an unusually long time without a true shutdown ace ... [I]t'd sure be nice if [James Paxton] were the 2017, 2.98 ERA Paxton rather than the 2018, 3.76 ERA version. The good news is that his strikeout rate went up last year while his walk rate stayed steady; it's his home run rate going up that hurt him. ...

The Yankees have, oh, seven bullpen arms who would instantly become the best reliever on almost any other team in the sport. ... If you're behind by more than two runs in the fifth inning, you may already be toast. ... You can't entirely eliminate bullpen volatility. But the Yankees sure have come close.

Predicted standings
New York Yankees   104- 58
Boston Red Sox      95- 67
Tampa Bay Rays      90- 72
Toronto Blue Jays   72- 90
Baltimore Orioles   50-112
Two other bits: The Blue Jays had five sacrifice bunts last year - the fewest since 1894, when sacrifice bunts were first counted. (They had only two in their first 105 games.) Three other teams had fewer than 10 sac bunts in 2018: Athletics 6, Angels 7, Red Sox 7. "Can they get it down to four? Three? Absolute zero?" ... Rays manager Kevin Cash says his rotation will consist of three starters and two openers.

Okay, actually three bits ... but that's my next post.

February 23, 2019

Red Sox 8, Yankees 5 (Standing Like Greyhounds In The Slip)

Yankees - 120 000 020 - 5 13  2
Red Sox - 015 000 02x - 8 13  0
Baseball's reigning champions began 2019's Grapefruit League schedule by dispatching their long-time rivals in an off-hand manner likely to be replicated many times over the summer.

The Red Sox's day unfolded thusly: Come out, bask in the sun, realize the Yankees have a quick 3-0 lead, decide to start paying attention, score five runs in the third inning, replace New York's three-run lead with one of their own, know the MFY won't be doing shit for the rest of the afternoon, relax and enjoy the next two hours, barely notice when the Yankees get a couple of additional runs, promptly do the same, and whatever...

Michael Chavis, Rafael Devers, Tzu-Wei Lin, and Bryce Brentz each had two hits. Chavis hit a three-run homer.

The game is afoot.

February 22, 2019

Pedro And Sale Impressed With Rodriguez's Early Pitches; Red Sox Play Their First Game Today

Eduardo Rodriguez is already throwing filth in spring training, judging from the reactions of Chris Sale and Pedro Martinez.

Sale has been helping EdRo develop his slider and Pedro liked what he saw: "That's ridiculous. Just ridiculous. ... That was one of the most impressive BPs that you could see. No hesitation, no stopping. It was beautiful to watch."

It's exciting to hear Pedro's words because maybe this is the year that Rodriguez - who turns 26 on April 7 - will consistently display the brilliance we have seen from time to time over his four seasons in Boston:
I see for the first time he is demanding more out of every pitch. He's asking for more and more. He's making good quality pitches, but he wants to improve them. ... Eddie, I think, physically is more mature now. He understands his body better. He's understanding where he needs to improve. ... [T]his is his first time in spring training the last few years that he comes over and there's no worries [about his knee]. He can just pitch.
Manager Alex Cora (who has already offered the well-worn cliche that Rodriguez is in the proverbial "best shape of his life"!):
The work he put in the offseason is paying off. He's repeating his delivery. You ask any of those guys, everybody was watching. He's kind of like the favorite pitcher of the whole camp. When he throws live BPs, everybody is out there watching. [Why?] Besides giving him a hard time all the time, they want him to be great. They see it. At one point in their careers, Sale and Price were that guy. They're hard on him because they know how talented he is. Sometimes he gets caught up on who he wants to be. He wants to be Chris one day and Rick the next day and David the next outing. We want him to be Eduardo. ... When he has that combination of fastball up, changeup down, he's lethal. ... [It's] just a matter of him putting a whole season [together], and we do feel it's going to happen this year.
You've got Cy Youngs from these guys here. I love the way they treat me. Like a little brother. But I want to get to that point. I want to get to the point where I can be available to win a Cy Young ...
Steven Wright will work out of the bullpen in 2019:
Everyone is used to seeing, especially the way the game is now, 95-plus, so to have someone throwing a knuckleball, I'm already throwing 20 mph slower from everyone else. That can be a different look and a different viewpoint to the hitters.
We talked about it going into October. Everybody thought he was going to be the guy in October. Too bad he got hurt. But he can come in and give us three [innings], give us one. He does an outstanding job holding runners. It's tough on the catchers, but all of ours can catch the knuckleball, so I'm not worried about bringing him in with traffic.
Red Sox chairman Tom Werner says it is "extremely unlikely" that the team will sign Craig Kimbrel.

