March 31, 2011

Hungry And Faithful, Watching And Waiting

William Saroyan, Sports Illustrated, October 8, 1956:
Baseball is caring. Player and fan alike must care, or there is no game. If there's no game, there's no pennant race and no World Series. And for all any of us know there might soon be no nation at all.

The caring is whole and constant, whether warranted or hopeless, tender or angry, ribald or reverent. From the first pitch to the last out the caring continues. With a score of 6-0, two outs, two strikes, nobody on, only an average batter at bat, it is still possible, and sometimes necessary, to believe something can still happen - for the simple reason that it has happened before, and very probably will again. And when it does, won't that be the day? Isn't that alone almost enough to live for, assuming there might just be little else? To witness so pure a demonstration of the unaccountable way by which the human spirit achieves stunning, unbelievable grandeur?

If the caring isn't for a team (because a team won't come through, or can't), then for the game itself, the annual ritual, moving with time and the world, the carefully planned and slowly accelerated approach to the great reward - the outcome, the answer, the revelation of the best, the winner.

It is good to care - in any dimension. More Americans put their spare (and purest?) caring into baseball than into anything else I can think of - and most of them put at least a little of it there. Most of them know the game is going on all the time, like the tides, and suspect there's a reason, or at least wonder about it. What is all the fuss about the whole year, and all the excitement every October? Is this a nation of kids, or what? Why not existentialism instead of baseball, for instance? Well, for one thing, you've got to be tired to care for old existentialism, and Americans just aren't ready to be that tired yet. For another, baseball can be trusted, as great art can, and bad art can't, especially as it comes from Hollywood, where sharp dealing is an accepted principle of profit-making. And it doesn't matter that baseball is very, very big business - quite the contrary. That only makes its truth all the more touching and magnificent. It doesn't matter, either, that the great players don't think of baseball as I do, for instance. Why should they? It's enough for them to go after being great and then to be great - and then to be no longer able, as time goes by.

I'm devoted to the game, to all of the teams in both leagues and to the World Series, because I don't know of anything better of its kind to be devoted to - and it's always out there with that anonymous crowd of the hungry and faithful, watching and waiting, in the stadium - their eyes on the geometric design of the fresh diamond, all set for the unfolding of another episode in the great drama, which cannot be put anywhere else - not into movies, not onto the stage, not even onto the television screen (although that's pretty good when you're held captive somewhere 3,000 miles away from the great place and the grand moment), not into books, and not even into statistics, although the game has grown on them.

It's a game - the biggest and best and most decent yet. The idea is to win the most games in the American or the National League, and then to go on and win the World Series: to establish a statistic, and tie it forever to the ragtag experience of a whole people for a whole year. ...

Well, is it a game? Is that all it is? ... What good does that do the nation? What good does that do the world?

A little good. Quite a little.

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RLYW Projection Outblow

SG, Replacement Level Yankees Weblog (my bold):
[I]t's time to present my annual Diamond Mind Projection blowout. The idea behind this is to take several projection systems and run the 2011 season multiple times through Diamond Mind Baseball, which I consider to be the most statistically accurate baseball simulator available. ...

Projection systems are inherently limited in their accuracy, particularly for pitchers. ... Playing time distribution in these simulations will not match actual 2011 playing time. ... We cannot predict injuries and/or roster changes. ... These are not meant to tell you how the season is going to play out. ... These are the averages of hundreds of thousands of simulated seasons, so the results will tend to regress towards the mean. The final standings will not look like this, because they only play the season once. ...
SG further explains, using the Tigers as an example:
One thing I need to note, since it may not be obvious. Those standings are NOT saying the Tigers are going to win the AL Central with 84.6 wins. They are saying the Tigers projected to win the AL Central most frequently (31.2% of the time) and that they averaged 84.6 wins. Those are two separate things. In order to actually win the division, the AL Central winner had to win 90 games on average.
The winner of the AL East averaged 98 wins. The AL wild card winner averaged 92 wins.

While SG posted the projections for all six divisions, I'm including only the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays here.

Bill James Edition
           W     L     RS   RA   Div    WC     PL    W+/-  RS+/-RA+/-
Red Sox   95.2  66.8  796  667  40.0%  19.8%  59.7%   6.2  -22  -77
Yankees   94.2  67.8  817  698  36.4%  20.4%  56.9%  -0.8  -42    5
Rays      87.3  74.7  775  703  14.8%  14.9%  29.7%  -8.7  -27   54
           W     L     RS   RA   Div    WC     PL    W+/-  RS+/-RA+/-
Red Sox   95.8  66.2  826  684  42.8%  18.7%  61.5%   6.8    8  -60
Yankees   93.1  68.9  821  713  31.7%  19.4%  51.1%  -1.9  -38   20
Rays      87.6  74.4  734  660  17.8%  14.9%  32.7%  -8.4  -68   11
           W     L     RS   RA   Div    WC     PL    W+/-  RS+/-RA+/-
Red Sox   91.6  70.4  841  734  40.0%  14.4%  54.4%   2.6   23  -10
Yankees   89.0  73.0  785  711  28.5%  14.1%  42.5%  -6.0  -74   18
Rays      85.3  76.7  747  699  19.2%  11.5%  30.7% -10.7  -55   50
           W     L     RS   RA   Div    WC     PL    W+/-  RS+/-RA+/-
Red Sox   95.4  66.6  813  672  46.5%  18.3%  64.8%   6.4   -5  -72
Yankees   93.5  68.5  801  682  36.6%  19.1%  55.7%  -1.5  -58  -11
Rays      83.2  78.8  787  759  10.7%  10.6%  21.3% -12.8  -15  110
           W     L     RS   RA   Div    WC     PL    W+/-  RS+/-RA+/-
Red Sox   94.1  67.9  809  681  41.1%  17.7%  58.8%   5.1   -9  -63
Yankees   92.1  69.9  835  730  31.0%  18.1%  49.0%  -2.9  -24   37
Rays      87.0  75.0  765  700  17.5%  15.0%  32.5%  -9.0  -37   51
Diamond Mind (cumulative)
           W     L     RS   RA   Div    WC     PL    W+/-  RS+/-RA+/-
Red Sox   94.4  67.6  817  687  42.1%  17.8%  59.8%   5.4   -1  -57
Yankees   92.4  69.6  812  707  32.8%  18.2%  51.0%  -2.6  -47   14
Rays      86.1  75.9  762  704  16.0%  13.4%  29.4%  -9.9  -40   55
SG also offers general comments on each team, and why they might be better (or worse) than projected.

And pie charts!

The JoS Interview: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Jarrod Saltalamacchia had been on the Red Sox's radar since at least mid-2008.

In September of that year, the Boston Globe reported that the team was "intrigued" by the Rangers' 23-year-old, switch-hitting backstop. While Texas had a surplus of catchers, including Gerald Laird and Taylor Teagarden, it was widely known that Boston would have to give up a top pitching prospect to get him. That pitching prospect was Clay Buchholz, whose 6.75 ERA that year had led to a demotion to the minors.

The Sons of Sam Horn had a poll:
"Would you trade Clay Buchholz for Jarrod Saltalamacchia?"
Yes: 169
No: 189
In November 2008, Saltalamacchia said that playing for the Red Sox would be "a dream come true. ... I'd love to go there and either work under Jason [Varitek] for a year or two or just go there and catch full-time. I love watching Jason. He's like an idol of mine."

No trade was made, however, and Saltalamacchia stayed in Texas. He began 2009 in AAA, but played in 84 games for the Rangers, hitting an unimpressive .233/.290/.371. He spent the first half of 2010 in AAA before Boston acquired him at the July 31 trade deadline for three minor leaguers (none of whom have yet to play above A ball).

Salty appeared in 10 games for the Red Sox, hitting .158, but walking enough to have a .360 OBP, before a torn ligament in his left thumb (which he had suffered in July while still with Texas) ended his season.

