January 30, 2015

Catching Up With The 2015 Red Sox

With less than two weeks until Truck Day, I thought I'd collect the stories posted by ESPNBoston on various members of the 2015 Red Sox:
Brandon Workman
Christian Vazquez
Xander Bogaerts
Allen Craig
Rick Porcello
Mike Napoli
Joe Kelly
Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez
Dustin Pedroia
Brock Holt
Mookie Betts
Rusney Castillo
Blake Swihart
Kelly has said he's going to win the AL Cy Young Award.

About a week ago, ESPN's David Schoenfield highlighted what he believed were the five most improved teams. Top of the list? The Red Sox.

January 27, 2015

MLB Considering Pitch Clocks & Shorter Commercial Breaks

I am against one and in favour of the other. (No points for guessing correctly!)

After what Bud Selig called a successful experiment in the 2014 Arizona Fall League, a pitch clock will be used during AA and AAA minor league games this season. Details, such as exactly how much time will be allowed between pitches, have yet to be announced.

AFL pitchers were required to throw within 12 seconds with no runners on base and within 20 seconds when a base was occupied. There was a maximum of 2:05 between innings and a 2:30 limit for a pitching change. Hitters had to keep at least one foot in the batter's box at all times.

Of course, there is already a rule in place to deal with slow-working pitchers, if MLB wishes to curb such behaviour. Note Rule 8.04:
When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.”
Has any major league umpire ever enforced this rule?

Rob Neyer highlights an important difference in this debate:
What I would like to know is how many seconds are saved between pitches, because it's not the time of the games but rather the pace of the play that should, I think, legitimately concern the Lords of Baseball (which now includes the Players of Baseball).
Additional reading:
Grant Brisbee: Pitch clocks are (eventually) coming to baseball
Noah Jarosh: MLB's pitch clocks will ruin the game, unless they save it first (Roundtable discussion)
Jayson Stark reports that MLB is also looking into shortening the commercial time between innings! (my emphasis)
Under a new proposal by Major League Baseball, pitchers would be required to finish their warm-up pitches and be ready to make their first pitch of an inning 30 seconds before the end of all between-inning commercial breaks, sources told ESPN.com.

Similarly, hitters would have to be in the batter's box, ready to start their at-bats, 20 seconds before the end of each break.

Both proposals are designed to tighten the time between half-innings, which has grown, on average, to more than three minutes, even though regular-season commercial breaks during games that are not nationally televised are supposed to last just 2 minutes, 5 seconds.

Baseball officials believe that if play is ready to resume moments after each break ends, they could shorten games by 10 to 15 minutes. Just those efforts alone would bring the average game time to below three hours without enacting any other pace-of-game measures.

January 10, 2015

Farrell Offers Early Peek At Possible 2015 Lineup

John Farrell spoke last week about his possible lineup when the season begins on April 6.

It would look something like this:
1. Mookie Betts/Brock Holt
2. Dustin Pedroia
3. David Ortiz
4. Hanley Ramirez
5. Pablo Sandoval
6. Mike Napoli
7. Xander Bogaerts
8. Outfielder (Rusney Castillo/Shane Victorino/Daniel Nava/Allen Craig)
9. Christian Vazquez
The one thing that clearly stands out is we have balance left- and right-handed. I have always liked David in the No. 3 hole. You know he is going to come up in the first inning. I think Hanley gives David some protection behind him. Then you start to create some protection, and we want to keep Sandoval on the left side of the plate as much as possible - so if you sandwich him in between Ramirez and Napoli, you start to have a formidable middle of the order where you're going left-right-left-right all the way through there. ...

I think what Mookie showed in the time that he was in the leadoff spot was very encouraging. His on-base skills have been consistent at every level through the minor leagues. It was the same when he came to Boston. Brock Holt is another guy that could fit into that spot when he is in the lineup on a given day.

Schilling Opens Mouth, Embarrasses Himself Once Again

Curt Schilling believes his Hall of Fame candidacy has suffered because of his conservative beliefs and statements.

In the three years he has been on the ballot, Schilling has received 38.8% (2013), 29.2% (2014), and 39.2% (2015), far below the necessary 75% for induction.

Putting aside the issue of whether Curt Schilling is a Hall of Fame pitcher, his opinion caught my ear, because I've never thought of mainstream sportswriters as flaming liberals.

Speaking on WEEI, Schilling commented on John Smoltz's strong support:
I think he got in because of [Greg] Maddux and [Tom] Glavine. I think the fact that they won 14 straight pennants. I think his "Swiss army knife versatility," which somebody said yesterday, I think he got a lot of accolades for that, I think he got a lot of recognition for that. He's a Hall of Famer. And I think the other big thing is that I think he's a Democrat and so I know that, as a Republican, that there's some people that really don't like that. ... Listen, when human beings do something, anything, there's bias and prejudice. ... I do know that there are guys who probably won't ever vote for me because of the things that I said or did. That's the way it works.
Craig Calcaterra of HardballTalk sets the record straight with something entirely foreign to Schilling - facts:
For the record, Smoltz is not a Democrat. He has been reported to be "an avowed Republican," and has been courted for political office in the past by the Republican party. Here are Smoltz's political contribution records. Note the little "Rs" next to the candidates names. Oh, and Smoltz once compared gay marriage to beastiality, which tends not to be a pinko-liberal stance.
And, right on cue, Schilling now says he was only joking, tweeting:
Ok, let me be very clear. If you didn't hear or see any of it, you are relying on some idiots to report a joke as fact. Reliable sources....
You can listen to the interview here. He is not making jokes. Schilling is, yet again, full of shit.