The Red Sox will play their first game of the spring today, against the Northeastern Huskies. Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal relayed some information from Cora:
Blake Swihart will catch, Christian Vazquez will DH, Tzu-Wei Lin will play short, Bobby Dalbec at third, Chad de la Guerra will play second, Sam Travis will be at first. Tate Matheny will be in the outfield, along with Cole Sturgeon.

Mike Shawaryn will start, followed by Darwinzon Hernandez, Domingo Tapia and Josh Taylor.

On Saturday, against the Yankees, the Sox will use Josh Smith, Marcus Walden, Travis Lakins, Erasmo Ramirez and, according to Cora "some hard thrower we'll have from the minor leagues that will shock everybody."

Cora added that Sandy Leon and Rafael Devers could be in the lineup Saturday against New York. Andrew Benintendi, Eduardo Nunez, Mitch Moreland and Brock Holt could play Sunday.

February 21, 2019

Nick Cafardo Of The Globe Dies Suddenly At Spring Training Camp, Age 62

Shocking news from spring training camp:

Boston Globe sportswriter Nick Cafardo suffered an embolism early this afternoon, collapsing outside the Red Sox's clubhouse. After being attended to by Red Sox medical personnel, Cafardo was taken by ambulance to Gulf Coast Medical Center, but doctors could not revive him.

Cafardo was only 62 years old. He had worked for Globe since 1989.

Dan Shaughnessy, Globe:
Nick Cafardo worked in a profession peppered with competitive souls, jealousy, and millionaire athletes accustomed to being praised unconditionally. One of the best baseball writers of his generation, Nick managed to cover the sport without generating any hard feelings. Everybody liked Nick. The man had no enemies. For a baseball writer in 2019, that's impossible. ...

Nick was the ultimate beat guy, the ultimate baseball guy. Major League Baseball is all about showing up every day for the full 162 games. And that's what Nick did. ...

"Nick wasn't even supposed to be at the ballpark Thursday," Globe deputy sports editor Scott Thurston said. "But he loved being over there. He must have been getting some material for the Sunday notes." ...

"I never saw the man in a panic," remembered [Globe photographer Stan] Grossfeld. "Not on deadline. He was smooth and steady and had a million contacts, all of whom probably smiled when he called them. He was a gentle soul. I never saw him yell or raise his voice. He was a newspaperman to the core." ...

What else can we tell you about the man? We teased him because he never had cash. He was forever borrowing your phone charger. He didn't wear shorts in Florida because he thought he had chicken legs. Nick thought the NHL was going to hell and blamed it on players wearing helmets (we thought he simply missed the Esposito brothers).

He was a routinely rumpled sportswriter, but when we saw him wearing a sharp blazer, we knew he was scheduled for a television appearance. Nick wrote several books and has a new one coming out this summer with Jerry Remy.
John Tomase, WEEI:
One of the first lessons you learn in the press box is that you'll encounter two types of writers: those who accept and encourage you from Day 1, and those who look right through you until you've paid your dues.

The latter camp outnumbered the former when I joined the Red Sox beat for real in 1999. There were a lot of crusty old-timers in those days, and it's not that they weren't friendly, necessarily, but they weren't going to go out of their way to point you in the right direction, either. They had a job to do, and it wasn't babysitting.

Then there was Nick Cafardo. I began covering pro sports at the Eagle-Tribune in Lawrence as a nobody with a freaking ponytail. He had no reason to pay any attention to me, but was immediately friendly, warm, and kind. ...

He also exhibited the ultimate sign of confidence -- magnanimity. We technically competed on the Red Sox beat, but those rare times I beat him on a story, he was generous with praise. I remember his indignation over a small story in the grand scheme of things, Red Sox right-hander Brad Penny calling in 2009 to tell me he had requested his release.

"How'd you get that!" Nick exclaimed. "I was working on that all day and then that (expletive) called you!?!"


"Nice job."
Various tweets, posted at SoSH:
Peter Gammons‏, @pgammo: "I don't know what to say when a longtime friend, colleague and sidekick, Nick Cafardo, passes away so tragically. It is a horrific, sickening day. For anyone who knew and respected him."