According to several reports over the winter, after surgery on his thumb, Salty -- having the inside track on being the starting catcher for 2011 -- worked like a fiend with catching instructor Gary Tuck (who actually moved from his home in Indiana to Florida to be near Saltalamacchia). For nine weeks, every Tuesday and Thursday,
they would meet at a local high school or drive 80 miles north to the Los Angeles Dodgers' abandoned complex in Vero Beach and sweat through drill after drill for 2.5 hours in what Red Sox manager Terry Francona dubbed "Camp Tuck". Tuck has another name for it: "The Salty Project".
In camp this spring, both Jon Lester and Josh Beckett noted Salty's improvement (and Tek-like mannerisms) behind the plate. Salty, who turns 26 on May 2, led the team in hitting this spring, with a .405 average and a 1.114 OPS. Although he played in only 15 games, he led the Sox with 10 RBI and tied for the lead in doubles, with six.

Thanks to the help of Jim Munsey, Saltalamacchia's agent, I can present this Opening Day Eve interview with the man who has the longest last name in major league history (which also includes the name of our dog, Tala):

Was there a delay in starting your off-season workouts, because of the thumb surgery? Did you work with Gary Tuck right away? You said working with Tuck was "something I've been wanting to do for a long time". Can you elaborate on that?

My thumb surgery set me back about a month from when I would usually start my winter program, but I was able to catch up. Tuck has quite a reputation as a catching instructor league-wide and he was friendly with Scott Servais, who helped me in Texas. I was hoping to work with Tuck earlier but it's a little tricky when a player in one organization approaches a coach from another. It's sort of frowned upon.

Did Tuck have an overall program or was there specific stuff that you (and/or the Red Sox) thought needed work? One article stated you worked with him for a few hours a day, twice a week and worked on "receiving, blocking and footwork ... technical aspects of the craft". Can you describe one or two of the drills or exercises, something an average fan might not be familiar with?

Like you said, we worked on everything! From footwork to receiving to blocking to throwing motion. The drills involve lots of repetition and are geared to muscle memory. I could tell you more, but then I would have to kill you. This stuff is pretty secretive. : ) It was well worth it.

Terry Francona said Tuck has never seen somebody buy into the program as much as you have. Theo Epstein said you emerged "catching Gary Tuck style". What are the main philosophies (or "style") that they are talking about, and how do they differ from what you may have thought before coming to Boston?

Honestly, I probably can't really get into the whole philosophical differences but when they talk of "buying into" the program, they are referring to the fact that I was an absolute sponge when listening to Tuck. Obviously, anyone in this game wants to be the best they can be. My thought was simple, this guy has been working with Jason Varitek who swears by him - I can probably learn something from a guy like that!

In camp, how much work do you end up doing with each pitcher? Is it more talking with them (as opposed to actual catching), where they tell you their tendencies or ideas or how they are coming along with various pitches, etc.? You do that with mostly the starting pitchers only, I assume.

Actually, it's the same for all pitchers, starters, relievers and closers. My goal is to work with them and get to know each of them individually so I can better understand what their particular tendencies, strengths, and dislikes might be. The goal is to work together out there so they are comfortable, which translates into pitching their best. Getting to know them personality-wise is also important for that reason.

It seems like all that work would eat into the time you have to spend on hitting. While I know the team has said that your bat is secondary to what you do behind the plate, what are hoping to improve on as a hitter this year?

You're right, my main focus is on handling the staff and helping the pitchers be the best they can be. While hitting is secondary, especially in the lineup we're trotting out there everyday, I'm still a baseball player and want to be as complete as I can. I'm trying to improve my right-handed approach and swing. It's actually beginning to show some signs, but it's a work in progress.

The nicknames we hear from the team are pretty lame: Youk, Pedey, Tek, Ells, Pap, Salty - they are all just a portion of the guy's name. We have our own nicknames on the blog for some of the players, but are there any real nicknames being used down there that you could share?

Not on a family website like this, no. :)

Family website? Hmmm ... I knew I wouldn't get anything truly entertaining with that last question, but I thought maybe a "Dr. Doubles"-esque answer was a possibility. Alas.

March 30, 2011

Final Spring Game: Red Sox 10, Astros 0

Red Sox - 500 300 002 - 10 12  0
Astros  - 000 000 000 -  0  4  1
Boston 1st: Ellsbury single/stolen base, Pedroia walk, Crawford single (1-0), Gonzalez single (2-0), Youkilis L8, Ortiz walk, Drew walk (3-0), Saltalamacchia single (5-0), Scutaro L6, Ellsbury 3-1.

Boston 4th: Saltalamacchia single, Scutaro single, Ellsbury double (6-0), Pedroia walk, Crawford single (8-0), Gonzalez single - pitching change - Youkilis K, Ortiz K, Drew P4.

Beckett: 5-1-0-0-3, 16 batters, 61 pitches.
Josh Beckett is on the mound in Houston tonight (the game is on MLBTV) and the Red Sox have this lineup:
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Carl Crawford, LF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Kevin Youkilis, 3B
David Ortiz, DH
J.D. Drew, RF
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Marco Scutaro, SS
Dennys Reyes, Bobby Jenks, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon are expected to follow Beckett.

CBS, SI, Fox Prognosticators Join ESPN In Picking Red Sox

This is getting ridiculous.

Adding up the predictions posted at ESPN, CBSSportsline, CNNSI, and Fox Sports, 60 of 66 prognosticators believe the Red Sox will be playing in the 2011 World Series.
ESPN: 42 of 45 CBS: 8 of 8 CNNSI: 9 of 12 Fox: 1 of 1 60 of 66 (91%)
I posted ESPN's picks earlier. Here are the others:

CBS Sportsline
Evan Brunell        Red Sox  Yankees    Red Sox     Red Sox
Larry Dobrow        Red Sox  Yankees    Red Sox     Red Sox
Danny Knobler       Red Sox  Tigers     Red Sox     Atlanta
Al Melchior         Red Sox  Yankees    Red Sox     Red Sox
Scott Miller        Red Sox  Yankees    Red Sox     Red Sox
C. Trent Rosecrans  Red Sox  Yankees    Red Sox     Red Sox
Matt Snyder         Yankees  Red Sox    Red Sox     Red Sox
Scott White         Red Sox  Yankees    Red Sox     Red Sox

                    MVP        CY YOUNG   ROOKIE      MANAGER 
Evan Brunell        AGonzalez  Lester     Hellickson  Maddon
Larry Dobrow        AGonzalez  Sabathia   Hellickson  Guillen
Danny Knobler       MCabrera   Lester     Sale        Leyland 
Al Melchior         AGonzalez  Hernandez  Pineda      Guillen
Scott Miller        AGonzalez  Verlander  Hellickson  Francona
C. Trent Rosecrans  AGonzalez  Price      Hellickson  Geren
Matt Snyder         Teixeira   Lester     Carter      Geren
Scott White         Teixeira   Verlander  Hellickson  Guillen

Comeback Player of Year: Ellsbury (Melchior); Beckett (White)
HR Champion: AGonzalez (Miller)
Bust: Buchholz (Brunell)
Scott Miller, Senior Writer:
AL East
1. Red Sox: The Green Monster is about to become Adrian Gonzalez's personal housebroken pet. You watch: By midsummer, it'll even roll over for a belly rub from Boston's new first baseman. ...

Wild Cards
American League: Yankees. Best second-place team $200 million can buy. ...

World Series
Red Sox over Rockies: Fortunes have changed so dramatically in Boston over the past decade that now you only have to be 4 years old to say, "If the Red Sox can just win the World Series, I can die peacefully." ...

AL MVP [and HR Champ]: Adrian Gonzalez. He finished fourth in NL MVP voting last year. Now, in a ballpark that won't swallow his long fly balls and backed by a killer pitching staff, Gonzalez is an MVP in waiting. ...