January 6, 2015

Pedro Martinez Elected To Hall Of Fame

Pedro Martinez - who put together two back-to-back seasons more impressive than any other pitcher in major league history (1999-2000) - was elected this afternoon to baseball's Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Martinez - an 18-year veteran who pitched for seven years in Boston, including the magical 2004 season - received 91.1% of the votes (500 of 549) cast.

Martinez posted ERA+s of 243 and 291, respectively, in those seasons with the Red Sox. Those marks rank #9 and #1 all-time. ... ESPN posted pictures from "10 of Pedro's most memorable moments in a Red Sox uniform" and eight of them were from 1999 or 2000. ... Over The Monster picked Pedro's 5 greatest Red Sox games.

Inducted along with Martinez were Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio.

Jayson Stark, while writing about his HoF ballot, shared this about Martinez:
The most seasons with an adjusted ERA-plus of 200 or better of any starting pitcher in history - with five, one more than Walter Johnson. ... The fifth-greatest WHIP of all time (1.05). ... The sixth-best winning percentage ever (219-100, .687). ... A seven-year peak, as computed by the great Hall of Fame historian Jay Jaffe, that tops Maddux, Bob Feller or Koufax and ranks sixth in the entire live-ball era, behind only Clemens, Grove, Johnson, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver. ... And, finally, there's this amazing stat, delivered by Lee Sinins' Complete Baseball Encyclopedia: Pedro's career ERA, over his 18 seasons from 1992 to 2009, was an unbelievable 2.93, at a time when the ERA of the average starter in the same period was 4.49. So that computes to an ERA that was more than a run and a half lower than the league average. And how many other pitchers in history, who pitched as many innings as he pitched, have ever had a larger differential? Yessir. Nobody.
Here is something I wrote back in June 2006, when Pedro was about to make his return to Fenway Park, as a member of the Mets:
Where would the Red Sox have been if Pedro Martinez had stayed in Montreal? How much different would those seven years - 1998-2004 - have been? If Pedro is not in Boston, does Manny agree to leave Cleveland? Does Keith Foulke sign? Does Curt Schilling agree to a trade/contract extension? Does David Ortiz agree to stay?

The fans loved him immediately. His first start at Fenway - his third start in 1998 - was a two-hit, complete game shutout. Right away, there were chants and fans waving signs and Dominican flags. Pedro soaked up all the adulation and gave it right back. He was never shy about his love and respect for the city and its fans. He loved pitching in Boston as much as we loved having him in our uniform. And when he wasn't cold-blooded on the mound, demanding your constant attention, he was dancing on the bench, being taped to a dugout pole, simply enjoying himself.

We were spoiled. Martinez pitched so well, for so long, that when he became merely the best pitcher in baseball, we were disappointed. He had set the bar too high.

In the 1999 regular season, he allowed more than 3 earned runs only twice in 30 starts. He allowed 0, 1 or 2 runs in 24 of 30 starts!

After 12 starts in 2000 - on June 19 - his ERA was 0.99. 0.99! Some of the season-ending numbers for Pedro in 2000 (and the second place finisher):

Batting Average Allowed: .167 (Hudson, .227)
On-Base Percentage Allowed: .213 (Mussina, .291)
Slugging Percentage Allowed: .259 (Colon, .371)
Home ERA: 1.84 (Mussina, 2.90)
Road ERA: 1.66 (Wells, 3.24)
Hits Per 9 Innings: 5.31 (Hudson 7.52, only 3 AL pitchers below 8.00)
Baserunners per 9 Innings: 7.2* (Mussina 10.8)
Strikeouts/Walk Ratio: 8.88 (Wells, 5.35)

*: New major league record, breaking the old mark set by Guy Hecker in 1882.

And finally, perhaps Martinez's most overpowering start: September 10, 1999 - 17 strikeouts in a one-hitter at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees did not hit a fair ball on any of his final 52 pitches. During the final two innings, with their team losing 2-1, even Yankee fans were on their feet cheering.
There was no other player I enjoyed watching on a baseball diamond more than Pedro Martinez.

The power, the finesse, the intelligence, the domination, the fun. And since his playing career ended in 2009, he has remained a source of joy, his stories and insights always witty and knowledgeable.

Next spring, Pedro, a biography written with the Herald's Michael Silverman, will be published.

January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

95 days until Opening Day!