Steve Buckley‏, @BuckinBoston: "Nick Cafardo's passing has stunned all of us here in Fort Myers. One of the giants of our business, Nick was a kind, decent man who brightened the press box. As someone who sat next to him for more than 25 years, I can attest to his good nature."

Amalie Benjamin, @AmalieBenjamin: "I've been stunned since I heard. Nick could not have been nicer to me when I was just starting out at the Globe. He was a wonderful beat partner for years and, of course, will be missed. My thoughts are with his family."

Andrew Marchand, @AndrewMarchand: "Tragic news about a great man, Nick Cafardo. Nick was not only a top reporter, but always a friendly face at Fenway or Yankee Stadium."

Bob Nightengale‏, @BNightengale: "I absolutely loved this man. Nick Cafardo was one of the greatest people I've ever met in this business, and such a dear friend. Absolutely heartbreaking. The sports world lost a great one, and I can't tell you how much we will miss him."

Keith Olbermann, @KeithOlbermann: "Nightmare news from spring training. He was one of the true good guys - with everybody. #RipNick"

Mike Lupica, @MikeLupica: "There are simply no proper words to describe the sudden loss of Nick Cafardo today. There was no one in our business more respected. There was no one who was ever better company at the ballpark. He was a wonderful writer, and even more of a gent. Too young, far too soon."

Tim Kurkjian, @Kurkjian_ESPN: "We are crushed. They don’t get better personally and professionally than Nick Cafardo. Rest In Peace, my friend."

Seth Mnookin, @sethmnookin: "This is so, so sad. I met Nick 15 yrs ago when I first wrote about @RedSox; he was always kind, patient, & his passion for baseball shone through everything he wrote. The outpouring of grief from colleagues & baseball players alike says everything. Condolences to family/friends."

February 15, 2019

Pedroia Arrives Cautiously Optimistic, Mookie Believes He Can Improve, Price Plans To Repeat Himself, Radio Booth Installs Revolving Door

Dustin Pedroia played only three games last season, going 1-for-11 in late May. Now 35 years old, FY is preparing for his 14th major league season with a cautious optimism. (Video of his first BP session.)
I don't have any restrictions right now. I just have to be smart, that's the thing. I don't need to take 100 ground balls. I need to take the amount that it takes for me to get ready for the game and stop, to just limit my time on my feet and make sure that I'm always staying on top of things to stay healthy. ... I appreciate him [Alex Cora] doing that [batting Pedroia leadoff on Opening Day]. He better not give me too many days hitting leadoff, I might stay there. ... I have to be smart because if I play out of control or do something, I could wake up the next day and it could be bad. I don't want to work for as long as I have to mess that up. I know everyone thinks I'm crazy and I won't listen to anybody, but that's not the case.
Pedroia said the unorthodox cartilage restoration surgery on his left knee may not have been the best option.
I don't regret doing it, but looking back and knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have done it. ... [Instead, I might] change rehab styles, treatment styles, things like that. It's a complicated surgery. The cartilage in my knee is great now, but the graft is the thing. You're putting somebody else's bone in your body. To get that to incorporate fully ... going into it I didn't know all that stuff. I thought they were like, "You tore this, we can fix it." I'm like, "Oh, that sounds great." But I didn't know.
Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations, acknowledges that even though the medical reports on Pedroia are good, "we're hopeful he's a 125-game player at this point".

Mookie Betts won the AL MVP last year and says there is room for improvement.
Just being consistent. Obviously, you're going to have your ups and your downs, but the more ups I can have and the quicker the downs are, the better I'll be. I did a pretty good job with that last year. So I have to do it again. It's tough to do again.
Jackie Bradley also hopes to improve - in the outfield. Really. JBJ won his first Gold Glove last year, but thinks 2018 was likely his worst in the field.
[I]t goes to show that sometimes what you think might not be accurate. But I think I can get better and learn some things and still continue to grow. ... You never want to talk about individual awards, but it's something [the Gold Glove] that I always wanted ... It's something that I've dreamed of getting one day ... I love trying to keep guys from advancing an extra base. I think that's very vital in today's game, when 90 feet is at a premium.
Chris Sale will be a free agent after this season and he like to stay in Boston.
This is a special group of people. A very special city and an unbelievable fan base. Not to mention the fact that we've got a hell of a team and we're going to have that team for a few years to come. It's a good place for me, it's a good spot. I love playing here. I'd love to keep playing here.
Xander Bogaerts will also be eligible for free agency next winter.
The Red Sox have treated me well throughout my career. It's a place that anyone and everyone would want to play or stay. Boston is an amazing city. All the teams, all they do is win. It would be weird (to leave) because this is the only uniform I've known.
During the offseason, the Red Sox talked with Bogaerts about a contract extension, but as Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal reports, "the talks went nowhere [and] the two sides have not spoken since then". Also from McAdam:
When Alex Cora was reminded that the Sox don't have a shortstop capable of replacing Bogaerts in 2020, the manager rolled his eyes.