AL Manager of the Year: Terry Francona. Like an actor who wins an Oscar after years of near-misses, Francona is primed for the award after last season's excellent job of keeping an injury-ravaged team in contention.
Sports Illustrated:

Tom Verducci   Red Sox  Yankees    Red Sox    Red Sox over Giants
Jon Heyman     Red Sox  Yankees    Rangers    Rockies over Rangers
Joe Posnanski  Red Sox  Yankees    Red Sox    Phillies over Red Sox
Joe Lemire     Red Sox  Yankees    Red Sox    Red Sox over Reds
Ben Reiter     Red Sox  Rays       Red Sox    Red Sox over Phillies
Albert Chen    Yankees  Red Sox    White Sox  Phillies over White Sox
Lee Jenkins    Red Sox  Yankees    Red Sox    Red Sox over Phillies
Ted Keith      Red Sox  Yankees    Red Sox    Phillies over Red Sox
Joe Sheehan    Red Sox  Yankees    Red Sox    Reds over Red Sox
Cliff Corcoran Red Sox  Yankees    Red Sox    Phillies over Red Sox
Tim Marchman   Red Sox  Rays       White Sox  Phillies over White Sox
Mel Antonen    Red Sox  A's        Red Sox    Giants over Red Sox

               MVP          CY YOUNG    ROOKIE    
Tom Verducci   AGonzalez    Verlander   Hellickson
Jon Heyman     ARodriguez   Sabathia    Trumbo
Joe Posnanski  ARodriguez   Lester      Moustakas
Joe Lemire     ARodriguez   Lester      Hellickson
Ben Reiter     Crawford     Lester      Hellickson
Albert Chen    AGonzalez    Verlander   Pineda
Lee Jenkins    Mauer        Lester      Drabek
Ted Keith      Mauer        Hernandez   Hellickson
Joe Sheehan    Longoria     Hernandez   Hellickson 
Cliff Corcoran AGonzalez    Hernandez   Hellickson
Tim Marchman   AGonzalez    Hernandez   Hellickson
Mel Antonen    Crawford     Cahill      Britton
Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports:
AL East

Red Sox: If Beckett and Lackey falter, guess what? They’re as vulnerable as the Yankees.

Yankees: Only question is which starting pitcher — or two — they will acquire.

Rays: Much depends upon the bullpen, which will be a season-long work in progress.

Wild Card: Yankees
ALCS: Red Sox over Yankees
NLCS: Atlanta over Rockies
World Series: Red Sox over Atlanta

MVP: Alex Rodriguez
Cy Young: Jon Lester
Rookie: Brett Lawrie
Manager: Terry Francona

ESPN: Red Sox Overwhelming Favourites to Win World Series

Will the Red Sox be playing in the 2011 World Series? Over at ESPN, 42 of its 45 pundits say Yes!

45 of 45 (100%) pick the Red Sox to win the AL East
42 of 45 (93%) pick the Red Sox to win the AL pennant
33 of 45 (73%) pick the Red Sox to win the World Series
                     AL EAST   WILD CARD   WORLD SERIES
Marty Bernosk        Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Aaron Boone          Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Steve Berthiaume     Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Braves
Dave Cameron         Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Braves
Jim Caple            Red Sox   Rays        White Sox over Phillies
Jason Churchill      Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Braves
Tristan Cockcroft    Red Sox   Yankees     Phillies over Yankees
Jerry Crasnick       Red Sox   Yankees     Braves over Red Sox
Richard Durrett      Red Sox   Yankees     Phillies over Red Sox
Gordon Edes          Red Sox   Tigers      Red Sox over Phillies
Doug Glanville       Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Jason Grey           Red Sox   Rays        Red Sox over Giants
Steve Goldman        Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Pedro Gomez          Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Braves
Orel Hershiser       Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Tony Jackson         Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Giants
Eric Karabell        Red Sox   Rays        Phillies over Rays
Jonah Keri           Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Brewers
John Kruk            Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Braves
David Kull           Red Sox   Yankees     Rockies over Red Sox
Tim Kurkjian         Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Keith Law            Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Braves
Andrew Marchand      Red Sox   Yankees     Phillies over Red Sox
Joe McDonald         Red Sox   Blue Jays   Red Sox over Phillies
Matt Meyers          Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Braves
Mark Mulder          Red Sox   A's         Phillies over Red Sox
Amy K. Nelson        Red Sox   A's         Braves over Red Sox
Dave O'Brien         Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Buster Olney         Red Sox   Yankees     Giants over Red Sox
Doug Padilla         Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Nick Pietruszkiewicz Red Sox   Yankees     Phillies over Red Sox
Karl Ravech          Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Braves
Nate Ravitz          Red Sox   Rays        Red Sox over Phillies
Mark Saxon           Red Sox   Rangers     Red Sox over Phillies
David Schoenfield    Red Sox   A's         Red Sox over Braves
Jon Sciambi          Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Dan Shulman          Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Braves
Mark Simon           Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Jayson Stark         Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Rick Sutcliffe       Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Matt Szefc           Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Peter Pascarelli     Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Giants
Bobby Valentine      Red Sox   Yankees     Phillies over Red Sox
Dave Winfield        Red Sox   Yankees     Red Sox over Phillies
Gene Wojciechowski   Red Sox   Tigers      Red Sox over Phillies
Other ESPN picks:

Cy Young Award
Jon Lester        22
Justin Verlander   7
Felix Hernandez    5
CC Sabathia        5
David Price        4
Clay Buchholz      1
Gio Gonzalez       1
Most Valuable Player
Adrian Gonzalez   15
Robinson Cano     12
Miguel Cabrera     4
Evan Longoria      4
Carl Crawford      3
Alex Rodrguez      3
Kevin Youkilis     2
Josh Hamilton      1
Mark Teixeira      1
Jayson Stark, on the Red Sox:
[T]hey finished second in the big leagues in runs scored last year -- and that was before they went out this winter and added Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. So how good can this team be? ...

"Everyone in Major League Baseball has some kind of fatal weakness -- except the Red Sox," said the same GM who rated the Phillies the NL's best. "I mean, what's their weakness -- that they're not going to crush left-handed pitching? If that's the worst thing people can pick out, they're in a good place.

"They should have really good starting pitching. They should have a really good bullpen. They've got speed and power. So every other team out there has way more significant holes than they do. Look, things can always go wrong. Lester could go down. Crawford could go down. If that happens, it's a different story. But we're at the starting line. And I don't see how you can look at that team and not think they're a huge favorite."

Well, you know what? I don't, either.

They're better than the Phillies. They're better than the Yankees. They're better than the Rangers. They're better than everyone ...

SI Picks Red Sox To Win 100 Games, 3rd World Series In 8 Years

The Phillies' starting rotation may be on the cover, but Sports Illustrated's MLB Preview predicts the Red Sox will be the toast of baseball in 2011, winning the AL East with a 100-62 record, and steamrolling past the A's, Twins, and Giants on their way to their third World Series title in eight years.

SI also picks Carl Crawford as the AL MVP and Jon Lester as the Cy Young winner. SI has the Yankees winning the wild card (finishing eight games out) and getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs by Minnesota.

Some predictions ("that will be wrong") from Fangraphs' Dave Cameron:
Playoff Teams (AL): Boston-Chicago-Texas-New York
Playoff Teams (NL): Atlanta-Cincinnati-Colorado-Philadelphia
World Series: Boston over Atlanta

AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez
AL Position Player WAR Leader: Joe Mauer
NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki
NL Position Player WAR Leader: Troy Tulowitzki

AL Cy Young: Jon Lester
AL Pitcher WAR Leader: Felix Hernandez
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay
NL Pitcher WAR Leader: Josh Johnson
Adrian Gonzalez says his spring went perfectly.

The Red Sox added catcher Mike McKenry to their 40-man roster, grabbing the 26-year-old minor leaguer from Colorado for pitcher Daniel Turpen. McKenry hit .265/.328/.424 in AAA last year, and was 0-for-8 as a September call-up. Catcher Mark Wagner was designated for assignment.

The Red Sox left Fort Myers yesterday and will play an exhibition game in Houston tonight. Josh Beckett gets the ball tonight; Dennys Reyes, Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks are expected to pitch one inning each.

Infielder Nate Spears will not make the Opening Day roster, but he has had a great spring, hitting .290/.389/.403 in a team-leading 72 PAs. He will be with the team for the Astros series.
It's going to be the first time I've worn a suit on a plane. ... I was just coming into camp trying to make Tito actually know my name. As camp went along, he was calling me "Kid" and now he's calling me "Spearsy".
The time of Saturday's game in Texas has been moved to 8:15.
Mike Sweeney hit 83 home runs in 2003.