"It's day three, bro," he said. "I'm not even thinking about that."
David Price:
When Cora hugged me on the field right after we won, the first thing I said to him was, "I want to do it again next year." I think the first time you ever go through something like that, you don't really grasp what's going on and get to enjoy it the way you should enjoy that moment. ... [T]he season ended the way we all wanted it to, and then it's kind of over. You get to spend the next two or three days with the guys but after that, you're back to normal life ... So to get back with everybody, it brings back all the memories. Everybody is talking about it and it's enjoyable. ... I didn't come here to win one World Series. I came here to win multiple World Series.
If you are wondering why Price is now wearing #10, click here.

Steven Wright also had left knee surgery and is not yet fully recovered.
I had a pretty big cleanup (to remove scar tissue). I started throwing last week and I'm trying not to do too much, too soon. It's a long year, so I just want to make sure than when I do come back, I don't have to worry about on-and-off the DL ... I've still got some strength to build up. I'm not babying it, but I want to make sure we do it right. ... I don't think I'm ever going to feel 100 percent again ... but we're trying to get as close to that as we can and staying consistent with it.
Ian Browne,
The last 18 teams who tried to repeat went 0-for-18. Only two of them (2001 Yankees, 2009 Phillies) made it back to the World Series. Five of them (including the 2008 Red Sox) lost in the League Championship Series. Two (including the 2005 Red Sox) bowed out in the Division Series. And you might be surprised to know that nine of the 18 (including the 2014 Red Sox) didn't even make the playoffs.
Joe Castiglione will spend his 37th season in the Red Sox radio booth with a rotating group of at least eight different announcers. Entercom announced that Sean McDonough, Josh Lewin, Mario Impemba, Chris Berman, Lou Merloni, Dale Arnold, Tom Caron, and Dave O’Brien will all team up with Castiglione on WEEI in 2019.

Why won't Berman go back back back back back to wherever he came from? ... He's the one guy who can make me beg and plead for the opportunity to listen to Dave O'Brien.

Castiglione does not agree with me (not publicly, at least): "They're all good baseball people. It should flow well."

McDonough, who called Red Sox games on TV from 1988-2004, will be in the booth for about 30 games, including one of the first games against the Yankees (either April 16 or 17).
It's nice to be back in the Red Sox fold ... I didn't want to leave 15 years ago, but in many ways, it was a good thing that I did, because it enabled me to do a lot of things that I otherwise wouldn't have done – the U.S. Open, British Open. ... My path has been winding and interesting, and I'm glad it's brought me back to this place – particularly at this time.
Lewin has called MLB, NFL and NHL games since the mid-90s. He says when someone gives you an opportunity like this, "you fly to it like a moth to a light".
No offense to the Milwaukee Brewers, but if I was telling (my wife), "Hey, honey, I'm going to be spending 50 or 60 days away from you this year to call Brewers games", she would probably raise her eyebrows. But she's enough of a baseball fan to go, "The Red Sox? Go."
Someone Named Alex Bregman said: "After watching the Patriots win and with the Red Sox beating us last year, there's no other city that I would like to beat more this year than Boston." ... Bregman? Who is he, again?

Lars Anderson, writing for The Athletic:
On​ a cool February morning​ in 2007, I finished packing​ my​ signing bonus-funded​ Toyota FJ​ Cruiser (which​ I still​ drive),​ hugged my​​ father goodbye, and drove away from my childhood home in Fair Oaks, Calif.

The destination: Fort Myers, Fla.

The purpose: My first spring training as a member of the Boston Red Sox. I was 19. ...