In my previous life as a member of the 19th Century Baltimore Orioles, I was known as "Smallpox Danny", a righteous spiker of third basemen and tireless drinker of corn liquor.

Headline of the Day:

March 29, 2011

Hardball Times: Red Sox Will Win World Series

The Hardball Times staff have posted their 2011 predictions. Some extremely relevant parts are as follows:

                      1st    2nd    3rd    4th    5th
Derek Ambrosino       BOS    NYY    TOR    TB     BAL
John Barten           BOS    TB     NYY    TOR    BAL
Vince Caramela        NYY    BOS    TB     TOR    BAL
Mike Clark            NYY    BOS    TOR    BAL    TB
David Gassko          BOS    NYY    TB     TOR    BAL
Jeffrey Gross         BOS    TB     TOR    NYY    BAL
Jonathan Halket       BOS    NYY    TB     BAL    TOR
Chris Jaffe           NYY    TB     BOS    TOR    BAL
Brad Johnson          BOS    TB     NYY    TOR    BAL
Mat Kovach            TB     NYY    BOS    TOR    BAL
Kevin Lai             BOS    TB     NYY    TOR    BAL
Max Marchi            TB     TOR    NYY    BOS    BAL
Bruce Markusen        BOS    NYY    TB     BAL    TOR
Rory Paap             BOS    TB     NYY    TOR    BAL
Ben Pritchett         BOS    NYY    TOR    TB     BAL
Josh Shepardson       BOS    TB     NYY    TOR    BAL
Greg Simons           BOS    NYY    TB     TOR    BAL
Paul Singman          BOS    TOR    NYY    TB     BAL
Dave Studeman         BOS    NYY    TB     TOR    BAL
Paul Francis Sullivan BOS    NYY    TB     TOR    BAL
Steve Treder          BOS    TB     NYY    TOR    BAL
David Wade            BOS    NYY    TB     TOR    BAL

                  WC     MVP        Cy Young      ROY
Derek Ambrosino   NYY    Cabrera    Lester        Pineda
John Barten       TB     Longoria   Verlander     McGee
Vince Caramela    BOS    Rodriguez  Anderson      Hellickson
Mike Clark        BOS    Mauer      Pavano        Hellickson
David Gassko      NYY    AGonzalez  Lester        Hellickson
Jeffrey Gross     TB     Longoria   Verlander     Pineda
Jonathan Halket   NYY    AGonzalez  Verlander     Hellickson
Chris Jaffe       TB     Rodriguez  Sabathia      N/A
Brad Johnson      TB     AGonzalez  Lester        Pineda
Mat Kovach        KC     Santana    Wilson        Hellickson
Kevin Lai         TB     Longoria   Lester        Ackley
Max Marchi        TOR    Suzuki     Price         N/A
Bruce Markusen    NYY    Rodriguez  Lester        Ackley
Rory Paap         TB     AGonzalez  Hernandez     Hellickson
Ben Pritchett     NYY    Cabrera    Lester        Hellickson
Josh Shepardson   TB     Longoria   Liriano       McGee
Greg Simons       NYY    Cabrera    Verlander     McGee
Paul Singman      TOR    Bautista   Gio Gonzalez  Hellickson
Dave Studeman     NYY    Hamilton   Hernandez     Hellickson
Paul Francis
   Sullivan       NYY    Youkilis   Haren         Hellickson
Steve Treder      TB     Longoria   Lester        Hellickson
David Wade        NYY    AGonzalez  Verlander     Hellickson

Derek Ambrosino         Red Sox over Phillies
John Barten             Red Sox over Rockies
Vince Caramela          Yankees over Rockies
Mike Clark              Atlanta over Twins
David Gassko            Phillies over Red Sox
Jeffrey Gross           Atlanta over Rays
Jonathan Halket         Red Sox over Atlanta
Chris Jaffe             Dodgers over Rays
Brad Johnson            Rays over Phillies
Mat Kovach              Indians over Reds
Kevin Lai               Red Sox over Phillies
Max Marchi              Rays over Atlanta
Bruce Markusen          Atlanta over A's
Rory Paap               Red Sox over Giants
Ben Pritchett           Brewers over Red Sox
Josh Shepardson         Red Sox over Atlanta
Greg Simons             Tigers over Atlanta
Paul Singman            Atlanta over Red Sox
Dave Studeman           Giants over Red Sox
Paul Francis Sullivan   Phillies over Angels
Steve Treder            Rays over Giants
David Wade              Red Sox over Phillies

Maple Street Press - Red Sox and Yankees 2011 Annuals

The Maple Street Press annuals are essential reading for any baseball fan. MSP strives to "publish high quality, authoritative, analytical, and insightful sports publications ... [and] provide insight into various aspects of sports and debunk commonly held beliefs and thoughts".

Unlike the spring preview magazines from Lindy's, Athlon, and The Sporting News, etc., which offer perhaps four pages per team, MSP devotes 128 AD-FREE pages per team -- for $9.99*, only a few dollars more than those other magazines.

* The price on my copies of the Red Sox and Yankees annuals, which I received from Cecilia Tan, who edited the Yankees edition, is $12.99, but the MSP website lists them at $9.99.

As I noted in my post about the 2010 Annual, I am not so much writing a review as pointing out some highlights and hopefully enticing you to run out right now and buy the damn thing.

The Globe's Chad Finn leads off the Red Sox Annual with a solid overview of the 2010-11 winter and how the roster shapes up for the coming season. Finn rightly criticizes the "snide and snarky skepticism" of some members of the Boston media "who measure a team's commitment to winning solely by its payroll". Thankfully, we all have many alternate places to get more thoughtful information.

Finn tabs first baseman Adrian Gonzalez "the right player at the right time" and says that while the cost in prospects to obtain him was high (not to mention his soon-to-be-announced contract extension), "it's still hard to believe that this deal is one the Red Sox will ever regret". After Boston went 22-26 in one-run games last year (and 6-12 in extra innings), Finn sees Dan Wheeler as "arguably [Theo Epstein's] shrewdest signing of the off-season".

WEEI's Alex Speier asks whether the team's extravagant spending on Crawford and Gonzalez constitutes a "radical shift" from the team's previous way of doing business.

Two articles highlight the hitting history (and future expectations) of Crawford and Gonzalez. Dave Cameron (Fangraphs) writes that Crawford ranks 6th among all MLB players in WAR (Wins Above Replacement, which considers batting, fielding and baserunning) over the last two seasons. Only Albert Pujols, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Mauer, and Chase Utley have contributed more to their team's success than Crawford.

Finn reports, in writing about how Gonzalez should wear out the Wall, that Gonzalez hit .516 with a 1.479 OPS on his 95 fly balls to left field at pitcher-friendly Petco Park last year. Paul Swydan follows that up with an in-depth examination of Gonzalez's career, offering clear evidence why the Red Sox front office has lusted after Gonzalez for nearly a decade. In terms of stoking anticipation for 2011, it's the highlight of the magazine.

Swydan reveals how playing half his games in San Diego's Petco Park (where from 2008-2010, batters hit only .234) has depressed AG's numbers, yet his production is still among the best in baseball over the past three years. Gonzalez's .507 career slugging percentage ranks 85th all-time, and among the top 100 sluggers in baseball history, Gonzalez has the largest differential in home/road slugging -- by an incredibly large margin.
                 Slugging Percentage    
                 Career  Home   Road    Diff
Adrian Gonzalez   .507   .440   .568   -.128
Joe DiMaggio      .579   .546   .610   -.064
Mike Piazza       .545   .515   .572   -.057
Justin Morneau    .511   .488   .533   -.045
Eddie Matthews    .509   .488   .529   -.041
Bill Terry        .506   .487   .525   -.038
Travis Hafner     .517   .501   .533   -.032
Lou Gehrig        .632   .620   .644   -.024
* - Is any player as underrated as Gehrig? (Other than maybe Stan Musial.) Only three players in baseball history have a career slugging as high as Gehrig's home mark of .620 (Ruth, Williams, Pujols (and Gehrig himself, of course)) and it is still "low" enough to make the comparison to his road slugging the 8th largest differential of all-time.