Memory is a funny thing: I couldn't tell you what I did last Tuesday, but I can still recall the most innocuous minutiae from that trip: The smell of the frozen morning air outside of Flagstaff, Ariz.; the taste of a midday coffee in Amarillo, Texas; the terror when my SUV got stuck in a foot of snow on an abandoned dirt road off the interstate in New Mexico where I had stopped to pee; the sound of Will Patton's voice narrating the audiobook of Charles Frazier's "13 Moons," as I drove through the Deep South for the first time. But most of all, I remember being excited. ...

At the time, I was totally oblivious to the fact that while my own beginning approached, other players were marching toward their ends. As I would soon discover, spring training was a place where careers and dreams expired at an alarming rate.
Anderson's major league career never got off the ground, lasting only 56 plate appearances in 30 games over three seasons with the Red Sox (2010-12). I became intrigued by Anderson way back in 2008 because he was so animated and effusive about literature.

Lindy's 2019 Baseball Annual: Yankees Predicted To Finish Atop AL East

Lindy's Sports - 2019 Baseball Annual
AL East
Red Sox
Blue Jays
General Comments:
Yankees - As GM Brian Cashman put it, the Yankees were a "fully operational Death Star" during the Hot Stove season, adding James Paxton and courting some of the top free agents, including Manny Machado, to close the gap on the Red Sox. New York was 10-13 against Boston in 2018, with a minus-28 run differential.

Red Sox - The Red Sox re-signed playoff hero Nathan Eovaldi but otherwise had a quiet off-season after toying with the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers in their World Series run. Including their 11-3 playoff record, the Sox were a staggering 119-57, and the entire batting order returns intact. A 100-win season should be a breeze.
[Note: "Courting" free agents will not "close the gap" on anyone. Talk is cheap. Boston's summary sounds much more positive (as do the sections below), yet the MFY are picked to finish first.]

AL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees
AL Cy Young: Trevor Bauer, Cleveland
AL Rookie: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
AL Rookie Pitcher: Jesus Luzardo, Athletics

NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals
NL Cy Young: Aaron Nola, Phillies
NL Rookie: Victor Robles, Nationals
NL Rookie Pitcher: Alex Reyes, Cardinals

AL Division Winners: Yankees, Cleveland, Astros
NL Division Winners: Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers
AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Rays
NL Wild Cards: Cubs, Mets
AL Pennant: Astros
NL Pennant: Cardinals

Red Sox
Is there such a thing as celebration fatigue? With a five-game dismissal of the Dodgers in the World Series last year, Boston notched its fourth title in 15 years.

Scout's Take: The great thing about Dave Dombrowski is that he doesn't worry about what could happen four years down the road and doesn't over-value their prospects. He's all about winning now. A lot of these young general managers, who never want to take a risk, could learn a lot from Dave. ... I'd be worried about Sale. His stuff was not the same in the second half. ... These guys do not give away at-bats when they get to two strikes. They find a way to put the ball in play. Betts is really, really good at that, and he's the MVP. What's that tell you? ... Not sure about their plan to go without a set closer. I understand there is pressure in other innings, but it takes a certain guy to get the last out. The safety net that is there in the seventh and eighth is gone in the ninth.

[Note: There has been absolutely no indication that the Red Sox will be "without a set closer" in 2019.]

Rotation: Chris Sale's fastball/slider combination is so lethal, hitters are challenged to square him up even if they know what's coming. ... [David Price's] fastball usage has declined from 74 percent in 2010 to 46 percent in 2018. ... Rick Porcello, a sinkerballer earlier in his career, threw his slider a career-high 24 percent of the time last season. He needs to do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard after allowing 88 homers over the past three seasons. That's the third-highest long-ball rate in the majors since 2016, behind James Shields and Mike Fiers.

Catcher: [Sandy] Leon's 3.52 catcher's ERA since 2016 leads the AL and ranks second in the majors, behind Yasmani Grandal, in that span. ... [Christian] Vazquez's career 39.4-percent caught-stealing rate (52-for-132) is the best among active catchers (minimum 100 games).

Infield: Of [Mitch Moreland's] 99 hits last season, 67 were up the middle or the other way. ... Xander Bogaerts, the first Red Sox shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra to drive in 100 runs in a season, is a disciplined hitter with a solid two-strike approach, but his defensive metrics are below average. Third baseman Rafael Devers ... is one of seven MLB players since 2000 to have hit 30-plus homers in 175 or fewer games before age 22.