Swydan includes a graphic that overlays Gonzalez's batted balls into Petco's outfield in 2010 onto the dimensions of Fenway Park. While any precise predictions made from this data would be highly suspect -- because of the numerous variables involved -- the graphics suggest that approximately 19 of Gonzalez's Petco flyouts would have been home runs at Fenway (most of them landing in the Monster Seats).

David Laurila has Q&As with John Lackey and Jose Iglesias; Brandon Magee summarizes the minor league system; Art Martone looks back at 1986; and Bill Nowlin details the Red Sox's 1911 cross-country spring training tour.
Cecilia Tan's introduction sets the tone:
"It was largely a winter of discontent for Yankees fans, and probably the front office too. ...

"[T]here is no denying that the Yankees were confident they would land [Cliff] Lee to shore up a rotation that last year had more soft spots than a rotten tomato, and that it was a disappointing blow when he didn't sign. ... And there is also no denying the envy with which New Yorkers looked north, where Boston fans were gleefully gloating about what they found in their Christmas stockings: Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.

"Which isn't to say the Yankees did nothing. ... [stuff they did] ... If that all sounds like small potatoes, well, it is. ... [But] Cashman is still on the hunt ... The farm system is well stocked with trading chips ... Although Boston is strengthened, Tampa Bay looks weaker. It's going to be a long summer in baseball's toughest division, but then, it always is."
Dan Graziano of the Newark Star-Ledger has a lengthy and even-handed rumination over the good, bad and ugly of the Yankees 2010 season and the past winter.

There are features on Robinson Cano, hitting coach Kevin Long, the 2010 draft, and 6'8", 22-year-old pitching prospect Dellin Betances (who went to high school in Brooklyn).

David Golebiewski uses pitchf/x data to get a better assessment of how the starting rotation performed last year; David Laurila interviews Phil Hughes and ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte; and just like the Red Sox edition, there is an overview of every team in the farm system and a list of the top 10 prospects.

Alan Nathan attempts to uncover the truth behind Mickey Mantle's infamous home run at Washington's Griffith Stadium on April 17, 1953, a "tape measure" blast that as gone down in history as traveling 565 feet.

And since this is the Yankees, there are several articles on the team's history: recaps of all 13 MVP winners, Charlie Keller's performance in the 1941 World Series (the first time Brooklyn and New York tangled in the Fall Classic), and an excerpt from a book on the 1921 season, with the Yankees clinching the pennant during the season-ending series against Cleveland.

Both the Red Sox and Yankees annuals have full-colour pages on each of the expected starters (lineup and rotation), showing spray zones, hit zones, pitch zones, and various statistical splits.

In addition to these two editions, MSP also published 2011 annuals for the Twins, Tigers, Rangers, Cubs, Cardinals, Phillies, Mets, Reds, Brewers, and Atlanta.

March 28, 2011

Baseball In Fiction: William Faulkner

About a month ago, I quoted a brief baseball-related snip from Mark Helprin's novel Memoir From Antproof Case. I asked about other examples of baseball mentioned in non-sports novels, and a few books were mentioned in comments.

Here's one that was not mentioned. In William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, Jason Compson is discussing the American League pennant race with the owner of a cigar store:
"Well," Mac says, "I reckon you've got your money on the Yankees this year."

"What for?" I says.

"The Pennant," he says. "Not anything in the League can beat them."

"Like hell there's not," I says. "They're shot," I says. "You think a team can be that lucky forever?"

"I don't call it luck," Mac says.

"I wouldn't bet on any team that fellow Ruth played on," I says. "Even if I knew it was going to win."

"Yes?" Mac says.

"I can name you a dozen men in either League who're more valuable than he is," I says.

"What have you got against Ruth?" Mac says.

"Nothing," I says. "I haven't got any thing against him. I don't even like to look at his picture."
Faulker's advice to a young writer?
Read, read, read. Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window.

Opening Day Roster Is Set

Hideki Okajima and Alfredo Aceves were optioned to Pawtucket today, meaning that the 25-man roster is set.

Dennys Reyes and Matt Albers -- who were both out of options and likely would have been lost had the Red Sox put them through waivers -- will begin the season in the bullpen.

Terry Francona:
We came into camp with extra. ... We certainly, in the back of our head, thought certainly if there's not a big separation we want to keep quantity. ... Aceves pitched well enough to make our ballclub. ... We also thought Albers pitched really well. He was so good, we didn't want to lose him. ...

Reyes has more action on the ball [than Okajima]. We just want Okie to get consistency back so we're not staying away from him. He was pretty good about it. ... Dennis is our only lefty but we're certainly not going to knock Bard out in favor of a lefty. ... We're hoping Albers can give us 1-plus with that two-seamer and and pitch against righthanders and occasionally lefties and get us a ground ball.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Adrian Gonzalez
Dustin Pedroia
Kevin Youkilis
Marco Scutaro
Carl Crawford
Jacoby Ellsbury
J.D. Drew
David Ortiz
Mike Cameron
Jed Lowrie
Darnell McDonald
Jason Varitek
Jon Lester
John Lackey
Clay Buchholz
Josh Beckett
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Matt Albers
Daniel Bard
Bobby Jenks
Jonathan Papelbon
Dennys Reyes
Tim Wakefield
Dan Wheeler

Posnanski Named Writer Of The Year By BBA (He Was Not On My Ballot)

Joe Posnanski was named the winner of the inaugural Writer of the Year Award by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. Posnanski is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated and posts regularly to his personal blog.

A press release from the BBA:
"The Writer of the Year Award was created by the BBA to honor those writers who, beyond being exceptionally great at their craft, have taken to the internet in a full and vigorous fashion. Voters were instructed to take into account not only the writing abilities of the nominees but also their online presense, whether via blog or other media, as well as how they interact with their followers and fans."
There were 15 nominees and 110 BBA members (including me) cast a ballot.

Posnanski won handily, receiving 35 first place votes and 218 overall points (the ballots were tabulated on a 5-3-1 point scale). Rob Neyer had 12 first place votes and 136 points, narrowly edging past Peter Gammons, who had 20 first place votes and 134 points. Buster Olney and Craig Calcaterra were the only other nominees to receive at least 10% of the total vote.

My admiration for Posnanski's writing* should be well-known to everyone reading this, and I'll say some more nice things in a minute, but I did not include him on my ballot.

* The quality is almost always top-notch and the excellence never suffers from the daunting number of posts. Words just pour out of this guy. He never stops writing! He's the Stephen King of sports bloggers.

In his latest post, which serves as an acceptance speech, Posnanski writes:
I believe that we are in a bit of a golden age of writing in America. I would not be able to put that in any great historical context, but I know that there is way too much wonderful longform writing for me to read, and I read a lot. ... There is also incredible sportswriting going on now. ...

And yet ... I'm not sure we appreciate how good it is out there because at the same time there's also more terrible work out there than ever before, or anyway it seems that way. That's the power of technology -- there is just MORE, always, everywhere. It's hard to keep up, and it's hard to know which way to turn.

So, in this way, I admire the people who give out awards; I appreciate their quest to find quality.
All right, so why didn't I vote for Pos at all?

Three weeks ago, BBA members received voting instructions for the Ring Lardner Award:
You can judge the best way to mix and match these, but the qualities of the Lardner winner should be quality writing, a strong internet presence, and interaction with their followers/fans/commenters. Again, you may want to put the emphasis on writing, which is perfectly fine. The others should be at least considered, though.
I emailed BBA founder Daniel Shoptaw: "Is this a lifetime award or just for 2010 or something else?"

He replied: "We'll give it out every year but [you] probably should consider their entire career."

My ballot:
1. Peter Gammons
2. Rob Neyer
3. Thomas Boswell
Posnanski does not yet have the longevity as a nationally-known writer to unseat any of those three guys. Gammons and Boswell wrote their best stuff long before the internet came along, and Neyer's cumulative influence - using his ESPN column to bring progressive statistical thought to a mainstream audience - surpasses Posnanski's.

The BBA plans to rename the award after Posnanski. I'm not in favour of that.

Maybe Pos is an all-time great sportswriter. Perhaps he belongs in the upper echelon of writers that we will be reading and re-reading 50 years from now, but it seems far too soon to decide that right now. As good as he is, Posnanski doesn't come close to someone like Roger Angell (who, admittedly, has zero internet presence and I don't think was even on the BBA ballot). If the award is going to be named after a writer whose career has included the internet era, then how could the choice not be Gammons?

If this is an award for only (or predominately) internet writing, then Pos is a great choice, perhaps the perfect choice. Although most baseball journalists have their stuff online, and they use Twitter for quick news updates, no one blogs as often as Posnanski. Plus, all of his work can be read for free.

Posnanski has embraced the internet, using it to have a dialogue with his readers (though he rarely, if ever, appears in his blog's comments) and as an outlet for the dozens of ideas and hundreds of thousands of words that he could not possibly post at SI. Much like Bill James, Posnanski can make you laugh while you are learning, a rare trait. He has established a standard (or one standard) by which future baseball writers will be judged.

March 27, 2011

Panic Setting In As Red Sox Lose 10th Straight

With Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Orioles, the Red Sox have lost 10 consecutive spring training games -- a franchise record. The team's last win came against the Mets on St. Patrick's Day.

Up 3-1, Boston used the following four pitchers over the last three innings: Jason Rice, Tommy Hottovy, Santo Luis, and Blake Maxwell. I trust Terry Francona will make wiser bullpen decisions (and will have better options available) when the regular season begins ... on Friday!

J.D. Drew hit a two-run home run to left and Marco Scutaro went 2-for-4. ... Kevin Youkilis's 0-for-2 day dropped his average to .196. ... Jarrod Saltalamacchia did not play today, but he has been raking. In 37 plate appearances, he has a 1.078 OPS (.355/.432/.645).

Opening Day starter Jon Lester had his final spring outing today -- five innings against a bunch of Sox minor leaguers, including Ryan Kalish, Lars Anderson and Luis Exposito (who hit a two-run dong). Lester threw 77 pitches, giving up nine hits and five runs; he struck out five.
I pitched out of some jams, had some errors and kind of overcome that. I think it was pretty good as far as preparing for a season. Kind of everything that could happen in a game happened.
There are three exhibition games remaining: Blue Jays on Monday, Rays on Tuesday, and Astros (in Houston) on Wednesday.

Ozzie Gullen: "He's A Great Book!"

Actually, it's "Ozzie Guillen".

He's a Great Book! with Ozzie Guillen -- The Great Gatsby

(thanks to dayn perry)

Ozzie Guillen on MADTV (Johnny Sanchez)

Now here's the real Ozzie:

Ozzie Guillen Rant - 2008 Version

From Ozzie's Twitter feed:
I hate this trafic in arizona lord drive me crazy
7:50 PM Mar 4th via txt

To thos idiots I no driving joey cora is driving I not that stupids
7:44 PM Mar 10th via txt

What movie I shoud watch? Have to be funny
7:35 PM Mar 15th via txt

I haet this send people down feel bad be part of the staff and from ofice is not fun
about 13 hours ago via txt

Ken rosenthal thanks a lot for pick me #2 on the hot seat last year a was# one
about 13 hours ago via txt

if I get fired iam coming after your job. with fox yessssssssssssss
about 13 hours ago via txt

You better hope I keep this job lol lol lol
about 13 hours ago via txt

All Six Globe Writers Pick Sox To Win Pennant

The Globe published its 2011 Baseball Preview today. Its five baseball writers make their picks:

Dan Shaughnessy
AL East: Red Sox, Yankees (wc), Rays, Orioles, Blue Jays
Other divisions: Tigers, Angels, Phillies, Brewers, Giants, Atlanta (wc)
World Series: Giants over Red Sox

Bob Ryan
AL East: Red Sox, Yankees (wc), Blue Jays, Rays, Orioles
Other divisions: Tigers, Athletics, Phillies, Cubs, Rockies, Atlanta (wc)
World Series: Red Sox over Phillies

Peter Abraham
AL East: Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Orioles, Blue Jays
Other Divisions: Twins, Athletics, White Sox (wc), Phillies, Reds, Rockies, Giants (wc)
World Series: Phillies over Red Sox

Michael Vega
AL East: Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Rays, Blue Jays
Other divisions: Tigers, Rangers, [no AL wild card listed], Phillies, Cardinals, Giants, Atlanta (wc)
World Series: Red Sox over Phillies

Christopher L. Gasper
AL East: Red Sox, Yankees (wc), Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles
Other divisions: Twins, Athletics, Phillies, Brewers, Dodgers, Giants (wc)
World Series: Red Sox over Brewers

Tony Massarotti
AL East: Red Sox, Yankees (wc), Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles
Other divisions: Twins, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals, Giants, Atlanta (wc)
World Series: Phillies over Red Sox

March 26, 2011

Posnanski: Murray Chass's Post On Musial Is Unethical, Vomitous, Grotesque, Devoid Of Basic Decency

One of Joe Posnanski's many talents is his innate curiosity in looking beyond the surface of a story or an event. He'll happily think out loud on the page for a few thousand words, musing about a person's motivation - things are never as simple as they may seem - but he's loath to jump to conclusions. He understands and appreciates that people are complex, they may have unique or unconventional needs, and it's a hallmark of an open and adult mind to not sit in judgment of anyone. In short, he's always willing to see the best in everyone.

Well, almost always.

A recent blog post by Murray Chass criticized Stan Musial for some alleged racist behaviour -- and Pos could not remain quiet. This reply to Chass has been posted on Sports Illustrated's website, in addition to Joe's personal blog.
Years and years ago, I wrote a newspaper column that - technically, I guess - could have gotten me fired. It was a column about silence. I won't go into too many of the details but I'll tell you that the column involved a barber shop, a series of racist jokes and the disgraceful silence of the young man getting his hair cut, the young man being me. I just sat there, in that lost world between embarrassment and rage, while these racist jokes flew around the room. I didn't say a word. I didn't express my disgust. I didn't walk out. I didn't stand up and break out into a "To Kill A Mockingbird" speech. I just stayed quiet. The column was about my own shame, about the shame of being silent in the face of small injustices, about that "Hey, you can't change the world," feeling that I used as a crutch to make myself feel better. ...

I think back 20 or so years, and I still don't know how I feel about that column. Part of me is proud I wrote it. Part of me is embarrassed. Part of my feels like it took some courage to write it. Part of me thinks it was really a cowardly way out. It's all true. I was very young.

I bring this up now because former New York Times sportswriter Murray Chass has written a post so vile and untrue and devoid of basic decency that I have found myself once again in that strange place where I'm not sure what to do. On the one hand, Murray Chass is a nobody now. He's a bitter man with a past and a blog he refuses to call a blog. He seems to bring dishonor to himself and his work with such regularity now that I cannot help but wonder if he was in fact a vile hack throughout his newspaper career but few noticed because he happened to be on the right side of the baseball labor issue and the indomitable Marvin Miller. ...

So part of me says that writing to stomp out the disgusting Murray Chass post about Stan Musial and Curt Flood will only draw more attention to it, will only spread his lies and malice to bigger lands. That part of me says that the way to deal with a man like this and a blog post like this is to ignore it and let it curl up and die unseen. Stay silent.

But another part of me says that some people DID see it, and if we let it go then a handful of people will wonder if maybe there's some truth to it, if maybe this is not just bitterness and bile and revenge and a desperate attempt to be noticed but maybe there is a germ of truth in it. ...
Pos closes by saying: "[I]t's a shame that tragically unhappy people don't know when they've run out of useful words."

Red Sox (Do Not) Win 5th Consecutive Mayor's Cup

So I was all set to hit "publish post" on this ...
Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched six innings of one-run ball, Darnell McDonald hit a three-run triple, and Adrian Gonzalexz belted his first home run of the spring, as the Red Sox beat the Twins 8-3 and won the Fort Myers Mayor's Cup for the fifth year in a row.