Outfield: [Mookie Betts] ranked sixth in the AL with 4.2 pitches per plate appearance last season, and his 64.4-percent rate of pitches taken was second only to Joe Mauer. ... [Andrew Benintendi] has an impressive ability to control his heart rate and stick to a plan in big spots. His .329 batting average in "close and late" situations and .338 mark with runners in scoring position ranked among the top 10 in the AL last season. Boston's starting outfielders ... stole 68 bases in 78 attempts last year, an 87-percent success rate.

[Note: No heart-rate control stats were provided.]

Dombrowski's emphasis on the here-and-now has put a crimp in a farm system that once ranked among the game's elite. But the Red Sox have enough money - and enough key players under control for the foreseeable future - to buy time as they restock the talent pipeline for the long haul.
A 100-win season, a major league-record 267 home runs and 3.4 million in attendance would typically be cause for euphoria ... but the abrupt ending to the 2018 season left [the Yankees] with an empty feeling inside.

The Yankees were feeling awfully good about themselves after Game 2 of the American League Division Series. ... Aaron Judge [walked] past the [Red Sox] clubhouse ... with "New York, New York" blaring on his boombox. In the world of competitive gamesmanship, this is typically known as "poking the bear." The Red Sox responded with a 16-1 blowout in New York ... and the Yankees were ultimately resigned to watching their historical rivals storm past Houston and Los Angeles for a title.

Scout's Take: Yes, they hit a ton of homers and beat up a lot of No. 4 and 5 starters. But look at what happened to them against Boston in the playoffs. They had no idea how to do anything but take big swings. They were not a good situational hitting team, certainly not as good as Boston. ... If they can keep Paxton on the mound, they've got a No. 1 starter. His cutter is almost unhittable. The problem is his health. He's never had a major problem like an elbow or a shoulder, but it's always something with him. ... Sanchez is a brutal receiver, but I guess they're going to stay with him. It seems like he's always running to the backstop to get the ball. ... They made a good move keeping J.A. Happ. He's smart and knows how to work around not having a good breaking pitch.

[Note: Yep, that all sounds amazing!]

Rotation: Luis Severino was making a strong case for Cy Young consideration last year when ... his 2.31 pre-All-Star game ERA ballooned to 5.57 after the break. The Yankees hope it was just fatigue ... Paxton has averaged 24 starts and 139 innings over the past three seasons, so the Yankees might have to come up with a creative conservation plan to get him through October.

Catcher: Is Gary Sanchez approaching a crossroads at age 26? ... [H]is laissez faire defense became harder to abide when he missed an extended period last season because of a groin injury and slashed .186/.291/.406. The Yankees don't have enough free DH at-bats to go around, so Sanchez is going to have to apply himself and figure it out defensively.

Infield: Didi Gregorius underwent Tommy John surgery last October and probably won't be back until the All-Star break, at the earliest. The Yankees took a one-year flyer on the perennially injured Troy Tulowitzki to fill the void. Tulo didn't play at all in 2018 ... Third baseman Miguel Andujar [is] considered a liability with the glove, but scouts think the raw materials are there for him to become a passable defender.

[Note: Reminds me of the quote attributed to Casey Stengel: "See that fella over there? He's 20 years old. ... In 10 years he's got a chance to be 30."]

Outfield: Judge's ground-ball rate spiked from 35 to 42 percent last year, and he needs to get the ball airborne more consistently ... Injury magnet Jacoby Ellsbury has two years left on his $153 million contract, and the Yankees and their fans are counting the days.

Designated Hitter: [Giancarlo] Stanton [who struck out a whopping 211 times last year] is prone to ungodly hot stretches followed by extended periods of flying open, chasing fastballs up in the zone and looking completely lost. The Yankees have to hope he'll put less pressure on himself ... otherwise they might get a little antsy about the guaranteed $270 million still due him.

[Aaron Boone's first season] ended on a sour note when he was pilloried for sticking with starting pitchers CC Sabathia and Luis Severino too long and failing to show the requisite sense of urgency in the Yankees' ALDS loss to Boston. Through no fault of his own, Boone is being compared with Alex Cora, who steered the Red Sox through his rookie season with barely a misstep. No one said it was going to be easy."