The two teams had split the first four games, so tonight's tilt was winner-take-all. ... Now we can turn our attention to the championship to be won seven months from now.
... when Bobby Jenks allowed six runs in the top of the ninth. Four of the six Minnesota runs were unearned because of an infield error, but still ... Jenks gave up three singles, two doubles, one walk, and threw one wild pitch. Boston went quietly in the home half against former Sox prospect Phil Dumatrait, and the Twins are the Champions of Fort Myers for 2011.

On the day that Dennys Reyes could opt out of his minor league contract, the Red Sox purchased the contract, making it a major league deal. Junichi Tazawa, recovering from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, was moved from the 40-man roster to the 60-day disabled list. With Reyes seemingly on the team, the final bullpen chair will be filled by Alfredo Aceves, Hideki Okajima or Matt Albers. The first two guys have minor league options.

March 25, 2011

Painting Of Pedro Martinez Unveiled At Smithsonian

El Orgullo y la Determinacion (Pride and Determination)

A 57-inch by 21-inch oil and beeswax painting of Pedro Martinez, completed in 2000 by Susan Miller-Havens (a close friend of the now 40-year-old pitcher), was unveiled on Friday at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery.

Miller-Havens portrayed Pedro in a white Red Sox uniform, wearing a blue cap with a dark red "B". She replaced the American League patch on his right sleeve with the flag of the Dominican Republic.

She was talking about my hands. What she said to me was that she focused on my hands. She was always analyzing my long fingers, and how I used them to do art ... This is something as important as Cooperstown. It's one of the largest museums in the world and the largest one in the United States. I hope it's only a warm-up for Cooperstown. It gives me great pride and joy.
Martinez, who said there is "very little chance" he will pitch in the major leagues again, will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2015.

Also attending the ceremony was Pedro's mother, Leopoldina Martinez; wife, Carolina Cruz; 11-year-old son, Pedro Jr.; brother Ramon; and Rafael Avila, the Dodgers scout who signed both Pedro and Ramon. Pedro's father, Paulino (Pablo) Jaime Martinez, passed away in July 2008.

Red Sox Make Pitching Staff Cuts

Scott Atchison, Michael Bowden, and Andrew Miller were optioned to Pawtucket this afternoon. Randy Williams, Rich Hill, and Brandon Duckworth were reassigned to the minor league camp. (Ryan Kalish was also optioned to Pawtucket.)

So the bullpen is:
Jonathan Papelbon
Daniel Bard
Bobby Jenks
Dan Wheeler
Tim Wakefield
2 of Alfredo Aceves/Hideki Okajima/Dennys Reyes/Matt Albers
An article in this morning Globe's stated:
Meanwhile, Dennys Reyes had the out clause in his contract extended a day [to Saturday]. It appears the lefthander is going to make the team.
Pitching coach Curt Young offered his thoughts on Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Papelbon, Bard, and Jenks.

The Wonderful Off-Season Is Not Over Yet: The Yankees might grab Gustavo "Not A Real" Molina as their backup catcher. Molina played in four games with the Red Sox last year, going 1-for-7. In three major league seasons, Molina has a .122/.159/.146 line, good for a .305 OPS (-19 OPS+). By way of comparison, Tim Wakefield's career OPS is .321!

Contest Reminder

Opening Day is one week from today!

If you have not entered the W-L contest, this is a reminder.

Beckett: 2010 Was Toughest Year Of His Life

Josh Beckett spoke at length with Rob Bradford about what went wrong in 2010 and the mental and physical adjustments he has made and continues to make for 2011:
Last year was definitely the toughest year on me mentally, physically, everything. I've never endured a year like that. I had some great things happen to me in my personal life, but the physical limitations in my professional life made it the toughest year of my life, professionally, non-professionally, whatever. ...

I was missing the power at the end (of the delivery). I had some good [starts], and those were probably ones where I used my secondary stuff a lot better. The bad starts were the ones where I tried to throw fastballs by guys when I didn't have that power. I feel like I'm getting that back.

I had to re-train myself this offseason after I got into some bad habits. ... I have had to make some small adjustments this spring. it's still not 100 percent comfortable. ...

Things are much better than they were last year. I would literally lay awake nights after I pitched wondering how I was going to be able to do it again pitching like that. What could I do to compete better? And that's when the stubbornness set in. Just do what you've always done, that's what I was thinking. ... At some point last year I should have had to make an adjustment. I wish somebody would have just given me an ultimatum. "You do this or I'm kicking you in the [midsection]." But everybody handles things their own way. I should have done it to myself. I shouldn't have needed anyone giving me an ultimatum.
On the back page of this year's Maple Street Press Red Sox Annual (which I received yesterday and will post about soon), twelve contributors to this year's edition are asked: Who Is The Key To The Red Sox Meeting Expectations In 2011? Here is the breakdown of answers:
Josh Beckett 7⅓ John Lackey 1⅓ Clay Buchholz 1⅓ Jonathan Papelbon 1 David Ortiz 1
Buchholz was rocked by the Marlins yesterday, allowing 11 hits and 11 runs (six earned) in only four innings. Florida won the game 15-7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia was the hitting star for Boston, banging two doubles and a home run and driving in four runs. Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie each went 2-for-3; LBJ hit his 3rd dong.

I felt like one of those days that, even ahead in the count, every time I made a mistake it got hit. But hopefully all that stuff is out of the way. I've got a little work to do.
HH makes his final spring start against the Rays on Tuesday.

The pitchers for the season-opening series in Texas (which starts a week from today!!!):
0401 - Lester / C.J. Wilson
0402 - Lackey / Colby Lewis
0403 - Buchholz / Tommy Hunter
Terry Francona says the Red Sox will figure out who will grab the final two spots in the bullpen over "the next couple of days". Jonathan Papelbon, Bobby Jenks, Daniel Bard, Dan Wheeler, and Tim Wakefield seem as though they have spots locked up, so the competition is between these nine pitchers still in camp: Hideki Okajima (3 options remaining), Alfredo Aceves (2 options), Scott Atchison (1 option), Michael Bowden (1 option), Matt Albers (no options), Rich Hill, Andrew Miller, Dennys Reyes, and Randy Williams.

Showalter: I Was Misquoted

Buck Showalter says his remarks about Theo Epstein and Derek Jeter (to be published in the April issue of Men's Journal) were taken out of context:
I didn't really say it in that (context). I was talking to a guy, like most people, just joking around whatever, here it is, what are you going to do? I can't even remember how or when or if, but I think if it was said about, you know, in context with the Yankees and Red Sox, OK, you've got your answer.

Maybe it is envy or something on my part. But obviously, you all know what I think of Derek and the success the Red Sox have had. ... sometimes there are sour grapes on our part, I understand that. A little envy.
Epstein has not commented on Showalter's remarks, but Terry Francona did yesterday:
For the record, I think Theo's really smart — whether he has a high payroll or not. His choice of managers is smart.
Michael Silverman, Herald:
I thought Buck Showalter was smarter than this. ... I think he hoped his barbs would serve as bulletin-board material for his team. Something to stir his once-placid roster into a seething band of go-getters, ready to begin a million-mile march right in step with, and exactly one step behind, their skipper, who fears no AL East foe, no massive payroll, no icons. Nobody, no how. ... That's just a guess on my part, though. Most likely, Showalter's master plan is beyond my comprehension skills.

March 24, 2011

Showalter Tries So Hard To Be Like The Big Boys

We have rivalries with the Rays and Yankees for supremacy in the AL East. Now that I live in Blue Jays territory, it's great fun to wallop them. ... Do we have to start hating the Orioles now, too?
When he was in Arizona, Showalter had "an overbearing style and a penchant for trying to re-invent the way the game is managed" and was "notorious for being a control freak". He "demanded a new brand of toilet paper in both of Arizona's clubhouses" and once "chided an attendant who handed him a ketchup bottle because it was plastic instead of glass".

So he's a bit of a tool. And now:
I'd like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll. You got Carl Crawford because you paid more than anyone else, and that's what makes you smarter? That's why I like whipping their butt. It's great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, "How the hell are they beating us?"
$205 million, eh?

Mr. Facts tells us that the Red Sox payroll has never been higher than $168 million. Next highest payrolls: $143, $133, and $127. Current obligations for 2011: $162 million.

Of course, spending a lot of money won't get you anywhere if you're not intelligent in how you spend it. Showalter needs to look no further than his boss, Peter Angelos, to see an example of that.

Didn't Showalter -- "baseball's biggest brain", according to Men's Journal -- have the luxury of working for the deep-pocketed Yankees? They didn't win shit until they dumped his ass. The same thing happened in Arizona. The Rangers also improved once he was gone. A trend emerges: Fire Buck and win more games.

And why is Showalter talking about Theo? Shouldn't he be knocking fellow manager Terry Francona and his easy success?

The Red Sox -- who went 3-3 against Baltimore last season after Showalter took over -- are in Baltimore on April 26, 27, and 28.
To be fair, Showalter also ripped CI.

March 23, 2011

AL East Lineups & Expected Runs Per Game

A few days ago, I said that as long as the nine regulars are healthy, it won't matter much what order they bat in. Still, it's fun to debate and wonder ...

Terry Francona has dropped a few hints. Thinking about those, along with his spring training lineups, we can assume the top half of the order will look something like: Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Gonzalez. Tito has said he might sometimes flip the 2/3 hitters and the 4/5 hitters.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs used the ideas from "The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball", by Tom Tango and Mitchel Lichtman, to see what the optimum Boston lineup would be. Cameron's article is behind ESPN's Insider paywall, but this is the lineup (with projected 2011 OPS):
Drew .835 Youkilis .887 Ortiz .872 Gonzalez .976 Pedroia .841 Crawford .850 Scutaro .722 Ellsbury .733 Saltalamacchia .690
I'm betting we do not see this lineup for even one game in 2011.

Baseball Musings' David Pinto has been taking quick looks at each team's offense. He gets a probable batting order, plugs each player's OBP/SLG forecasts from Marcel the Monkey into his Lineup Analysis Tool, and gives us the results.

First, here are the probable lineups for Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay -- the top three run scoring teams in MLB last year (and the only clubs to top 800 runs):
Red Sox         Yankees       Rays
Ellsbury        Jeter         Jaso
Pedroia         Granderson    Damon
Crawford        Teixeira      Longoria
Gonzalez        Rodriguez     Ramirez
Youkilis        Cano          Joyce
Ortiz           Swisher       Zobrist
Drew            Posada        Johnson
Saltalamacchia  Martin        Upton
Scutaro         Gardner       Brignac
Here are the Runs per Game:
                  Red Sox   Yankees    Rays
Probable lineup     5.35      5.25     5.15
Best lineup         5.39      5.30     5.25
Worst lineup        5.12      5.03     4.97
Regressed lineup    4.85      4.79     4.71
I asked Pinto what "regressed lineup" means and he replied: "It's the best fit of the projected lineup onto how teams actually score during the season. Most teams tend to score less than the projected lineup, since that lineup suffers injuries and doesn't play every day."

The best Red Sox lineup -- Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ellsbury, Drew, Pedroia, Ortiz, Crawford, Saltalamacchia, Scutaro -- would score 0.04 runs per game more than Francona's probable lineup -- a difference of 6.5 runs over a 162-game schedule or an improvement of only two-thirds of one win.

Even using the absolute worst possible lineup -- Saltalamacchia, Ellsbury, Drew, Scutaro, Crawford, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ortiz -- every single day would cost the Red Sox only 3.7 wins over Tito's probable lineup.

I'll still probably complain about some particular day's lineup, though.

March 22, 2011

Padres Fan Protesting "Dog Tags For Kids" Promotion On "Military Opening Day"

Kap Fulton, a lifelong Padres fan, is disgusted with the numerous military-themed promotions the Padres will be holding this season.
"I am again appalled that you have decided to sell children on the concept of war-through-baseball. "Dog Tags for Kids" on military opening day? You do realize, I'm sure, that Dog Tags are used to identify the corpses of dead soldiers. Why would you give away these items to children? ... [W]hy do you associate the enjoyable afternoon past-time of baseball with the gruesome world of dead soldiers and camo jerseys?

"OK, so you want to honor veterans — no issue there. How about starting with the homeless vets that are herded out of eyeshot from Petco Park? Shouldn't we take care of those men and women before recruiting new eight-year-olds to serve as cannon fodder?"
Fulton has posted a petition asking the Padres to stop associating baseball with war.

Here are seven of the promotions the team with a religious friar as part of their logo will have in 2011:
April 10 – Military Opening Day
May 22 - US Navy Recognition Day
June 12 - US Army Recognition Day
June 26 - US Marine Corps Recognition Day
July 31 - US Coast Guard Recognition Day
August 21 - National Guard Recognition Day
September 18 - US Air Force Recognition Day
Last June, I posted my opinions about the Red Sox's association with various military causes and promotions, so I won't repeat them here.

San Diego is very connected to the US military. The area contains numerous Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard bases and stations, and its harbour contains one of the world's largest naval fleets. Approximately one-fourth of all jobs in the San Diego area are connected to the military, and the county is home to the largest number of military retirees anywhere in the United States.

The Padres proudly call themselves the "Team of the Military" and boast that they "provide more programs and support for the military than any ... professional sports franchise in the country". In 1996, the Padres became the first national sports team to have an annual military appreciation event. When large groups from the nearby Marine Corps Recruit Depot attend games, the Marine Hymn is played during a special Fourth Inning Stretch. The team now wears camouflage uniforms for every Sunday home game. All of the 2011 military promotions mentioned above are on Sundays, when families are more likely to take kids to the ball park.
The US Department of Defense spends more than $2.6 billion each year on recruitment, much of it targeting teenagers. Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, every US high school was required to give students' names, addresses and phone numbers to the military or face the loss of all federal aid. Since most schools need those funds to survive, military recruiters are now in 95% of US high schools. (See also this November 2004 Globe article) The Army's "School Recruiting Program Handbook" offers suggestions to maximize enlistment, such as:
Be so helpful and so much a part of the school scene that you are in constant demand.

Deliver donuts and coffee for the faculty once a month.

Hispanic Heritage Month (in September). Participate in events as available.
For the past five years, the Defense Department has been compiling a comprehensive database of personal and private information about every American between the ages of 16 and 25. According to Major Johannes Paraan, the head Army recruiter for Vermont and northeastern New York:
The only thing that will get us to stop contacting the family is if they call their congressman. Or maybe if the kid died, we'll take them off our list.
Just as advertising has been crammed into every nook and crevice of televised baseball games, the glamorization and ubiquity of the military throughout American culture (and baseball) has become our default setting.

No game begins without the singing of at least one national anthem, "God Bless America" is played on special occasions (stay in your seat!), there are military flyovers on Opening Day, and veterans or military officers are often chosen to throw out the first pitch or are interviewed in the TV or radio booth during the game.

None of this is biased, of course, or should be construed in any way as a political statement. In fact, it's apolitical. It's simply our normal, default setting. It's only when someone asks when a peace activist will throw out a first pitch or raises even a slight objection to any of the on-going wars that everything changes. Suddenly, the atmosphere has become horribly politicized! Why can't fans enjoy a relaxed afternoon of baseball and applaud as the PA announcer thanks the attending veterans for "defending our freedoms" and "protecting our way of life" without having to think at all about politics?

And obviously, you can forget completely about asking why a country teetering on bankruptcy is spending over $10,000,000,000 of taxpayer dollars every single month for no reason other than empire and corporate profit. In the US and (to a lesser extent) Canadian mainstream media, it is strictly taboo to have a conversation about the true nature of any military action. That inability or unwillingness to discuss topics like adults is not limited to the military, of course. We cannot have a reasoned conversation about anything: race, sex, poverty, immigration, etc.

I hope Kap Fulton's petition gets a lot of visibility between now and the start of the season. I support it wholeheartedly. If you agree that the San Diego Padres -- or any professional sports team -- should not act as a promotional arm of the military, especially when it comes to children, please sign the petition and forward it everywhere you can.